Saturday, January 24, 2009

Obama's brave move for womens' health

I am sure that I am going to offend some people with this post, but I offer no apology for it.

I hope those I might upset, just remember that it is a point of view about choice. They choose to refuse or control choice and I emphatically don't agree with that.

Barack Obama as one of his first major legal changes has chosen to allow USA Government funding for organisations that provide abortion advice or help, as part of access to birth control programs.

Of course, I'm not saying that I would advocate abortion as a desirable form of birth control, but I do most firmly believe that it is not up to the Vatican, any country's Government or anyone else but a woman herself to decide what to do with her own body. She alone has to live with what she chooses to do.

How can anyone be so cruel as to insist that a woman should continue a pregnancy caused by rape or incest or in circumstances that are likely to result in her death, the child's death or horrific disability. Only the mother-to-be should have the right to make that decision without pressure that she might be prosecuted or be cast out by ber community or religious group.

No-one should take this as a blanket approval of abortion from the new President (although they probably will), but an opening up of chances for disadvantaged American women to have more of a chance to get affordable contraception. Those organisations recognise that contraception is a far better option than abortion, but still need the ability to offer advice at the very least as a last resort. It is a health not a moral issue.

This is the controversial part. Why is it that the SAME people and organisations relentlessly condemn a woman and her partner for using birth control and equally insist that they bring children into the world that they can't properly care for instead of promptly allowing them to end the pregnancy.

Over-population is just as much a threat to our planet as climate change and is actually accelerating climate change as more and more people grow to adulthood because of better health care, to drive cars, fly in aeroplanes, cut down forests for firewood and burn fossil fuels.

Every Government and should be promoting the idea that people should VOLUNTARILY limit their families and encourage them to use the best available contraceptive solutions. It is in the interests of womens' health as well and their existing children.

Whatever Higher Power there might be and whatever you want to call it/him/her I am quite sure did not intend and does not want humanity to destroy itself and the planet through over population. Nor would a merciful power want to bring millions of children into the world to starve to death in their first year or to be condemned to live in poverty or to be a constant reminder to their mother of the unhappy circumstances of their conception

Friday, January 23, 2009

Costa lot too much

I was travelling yesterday and called in on a motorway service area on the A27 in Hampshire. In terms of food outlets, it had a Wimpy, a cafeteria serving all day breakfasts and similar food, and a Costa Coffee. I needed a caffeine hit, so went for the Costa.

The first thing I noticed was that the prices seemed high. Costa is not, admittedly my favourite high street coffee shop, but I use it fairly often. I made a note of what I had to eat and drink for future reference.

Later in the day I went into the Costa in Dorchester, South Street. Regrettably I was right. The price for my pain au raisin pastry in there was less than £1.50 vs £2.00 at Rownhams Services. I chose a different coffee in Dorchester to my morning stop, but a glance thru the bevy of old receipts in my purse says that at Clacket Lane Services Costa Coffee on the M25, a cappucino primo is £2.40 whereas I paid £2.

This morning I wrote to Costa's Customer Relations department via email, asking how they could justify this difference.

Now, the services do have to employ staff for more hours per day. But on the other side, their costs of heating, cleaning etc. are shared and I pointed this out. I wonder how detailed an answer I will get.

BBC Radio 4's Food Programme recently featured an item on motorway food. Many years ago, Egon Ronay, a well known food writer, and restaurant reviewer/critic was absolutely scathing about the standard of motorway service catering.

In the intervening period, it has improved, but has also got disproportionately expensive. You can get a breakfast in a J. D. Wetherspoon pub for less than £3.00. The cheapest breakfast on offer yesterday was over £4.00 for a similar plateful. JDW is not the best, but at least I know it has been cooked freshly and not been sitting under hot lights for who knows how long. I should imagine their overheads and ingredient costs were about the same.

The cost of a simple egg sandwich in a motorway service shop can be expected to exceed supermarket or off-motorway petrol station by at least 25%.

I don't see why the travelling public should be exploited so relentlessly when very often we have little choice about where to take a break. They'll be charging for the use of toilets next. Leave your penny on the seat please.

Now - for a change - a thank you and a bouquet.

In my local Waitrose supermarket in Havant today, the checkout op. took the trouble to open up the box of eggs I was buying. I was fairly sure it was the last box of medium organic eggs at a special offer price. I hadn't checked the eggs myself and two eggs were cracked and stuck to the box.

She rang for another assistant who went and looked for some more. She came back with extra large ones, apologised for running out of the smaller size, and said I could have the bigger ones at the same price. Excellent customer service and my grateful thanks to Waitrose for a little help with the food bills.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inefficient collections

If you live in the UK and have ever failed to pay your council tax, a parking ticket or other fine on time, the chances are your debt may have been handed over to a company called Equita Certified Bailiffs.

I hope anyone who works for a local authority or any other company who use these shower of sharks reads this and considers carefully whether their services are actually value for money, My experience with Equita suggests that they are neither efficient or ethical in their business practices. Local authorities who should be looking to get the best service for taxpayers' money if it is necessary to collect overdue council tax should be looking elsewhere.

Last month I contacted Equita to try and get from them a written statement of how much council tax I owed. Havant Borough Council had turned over collection to them after just ONE missed month back in May, and flatly refused to deal with me direct thereafter. They could have saved themselves a lot of money. I hate to think how much they are being charged by Equita per successful collection.

Equita did not answer my letter sent to them in the middle of December. I tried writing again, faxing and phoning all to no effect. I was left on the end of a phone line for 25 minutes then cut off, put through to an extension that was never answered and could, for all I know be a phone in an empty office or a line with no phone on it at all.

I should mention that Equita's main publicly available phone line as printed on their correspondence is an 0870 premium rate number. BT customers are now enjoying free 0870 calls. Virgin Media, who supply my landline do not offer that and the charges per minute are considerably higher than the geographic rate. The website Saynoto870 offers consumers alternative numbers for thousands of companies who scam their customers this way.

At the beginning of last week, a recorded message from Equita when I entered my reference number said my case had been passed to a local collector in my area and gave a mobile phone number. On my first attempt he said that they hadn't yet provided him with my file. I called several more times and got his voicemail or no answer at all. I texted and did not get a reply.

Finally this morning he rang me and I let him have both barrels about Equita's misdemeanours. I was rather unfair because it turns out that he didn't get the file till late last week so didn't know what was going on. As you might guess, NONE of the correspondence sent to Equita over the past month was in the file when it arrived, but it is now!

We were able to agree payment of the remainder of my council tax over the phone and called round this afternoon to collect cheques for the next couple of months and copies of the missing letters, including those sent to me, again not on the file. He was very kind and sympathetic about my current financial problems and depression and wished me well.

He also agreed that Equita's efficiency in the way they dealt with him and members of the public left a lot to be desired. If you get caught in between Equita and some other organisation, I suggest you go straight to your local trading standards office and make a complaint about Equita and whoever else has farmed out their debts to them.

I am considering my next move, because I'm not happy that my local council is using them to collect late tax. They might well do better to do the job themselves and might save some people in my area a lot of stress into the bargain. I am now able to go and make a benefit claim for my council tax because I now know what I owe. If I'd known that a month ago, that issue might also have been sorted out and I would have been saved some sleepless nights and worry.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Incinerated Balls!

This is not, as you might think a rant about my absent spouse and what I'd like to do to him, or even how I would like to deal with the British Prime Minister or the soon-to-be ex-President of the USA,

I am angry with myself for wasting food and energy.

I had planned a pasta supper and remembered that in the freezer I had some garlicky dough balls. Oh Yum. I put the oven on, put in the dough balls, cooked the tortelloni, added a good shot of pesto and dished up. I had carefully timed everything so that by the time I had everything on a tray, including a nice glass of wine, the dough balls would be cooked.

I forgot them.

About an hour later I noticed the smell. When I got in the kitchen I also noticed that it was quite smoky and I realised what I'd done and started to swear. The cat dived out through the catflap into the rain and wind, alarmed at the shouting. Incinerated balls out, kitchen door open for a few minutes and the extractor fan on high. The gas oven should have been on for less than 20 minutes including heating up time. It was on high for an hour and a half and I've wasted food which I hate to do really. Not even the birds would touch the remains, they are absolute cinders.

My consolation is a whole bar of almond and raisin chocolate and another glass of wine. I don't care if the combination gives me a headache. And I bet the kitchen will STILL smell in the morning, extractor or not.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Software whinges

Since part of it is about a blogging resource, which I actually reviewed over on My Greetings to You at some length and praise, possibly this post ought to be there, but it's all thoughts from me, so I guess doesn't matter too much.

One of my blogs is hosted on who are supposed to pay per post. OK, it's not much, but it has potential to be more. Yesterday, I suddenly got an alert in my account to say that I would be getting a bigger payment per cpm, and my pay per post was reduced to ZERO!

Now hold on there. In December, I only had a couple of posts because I was struck down with a nasty flu virus, not to mention colossal depression. However, as things got better in January, I've posted on For the Love of British Food most days and much enjoyed the research and recipe tests that have gone into each post's production. Not ONE of those posts has yet been reviewed!

I posted a snotty note in the user forum, which was removed almost immediately - I thought it might happen, but I got some messages from sympathetic users who saw the message before it was deleted . They do say that when the posts are eventually reviewed that the payment status may change again. It had b***** better do.

The other software annoyance has been ZoneAlarm. Over the past 5 days I have expended many hours trying to figure out why the latest auto-update was trying to destroy my system. The advice from the user forum there was some help, but fell short of being really useful by suggesting something that was incomprehensible. My main PC which is running almost the same configuration has been OK, it was the laptop that was troublesome.

Why would uninstalling and re-installing through a wired connection rather than through my router make any difference. I will be on the forum again in the morning telling them that actually it didn't make a squit of difference. What DID work was downloading and using the clean utility they suggested, rebooting, then downloading and re-installing the latest version as two steps rather than a download and install in one process. It took several attempts since last Sunday to get back to normality.

There was also the irritation that ZoneAlarm tries too hard to sell you its paid upgrades. In my annoyance to get things right again, I didn't notice that I had the wrong box ticked and made the solution more difficult than it needed to have been.

ZoneAlarm used to be a really reliable well tested product for a freebie. Now I'm not so confident about it, but not rattled enough to be prepared to pay for a product I don't really want. And, the standard of customer support (it was an admin who replied) isn't too hot either.

I didn't sleep too well last night, so rather than posting on the food blog tonight, I have scribbled a few notes of an idea, which I'll pick up on tomorrow.

Shipping and weather forecast is telling me that the big winds aren't coming till tomorrow and the weekend and that we might have snow on Monday. Must buy the garden dickybirds some more food, I forgot today. Too much giggling with friend Cath in Caffe Nero and giving the male inhabitants of Havant scores out of 10 for fitness as they walked past where we were sitting in the window. Most didn't even make 50%.

Zeds time. Night night.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Don't be seduced....

I had to do some market research this week on a couple of major high street names in the UK travel world.

While was sitting with the travel advisor and discussing my travel requirements - all imaginary, but she didn't know that, there was a lot of banter going on between the advisors and some heavy bartering apparently happening in a phone call to the company's head office.

A little bit of earwigging gained me some useful information for other travellers, and also some evidence of very sharp practices in the industry.

Let's say you want to take your family to Florida during the school holidays. How do you go about getting the best prices and discount offers?

I can tell you what NOT to do.

Don't get a load of brochures, wade through them then try to work out from the small print what is and what is not included. The brochure price is NOT what you pay! There are fuel surcharges, transfer costs, airport parking, room supplements, insurance and all sorts of things which will massively increase what you see. You may not be told about spot deals for free child places, special Disney passes, inclusive car hire or airport parking in the UK.

Nor is it a good plan to just Google for where you want to go and think that the price you are seeing is a fantastic bargain - ooooohh noooo

Do a sort of end-to-end list. Starting from your front door and ending back there, think of all the things that are going to comprise your holiday cost.

Include all the elements above, and also make a note of food and drinks because they will be relevant if you are looking at self-catering at one end, or an all-inclusive resort at the other - the all-inclusive label very often specifies 'local drinks' and that you have to eat in specific restaurants on site or pay a supplement to book in a more luxurious eating place.

What I overheard was this. The customer they were talking about had been in and been advised about some prices. They had gone online and found the same holiday cheaper. The head office wanted to know the exact website they used to ensure the comparison really was like for like. In this case the customer got discounted back to the web price but with the security of booking with a high street name.

OK so now I know the wrinkles, but the average person is not going to know that and is going to be paying full whack and putting money in the pockets of holiday companies in the UK when they could be saving and taking more spending cash on holiday with them, or upgrading to a better hotel.

By all means use the brochures to find out about areas, resorts and hotel specifications, but don't be seduced!

Maybe we need a little more regulation in the package travel industry so that the price you see really IS what you pay. I've heard and seen several consumer programmes on UK radio and TV recently who would agree.

B*** blogger

I have just spent the last 25 minutes creating a new post about sharp practices in the UK travel industry.

I finished, hit the publish button and instead of publishing, I got an error - and when I went back to my post, the box was empty.

Normally I write in MS Word first, then spend a frustrating amount of time, removing bits of unwanted formatting so my paragraph breaks are where I want them to be.

This time, I did it 'off the cuff' . Of course I'll rewrite it all tomorrow, but that DOESN'T help my frustration and anger now.

I just cut and pasted this little rant into Notepad - just in case it happens all over again.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Nearly past being angry about some things

Something strange has happened this week. Having made up my mind to do some things I really didn't want to do, I now feel a huge sense of relief. Sad too, but also that I can cope with the next few days at least. There is some anger too, read on. I think I have reached a plateau of wisdom where I can work to change what can be changed and to fret and agonize less about what is in the past and about the things over which I do not, and never will have any control.

Even the fact that my estranged husband decided he was too tired to come to an arranged meeting on Wednesday about the house re-possession didn't wind me up as much as it might have done. He claimed he'd had a 13 hour day, and a major virus attack on the computer systems he works with. Maybe it's not true, but I can't prove it or force him to come. Or maybe I am just too tired to worry any more.

By the time this is posted he'll have an email telling him the same things, but basically I've decided to cash in the last of my savings so that I can stay in the house for a few more months and sell it myself rather than let those crooks at Derbyshire Home Loans repossess and sell it at some ridiculously low price. I would never forgive myself, not to mention not having a roof over my head.

And the second thing, I stood across the road from the estate agents for several long agonising minutes before getting the courage to go in there and start the selling process. Well, half start it anyway. We talked about these stupid Home Information packs that UK house sellers have to have, and what the market had done since 2004 and whether the house had a chance to sell in this horribly depressed market. I wanted to do two things before I actually put the for sale sign up. Firstly to tell John, and secondly to have a chance to clean and tidy up before the agent comes round to do an appraisal.

My car is kaput at the moment, engineer coming tomorrow, so I was on 'Shanks pony' home after a nice latte and a pastry in Caffe Nero. I was exhausted when I got indoors. It's not a long walk, 20 minutes with a footbridge across the A27 thrown in, lots of steps or a long ramp, but I've got some knee damage and I'm definitely not fit.

Before all that, I had gone through a 2 hour heart wringing session with my psychiatrist Last night was a journey through the darkest suicidal feelings I have ever experienced. Before, it has always been a 'cry for help' when the thoughts about how and where have been mixed with the idea of how I might be rescued or saved at the last moment and that John would come back. This was very different. I just made up my mind that it was time, I was totally at the end of my rope and that I no longer want to be found or saved. If the car had not been broken and I couldn't drive to the beach and do what I was thinking about I might well not be here telling you about it. The strange thing was that I was also still thinking about the future and lots of 'what ifs'.

Sib took me and picked me up from Parkway. He's got a mystery shop to do on a pub with expenses for food tomorrow, and he's asked me along so I won't have to worry about cooking. I've had home-made soup for dinner and a sandwich made with the lovely French-style crusty bread I bought this afternoon.

Rachel (my doctor at Parkway) helped me to make a sort of plan for what I would do so I didn't repeat last night. We also talked about the events that led up to John leaving, and the still very sore feelings of betrayal, not just by him, but also by the person who used to be my best friend and her daughter who I believe was having an affair with John, and also by John's Mum who apparently knew what was going on, even right back to when we were on holiday in the USA 3 months before he left.

Rene never wanted us to get married in the first place. She wants grandchildren and that was more important to her than her son being able to choose who he married regardless of age and fertility. She also never understood the special friendship I have with Sib who I was married to before John, for 19 years. We will never be a couple in that sense again, but we've known each other since our teens and at school and you can't just wipe that out. I thought John understood, but maybe he never really did or perhaps I made him feel excluded somehow.

I got over to Rachel too, how much I still feel so angry that John punished me for being ill with the thyroid problem, wanting to believe I didn't love him and refusing to accept the medical evidence, but also that I was sad and guilty I couldn't support him more when he was depressed by events at work, and traumatised by the car accident he had, and needed me to understand.

So there it is. I have a little more work to do on the other blog post I started earlier about my favourite soup recipes and I have to compose the email to John. Then I can go to bed and I do believe that I will sleep.

Friday 9th

Today, being the 3-year anniversary of John leaving could have been really difficult, but the decisions I made earlier in the week have made a lot of difference. I have negotiated a deal with the mortgage lender, the repo is cancelled and I've had two good nights sleep.

Sib and I went for our pub curry last night, not the nicest JDW we've been in, and we de-camped back to Havant for another drink. Someone I know who also knows John was in the pub, she scowled at me, then got texting. Well, Mrs Nosey, if you WERE texting him, tough, because he already knew who I was going to be with last night.

Car guy was supposed to come back today and take 'Lily' away for a service and some TLC, but he didn't turn up. Don't know why. Sib gave me a lift to Chichester today to do a mystery shop and quick supermarket stop.

John is supposed to be at the sailing club tonight. I'll have to walk there, but it's only about 10 mins. I don't want a fight with him, and I don't think it will go that way. I'm doing what he wants as far as the house is concerned.

I'd better go and get something warming to is supposed to warm up over the w/end but hasn't yet.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Resolving to be a statistic

I want to say here and now that in my entire working life, I have spent less than 6 months existing on any kind of state benefit. I don't count my student grant - not loans back in 1969/70. We are supposed to have free education in the UK, and hopefully we will again one day.

However, I am feeling very let down by the system into which I have paid my taxes and NI contributions since aged 21 and it's about time it gave me a little back. I wasn't at all in good health when my husband left, and I hadn't been for several years. He was happy to support me (so he said) for a long time, I was hoping to build a business online, and now I am beginning to get there, but have had a lot of false starts. However, it is barely feeding me, not enough to pay the mortgage or my utility bills and my savings have dwindled to below what I am told is the means-tested benefit threshold.

So, as of tomorrow, I am setting my sights on incapacity benefit, council tax relief, housing benefit, and anything else I can get my hands on to help me keep my home and pay my bills, until such time as my depression lifts enough to look for properly paid work again - if I can get a job without running up against the age discrimination I experienced the last time I was looking seriously.

I can see how and why people get into the benefits system and never escape again. As long as you don't actually have money in any kind of savings, you can get away with not working because the Job Centre system is, frankly a joke. Employers don't have to advertise every post with them, not even public bodies like local authorities. I told the Job Centre that IMO I had been discriminated against by our local council on one of the vacancies I applied for. I got no help, no advice, and they didn't call the council and investigate, even though the vacancy was one that had been on the Job Centre system.

Secondly, the training that the Job Centre can provide is very limited and if you go to them and say you want a couple of hundred pounds to buy online training that would give you a better chance of finding a job, they have no mechanism for doing this. I actually had to pull out of applying for a very good scheme that would have given me temporary employment at the end of it as well as some top class training because I found out that the Job Centre would not fund my travel. If I'd gone through with it, I would not in all probability now be a prospective drain on the state system.

They say glibly that you should be applying for 20 jobs a week - HUH? - in this economic climate ? I'm going to be 58 in a few months. In terms of the amount of administration that it is going to cost to get those benefits and do what I have to, in order to stay on benefits, the State would be better off giving me my retirement pension early and have done with it.

I hate begging, and I am going to feel a distinct sense of shame and failure about becoming part of the benefits system. However I am going to grit my teeth and say to the world, there were a lot of years that I contributed, I've never had a family to need educating and healthcare, never lived in publicly provided housing etc, but now I AM in need, I hope that I'll get some help. We don't have a 'work-fare' system in the UK as such, although there are mutterings it is on the way. If there was, I would be more than happy to do a job that was of benefit to the community in return for any hand-outs.

If you have any sympathy for me and my present predicament, I'm putting a Paypal donation button on this blog. I can promise you that it won't be puffed into the air in cig. smoke or swilled down my throat in cheap supermarket booze. I would very much rather you joined one of my online businesses (see the list of my other blogs), or even paid a paltry dollar or two to advertise your blog on mine, but will understand if you prefer to make a straight donation.

And if you want to offer me a job - I've got years of IT experience and a willingness to try any office-based admin job in my locality that anyone might suggest. If there is a way I can make my CV downloadable here, I'll do it, or you can ask for it.