Action Monday

A news presenter on radio has just wasted several precious minutes of air time wibbling about ‘Blue Monday’. Apparently that is today, 18 January 2021.

The slot started off moderately light heartedly but rapidly drooped into the usual misery about the ‘last year’ and how we can all avoid our suicidal depression.

Well I’m not in one.

I’m sure there are some people who are down about life, and I sympathise but there are obviously a lot of people who are not and designating a day at random as ‘the low point of the year’ isn’t helping anyone.

I’d never even heard of ‘Blue Monday’ as a concept until today, and thirty seconds of searching online revealed what I suspected. There is no evidence for this as a real thing at all. It was a creation of a psychologist, Cliff Arnall who was suckered into the idea by Sky Travel in 2004. They were seeking a way of getting people to book holidays early for that summer and used this concept to prod people into parting with their hard earned cash. Arnall has since asked people to ignore the whole thing as irrelevant to real life. But as Dr Frankenstein found out, these monsters are harder to slay than create.

So here we are then on the most depressing day of the year (not). And you would, under the current circumstances, be mad to book a sun packed overseas beach holiday any time soon. So do you end it all now?

No.

Lift your head up and look at the glory of creation. Whether you ascribe the wonders around you to a God, or to a Gaia type concept or to the random chance events of scientific evolution they are pretty amazing and so are you. Your sheer existence is a wondrous victory over chance. Celebrate it.

Vaccines are on the way to offer a hope at least of a path through the Covid-19 minefield for many of us fairly soon so we should bear up under the strain and keep a clear head.

Actually if we are looking for something to be less than happy about, it might be that idea of vaccine rollout.

I am fortunate enough through happy circumstance, nothing to do with me, to live in a rich, self absorbed country, that had the money and opportunity to bung loads of cash relatively early on to pharmaceutical companies and ensure fairly early access to large numbers of doses of these lifelines. But what about the rest of the world? There are billions of people out there who will not have lifesaving vaccines for months, probably years the way things are going. The Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine is being made available to low and middle income countries at cost. Which is great but still expensive and supplies are currently being snapped up by rich ‘first world’ countries before they can rollout to these other needy areas.

So if you want to shake off the imaginary Blue Monday lethargy, write to your MP and suggest we stick a couple of billion in the pot to help pay the ‘cost’ price for our fellow human beings to be safe. And maybe we could build and licence production facilities elsewhere to stop countries rich from the previous exploitation of other countries snaffling all the available doses first?

‘No man is an island…’ and all that.

BREAKING POINT

I’d like to end 2020 on an upbeat note.

But I have no desire to stick my head in the sand

Civil society in Wales is not in a good place.

Our Covid figures are the worst in the UK nations and the NHS is falling, or probably has already fallen, over.

And political accountability on a range of issues is non-existent.

Starting with the small stuff first, the idea that the majority of people pay the smallest amount of attention to various enjoinders or rules about the Covid situation is a joke.

I see secondary school children, old ladies and athletic looking middle aged men without masks in shops unchallenged by shop workers while pre recorded voice messages play over the tannoy system telling us all how there is a one way system in force, everyone must wear masks and assistants will enforce the rules.

Families have extended family over to visit from many different households and not just in the Christmas window and way beyond those limits.

And why would they pay attention when the rules change seemingly from day to day?

And when someone writes to ask a question via email about the policy, the system, its implications for a Welsh student studying and living in England and whether they can and how they should return for essential services still registered for in Wales, and might the Welsh Government apply a little more thought to those in that position, they are ignored.

The official system my daughter used to contact Mark Drakeford some months ago specifically says that the enquiry will receive an answer. She wasn’t expecting a personally signed vellum scroll in reply, but not to receive even an acknowledgment, as required, undermines belief in even the most basic lip service to democratic accountability and engagement.

But politicians and officials seem to care little about what the pubic want. We have recently had a new superhospital open in our area, The Grange at Cwmbran – the one recently in the news with no beds for A & E and patients sat overnight in ambulances waiting. Which is odd as it is the A & E hospital now for the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board. This has a huge catchment area and is not on the established public transport links in the area. Newport is the focal point for transport links in the area. Cwmbran is up one of the valleys and if you need to get there you have to change buses or trains at least once, in Newport, to get there and then the hospital is nowhere near the station in Cwmbran.

But obviously if you need to get there in an emergency you will use an ambulance to get you there in time to save you without the bother of public transport.

The 86 year old grandmother of a friend of my daughter had a fall a couple of days ago. She was in agony and the family couldn’t move her themselves as they suspected she had broken her hip. They rang for an ambulance to take her to the new state of the art centre of excellence that is the Grange at Cwmbran.

26 and a half hours later an ambulance arrived. The ambulance driver said he would complain as his patient was by then in a bad way and he had not heard about the call until recently. That obviously stops the press stories about waiting in ambulances for a bed.

As suspected, she as a broken hip, and will have an operation tomorrow.

I’d suggest writing to someone to complain, but as nobody is even likely to acknowledge it, it hardly seems worth it does it?

In case anyone thinks Covid and/or teething problems with the new hospital in Cwmbran are to blame, nearly two years ago my GP rang for an ambulance for me when my heart went into atrial flutter and I had a resting pulse of c150 beats per minute. I waited for a couple of hours and rang to see what was happening. There were no ambulances. They sub contracted a taxi.

Fortunately my wife got back from hospital and drove me to hospital. The ambulance/taxi never did arrive.

There were no beds. There were no trolleys. I sat in a chair in the waiting room overnight, eventually hooked up to a drip to see if they could get my heart rate down before I saw someone about sixteen hours later and I eventually got a trolley. I moved up through the hierarchy for a couple of days until I eventually got to a cardiac ward bed, got my heart rate under control and was discharged for cardioversion at a later (five month) date.

There was no Covid. There were no teething problems

I’m not having a pop at the NHS staff, but at the failure to finance, organise and direct their efforts while talking gibberish about how brilliant everything is.

A little less effort on the ‘message’ front and a little more at getting the bloody thing right would help.

It’s not just the NHS, and it’s not just Wales.

Underfunding, poor planning and a desire to egregiously lie about how ‘World Beating’ everything is at every verse end is infecting every facet of public life in the UK. And it is not ‘public service inefficiency’ that is the problem. The efficacy of the Government’s remedy of choice, privatised sub contracting, can be seen in the woeful performance the World Beating private test, track and trace system in England. It is undoubtedly setting records but not at the end of the leader board you’d like it to be.

A little more honesty and genuine attempts to fix problems rather than ‘perceptions’ would go a long way.

APRÉS MOI…LE WHAT?

I have a guilty secret.

It’s a kind of addiction.

I gave the game away in a recent post here, but I think I may have gotten away with it too,  if it hadn’t been for those pesky kids

Which kids?

Those on University Challenge.

I have been watching UC and attempting to compete with the contestants since its inception in 1962. Given I was seven at the time, you might have thought that this was a forlorn hope. I was however a precocious little person. Although I doubt my memories of each week being in with a shout at the gong which ends each episode in those early years, I had been attentive enough to my father’s readings to me of Norse and Greek mythology, Roman history and basic science, to get one or two answers each episode. The canon of academic knowledge seemed narrower then.

Which is why contemporary questioning has exposed some lacunae in my knowledge base, and led to this confession.

My interest in a TV programme which asked questions with definitive right or wrong answers based on a well bounded sphere of academic, cultural and political knowledge played right into the strengths of my ASD brain. Read these works, study these equations follow the news in reputable papers and all the knowledge worth knowing was available and could be remembered.

Not only that but I could test and compare myself with the contestants.

I answered the questions where I could, but early on I began a quite strange, now I look back on it with more insight than I then possessed, habit. I would count the answers I got correct, but they only counted if I said them out loud before anyone on the two competing teams or the host, Bamber Gascoigne initially, now Jeremy Paxman, announced them.

I considered for a while the idea of marking myself in terms of the show’s  marking schema; with ten points for a starter question and five for a follow up bonus, to see, presumably, if I alone could have defeated the accumulated brainpower of St.John’s College Oxford or Durham University or Manchester. I am still tempted, but I drew a line. Somewhere a warning note regarding the dangers of stepping over the line of casual enthusiasm into obsession, sounded. Some may say it sounded a little too late.

I was distraught when he show disappeared from ITV in the 80s. But it had sown the seeds of a slight quiz mania. I was already part of the Pub Quiz boom in that period and played for a team in a local league and joined peripatetic quizzers looking for fresh challenges and cash in the tough semi pro world of quizzes for cash. I’m joking of course, it wasn’t bare knuckle boxing, but sometimes the distinction blurred. There were bans on some itinerant teams who showed up to local pubs running cash prize quizzes and some people could and did get quite shirty about the presence of (mostly mythical) quiz hustlers in competitions.

When UCt returned in 1994 I was elated.

So why has the current iteration of UC brought me to this confession?

Well I still watch, and I still count my scores in terms of questions answered. Okay, so far so weird I know. The thing that has concerned me is that my number of questions answered correctly before the students can, or before Paxman can put them out of their misery should they not know the answer, is declining.

In the first round games I have been still okay. I scored 31 in one round this series and I was regularly in the high twenties and convinced the old brain was still ticking along. The subsequent rounds I believe get harder, at least they do for me, but this week I was reduced to 16. I’m not saying I’m grabbing the mess Webley yet, but I am wondering where we put it.

On a seriously anal note I had a deeper think about the reasons.

Obvious answer: they were asking questions I didn’t know the answer to. (I know where prepositions go, I’m embracing the vernacular) But why? The answers thing, not the vernacular.

In some cases even this is not true. I have noticed that although I know the answer, my recall is too slow to beat the 19 to 20 something brains. The number of times I have been tempted to ‘cheat’ and count the answer if I knew it but couldn’t spit it out fast enough is increasing dramatically. Thoughts of normal age related impairment reassure me a little, but don’t waft away the various dementia concerns that start to gather in the darker moments.

But a less threatening answer also raises its head. I just don’t keep up enough with the changes to the modern academic and cultural canon. An average awareness of Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi, Wagner no longer suffices to cover questions on serious music, and don’t even start me on contemporary music – is it music? (Oh Guy! ‘Modern beat combos’ anyone?) Similarly Titian, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, van Gogh, don’t appear as much while Banksy, Emin and Hirst will only get you so far. As for the proliferation of subatomic particles in common circulation since 1962…

I realised many years ago that to attain the Renaissance ideal of knowing everything had become less likely to put it mildly, but I still tried. To what purpose I was never sure, save emulating my father who was my internet. But not only has the canon grown exponentially it appears the relevance of the earlier iterations has declined or in some cases disappeared altogether.

This isn’t always a bad thing. The removal of sub Galtonian justifications for crude eugenics is hard to shed a tear for. Likewise, for different reasons, some of the earlier explanations of life, the universe and everything that preceded scientific method. Although I note neo-Lamarkism is very popular among the epigenticist class.

So there it is.

I am an inveterate consumer of, and participant in quizzes (whether pub or TV). Preferably not involving too much ephemeral popular culture. But one who is slipping down the rankings as failing brainpower, interest in keeping up and an expanding world knowledge base conspire to reduce me to what must surely be single digit scores at the hands of Paxman et al.

Barbarism and dissolution await, I embrace them.

GET ON THE TRAIN

I can’t remember how long it is since I watched Billy Liar. It was sold to me as a must watch by a school friend sometime in the early seventies. I may have watched it again in the late seventies depending whether it was repeated on BBC2. That was the only channel (out of three available in Britain) that would have bothered repeating something which passed for an arty, niche piece in the world dominated by the likes of James Bond, The Great Escape and similar blockbuster style films that made it on to BBC1 and ITV.

Be that as it may, if people mentioned it in conversation since then (not a frequent occurrence, but more often than you would think for a black and white British film about someone who daydreams a whole country but doesn’t leave home), I would smile in recognition, but there would be an uneasy feeling, squirming away at the back of my mind.

Then I read a piece in the Guardian some time ago that made me remember where my uneasy feelings about it came from. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/nov/10/billy-liar-my-most-over-rated-film

If you haven’t watched it and don’t want to know the ending – spoiler coming along – look away NOW!

Billy has his chance to leave and doesn’t take it. More foolishly he has the opportunity to leave the North of England head for London to try and make his future, with Julie Christie.

He gets off the train and ‘misses’ it, marching back home to failure with his imaginary army trudging behind and Julie Christie on the way to London.

It is a paean of praise to lost opportunity.

I remember being very afraid that Billy was me. I played wargames with toy soldiers (still do) so ‘imaginary army’? Check. Dead end northern town existence? Check. Dreamer with pretensions of writing? Check. The only thing I was missing was Julie Christie – maybe that was the problem.

To be fair, I like and liked Macclesfield, not such a terrible existence. But I found a way out, having had a kick up the backside from reading, a few years on from seeing the film, the sequel: ‘Billy Liar on the Moon’. Still in the town, now a council official, he breaks a corruption scandal. But he is stuck there making the best fist he can of a bad job.

So I left.

So why drag all this up now? Well I have unfulfilled ambitions and I was looking online for something else entirely and came across this review again and almost immediately afterwards on the name of someone I used to work with. He worked in another organisation and I thought he was a good bloke, but a bit fly. Vey fly it seems as he is now a big wheel in the privatised bit of the world we used to inhabit for the Public Sector. Looking at his business social media led me to another couple of names I know, both of whom I worked with and thought were okay but frankly nothing that special and certainly no better than me at what we did.

I took another path and now I wonder if I missed a train somewhere?

The Julie Christie reference didn’t help either, because although I am happily married with two lovely children, I remembered a huge missed signal from someone I was madly in love with at the time. The combination of being head over heels and ASD made me miss a rather large hint and opportunity. I am squirming with embarrassment as I write this that I didn’t see it at the time.

Of course my life might have been very different or very much the same, we never know where the untravelled road might have led us. I’m very happy with my family and although remembering that incident makes me cringe, I wouldn’t not have my family. But realising I definitely cocked up recognising an opportunity in one field of life has made me wonder what else I might have missed in fields I would have liked to have gone differently?

A medical friend who dealt with many injured soldiers in recovery and rehabilitation used to say ‘we start from where we are, not where we would like to be’. Wise words. So whatever I may have missed the thing to remember is don’t miss things now, don’t dwell on what might have been.

I’ll get on the next train.

MEDITATION ON A LOST YEAR AND A NEW CROSSROADS

There’s been a lot going on in the world over the last nine months, despite the narrow parochial view from a small town in a corner of Wales in varying states of quarantine. As much as Wales has big cities, (Cardiff? Swansea? Newport?) where I live is most decidedly not imbued with a big city perspective. So the closure of one of the local supermarkets, last trading day Sunday 6 December, has been the big, and miserable, news of the last few months. The other has been the remodelling of the crossroads at the centre of the village finally finished, sort of. What was supposed to be a three month job was strung out with Covid and its response into nine. It still hasn’t got all the promised bells and whistles and frankly at the moment looks like the biggest waste of money on a cosmetic effort since the rage for trout pout lips some years ago.

The USA has had an election. Result not quite confirmed. You have an election to elect people who have an election that happens six weeks later? Probably worked in the nineteenth century before modern transport and communication systems, but now? Six weeks? And then another month to move the furniture for the new guy?

Of course that has all been exacerbated by the present incumbent’s approach to elections and news. I guess the combination of Donald Trump and a system that means the nation has got used to ‘mainstream’ media outlets being the ones to ‘call’ the election, was asking for interesting times if it didn’t go spectacularly in his favour.

Most commentators seem to believe it is all over bar the shouting and that Joe Biden is President-Elect, and will take up residence in the White House. President Trump is still tweeting ‘we will WIN!’ and saying he will vacate the White House if the Electoral College votes for Biden on 14 December. Am I the only one wondering what that means? I’ve heard of ‘faithless electors’ where College electors don’t follow their state’s popular vote but apparently (and I am no expert on US Constitutional Law, so don’t quote me) it is also open to State legislatures to appoint College Electors who will vote against the popular vote if that legislature is convinced the original ballot was flawed in some way. The Electors would not then be ‘faithless’ and laws constraining their voting (in some states only) that automatically invalidate ‘faithless’ votes, would not apply. The Donald may still have a technical route to that second term.

With me so far?

I can see why the demise of Waitrose here is the main point of discussion round here.

China appears to have shrugged of Covid-19 like a bad dream the rest of us are still enduring. Do we believe that? Is smoke and mirrors really the cure for SARS-CoV-2? Or a draconian social control that would make Winston Smith’s ‘1984’ look like an Ecstasy fuelled Rave? Facial recognition and re-education camps, fight Covid, Uighurs and Democracy?

Hong-Kong had its flirtation with post British colonial democracy prematurely trashed (see above) and the Brits use some really harsh words. Being in hock to the largest manufacturing economy in the world (which is doing the trashing) doesn’t help truth justice and the mother of Parliaments as it is about to crash out of the lee of the EU of course.

All the usual wars rage in the Middle East/Horn of Africa, different names, same people dying.

Covid of course is still with us, though vaccines appear to be on the way. Let’s hope they are not the false dawn so many other promises turned out to be in 2020. And can we please not give equal air time to ‘anti-vaxxers’ in a spirit of ‘balance’? Andrew Wakefield and his cronies did enough damage 20 years ago without more of his insanity flooding the airways and newsprint. It’s bad enough his corrupt stupidity will be perpetuated through social media and unregulated websites without giving this idiocy access to the validation of mainstream channels.

Having got that off my chest I can look forward to my isolated winter festivals of Hanukkah Christmas and Saturnalia (sorry Diwali, you have already happened) with a light heart. Can’t I?

Happy Winterval.

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?