Friday, 24 October 2008

It was on a Tuesday morning ...

Recently, British Gas sent my mother a letter offering her £300 off a new boiler. So she brings it to me all excited, like she'd won the lottery and was going to get a new boiler for nothing, or close to it. After stifling a guffaw, I suggested it would cost at least £2,000 (even after the "gift" was deducted), but no, she wouldn't believe that. Of course, I must be wrong.

There was only one way to deal with this, so I rang to get them to come round and tell her how much a new boiler really costs, even with money off. In writing.

Which they did, on Tuesday morning and, lo and behold, the first verbal figure the man came up with, was exactly £2,000. Yes, I had to say it! By the time he'd done his sums, added VAT, and printed it off, it was nearer £3,000.

Now, I know she has absolutely no intention of changing the boiler (heck, she wouldn't even change the settings on the washing machine), but she was talking about it beforehand, saying, "depending on what they say" (on price) ... then saying she did not want credit.

Once she told the man her date of birth, she was told she absolutely wouldn't get credit either, which, funnily enough, is exactly what I'd said. Not that I was beleived, of course. Suddenly, this became a problem and a "Where am I going to get the money from?"

Ah, you're thinking, well, she would say that in front of the bloke to wheedle out of ordering. And you'd be wrong. She did um and ah a bit, but she left him with the impression that she might have the cash if she had to (and she does.)

And she'd HAVE to find it from somewhere, if the boiler went wrong and, when it does come to the end of its useful life, which is probably right about now.

No, it was after he'd gone that she started having her tantrums, which, once more, ended up with her screaming at me and telling me to get out and go back to Tenerife ... All because I offered the "grown up" observation that, if she wasn't going to be selling the house any time soon (we'll get back to that), then she has absolutely no other choice but to maintain it.

That £3,000, over an estimated 15 years of the average life of a boiler (The Telegraph, apparently reckons you should budget for a replacement every decade), works out to be £200 a year (£4 a week), which is about the same as the cost of the annual service contract.

My dad used to put away sums like that to cover these types of replacements and they must be considered as part of heating costs in Britain. And, if you can't afford to do this, then you can't afford to live where you do.

The current boiler still works, just, but there are problems, because it's 16 years old; there's reduced efficiency, of course, and there "may" be problems finding parts for it (I don't know how much of a problem that is yet) and, it's the old open flue type that often has blow backs that have since been declared dangerous. (In council properties, their removal is now compulsory.)

The bloke said he wasn't hard selling, then tried to "put the fear of god up us" with scare-mongering stories of how, if anything goes wrong with it, they'd just slap a label on it and cap the gas off. It just so happens that I worked for British Gas for several years, way back when, so I know they did do that when there's a dangerous gas escape. They didn't do it just for a broken boiler and that sort of selling is the first thing that would send me scurrying to the competition.

But, it also happens that my mother knows a bloke who worked in the gas leaks department at North Thames - on the same floor where I worked - so I told her to talk to him. "What can he do? He can't give me £3,000", she snaps, nastily. No, but he can help us make a more intelligent educated guess over whether there really is a need to be proactive and change the boiler before it goes wrong; how likely parts would be unavailable, where to find out, etc.

In other words, I know she won't listen to a damn word I say, so ...

She picks up her phone, she appears to dial, then, with bearly time for it to have rung and been picked up on the other end, quickly rushes into a vague diatribe about needing help with "something". Her tone and delivery sounded to me like she was reciting into an answering machine, but she was purporting to be having a conversation with a human. If anyone was on the other end, they didn't have much chance to ask what she wanted (she didn't say), reply, chat, nothing. Immediately she "hung up", she recapped that it was done, he'd be round in a day or two. The call was so fast and so strange, I reckon she might have rung "nobody" and acted, hoping I'd drop the subject. Which isn't very grown up.

Either way, the man has never showed - yet, strangely, he's supposed to be a really good friend who would drop anything to help her - and she hasn't mentioned the subject again since.

What happens when we really do need to get something done?

Who needs enemies?

Several weeks ago (it's taken me this long to calm down a tiny bit), one of the neighbours, a woman, decided to have a go at me in the middle of the street, accusing me of being lazy and of sponging, delivering an uninvited and (I believe) unwarranted lecture about how my mother "doesn't have to" help me and going on about how I should get a job and a flat and, bla, bla ...

Prattling on about how her parents would never help her (probably the crux of the matter, which is hardly my problem) and how they locked the door at a set curfew time ... The point of which, I cannot even imagine, except that it very adequately describes the sort of people they must be: the sort that would leave daughters out in the street in real danger, rather than protect them and, who probably think "trouble" only happens after a certain time of night.

Don't know what you call people with ideas like that, but I call them ignorant.

She doesn't actually know the facts, so it was merely her opinion, and, it's none of her bloody business anyway, but not only that, she launched into this slanderous and defamatory lecture while I was talking to another neighbour, which made it extremely stressful to have my character assassinated in public.

(Oh yeah, I might add that I was on my way out for a 2-3 mile walk, on a rare day when the weather permitted, in an attempt to do what I can to get some exercise, improve my circulation, keep my ankles from swelling and most of the rest of me from ceasing up. If I really were lazy, would I do this, especially considering that I usually can't move for days afterwards? Right!)

Despite that, I agree totally that my mother "doesn't have to" help me, but irrespective of my health situation (whether you believe there's a problem or not), irrespective of what parents should or shouldn't do for their offspring, I've made sure that mother, not me, confirmed her intention to "help."

It's a matter for debate, whether you call it "help", with the considerable abuse I have to put up with to get it, but that distinction notwithstanding that's the end of the matter, whatever anyone else wants to think.

Not that the woman had any right to know, but I felt I had (a right and a good reason) to defend myself against groundless criticism. I explained some of the facts, mainly in the hope that the other neighbour would be left in no doubt, but from subsequent comments from her - proffering more unwanted advice in a tone I can only describe as "snotty" - it's clear the damage is done.

Where could this woman have got her wild ideas, I wonder? From someone who has said something to give her the wrong impression, maybe?

And, since I only knew one person here and have only one relative ...

When I got home, I went ballistic (I think, anyone would). Mother seemed shocked and looked worried (although, that doesn't necessarily confirm she felt that way) and immediately agreed that the neighbour had no right to do such a thing. It wasn't until a week or so later I got any further on the issue though, when my mother went to see this neighbour - just for a chat, as if nothing had happened. Apparently, the matter was never mentioned.

Once again, I seriously questioned my mother's sanity - I mean, to her face, utilizing a few of the choicer adjectives - if she could casually "pass the time of day" with someone who had verbally attacked her daughter in public.

Clearly, all natural protective, maternal instincts are missing here.

And, so is common sense, decency and a conscience, I reckon.

(And she still waves to this woman, when she passes in her Chelsea tractor.)

In the end, with some more probing, I was finally able to determine from my mother that she had told the neighbour that she "did not believe" there was anything wrong with me.

Of course we know "did not believe" is not the same as "there is nothing" wrong, but what is the neighbour going to hear?

Mother can't / won't take her own daughter's word for it that she has pretty much all of these symptoms, that I'm in pain and have been for 13 years. She knows I was chucked out of a job because I was deemed unable to cope with it 11 years ago. Despite all that, since I don't yet have a proper diagnosis, with a diagnosis of "nothing," "nothing" must be what I have then. It isn't!

Someone who lies all the time, I suppose, expects everyone else to lie.

And my mother, resolutely refuses to accept that the manner in which she's said this has had the exact same effect as telling people that I'm a liar.

How easy does that make living here and getting help?

Phuking with Physics


Two teapots, different shapes, but I think you can see that the yellow teapot on the left (mother's) is at least as big as the white one (mine). Actually, her yellow pot holds a little bit more, I know, because I've tested them.

My little pot on the right, is just big enough to hold two mugs' worth, while my mother swears that her teapot is only big enough for a mug and a half and when I pointed out that this was a load of old crap, she started to argue, saying the mugs were different sizes. They're not, but that's irrelevant.

Logic and scientific laws out the window: Mary Poppins' carpet bag and Dr. Who's Tardis, obviously, determine the rules of physics here!

Of course, I should merely accept without question my mother's unscientific fantasy imaginings, call in the men in white coats (for both of us) and leave it at that. :) And, of course, you know there was no way I would do that, so I wasted my time today while she was out, testing them both "scientifically"; filling each pot with water, then pouring that into a measuring jug.

Using this scientific method, my findings indicated that:

  • My white pot holds a mere 3/4 pint.
  • Her yellow pot holds 1 pint exactly.

Theory proven, I think! Yes, I know, this is a complete and utter, total waste of water, time and energy; yours, mine, hers. It's also so absolutely 'effin pathetic it defies description. Why the hell does anyone need to come up with fantasy untruths, even over such pointless, insignificant matters as this?

Why do we have to have two teapots in the first place?

Well, of course, I have to be the awkward cuss, because I don't like "ordinary" tea (never have done, which should be no surprise, because for the 16 years she visited me in Spain, she bought her own teabags with her, because she knew I wouldn't have any), but I'll drink Earl Grey and other unusual teas.

Still had to remind her yet again that I don't like "normal" tea (I also avoid it for health reasons), which she reacted to with a tantrum and snarky comments, as if I'd personally attacked her, so I do rather entertain the possibility that this was willful "revenge".

Before I bought my teapot, I'd make a cup of Earl Grey (not the cheapest) and to eek another cup out of the teabag (I'm poor), I'd lay the teabag in a spoon, neatly, on the chopping board, near the kettle, just for a few minutes.

This is EXACTLY what my mother does (only she leaves hers anywhere on the worktop), when she often can't be bothered to make tea in the pot.

But when I go back to make my second cup of tea, I find that the teabag is gone, the spoon is gone, having been washed up; everything's wiped down, put away, cleared up. Time, after time, after time ... because she's thrown the teabag in the bin, because she says she thinks it's rubbish.

You'd think she would be capable ...

No, maybe she isn't, but any moron is, even if they didn't know, of working out that if it were trash I'd know where the trash can is and how to place items in it. Do I need to spell this out?

When the men in white coats do come for me and when I do finally and totally lose it, hopefully, these posts will show how much provocation I had! No, of course, it isn't just the annoyance with the tea, it's that something of this kind, something she must disagree with and causes me stress and requires me to explain and justify myself (for no good reason), happens every single day.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Stuck on transmit

Know-it-alls are bombastic, opinionated and bad at listening.

Plans for a cooked lunch today had to be quickly abandoned in favour of a quick snack, because mother only gave me short notice of the time she was scheduled to go out. We discuss what it will be: something that would be eaten on your lap. What she knows is that she's going out. What she wants is just to eat now. She doesn't think about the logic of the timescale, nor listen to a word that's said. She sets the table for lunch; knives, forks the lot.

She comes to the kitchen for juice. As I already had something to drink, I tell her, very clearly, that I didn't need juice. She pours 2 glasses of juice.

These are entirely typical of her and could be describing any number of small things that happen on any given day. And it's clear it's because her receive channel is switched off.

It is so frustrating and infuriating to waste perfectly good breath on her!

(No, this type of not listening is very different from not wanting to hear a pointless account of what's on TV, while I'm trying to work.)

Time-travel thinking ...

Having made and frozen her meals for next week (as I won't be here), I begin explaining them to her and mention that I'll make another fish pie later, from which portions can be frozen too and begin a sentence, "They may not be ..."

But she just could not stop to listen to the rest of what I was going to say and, simply had to interrupt in her know-it-all manner saying that, if the portions are not very big, she can always have them for lunch.

Well, we had, finally (usually), got it round to having our main, largest meal at lunch time, as this is recommended, not only from the point of view of weight control, but also for the immune system, I read. So the small portion for lunch logic doesn't stack and, you know she hasn't forgotten: look at what she did with the setting the table business, not 2 minutes before!

And I didn't say that, did I? I wasn't even going to say that ...
The portion sizes, frozen or not, will still be the exact same as they have been every other time - (same ingredients) and she has to know that they have to be equal, since she now only has ONE SIZE of dish to make it in (after she's thrown nearly everything useful in the house away: another long story.)

What I was about to comment, was that the fish pie portions may not be ... quite as successful (taste / texture wise) frozen and then defrosted and reheated, as say, something like the soups and stews.

That's all.

But no, as usual, she knows everything, including what you're thinking and what you're going to say, even before you do and interrupts all the time.

She does this to try to appear "smart". You and I know it makes her look like a totally ignorant, blithering idiot and, what's worse is she refuses to grasp the fact that, if she actually LISTENED sometimes, she might NOT always be wrong and therefore needing (she thinks) to try even harder still to appear right.

If she listened, she might learn something and then actually BE right!
All know-it-alls suffer from a lack of self-esteem, and what they seek, through their tireless attempts to impress, is usually approval and validation.
Now I know we all suffer from this to some degree. And we don't always listen when we should. We don't all FAIL relentlessly for 84 years though! That takes real stupidity of determination or determination of stupidity. :)

The secret of dealing with the know it all
The know-it-all syndrome

Blaming the tools

Some people are either too irrational to be allowed out alone, or they're intent completely obsessed with blaming anything but themselves ...

Recently, my mother has been complaining about numb fingers and a lack of grip in her hands.

(This wouldn't be because I've been suffering with pain in my hands and wrists, for which I've had them supported, because I was also losing power and grip and am concerned about developing carpal tunnel syndrome, could it? If I have a headache, she has a brain tumour ...)

Anyway, she buys some new cloths for use in the kitchen. A different type than the old ones, because she says, they haven't been wiping up very well lately.

The cloths have become inefficient. You reckon? I reckon they've been working exactly the same way for years. You don't think maybe there's nothing whatsoever wrong with the cloths and it's just probably that she (and I) can't wring them out as well as we used to?

You watch, these new cloths will be "no better"! :-)

That's not to say that I don't have a few words to say about the shoddy tools (what there are of them) in the kitchen, but I'll save that for another time.

Water, water everywhere


Goodness knows what the obsession with water lately is about. I'm not actually aware of any risk of a tsunami in Hampshire, but, if I wet the bath (you know, as generally you do, when -if- you shower), then the bath surface and possibly the tiles around it do tend to get wet. It makes her panic: she came to me flapping because there was "water everywhere." Er, so?

When I'm cooking, if one of the chopping boards gets wet (you know, from washed ingredients), she's in there, wiping it. If, heaven forbid, the wetness strays onto the worktop, even a droplet, then this is a Level 1 Emergency.

You may as well share my frustration (the other reason for recording these things while they're fresh is because even I won't believe them later), but this is not a lucid individual, is it?

Photo: neukar75

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

How to use the telephone ...

Device to speak at a distanceA simple guide for idiots:

If you have a conversation on the telephone, speaking loudly, with the internal doors of a modern bungalow open so that any persons living in the same area can and do overhear the entire call (and not for the first time and you know they can hear, because they've been able to repeat, verbatim, snippets from previous calls), then it's probably not going to be necessary for you to report the conversation you just had.

If the conversation had absolutely nothing to do with the other person, they don't need to know and there's absolutely no need to bother them with it.

If the other person already hears all your conversations anyway, despite the fact that they don't need to know anything about them, they certainly don't need to be disturbed to be told every detail of every single call (that is of no interest or concern to them), every time your phone rings!

If, however, you decide to ignore all this advice, then please have the sense to realise that, as the person already heard every word, they will know that what you report bears absolutely no resemblance to what you really said.

Regular readers already know who did this today, don't you?

Since she appears to willfully refuse to hear the above any logic, let's try putting it on the internet and seeing if she can pick it up by remote osmosis or something, because I am well beyond my friggin wits end with her.

On the phone, she's all "Yessir, no sir, that's quite alright, no problem ..."

According to her fantasy, fictional report of this same call (being relayed only moments after she's hung up), apparently, she was all assertive and told them in no uncertain terms exactly what she thought about their total inefficiency.

Not even in her dreams. I heard what she said. And assertive it wasn't.

She's never done assertive.

One of HER friend's asked me the other day:

"... or doesn't she do normal?"

No, she's never done normal either! :)

Nor have I, but at least I'm willing to admit it.

Anyway, I digress ...

The discrepancy between the actual call and the report of it was so wide, you could have driven a double-decker bus through it, sideways. It renders my apparent "talent" in being able to spot liars almost superfluous.

How do you keep an idiot in suspense?

Leave a message and I'll get back to you ...

Even - especially not - when you don't answer your phone and the answering machine does, you do not need to go to tell the person in the same house - what's more disturb them to do so - that the phone rang so many times, but the answering machine clicked in - all in the 3rd person, passive voice (everything is, calculatedly, so it won't be something she did or didn't do) and in a tones of near panic that infers this is some sort of major problem.

One, because the person already heard that for themselves. Obviously.

Two, that's what answering machines are supposed to do.

If you can't get to the phone fast enough to answer it first, place the phone nearer to your person. It does not need to always be on the base station: it will last 6 whole days "unhooked". You've been told this. Grasp it.

Why doesn't this "other person" answer your phone? That's a very good question, the main answer to which basically boils down to your insistence that there are incoming scam calls these days that somehow magically charge your line after so many seconds, just by calling you, without you needing to dial a number. So, you have to be really, really, really, really careful.

Of course, I couldn't have learned to be really, really, really, really careful about anything during the 25 or so years I lived alone, now could I?

Those of us from planet earth know this is a total "load of ball bearings" as my mate would put it, but there's no telling you anything, is there?

The remedy: I won't answer your phone and then I can't be wrong.

Well, I will be wrong, just by breathing, but it's one less thing.

All concept of reasonableness, is lost ...

Later, I go to the shop, I come back, she's Hoovering. No problem (well, apart from the wide open windows and scared loose cats, which she tried to make me feel responsible / guilty for / insisted wasn't a problem and whined that "they weren't out of bed when I started"), but I couldn't care less if she's "still" Hoovering or not and fail to see the point of the next diatribe ...

The reason for this (I didn't know it was one) "delay," is because her friend rang up and the friend always goes on and on and you "can't" stop her.

(I wonder if the friend has any idea how "grateful" mother is for her calls?)

"Well, you just have to tell people you have to ...", says I.

At this point - remember in the last breath she's said a) this woman "can't" be stopped and b) the whole "point" (if it were one) of this was to report a "delay" - now mother claims, "Oh yes, I HAD TO tell her ..."

Echoing stuff back, using the exact same format, is a very clear indication that someone is lying and I've noticed lately that my mother has been sounding like a veritable Polly Parrot. Not to brag or anything, but I really do know from experience that there's no way she even knows about, let alone does half the things I've suggested that she's echoed back and suddenly "always done".

There's no point saying, "You can't have, because ...", because mother will just blank - fail to react to - that, because it's not what her fantasy says.

Of course, these are small matters of themselves and are entirely laughable, but I think I can now see the pattern, understand what she's doing and why she does it. Following along the same logic I was exploring yesterday, all her fantasy stories appear contrived to make her appear better than she is.

The "assertiveness fantasy" about the first phone call demonstrates that very clearly. It's a trait anyone is likely to feel they would be respected for.

My short course in psychology at Birmingham University gave me a decent "feel" for the subject, but I recognise that I am not qualified in it. Despite that, frankly, I don't think I need to be to, once again, conjecture that, this has all the hallmarks of pathological lying. The conditions exist (if what I've been told of my mother's childhood is correct), but I feel this is not "just" compulsive lying, because she certainly is manipulative, cunning and self-centered.

This is like one 10th of the crap she throws at me on any given day. My head is constantly pounding with stress headaches and I don't think I needed to be an expert to know that:

"Often when you associate with a liar, you can feel like you’re losing your mind, so to protect your own sanity, seek help."

And that, most definitely, has to be my next step.

You might also like:

These sources of reference might also be useful to someone.

Photo: Teléfono Capgros "Device to speak at a distance."

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

I hate Jamie Oliver

Well, no I don't hate him, of course, because I've never met him, but if I was my mother, no doubt, I'd believe he was to blame for this behaviour.

She's just barged in here, she could clearly see that I'm doing something and just to "drop a subtle hint", I made a deliberate point of not looking up and of furrowing my brow studiously. She doesn't ever ask, she doesn't wait, she just rushes into a diatribe. This one was about "this program" (I wasn't watching TV) is a Jamie Oliver (I'd lived in Spain since he was 17, heard of him, never seen him), did you know he's dyslexic? No, but lots of people are (and haven't died from it, come to think of it, it doesn't seem to have stunted his success very much, point?), he can only read 12 pages and he goes to sleep (well, that may be true, but that's not dyslexia as I know it), but you should see how he ... (I'd stopped listening long before this) Look, I'm doing something right now (I'm really not interested and if I were I could watch it online ...)

(Words in brackets are thoughts unvoiced, because there's no point.)

To give her one point, at least it wasn't to tell me about the plot of Emmerdale or Corrie, or who she wants to win Strictly Come Dancing. Agggrrrr! :)

So she storms off in a huff, slamming doors, believing herself to be the "injured party". I'm "wrong" for not wanting to hear what she has to say about nothing of any interest to me at a time when I'm concentrating on something else ...

And something similar happens at least 20 times a day.

Monday, 20 October 2008

You Can Definitely Spot a Liar

"Maybe you have good instincts. Or maybe you just have a lot of experience with liars. Either way, it's pretty hard for someone to pull a fast one on you. You're like a human lie detector."

Can You Spot a Liar?

NOTE: If you intend to take the quiz, I suggest doing it now (I'll wait here), because some of my comments might influence your answers otherwise.

Mine is certainly the result I hoped for - I doubt my own abilities so much, because they're dismissed so often - yet, I do put my ability down to both instinct (that I'm learning to trust) and considerable experience with liars.

The most interesting question was the one asking which reaction is the indication of lying; someone who continues to defend themselves after the subject has been changed, or someone who is happy it was changed.

Or, as this article states:

Watch and listen carefully, when someone is accused of something and they are innocent, usually they will resent the accusations and want to explore the topic further. When the conversation changes direction is the person glad the subject has changed instead of wanting to know where this fantasy came from. The guilty want the subject changed.

I don't bloody Adam and Eve it!

Yes, my mother has appeared happy for subjects to be changed or dropped recently and observing her do this has become my barometer for gauging what she really means and, an antidote to her tendency for confusing, "Long answers, beyond what is normal [] often used to distract and deflect."

Those haven't been the only traits (by far), that I've observed that have made me believe that she's telling untruths, perhaps even knowingly, but one tends to "excuse" old people on the basis that they probably don't have a clue WTF they've said and, would therefore find lying impossible.

And, despite 50 years of observation that tells me otherwise, one tends not to want to believe that one's own mother is prize porkie pie teller either, but I've seen enough of these behaviours recently to think very differently now.

And, the more research I do, looking for answers, the more it looks like we may well even be dealing with a case of pathological lying.

The key to the problem, I think, can be summed up in, "Be sure that the more insecure someone is the more they are prone to lying."

You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who demonstrates greater feelings of insecurity than my mother (other than me, as a result of it.) She absolutely refuses to acknowledge it though and has spent her whole life avoiding everything she doesn't like, instead of confronting and overcoming fears.

Now she's had around 80 years experience in massaging the truth, trying desperately to make herself look better than she feels she is. You know and I know that her laughable actions have the exact opposite effect to the one she intends, but she just doesn't have the education to see that, despite the fact that she is very sharp in other ways and very capable of duplicity.

However, reading this explanation:

Young children learn from experience that stating an untruth can avoid punishment for misdeeds, before they develop the theory of mind necessary to understand why it works. In this stage of development, children will sometimes tell fantastic and unbelievable lies because they lack the conceptual framework to judge whether a statement is believable or even to understand the concept of believability.

That statement rings so true, I can honestly say that it seems my mother has never mentally progressed past this point of maturity. She doesn't want to.

Fantasy and wishful thinking make things true for her, without any need for actual experience, knowledge or dealing with grown up things.

It's all terribly sad really, but that does not excuse the lying and, especially not the egotistical, cruel, nasty backstabbing that goes along with it that - also probably because she's practiced it so long - she truly appears to enjoy.

Unfortunately too, my human lie detecting ability, no matter how good, is not entirely infallible and it certainly was duped in phone conversations, such that the whole situation presented to me while I was still in Tenerife, bears absolutely no relation to reality, now that I've seen for myself.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Magic Mushrooms


"You see the mushrooms in this risotto ...", says I, about to explain the dish.

"They're from the garden?", asks my mother.

Don't give me ideas! :)

The lawn, until it was cut this week, was one huge mass of toadstools, mostly in areas that never get any sun. That's most of it. And the reason, I'm told, is because, previously it had been a cow field. Since that was more than 28 years ago, we can conclude that fungus spores have very very very long lives. Oh, the mushrooms in the risotto, actually didn't come from the garden (honest): they were of the Shit Ache, Shit Take, Shiitake variety.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

What do I know about poverty?


October 15th is Blog Action Day, which this year is concerned with poverty and, hopefully, it can at least do something to raise awareness, gain empathy and some respect for the world's poor - who aren't only people far away in Africa, or the homeless on benches; they're ordinary people like you and me. We're not all the great unwashed (well, not always); we're not a bunch of drunks and addicts. We live and work among you and you would hardly tell, but we still suffer.

What do I know about poverty?

Quite a lot more than I want to know and, yet I'm well-off compared to many.

According to government figures, both here and in Spain, I'm "officially poor" and have been for many years. The threshold, in Britain, in 2006/07, was £112 per week [1] for a single adult with no dependent children and, for much of the last few years, my income had seldom been more than £200 - £300 a month: less than 1/2 to 3/4 of that "poverty" level, although they're talking about disposable income after income tax, council tax and housing costs have been deducted, where housing costs include rents, mortgage interest (but not the repayment of principal), buildings insurance and water charges.

My figures, however, are for total income, out of which those bills still had to be paid.

While I was in Spain, I could never even admit to this, because it brought me below the "threshold of legality" for obtaining a residence permit (when it was applicable), or otherwise being able to prove that I could support myself.

Despite all this, sometimes, I managed very well (I certainly see it as a benefit to learn to live without a whole bunch of unnecessary crap or expensive and unhealthy junk food), compensated with fine weather and beautiful scenery; walks and free fruit, but living in sub-standard housing, not being able to buy enough food, nor pay for any heating, assaults you, physically and mentally, on a daily basis, wearing down your ability to fight. It ages you dreadfully.

Being denied access to adequate healthcare, or being unable to afford legal assistance are things that trap you in poverty and make sure you stay there.

Though I now have a roof and am being fed, my income reduced to zero for several months before I was able to get benefits, but even when I did, this is still below the poverty level.

Obviously, I'm a lot more fortunate than someone with no home and nothing at all to eat, but there is still a wide gap between things that most of you take for granted and, which for me are items I have to think twice about: not just luxuries, but things that could help with my health, or improve my life. Buses, they say, are for "poor people". I can't even afford the bus.

The unpoor often have no idea how to help ...

To me, it's almost laughable that the first item on this list of 88 Ways to Take Action Against Poverty Right Now, says, "Eat meatless meals 2x a week." Hell, necessity demanded that I eat meatless meals 7 days a week for years and doing so left me with no money over to donate. I'm hardly complaining, because this has been better for my health and better for the planet, but those of you who can afford that lifestyle, live a charmed life of a sort and don't even know it.

Actually, I feel sorry for you, because you live a kind of infantile unreality and I don't mean that unkindly. Right now you may feel protected, but if you ever do have to discover the naked truth, I fear that it will be much harder for you.

If I could offer some advice, it would be to give up something to help alleviate poverty now, not just for the poor, not just for your own conscience, but just in case you ever become poor. My hope is that it's kinda like owning a time machine: eliminate poverty now, then it won't exist for you to fall into.

But unless you've been in the situation, maybe, it's impossible to imagine.

“Poverty is the worst form of violence.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Just in places around me: In the Canary Islands there are 400,000 people (around 20% of the population) who live below the poverty line. More than 50% of pensioners in the Canary Islands do not have enough money and older women are those who are among the most affected. 52% of children who live in one-parent families, where the mother does not work, lives in poverty. The percentage living in poverty among immigrants is greater than among those born in Spain, again, higher among women than men.

When you visit those "paradise islands" as a tourist, you don't see this, but I had friends there living in self-built "shanty" dwellings, made from loose blocks with corrugated roofs; the whole family sleeping in one old bedstead, cooking on an old camping stove and going outside for their "bathroom facilities". Yes, in the 21st Century.

In 2006/07, around 13 million people in the UK, around a fifth (22%) of the population, were living in households below the low-income threshold.

3.9 million children - one in three - are currently living in poverty in the UK, one of the highest rates in the industrialised world. And nearly half of children (47%) on the Isle of Wight are living in or on the brink of poverty.

In a country as "rich" as Britain, these figures are scandalous.

[1] Note they say that £112 was the threshold in the UK, yet the amount of benefits (PDF) or basic pension paid to a single person in Britain, is currently at most £90 per week, so even when you get help, it's below poverty level.

Did you know that 70% of those living in poverty around the world are women?

Stand Up & Take Action Against Poverty | More places to help

Photo: by haloocyn | By the way, I accept donations

This post is part of Blog Action Day 08 - Poverty

Friday, 10 October 2008

Chronic pessimism

1016445_18569144 The lack of ambition, the closed-mindedness, the mean and hatefulness, blaming others ... listen to people around here and you are frequently confronted with those and many of the other 10 traits of losers (oh, yes, I know someone who exhibits all of them.)

Chronic pessimism seemingly affects a high percentage of the population here. It's a nasty, mindless habit, displayed by countless numbers of "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells"; professional wingers who just aren't happy until they have something to complain about.

Yes, of course I complain too, but I do try to limit it to things that are genuinely complaint worthy.

As I discovered recently, I don't see the glass as either full or empty, apparently, I just see what is: reality. No, I don't like reality either and, it surprised me greatly me to discover that I'm basically "balanced" in something. That, in itself, is a bloody miracle.

Yet, I attempt to not whine publicly unless I am seeking help with finding a solution to a problem, or better yet, describing my own solutions to problems that someone reading my whines may come up against too, but lately, solutions are blocked at every turn by a chronic affliction like this:

"I'm not talking about slight pessimism now and then, but serious, consistent, and unrelenting pessimism that makes people shy away from you and causes you to miss out on the beauty of life. Such pessimism is both stifling and paralyzing."

Yes, I've called it stifling before and, that is exactly what it is. Everything is awful, everything is impossible, there's nothing can ever be done ...

Since I got back to the UK in June, I've been confronted daily with this bitter, relentless, negativity and pessimism, droning and whittling away at what tiny little bit of resistance I have left. This mindless complaining and the negativity doesn't just destroy organizations, it destroys hope, sanity, people.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Historical hopscotch

Tudor Merchants Hall, Southampton, Hampshire, England, United Kingdom Officially (PDF) billed as the Tudor Merchants Hall, beautiful as it is, I just have to nit-pick ...

The Tudor dynasty (from Henry VII to Elizabeth I) lasted for 118 years, from 1485 to 1603.

According to the plaque, this building was originally constructed before 1428 - possibly during the reign of Henry VI, of the House of Plantagenet - and well before the Tudors came into being.

Even if we take the date - of 1634 - when it was demolished, moved and re-erected in its present location, that comes into the reign Charles I, the second king of the House of Stuart, the lot who followed the Tudors. And either way you look at it, Tudor it is not.

One suspects the word Tudor is used, because it's expected that people will have heard of that, where they might not have heard of the other dynasties, which, if it's true, kinda insults people's intelligence a bit, doesn't it?

So why not call it Medieval after the era, usually interpreted by historians as the period between 1066 (the Norman Conquest) and 1485 (the accession of the Tudors), into which it actually fits. Surely, people have heard of that?

To me, there should be more kudos in something being even older than Tudor, so I can't help thinking, since, as well as being on the tourist trail, this is hired out as a venue for weddings, etc., that this is a case of history re-written by the marketing department, or "sex sells": that is, sex incarnate in the most famous Tudor - and serial wedding host - of them all, Henry VIII.

If you got Anthony Worrall Thompson in to do your catering, he would properly look the part in period costume, I suppose, even if it's the wrong period. Unlike the ...

Pathetic attempt to sex up history for the yooof

Speaking of selling sex, I cannot even begin to describe the liberties being taken with history in The Tudors. It is far too painful to watch. The New York Times calls this "a version of Tudor England that appears to have been spritzed with Febreze" and they're being quite kind to it! Actually, if you just ignore all of the purported history and dialogue that is almost universally screwed fictionalised, what's left is soft porn in period costume. Well, maybe not even soft porn, if you count all the bloodthirsty "snuff movie" stuff in it that appears unnecessarily drawn out - as slowly as a South American daytime telenovela (soap). This is what the BBC has stooped to? And Britain!

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

One year

image  I promised myself that I’d write a progress report if I managed to go a whole year without smoking and I have, today.

Even after a year, I still crave cigarettes constantly. I still can’t sit and do nothing, even for 30 seconds. I dare not think about it: writing this has provoked the worst cravings I’ve had in 365 days. :) I still have a cough that I didn’t have when I smoked. I get breathless, which I didn’t when I smoked. In addition, I’ve had a year filled with major stresses and losses. The year has been hell actually, thank you, but I still stuck to this 100%.

How? Well, after a really bad experience with nicotine patches – that may even have been a mild heart attack – I’ve been too bloody scared smoke, because I just could not go through that again.

I’ve had only coffee and fruit as replacements. The former as it does help me with cravings and fruit, because I figured that if I overdosed on the latter it would provide the double benefit of clearing more poisons from my system, faster. (I’m still waiting for it to help me lose the weight I’ve put on.)

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to give up smoking: I think it’s an entirely personal thing. I personally, don’t think I could have done it at all if I’d told anyone (even me) in advance, or got help, even from a professional, who would remind me and make me focus on the one thing I really HAD to avoid thinking about.

The right way, for me, probably would have been to have thrown myself into a DIY project for a few weeks. Alone. With Prozac. :)

If smoking is an addiction, I actually don’t think it does the potential ex-smoker any damn good to think of it in those terms, because that makes it seem a much bigger deal and more difficult hurdle to overcome, even than it is. And at this point you need to have belief and confidence in yourself and your abilities, so it would also be counter-productive to think of yourself as “an addict”, with the inference of weakness and other negative connotations.

Frankly, I don’t believe it to be true anyway. Who says we’re addicts, other than manufacturers of smoking “cures” (who need us to be “dependent” upon them); medics and others with a vested interest?

It seems to me much better value to forgive yourself for merely doing what was socially acceptable and perfectly normal at the time. (If you’re as old as me, they hadn’t even begun telling us smoking was harmful.) Maybe taking up smoking because all your friends did, or because you thought it made you look more grown up, or whatever excuse, is a bit pathetic when you really analyze it, but since so many of our peers did it, can you really say that only the “worst” people smoked? No, of course not! Maybe it just shows that we’re human? I prefer to simply accept that and move on.

Can you do it?

Well, if I smoked, finally 2 packs a day, from when I was 14 to when I was 50 (my mental arithmetic makes that 36 years) and I’ve managed to go a whole hell-like year without, I think anyone can.

Seriously. I didn’t even want to give up. I’m independent and strong willed enough, but I know I can lack self control when it comes to denying myself pleasures and I’m certainly not one to let anyone else try to deny me them! Smoking bans, to me, are like red rags to a bull and I might have given up 15 years earlier, if it hadn’t been for someone trying to tell me where I could and couldn’t smoke.

Yet it can’t have been impossible, can it?

The truth (not that I’d admit this in public), if we can face it, is that it’s really only uncomfortable and I suffer bigger discomforts.

But even after a whole year without smoking, I’m not willing to say that I’ve (yet) given up permanently and I’m not going to make the mistake of being complacent. There’s still work to be done.

And lots of TLC to award myself.


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