I’m pretty pissed off. So pissed off that on Saturday I marched through London with 150,000 other folk who are angry at the way this country is being treated by the government. And now I’m even more pissed off that we were completely ignored by both the media and those in charge. Is because we didn’t smash shit up? Because there was a football match that day? Or is it because 150,000 people closing roads in central London and marching past Downing Street just isn’t a big deal? After all, back in 2003 approximately one million people marched through London to protest the Iraq war, and that still happened.
The facts are fairly clear: the NHS is being privatised, but apparently, not that many people care. In 2007 the American Filmmaker, Michael Moore, made a documentary investigating the state of insurance-led healthcare in the USA, and comparing it to the socialised medicine available in France, Canada, Cuba, and the UK. While the film isn’t exactly unbiased, as a Briton I find the concepts covered in it as alien as Alien. Concepts such as: people with unrelated pre-existing conditions (such as thrush) being denied health insurance cover for cancer; patients being bundled into taxis mid treatment and abandoned outside charitable hospitals miles away, confused, disorientated, and still wearing gowns and ID wristbands; patients with severe respiratory illnesses contracted whilst volunteering in the clear-up post-911 having to pay hundreds of dollars for an inhaler; insured patients having to pay for ambulance expenses because the emergency response hadn’t been pre-approved by their insurer.
Nah, scratch all that, those examples are disgusting, but they’re also quite extreme. Personally, I find it abhorrent that in a developed country, with such national pride and a history of incredible achievements its citizens are treated with such contempt. Michael Moore seemed shocked that our prescription costs were so cheap and could cover so much. He was surprised to find that the only thing stopping a patient from leaving the hospital was the state of their health, rather than their bank balance. He was confounded by the idea that the cashier’s desk in an NHS hospital serves to reimburse travel costs to poorer patients rather than to collect payment. I am shocked that this is not the case over the pond, and I am even more disturbed that we’re starting to copy them.
Moore spoke to Tony Benn to ask about the history of the NHS, talking about the motivation behind it, and the love that the British people have for it. There was, however, one part which was especially poignant today, where he compared the NHS with democracy, saying that taking away our healthcare would be as ridiculous and incomprehensible as removing the vote:Benn: “They wouldn’t accept the deterioration or destruction of the NHS.” Moore: “If Thatcher or Blair had said ‘I’m going to dismantle National Healthcare’-“ Benn: “There’d have been a revolution.”
Well where’s our bloody revolution? Seriously? The public reaction to the current dismantling of the NHS by the Conservatives has been, quite frankly, pathetic. Some people blame the media for the lack of coverage, but honestly I don’t buy that anymore. If there was a media blackout on the FA Cup, people would still find out the football results if they were interested; how can football be more interesting than your own health? There are even people working for the NHS who either don’t know or don’t care about the current threat to their employer; I know because I’ve spoken to them. I’ve had plenty of people ask me why I get so upset about this, and why I bother reading and writing about it. Well, I don’t know about you, but if I broke my arm tomorrow I couldn’t afford the bus fare to hospital, let alone the treatment.
People came up to us on Saturday’s march and (genuinely) asked what it was all in aid of (maybe they were illiterate, I dunno, we had plenty of banners). Back in March there were nationwide vigils and I went to one in Southampton and was disgusted with how few people turned up; I even grabbed the megaphone to express my disbelief.
But honestly, what can we do? It seems that the only way to get media coverage is to destroy property, and that would be a wholly inappropriate response. I’ve tried telling people myself; I’ve blogged, tweeted, facebooked, accosted people in the street, written to my MP, attended events and rallies… what else can we do?
Answers on a postcard…
You may be familiar with online communities such as FreeCycle/Freegle; messageboards where people can post items that they no longer need, or requests for unwanted items. Boards are organised by geographical area, and you’ll find everything from 6 month old sofas, to second hand pants.
One thing the website seems to be quite short on, however, is manners. On the Portsmouth board there were frequent requests for expensive items such as iPads, iPhones, DSLR cameras, MacBooks, cars, motorbikes… all sorts. Two months after the iPhone 4 came out there was already a request for an “unwanted” one.
These requests are unrealistic and somewhat arrogantly greedy, but at least you can laugh at them and scroll down. Unfortunately, these kind of people also reply to offered ads, and here the sense of self entitlement really shines through.
I’ve “got rid of” a lot of stuff on Freecycle; a bed, a sofa, a sofabed, old computers, clothes, shoes, etc etc, and it can be hugely useful for shifting furniture fairly quickly. Nearly every message I’ve posted has had multiple replies, which is great, but I do wonder how these people interact in “the real world”.
We needed to get rid of an old bike, it’s not fubar but certainly needs some TLC to make it roadworthy, so I was surprised to receive 37 emails within an hour of posting:
Getting rid of an old bike which is no longer needed, it’s a Saracen, and the frame size is a men’s large.
It’s been well used, and could definitely do with some TLC, but it is currently rideable at least, so I expect with some WD40 and a bit of know-how it’ll have a fair few miles left in it.
No phone numbers, collection between 2pm-6pm today please.
Here are some of the most notable replies:
Yes plz to ur ad
Hello, I’ve not had much luck lately as my wife has just been diagnosed with cancer, so a new bike would be great, thanks.
Wow, pulling the c-card in the hope of getting a second hand bike. Classy. Also, I’d suggest that if this is true, your wife is having somewhat worse luck than you are. On two counts.
is it available
I don’t know, is it? Huh?
can i have the bike
hi do u still have this bike i need a bike as i lost mine thanx
You LOST a bike? Lost it? And you’re happy to freely admit this to a stranger in the hope that they’ll give you theirs?
bike pls 077********
This is why I specified “no phone numbers” in the post, because people will just send you their mobile number and expect you to call them. Obviously this person was not only too busy to converse by email, but also too important to even read the sodding post in the first place.
I really need a bike, I’ll be there in 10 minutes
Shit, really? Do you know where I live? How? I haven’t given you my address…
Now I admit I have a tendency towards pedantry, but I don’t think I was being terribly unfair in rejecting these replies. If you’re asking someone to give you their property, for free, the least you can do is use a properly structured sentence. I’m still reeling from the “cancer” reply, that’s certainly a new one.
I’m tempted to link to this in my next Freecycle post, but as most people don’t bother reading beyond the subject line, I doubt it’ll be worth it.
The last few days have been something of an emotional rollercoaster: on Saturday we hopped on the Greyhound and went to my mum’s (via the Southampton IMAX for the new Batman installment). We took the puppy to her first clay pigeon shoot on Sunday morning to see how she’d cope with the noise; turns out that as long as the ground is soft enough for her to dig holes and hunt worms / mole people, she doesn’t care. On Sunday afternoon I finally got a haircut- the last time I visited a hairdresser was when I was in Kathmandu and had an hour to kill before collecting my canyon swing photos.
And Monday was The Big Day™, I got to wear a stupid hat and gown, and make my family endure 2 hours of ceremonial waffle just to watch me dash across the Portsmouth Guildhall stage without falling over.
So that was somewhat emotional; I held it together all the way through (admittedly my knees went a bit wobbly just before I did the strut across the stage) but then at the end the chancellor, Sheila Hancock, started her speech with “You did it!” and my eyes started leaking. It certainly hasn’t been the easiest four years of my life; there were times when I was close to giving up, but I stuck with it in the end. That’s the thing with us stubborn types, we obstinately dig our heels in and persevere, even when it’s not the best idea! And whilst I’m on the subject, I also managed to keep my cool and refrain from telling a handful of people exactly what I think of them. It wasn’t the right time, and you never know who your future colleagues might be, so for now I’ll just enjoy the thought of not having to see them again for the time being.
On Tuesday I went along to the New Forest Show, as per usual, and only got slightly sunburnt, which was certainly unusual. Afterwards we took the puppy to the beach and I swam in the sea for the first time in ages, and didn’t get hypothermia, which is always a bonus.
But after a fantastic few days there’s always something that brings reality crashing back through the door; on Wednesday morning I woke up and could hear Matt talking to my mum in the kitchen, which was odd as he’d gone back home on Monday night. It turns out that at some point on Tuesday, while he was at work, our guinea pig, Butters, had died. It wasn’t a huge surprise as he was 5 years old and store-bought pigs aren’t known for their breeding or longevity, but unlike Ike (who had died in December) he hadn’t been unwell or unhappy. So Matt packed up his cage and all of his stuff, and drove down in the middle of the night so that we could bury him in the garden the next morning. that’s three graves in 8 months; I hope the puppy’s digging skills don’t improve too much.
Also, my car insurance expires next month and I can’t afford to renew it so we have left the car with my dad until I know whether I can afford to keep it.
So I’m now home without a car, without my rodenty friend, and I’m no longer able to even pretend to be a student.
We’ve been living in London for a month now, and we’re fairly settled; the move itself was tough but fairly smooth overall. There were only a few fatalities, caused when a box containing crockery and a glass chopping board landed on my dad’s steel toe capped boot; RIP Matt’s favourite mug. The flat is nice (not sure it’s worth the money, but is anything in London?) and the area is very leafy with great transport connections. I still can’t believe that I can hop on a bus just up the road which takes me past the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, and Hamleys, for £1.35! Assuming it doesn’t break down or inexplicably change its destination, of course… Another massive perk to our new home is that we actually have our own outdoor space, something I could never afford in Portsmouth. The novelty of sitting outside with a cup of tea and the Kindle won’t wear off any time soon. I just wish summer would arrive.
You may have noticed that I have changed the subheading on my blog from “student radiographer” to “unemployed radiographer”. This is because I have now finished my course and registered with the Health Professions Council! I have yet to find employment though, not for lack of trying; I’ve been dutifully applying for every post advertised within 20 miles but to no avail.
At the beginning of the week I was in Manchester for the UK Radiological Congress. The primary reason I went was because some of the lectures looked really interesting, but it’s also a useful event to make friends at (and this was my last year when I could get the discounted student rate). I got chatting with a veterinary radiographer who works at a really innovative practice near Guildford; when I was younger I always wanted to be a vet but wasn’t clever (or hard working) enough, so this is a field I am hugely interested in. I also attended some really interesting lectures on post mortem and battlefield imaging, quite morbid but really informative and I learnt a lot from the speakers.
So it’s been a fun-packed month, I’ve moved house, gained a BSc, rubbed shoulders with eminent radiologists, registered with the HPC, and can now officially call myself a Radiographer. A job would be lovely though.
I was sat on Hayling Island beach on Wednesday, enjoying the sun, sand, sea, and the fact that there were no shrieking teenagers splashing each other nearby.
Next week I’m moving to London, and it occurred to me recently that apart from the time spent on army bases as an infant, I’ve never lived more than 10 miles from the sea. I’ve never really been one for sunbathing (even with factor 50 I burn within minutes) but as a child we used to go to Mudeford Quay to catch crabs, and going for a gallop along the sand has always been a favourite activity of mine.
I’ve lived in Portsmouth for 10 years now and I’ve really enjoyed the nautical nature of the city; the naval base has a massive influence on the place and back in my clubbing days it was always a laugh sharing the sticky floors of Route and Scandals with US navy folks in full mess dress (taking bets on how long they’d last on the sweaty dancefloor in their woollen uniforms was mean, but funny). And then walking home from the club in the middle of the night through fog so thick I could barely see my feet, jumping out of my skin every time the fog horn echoed through the streets…
I’ve made some fantastic friends while living here and had some incredible experiences; I know I’m going to miss this place, but in all honesty it’s time for a change. The atmosphere here has been gradually changing and I don’t think it’s for the better. Making the transition from employee to student made me realise just how much resentment there is towards Portsmouth Uni by the local residents.
In 2010 a giant fibreglass dinosaur was built on the common as part of an art project; it travelled 2,000 miles to get here and was meant to spend a few weeks in towns across the country, but about a week before it was due to leave for Colchester it caught fire and was completely obliterated.
Immediately local people started blaming “the students”, as they do for everything: windscreen smashed? Students. Wing mirror ripped off? Students. Piles of vomit on the pavement? Students. In fact, most of the antisocial behaviour that I’ve witnessed has been performed by idiots wearing blue football shirts, and I doubt that many students are also Pompey fans.
Anyway, it turned out the dinosaur burnt down because of dodgy electrics, but the ill will towards the city’s students had already peaked and the atmosphere had turned quite unpleasant. On top of the general physical and verbal abuse I’ve had to endure at the hands of local thugs over the years, I decided that it was probably time for a change. The decision has been helped by a number of other factors, the lack of employment opportunities in Portsmouth being a major one; neither my partner nor myself have been able to find work here, and neither of us went to uni in order to work in a call centre.
So now’s the time. And honestly, I’m going to miss this place, I’ve got some incredible memories to take away with me and I know it’ll be an emotional departure, so thanks Pompey.
And try not to let things get too messy, yeah?
Last night I had the pleasure of being in the audience on BBC Question Time with the man who is probably the nation’s favourite fantasy granddad, David Dimbleby. He appeared in his organic form, as Bio-Dimbleby, rather than his alter-ego The Dimblebot.
The program was being filmed at Portsmouth Grammar School, and in order to apply to be in the audience, I had to fill in a form with my political affiliations and opinions. When asked what political party I support, I listed the not-quite-yet-formed NHS Party, and when I received a call from one of the production team, we had a fairly long conversation about it.
Arriving at Portsmouth Grammar School, we had our bags and selves searched, and were ushered through to the canteen where tea and biscuits were being served. There were two large TVs in the room, showing the news, BBC at 6, ITV at 6.30, and Channel 4 at 7pm. I had emailed my first question the night before:
What do the panel think of these recent judgements made in relation to Twitter? Why are certain people being picked out to be made examples of, and does the panel think that it is fair for someone’s life to be ripped apart because of a tweet that should have probably just been ignored? I’ve received abuse based on my gender and appearance, but it hasn’t been taken seriously, is that because I’m not a celebrity or an airport, or is it more because the threats were obviously not serious?
Along with our tea and biscuits, we were also given a card to write a second question on, so I asked why the NHS reforms had been ignored by the BBC and other media, even though I knew it was hopeless.
Just as Channel 4 was showing footage of an elephant on the rampage in Ireland (!) Bio-Dimbleby appeared and a hush descended on the crowd.
He explained what to expect from the evening and the general format of the evening; while he was speaking, a noise which sounded like barking came from somewhere behind me. Dimbleby asked if there was a dog present, and then told us that he used to have an old Nokia which had a frog ringtone, and he then delighted us all with his frog impression! He also explained the editing process, saying that the show is streamed to Glasgow (I think) where the lawyers cut any potentially libellous content prior to broadcast. He said that they used to edit out any comments about the IRA being murderers, but they eventually stopped because the IRA don’t tend to sue for libel! He’s really funny, and it was almost like a stand-up set.
At about 7.15 we were taken through to the studio, where five people were picked from the audience to be the “panel” for the warm up debate. The purpose of this is to test the mics and the sound quality, as well as getting the audience fired up. So the subject was “Who is to blame for the obesity crisis?” and plenty of questions and comments were fired backwards and forwards. Most people were respectful and waited their turn to speak, but there was one guy in particular who apparently missed out on manners as a child, and kept dominating the conversation; he even interrupted the panel during the recording, which was a hugely prickish thing to do.
Anyway, after the fake debate, the people whose questions had been chosen for the broadcast were briefed, and then the real panel came out and took their places. Whilst they were being set up with mics, myself and the girl to my left decided to do a spot of Dimbledancing, just for lols. Dimbleby then went over some ground rules etc, and made a comment about bad language, the monitoring of which he referred to as Countdown Tourrettes. His mic was a bit crackly so that was dealt with, but then even when it had been fixed, interrupting bald man still had to make a comment…
There was another fake debate, this time with the real panel, about whether national service could have stopped the riots. Alexei Sayle commented that national service should be compulsory, but that he thought he’d turned into a reactionary since arriving in Portsmouth. Some people seemed a bit miffed by that, which made it even funnier.
So then the recording started; I won’t go into detail because it was broadcast pretty much in its entirety (with the exception of a naughty word from Alexei) so if you’ve seen it, you know what happened. I wanted to ask questions on two of the points: I was hoping to ask my Twitter Trials question, and also when the subject of Kent Council building a new grammar school came up, I wanted to ask the panel whether they would prefer a new grammar school, or a new Steiner school. I know which I’d go for.
My favourite part of the whole evening was towards the end, when a student pastor (of all people) asked a question about the tax on pasties (I cannot believe that people view this as a more serious matter than the privatisation of the NHS). The panel talked shit about it for a while and then Dimbleby asked Alexei for his opinion, to which he replied that he really couldn’t care less; a reaction which was met with rapturous applause from those of us who can’t see what all the sodding fuss is about.
The camera was aimed in my direction quite a few times, on one occasion I was trying quite hard to not make elbow contact with either of my neighbours- very awkward.
But all in all a very enjoyable evening.
I arrived at Manchester Airport yesterday morning with plenty of time for my flight; I’d never been there before so didn’t know what to expect. It’s quite a large place with lots going on, so I figured it’d be easy to kill the hour before my flight. I had already gone through the rigmarole of separating my washbag so that all my liquids were in separate clear plastic bags, and I had my stuff all ready for inspection at the security area. When I got near the front of the queue I noticed that they had a fairly full-on security gate: there was a turnstile which let you through the initial metal detector, and once you’ve been checked for metallic objects, you are then presented with two glass doors surrounded by illuminated arrows; you then go through the door which lights up. One door leads you to your recently x-rayed belongings, and behind the other lurks a backscatter x-ray scanner. At this time I don’t know if this is a random allocation or if it’s due to Big Brother. Maybe if I’d been one place ahead in the queue I wouldn’t be writing this blog post.
So my turn comes and I go through the turnstile, through the metal detector, and stand in front of the doors, awaiting my fate, and hoping that the right hand door would light up and show me my freedom. Alas. I walked through the left hand door, where a kindly gentleman instructed me to place my feet on the marked circles. I calmly explained that I would rather not. He asked me to stay where I was and went to get a security officer (I’m not certain of her job title). She was a very friendly and not at all threatening lady, who walked over armed with information leaflets on the backscatter machine. I told her that I work with radiation, have spent the previous three years studying it, and that I had plenty of information on how the machines work and the radiation implications. Her body language changed slightly at this and she told me fairly dejectedly that unfortunately there was no alternative, as Manchester Airport do not allow passengers to opt out of the backscatter scanner. She asked me to email the Department for Transport and have it out with them; she said that maybe if enough people made a fuss, something might change. I’ll be honest and admit that I was so relieved to be met with someone so reasonable: I have never been on the wrong side of the law, and certainly never on the wrong side of airport security and I didn’t have the guts to get in trouble with both on this occasion. The conversation was very polite and considered, but she explained that the only way to avoid the scanner would be to not get on the flight. If I had the money I would have probably opted to take the train, but I’m still an unwaged student. I asked if they had any paperwork they could give me to prove that I had been scanned, but they don’t, which seemed odd; all she could give me were some leaflets on the machine itself. Maybe it’s part of the anonymisation process or something.
So I assumed the position, reluctantly. All the while very aware that I was being stared at by other passengers, as the entire charade was being conducted in a glass box in front of the security queue. It was quite humiliating to be honest, I know that assumptions were probably being made about why I was causing a problem, but I really don’t care. What worries me, is that there are no signs on the backscatter machine denoting what it actually is. It’s just two large black boxes which you stand inbetween with your arms in the air. At no point is it explained to you what the machine actually does or is. Is this because if they did, more people would refuse to enter it?
I’m going to do some more research, but for now I’ll leave you with these links:
Friday was difficult. The train journey and subsequent flight were an exercise in controlling my breathing so I didn’t lose my shit in public. But it was successful, and I arrived in Manchester without puffy eyes or a snotty nose, so that’s a bonus. I went straight to the hostel to drop my bag off and when I entered the dorm a drinking game was already well under way amongst the Belgian teenagers who were there. Apparently three other people had laid claim to my bed, but as it was the one I had been assigned I decided to be obstinate.
I headed out to the hotel where the conference was being held; luckily the train station, hostel and conference were all within a couple of minutes’ walk of each other. Upon entering the bar it was apparent that the party was in full swing; I spied a few familiar faces and mooched over for a chat. The atmosphere was excellent, everyone was very welcoming and friendly, and I was even recognised by a few folk I hadn’t seen in at least two years. I stayed for a couple of hours, but really wasn’t feeling in the most celebratory of moods so decided to retire at about 10.30.
I got to the empty hostel room and went to bed, only to be woken up an hour later by the drunk Belgians who opened the door, turned the light on and exclaimed loudly “she’s asleep! Be quiet” before bashing around for 10 minutes looking for their booze stash. I went back to sleep eventually, but was awoken again at about 2am to find one of the aforementioned Belgians crouched next to my bed, watching me. Unsettling to say the least. I told him to fuck off as pleasantly as I could, and to his credit he did.
The next morning I got up earlyish and went over for the start of the conference. It was great seeing so many people I recognised, and even more that I didn’t. The first speaker, after the welcome speech, was Deborah Hyde, who gave a fantastic talk about cryptozoology at Portsmouth SITP last month, but this time she was talking specifically about werewolves. It was, quite frankly, excellent. She has such an engaging manner, and the same enthusiasm for her subject whether she’s addressing a conference hall of 400 people, or a pub side room with just 15.
Picking the talks to attend was quite tough, I didn’t really fancy the “god” talks generally; it’s a bit over done in my opinion, and I never feel like I’ve actually learned anything, other than how high my blood pressure is capable of reaching. So instead I picked topics that I felt would actually be educational as well as entertaining. The Pod Delusion Live was excellent, and made (retrospectively) more excellent by the fact that they won an award later on in the evening!
The evening’s entertainment was just great. There was a gala dinner in the main hall, but I couldn’t afford it, so a bunch of us went to an Italian restaurant instead. This pretty much summed up the entire event for me; sure I wasn’t rubbing shoulders with the celebrity elite, but that wasn’t why I was there. I wanted to meet the people I follow on Twitter, and the people who I should be following, famous or not. And I did, to an extent. I’m very aware that I really wasn’t myself and I apologise if anyone felt I was being “weird” but my head was not in the right place this weekend; hopefully my friends can vouch for that. But anyway, we had dinner, and then went back to the conference for the evening, where we were treated with comedy and music, and it was excellent. Paul Zenon had me in agony from laughing, I will definitely be watching out for his next gig.
And then we danced the night away. After chilling in the bar for a bit, I wandered over to the main hall to discover Clio and Malcom leaving, because there had been no nerd dancing! So we fixed that, fairly successfully, even though the music was dire. At one point I figured that a tribute to Bob Holness would be appropriate, so the dance moves were studied (thanks Tom), and I even provided the sound desk with the Blockbusters theme tune, but alas, they couldn’t get it to play. Sorry Bob. We do love you really.
I got back to the hostel room at about 2am to discover everyone asleep, so I decided to be petty and get my revenge. Doors were slammed, lights turned on, and heavy things dropped. Yes I am 12.
Sunday morning I was utterly thrilled to meet Edzard Ernst after his talk about his exploits in CAM. He signed my copy of Trick or Treatment and turned me into a grinning buffoon. His talk was easily the highlight of the whole event for me, he has done so much research into CAM, and suffered for it too. When the Queen’s son is out to get you, and you still continue to fight, I will worship you as a hero.
Another session I really enjoyed was the SITP forum; it was basically a how-to session for SITP organisers, we shared tips, asked questions, and generally got some really good ideas about how to make our groups thrive. Even though Cork’s answer to everything seemed to be “find a castle”. Good for them though, I’m not jealous. Grrrr.
I’ve not gone into great detail on the individual talks, purely because someone with better literary and memory skills will, and also the talks were actually not the main reason for going. It was a wonderful social event, and a fantastic opportunity to spend the weekend with a bunch of awesome folk.
The closing night was great, if a bit odd. A few of us remained, chatting in the bar, and I got talking to a couple who had only been at QEDCon that day. We were having a nice conversation, when it suddenly became hijacked by someone else (I’m not going to say who, as I don’t actually know who they were) and the topic went onto something that I found completely abhorrent, so I decided to make a break for it, leaving the couple stranded with the hijacker. Sorry. Pirate rules. Anyway, we went out for Skeptics in the Curry House afterwards, which was great, and then back to the bar for yet more chatting and socialising. I should probably mention at this point that I had started to lose my voice (due to crying / toothache / etc) on Thursday night, so by this time I was positively baritone, and getting hoarser by the hour. To anyone I met for the first time: I’m normally a few octaves higher. Honestly.
And eventually I had to call it a night. From what I hear the party continued for a long while after I left, and well done to those who survived. I was elated to return to the hostel to discover an empty room- I actually got a decent amount of uninterrupted, unwatched sleep! The journey home was interesting though, but I’ll save that for another blog post.
It’s incredible how one’s current situation can affect even the laws of physics. To paraphrase the famous quote:
“A two hour lecture can feel like a week, yet the week before one’s dissertation deadline feels like two hours. That’s relativity!”
It’s been a shitty couple of weeks; a fortnight ago I had a dental appointment to do the prep for a crown fitting, but the prep work aggravated an infection in the tooth that was otherwise dormant. I’ve spent the last week or so in agony, with the painkillers only taking effect for an hour or so each time. It was so bad last night I went to A&E to beg for something stronger to knock me out. It worked, and I had the best night’s sleep in about a week.
Also, Dusty, AKA Schnauzersaurus Rex, AKA Puppula, AKA Fluffy, AKA D-Dog, AKA Schnaut, has declined somewhat recently.
She’s 14 and 10 months old, which is apparently pretty good, but it doesn’t make the current situation any easier to handle. On Friday afternoon, shortly before I hop on a flight up to Manchester for QEDCon, the vet’s coming round to put her to sleep. While I 100% agree that it’s the best decision- her quality of life has decreased in recent months- that doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier. She’s been around longer than Daisy, in fact I distinctly remember her sticking her head in the bucket containing Daisy’s placenta at the birth. Gross. So after saying goodbye to one of my oldest friends, I’ll be shooting off to a weekend-long social event. Apologies if I’m a miserable bitch.
Also, this week I finally finished off my dissertation.
It was essentially written by Monday morning, but I was lucky enough to have it proof read by lots of people so I spent yesterday and this morning making adjustments and re-reading, and this afternoon I had it printed and bound, ready to hand in tomorrow. Following this, I have three weeks of academic time, five weeks of placement… and then it’s all over. Hopefully.
So you’ve probably already heard about the WorkFare furore, mostly surrounding Tesco’s recent advert for unpaid night work. I was quite horrified when I saw it, not necessarily because of the “slave labour” aspect that seemed to have angered a lot of people, but because of the ridiculousness of one of Britain’s biggest commercial companies receiving a government-subsidised workforce. Why should the taxpayer fork out for the wages of staff that Tesco don’t want to pay? I say “wages” whilst fully acknowledging the irony. Job Seekers Allowance + expenses isn’t exactly something a person could live on, a fact which would be cruelly highlighted by making them work alongside people on an actual salary. In fact, I honestly have no idea how anyone survives purely on JSA, I know I didn’t.
Back in 2009 I was made redundant after 6 years of working for the same company. I bloody loved that job, and I met some of my best friends (and some of the worst examples of humanity) whilst working there. It was my first proper job after moving to Portsmouth, and even though I was there to maintain the IT equipment I was given the job title of “marketing assistant” because the company’s owners were troglodytes who didn’t believe in technology and they certainly wouldn’t agree with paying someone a salary to mess around with it. My initial duties were to reboot the servers every time they failed, but that got boring very quickly so I elected to build a new network from scratch- a hugely satisfying task.
There were a lot of major changes to the company whilst I worked there, one of which involved being ditched by the parent which meant that I could finally attain the job title of “IT Support” without offending anyone. Other changes included facing liquidation a few times, and when the administrators swarmed in 2009 it was made final.
My fondest memory of that place was probably my 21st birthday. I was presented with a birthday cake, and then carried from my desk in the office through to the factory, and ceremoniously dumped (as was the tradition) into the test tank (a large tank of stale water); only a fool failed to bring a change of clothes to work on their birthday.
My oddest memories are from the final weeks when we were having to sneak in and out of the building via the fire escape to avoid the bailiff (who had been camping out at the front door) from serving notice to any one of us. Then there was the day they forced entry and changed the locks, so instead of going to work that morning, we all convened in the nearby supermarket car park for a crisis meeting. It snowed on my last day.
The ending of the company was quite messy, and because it was technically bankrupt I had to claim my final month’s salary from the government, via the administrators. I was also told that in order to claim my statutory redundancy pay of £1,349.36 I would have to go and register for JSA (for the first time in my life). Having never been “unemployed” before, this was a hugely alien concept, and I was quite nervous. I walked into the Job Centre, and before I made it through the second set of automatic doors I was almost knocked over by a very angry man who was too busy shouting abuse over his shoulder to look where he was going. I spoke to the receptionist, who was flanked by two security guards (none of whom seemed bothered by angry-man) and she gave me the forms I needed and told me where to wait.
When I eventually got to speak to an “advisor” she issued me with a log book (to enter all my job-seeking activities) and asked about my work experience and what I was looking for. When I told her I would do pretty much anything, she raised her eyebrows and said “Well I’ll put you down for IT roles, and if nothing comes up in 6 weeks, we’ll broaden the search a bit”. 6 weeks?! I didn’t want to spend 6 weeks wasting time when I could be earning money, so I asked her why I couldn’t do less specialised work whilst looking for my ideal job, and she told me that wasn’t how it worked.
I was livid.
I was even more livid when she told me I’d have to quit my college course as it meant I wasn’t “available to work”. At that point in time my highest qualifications were GCSEs, which meant that I was unable to apply for particular jobs, regardless of my experience, so in September 2008 I started an Access course, which is a sort of A-Level equivalent for people like me who might want to do a degree in the future. But apparently these 12 hours a week (9am-12pm Mon & Weds, plus 6pm-9pm Mon) were a huge barrier to my employability and all higher education would have to cease.
I found this completely abhorrent, especially bearing in mind I had just been told that I was to limit my job seeking to IT roles, and that they regarded “job seeking” as “looking through the Situations Vacant section of Thursday’s paper”. I had already fulfilled that week’s job seeking requirements by sending 7 job applications off before leaving home for the Job Centre appointment.
Needless to say, I didn’t quit my course.
All this pissing around for £60 a week, because apparently I didn’t qualify for housing or council tax benefit as I had only just lost my job. Sixty fucking quid. And 3 weeks in they cancelled it and I had to go through the application process all over again because I had the audacity to do 16.5 hours temp work! Didn’t make that mistake again.
Luckily for me I managed to find a fantastic IT support job (without the help of the Job Centre) just as my redundancy payment ran out, but my 8 weeks of unemployment taught me a lot about the “benefits” system in this country; the main lesson being that the only way to actually “benefit” is to play the system. I didn’t want to sign on in the first place but was forced to in order to claim my redundancy payment which amounted to just over one month’s wages. If I hadn’t been entitled to any redundancy payment, say, if I had only worked for the company for 18 months, then I have no idea how I would have coped on the £371.65 of JSA I claimed in total.
I’m not trying to sound like a victim at all; as I said, I managed to get a really great job in a lovely company and because it was so well timed, I didn’t go hungry or stupidly overdrawn, but that was no thanks to the Job Centre. I genuinely have no idea how normal people cope in these situations; and I really don’t know how I would have reacted if I had been told to quit my college course so that I could stack shelves in Tesco for £60 a week.