What I have (Not) Been Doing During Covid.

It has been an odd few weeks, people I know going down sick with Covid, my daughter having a couple of close shaves with friends testing positive and on-off circuit breaks, lockdowns etc.

I should have been writing lots, not a lot else to do, and yet somehow I find, or often family find other ways to occupy my time.

I have been wrestling with a couple of Covid or post Covid society pieces which seemed very easy to start but much more difficult to finish without ending up very dark. I’m not against dark endings, or beginnings and middles for that matter but they haven’t felt right, as if I were forcing the endings.

Which brings me on to the other thing I’ve been doing, which is a piece about a quiz team in the north of England in the 1980s. Pub quiz leagues were very big for a while, and indeed may still be in some areas, but generally the advent of social media, computer games and video game consoles has absorbed a lot of people’s spare time and of course mobile phone technology and Wikipedia have exponentially increased the capacity for cheating.

Who would bother cheating in a friendly pub quiz I hear you ask? Yes, times have certainly changed. Quizzing was serious business back then, and indeed you could make a fair amount of money with cash prizes for the bigger events and resaleable goods often handed out as prizes elseewhere. It got so big that electronic quiz machines were placed in pubs, for a brief time rivalling fruit machines (one armed bandit gambling machines) and Space Invaders as a way of getting extra bodies into bars.

I have mentioned that I am wary of the ‘And this is a true story’ boasts on works of fiction, so I am very clear that my short story ‘Shoot Out At The Red Horse Bowling Club’ (to follow very shortly) is most decidedly not a true story. But all fiction is inspired by element of fact. Isn’t it?

WORLD BEATING POST!

There have been many victims of the Covid-19 crisis. Those who have died, those who contracted long term health conditions as a result of infection and those who fear infection are the most obvious and we mourn them and sympathise.

But there are other victims.

Truth, the ability to comprehend what ‘science’ is and why ‘the science’ is never as clear cut as politicians and some journalists would have you believe, and language itself.

Precision in language has been bludgeoned over the years by many trends, and I am not an advocate of strict adherence to theoretical concepts forged in the enthusiasm of Enlightenment. That was itself an oddity, the last thing les Philosophes advocated was enthusiasm; that led to religious fervour, suppression of enquiry and the propagation of lies. But there were enthusiasts who taking one bit of the central concept of Enlightenment wanted to describe, explain and classify everything, including words and grammar.

Explaining what an infinitive was, how one could split it in English whereas one couldn’t in Latin was fine. Forbidding the use of the split infinitive for no reason other than taxonomic convenience was pedantic, stupid and unimaginative. The mission to go boldly, or to boldly go? Which captures the spirit of the idea better? Hint; not the ‘correct’ one.

So change in language is not to be feared, where it works to enhance the main purpose of the tool, i.e. communication.

What concerns me however, is when self serving types; management gurus, HR drones, politicians, take good solid linguistic meaning and torture it to serve their own nefarious ends.

Covid has shown how, in Britain at least, we are in the hands those who believe hyperbole will kill the virus if science can’t.

We weren’t just promised an effective test, track and trace system, oh no! It was a World Beating! test, track and trace system. That it failed its trials and had to be replaced with a bowdlerised version of one the rest the (un)beaten world was using was just a blip, because the new one was going to be a world beater too! Unfortunately it is getting worse in performance, not better and nothing has been beaten except our belief in anything politicians say.

This may not seem too bad, a bit of bumptious enthusiasm to jolly the troops along perhaps, but it undermines everything when we have continual use of superlatives. If this mediocre shambles is World Beating, where can we go from here?

There has been significant mumbling and grumbling about the latest dead rabbit to be pulled from the hat; the Three Tier System (I wondered if someone had been reading about Turnip Townshend and the three field crop rotation system the night before the meeting about this). Most of this has been about it going too far or not far enough. We’ll leave the erosion of science for now, but no-one has mentioned the oddity of the naming scheme for this ‘system’.

In a paean of praise to oversize drinks vending everywhere, we start not with ‘low’ risk but with ‘Medium’ progressing via ‘High’ to ‘Very High’.

What happened to ‘low’?

Now we may not have any ‘low’ risk areas at the moment (although definitions are notable by their absence or confusion) but you can’t start at ‘Medium’. Medium, by its nature, by its Latin root, by standard usage and understanding, means ‘middle’. We have taken a marketing ploy and used it to try and tweak expectations, to ‘nudge’ behaviour. That is the kindest interpretation. There are others. Whatever the reason for it, this attitude to language, which has been growing exponentially (another favourite du jour) since digital media, erodes accountability. The authors of  ‘World Beating’ no more expect to be challenged about it than they do to deliver it. Nobody seems to even be concerned that we have been elevated to a state of perpetual middle risk as a norm. Language is not a neutral thing, it is important and we should beware the erosion of precise meanings in the circumstances we now find ourselves.

The problem is as, Lewis Carroll put it so eloquently:

“‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’”

RAW MATERIAL

Where does the time go?

After my thoughts on ASD last time, I meant to sit down and write a few short stories for this blog, maybe a couple of flash fiction or micro fiction pieces.

Started one and at the 4,000 word point I realised there was either a much bigger story in there or I needed to tighten up considerably.

The answer, as so often, may be both, or neither!

In any case none is ready for posting and this is not only due to prevarication and lassitude.

Things have been hectic on all sorts of levels, daughter preparing to go back to University for her third year; son being my son; me repairing cupboard doors (not connected to son); drilling out sheared bolts on daughter’s swivel chair, cutting new bolts and fixing legs; rescuing hedgehog from accidental pitfall trap (drain cover displaced) reviving from hypothermia- covered hot water bottle, feeding with cat food, releasing into garden when recovered; cutting back fuchsia trees to turn them back into bushes; attacking the briars at the bottom of the garden, which are so dense they are probably harbouring much more than hedgehogs!

There must be stories in there – former civil servant rescues hedgehog? Maybe not. Not like that anyway, but something. For the moment however they will have to do until I can sit down undistracted and put some creative effort into the raw material.

We Are ASD

I was late diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder a few years ago. It was not a surprise to some who knew me well, and a complete shock to others I had managed to bluff successfully for years. One of the most surprised was me. I had known there was something odd about me and that I didn’t fit in with the world, but had never pinned down precisely what it was.

I listened to a Radio Four programme on the morning of Tuesday 8 September about Autism in women, presented by comedian Helen Keen who herself received an adult diagnosis. It focused on those with a late diagnosis of the condition and all sorts of things made me sit up and think. Hardly surprising given my own experience I suppose.

Now I am not a woman and I have no desire to horn in on someone else’s unique experience. I know women have had a hard time being diagnosed with the condition. Historically it was considered almost exclusively a male problem and this has left many women struggling.

I sympathise as many men were in the same position for years. It may seem hard to believe that a boy with ASD could be missed these days, but these days are not that long. My doctor, when my mother in despair at me not sleeping sought his help, said, correctly as it happens, ‘Well not all children need the same amount of sleep’. He may have been correct, but it triggered no other questions or tests and I went on being ‘odd’ but otherwise unnoted. My fascinations with particular subjects and objects, difficulty to mix easily and make and maintain friendships, oddly specific memory feats, problems with cloth textures, food textures, light levels, noises (terror of vacuum cleaner noise) all elicited no particular response from others. My parents thank goodness were sensible and supportive and loving but others labelled me awkward, soft, picky, stand-offish, ‘precious’ and just plain weird. I liked girls, although I learned that little boys were often not supposed to because they liked ‘rough’ game and girls didn’t. I tried to conform, but I would often prefer to sit and read or paint or write. A certain suspicion of not being a proper boy began to coalesce around me as well as everything else.

The programme mentioned that trans and to a lesser extent gay people, seem to be overrepresented among those with ASD and I confess I wondered for some time if I was trying to suppress something, perhaps a homosexual nature. I didn’t think so but there was a period, well after my first emotional and sexual relationships with women when my head throbbing confusions about why I was so internally messed up about life in general led me to consider any and all possibilities.

I cannot imagine the difficulty of being LGBTQ and trying to cope with undiagnosed ASD. Ethnic minorities in Britain are another group that have particular difficulties, not just the obvious difficulties of minorities in western cultures, but because sometimes their own religions and cultures make it difficult to accept western psychiatric approaches to mental health differences.

I’m not that surprised that at the time I was growing up no-one spotted the signs in me. In the late 1950s and 1960s autism was still generally characterised as a boy sitting mute on the floor banging his head against a wall. Aspergers was not something for northern England. Maybe poncy southerners with their fancy ways could have savants wandering around, but we knew awkward little buggers for what they were.

Recognition of female autism is an even more recent thing and it has been more difficult for women to get a diagnosis. Thankfully this is changing. One of the problems associated with recognising and identifying the condition in women is ‘masking’. This is the successful pretence to be normal, watching, identifying and copying neurotypical behaviour to fit in and hide one’s true reactions and feelings. Women are very good at this apparently.

So am I.

I never felt as if I understood the world or belonged in it as it was configured. I went for years knowing there was something different about me but not having the faintest idea what it was. Lots of other people knew I was weird too, but they became fewer as I used a lot of energy and brain power to ‘fit in’. It was enormously hard work and it took its toll. Eventually I had what I have always thought of as a sort of mental breakdown. Someone on the programme characterised it as an autistic breakdown. I’d not thought of it like that, as at the time it happened I had no diagnosis. On reflection I have had several of these crises during my life and they have come at times of often apparent great triumph, academic or career, but the build up of contradictions became too much for me.

I only recognised the symptoms in me for what they were during a parental session to help me deal with my son who has ASD. I ticked nearly every box. I was very cautious, I knew I was in an emotional period with the concerns over my son but it suddenly all felt like it made sense for the first time in my life. I went to my own GP. He didn’t laugh as some do according to the programme, but he did ask ‘are you sure you want to bother?’ when I asked for a diagnosis.

Often in the past I would have shrugged and said ‘probably not’ in order to fit in, all rufty tufty chaps together. This time however I was so galvanised by my epiphany in the parental awareness course that I said ‘Yes. Yes I do’.

He was very good after that and referred me and I had an initial screening then a few sessions with a Consultant Psychiatrist and she rapidly recognised the symptoms and the cause of them.

So what did diagnosis do for me? Was it worth it? In practical terms I suppose the answer to the first question is ‘not a lot’. I haven’t used it in job interviews, career progression or anything like that.

So was it worth it?

Oh boy, yes!

Someone in the programme said her diagnosis meant the end of self blame, and that is what happened to me. I retain all the frustrations of not being able to parley my intellect into financial or career success to the level I might otherwise have attained. I feel aggrieved at those who mistook the ability and the desire to look deeply into questions as lack of incisiveness, or diffidence.

So what did the diagnosis do to make it worthwhile?

That loss of guilt.

I had a problem, still have it, but it wasn’t laziness, repressed homosexuality, abuse, diffidence, lack of application, superciliousness, arrogance (how can you be arrogant and diffident at the same time?) or any of the things other people accused me of or I wondered about myself. It turned out to be none of them, nor anything I could do a lot about. I carried the burden of trying to fit in for too long to shrug off all that accreted camouflage overnight.

But I am aware of there being someone else, the real me, my authentic self, still under it all. I’m trying to excavate him. It may be too late to build a career on the real me but at least I am aware I exist and I am learning to lose the need to mask myself.

Someone said that diagnosis can be the end of support from outside agencies and it can be very lonely after the process ends. They said that finding other autistic people to share with was one of the autistic joys, and more people need to access support groups.

I don’t think I really feel that but I guess it may help others.

I haven’t worked out whether I like being alone because it is me or because other people impose demands on me I find too taxing. I like people. But I need space and silence a lot of the time too. Finding the balance is the difficult thing.

One thing about the programme as presented rang a small alarm bell though.

I’m completely in favour of helping those who have difficulties through lack of fair play, whether female, trans, black or other victims of so far unrecognised bias. What I don’t want the neurotypical world to do is to appropriate our newly won right to our authentic ASD selves and begin to segregate us along divisive lines imported from their world that should not exist.

That’s what the neurotypical world is waking up to right? No differentiation of esteem on the basis of things that don’t count about how human we are. Let’s not paint ourselves into the false divisions they created. We have enough problems in a neurotypical world without masking ourselves with their hangups. We have ASD and we should stand together to explore our authentic selves; female, trans, white, black, male without letting those markers divide us.

Escape from Castle Currys!

Well the saga went on for a bit longer.

Almost immediately after I wrote that piece about Currys I received an email saying the ‘Write Off’ had been authorised and I should receive a voucher via email within three to five days. (The power of blogging!)

That was Sunday.

The voucher arrived on Thursday just after sixteen hundred hours.

Except it was a ‘Gift Card’.

It had been bounced into my junk folder.

It was addressed in the body of the email

‘To: You’

The text began ‘Dear Valued Customer…’ and had a big bright button ‘View eGift Card’ which I was exhorted to click.

The ‘from’ email address remained a ‘no reply’ Currys address when checked but it looked as dodgy as….

So I rang customer services – to be fair they were super fast answering – 10 minutes, transferred me only once and they picked up in three minutes! I should have done the lottery.

Yes, that was how they send them out and that is why they say check your spam folder, as for some reason nameless posts from no reply addresses with click throughs to unverified  pages with active buttons make algorithms suspicious. Wonder why?

Having that reassurance I clicked through.

Genuine.

Tried to use it online – fine up until the bit where on page one it said ‘available for delivery’ immediately for free, only to find out that part of my order (and the cunning bit was they didn’t say which bit) was not after all deliverable.

I went back and the immediate free delivery that had been available was no longer there. I could wait until Tuesday or pay a fiver. I went for that and spent the next twenty minutes trying permutations to find what was and wasn’t included. I finally got a television bought and promised for delivery on Saturday using the voucher which left me with a little bit extra to buy a stand for it with some addition from me. Unfortunately, having identified that as a collect only item (despite the continued up front claim it was available for delivery) when I tried to use the remaining voucher balance I got several claims; ranging from, not available on this item, to we are unable to process vouchers at this time.

I waited until next day, Friday when all of a sudden it was plain sailing through the process, the voucher was processed and the collection site agreed.

No problem.

Well, except I needed to bring the email confirmation with me, park, press the button in the email, fill in an online form in the car saying which bay I was in and wait for the package to be brought to me. I had to bring my daughter with me to complete this part of the process as I do not have and refuse to get a Smart Phone. What I would have done without her and her technological parasite I do not know.

I thought we defeated the Soviet Union and this style of marketing?

Why do I refuse to have a Smart Phone?

Ridiculous cost, parasitic tech companies, poor security as standard, arcane attempts to improve security that negate half the convenience of the  basic idea of interconnectivity and misuse of something that is supposed to improve interactive experience but which in practice subordinates customer wishes to process requirements.

Deep breath Guy.

Just to balance things up, the delivery arrived on time as promised, the pick up went like clockwork and it is all set up and working (fingers crossed).

But one of the locking nuts broke as I assembled the stand (I had a spare so I did not have to go through the nause of persuading them to replace it.) and when I looked at the insurance cover available they no longer do the Repair and Support Plan which covered accidental damage. The replacement Care and Repair plan allows you one free clean (?) but specifically excludes any accidental damage.

I didn’t buy it.

The successor to the Sale of Goods Act says it should work. I don’t see the point of paying a company to avoid its legislative duty.

Easy!

The Castle? Kafka had it easy!

I’ve been meaning to post several things here for the last couple of weeks but things have got in the way.

Obviously life goes on as usual and that all takes time, but one expects that to happen. I normally manage to run a small business, keep my son’s education on some sort of track, cook family meals, do the washing up, shopping etc and occasionally do some writing!

Sixteen days ago the screen on the television was broken in an accident. No problem, it has happened before and Curry’s Newport had been happy to sell me a Repair and Support contract which covered accidental damage. In fact I had used the same contract before to replace a TV.

Currently we only have one car and my wife uses it to work in Cardiff. She was working shifts but with Covid recently moved to what basically works out as a 9-5 post. Which is great for her but does mean that I currently have no options to use the car during business hours. Trust me this is relevant.

So, on the day the damage occurred I checked when the store was open so I could return it and commence the repair/replacement process. I found that since reopening after the Covid Lockdown, they were now closing at 1800hrs, roughly the time my wife gets back from work. But surely the gods were smiling on me that day as my wife unexpectedly returned early! Yay!

I should have remembered: ‘Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.’

I drove to the Newport store and arrived with half an hour to go. And waited, and waited. Eventually I got my chance to explain my problem and showed them my contract and they said, ‘No problem’.

And then there was a problem.

They needed to input lots of information to their system. I realised why I had waited. The system was slow. The system was down they declared.

No problem they said, bring it back in the morning.

No car in the morning.

They looked at me as if I were well below poor white trash. No car? What kind of loser was I?

Could I not just leave the TV as requested in the contract and they could fill in the details, which I had already provided, in the morning?

No.

What then?

Ring the number on the contract and book it in and they will pick it up.

Oh they will, will they?

I went home, rang the number. Waited nearly an hour on hold, at 5 per minute I later discovered, and then a really nice man on the tech line booked it in for collection for assessment for repair the next day 6th August. No he could not give me a time. Not a problem, I could stay in. Great. We parted having had a nice conversation about whether or not I was connected to Graham Farish model railways. Regrettably, not as far as I know. He gave me the repair reference number and we said goodnight.

I waited all next day.

There was no appearance of anyone seeking to collect a television.

Late afternoon I rang to see if they were coming.

I hung on for some time, several times, and did not get through before the batteries on my cordless phone gave up.

Eventually I got through in the evening.

A much younger chap was really sorry but my booking had been too late and not been processed.

Wait a minute, the guy last night had said, ‘There we are, that’s all booked for you, 6 August. It’s in the system, done.’

The new guy didn’t know what had happened but the good news was my pickup had been automatically rebooked for the next available slot.

Great!

The 11th of August

There is a clause in the contract that says if it takes more than seven days to repair the appliance they will replace it for free. Now returning it to the store would normally trigger this period, but as they refused and as I foolishly went away, I had to wait for the rearranged pick up, six days later, as the event to trigger the period.

My son was distraught, and I was…miffed, but, despite registering the fact I found this cavalier rebooking unacceptable, I could see no obvious alternative to waiting

On the Curry’s website I found a ‘track my repair’ page. On the 11th I checked and I was booked as number 20 out of 22. Sure enough, late in the afternoon they arrived and took it with a promise to return it on the 18th – seven days, see?

So by now I was up to a thirteen day stretch without the television. My son was not happy. I suspect no-one else was either, but he was less concerned with the social niceties that prevented them from venting their feelings.

On the seventeenth, filled with a suspicion that it was just ‘too quiet’, I checked the tracking page again. Sure enough ‘We need a quick catch up’ was the message, ‘we have a query about your repair…’ ring this number. I loved the ‘quick’ bit.

Couldn’t get through on the phone. Tried webchat while my batteries recharged – when I eventually managed to find a way to trick the AI into letting me ‘chat’ (exchange written notes) with  real person, they were clueless but gave me an email address. I emailed them asking what was happening.

I tried again on the phone and got through and they said there may be a delay while they found the right screen. That didn’t strike me as being a query. I made sure they had my landline, my wife’s mobile and my email. They assured me they would be in touch, using different methods depending what happened next – they would text a new delivery date, they would phone the landline if they wanted to give me  a replacement or email me a voucher for use in store or online.

I got a reply to my email in the morning of the 18th which said – ‘I see you’ve spoke to someone’ –  and no more save I had a new reference number.

By the 20th there was no news and they were over the seven day period even by the start date of 11 August rather than 5 August.

I tried to phone. Repeatedly. No joy. So I emailed them and said I wanted to activate the Seven Day Repair Promise.

On 21 August I had an email saying they had already handed this over to the ‘Write Off Team’ on the 20th.

Okay.

I rang and eventually got through to someone to see what was happening. My son was more than halfway up the wall by now.

Eventually – I calculate I had spent at least £15 on mostly fruitless phone calls at that stage – I got through on the phone and the call handler said he couldn’t say why this hadn’t been actioned but there was some sort of note saying ‘investigate’ on the file. I asked what that meant. He had no idea except it was marked for write off. On being pressed he said they would email me with the result.

Today, 23 August, I remain clueless.

I did receive an email from ‘postmaster@DSGROOT.INT’ using part of the header of an earlier email with an attachment they wanted me to click on – but as there was no name attached I have presumed it was a phishing scam or malware trap – a search reveals no known connection between Curry’s and that email address. I can think of several web and programming connections, none of which make me feel warm and fuzzy about clicking on anything contained unidentified in the email.

I tried ringing again this morning – cue the usual time expanding menu and then – ooh! New music with no message and then ‘due to unforeseen circumstances we are unable to process your call’.

So here I am, seventeen days after the beginning of my quest, no television, no repair and no word as to what happens next or what the word ‘investigate means.’

I tried emailing a complaint some days ago –’no longer active’. Curry’s appear to have done everything possible to prevent getting any resolution to anything. I could have gone, and may yet go in person to the Newport shop,  but as they appear to be as dependent on ‘the system’ as anyone else I don’t know how to get some sort of resolution from anyone.

Watch this space.

I may be channelling the spirit of Fran Kafka after this experience.

COVID? WHAT COVID?

I took my daughter to the train station on Saturday and she went to England to meet a University friend for a meal.

She was very careful to make sure she had her mask with her, that she didn’t hug her friend, they did air hugs instead, and that they were as responsible as they could be about how close they got to other people.

The rest of the UK however, seems to have given up on the idea of social distancing and bothering with recommended practice.

On the station few people were wearing masks, and I can understand that in the bright sun on an open platform with no buildings in sight, that in itself was okay. I wasn’t wearing one myself. But when the train arrived, many people boarded it without masks, which is a requirement. While we waited people stood talking to friends up close and personal, no two metre distancing, still the separation distance in Wales, and obviously not the same household and how many exclusive ‘bubbles’ can you inhabit?

When I picked her up later the same (lack of adherence to) rules were in evidence. Talking to her she was amazed that there were people on the train with no masks. And no censure. People had them hanging loose from one ear, more concerned with being able to put it on to avoid any censure (not worth the bother apparently).

In England there was no evidence apart from mask wearing in shops that there is or ever had been any Covid. The great English public have apparently abandoned their conception of what a metre is now they have left the EU and the ownership of a mask absolves them from any other measure designed to thwart the spread of the disease.

In one way this reassures me that we are not yet about to succumb to a form of draconian dictatorial stroke from the sinister offices of Dominic Cummings. On the other hand it makes me wonder about what the future holds for us in a winter return to the spread of Coronavirus.

If this laissez fair, not to say lackadaisical approach to Covid works, why did we destroy the economy? The problem is how do we work out what worked and what didn’t if the evidence we are given from Government statements and ONS survey bears no resemblance to adherence on the ground? Interested parties are notoriously keen to claim credit for solving a problem with tinkering measures that had no effect on a situation.

Analysis of this virus and the responses to it need to be free of politics, career progression and drug company profits, if we are to work out how to react to repeat waves of it and any new pandemic threats.

Given human nature; what are the chances?

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

I was, as I think I have said here before, an early(ish) adopter of the Internet. I ordered a computer from long deceased company Colossus, not off the peg but built to spec, in 1996 and went online. I had used the internet before, but through work. It was an exciting and dare I say Brave New World to venture forth on my own. I wish hadn’t said that actually given how the net is being exploited these days.

I bought and played with, and pulled apart, and added to, and programmed my first computer in the 1980s – a ZX81, still in the attic somewhere.*

Since then I have had a sort of love affair with the computer.

I still love the idea.

I hate the way they have been incorporated into a method of control and social domination by various actors in what has become the Digital Age.

Before anyone thinks I have become a Luddite, I haven’t. Not at all. The simple act of turning data into 0s and 1s and manipulating that data for our benefit, to connect us, to simplify tasks, to free up time, to allow interdisciplinary interactions to create new ways of thinking about the world remains a magnificent opportunity and goal.

However, we missed it.

Oh, it goes on in places to some extent, but finding them and participating is almost impossible unless one is already an insider, which is hardly the point of the great democratic experiment of information sharing via the web.

Commerce has taken over and now controls a system intended for academics and the sharing of knowledge. It may be convenient to buy plastic aquarium plants online from China with the click of a mouse (that dates me. Who uses a mouse now?) but is it what some of our brightest minds envisaged as they crafted the internet and the World Wide Web? The reduction of one of the great opportunities in world civilisation to retail, pornography and streaming media, seems like a missed opportunity to me.

Why do I rant now?

Probably because I am getting old and crotchety but also because many things are being moved onto a system that does not work as well as the brochure specs – who knew!? And the existence of the net shuts down the, often better, options. The latest being health care first point consultations. This move is already happening as overworked, understaffed GP practices struggle to meet demand. Matt Hancock is now suggesting digital consultations should be the norm.

I just spent 25 minutes trying to book an appointment, not for me, with a service (not a first point of contact) that has been sent to work from home because of Covid-19. The ‘hold’ system kicked me out once, was impossible to hear when I was eventually connected, and cut me off half way through, before I eventually booked a telephone consultation which will probably necessitate a series of video meeting. All calls were through the internet via a laptop at the service’s end. If I had rung on a normal line it would have been done in three minutes.

Then I read https://thematicallymeandering.com/2020/08/01/digitally-downsizing/ which I recommend.

In it there is a ‘rant’ about online content. I share a lot of his concerns. What worries me as much as the oceans of crap out there from SEO writing styles and advertising is the use, and misuse, of data. I turn off as much targeted advertising as I can but some slips through despite my best efforts. I may be weird because of my ASD but I hate getting bombarded with ‘Your interests: DIY and aquarium plants’ offers because I idly looked at insulation foam and plastic plants for a hobby that has absolutely nothing to do with DIY or tropical fish.

A silly example perhaps, but what else are the big data companies, the hangers on and the dubious governments like the Chinese Communist Party doing with this stuff? My data is apparently valuable and is being collected whether I want it or not. I don’t do the major social media platforms for that reason, and let’s be honest because I have ASD and hate the idea of what passes for social interaction at the best of times. Despite my attempts to decouple from manipulation, the vast majority of us don’t and this affects me. Who knows how major political decisions are being made by a group of floating voters swayed by subtle and not so subtle manipulation by everyone and their dog?

Most seriously what worries me about how the internet has been developed is that, unlike Number Six in The Prisoner, I am apparently a number, and the commercial internet hijackers have got it.

 

*But without the means to operate it – no black and white TV, which was used as the monitor. I kept it for ages, at my parents’ house, in various storage facilities and finally when I stopped moving around with work so much, at home. Until after one (last?) move to our current family home I ‘decluttered’ and binned the still working black and white TV. It could no longer pick up a terrestrial TV signal as they had all been turned off. In a fit of ‘what’s the point of keeping it’ (I had previously watched it occasionally in emergencies when other screens were unavailable) I sent it to the great recycling plant in the sky.

Only to remember too late what its primary purpose had been when purchased in 1982.

SOMETHING FISHY

My son went fishing yesterday.

He went with a friend, all socially distanced of course, all legal; rod licence, day ticket, two fish take away.

I confess I didn’t think he’d need the latter permission. My memories of fishing were of hours of tedium as you sat there not catching anything, getting bitten by midges, getting soaking wet or sunburned. If you ever did get ‘lucky’ the boredom was punctuated by flashing moments of; how do I get the hook out of this thing, how do I not get bitten (Pike), cut, (Perch) by this thing and then releasing it back into the water without drowning myself.

Nothing we caught was edible – I fished in the canal and grotty ponds, no fly fishing or expensive clean fast flowing spinning rivers for me. This was the 1960s and early 70s and waterways were mostly cheap waste disposal systems for industry farms and local yobs of all ages. Water management was barely acknowledged as an issue. So lead, mercury and sewage were some of the less harmful additives to the diet of most ‘freshwater’ fish in many parts of the UK.

So when he came back with his allotted Rainbow Trout I was impressed, proud and, at ten o’clock at night, not a little exercised by having to remember how to descale, gut and fillet a trout. I had done it (okay we got some brown trout out of clear streams in the hills occasionally) but when I thought about it, the last time I had cleaned and cooked a fish fresh out of the water was about 40 years ago. Now fish haven’t changed but my memory, dexterity and patience have.

However, he’d done his bit, now I had mine to do. I was sort of hoping for a father son moment where I showed him how to deal with what he had brought home. The mighty hunter however had (and I apologise for this) other fish to fry. So off to the PS4 he strode leaving me clutching one slippery piscine trophy staring most accusingly at me in a dead, vacant sort of a manner.

The upshot is we now have a couple of trout fillets in the refrigerator ready for cooking, when he arises. I confess I have seen neater bits of filleting. I’ve done neater bits of filleting, but for a late night stab (I’m sorry about this) at a half remembered skill, not bad. I hope. Of course the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. I’m recommending caution as we eat. Read the small print on the packet about some bones may remain.

At the moment he is full of enthusiasm for fishing and he has plans to be a regular. I’m wondering if we should perhaps engage in a few more trial runs before major investments. Initial enthusiasms do have a habit of wearing off. On the other hand, if it takes I guess there are worse ways of spending hours outdoors getting wet and sunburned.

ONE CHEER FOR RISHI!

Public sector workers are getting a ‘Coronavirus’ reward.

Huzzah!

I didn’t clap every week for the NHS Carers Essential workers, because frankly I thought it rather naff and not a very British way of behaving. I was, and am however, immensely grateful for the existence of institutions and people committed to the wellbeing of our society rather than a profit margin for shareholders. And I’ll show it in practical terms by lobbying and by voting for any party that will maintain that principle of public service over profit, and which will reward those involved in providing it. I am not against profit, it has its place, but that method of organising resources has its own reward and value system.

So I was ecstatic to hear that after years of austerity aimed at those not responsible for the economic meltdown of 2009 the Government was going to reward those who responded to the emergency.

Except it didn’t.

And presumably won’t.

It has rewarded those it needs to enforce order; the police and armed services.

It has rewarded teachers.

It has rewarded those at the top of the financial tree in the NHS; doctors and dentists.

The people NOT included are all the other NHS staff; nurses, midwives, porters, managers and admin staff etc.

The argument apparently is they are coming to the end of a three year pay settlement which brought them out of austerity earlier. 6.5% pay increase! Yay!

But that was in recognition of their low pay status, the damage done to morale and recruitment through effective pay cuts, an incentive to replace dwindling numbers because of removal of bursaries for nursing training, overwork, poor shift patterns and general bad treatment in a service starved of funding.

And that 6.5% was spread over three years, so an annual rise below rpi inflation. And an annual increase of 2% is a lot smaller sum calculated on a nurse’s pay than on a doctor’s pay,

And of course it won’t affect all those care home workers who are local authority staff, or more likely minimum wage private sector workers already overworked, underpaid and as we found out often underprotected.

So maybe not three cheers this time Rishi.

Get back to me at the end of the nurse’s pay round and we’ll see what we can do about the other two.