Tag Archives: ranting

Don’t bank on a bank

My sister thinks I am anti-England. In a way, she’s right. I love this country but watching politics and banks destroy it is like watching an old friend being ravaged by an entirely preventable disease that, once in motion, cannot be stopped. Negative imagery perhaps. And, no, it’s not just England. All around me, I look at a world damaged by politics and economics and I feel sympathy with Marx that he knew something had to, and must, change.

Politics and politicians are the easy target. They are public. Most people know the name of their president or Prime Minister, and it’s easy to slander them. Some are utterly ridiculous. The posturing, posing, preening and frankly mafiaesque behaviour of Berlusconi; the completely bonkers actions of Qaddafi. Some are not what we thought they would be – Blair take note. A couple of world leaders seem to have their hearts in the right place – Lula is a shining example. Some are bully-boys, like Kim Jong-il. Some inherit, as D. Cameron likes to point out, crazy, corrupt governments. Some try to make it better; many make it worse. But they are public figures and they face the firing line, literally, sometimes – like JFK and Lincoln, or Berlusconi faced by a mad-man. Sometimes they face the firing line in retrospect, judged for their rule, like Saddam Hussein.

We are who we elect. As The Jam said, ‘you choose your leaders and place your trust’ – and then they renege on promises and ideology – maybe because of the situation they inherit. And they face the music. I feel for them, a little. Reading Coriolanus is insightful – Shakespeare’s masses (and his interpretation of Roman masses) reads like politics today. (As an aside, I’ve just seen that Coriolanus is due for release as a film this year… with Ralph Fiennes as Coriolanus. Excellent casting.) He said of the public, ‘he who depends on your favours swims with fins of lead’… ‘with every minute you do change a mind’. A noble, fierce, honest yet not publicity-hungry general who does the right thing and totally understands the fickle nature of the masses who care only about their belly and the today, and who is turned upon when he decides to go for government. There’s a story for today.

Yet it’s not these men, with all their hubris – or lack of it – that inspire my wrath. In a way, I pity them. They inherit problems, can’t start afresh, rely on public favour and can only do what they are permitted to do. Sometimes you are the public’s darling; sometimes you face their judgement without doing anything differently. Take pensions. Let’s get some perspective. Pensions have only really existed for 100 years. Much of the world have no access to a pension. I kind of understand the French anger about their pensions, but in reality, five generations ago, pensions didn’t exist. And pensions need sorting. The country has a plughole of money it needs to fill. People must accept something needs to happen to allow pensions in the future. More money is needed or people need to die. Such is the simplicity of the situation. But the public have a short-sighted vision that things that are thus must ever be thus without realising how lucky they are to have a pension in the first place, let alone a lifespan of 67.2 years – the global life expectancy. France is 10th in the world. Its people will live 12.5 years longer than this. Maybe not in good health. Maybe ill every single day. But over 40 years longer than people in many African nations will live. Such is life.

But yes, politicians of the past (and of the present) made mistakes. Trouble is, they’re all too involved in the blame game to say sorry for their part in it. Or for their predecessors part in it. Governments around the world have done horrendous things in the name of governance and in the name of the country. Australian government-sponsored forced adoption of aboriginal peoples… American removal of lands from indigenous tribes… English treatment of the Irish… countries who’ve waged war and fought themselves, making enemies of brothers… Does anyone stand up and say ‘Actually, we SHOULD ensure African life expectancy improves, since the race for colonisation fucked everything up quite royally’ – or ‘Actually, we SHOULD be in Afghanistan, helping out, since we’ve used it as a pawn in the Empire/Super-power game since time immemorial’. No.

So politics is one bad boy.

But, banks are worse. We elect our governments (sometimes) and we elect them from our masses. They are us. They do as we do. We can say ‘no’ to Mugabe and say ‘that’s not right to Idi Amin’ – who starve and subjugate people, remove their land from them.

But we never say no to the banks.

Banks have been around for about 600 years. That’s all. That’s nothing, in the scheme of human lifetimes. The Romans’ rule was slightly less. Chinese dynasties lasted longer. They’ve existed for about the same time as ‘America’ – I say that with tongue in cheek. We still see America as a new country; fresh. It’s a baby in World Domination. In fact, the banks dominate us much more. McDonald’s can’t get into Cuba. Banks can.

Of course, money lenders have existed since way before then, as Jebus tells us. And they weren’t good news either.

The fact is banks rule the world, not governments. I see Icelandic banking collapses worry my parents more than pension changes. My step-dad was concerned about his money in the Irish banking system. One crash can destroy their life together. Banks can remove houses, ruin lives – all on the back of their own dodgy behaviours. They lie, they over-predict, they gloss over, they make bad loans and bad debts and they squeeze the little man.

Let’s face it, the banks caused the Great Depression, not the Government. The banks caused global recession, not the Government. We worry about the euro, but it’s the banks who are more concerning, even the IMF, lending money to countries who are bad-debt risks.

I grew up in the eighties where ‘ethics’ mattered to students opening accounts. You didn’t bank with Barclays because you knew they were involved in excessive debt collecting from African nations – many of whom had seen the debt repayed many times over. (I’m reminded the Germans have just finished paying for the First World War!)And interest rates on loans were impossible for countries to manage. Combinations of corrupt governments and giddy-school-boy banking has meant that the people of the world suffer.

They can be regulated – they are supposed to be. So why do banks still fall apart? It is, after all, an industry and its primary purpose is profit. That’s why they fall apart.

In England, if you put your money in a bank, it doesn’t even belong to you anymore. The American Federal Reserve is a privately-owned company. “The Reserve Banks… are independent, privately owned and locally controlled corporations.”

They, therefore, dictate monetary policy, being independent, TO the US Government, not the other way around. They can introduce Qualitative Easing, not the government. They decide whether to introduce this – and QE is introduced when other things have failed. Colloquially, they print more money. It failed in Japan in the early 2000s. It has many risks. And a privately owned corporation can force this to happen! The Federal Reserve doesn’t have to say who it has guaranteed money to, and although it was forced to say by Bloomberg, it is up for appeal. We may never know where American money goes, who influences it or what is influencing the politics of our world-leading cross-Atlantic bigger, younger sibling.

And that should scare you. Banks dictate economy. Economy drives politics. Politics alter every single aspect of our life – whether it’s what we are reading, what we can say, who we can do business with, how much income we have, our health…

And forgive me for being a little bit concerned that not enough people accept that when they take their pay cheque to the bank, they’re contributing to starvation in some countries, or forced devaluation or inflation.

This is why I have a non-cheque, non-card La Poste account in France. The only money that goes into it is in cheque form. I need a hidey-hole for my other money, I think. I might start investing in guns or bullets for when the end-game is played out ; )

Whilst I end with a bit of a joke about my own paranoia about the bank (and the reality of my part-state-owned account – france is definitely not without its banking problems!!) I have to say we easily forget Lehman Bros, Barings Bank, Nick Leeson, Icelandic banking crises, almost-bankrupt Eurozone countries, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Northern Rock and Great Depressions and other events that have altered the course of history. Banks are not in it to protect our money; they are there to make a profit. And the majority of people who started banks, with all their risks, wanted to make a profit. And so they did.

Lehman Bros was set up in 1850. That’s 158 years of trading. A sniff. And yet it helped set in motion a global disaster that, as one Moroccan market trader said to me ‘has affected the whole world, from Timbuktoo to Alaska’.

I know Lehman Bros suffered a loss in the 9/11 terrorist attack, and I’m reminded of why (apart from ease of target) the World Trade Centre was chosen. It’s such a potent symbol of trade and banking.

Criminal as well as civil prosecutions are underway as to whether banks lied about conditions – whole corporations who are up on trial for causing global financial issues.

The Icelandic banking problems are not yet over and had a knock-on effect all over the world.

National bankruptcy happens.

It happens more than you’d think.

p.s. My money isn’t under my mattress. And if it all goes to pot and collapses, you’re welcome round mine anytime for homemade wine and some homegrown veg. Luckily, Jake’s good at traps and fancies himself as the next Michael Weston from Burn Notice, so we’ll be fairly well-protected. My house is older than all these banking crises.

Reasons today was shite

1. I couldn’t find my medication. Boo.

2. The dog threw up on my pillow. Apparently this is my own fault for letting her eat grass. Like you can ‘stop’ the Moll eating what she wants.

3. The cat cried ALL night long. And he pissed in a corner, even though I put his litter tray in the corner.

4. The cat then pissed in the corner when the door was open and he could have gone out

5. The cat wouldn’t eat his food

6. I went to the vet to buy de-flea treatment and it cost A LOT of money. I know it’s got tick and mosquito and other stuff in it, but still…

7. In the vet’s, a little dog had been sick and then was lying in it and its owner was not doing anything

8. There were two sad limpy dogs

9. It wasn’t like Regan’s Vets at all, who are all lovely and wonderful. It was a free-for-all and all the dogs looked very unhappy

10. There was a huge queue at the petrol station, which gives me some karmic comeuppance for causing a huge queue last week

11. My engine management light has come on AGAIN

12. Our water heater has stopped working


But, some good news.

1. I found my pills

2. Stephen cleaned up the cat pee

3. I made a fantastic apple and blackberry crumble last night made with home-grown produce, and it was brilliant.

The Tardoire riverbed near us is completely dried up, from, as I can see, at least Agris through to St Ciers. We can walk from the submerged road up the riverbed, where we found a very weird mushroom:

Huge mushroomy thing

There’s also a dead thing that may or may not be a pine marten/stone marten kind of a thing, lots of limestone, with which we did our limestone experiment, and lots and lots of blackberries, elderberries and sloes

My father smells of elderberries

I manage to meet the same elderly village gentleman every night. It’s quite odd. He said he calls us ‘The English who walk the dog’ which I assumed was because it is peculiar for the French to walk a dog of Molly’s size – since they’re usually guard dogs. But then the next night, he was walking two dogs himself. He said one of them, Roxanne, was left by English people who didn’t have the right paper work, and we had a chat about blackberries and the grottes in the area. I like this man. He’s very chatty and doesn’t care about my half-half English/French.

Strange things are afoot at the Circle K

Yesterday, I blogged a little prayer. Several things have happened since then:

1. The drunk mother to whom I refer literally fell out of a pub on Saturday (and into a busy main road, in front of an ambulance carrying a man who’d had a heart attack! Couldn’t make that up if I tried!!)  and it has now come to the attention of her lovingly-misguided children that Mum is not okay. I’m glad. Children shouldn’t have to worry about their mum, but they told her they were worried and now she’s said she’ll quit. She said she’ll quit smoking too. I’ve heard this from her for 20 years, but nothing beats the concern of your 6 year old to make you quit doing something.

2. Jasmin, who rocks, is Steve’s daughter. Seems like her day got a little brighter

3. Anne, from United Utilities rang to check if my meter had been read and said she’d passed it on for refunding. Above and beyond the call of duty. Thanks, Anne. It almost makes up for being robbed by your company.

4. The boat sold and there will be money by Saturday.

Unfortunately, poor Mr Gove, our Minister for Education, is still ‘on trial’ in the Commons today. I wish him all the best. I know it will mean not all schools end up glamorous and glitzy, but that’s not what makes a good education. I went to visit a friend’s sister once, who works at a very, very exclusive public school in Hertfordshire. High fees, vast lawns, golf classes on Fridays…. like Hogwarts without the magic. And she taught in a portakabin that had a tree growing into it. Still, she was a biology teacher, so she made the most of the tree. But the desks were wobbly, the chairs were mismatched. There wasn’t an interactive whiteboard in sight, and they still get amazing results. Unfortunately, poverty = under-performance, and no amount of shiny atriums will iron out that so easily.

I’ve just checked out my nemesis the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust – they’re my nemesis because I did some work for them. Firstly, it was in the Emirates Stadium at Arsenal. I have no idea how much that venue is to hire, but I’d like to bet it’s not as cheap as, say, a mid-budget hotel and conference facility. Secondly, they’d rounded up ‘coasting’ schools and told them off. Yeah, not how you inspire achievement. Thirdly, they have all these bizarre rules for conferences, like providers can’t give out handouts. As a teacher, you judge a course by its handouts. How, also, are you supposed to remember anything? They didn’t even provide slide-show notes! Also, there was no agenda. There were no aims, no outcomes and it was for a very mixed audience.

Geoff Barton, my hero, presented the first session. It was great for motivation and common sense. It was also, sorry Geoff, lacking in actual, practical tips for improvement. The English section really stuck in my craw, for two reasons. One of these is that English education has, for a long time, been about ‘reading books’. If you don’t read fiction, and worthy fiction at that, you’re not reading. I’ve seen Jake’s report. It says he doesn’t read at home. He does. He reads comics, magazines, things on the internet. He reads quite a bit more than my brother Alastair used to, just because of the internet. The written word is replacing the spoken, right now, for Jake, through texts, instant messaging, status updates etc. He reads a lot. It was however, the bugbear of the teachers there that ‘boys don’t read’.

Well, should boys read fiction?? Do men read fiction? My dad reads about a book a year. He enjoys it. It’s always a Lee Child book. He reads the papers sometimes. Steve reads off the internet, only for information. He never, ever reads for pleasure. Al reads from time to time. John, my step-dad, is the most educated ‘intellectual’ man I know. He reads the Guardian daily (online) and the Observer. He reads academic economics books and studies. He reads books about cricket, autobiographies and history, especially of Manchester City. I never see him read ‘a book’ (fiction). Dale, my step-brother, reads sci-fi, that last bastion of man-centred reading. He loved Lord of the Rings and Terry Pratchett. He likes humorous sci-fi or epic fantasy. My Gramps read Wilbur Smith and the Daily Mail…

*Just as an aside, the Daily Express headline yesterday made me almost wet myself. It said: ‘One in Five Britons to be Ethnics.’ I kid not*

So, boys read. Men read. They just don’t read what women read. Or, specifically, what middle-class women read. Fairly educated women read books prolifically. All my girlfriends read a lot. My mum and nana read all the time. So does my sister. And we read junk.

Who really reads those books on the Man Booker list? One or two break through, but they’re middle class readers, academics, predominantly female.

So, to have a session moaning that boys don’t read isn’t good.

Secondly, his advice about getting a C was reductive at best and educationally unsound at worst. He reduced it to a D grade checklist: a recipe for how pupils can get a C. Well, sorry, Geoff. I’ve marked thousands of exam scripts and what you said was a C, isn’t. Maybe that’s where people are going wrong.

Anyway… I see Sir Bob Geldof is presenting the next conference. More money than sense, the SSAT. I’m not being funny, but what does Sir Bob know about education?? Fuck all? Close to Fuck all? Tenuous link: he and his kids went to school once. Now, I like Sir Bob, but he’s not exactly who I’d choose to head a conference about education in England.

Hah. I also see they’ve got the publicity-seeking psychologist-whore ‘Professor’ Tanya Byron. Hmmm. Dubious Labour connections there. She writes the most trite, patronising ‘psychology’ reports ever. She wrote an article about her husband being fat and he got a book out of it. I’m aghast. He wasn’t even that fat. She co-created The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle, picking up on middle-class anti-Jeremy Kyle mentality, and her back story is filled with media connections. What I dislike most is the line on a top search for her that says ‘The Prime Minister asked me to write…’

“Asked ME…” It’s so vain.

Anyway, between pseudo-pop-psychology of low ecological value, based purely on this woman’s usually personal opinion (she’s very good at giving that out, and being patronisingly middle-class) with no science behind it, and the other non-teachers and non-educationalists (a guy quoted as inspiring the uber-middle-class Slumdog Millionaire and an opera singer) there are three people who have an educational background.

SSAT? Huge waste of cash on ‘nu’ values and divergent thinking that doesn’t actually get to the root of the problem: what makes a good learner, and how can our teachers ensure they get good learning?

Anyway, back to the point. Good luck Michael. And, just in case you’re wondering what to do next, look at getting the SSAT to cut back their ridiculous speakers and make their conferences sharing of good practice. Not just a whole load of ‘fashionable’ and ‘important’ people in the world who have little idea what happens in a classroom.

It all seems, again, like the SSAT going for showy and shiny over substance and science. Hmmm. Theme of the last 13 years of Government, it seems.

I’m particularly interested in how these SSAT aims are going to be achieved by Sir Bob, and Professor Byron et al:

How should students learn?

I might go to the conference, for a laugh! I’d quite look forward to hearing TB talk about pedagogy and practice.

My Ema to the universe

In Japan, it is a shinto tradition to leave an Ema plaque in the grounds of a temple, saying what you wish for and asking the gods for support.

I’d like to put my little prayer out there for today:

“Grant me the peace to deal with certain individuals without punching them in the face or completely losing my temper even though they shouldn’t even have been blessed with children. Please let the boat sell and let them pay quickly. Please let United Utilities pay back the money they owe me quickly. Look after Jake. Look after Steve. Look after Michael Gove because he’s doing the right thing, and if you can, I’d really like Ed Balls to slip on a banana skin. Also, now this is between you and me, and you know who I’m talking about, if you could just see your way clear to helping her steer clear of alcohol altogether, that’d be great. Help her see that alcohol isn’t good for family relationships. Really, really bless Jasmin. She needs a break. Thanks for everything you’ve done. I’m loving your work with QCDA and the NAA already, and the GTCE. I’m also liking your work with the France thing. Thanks for helping me be strong enough to see out 2006 and 7, as they were quite shit. Sometimes I really don’t listen to the messages you’re giving me. Thanks for keeping telling me. I know it’s an AA thing, but grant me the serenity to accept those things I cannot change, and courage to change the things I can… a little bit of wisdom would help sometimes too’

I miss praying. I miss being able to go into a shrine in Japan and just sit there being thankful and accepting stuff and dealing with it and coming to terms. It helps me a lot with peace. I wish Bolton had a shinto shrine. Even a Buddhist one would do!

Another rant bites the dust

I’ve been watching with interest how the media and public handle the news that Michael Gove has cut funding to Building Schools for the Future (BSF)

I was expecting uproar from the schools and unions, of course, and as well from the Labour Government, but Gove is right: it has been a huge disaster from start to finish.

The first problem has always been that schools that get good at bidding for things are usually first past the post in terms of funding. This happened with the Specialist Schools’ Trust, where even if your results were a little wobbly, you could still be awarded ‘Specialist School status, just off the basis of a good bid. One school I worked at was first through the post with Technology College.  This was all well and good, but the head of IT had been off for months with a hip replacement, and there was this rusty old Canadian guy, who, if the truth be told, amused me a great deal just on the basis he once threw his lunch away because the girl at the dining table in front of him was wearing an indecently short skirt. It seemed to be that if you could find an industry to shoulder some of the initial bid, you would get the rest. It seemed to leave a bit of cash for a new IT suite and an emblem on the new ‘Atrium’ floor (read ‘porch’ for Atrium, and you’ll get the idea) which was walked over by 1,000 kids a day. Instead of going for the departments where the work was stunning, like Art or PE, they went for a nondescript subject, because it was the first offered.

Likewise the second school I worked at. They’d spent the money on a room that nobody was allowed to use. I can’t remember an IT suite as such, only a few old machines dotted around the school and then a whole load that were locked up unless someone important came, like the Queen.

Many of the schools in the authority in which I worked had specialist status, especially as it broadened its wings. So… in essence, if you had a crap department, you would use them to get the bid, and then become a ‘Centre of Excellence’ without any results behind it whatsoever. One inner-city school had the poorest science results in the authority and they were the only science specialist school in the area. Nonsense.

So, those first in then got a second bite at the cherry with the ‘joint status’ specialisms, like Humanities and Maths. Fair enough. What always got me was that there was never a specialism for ‘English’ which is ridiculous considering it’s our national language and we all read, write listen and talk every day.

So, ten years in, some schools are awfully good at getting funding. They have people appointed for marketing, called ‘Specialist Schools’ Trust managers’ and they earn a packet by bidding for everything going.

This only works if you’re in a proactive authority. Some nay-saying authorities got caught out here, since BSF initially only went to a few. Likewise funding for other ‘pilot’ projects. So, if you played nice, you got a lot of additional funding. If you knew the right people at the DfE, then you got a lot of funding. If you were good at asking, you got a lot of funding. And the more you asked, the more you got. At one point, I was running three separately funded projects for the DfE, QCDA and the NAA.

This is great if you’re good at stating your piece and holding out your cap, taking people round and showing them how much you’ve achieved. I was. However, it’s not so good for those who are more humble. I was once told to be more humble as a performance target. It was my only target. I ignored it, since it came from a horrible woman, plus, it’s not a SMART target. How would I have known that I was more humble? Would I have started rubbing my hands together in the style of Uriah Heep?

So, some poor schools fall by the wayside, especially in reticent authorities who ‘wait and see’ what everyone else is doing.

Luckily, they, now are the ones who are not suffering from ‘Of Mice and Men’ syndrome as the Con-Lib government whip away their dreams.

Matthew d’Ancona in this week’s Daily Telegraph says it all perfectly:

“It’s easier to promise shiny schools than better teaching.”

And he’s right. Because something got lost behind BSF, which was Sue Hackman’s mission to drive up School Standards. Suddenly, it was all about atriums and shiny rooms and interactive whiteboards. I have to first admit there are some truths in this: comfy chairs do make learning easier. Nice classrooms are nice to teach in. But I never needed anything other than new desks, better quality chairs and a lick of paint. A few nice displays and you have a wonderful learning environment. For about £3000, you can have an entirely revamped classroom. You don’t need millions. All of a sudden, head teachers stopped being bothered about driving up standards and starting being dazzled by shiny atriums.

“So true: it was hardwired into the previous government’s soul that anything new and shiny, “state-of-the art”, and modernist in architectural design was intrinsically good.” he says, and how right he is.

And, like Matthew d’Ancona, I’m also very glad Michael Gove has gone ‘back to basics’ – hopefully, schools will need to rely on good teaching now, not the level that currently exists.

I’m woefully appalled every year by the ‘mis-teaching’ that goes on. Sometimes, it would be better if pupils didn’t have any teaching at all. At least then they might come up with some decent ideas, rather than being taught that every poem’s layout has some kind of meaning, that they must describe using the ‘five senses’  and that they should start every story with a rhetorical question.

I’ll save my rant about Ofsted for another day.

Mais, elles sont des bottes ou des chaussures??

I’m not enamoured of the sandal-boot thing that seems to be doing the rounds. Bleurgh. It’s just about the least attractive thing a woman can put on the end of her foot. First, women’s toes aren’t ‘all that’. Mostly, they’re deformed, crooked, bunion-y, corn-y. Unless nails are painted, there are nasty yellow nails, dead skin. Urgh. And heels are the second part of the foot that is unattractive. Lots of nasty dead skin there, too.

So why would someone make a shoe that features both parts of the foot that are horrid, and not the arch, curve or soft skin of the upper foot??! It makes no sense! They must be a man. A man who hates women.

Office. A place where shoe accidents congregate

Not only that, but they all appear to be in hideous colours. What’s that about?! Men have to wear grey and brown. Women don’t. I guess, in black, they might look marginally better, but that’s like putting a bow on the elephant man.

Anyway, it’s taken its time, but these have now made their way off the catwalk and on to the streets of the North West. No. Just no. The whole point of boots is that they are warm, practical and waterproof. The whole point of a sandal is that they are cool, ridiculous and not at all waterproof. So why would you put the two together?! It’s hideous!

It’s another Lady Gaga moment. I bet she’d wear them. Plus, they don’t even have a name of their own, from bootie sandals (which sound like shoes for your arse) to bandals to gladiator booties … and how do you categorise them. Are they a boot? Are they a sandal? Are they a flat?

I don’t know whether it’s the suede – never a good fabric for looking good, compared to patent leather – or the colour – beige – bleurgh – the toes (not my most favourite part of the body, it must be said. I hate toe cleavage more than arse cleavage) or the whole style, but they just don’t work. And if you have them on in Bury on a Saturday morning, then you’re probably in need of medication, an eye test or help getting dressed. Or you’re pre-menstrual. A lot of disasters happen because of hormones. Someone needs to have a word with these people, just like the little boy in the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Boo hiss to United Utilities

You know I am a fan of illogical, irrational business practices in that they give me something to rant about. United Utilities have been providing that for the last month. I got a letter today to say they owe me £1122.28. Yes. Over a grand.

I thought it was just £322.28 they owed me until my phone call to them on Tuesday, which was answered by a pensioner-sounding lady. A tad bizarre in itself.

Me: Hello. I’m £322.28 in credit. Can you pay it back, please

*British Gas owed me a bit of cash, and they paid up. I was expecting a similar service.

BW: Well, it’s not that simple.

Me: Why?

BW: well, the meter reading was wrong.

Me: was it?

BW: yes. It says 630. And that can’t be right. You used up to 930 last year.

Me: oh, I’ll go and check.

Having ferreted about under the sink for 10 minutes, I return. It says 631.

Me: it says 631.

BW: oh.

Me: So when can you refund me?

BW: we can’t. We have to verify that your meter isn’t faulty.

Me: ok. When can you do that?

BW: how about 2nd August?

Me: NOT A CHANCE! As soon as possible please. I need the money (Steve is trapped in France til I find £70.00 to get him home)

BW: Well, we’ve got the 14th July in the morning.

Me: Have you nothing sooner? Plus, that’s unhelpful. I can’t be here from 8 to 12 – I have to take a child to school.

BW: We do two hour slots.

Me: OK. When?

BW: 2nd August.

Me: Yeah, that’s not going to work, is it??

BW: how about an afternoon?

Me: well, fine.

BW: it could be between 12 and 6.

Me: that’s ridiculous, but if it means I’ll get my money back, I’ll get a sitter and make sure I’m in. Will you be able to refund it straight away.

BW: well, no. Any amount over £100 has to be refunded by cheque, which takes 2 weeks to print and then a week to clear.


What I should have said next:


What I actually said.

Me: That’s ridiculous. I need that money. It’s my money. I can’t pay my bills and you’re sitting on £300. It’s mine. Why can’t you put it back into my account?

BW: it’s not how we operate.

Me: I want to make a complaint.

BW: oh, you can’t do that. I have to notify my supervisor and they’ll call you back within 24 hours.

Me: really? Well, do that then. You have my numbers right?

BW: checks them Yes, they’re right.

Three days later, I’m still waiting for the call. I cancelled my direct debit (which was also the reason British Gas owed me £200) and I will pay over the counter. Rip off merchants! Direct Debits give them a licence to do whatever they please.

Subsequently, I got a letter to say they actually owe me £1122.28. Not the original figure. Disgraceful!!!

I reckon I’ve been paying so much for my water I might as well have been bathing in Evian, cooking in Volvic and showering in Buxton water.

I wonder how many days it will take for them to give me my money back?

I’m guessing because they’re a one-man operator, they can do what they like.

My inner masochist…

I don’t know why (well, I do, which I’ll explain later!) but I decided to stop by Mumsnet this morning. God I wish I hadn’t. What vitriol!

I do love forums. I like knowing what other people think. Often, it’s a lot like I think, but it fuels my inner rage from time to time. My first forum love was the BB5 one. I’m not a fan of Big Brother at all, but this series captivated me. I mostly liked it because I loved Nadia (as did the population, hence the winning vote) but I was also stunned into car-crash-watching mode with Michelle Bass, in that she’s pretty much everything I dislike in people: shallow, vain (yet insecure – a heady mix!) jealous, bitchy, pathetic, whingey. I watched BB6, hoping for a re-run of it, but it wasn’t as good, though BB7 captured my interest. After that, it just didn’t cut the mustard. Still, I liked the C4 forums, since they largely voiced what I felt. It’s good to know you’re part of the morality zeitgeist.

I’ve also been a regular on a couple of mental health forums, since I was diagnosed bipolar – and they really also show what idiots there are on the planet. People who want to be bipolar, over-concerned partners, including one sad-sack who drove me to such distraction that I left the site for good. She spent an enormous amount of effort moaning about her ‘mate’ (not partner, not even really a friend!) and getting a lot of attention, and not listening at all to anyone. I did make two excellent friends from here who really supported me, and I learned a huge amount!

Then it was on with the forums about France, most of which confirm the kind of English people I can’t stand and I hope not to meet: those who won’t learn English, think they are entitled to benefits, want to buy cheap cheddar and moan about absolutely everything. I don’t often go on them now, as it’s just the same-old same-old.

I made the mistake though, of thinking I’d find a little bit of support on mumsnet. I don’t often post – I’ve never posted on that site – more often, I just read and digest. However, I thought I was opinionated. Not so. I try to moderate what I say, and I’m bipolar and a Sagittarian to boot. Not so Net Mums. Vile!

An example:

“I’d choose my words more carefully IIWU, otherwise what you say makes you sound immature, selfish and cold. “

Oh, right; don’t take your own advice. I’d choose my own words more carefully IIWU, because you sound like a judgemental bitch.

The responses to various threads are ‘you’re unbelievable’, ‘how dare you…’ and so on. I also hate the cliquey shared-world ‘DP’ and ‘DSS’ and so on. WTF is a ‘DSS’??! I’m guessing dearest step son, but could equally be demon step son. They go from berating a step mother for not being enough involved, then supporting a mother whose child’s step mum wants to go to his parents’ evening.

Speaking as someone caring for a child who is not her own, I thought this site was utterly abysmal and totally ludicrous. Step parents get it in the neck whatever they do. I did think about ‘defined’ roles of parents etc, but then I also thought the ‘blended’ family is a big, huge kibbutz-like thing when it works well, (like my own is and always has been) I never disobeyed my step-mum, I accept that she will give them more attention than she gives us, and rightly so. Everything she does is an added bonus. Likewise my step-dad. Nobody said they should end up with a load of ungrateful kids just because they loved someone. Nobody said they should be involved in our life like real parents. Yet Brenda. my step-mum, is a real true friend of mine and I love her dearly. She is sensible and rational and makes my father complete. John, my step-dad, is a wise being who struggles to understand the ‘human’ side of people sometimes, I think, but he and my mum make the best couple. I hope he makes her as happy as she deserves to be. My parents just weren’t meant to be together. As they’ve aged, they’ve become even more opposites, united by one thing alone: us.

I’m glad my parents are happy and loved and treasured as all people deserve to be. It makes us better people.

And to hear, from scornful mums on Mumsnet some ‘step mum’ dos and don’ts, I’m horrified. I can’t believe they can be so rude to people who need support. It’s everything that’s wrong with parents. They think their children are the be-all and end-all of a family. They aren’t. They’re part of a unit. The family unit. They aren’t little princes or princesses. The step parent doesn’t have any real need to be involved, should they not wish to. Judgement spewed forth like acid eruptions and in terms that were totally inappropriate from ‘mums’

I can only assume these are the sue-them-all-my-child-is-the-centre-of-the-universe-don’t-tangle-with-me bubble mothers who drive around in Range Rover Vogues and live in a complete bubble of self-entitlement and manage to hold paradoxical views in a way that goes way beyond hypocrisy.

Bah, mumsnet, bah to you. Yay to step parents. It’s the dirtiest of jobs at times, and the most rewarding at others.

Ooh La La! Lady Marmalade or just plain Ga-Ga?

For some time, I have become aware of a hideous tights-based disaster that has become a ‘fashion’ amongst the youth. I first witnessed it on the daughter of the notorious ‘bike of Bury’ – a woman so infamous for ‘back door sex’ that it is regularly discussed at pubs. Alright, maybe not ‘regularly’. But quite often. I have the misfortune of sometimes being privy to such conversations. And every man there, out of seven, had had the dubious honour of illicit back-door sex with this slutty ‘Sammy Jo’ lookalike. She had the misfortune to have a child with an aggressive alcoholic hell-bent on death-by-booze, which added to her brood, but has not tamed down the slaggy behaviour. Quite frankly, she makes me violently ill, as do her family. More on them another time.

Anyway, daughter-of-whore was at a birthday party for a friend of mine (complete with aforementioned whore and her ex-sister-in-law (drug addict, epileptic and possibly moderate learning difficulties with a child she named after a famous Satanist. You couldn’t make this up.) and a couple of their whore-y friends) wearing something that turned many a man’s eye. Not in an attractive way. In a way that said ‘Oh My God! She MUST be up for it!’

Not surprisingly, it made Steve’s mum and I feel quite ill. Not only because the girl was 16 but because she was, at the time, a little on the podgy side.

The worst bit was that she was quite fat, so the leggings had stretched and the holes were H-U-G-E, including those over her arse.

There are several questions raised by Fashionista.com about the wearing of such apparel, for instance:

  • Should these be worn with a dress or just with a top?

I say ‘or at all?’. Certainly, the top didn’t work with podgy daughter-of-whore. A dress… well, that’s silly. They just look like ripped 60 denier tights. It looks like a drunken fashion mishap. I think, personally, they’re designed to have a brightly coloured pair underneath, so they look through the slashes.  They’re not designed to show off too much corned-beef-and-lard skin in January snow. I think Kylie could carry them off, as can Lady Ga-Ga, but they’re renowned skinnies and Ga-Ga is bonkers.

Lady Ga-Ga in The Sun

I wore slashed jeans (often with spandex underneath). It wasn’t big. It wasn’t clever. It looked awful. However, jeans, at least, are clothes, not would-be tights.

Anyway… these have come back to my attention today because I saw a girl wearing them on her way up Bury Road at 8:56 a.m. Not a good look. I was half-tempted to wind the window down and ask her how much. On Ga-Ga, it’s okay, because she’s crazy. And she is a pop icon. It’s expected of her. But of a girl in Breightmet on a Tuesday morning? Well, it’s just all a little too much for me. I’m so old!! Mind you, even when I was a girl, I knew what looked like a prostitute on the prowl and what looked fine for a 17 year old. And I think even the 17 year old me would admit these are just a bit too ‘Cher’ for words. That’s okay if you’re entertaining the United States Navy as some kind of ‘entertainment’, but not if you’re on your way to work. Unless your work is as a lady of the night. Then I might accept this is appropriate attire.

Dealing with threat

From time to time, I come across people who would deliberately do harm. They are selfish, sure. They are self-involved. They don’t mean well. They are unhappy and they want to share their unhappiness.

One such person has come back into my small circle of family and friends by way of Facebook. Without bias, she is a small-minded individual who copies what she sees on t.v. or in trashy magazines, doing what she thinks is appropriate. She can be very hurtful and she is always very manipulative. Nothing she does is without motive. In some ways, I can kind of understand. She didn’t have the best of childhoods… but then, who among us really did? We may look back on our childhood and see it as a tragic thing, or as a perfect thing, when really it was both.

Bastille, 1980, La Baule.

My mum and I didn’t always see eye to eye. We still don’t. I can be a spendthrift and will spend £400 on a pair of boots. I am loud and assertive and impatient, rude and silly. When I’m with my siblings, I revert to former behaviour, burping, farting, laughing like a drain. But my mum had a mix of the worst and best childhoods, and despite having very little maternal influence herself, she brought us up (and many other kids!) to be honest, proud, confident and fearless. We went from being relatively affluent to being poor beyond belief, with visits from the bailiff from time to time. I never remember being hungry, but I remember being poor. I didn’t have expensive shoes. I got a grant for my uniform and free school meals. Yet my mum always held it together. She was strong for a huge amount of time when lesser people might have fallen apart. With no education, she got GCSEs and then a degree. She teaches now, herself. She wasn’t always wise as she is now, but she has never been venomous or hurtful. She kept my father’s transgressions to herself and took it on the chin time and time again even when we were hung up emotionally on the notion of our missing father. We made the most of what we had. I don’t remember a lot of books, except for presents, but we used the library a lot. I have a vague recollection of days she’d go to bed with ‘a headache’ when no doubt it was all a bit too much, but she did it all. And she did it all by herself.

She never relied on a man to ‘save’ her, and she’s dragged us up, by whatever means necessary, so that we’re all fine members of society. Of all people, she taught me that you don’t need a man and you don’t need to be bitter about the past. You can get over it. You put on your brave face.

My Gramps, on whose knees I sat, decided to go into factory work because it was better paid than the civil service at the point when he needed money, with my nana due to give birth. He hated it, yet you’d never have known. He must have despised working with idiots and numbskulls. I still remember the smell of him, home from Bibby and Baron’s… his overalls smelling of the factory. But he never complained. He knew he had responsibilities and he never shirked them.

We weren’t unbelievably poor, but I don’t think we were far off.

I could, however, look back on this childhood – my absent father, my mother with her ‘headaches’ and say ‘I had a shit childhood.’

But I never do.

I don’t gloss over it. We were happy in simple ways,  like tea round at my nana’s on a Saturday afternoon, with the football on in the background, pickled onions, a huge pork pie, slices of bread and butter, crisps… our version of high tea. We played games. We chatted. No trips out, unless they were free. Easter Monday on the beach, when we stopped going away for Easter. Summer holidays camping in France. Christmas that lasted for days and days.

Yet the threat to walk back into our life cannot see past her poisoned childhood and release herself from it. She lies for attention. She will say anything, including referring to her ‘cancer’ which disappeared, ‘miraculously’. Strangely, another woman I faced threat from with one of my exes claimed the same thing. I don’t know why they would wish something like that upon themselves. Why would you wish for an illness to get attention??! She lies about all kinds of things, mostly her own behaviour.

Not only is her own life poisoned, but she seeks to poison the lives of others.

I don’t get this.

As someone who faced career ruin through the stupid behaviour of others, I know what it’s like to want to blame someone. I want to blame the small-minded jealousy of the woman who caused me to leave the council. She was a small-minded bully who would corner me, dismiss me and do as she damn well pleased at work. She almost lost her family. She is trapped in a loveless marriage and talks to her husband as if he is a child in need of schooling. She was once a profound influence upon me, but then when I got published and was her equal at work, if not better, she refused to see how hard I’d worked for it, doing three jobs, and decided that it was unjust. Jealous? I don’t know. Seething with disgust, definitely. She hated everything I was. But I don’t blame her. If anything, I blame my boss for not being fair, not tackling it and taking the easy way out. It was easier to let me go than keep us and sort it out. But what’s to blame there? That’s human nature. It’s the nature of corporations. It’s why they aren’t loyal. Least resistance is a path taken by many of us.

I could turn around after the robbery and say I hate teens, but I don’t. I even finished by saying to the boy in question that I hoped he would learn from it and I didn’t want him to have a criminal record. I meant it. A criminal record does no-one any good, except maybe those insane people who are a real danger to society…. and they have different guidelines than a conscience.

So… how do I deal with the re-emergence of this woman? As I do with all threats:

Keep a close eye on it.

Know it.

Understand it.

Predict its moves.

Get close to it.

Study it.

Prepare for it.

Be one step in advance.

Then step back and let it burn itself out.

I don’t really believe in confrontation, despite what many believe of me. I always said, when teaching, a loud pair of shoes is the ultimate weapon. Kids know you’re coming. They stop what they’re doing. They disappear. Presence and watchfulness is all. Be about. Be noticeable. Be visible. Be strong. But be cunning. I believe most problems disappear when people realise they’ve been detected. They usually stop doing it. Dealers stop dealing if they’re afraid they’re being watched. Drivers drive better with the police behind them (Sometimes! Although, today, I saw a van dicking about in front of two police cars. Stupidity is always good. The more stupid, the less a threat)

People may move on, but if we’re all vigilant, they have nowhere to go.

Let them move. Few people are capable of keeping their true nature in for that long. I know she’ll slip up and without me doing it, she’ll be blocked from our circle again. People do. They are their own worst enemy. Let them fall. They all do. Stand strong whilst they fall.

I shall keep my eye on her, but people never stray far from their true nature or intentions. She will, I have no doubt, attempt to spread a little poison, attempt to get attention, but I’m on to her.

I’m feeling very ‘renegade’ today. I need a dose of Hed (pe)

Although, unlike Jared, I shan’t be pushing right back. Resistance is futile!