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Friday, 21 June 2013

Things that bump in the day ...

Well, I telephoned Head Office at 9am just I said I would and got put through to a very sympathetic lady who listened and went away to discuss this in more detail with her colleagues. She then came back and informed me that this was a matter for my Area Manager, sadly a man (how much easier it would be to discuss this with another female). She gave me his telephone number and advised me to contact him.

All I got was an answerphone, so I left what I considered to be a nice and friendly message stating that I needed clarification re the dress code, went out shopping and left it at that.

When I got home I hoped that there would be a message from him, but there was none, and four hours later it has still not been forthcoming. I doubt at this stage that it will be. Anyway, in desperation I phoned Head Office again, and asked if there might be a female Manager I could speak to instead, feeling by now quite upset. Five minutes later that call finally came. 

I don't remember the woman's name, and it would in any case be inappropriate to mention here. If I would not be  stupid enough to mention my employers name, or the location of the home where I work, then I be even more foolish to mention employees names. Suffice to say that she was not sympathetic to my cause, stating instead that if this had happened in her home, she too would be insisting that I wear a bra. I pulled all the punches I could, mentioning Coran's situation and asked whether they would require him to wear a bra. The answer was probably yes. I also mentioned that I suspected they found out by looking down my own top as I bent over to pick up the bin bag, and it was therefore not an issue until I had put my clothes on and taken theirs off. It cut no ice, but instead elicited the opposite. It became clear that I was not going to get anywhere, and rather than being sympathetic to my cause, she was in fact the opposite, not what you would expect from someone of the same sex, who must surely have encountered similar issues herself.

She did say that I could if I wish follow the grievance procedure, but I doubt if that would make a difference, as they have made their feelings abundantly clear. There does however appear to be a double standard, whereby one of the female Managers who was waiting outside the staff room that day, and I suspect may have had a hand in this, was sitting in reception the other day wearing a sleeveless vest herself with a large tattoo clearly visible on her arm. This too is against the dress code, yet nothing was said to her. When I pointed this out, I was informed that I had the right to raise this. If I see this again, then I most certainly will.

I hate the way though that this has turned staff against each other, and created an atmosphere of fear and oppression, whereby I and others no doubt too, once this gets round the home, as it surely will, means that women no longer have control over their own bodies and what they can and cannot wear. No matter how I look at this, despite all their assertions to the contrary, I just do not think that this is right. It is clear however that this is one argument that I am not going to win, so I have to now question whether I want to remain.   

Was this really all worth it because of a few bumps on my chest - and trust me, they are small.

A Storm in a B Cup ...

Just as I thought I was settling into my job (I have been here for five months now), getting to know everyone and enjoying the routine, along comes yet more challenges to be dealt with. This time at least one of them, to my mind at least is highly personal in nature and could even be construed as sexist. The Managers seem to be having a bit of a crackdown on everybody at the moment, so I know it isn't just me, but knowing this does not help the situation, when you feel as a result of this that you have to walk on eggshells and watch everything you do in case it is misconstrued. This does nothing for staff morale or confidence and actually hinders our ability to do our job.

Tuesday was the warmest day of the year so far, when temperatures in the home I would say reached almost 90 degrees (bear in mind that in a care home environment, a lot of the radiators are not just kept on year round, but physically cannot be switched off) . The sweat was literally running my back, and a few other places as well. So, I went to the staff room and took off my bra. It is not the first time I had done this, and this is not the first workplace where I have done this either. I did it all the time during the summer in my previous job, and I had never had an issue with it at all.

I finished work at my usual time of 3.30pm, having taken my keys back upstairs to the other housekeepers who finish an hour later than myself (different contracts) and left my rubbish bag outside the staff room while I went to get changed. Two of the Managers were stood outside by the chairs talking about something, I did not really take that much notice. I came out of the staffroom probably three minutes later, wearing a blue strappy top and still no bra. In hindsight this may have been a bit revealing, but I did not think it mattered, as all I was doing was walking back to my car via the rubbish bins. Anyway, the two Managers were still outside talking, standing right by the bin bag that I had left, so I apologised as I picked it up and said that I was taking it outside to the bins on my way home. I then went downstairs to reception and signed out. The time on the clock, and the time that I wrote in the book was 15.34.

The following morning, I was hovering the residents lounge when the Head Housekeeper came and found me and informed me that she had been asked by my Line Manager to talk to me about the fact that I had been seen entering the staff room for the second time (they spoke to me about this about two weeks previously as well) to get changed before my official finish time of 3.30pm. I naturally disputed this, and said that I wanted to see the Line Manager in person to talk about this properly. Ten or so minutes later, she came upstairs and the three of us sat down together, in the same lounge. I cannot recall specifics about the conversation other than the fact that she said we were not to enter the staff room before our finish time, and it was also at this time that our keys should be returned. Needless to say I continued to strenuously deny this charge. The conversation became heated on both sides, and voices were raised. She seemed to be saying that it was impossible to hand keys in, go back to the staff room, get changed and down the stairs in the four minutes that I did, and so rising to the challenge of showing them just how ridiculous this all now was, I challenged her to come and time me doing all these things.

I naturally felt extremely angry about this whole affair, and wondered who it was who had passed this information on. I had my suspicions that it was the two Managers who had been outside the staff room, as not only were they both there at the time I went in and came back out, but one of them does have a reputation for this sort of thing (she obviously has nothing better to do). This though is hearsay, and cannot be proven. In the end it probably does not matter who it was, although it would help me to know who I can and cannot trust, as I now suspect everyone.

As if this wasn't bad enough, half an hour after that, the Head Housekeeper came upstairs again, and told me that I was wanted (again), this time in the so-called Quiet Room. So, I put my cleaning trolley away and went there (via the toilet) to see what it was all about. The same Line Manager was sitting there waiting for me, with as is customary in this meetings, the Head Housekeeper as note taker.

The Line Manager then proceeded to tell me that it is company policy that staff have to wear a bra while at work. My eyes rolled back in my head, as I tried to think about who could possibly have known. I do not exactly shout about the fact that I do this after all (I have mentioned it to the other housekeepers and  the Activities Organiser but no one else that I can recall), and you certainly wouldn't be able to tell under the uniform that I wear; a size too big polo shirt that closely resembles a tent. I can only imagine that those same Managers saw me leaving the staff room without one, and put two and two together and complained, but again this is hearsay and I do not know for sure. I must admit though that it is suspicious. I think to be honest, the Line Manager was more embarrassed about this than I was. If it hadn't have been so serious, I would have found it funny.

The long and short of it is though that I reluctantly went and put my bra on, and spent the rest of the day (which was hotter still) sweating like that something that resembled a pig and feeling so hot as a result that I really felt at one point that I was going to pass out. The rest of the staff all said the same thing, so again, I know that this isn't me. They also gave me a copy of the dress guidelines which the more I studied it, makes no mention about wearing a bra, only that clothes must not be "revealing". It then mentions specific examples of mini skirts, tops that show midriffs, and strappy tops (my "who was outside the staff room and could have seen me radar" went off when I read that bit). It also crucially said that underwear "must not be visible", but how do they know you are wearing any if they can't see it !

The more I thought about this, the more unfair I think it is, To be honest, I think it is a diabolical liberty. It left me wondering what they going to do next, and whether they will start checking our knickers (I actually said this as well, and they wrote it down !). Knickers to them I would say, but sadly I have to work here and for the moment at least, until I can check certain things, do as they say. I also though feel that this is sexist and discriminating against women, as plenty of men have boobs (moobs) and I am pretty sure they wouldn't be told to wear a bra. It is not as if you can even see anything at least no more than you can when I do wear a bra, so I really cannot see that they have a leg to stand on. This morning then, being my day off, as soon as Head Office opens at 9am I plan to telephone the Personnel Department and have it out with them, We will see what they have to say about this whole sorry affair.

As for the timekeeping, after four attempts that spanned an hour, I finally got to see the Home Manager, with whom I had a fruitless 20 minute discussion that went round and round in circles. It finished with her refusing to make a decision, even though she said she could see where I am coming from, with her basically placing the responsibility back on us housekeepers whereby we had to get together with our own Line Manager and work out our own procedures for what she termed "leaving the building". I have never heard such rubbish in my life. That though has now been done, and nothing has changed from what I have doing already, underlining just how petty and pointless this whole thing was.

The problem is that all the clocks in the house say different things, and all of them are different to the BBC on my car radio - the BBC don't lie ! I have though been told that I have to synchronise my watch to the one in reception (which one, as there are two which both say different things) and go by that. I pointed out though that I work upstairs, so at the end of each day, in case my watch loses time, and to prevent being unfairly accused again, I would effectively have to go downstairs to check the time before going back upstairs to get my keys, and then go back upstairs again to get changed. Quite apart from the absurdity of this situation, by the time I have done all of this, they would be owing me overtime! None of this though made a difference and despite my assertions to the contrary, backed up by at least one other member of staff, they maintain that this clock is right, and what they say goes.

Coran suggested that I go out and buy a peephole bra that tells the time as the Managers walk past, perhaps even in different languages, but of course I jest. As for the timekeeping, I fear that there is no solution to that one, except perhaps to change the clock when no one is there. I guess though I will have to speak to Head Office an hour from now and have it out with them.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Genesis of Man no longer available via book stores

Eight years ago this week (yesterday in fact), I published my first and so far only book, Genesis of Man. The arrival of the paper proof was eagerly anticipated after five long years of writing, and when it was finally unwrapped I cried for 10 minutes such was the emotional attachment. A year later, a second updated version was released with brand new cover (this was of course the version that should have been published all along), and sales finally began to take off. Genesis of Man became one of the few (at that time) print on demand titles to be available through Gardner's, Britain's largest book wholesaler, as a stocked item, after I telephoned every branch of Waterstones and most British libraries in turn, persuading more than 100 to stock it.

Times though change - the sales have now dwindled to an extent that it is no longer viable to pay the bi annual print free, so as from today Genesis of Man is unofficially out of print. I say unofficially because all that has really changed is that you will no longer be able to order it via book stores and online retailers. Anyone who wants a paper copy will have to order it direct from me, via my own website, or from the publisher, Authors OnLine Ltd.

It is better this way, as I can control the price and earn more money - those annoying discounters who pop up on Amazon offering "used" copies, which in reality are brand new, for ridiculous prices as a loss leader, will be taken out of the equation. If you want a paper copy you will then have to pay full price. This is only fair considering that I did all the work of writing and promoting it, using my money - not anyone else's but mine.

The Kindle version, which I uploaded some time ago, will of course still be available, which is also better for me, since I earn more again (70 percent of the selling price as opposed to about 15 percent for the paper version when ordered via publisher, even without the wholesalers), and I can make as many changes to the text as I want without incurring extra fees. I intend to do a re-write at some point, as much of the information has changed, such as the discovery of Akhenaten's mummy, not to mention my own views, which have mellowed over the years. I also hope to issue four smaller books - publishing each of the four sections as a book in its own right, giving people the option of reading it in smaller chunks. My writing buddy Tracy always said she thought it was really two books after all.

This is though for me the end of an era. When I think back to how I felt the first time I held a printed copy (I cried for about 10 minutes) in my hands, it is strange that I feel so little at its almost demise. I have to remind myself though that it not the end, and it does not mean that Genesis of Man is dead, for I doubt that it ever will be. The technology though has changed, and with it all that publishing is about - I then need to change with it and this I have done.