Wednesday, 29 July 2015

One more step along the road we go...

Well, that's it - another milestone reached.

No, it's not a significant birthday, but thank you for asking - despite appearances sometimes, I've still got quite a few years to go yet until the half century.

Daughter has finished primary school.  I appreciate that this means nothing to some of you, but I'm guessing that for those of you with children you can appreciate that this is quite significant for me.

It's the end of an era.  No more walking to school and back every morning and afternoon - even though she's been more than capable of doing this herself, I still went because I enjoyed talking to the other Mums and Dads in the playground.  Working from home, this was often my only form of real human contact during the day.

No more sports days, assemblies, fund raising events, driving back and forth to various locations for performances or sporting events.

We had the Leavers' Assembly.  The children sang sad songs.  They showed a Powerpoint presentation of various things, and they had photos of when they started in Reception.

I blubbed.  No, more than that - I audibly sobbed.  Children turned round to see what the choking noise was, while my husband and my friend's husband sitting the other side of me shuffled awkwardly in their seats and looked mildly embarrassed.

I reached for a tissue, I wiped my eyes and nose - still the children stared.  Then they started crying too.

My husband said to me:  "Stop crying, you're making the other kids cry too!"

But I couldn't help it.  I daren't look up at the stage where my daughter was sitting with her friends.  I didn't want her to see me cry as I thought it would set her off too.

When it was finally over she came across to where I was sitting, trying to compose myself.

"Don't worry Mum," she said, "You didn't start crying first, and you weren't the worst either!"

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Mankind v Machines

It has been reported that Barclays Bank has decided to name some of its automated machines to make them more appealing to customers and to encourage them to use them.

If you want to pay a cheque in, you use Sally, for example.

Well, Barclays, here's a revolutionary idea for you - have you actually asked customers if they'd prefer to deal with real-life human beings instead of machines?

I hate self-service tills in supermarkets - in fact, I refuse to use them as I feel that they're doing people out of a job.

Yes, of course the bosses of big companies like Barclays Bank and numerous supermarkets want us to use machines - they're cheaper than people, don't need paid holiday or don't take time off sick.

But some of us actually like the human interaction of speaking with a shop assistant or a bank clerk.

I like exchanging social pleasantries, discussing the weather etc, all the little things that make our existence on this planet more enjoyable.

I worked as a bank clerk twenty or so more years ago, and I used to enjoy my little chats with customers if the banking hall wasn't too busy - obviously if there was a queue you couldn't talk for long.

In fact, for some elderly people or those that live alone perhaps, these exchanges can become a lifeline in human interaction.

Plus, if you've got any questions or queries, the automated machines can't help you can they?

These businesses make enough profits as it is, why do they want to do away with humans and leave scores of staff unemployed?

My advice - vote with your feet!  Next time they try and force you to use a machine, and you'd prefer to speak to a human being, stand firm.  Insist that you speak to a real person, and gently remind those trying to make you do differently 'don't you realise that you'll soon be out of a job?'

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Nuisance sales calls

It's a scenario with which I'm sure we're all familiar.

You're sitting down to dinner, discussing your day, work, school etc.

The phone rings.  Glances are exchanged - who's going to get up from their meal and answer it.

You try and sit tight, but the phone's still ringing and it's not going to stop.

It'll be a sales call, you think, but then you've got the nagging doubt that it might be a family member having a crisis, so you put your cutlery down, get up from the table and shuffle through to find the phone.

'Hello?' you say into the receiver, and then you get one of the responses you've grown to despise.

'Mis-sold PPI?  Solar panels?  I'm not trying to sell you anything... Is your PC playing up?  Does your Dyson need a service?'

Now, I'm a woman of infinite patience - actually that's not true, but I'm married and have a child, so I'm fairly patient on a good day - but I could actually scream when faced with these questions.  I don't even own a Dyson!

I've signed up to the Telephone Preference Service, and I tell the sales people this - but I swear I can hear them thinking 'I don't care.  Meals will get cold, you'll miss bits of your favourite TV shows, we'll disrupt you in the shower, we'll call you on your mobile, wherever you are we will ring you because that's our job.'

But I can't be rude to them, even though they drive me mad.  Because ultimately it is their job.  They're trying to pay their bills, feed their kids etc. 

My coping strategy developed over the years is to stop them as soon as I can in their script, tell them very politely that I'm not interested, and to thank them for their call.  Genuinely, that's what I do, and it usually stuns them into silence.

However, I do feel angry about the companies that make huge profits from bullying elderly people into charitable giving.  When one of those call me, I can't promise I shall be so polite!

Thursday, 9 July 2015

'If wet in Village Hall' - the Great British Summer Fete

The Summer Fete/Flower Festival season is in full swing.

It's just a pity that the weather doesn't always play ball with the array of outdoor events planned for what should be a glorious English Summer (yes, I'm aware we've had a mini heatwave, but sadly it won't last!)

All too often whilst driving through our corner of Northamptonshire I see a sign advertising the village fete, accompanied by another one stating 'if wet in Village Hall'.

I think that should become our motto - that sign carries with it a sense that we resign ourselves to the fact that the fate of our summer outings relies upon the weather, and we just adapt and carry on regardless.

We went to the Harringworth Fete the other weekend.  It was dry when we set off, but upon arrival - you've guessed it - the heavens opened and it rained quite heavily.

Fortunately, one of the lovely ladies organising it lent us an umbrella, so we remained dry as we perused the stalls, had tea and cake and listened to the Gretton Silver Band playing Singing In the Rain, appropriately enough, amongst other tunes.

I even managed to win a bottle of gin on the bottle raffle, and I thought our run of bad luck on the tombola had changed when my daughter managed to produce a ticket ending in a five.

However she did look a little crestfallen when she was presented with a tin of Essential Waitrose borlotti beans.  Still, a win's a win and they're now sitting in my pantry while I decide into which recipe they'll be incorporated.

There was a coconut shy, face painting, and a 'treasure hunt' where you had to  guess where a £50 note was buried - never have I stared at a patch of grass for so long trying to see the slightest disturbance!

The viaduct looked its usual magnificent self, even in the rain, and I did think to myself how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful part of the county.

Thursday, 2 July 2015


Aretha Franklin sang about it, and Erasure asked for us to give a little - yes, I'm talking about respect.

I mean the true meaning of the word too.  There seems to be a distinct lack of it at the moment, and this needs changing please.

I know when people are young they do silly things, but - thinking here about the recent story of the backpackers in Malaysia - if you're lucky enough to be able to take a year off to go travelling at least first read a guide book about the areas you're planning to visit.

I would imagine in this digitally enabled age you're able to find such information on tablets and smartphones too - they're not just for taking the ubiquitous 'duck pout' selfies!

If you're travelling to a conservative area of the globe, which has strict customs, rules and regulations, read up on it and make sure you don't cause offence.

Having said that, please tell me that getting naked in public and urinating is surely frowned upon in most places still these days?!

And while I'm on the topic of respect, I was also appalled to hear about the two 17 year-old schoolboys from Cambridgeshire who tried to steal artefacts from Auschwitz.

Whilst on a school history trip they had spotted some items on the ground, including buttons, a rusted hair clipper, and fragments of spoon and glass, near a building where guards had kept prisoners' confiscated belongings.

So what did they do?  They pocketed them.  Apparently they weren't thinking.  Sorry, but who visits somewhere like Auschwitz and then doesn't think?

These were pupils from the independent Perse School, and I read that the headmaster has apologised unreservedly and the boys have expressed real remorse, which I suppose is something.

But I would like to hope that visitors to such places remember the history behind them, and behave in a far more appropriate manner. 

And, although it should go without saying, no selfies.  Know when to show some respect and restraint please.