Tuesday, 12 October 2010

It IS personal

Well I haven't blogged in a good while now as life got in the way. I do plan to get back on here sharing lots of fun and positive stuff, but for today I've come out of blogging hibernation for something not quite so cheery.

For those of you that don't know me personally, I work in a call centre. Now this isn't my vocation, some long held dream I cherished close to my heart, it just happens to be the only job I could get when I needed part time work after having children. No matter. It pays the bills, and aside from the odd bit of aggravation it's not been a bad job. Well, I say aggravation... I think I may have used the words "soul destroying" on a number of occasions, but hey, I'm a drama queen.

What I want to ask today, after many years of working on customer service in one capacity or another, both face to face and now as a call centre credit advisor, ahem *clears throat* "WHY DO YOU THINK YOU CAN SHOUT AT ME LIKE THAT?!"

Why, when I brought your son's chicken nuggets to your table do you think it's ok to scream, "How stupid are you? My wife always puts them on the mantlepiece to cool down!" Why, when I ask what the problem with your meal is so that I can help, do you think it's ok to throw your pint glass at my head and scream at me to "F*** off!" Why, when I let you know that the pub closed an hour ago and you really do need to leave now, do you think it's ok to scream in my face and call me a b***h? Why, when I explain to you in your posh members club at half twelve at night that, no I can't serve you any more alcohol as our licence doesn't allow it and I'd lose my job and get fined, do you think it's ok to lean over the bar and scream in my face that I am, in fact, a f*****g c***?

Now, you may think that, obviously being incidents on licensed premises, these were alcohol related, and excuse them that way. That's what I also suspected, and why I was a little bit relieved four years ago when I realised that my job on the phones would take that element out of the equation. Ah, the naivety. On my first shift a delightful gentleman on the phone called me a c***. Nice. Of the people who started the job at the same time as me, two left within that first week, after spending much of their time crying in the toilets as customers routinely talked to them like dirt. I, through practice, had somewhat of a thicker skin. Besides which, well, I needed, still do need, my job. When people shouted at me, swore at me, talked to me like I might just well be several sandwiches short of a picnic, I pushed it to one side and told myself, well, it's not personal. Occasionally one of the customers would even say that to me, between rants. "It's not personal, love." I understand, I thought, they're having a difficult time and can't pay their bills, they're frustrated by that and they're just taking it out on me. It's not personal. It's not personal.

But do you know what? It *is* personal. They are shouting at *me*, and I *am* a person. I'm 33, I like cats, cake, and playing in the park with my boys. I dislike dogs, aubergines, and, er, oh yeah people shouting at me. See? I'm human. A person. Therefore it is flipping personal.

So last night, when I called a customer who hadn't paid their bill and offered to try and help, I was doing it because I was actually bothered. I actually cared that she was going through a difficult time, and I actually wanted to help her find a solution. I was a person on the other end of the line listening. I listened as she shouted at me. I listened as she asked me if I was stupid. I listened as she shouted and belittled me some more. I couldn't say what I actually wanted to say at this point, as I need my job. I've put up with customers like this for fifteen years, always somehow coping with it because I knew it was my job, and at the end of the day I need to pay my bills. The thing is though, I don't have a job anymore come the end of this year. 'Organisational changes' you see. So as this 'lady' screamed at me I didn't any longer have the shield around me that ongoing employment had previously provided. So I completed the call while trying not to let her hear me crying, wiped my tears off my notepad, then walked to the toilets and cried.

I write this today not as some sort of self-pity fest, but to try and let you know that it's a person on the other end of the phone, not a robot. That may seem an obvious statement to make, but I do wonder.

The phrase "The customer is always right" means that customers know what products and services they want, and businesses would be wise to listen to that. It does not mean, "If you're having a bad day or just feel like being mean to someone, go and scream at someone who isn't allowed to talk back because they'll lose their job if they do, and it'll be ok because you're the customer and you're always right".

I don't know why people increasingly feel like it's ok to do this, and this blog isn't long enough to even begin to find out. Is it a by product of the breakdown of communities and people genuinely interacting with each other less and less? Possibly. Is it a combination of the consumer culture and wage slavery? Probably that too. It's certainly worrying the increasing number of shops and offices who have the sign up stating that their employees are not there to be physically or verbally abused. Clearly this is actually something that needs putting up on the wall as a matter of course. How scary. How scary and how sad that that's the case.

So I'm writing this in the hope that at least one person listens, and makes an active decision to talk civilly to someone on the other end of the line. You could even be nice. Ask how their day's been maybe. They are a person, and it *is* personal.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

MP=Brick wall?

My latest, hopefully not futile, attempt to get my MP to see sense regarding the CSF bill:

Dear Mr Pigeons Learn Faster*,

Thank you for your reply to the petition that I left for you, and for the enclosed reply from Diana Johnson.

In your letter you refer to the changes that have been made to Home Education, and the first point that I would like to make is that these changes have not yet been made, regardless of what the government would apparently like to think. They are still being debated and are yet to be passed.

In an ideal world the case against this bill would be simple. And indeed this should be the case. The proposals, if implemented, will completely reverse the burden of proof for the first time. Requiring citizens of this country to prove that they are abiding by the law, rather than the authorities investigating legitimate concerns and being required to prove that someone is breaking the law, is an unacceptable state of affairs. However, this government appears to be blind to this fact, so I will continue with detailed reasons why you should be opposing the proposed monitoring of home education.

You state that you feel that the proposed changes should not, unless there is extremely good reason, prevent any parent from home educating their child. The inclusion of the phrase “for any other reason” in relation to local authority workers deciding whether or not there is a risk, is completely open to personal interpretation and prejudice. As, in fact, is the rest of the clause, which is being used to pass skeleton regulations, the details of which will then have to be added at a later date as secondary legislation not subject to parliamentary scrutiny. In view of this, Ms Johnson's comments that “the registration process will be straightforward”, and “home educators will not be required to follow a specific curriculum” hold little water.

You say that “the main purpose of the Government legislation seems to be in regards to the protection of children and the standard of home education”. In the Commons debate regarding this bill, Ms Johnson in fact said, “I reiterate that there are safeguarding provisions in place generally in our law. The report is predominantly about education.” However she also stated, incorrectly, that “Graham Badman found a higher incidence of home-educated children in those child protection plans.” Graham Badman did indeed state that “the number of child protection plans [for home educated children] in the authorities that we covered in the last survey, [is] 0.4% which is double that within the normal population”. However, the fact is that nobody knows how many children in England are home educated (and nor should they; would you support a compulsory register of children who are vegan, in order to establish whether you feel their diets are nutritionally fulfilling?). Estimates vary from 40,000 to 70,000. Using Badman’s own data, the proportion of home educated children with a child protection plan is 0.22% if there are 40,000 home educated children, or 0.12% if there are 70,000. Any home educated child with a child protection plan must be known to the local authority. There are therefore no children with child protection plans among the 20,000-50,000 unknown home educated children. The evidence Badman gathered was from 74 local authorities. 54 of these authorities reported that no home educated children had child protection plans.

The law already makes provision for the protection of all children, and laws are in place to enable children to be seen should there be genuine concerns surrounding their welfare. No further powers are needed in this respect. There are very strong parallels between the proposals to grant local authorities powers to monitor and regulate home educators, and interview home educated children, and the laws on police powers pre-PACE. For the government to require or mandate periodic interviews of children and require plans in advance risks undermining the trust between educator and child and runs directly contrary to the beneficial curricular flexibility inherent in home education. The fact that this will be done as a matter of practice, without any suspicion of deficiency in the home education provided, makes it disproportionate and unacceptable. The fact that such checks will be carried out by public sector employees affiliated with the state education system also gives rise to a huge risk of bias against the standard of home education provided, hard-wiring a risk of school attendance orders being issued capriciously without any independent burden of proof.

You state in your letter that you “believe that [the proposed changes] are highlighting the fact that their not being at school removes a level of protection for the child.” By the government's own statistics 450,000 children are bullied in school each year. At least sixteen children commit suicide each year as a result of school bullying. More than 360,000 children are injured in schools each year. Home education saves lives. Monitoring would disrupt the process of rebuilding bullied children’s confidence.

Ed Balls has himself stated, “A local authority currently ...has a right in law to see a child if it fears that there is a child well-being, safety or child protection issue. That right already exists, including for home-educated children. The issue is whether they are being educated and whether they are learning.” Again, however, this appears to be an attempt to pull the wool over everyone's eyes. Schedule 1 says, in fact, “In determining for the purposes of subsection (3A)(b) whether it is expedient that a child should attend school, an authority shall disregard any education being provided to the child as a home-educated child.”

In terms of your hope that Ms Johnson's letter had covered the point about local authorities having the right to interview children alone, she did indeed say that “A LA will not be able to interview a child without its parents being present, and if either the parents or the child objects to this action.” Ed Balls has also stated that “The Bill makes it clear that there is no right for a local authority to see the child of a home- educating family on their own, without the parents there.” However it would perhaps be of use to both of them to actually read Schedule 1 of the bill which states, “A local authority in England may revoke the registration of a child’s details on their home education register if it appears to them that ... by reason of a failure to co-operate with the authority in arrangements made by them [to monitor the home education], or an objection to a meeting [with the child alone] the authority have not had an adequate opportunity to ascertain the matters referred to in Section 19E(1)”

Aside from the ethical reasons why this registration and monitoring should not be allowed to go ahead, there are very sound educational reasons too. There are a myriad of educational methods available in home education, far more than could ever be implemented in the school system. Every home educated child really does have the opportunity to have a tailored education. Autonomous education is a frequently used philosophy, researched in depth by Paula Rothermel (2002). The Badman report, accepted in full by Ed Balls, wrote off autonomous learning as 'little better than child-minding', and completely disregarded any research on the subject. The very act of coming into children's lives to monitor them would be hugely damaging to children learning autonomously. Children have an innate love of learning if you don't squeeze it out of them, and I for one will not allow my children's lives and learning to be damaged by ignorant legislation.

Finally a note on your comment that you “regularly speak to a number of constituents and indeed friends who work in schools”. With all due respect, talking to them on the issue of home education is akin to discussing with restaurateurs whether people should eat out more often rather than cooking at home. Some education may take place at school, but school is not the sum total of education, nor welfare. As Plutarch said, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be lit”.

Should you require any more information in order to understand this issue fully, please do not hesitate to contact me. I am currently watching today's Commons debate of the Bill so no doubt I will be in touch again soon.

*Name has been changed to protect the, er, innocent? No that can't be it.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Petition time! (Yes, still)

Having had a real push, in advance of the second reading of the CSF bill, on trying to get my non-HE friends to understand the implications of the bill and get them to sign the petition, I've had a number of different types of reponse. A couple of my closest friends signed, and let me know they had. These are people who have already let me know how wrong they think the government are being. One person let me know that, essentially, he thought I'd gone "loony lefty" (clearly some research into politics would lend informational accuracy to these insults, oh well), but would sign anyway. The biggest response by far however, despite the huge implications for all families in the reversal of the burden of proof and unprecedented invasion of the family home, was no response. None at all. And, I assume (although perhaps wrongly), no signature on the petition.

The Bill passed through anyway to the next stage, as expected, but the fight goes on, and as well as continuing to lobby MPs and Lords, we really need those petition signatures, and for that we need to get people to understand the implications for them. For their family. For their children. Yes, not these Home Educated children that don't have anything to do with you. YOUR family. YOUR children.

So I've come up with a few light hearted ways of posting the petition link, in an effort to keep posting it without people skimming over and ignoring it. Feel free to use them or cross post if you like :)


Knock knock!
Who's there?
Paula who?
Poorly trained council worker with a right to come into your house against your wishes, check you have your heating on if I deem it necessary, check I don't think you have to many people living in one house, check I think your children are being parented properly in my opinion, and make your children do what I think is right, regardless of their feelings and genuine welfare or yours. I will have the right to do this in any home as the government are going to take the unprecedented step of reversing the burden of proof, so that people have to prove they are innocent rather than us having to prove they are not. If you want to try and stop me being able to do this, sign the petition here http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/Home-ed-families/.

Classic Facebook

URGENT WARNING! You may recently have seen Ed “Bully Boy” Balls demanding CRB checks unnecessarily, overriding Select Committee findings, and generally acting like a totalitarian megalomaniac. He is actually a FACEBOOK VIRUS! He has escaped from the computer system into the world of politics, and is programmed to control your children's thoughts and wipe out individuality. The virus has immovable programming, impenetrable by logic, reason, or the law. It is cunning and has found ways of bypassing parents that want to protect their children and do the best for them. To help stop this virus, sign this petition http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/Home-ed-families/. Then go to your Facebook settings, click on egotistical self interested control freak politicians, then click delete.


Take one bun from oven, baked to perfection. Season with parental love and guidance. Watch bun rise happily. Add one government, totalitarian and controlling. Watch as bun sinks, gets prodded, poked, measured, tested, and temperature probed. Sign petition here http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/Home-ed-families/ to stop government having control over buns against their wishes. Remove struggling bun from government's control. Season further with parental love until bun returns to it's own perfect individual state.


When I was back there in
home school
There was a person there
Who put forth the proposition
That you can petition Ed Balls
with reason
Petition Ed Balls with reason
Petition Ed Balls with reason
You cannot petition Ed Balls with reason!

But we're gonna try anyway, sign here http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/Home-ed-families/

(With thanks to The Doors for inspiration)

EU friendly

Bonjour Mesdames, Messieurs, fils et filles. S'il vous plait, signer cette pétition http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/Home-ed-families/ pour le gouvernement britannique arrêter d'être contrôle freaks. Merci beaucoup.

Plant sprout. Love, water and nurture. Watch sprout grow in it's optimal environment. Add one government, eager to ensure all sprouts are the same and under their control. Watch as sprout gets fertilised chemically and uniformly, then measured. Watch as sprout withers and struggles. Watch as sprout gets fertilised again, chemically and uniformly. Sign petition here http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/Home-ed-families/ to stop government having control over sprouts against their wishes. Watch sprout struggle with unsuitable regime. Remove sprout from government growing programme. Transplant into fresh compost, and resume loving, watering and nurturing. Watch as sprout blossoms into unique and fulfilled bloom.

Blunt fact

Please help by signing this petition http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/Home-ed-families/, as if the government's plans go through I will have a criminal record in the next couple of years simply for letting my children learn by experiencing the amazing world around them, and not allowing council workers into my home to attempt to measure the unmeasurable, what wonderful things lie in my children's minds.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Bye bye supermarkets

That strange groaning sound you may be able to make out is my husband, and it's been brought on by the fact that, two days after completing my list of aims for the year, I now have another "project". Giving up supermarkets.

Now this may not seem like a difficult thing to do, and I do know a number of people that don't use supermarkets, so it must be possible. We do already get a lot of our storecupboard basics from Suma, but budgetary constraints mean that the rest of our shopping comes from the old Value range. Ethics and health tend to go out of the window. Although we cook from scratch and don't eat packaged meals, if the ingredients are full of pesticides in the first place then the end result can't be that healthy either. And fair trade or local produce only lands in our trolley if everything else is sold out.

So, by the end of this month I want my shopping to be:

Sourced ethically
Not from a supermarket
Within budget
Environmentally friendly

Ha! Not asking much then.

Now, currently our shopping budget is £200 per month, including food, toiletries, household products and cat food. Also currently included in this is nappies and wipes as since I came out of hospital we have been using disposables a lot of the time for convenience. This, needless to say, costs a fortune and will be the first thing going or we stand no chance of doing this on budget!

My first port of call, a local veg box scheme. I found a local one, which look great and also do fruit and eggs (although, back garden chickens pending, we may not need these), so at £15.50 for a standard veg box containing 9-11 crops, and £5.90 for a small fruit bag, this looks like a good start.

Next, a proper look at Suma. Like I said, we already get things from here, mostly pulses, homeopathic remedies, veggie stuff and the like. Tonight I priced up an entire month's shopping (a mammoth task!). Obviously the cheapest way to do a lot of it is in large bulk quantities, but we don't have the budget to allow ourselves to buy that mush up front, so we go with the smaller bulk amounts.

So, three long hours later, elated to be done, I scroll down to the total at the bottom and ... bang! my hope of an easy solution comes crashing down as I see that the Suma products plus one veg box and one fruit bag a week takes us to £266 per month. Disaster! Taking into account the fact that we have knocked nappies and wipes off the shopping list, which made up over a quarter of our budget, a straight move from supermarket value ranges to ethical and organic has doubled our spend. Also this total doesn't count cat food, as we have a very fussy rescue cat who will only each pouches of food in jelly. Pop a bowl of cat crunchies down in front of him and he will go off in a huff and starve himself until you see sense, so I need to find an alternative, which may turn out to be buying the same food for him, but not from a supermarket!

Things that are on the list that I'm not 100% happy about are:

1. Washing powder. It's Ecover, but I'd still rather not, especially in view of the cost. We tried eco balls for a good while, with very stinky results, and, not wanting to be damp smelling social pariahs, we went back onto the old detergent. Any ecologically sound yet purse friendly suggestions welcome!

2. Dishwasher gel. As above, would rather not. I did use Stardrops for a time, which is cheap but probably not great for the green credentials of my dishwasher.

3. Butter. I buy this to make bread with, but am wondering if there is a vegan alternative. Any home bakers let me know please!

Other than that, I'm happy with what's on there, it's all organic, fairtrade or local, and vegan aside from the eggs (but don't tell Gruff, he may not notice!), so I just need a cheaper way of doing it.

I'm going to have the night off now and try and shave £70 off this tomorrow, any suggestions appreciated.