Friday, 19 December 2008

A vegetarian meal

It was the firm's Christmas meal today, and ever-mindful of Partner being vegetarian, the director organising it had requested a vegetarian meal for him.

He'd had breakfast at the appointed venue recently and said it was pretty good, so he had high hopes.

First course was minestrone, and when he asked, he was told it was made with vegetarian stock. So far so good.

The main course, was potatoes (mashed), potatoes (sauteed), and a potato (jacket), carrots and peas. Er, that's it.

Partner likes potatoes but even he was slightly overfaced. It is surely not beyond the creativity of someone working in a kitchen to come up with something a little more inventive than three different types of potatoes and two veg.

For example:
*buy a pot of hummus and serve with salad, raw veg, and pitta bread or even toast
*get a couple of veg samosas from one of the Indian takeaways and add those
*or felafels from a Moroccan shop
*or even a veggie burger from the supermarket
*or stick a few veg on skewers and make veg kebabs
*or as a last resort, that old staple from about 20 years ago or more - an omelette - in the days when the only thing people could think to cook for vegetarians was an omelette.

There must be many more easy examples of cheap fast vegetarian food but these were just the first few off the top of my head. Thanks to the firm for trying, they ordered in plenty of time, so it shouldn't have been that difficult.

But dear me. Why are we still being treated like such second-class citizens?

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Arse of the Week Award

First prize goes to the totally ignorant inconsiderate driver on Queensway on Saturday afternoon who seemed to think
a) it was necessary to speed, and
b) specifically speed through puddles and splash passers-by.

In fact, not just splash passers-by, soak them. Throw water right up the back of my coat, all down the back of my trousers so they were soaked inside and out, and my boots as well of course.

It took two days for the boots to dry out, and I don't know how long it would have taken the clothes, but I chucked them in the tumble dryer.

Now listen, you arsehole in your small go-fasty goody. I am not walking because I am too poor to afford either a small new car, or a large old one. I am walking because I like to do so, because I see no need to drive around Gib unnecessarily, and if I don't wish to walk I will get on the bus.

I am not some poverty-stricken urchin from subsidised housing or someone living in controlled rented accommodation. I am almost certainly far better off than you, and probably was at your age too. So you can just stop treating me with such disrespect because I happen to be on two feet and not on four wheels.

You are rude arrogant selfish and totally lacking in respect for people. If you hadn't been going so fast, you might have heard the abuse that I shouted at you.

Second prize of the week, ie runner-up, was awarded yesterday. As the boots were wet, I have been going out in training shoes.

On trying to put them on yesterday I was puzzled to discover the laces seemed to be stuck underneath. To a huge wad of chewing gum. Which did not seem to want to come off.

Quite honestly, when I do my trainers up, I do not want to be reminded of what someone I don't know has been chewing in their mouth. Nor do I want to walk round picking up every piece of dross on the street that sticks to the gum on the sole of my trainer. If you want to chew gum, arsehole, put in a bin when you have finished with it, not on the pavement. Ignorant git.

Third prize..... Nope. There isn't one. Fortunately there aren't too many arses in my life.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Printer/scanners - HP Photosmart All-in-One

So on going away for my holiday, I disconnected the printer and the computer, via the USB cable. Turned everything off at the switch (just in case) even though we have surge protectors. Put computer - laptop - away carefully.

I have done this before, I might add. Come back, reconnect everything, all working fine. This morning, decide to scan something in. Oh. No. Scanner and computer not having a bar of it. Won't print either. In fact, despite being about two centimetres away from each other, they apparently are unaware of each other's existence.

What is really really really annoying, is that I had this problem a couple of months ago. At the time, I uninstalled the printer software - HP Photosmart C5280 All-In-One - and reinstalled it. Again and again. Of course every time I did this my printer apparently wasn't supported by the installation. Er why not?

It was, over a year ago when I bought it and worked perfectly well then. So I emailed HP support and got no response. There was nothing on the website - that I could find - that was remotely relevant. Mostly geared towards PCs and Windows anyway. Note to HP - way to go. Alienate any potential Mac customers. Don't bother making your on-line chat with a technician compatible with the built-in Mac browser - Safari.

Still annoyed, somewhat later, I emailed HP again to point out their guaranteed 24 hour response had not happened. Some days later in fact. At this point I did get a reasonable response from someone asking what my problem was as they didn't have a record of it. It was hardly a helpful response but at least it was a response which was more than I had received so far.

But then Irritating Partner finally decided to take a week's holiday and started by instructing me to buy a memory stick, back everything up and reinstall my operating system. OK, so I knew I should be backing up stuff anyway. Just needed a bit of motivation. But with arse duly kicked, I trotted off to the shop, bought the biggest memory stick they had, and backed everything up. Very fast. Impressed really. Not half the chore I expected.

Next step, obliterate everything, gasp, gulp. And reinstall Mac OS X. Which didn't take too long. Lo and behold. We were up and running again. Reinstalled everything off the memory stick. No probs there either. Finally, fingers crossed, reinstalled the HP printer software. *Yay* That worked too. So what the fuck is wrong with it now???????? In approximately two weeks, why has it taken a hissy fit again?

This will be the last fucking time I EVER buy anything with an HP tag on it, I can say. There had better be a good response coming from the support centre. (It hasn't arrived yet, needless to state). Tips, advice or helpful comments from anyone who has any idea what on earth to do, would be more than welcome. You might even warrant a job with HP's technical department.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

On giving up

I've been reading someone's account of trying to give up smoking. And failing. Good intentions, plans, deadline to quit. And then, missing it, needing it, wanting to start again. Not sleeping well, wake up feeling sick, head aches, irritable. Remembering the enjoyment, the fun times, the relaxation - knowing it's bad for you, but wanting to go back. I thought it was strange. It didn't sound so much to me like giving up smoking as giving up a relationship. The one where you suddenly realise it isn't for you any more. There comes a moment when you realise however good it has been, it's just not a good idea to continue with it. So you go through the same process as the person quitting smoking. Decide to end it. Pluck up the courage to do it, psyche yourself up. Go through with it. Tell him. And miss him. Spend all your time thinking about him, sleep badly, wake up feeling sick wondering why you have done this and ask yourself if you have done the wrong thing. You remember the good times. You look at the 'phone, wait for it to ring. When it rings, you don't know whether to answer it or leave it. If you do answer it and it's not him, you are annoyed with yourself for feeling disappointed. Or these days, you're just as likely to break up by email. So you rush to look at your mails. Disappointed when it's not from him. Stomach churns when it is and you close it without replying. But he's persistent and you can't resist, so you start all over again. And it's good for a while. Although you know it's really not doing you any good. So you try stopping again. And again. Going through the same process each time. Feeling guilty for starting again, enjoying it but knowing at some point you are really going to have to end it for good. And one day you do. You don't know at the time, but as the days pass and you think about him less, don't have the same desire any more, and don't look at the 'phone all the time or dash to your inbox - that's when you've got it beaten. I don't know if it's the same for smokers, because I've never started, so I've never had to give up. Guess giving up anything - chocolate, alcohol, cigarettes, a relationship - is difficult. The only difference with giving up a relationship is that there is someone on the other end. Maybe finding it as hard as you. Or harder. Or maybe easier. But when you've given him up, you'll never know what he thought. Best not to think about it either.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Supermarket rant

I just loathe going to the supermarket. At any time. However, these nasty chores have to be shared. So I trotted down there tonight to get a few essentials which all fit nicely in a hand basket. I can't drive the trolley anyway - or rather - choose not to. Now Morrisons in Gibraltar has installed a few 'Hand basket only" tills. I think previously they were 12 items only. Either way, I don't really care. But, hand basket does not mean one trolley. Just like, 12 items does not mean 15 or 18 (I can live with 13 or 14 without whingeing). And there is nothing more annoying than unloading your shopping and getting a strict cashier telling you that you have missed the sign above your head and need to load everything back and clear off to the appropriate check-out. So, normally, if I am standing at a basket-only counter, I helpfully point this out to people with trollies so they don't waste their time. It makes no difference to me because I am in front of them. Today, as I wandered round to the bottom of the supermarket, I noticed a couple of British women who were unloading their trolley and clearly hadn't seen the sign. "Excuse me, I said," interfering helpfully. "It's hand baskets only." I walked on. But turned round and saw them continuing to pile on their stuff. Picked up my two items and went back. Puzzled, I said, "I told you it was hand baskets only." "Oh, we've got a hand basket," they said. And pointed to the one they had taken from the pile under the counter. "Yeah, and you've got a trolley too." "Well, we're sharing the shopping," they said. At which point I was losing the plot. "Excuse me," to the cashier. "Isn't this hand baskets not trollies?" "Yes." "Well, this is a trolley." It was feeling surreal by now. Is this hand baskets or trollies with baskets? "Oh, but they have a basket so I can't do anything," replied the cashier. Well, I was so stunned I couldn't think of anything to say. Bleached Brits could. "Get a life!" they said smartly to me. Smirking. So I went to another till, where the people were pleasant and easy-going. The woman in front of me went to get something she had forgotten so I looked after her stuff. The man behind had a trolley but so little stuff it could have fitted in a basket. Nobody was precious. Truth is, I've got so used to Spanish supermarkets that whenever I see someone behind me with one or two items I always say 'Pasa'. I do it in Gib as well. But why do people just want to get one over on you? Why do they want to be so fucking clever? Why take your trolley full of stuff and pretend you had baskets when you didn't? Anyway, I'll know next time. I'll just ask the incompetent cashier to note that you have a trolley and this is baskets only - before you get that basket from under the counter. And as for you Morrisons. If you have a policy, shame you don't stick to it. Finally. Bleached Brits. I have a life. And I bet it is a shit load better than yours. Fuck right off out of my face, you are ignorant and disrespectful.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Evening walk - the other view

I wrote about my Sunday evening walk over on Itchy Feet. Well, actually I didn't so much write about it as post up some photos. It was a pleasant walk and I didn't feel like adding my moans to that post. So here they are instead. After leaving the gardens I turned down to go down past some blocks of flats. On the one side of the road was a pleasant leafy green shady spot, that seemed to be the local rubbish dump. Two complaints here: 1) Obviously. Why are people so disrespectful of their environment that they just thrown things over the fence for it to sit there endlessly. 2) What's wrong with the government clearing it up? Oh. I know. It's not on the tourist route. So if the residents choose to make their own environment into an urban rubbish dump, they have to live with it. Going further down the road, I noticed an overgrown cemetery. I've been down the road before, just never noticed the cemetery. Even I can't blame scruffy locals for this, so it is just a shame that whoever does have responsibility for the burial ground lacks either the resources or the motivation to keep it tidy.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008


Writing about the bus strike and the prospect of possibly having to get a bus at 7.15am from La Linea brought another thought to mind. There is something about getting older that seems to result in needing to allow more time for getting moving in the morning. For waking up. For drinking enough cups of coffee for the caffeine to kick in. For actually getting the brain half engaged, let alone totally. This is the woman who would merrily fall out of bed at any given hour, rush round, take a shower/bath, have a coffee or two, maybe make something light to eat, put make-up on, and rush out of the door. All in half an hour if necessary. I can't even remember what time I used to get up to get the 5.30am train to London so that I could get there for a 9.30am start. Invariably meeting a load of other work colleagues on the train - no need for breakfast at home on those days as a meal ticket was included. Or alternatively, I could grab some food quickly at home, skip breakfast on the train, but have dinner on the way back. Total day - 16 or 17 hours usually. Nor can I remember what time I kicked into gear for the drive to Birmingham for a similar start. But I remember enjoying setting off on the empty roads somewhere between 5.15 and 5.45am. Listening to a mix of quiet music, well, noisy music played quietly, and Radio Four. As I moved down through the country I would swap to local radio stations, partly for the traffic updates as I started to meet everyone else who was rushing to work. The adrenalin was buzzing all the way. And then there was the journey back in the late afternoon. Around 700kms return trip. But since I have dropped out of the rat race, I have truly learned to slow down. To the point of stagnation I think sometimes. And I am really not sure whether it is an age thing or because my lifestyle has changed so much, and I am no longer pressurised to rush around like a blue-arsed fly. When Partner started work again, he originally got up around 6am or 6.30am. I thought that was shockingly early for a job that started at 8am and was five minutes walk away. He always got there early and would spend a few minutes chatting with his colleagues before they started. Since then, he has changed jobs and now starts at 7.30am. He gets up around 5.30am or sometimes 5ish. Walks the dog, has coffee, has breakfast, and generally wakes up. When he gets to work he starts immediately. When some of his colleagues get to work - assuming they arrive on time which isn't always the case - they stand around having a coffee, chatting, smoking, and finally pick up a tool sometime after 8am. When I get my idle arse out of bed, I drink the leftovers of the coffee that amazingly do not taste stewed (coffee machines have improved over the years), and flick on a few blogs to see what is happening in the strange world of people/dogs I will never meet but like to read about. Then I decide what to eat. But this is no longer that fast half an hour job that young me did. This takes a couple of hours before I feel awake. So I can see why Partner gets up early so that he has enough time to start functioning clearly - especially when he works manually and has to be alert all the time. Yesterday I had a conversation with a woman in a book shop. We spoke about where the year had gone and that it would soon be September. And then did the usual philosophising about life and how it went quickly. She said even her children were saying that too. And she suggested that maybe because life was so instant these days - flick of a finger on a button - that it seemed to be moving too fast for everyone. When I was in the rat race, one of my bosses told me that lack of money wasn't a problem, but lack of time was. Now I know what he meant. Time. Where on earth did it go? I don't think it is on my side any more.

Friday, 8 August 2008

The complacency factor

I am doomed not to eat out in the near future. Why, when you find a decent restaurant and go there more than a couple of times, do they get complacent and treat you as though you are a money-loaded piece of rubbish? Usually with vastly over-the-top obsequiousness for further insult. Restaurant 1 - Quattro Stagioni Italian restaurant. Reasonable prices, good pizza, dog friendly (sitting outside) - always bringing water for the dog, olives with drinks, nice views. Having finished our food, well almost finished - I left some for the dog for the morning after - we asked for a bill and the doggy bag. An hour or so later, the waiter came out shame-facedly to tell us that they had put the left-over food in the bin. I had left that food very carefully so that Pippa would have some tasty food with his breakfast. I can't bear waste at the best of times and I think throwing food out is verging on criminal. I am not interested in what anyone thinks about my request for a doggy bag, I have paid for the food and I want to take it home. Thank you. Then we had to wait another half an hour for the bill. Restaurant 2 - Waterfront International cuisine on the waterfront. Good choice - four options can be regarded as a good choice - of vegetarian main courses. Potato and Carrot Tarte Tatin, Pepper Coulis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . £12.95     Mushroom Stroganoff, Rice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . £12.95     Vegetable Wellington, Red Wine Mushroom Jus (contains cheese) . £13.95     Potato Cake, White Rice, Sweet Chilli Dip . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . £12.95   Note, the potato cake and mushroom stroganoff are both accompanied with rice. According to the menu. As part of the main course. Note also: All main courses served with either Chipped potatoes or Potato of the day. Vegetables, Rice or Salad can be served instead of Potatoes So for example, if you have the vegetable wellington, you can choose between, potatoes or vegetables or rice or salad. But equally, when choosing mushroom stroganoff and rice, or potato cake, rice and dip, one should also receive something else, eg potatoes, vegetables, rice or salad. Because the rice is described as a part of the main course. So I asked for vegetables with my mushroom stroganoff. The very pretty and totally dateless waitress - who had already brought ice in my drink when I asked for it without ice - came back and told me that wasn't possible. Well, I wasn't happy with that so I called out the manager. I didn't think it was too difficult to understand. I was ordering a main course which included rice. And I also wanted one of the extras that are served with all main courses. No, he was adamant, if I wanted vegetables I would have to pay extra. So I said no. Well, guess what? The vegetables arrived anyway. So I sent them back. Guess what again? Instead of being charged out at £12.95, the stroganoff had mysteriously escalated to £14.50. So, I pointed out the bill was wrong and got it reduced to the correct price. Bye bye Waterfront, you won't be seeing us again for a while. Restaurant 3 - Maharajah When all else fails, go to the Indian. Great choice of vegetarian curries, freshly cooked, inexpensive. But when there is only a handful of people in, why do we have to wait over an hour after we have made our order? And no, we didn't want another drink while we were waiting. And no, we didn't want any poppadums or anything else you suggested we stuff ourselves with. Eventually Partner stormed in and said we would have the food as a take-away as we were both falling asleep waiting for it. Then two hot plates appeared while we were waiting for the take-away. The plates went cold. Nothing appeared. Not a take-away or any food. At which point I went in and told them to forget it. I didn't want the food in any form, either on the table or in bags. Sad waiter pointed to the bags sitting ready for us to take out. Tough shit. I really didn't care and had sat there so fucking long I had totally lost my appetite. It was a nice gesture though not to charge us for the glass of wine and the bottle of beer that we toyed with while waiting for the non-appearance of the food. And I am sure the delay was nothing to do with the fact that you had a take-away customer who ordered lots of food for six people and spent far more than us. So I hope that there is a sudden flurry of new restaurants opening in Gib, otherwise I will run out of places to go if the complacency factor creeps in after two visits, which seems to be par for the course based on the above three experiences.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

The price of fruit

I staggered on the bus with three very heavy shopping bags. Fortunately one of the front seats was empty and I could dump the bags in the luggage spot which avoids putting them on the floor and having stuff rolling out of the bags and down the bus. Which has happened before. I heard some bloke wittering away and suddenly realised he was talking at me. He was jabbering on about the price of fruit. Obviously a variant on the price of fish. He seemed to be telling me how expensive fruit was in Morrisons and was smugly telling me about his shopping expedition to Spain that morning. Apparently he had bought four grapefruit for two euros. What did I think to that? Very little, in all honesty, but I did ask if they were white ones. No, they weren't, they were red. Well, Mr Cheapskate FruitShopper, I don't happen to like red ones, I like white ones. And I know how difficult they are to buy in Spain. And if you think I am traipsing over to La Linea to buy red grapefruit that I don't want for 50 cents each when I can get white ones that I do want for 39p in Gib, you can think again. Oh, I didn't say all that. Just that I didn't like red ones. Arguing about the price of grapefruit seemed somewhat tortuous. Then he got onto the price of grapes. Well, I don't usually buy grapes so that was of no relevance to me. It turned out his shopping expedition had taken four hours to go round three supermarkets and spend one and a half hours to get back in across the border because the Police Nacionale are still checking everyone's papers as part of their work-to-rule. I do not wish to spend four hours on a shopping expedition driving to three separate supermarkets followed by a boring wait in a queue. I prefer to walk for 20 minutes to one supermarket, and if I have lots of stuff, I can then jump on a bus to come home. If I don't have much, I walk back. Or I walk down the road to one of the local veg shops. Depends what I want to buy. Then he started bragging about his place in Portugal with 3,000 square metres of ground. He wished he was there, lots of space, no parking problems, cheaper, but his wife was here in hospital. So he was staying at his flat in Gib. People really irritate me when they moan about the price of everything in Gib, spend ages going shopping in Spain, and yet they are quite happy to take advantage of things in Gib that they do want, in this case the health care. I know lots of people do cross the border to shop in Spain, but I would have thought someone with a place in Portugal and a flat here could afford to support the local economy. Good thing not all of us choose to spend our money outside Gib.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Call centres

So last night I made the mistake of ringing a call centre. I think I did it to prove to myself that they really are the most irritating invention ever. Maybe I did it on the offchance that I would be pleasantly surprised by an efficient and competent response. I wasn't. It's a UK bank call centre. This said bank has a call centre in Ireland during normal banking hours, and for the rest of its supposed 24 hour service it is farmed out to somewhere on the other side of the world. We used to have a savings account with them which we have recently closed. We could actually close that one over the 'phone. I say actually, it took three separate 'phone calls before it was logged and registered by them as closed, and it took at least three weeks, probably nearer to four before the notification arrived. The out-of-hours staff were terrible, and even the daytime staff were of dubious quality until we finally hit lucky and got one that knew what she was doing. We now want to close the current account. Pretty simple eh? So I rang to ask the helpful call centre staff what I had to do to close it. "Just go into your local branch," he said. "Can't do that," I pointed out. "I don't live there." "Just go into your local branch," he repeated, obviously thinking I had not heard him the first time. "I live in a different country," I helpfully added, thinking this might be a key bit of information that would make him realise I couldn't just nip down the street and call into my local High Street branch. "Just go into your local branch," he said yet again, perhaps thinking that if he repeated it enough times I might finally understand. At this point I was starting to lose what small amount of patience I still possessed. It wasn't a lot anyway because as soon as I pick up the 'phone and know I am going to be dealing with Call Centre Syndrome, it starts ebbing away from me in bucketloads. I explained that I thought it was a bit inconvenient to have to get on an aeroplane to visit another country just to close an account. "I can just write a letter can't I?" I said giving him A Very Big Clue. This was not easy. Long pause. He obviously searched up and down his crib sheet, or up and down his computer crib screen, but there was clearly no mention of Writing A Letter. "I don't know," he admitted. Then a bright idea came to him. "I'll go and ask my supervisor." "Oh no you won't. I've just explained I'm ringing from another country and the 'phone call is expensive so I'm not hanging on any longer while you disappear off to chat with your supervisor. I'll just write the letter." So I put the 'phone down and then sat there uttering every obscenity I could think of about whoever first came up with the concept of call centres. To be fair, my gripe is not with the poor staff who get paid peanuts for dealing with cantankerous customers like me. But I am annoyed, that in the search for cost-cutting and boosting profits for shareholders, resaonable customer service has disappeared into the ether. And even worse that it is portrayed as being an advantage and a benefit for us customers. Ringing somewhere miles away where finding the answer to even a simple question takes on the complexity of completing a doctoral thesis in nuclear physics is not what I want. It is also beyond me why someone can't put together a decent Q & A brief for the poor creatures on the end of the telephone. It seems they can manage to check balances and answer basic questions about an account, but over and above that they are stumped. I shouldn't be surprised though. Some years ago I was in charge of complaints. Complaints came into my office, my admin staff wrote an acknowledgement letter, and then asked an appropriate professional within the organisation to look into it and draft a response. Then we also tried to see if there was anything we could do to improve the procedures so that it wouldn't happen again. If we made changes as a result of the complaint we told the person who had complained so at least they didn't feel they had wasted their time. My administrator was efficient. She was so efficient that she basically liked to get things off her desk. Or to get people off the 'phone and then she could get back on with her typing and chatting to the other secretary. So on a few occasions I would hear her speaking to people who had rung up to ask how to complain. Very nicely she would tell them how to go about it. If they weren't happy, she would repeat it. If they asked if there was any other option she would say no and repeat the whole palaver again. This was not strictly true, as although there was the basic complaint route taken by most people, there were alternatives. But this made life complicated, and Efficient Admin would have had to think and work out which was appropriate. It was not on her neat sheet of "What Happens Next." She didn't want to get it wrong and she wasn't confident enought to treat each call individually, so she stuck to her crib sheet. So ironically, I can understand why call centres are so utterly useless. Staff answering the 'phone are not paid to think. They are paid to give out easy answers according to their script. If the caller deviates from the script, they can't respond. Or only with the one answer that they know. In my new world order of things, I would make call centres illegal.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Funding for health services

One of the comments on my last post about smuggling cigarettes ("Risk free or duty free?") suggested increasing the taxes on cigarettes in Gibraltar and added that the additional revenue generated could go directly towards treating smokers. (With which I do not disagree I should add). Smoking is a contributory factor to a lot of chronic illnesses and serious disease. Cancer, heart disease, bronchitis, emphysema, COPD, DVT, asthma, off the top of my head. But it is not the only factor, or the only determinant. To take the obvious one - lung cancer. People who smoke get lung cancer. People who don't smoke also get lung cancer. People who smoked 40 or more Woodbines a day lived to the age of 80 something or 90 something. Maybe they ate well, or had an active lifestyle. Maybe they were just lucky. Life and health are not so simple that any of us should be pointing fingers and saying "You can't have treatment because what you have done is self-inflicted." Let's take this further. I like to go cycling. A healthy pursuit, yes? Or no? It's dangerous. I shouldn't be on the road. I might get knocked off and killed by a driver. A driver, who, in Spain, is legally required to remain a minimum of two metres away from a cyclist. So why is cycling dangerous? Because some drivers break the law, drive badly, and knock cyclists off. Someone else's illegal and dangerous driving should stop me from a healthy and enjoyable exercise? I don't think so. They shouldn't be driving, not I shouldn't be cycling, or not treated for an accident incurred while cycling. Now what else? Oh, fat people. They shouldn't have weight-reducing operations because it is all self-inflicted. In fact they shouldn't have any operations because the risk is too great and no-one wants to be sued if the operation goes wrong (because they are so fat etc etc). I should declare a slight interest here. My BMI has increased from 18 something to 20 something so I am very sad. I don't think I am approaching obesity yet. So that won't be an immediate burden for the health services to consider. Fertility treatment. I have met a number of women who have undergone fertility treatment, and it doesn't work for everyone. When I worked in the health service we went down the controversial road of rationing fertility treatment. Is the inability to conceive an illness? Should it take precedence over life-threatening diseases or serious accidents? The trouble is when you try and prioritise funding for health services (the pot is limited in case anyone is unaware of that) people do not want to play. Self-interest always takes precedence. Plastic surgery. Another health service tale from my previous life. The young woman whose GP put her forward for breast augmentation to boost her self esteem, her breasts and her modelling career. For which, incidentally, I totally blame our appalling sexist society that she felt she needed to have bigger breasts in order to feel good or succeed in life. I have a very simplistic view of health - or sickness - services these days. I think priority for funding should be for emergency treatment and serious illnesses. By serious illness I mean life-threatening or chronic (long-term) illness that ruins people's quality of life and mental illness that similarly can make a devastating impact on people's lives and that of their carers and their families. Or to put it another way, wanting something you haven't got - whether it be large breasts or children - wouldn't be my choice for priority funding. So to come round full circle to my opening point, I would never advocate the refusal of treatment for someone who has smoked, or taken drugs, or made the "wrong" choices in life. I think a health service should be there for everyone, but funding choices do have to be made. And if someone thinks large breasts or a desire for a child is more important than treating someone with COPD, or heart disease or easing the last few days for someone with lung cancer, who am I to argue? We live in a must-have society.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Risk free or duty-free?

Readers of Pippa's blog will know that last weekend we were stopped at customs by the Guardia Civil who looked inside our vehicle. I don't just mean they looked through the window, which they've done once before. We actually had to pull over and open the vehicle up so they could see what was in the back. I was shaking like a leaf for absolutely no reason at all given that we had no cigarettes (we don't smoke and wouldn't even consider taking any out for friends), we rarely drink spirits, and beer and wine are cheaper in Spain anyway. So there was no way we were exceeding our allowances because there wasn't a single duty-free purchase in the vehicle. But the whole idea of being stopped by the police just leaves me cold. The first thing I wonder is - do I look like a criminal? Whatever a criminal looks like. Or have I done something wrong that I'm not even aware of? Ignorance is no excuse. Basically, I don't break the law so I leave the police alone and expect them to leave me alone. Logically, I know they are doing a job and they have to stop people for random checks. And the guy was polite and actually quite pleasant - not something for which the Guardia Civil are normally noted. As it is the first time in the 18 months or so that we have been travelling backwards and forwards that we have been searched, I can hardly say I am suffering from a persecution complex. But I did wonder when we were over the border and on the road again, whether or not they have a clever strategy. Let you go backwards and forwards for ages, lulling you into a false sense of security that you won't get stopped so you merrily smuggle stuff - usually cigarettes - across the border. And then one day, bang, they've got you. Loaded up with your illicit purchases. Anyway, that's totally hypothetical. What is not hypothetical though is the amount of smuggling that does go on. By people who do not need to do it. By people who are in full-time jobs - both Spaniards and British. They just want that extra buck or two. We've met pensioners in Spain who go on the cheap day trips to Gib, or drive down themselves, and promptly fill their shopping trollies or their boot with cigarettes. I suppose it tops up their pension. But if people live in Spain with all the advantages that brings with it - virtually everything is cheaper in Spain apart from cigarettes, spirits and telefonica - what is the need to buy goods smuggled from Gibraltar? If cigarettes and spirits are dearer in Spain than they are in Gib, they are a damn site cheaper than they are in the UK. But no, greedy grasping human nature always wants the cheapest possible deal - even if it involves breaking the law. Some years ago, friends from the UK came to stay with us in Spain and included a trip to Gibraltar as part of their holiday. They all gaily came back from their brief stay on the Rock loaded up to the eyeballs with cigarettes - including their two daughters who were both under 17 (there is no duty-free allowance for children). None of the family smoked. The two girls planned to sell the cigarettes to their friends at school. Their parents - both civil servants - were obviously going to flog them in the office. Did any of them need that extra money from their smuggling activities? No. Especially as they had a week's free accommodation in peak holiday season courtesy of us. To me, it is sad the lengths people will go to just for a few extra quid. Greed is so depressing.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Virtual friends

Some time ago, someone I "met" over the internet asked my advice about something. I'm not sure how much use I was at the time, but I hope I helped them a little. I never did meet this person, nor have I spoken to them. Today I told the same person about a problem I have, as you do, looking for ideas and inspiration when you can't see a clear way ahead. And I received some excellent and calming advice. So firstly, thanks very much to my virtual friend. I hope my advice to you back then was halfway as constructive as yours was this morning to me. And secondly, to everyone on the internet who gives something - whether friendship, advice, help or whatever. It is appreciated, as I discovered today. You don't need to meet someone or know them personally to be able to help them. There are bad points to the internet, but there are good ones too.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Daddy's Little Princess

We've all been there. Or at least, I'm guessing all us women have. Daddy's Little Princess. And Daddy's Little Girl. The one who is a Little Girl until she is in her late teens, her twenties and even her thirties. Well, according to my dad anyway. "You will do what you are told until you are 30. At least 30. I don't care about the age of 21," he said with all his patriarchal, empowerful authority. "You are my daughter and you will do what I say." A few years later on, it was "You spent your time trashing around." Wow. From Daddy's Little Princess to an abhorrent sex-worker in one easy step. So why is it that women are brought up from a very early age with the idea that they are a princess? Or at least that they should be treated like one not just when they are young, but throughout their life? It is hardly helpful is it? For most of us, we are not going to become a real princess. There is a vast shortage of royal princes in the world and in most cases they don't look at marrying commoners from a working-class background. So it must be about imagery. That women should be worshipped, looked after, and more importantly - behave themselves, because one day, their prince will come and marry them. And their prince will look after them, and give them a luxurious life. First we do what daddy says when he looks after us as a little girl. Then we swap daddy for our prince, and he too will look after us. Of course we all know that women are totally incapable of looking after themselves. Hence they need a man, to guide them in life, to pay for them, to provide for them - so long as they are suitably subservient and do as they are told. Life is a fairy tale. At least it is for women. Indeed it is. Or at least sometimes I can't believe it is true. Not quite the same thing though is it? What is wrong with telling young girls that they need to make their own way in the world? That their main aim in life should not be about entrapping their prince ie the richest, best-looking man available? Best-looking doesn't really come into it to be honest. Money makes even the ugliest man look attractive. Why bring girls up with such a false impression to believe that they will have an easy life ahead of them? Who knows what fate is going to throw at them? It is unlikely to be a prince though. And why give them the illusion that they are someone special? They may well be Daddy's Little Princess, but to everyone else they are just Ann, or Beth, or Carol. Just another girl who grows up into a woman. But they don't always grow up into women do they? Alas, not just daddy, but society in general continues to refer to adult women as girls. Both men and women continue to infantilise women throughout their life. We women are denied our maturity. We are not grown-up. Unlike men of course. To put it very simply, we are inferior, unequal, and childlike. And we all buy into that too. I was brought up to think that nice girls suddenly turned into ladies and that women were sort of, well, rough and undesirable. Better still of course, was to be called a girl all the time. Because that suggests you look so young, and pretty, and all the men appreciate your youthful looks. And it is just so important to look pretty for the men. One of the first books I read about feminism pointed out how early in life we start to treat boys and girls differently. I'm not just talking about the colour-coded clothes or the different types of toys. (Incidentally I had a lot of building-type toys which were ace fun, and a physics-and-chemistry set too). What made an impression on me in this particular book was the description of the way adults respond to little boys. They pick them up and show them the world through the window, because that is where they are going to make their impression in life. And they need to learn at a very young age that they are going to go out into that big wide world and they don't need to be frightened of it, because it is there for them. In fact it is their world. And when adults meet little boys, they ruffle their hair, and play little fighting games - because little boys are tough, and they will grow into big tough men. What do we do with the little girls? We cuddle them. Nurture them. Protect them from that big nasty world outside. Because when they grow up they won't be able to manage on their own. They will need a man. And even then, we still treat them as the little girls they really are. Wrong. We can manage on our own. But it would be a damn site easier if we weren't disadvantaged by being brought up with ingrained, sexist, patriarchal values designed to keep us in our (inferior) place. And not treated as little girls when we have reached the age of maturity.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Blogs....and blogging

Well I spectacularly failed to notice that I had been blogging for a year over on Itchy Feet At Forty so thought I might as well use my missed blogoversary as the starter for this post. In that year I have seen blogs that I read come and go. Dog blogs, people blogs, food blogs, political blogs, photo blogs, whatever. Keeping up to a blog is not difficult. Keeping it focused is. So when I started Itchy Feet - it was with the intention basically of writing about anything and everything since I left the UK. There is no way when you reach 40 years of age that you can kid yourself you are still a 20-something-year-old. Much as you might like to and hard as you try. The first 40 years of my life were pretty good and I achieved more than some people - less than others. Good enough for me. But I had a serious fear of the next 40 years (depending on how long I lived but using 80 as a proxy for life expectancy) being boring as hell. How could I say I did a, b, c, d and e before I got to 40 - and then I did nothing of any note afterwards? Lived in the same boring street in the same nice middle-class suburb and went to the same boring office every day? No. While I may have moments (sometimes longer than others) of madness, the thought of 40 years of nothingness was enough to send me absolutely off it. So the job got chucked, the house got sold, and we set off with the Landy, the trailer, the tents, and the two dogs. Somewhat later, when I reluctantly dragged myself back to civilisation and reconnected to the Internet, I started blogging. And thought the start of my travels at 40 was a suitable cut-off point for my blog. Nothing before 40 would be allowed on, anything after was fair game. But of course it doesn't work like that. People who want to look at dog pictures don't want to look at Land Rover pictures. People who look at Land Rover blogs don't want to read about queuing at the bank in Spain. People who read about life as an ex-pat don't want to read my rants about why homeless people shouldn't be treated like garbage. And so it goes on. There are a few people who do read my different blogs - I know this because they have told me. So thanks for that. But generally the target audiences are different. One of my blogging "colleagues" (does one have blogging colleagues?) radically changed her blogs and her urls because her audiences were hitting on the wrong blogs. The political ones were hitting on her fashion blog. The religious ones were hitting on her dog blog. After the change around she ended up with more comments on her blogs. It's a crude indicator but one that shows she took the right approach. It didn't take me long to work out the dog needed his own blog. I thought I could keep the Land Rover stuff on Itchy Feet, as it is part of our life here in Spain. But it is such a specialised interest and gets so many hits from search engines, that it is actually better off being totally separate. And this blog is just pure self-indulgence for when I want to rant about something. Or someone. So after a year with Itchy Feet, I think it is more or less on track. It's basically a news blog, and this is maybe the leader column when something provokes me enough to write a few acid words or a few thoughts. Just Land Rovers provides the motoring pages, and Pippadogblog provides - well - the dog pages I suppose. I don't blog every day. I try and do at least a post a week on each blog and maybe more some weeks. I enjoy doing it. Why would I not? I haven't spent years being paid to write not to enjoy it - and on my blogs I can choose my own subjects, I have total editorial control, and I can publish for free. I don't do it to get 20 or 30 or 40 comments on every post. It's nice to get a few and as one (dog) blogger said: at least you don't feel you are barking in the wilderness. In more than a year I think I have had two or three spam comments. They were nothing offensive, but I don't want my work to generate hits for something that is nothing to do with my blog. Just like I haven't bothered with advertising. I think it spoils the appearance of blogs and, I can hardly claim to hold the moral high ground with my principles and then succomb to google ads. But I was mildly amused the other day when I skimmed a relatively new blog. It was nothing outstanding. Average photos. Average text. I thought the print was too small but that is always a pet phobia I have. I've had plenty of battles with irritating designers who never consider that the content of the text is important and just look at the overall impression of block text in the whole scheme of things. And there are still far too many people who don't realise not everyone can read 10pt. Anyway, we all have to start somewhere with our blogs so I thought I would leave a comment (so they weren't barking in the wilderness). This proved difficult. No. It proved impossible. Then I read later that they weren't accepting comments. They didn't have the time to moderate all the spam they would attract. To anyone who is thinking of starting a blog - and those of you who already have them - I think it is really considerate to accept comments. There are plenty of options for restricting them, including full-blown moderation only, pesky word verification strings, and a whole raft of choices for who you are prepared to accept comments from. The blog I read has literally a handful of posts. The subject matter is not exactly hard-core porn. It's not even an animal blog which would be far more likely to attract comments. I can understand a blog like the Daily Coyote stopping accepting comments because it was just receiving too many every day. It had absolutely loads. There aren't that many coyote blogs around. It has novelty value, good photographs - and above all, cuteness. A couple of average-looking guys, without much hair, and without the backdrop of the Wyoming bush are hardly in the same league. Even if they think they are. So it strikes me as being remarkably precious that someone thinks they are going to get bucketloads of spam on their mediocre blog after a few weeks and five or six posts. I can't even rant about it. I think they are so far up themselves that it is just laughable. And, that's one blog I won't be going back to read again.

Monday, 17 March 2008


We've had four dogs in around 20 years. The first three came from rescue homes in the UK, the last one found us on the street in Spain. We were both brought up with dogs, so once we got our own house, a dog just seemed right for us. We hadn't got much else in the house. We bought a fridge, a washing machine and a second-hand cooker. Oh, and a futon mattress which went on the floor. And that was it. The dog was next to arrive. We got him as a pup from a Blue Cross place. It was a nice place, very clean, and sadly far too full of dogs and other animals. The black lab we homed apparently had a pedigree which we could have if we paid extra. We weren't interested in the pedigree so we didn't. We wanted to home a dog that someone else didn't want, we didn't want a cheap pedigree dog, that wasn't why we were there. He was very good, very clean - we took him out into the garden at regular frequent intervals, and gave him all our attention. As he got bigger we took him down the riverside and started to teach him simple commands. He was pretty obedient. Later we took him for training. He jumped out of the window of the car when we arrived. Perhaps we should have signed up for agility instead. He then promptly vomited on the training ground (he was always pretty good at that anyway, ever since the first day we picked him up - he had just been fed in the kennels before we took him home). The next time we went to training we left the window up. He didn't vomit, but he did leave a nice pile on the training ground when he was walking up and down. Labradors are great dogs with beautiful temperaments. They also have a stubborn streak of independence. We figured he wasn't keen on training. And we never took any other dogs to training either. The next ones were older anyway, and seemed well-behaved. Paddy (setter/lab) liked to chase cats and birds and Prince (GSD) was, well, Prince. He was probably the most naturally obedient of the lot - but always with a slightly quizzical look on his face. He might as well have said: "You really do ask me to do some stupid things ... I KNOW what to do. I am a GSD." This is not to say that training is not a good idea. I think it is. It just hasn't been for us. Nor did we ever use a crate. We had not heard of crate training until we came to Spain. I was flitting through an English newspaper and there was an article by Chris the Canine Counsellor (ok not the real name). Chris the CC was recommending the use of crates for training. It sounded to me awfully like, when you are busy and don't have time to watch your dog - bung him/her in a crate. Don't want to clean up any mess in your house - because you can't be bothered to take your dog outside often enough when they are very young? Bung them in a crate overnight, or when you go out. The added advantage is that a dog loves a crate. It is a home to them. It is a den. I am not a dog. But I would not like to be bunged in a crate when someone couldn't be bothered with me. I would not consider it a safe zone at all. I would consider it a horrible confined jail. Chris the Canine Counsellor soon became Chris the Crater in our view. Since then I have read on the Internet that every person - and their dog, obviously - love crates, and swears by them as a training tool. Each to their own. I am a big believer in everyone having their own opinion. And mine is that I do not agree with crates as a prime training tool. I was brought up with three dogs, and have had four of my own, without a crate in sight. So I do not wish to be told that I am wrong by some pretentious person who thinks they have a doctorate in dog training or whatever. My dog philosophy is very simple. I have led a busy life. I have tried to home dogs that at some point may well have been killed because no-one wanted them. I am sure I am not a perfect rehomer. But my dogs have been given a home, they get regular food, taken out, they are nine times out of ten on the lead (apart from beach runs), they have the run of a warm house, and they are rarely left alone for long periods. They haven't chewed - apart from a couple of inexpensive flip flops - that I left lying around like an idiot, and they have always asked when they have wanted to go outside. They are, in all senses of the words, companion animals. My parents bought pedigree dogs. Firstly two boxers, and then a Rhodesian Ridgeback. They were very status conscious - my parents, not the dogs, although maybe the dogs were too. Who knows? I loved them to bits - I grew up with them all, and they were always there for me. But when it came to choosing my own dog in my own home, I just could not think of paying money to a breeder to buy a pedigree dog. Why? I am not interested in a dog's eminent lineage, nor am I interested in someone making money out of breeding dogs. It really sticks in my throat. I haven't looked up the figures because I hate reading abandoned dog information - but there are far too many dogs who are ditched and then killed. Far too many left in no-kill shelters because they maybe aren't cute enough. Why buy a dog to line someone's pocket when there are so many good ones waiting for a home? Maybe for outward displays of wealth and defining an image. The "macho" dogs - rottweilers, dobermans, ridgebacks, boxers, GSDs. (When we homed Prince, the kennels were full of unwanted GSDs). The "country" dogs - labradors, setters, pointers, spaniels. The working/hunting dogs - terriers, and that includes the previously mentioned country dogs. Each choice of paid-for dog is a way of defining someone's image to the rest of the world. And as for showing dogs? Oh, look, their ears stick up at exactly the right angle, and have just the right amount of correct colouring in them. Similarly the tail is not too long, not too short, and not too bushy - just right. "We show Moxy and Doxy" (or whatever they are called) "and you can tell how much they love it dahling." Get out of it. It's obvious who loves showing the dogs. And no, I don't watch Crufts and haven't done for a lot of years. You can always tell when bitches have given birth in Spain. The streets are suddenly full of new stray dogs. Some get homed. And rehomed. Again and again. Others don't. Others die or get killed. The first year we lived in Spain, someone drove down the side street next to us and threw out a very young pup. I had read all the horror stories about dogs being tied up to the gates of houses owned by foreign people so I was fairly paranoid. We had our dogs from the UK, and the day it happened we agreed not to take this pup in. Neither did anyone else. It struggled over to the finca gates across the road, where it could hear/smell the other well-fed, looked-after dogs. It cried and whimpered all day. Eventually it died. The man who works on the finca came out with his shovel and chucked the tiny dead puppy in the rubbish bin. I do not dislike beautiful pedigree dogs. I admire them as much as the next person does. But I do question the values of the people who buy them - when other dogs are being discarded as rubbish on the streets. I said I was brought up with pedigree dogs, but the last dog my parents had - after I had got married and rehomed the lab - was rescued from the local RSPCA shelter. It took them a long time, but they finally bought into the ethos of rehoming an abandoned dog. And he lived with them for years. So to anyone who is thinking about spending big bucks on that perfect pedigree pup - remember the equally perfect dogs that are on death row, just waiting for a reprieve.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Politics - and the right to vote

So what to say about politics - about the right to vote, for whom to vote, and how much does it really matter? In no particular order - apart from the first one..... The right to vote was hard-earned a) for women and b) for anyone who wasn't landed gentry. I'm talking UK politics here before anyone argues. Naturally male house-holders got the vote before women with money. Men being more entitled to vote as you would expect. The thinking responsible species. *irony* I vaguely remember learning about the electoral reform acts at school. And that the road to universal suffrage was not easy. In my idle browsings on Tinties, I have noticed some serious garbage about who should have voting rights. Actually often I struggle to find anything that isn't serious garbage. Onto suffrage. Voting rights - for men obviously - started to change in the 1830s. During the nineteenth century, men's rights improved. Women didn't exist. By 1884 more than 50% of the male population could vote but women were still nowhere. The Suffragette Movement started in the late nineteenth century, so that eventually - after the First World War - women finally got the vote. Let's get this right. Property-owning women over 30 finally got the vote, although naturally the law was also changed to improve it for men too. Men over 21 could vote - and there were no property restrictions on them any more. A dainty little step forward for women. Ten years later voting was made equal. No property restrictions and voting at 21 for men and women. That's nearly 100 years from the Electoral Reform Act in 1832 to 1928. For women to get equal rights. And when I did my journo exams in the late twentieth century, everyone had the right to vote apart from peers of the realm, convicted felons, and people in a psychiatric institution. I have no idea if this has changed as there have been a number of new acts since then. But what does rack me off is arrogant, self-opinionated gits who seem to think that the right to vote is a privilege that has to be earned and that people are NOT equal. That some people have more rights than others. In fact, that the right to vote needs a load of qualifications. To achieve suffrage you should be a property owner, have a full-time job - obviously - or your own monied business to show how clever and money-grabbing you are, and you should pass a citizenship test, to name but a few ideas that I have seen. Your average person who lives on the side of the road is nowhere. We only want people with money to have a say in our society. Why should someone living on benefit vote? Or a student? Or a pensioner? Or someone without a job? Or someone on sick pay? Let alone someone without a permanent address. What do they value in our consumerist, monetarist terms? They just cost money so they shouldn't vote. Yes. Suffrage in a so-called democratic society is a privilege - in comparison with societies where people are still not "free" and can not freely vote. And it is one that - for now, is - granted to everyone. (Apart from people who fall within the exemption clauses). We are not going back to the 1830s and the days of white male landed gentry. Nor are we limiting the vote to those who think in the same mould as we do. The right to vote is one of the few areas where there is still a vague pretence that people are all still equal. What is it with you sexist, bigoted, white, men in your 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and ... hell, whatever age you are, what is it with you selfish fuckers anyway? Do you not understand compassion or tolerance? Why do you think you are right? Or even superior to anyone else? Monied and opinionated white male supremacy eh? Why do you want to take away the right to vote from someone worse off from you? Or just someone different? Do you know how many years it took to achieve universal suffrage? Miserable toerags. Get a life, and stop victimising everyone else. Anyway my proposal for what it is worth is as follows. The right to vote should only be accorded to property-owning women - over 30 naturally, who have at least one degree, preferably two, a trade qualification as well, and money in the bank. Fuck your silly citizenship tests - that any person with half a brain can pass - let's see how clever you really are. And how much you have contributed to society, and how much you have taken out too. Your education? Your skills and training which may well have come via the public sector - including the armed services - if that's where you learned a trade. Oh, and those nice little benefits that you don't want everyone else to have? Child benefit too eh? How many of you with children haven't claimed child benefit - it's your right isn't it? Greedy gits - one law for you and one for those who aren't as lucky. You wouldn't pass my test. I think I will leave point two about politics for another day.

Friday, 7 March 2008

On Power and Influence

I have three books on my desk at the moment. One is a desk diary from last year that I am using as a notebook. The second is a Spanish English dictionary. The third is Understanding Organisations by Charles Handy. So, this is the second book tag that I am doing, after being asked by Blue. Page 123 is the start of Chapter 5. On Power and Influence And the first five sentences are: "Motivation theory, role theory, leadership theory are all ways of describing why people behave as they do and how it is that others can set them to behave as they do. It is time now to look at this problem in a more general way, at the overall problem of power and influence. "Power and influence make up the fine texture of organizations, and indeed of all interactions. Influence is the process whereby A seeks to modify the attitudes or behaviour of B. Power is that which enables him to do it." Although this is a classic management theory text book (or was when I did my MBA), it is just as applicable to life, and indeed Handy goes on to say something on those lines. And personally I would call it power and manipulation, but that's probably a cynical way to look at it. It wasn't intentional, however this post does follow on from the last one. So I'm going to cheat and include another quote from further down page 123: "Complete individual freedom is the perquisite of the hermit and the recluse; today perhaps only the solitary artist or poet, the tramp or the hippie can enjoy that luxury." No Charles. I have to say I don't think the guy who died in the rubbish bin enjoyed complete individual freedom at all. His choice to live on the streets? Maybe, maybe not. Could he choose what he wanted to eat? Or drink? Or get up in the morning and look at his vast array of clothes in the wardrobe before deciding what to wear? Or even, could he choose where to sit on the pavement before the police decided to ask him to move along? No, none of us have freedom, and individual freedom seems to be getting far less to me. I would also argue that the only way to achieve any sort of freedom is to have a shitload of money. But it certainly does not come from poverty or opting out of society. And another point. I took the quote from the fourth edition of his work, published in 1993. The first edition dates from 1976. In his intro to the fourth edition he says that things have changed considerably in the intervening period. He also says that he was appalled when he read his first edition and realised he had written it entirely for men. And he was pleased that the work of organisations had changed a lot - presumably to reflect the fact that women weren't always just seen and not heard. He added that in his third edition of the book he apologised for his sexist slant. But in this one he had done something about it. Really? I haven't compared the two editions - even though I have them both. But I do think the quote above: "Power is that which enables him to do it." refers to men, or a man. That doesn't seem non-sexist to me at all. It is still the automatic assumption that men have the power. Indeed they do. So although it is sexist, and uses a gender-specific pronoun, it is also an accurate statement. I wish it wasn't. I also think, however trivial it sounds, that continuing to use language that suggests the default (especially in positions of power) is male, just perpetuates old-fashioned, autocratic, patriarchal thinking. It is a long time since I stopped calling women chairman if they happened to chair an organisation (certainly before the fourth edition was published). I went through the dilemma of whether to call them a chairwoman (says they are women - is that relevant? no), a chairperson (just sounds clumsy), or chair (something to sit on). But words and their usage change, and I became quite happy using chair. Some of the women weren't - they wanted to be called a chairman, "Madam Chairman" in fact, because they were as good as the men, but slightly special. Oh dear. Perhaps Mr Handy will have changed his latest edition - I haven't seen any updates since the fourth. I should also say that I bought a couple of his later books - The Age of Unreason and The Empty Raincoat. At the time I was in full-blown career mode so thought the idea of having different portfolios at different stages of your life was a load of rubbish. The wisdom that comes with age. It seems spot-on now. But power and influence? Or maybe power and glory too? It's still with those nice white men with money - isn't it?

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Life's rubbish

A couple of years ago we were sitting on the terrace chatting to some friends. They come to Spain every year for about five weeks. We met when they rented a flat up the road, although normally they rent a flat in our nearest town. They are a similar age to us, they don't eat meat - she's vegetarian, he eats fish - they don't smoke, they don't have any children. They are quite into animal rights to the extent that they have been on marches - eg opposing the transport of calves for veal. It was enough to start up a conversation the first time we met and we have kept in touch for the last four or five years. She's an agricultural worker and he used to be in construction, but doesn't work now because of health problems. They aren't rich, they aren't poor. A bit like us. One day, I don't know how it came up, we were talking about the homeless people who sit on the streets in town waiting for people to give them money. Our friends said they never gave them any money and asked if we ever did. We said yes. There was a pause in the conversation, and the friends then quickly said how much they admired us - but then asked, obviously totally perplexed - why? Well, we certainly don't do it to gain anyone's admiration, nor do we do it for religious reasons (we are not religious - ironically our friends are). I guess the simple answer is that we wouldn't like to be in their position - there but for the grace of god and all that - and we can afford to give a euro now and again to help someone eke out a daily existence. Maybe it goes on alcohol, maybe it goes on cigarettes. Maybe it goes on drugs. My choice to give, their choice to spend it on what they want. My very generous donation of a euro isn't given with the condition that it must only be spent on things I consider appropriate. If I really wanted to impose my view on them I could buy some bread, or some fruit/vegetables and give that to them instead. I happen to think a euro is more use. Afterwards though we thought about it. We had started giving to quite a few homeless people. We decided to cut back and stick to the ones with dogs - or the ones who were around all year and didn't just blow in for the summer holidays. Many years ago - when we were hard-nosed and hungry - we never gave to anyone. When I worked in London I used to travel home through Euston Station. (No, this is not a Monopoly game). If I wasn't dodging the guy yelling out "Socialist Worker" as he tried to sell the magazine to well-off commuters, I was dodging all the tramps. (They were called tramps at the time). Why didn't they get washed and get a job? I thought to myself. Idle layabouts poncing off hard-working righteous members of society ie me. They probably have loads of money anyway, I continued to myself. Nope. They are not getting one penny out of me. I am not a soft touch. You can tell it was Thatcher's Britain. And I was a good Thatcher's eighties babe. A few years later I was back in journalism and one of my left-wing feminist colleagues said loftily that she never gave to Big Issue sellers (to my surprise). "It's just an excuse for the miserable government not to put the correct structures in place," she declared. She was hardly Ms Generosity either. I seem to remember she was a mature student at the time reading sociology at Hull and worked on the paper in her holidays. She married a pretty well-off merchant banker and promptly became Mrs Merchant Banker. Clearly a woman of principle. (ie self first). So we ignored Ms Radical Student aka Mrs Merchant Banker and gave to some of the Big Issue sellers. But then stopped - for lots of reasons. I thought it was pretty insulting for people who genuinely needed money and work, it certainly wasn't a real job, and there was also a lot of negative publicity about Big Issue generally at the time. I got bored with reading it as well. Since I chucked my job, I have had lots of time to think. Probably too much, but at least I'm not thinking about work. I live in a beautiful part of the world. I own my house. I have enough money to buy food and pay the bills. I am warm, even on cold days. I'm a big believer in Maslow's triangle - and I have all my physiological needs - food, warmth, and shelter. Homeless people have none of these. We have seen some of the local homeless men walking into town, wearing the same dirty clothes, their shoes or boots falling apart, sometimes with a shopping trolley containing a few plastic bags of tat - all they possess in the world. Partner was speaking to one of them a while ago. There are a few safe places where they go to sleep. They try and team up because it is safer that way, and one might be awake while the other sleeps. It's one of the reasons some of them have dogs. Why are people so sick that they want to rob or assault homeless people? Do they harm anyone? No. They don't even beg. They don't come round sticking white heather in your hand and cursing you with bad luck if you don't buy it. Nor do they drag a brood of tiny kiddies around with them, and stick their hand under your nose saying "My children are starving, please feed them." Or as it is here: "Por los niƱos, por favor" in a whiney voice. One of the "regulars" is Dutch. He had a good job in Amsterdam but left because of the ease of obtaining drugs. But the drugs always find you. They are easy to get hold of here too. He's pretty honest though. One day Partner was reaching in his pocket to get a euro and the guy said: "No, it's all right. I've made enough today. Keep it. But thanks." It's often the men who give to them. Sometimes it is the northern Europeans - Germans, Dutch, British - sometimes it is the northern Spaniards. These homeless men are people, they have a life, they merit respect like anyone else. Who knows what has happened to them? None of us are perfect and it isn't up to me to judge them. I wouldn't like to be in their soulless shoes. But when Partner came home and told me about the German man who had been found dead inside a rubbish bin, I was gutted. Partner didn't know the detail. Maybe he had dived in looking for food and couldn't get out. Maybe he was drunk or stoned. He died where many people consider he belonged. With the rubbish. No-one to care for him, to look after him, to help him, or even to miss him. I think we live in a shit society when something like that happens. I think we live in a shit society for lots of reasons, but this is just one example. Nothing in place to help him. No shelter, no food, no money, no warmth. And people walking past him every day, ignoring him. Just part of life's detritus. I guess the good news for the selfish bastards that think like that is they won't have to walk past him any more. One less dirty scruffy homeless person on our pristine streets.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

You don't come from round here

I was brought up to be inherently racist. Black - or coloured people (as I think they were called at the time, and most of them were from the Indian sub-continent) - were dirty. So said my dad. One day I asked him how he knew that these people who did not have a white skin were dirty. I got a lofty comment. "I have seen them in North Africa, they live a dirty life," he said. (This was the guy who hated getting in the bath, and grudgingly got in a shower once a week.) Cultural awareness was not his strong point. Of course, naturally this view did not extend to people he knew personally. So if he felt the Asian market stall-holder next to us was being victimized he would stand up for him. If he met a group of West Indians in the pub, he would talk about cricket with them for hours and cheerfully buy drinks all round. Do money and sport transcend racism? Doubt it. I realised how incredibly racist I was one day in a car park in Newcastle. A tall rasta guy approached me. I was petrified. I looked round. There was no-one else to be seen even though we were in the city centre. I froze. "Hi, do you want my car-parking ticket? There's an hour or so left and I'm going now." Duh. Very Big Time. I have never forgotten this moment because I realised then what an absolutely prejudiced rich white woman I really was. But realisation is a start. So here in Spain racism is abundant. The Moros (blacks from North Africa) get it far worse than us. In fact all the Spaniards who come here on holiday or move into the village are ignored/given grief. Like a lot of European languages, the Spanish for foreigner is stranger - extranjero - someone who doesn't come from our street, our area, our estate, our village, our calle, our barrio, our pueblo, our provincia, our communidad. When I was a kid, it was the same. Territorial disputes. You don't come from round here. Typical racist/extranjero criticisms: "They steal our jobs." "They are not the same as us." "They don't want to integrate." (Do you want to integrate with them/us?) "They eat differently." "They think differently." "They want something for nothing." "They look different." To me racism, or exclusion, is something more than a colour of skin. It's a fear of something/someone you don't know, sometimes jealousy, unwillingness to accept differences, patronisation of people who you don't consider to be on your level, oh, and finally, just not people that we want to mix with. For whatever reason. I accept I know very little about racism. But I've finally been on the receiving end of it, and that's from a white monied educated position of someone with privilege. And I can tell you it still stinks.

Questions not to ask a veg*n

When people find out I'm vegetarian, they invariably ask why. Sometimes they say: "Is it for ethical or health reasons?" That's an easy one so I answer "ethical". And hopefully the conversation stops. But sometimes they just ask why. So the answer to that is "Because I don't like eating dead animals." And it usually stops after that too. Often they hastily justify their own diet with "We hardly eat any meat, we are almost vegetarian too." Like why tell me? I don't care what you eat. But if they are really persistent, they ask one or more of the following: 1. What about your leather shoes? (belt, handbag etc - usually shoes) 2. What about the poor dead screaming vegetables? 3. Do you realise that if people didn't eat meat there wouldn't be any cute little lambs and nice cows for us all to look at? 4. Don't you miss bacon sandwiches, a good roast (insert meat of choice) 5. Where do you get your protein from? 6. How on earth do you get all the right vitamins? and the classic 7. But what do you eat? And the answers are: 1. No, they aren't. 2. Very funny 3. Yes 4. No 5. Legumes, tofu, seitan, tempeh, plus all the complementary sources 6. By eating a balanced diet 7. Anything that comes from a vegetarian source and hasn't been killed. These are very boring questions that I have been asked millions of times. However, people invariably think 1-4 are thought-provoking, witty and original. They aren't. Not even when heard for the first time. The ones who ask 5&6 really think they know what they are talking about. The ones who ask 7 are stupid and lucky if they get an answer at all. Do I ask other people what they eat all the time? This is not "What do you like to eat, or what is your favourite meal?" This is a downright nosy insulting question. Why would I want to know what you eat from first thing in the morning to last thing at night? I don't. So don't ask me. Or go and ask a few non-vegetarians the same question and see what they say. The other question of course is: "How long have you been vegetarian?" The answer to that is "Too long to be bothered to count the years." And the implied - but unspoken additional answer is "And too long to answer your silly questions." The truth is I have been vegetarian (and sometimes vegan) for a lot of years. I'm well-informed about it. But I'm not interested in having a discussion, justifying my choice, or educating anyone about it.