Leaping

Fear has always held me back – fear of change, fear of the unknown but most of all fear that I’m not good enough.

I look at what my family have achieved – cousins with masters degrees, with artistic and musical talent; Agent Whisky earning a fortune before he’s 25; Agent Echo has been an amazing army nurse, is incredibly fit and has a TEFL qualification despite being severely dyslexic; Agent Tango is managing to raise her children in difficult circumstances but still giving them the best chances she and they are happy and healthy to prove it. I see all that and I fear that I am a failure. I feel like a failure compared to my family, compared to my friends, compared to my potential.

That dichotomy: the fear that I am not good enough but the knowledge that I am more than I currently appear..

My job is not stimulating me. It took a while to accept that the training and progression I was lead to anticipate was not going to appear, and by then apathy had bitten deep. The spur to action has come from a realisation that my low job satisfaction is largely the cause of my constant tiredness and my lack of interest in life beyond work. It has also come from reading somewhere that Iain Dickhead Smith, the work and pensions secretary, has claimed that the benefit cuts will encourage people back into work “we need to build a society where people are defined by their jobs”. I have no desire to be defined by my job. If I were defined by my job, I might as well give up now – end game and restart. And I thought, is that so crazy? I can’t end the game, but it’s not too late to restart, not really. I’m heading for 30 and still childless so I feel like it is, but I’m childless because we can’t afford to move somewhere big enough to raise a child, and we can’t afford that because we don’t earn enough and part of restarting is to earn more. I should have restarted before, when it felt like I couldn’t.

So here goes. I’ve tried being a teacher and found I couldn’t, but a desk job does not suit me: I need to have a job that makes a difference to people, a job that I feel matters. When at uni, I toyed with the idea of becoming a midwife, but felt it should wait until after I’ve had a baby so I could understand what I was asking of the women in my care. But the more I’ve thought about it over the last few months, the more it’s appealed and the more I’ve realised that maybe having my own baby first isn’t necessary – if I find birth as easy as my broad hips, hypermobility and chronic period pains suggest, I won’t be as sympathetic to women with less forgiving bodies as I’ll need to be – so maybe I should just do it.

I thought it’d be a simple course, maybe 6 months. When you think about it, that’s crazy. It’s a 3 year uni course and that should have been obvious to me, but there you go. To study at my local uni requires a further qualification I don’t have – biology or human biology A level. I didn’t bother with biology A level because the GCSE was too easy and I thought I’d be bored. I can substitute this with an OU module that I think may require a different module as a prerequisite because I don’t have the A level – I’ve emailed them to ask.

I’m leaping feet first. I’m taking this risk. It will take time and it will take money (the midwifery course is paid for by the NHS, but I won’t be earning a wage for the duration), but I truly think that this is the person I not only can be, but want to be. And Husbit is offering his support the whole way.

I’m leaping.

Granma

“You can outlive longevity” My Dad told me that once about my Granma. Many years ago. 10 years before that, she’d told him she’d lived her life; she was ready for it to be over.

I visited my Granma today. I don’t go very often. I don’t like it. She’s normally still in bed and she can’t hear me and doesn’t always know who I am. Agent Echo’s fine – she breezes in and smiles and talks cheerfully and does Granma’s nails but I… I freeze up and notice her paper-thin skin and think of death.

Today, Daddy was just leaving when I arrived. She seemed shocked – who is this strange woman touching me? – and didn’t – wouldn’t – look at me. Dad told her who I was and held my hand over her bed, but I don’t think she heard him. He handed me a notepad so I could write to her and left.

“Hi Grandma, it’s Fern – hope you like the cyclamen.” She read the note, laid the pad on her bed and carried on looking away from me. She wouldn’t even look at the flowers. No chair, so I dithered on my feet by the bed, feeling lost and lonely and afraid. I took the pad back gently. Did I imgaine the slight frown on her face? “I can’t stay long, but it was really nice to see you. Loads of love. X” I handed it back. She took more time to read it and smiled. I explained I had to go shopping and left. She waved good bye.

The door needs a code to let you out (to stop the old people escaping? can’t have them loose in society). The nurse saw I didn’t know how to get out and joked I’d have to stay with Granma. More guilt that I rarely come and never stay long. More fear.

I told Granma I would come and see her again. I wasn’t sure if I was telling the truth.

 

Little Things

I’ve been feeling down lately. Not just for the obvious reason, but also generally apathetic. It’s not an unusual state of affairs for me, but I think it’s time I changed things.

To this end, I’ve decided to set myself challenges – things to do to break up the monotony of the routine I’ve fallen into. This post is part of that. Tuesday evenings are normally when I have jitsu and my routine would be to think of an excuse not to go, and then either go and feel better or not go and follow the same pattern I would on other nights: watch crappy tv that I don’t care about whilst playing games on my phone. It’s a ridiculous existance. Anyway, the jitsu club has broken for the summer so I need to find something else.

Challenges:

Today: blog post

Tomorrow: nothing (people coming over)

Thursday: like most people who read voraciously, I’d love to write a book. Thursday’s challenge is to write a proper chapter.

Friday: weather-dependent – swimming, ideally, but if there’s lightning or high winds it’s probably not safe so a bike ride if the wind’s low or either a walk or a drive if the wind’s high.

Saturday: Crumbowl. I play Blood Bowl and this is a tournament a friend runs. A one day event designed to encourage new players. A lot of fun and a forced break from routine 😉

Sunday: this is traditionally housework day, so it’s harder to break the routine especially when the chores can’t be done on the Saturday. It’s also roleplay week, which means the guys are over in the evening. I think, though, that I will try to fit in a cycle ride for the fresh air and exercise.

Small steps. Little things. But breaking things up, making changes, should help encourage me to do more and actually feel like I’m living, achieving and making progress in life.

Bereavement

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Husbit’s brother died back in May. It’s kept me quiet because my way of dealing with something like this is to talk and talk about it and his (and his family’s) is to stay quiet and private. I find that difficult, but this is really his grief so I have elected to stay quiet and respect his privacy.

I’m finally at a point where I’m able to talk about other things, so will try to get this blog running properly soon.

Time to Rethink Punishment?

I came across this article in the Telegraph the other day, and it got me thinking.

Firstly, I was concerned that only “loving mothers” are referred to in the paragraph about the research. I think this demeans the important role male parents play in childhood and particularly it demeans families like the one I grew up in, where the father is the primary or only carer.

What I really want to talk about, though, is the role of punishment.

I’ll start with an anecdote. I have been smacked exactly once in my life. I remember it vividly. I couldn’t tell you how old I was except that I was young and I couldn’t tell you exactly what I’d done, but Dad told me to go to my room and I was feeling contrary so I refused. And refused. And refused. And I saw something change in his eyes and realised that I’d pushed him too far so turned to flee up the stairs – just fractionally too slow to avoid the stinging open-palm blow to the back of my calfs.

It was not that look of unbridled fury nor the pain that meant I never pushed my Dad that far again. It waas his utter, profound guilt and contrition. The pain was fleeting but the look of horror on my Dad’s face – a look his that I had driven him to had put there – was something I never wanted to see again so I never pushed him that far again. But it was the guilt, not the anger, that acheived the change in my behaviour. He also learnt from the experience – Agent Echo and Agent Whisky were never on the receiving end of a blow and they were no less capable of being crazy-making – but I know from speaking with him that he still feels guilty even though this was over 2 decades ago.

Whilst I cannot condone smacking a child in anger, in this particular instance the punishment worked. I did not reoffend. Most anecdotal evidence I have heard, though, suggests that smacking is not an effective punishment, as those children who have been smacked are as likely to misbehave again as if they hadn’t been. I won’t say smacking is never effective but I think that it is never the better option. The comments section of the above article includes a lot of people saying that not all parents know any alternatives to smacking as a form of discipline, and that is concerning to me. They recognise that it isn’t ideal but don’t educate themselves on alternatives or don’t feel able to ask for assistance. That, I think, is a sad reflection on society. Other comments imply that not smacking your child is a sign you don’t love your child because, the commenter suggests, it isn’t a nice thing to do so you don’t want to do it even though it is better for your child: it is selfish not to smack your child. Other commenters suggest that loving your child instead of smacking them is what leads to the lack of respect amongst youth of today.

Well! ‘Lack of respect amongst the youth of today’ has been a charge levied at younger generations since written records began (or at least, there are Latin texts saying the same), so I think it’s unlikely that today’s youths actually are any worse than those that came before. Also, when there were the London Riots in 2011 I got into a debate on FB with someone insisting that those involved were all involved because they hadn’t been smacked as children. This struck me as erroneous: smacking as a punishment appears more prevalent amongst lower income families and it wasn’t just middle/upper class individuals involved. I doubt that only non-smacked individuals were involved in the riots. Furthermore, most of my peers were rarely or never smacked and they are very respectful individuals – in fact, even my peers who were repeatedly smacked are respectful/respectable so I would suggest that there is far more to making a responsible individual than whether you choose to smack your children or not.

Anyway, back to the point. Punishment is given after a crime. Law is intended to be impartial, so it seems to me that punishment has a two-fold purpose: to deter others from performing the same action and to reduce the chances of the individual repeating the action themselves. this two-fold purpose is important: if only the second point mattered, then the death penalty could apply to any transgression: no one would offend a second time. However, the death penalty does not appear to act as a successful deterrent so is not a suitable punishment. Corporal punishment similarly does not seem to provide either deterrence or reduction in reoffending, so fails on both counts. In the UK, criminal punishment comes in the form of prison sentencing, curfews, fines, community service or other restrictions. The question is, how effective are these at deterring new offenders and reducing reoffenders? I understand, not very. Fines are not effective when weilded against the very wealthy who can ignore the cost and when weilded agaisnt those who cannot afford to pay them can lead to problems which increase risk of reoffence. Prison is often considered to be a place where criminals come to learn their trade, which is supported by high reoffending rates.

Do we need to rethink our punishment systems? Most crimes come from the fractured state of society, so perhaps the money pumped into punishment should be redirected to addressing the root causes of crime – that seems to me to be a more effective way of reducing crime: not by punishing it, but by preventing the need for it. If someone does commit a crime, looking at what lead that individual to carry out those actions and finding out what can be done to improve things not just for that one person but for others in the same situation rather than punishing that one person and allowing others to follow… It would be expensive and difficult and it sounds idealistic but I think it is possible.

I understand the gut reaction desire to inflict punishment, but that makes punishment revenge and that is not the purpose of law. Punishment does not seem to work to prevent crime. Let’s try education, support and respect instead.

Back on Track

I started this blog with the intention of posting every few days with some tale of goings on in my life or my views on some current event, interspersed with discussions of equality based on gender, sexuality and road use preference.

I therefore apologise for the recent dearth of posts and the rant-heavy few that have followed. I am away this weekend so it is likely the next post won’t be for a few days at least, but I will try to make it less ranty.Image

Caring hurts. But it’s better than not.

Today, at one minute to closing time, I was passed a phone call that made me cry.

It’s simple enough. Someone had water damage in a flat they’re trying to sell – a flat their mother died in – and we’re the managing agents for the block. We were told on Tuesday that an overflow was going, who was responsible for fixing it? We explained, a colleague and I because both the Executor as owner and the estate agent phoned in, that the owner of the flat the overflow related to was responsible. If they could just check for us to confirm that it wasn’t their flat? Oh no, they lived too far away. Well, could the agent look? The agent didn’t know which flat it was and anyway, from the owner, surely it was our responsibility.

It being a block I am involved with, I phoned the Chairman of the Lessee-owned Freehold Company and he very kindly took a look. When he phoned back, he advised that there was evidence an overflow in that area had been leaking, but it did seem to have been fixed. I phoned the agents back to let them know and this was when I was told there was resultant water damage in the flat and who was going to fix this. We would need to look into it, I explained. Could they send us some photos as a first step, as the actual property manager (for whom I act as assistant-cum-secretary) is currently unwell? These, strangely, came from the owner even though he lives too far away to know which overflow was going. They also showed some small mould formation that could as easily be condensation as actual water ingress. He phoned shortly before 5pm to check they had arrived, wondering why he hadn’t had a response (there is an auto-response on emails coming into the office saying that it can take 5 days to respond, so we very rarely bother with additional acknowledgement unless one is clearly required. In this case, the damage looked minimal and, assuming the source of the damage to be the leaking overflow and not condensation, the source had been fixed – it wasn’t going to be getting any worse). I took his number and left a message for the property manager to phone him if he was back in the office tomorrow.

Wednesday morning, and the PM for the block was indeed back in. He accordingly phoned and confirmed he would look into it – and then we sent him home for not being well because he was clearly very ill (we suspect stress but fear glandular fever). As a result, I don’t know whether he has had a chance to take a look or not. The agent phoned and I said that I couldn’t tell him any more, but maybe tomorrow.

So this morning, the agent phones again and I explain, no the PM is still unwell so no, I don’t have an update. I can ask the lady who deals with insurance, but she’s in a meeting right now and I may not be able to catch her. I will let you know whether I do or not (knowing but not admitting that her part-time hours mean she may end up going home straight with the meeting finishing if it overran, knowing it was likely to overrun, knowing neither she nor I will be in tomorrow). I didn’t catch her. More urgent issues arose at another block we manage, so when I spoke to the PM when he phoned in, it slipped my mind to ask about this small patch of damp. I phoned the agent back to apologise that I didn’t have an update and that I wouldn’t be in tomorrow so it would now be Monday before I could get back to them.

At one minute to 5, the Boss’s daughter took a call. She passed it to me, telling me it was the owner. I nearly, so nearly, said I couldn’t take it, but that wouldn’t have been a very responsible or professional thing to do so instead, against every self-preservation instinct in my body and brain, I let her transfer him to me. He asked for an update. I explained I had spoken to his agent earlier and repeated what I had said. This was simply not good enough. He started getting an aggressive edge to his tone. I apologised but explained it couldn’t be helped, he would have to wait til Monday. He started twisting my words, making out that I’d said things I hadn’t. He started shouting. He wouldn’t let me speak. He accused the company of being useless. Implied we were money-grabbing. I find that difficult – somehow I am expected to keep calm, to keep civil when people are talking shit to me.

There’s a rule in our office: if someone swears at you, you hang up. No questions. You make sure you tell someone or write down why you hung up, but hang up you do. The Boss gets very unhappy if he hears we have let a customer swear at us. Most of us, of course, break this rule 99% of the time. We can put up with a lot.

I was very ready to hang up on this person.

This person did not swear.

He said we were useless, implied we over-charged. I have worked for other companies in the same industry and I took the job with this one even though it came with a lower salary and none of the perks of another position I was headhunted for because this company genuinely (even with the prejudices I’ve mentioned before) wants to do what’s right for its customers. This company has kept its fees down to try to help customers out. This company has stopped charging the additional fees it used to charge to help its customers out. I have issues with the attitudes towards minorities expressed within the office, but I cannot fault the company’s commitment to its customers. I wasn’t allowed to get angry back, so I started to shake. The upset got right through me, crawled under my flesh and into my fibres, crackled through my bones.

He insisted I make someone phone him first thing in the morning. He shouted his number at me in double-time. My hand was shaking so much I couldn’t have written it even if he’d spoken slowly. It took me 3 attempts to get the number.

It was well-gone closing time. The office is quieter in the afternoons, as a lot of the staff are part-time and finish between lunch and 3. The Boss and the other property managers were all out on various site visits or meetings. Despite this, I had all bar 2 members of staff who should have left at 5 stood around me, offering moral support. They could hear him shouting and see me shaking.

I wrote the number down and told him I would leave a message for someone to call him and hung up, cutting him off mid-sentence as he talked over me.

I wanted to burst into tears but there’s a weird culture of not showing tears in the office – even when it would make sense. If someone does get teary, everyone looks away.

I swallowed my tears.

I was shaking so hard my ring flew off.

The various staff told me that I should have hung up sooner, that I didn’t have to put up with people like that. They left.

The Boss’s secretary didn’t tell me I should have hung up sooner. She didn’t leave. She pulled my drawers out to rescue my ring. I was so upset I considered leaving without it. She let me get a glass of water and then asked me to write the person’s name and the property address down so she could take care of it for me in the morning. She understood (I know because I have seen her in the same state) that I couldn’t have hung up sooner.

This is not the first time someone has made me cry on the phone. It will not be the last. There are people who believe that I need to harden up, but I think they’re wrong.

I was very angry with the man who made me feel like this. I felt very hurt by him. I still feel hurt and a little angry, but it’s no longer directed.

The thing is, I know his mother hasn’t been dead for very long, so I know that he’s probably hurting inside. I know that trying to sell a property isn’t easy (even if you don’t live there or maybe especially when you live a way away) and I know it won’t be the only stress in his life.

I think he was being unrealistic in his expectation that it would all be resolved already and I think he was being unreasonable in taking it out on me, but I understand.

The sensitivity that makes me so hurt by this also means I can empathise with people in need – which means I am better able to fight their corner when necessary and better able to understand the importance of my job and so am better suited to it.

I see some of the hardened people and they don’t understand when someone is upset that there is water getting into their flat. They don’t make it a priority and the damage gets worse. Financially, this is bad as it results in a more expensive claim but more importantly it is bad for the customer.

I want to care for my customers. I will accept the bruising.