Category Archives: rant

Letters to my MP – government Covid-19 response

Dear Thangam Debbonaire,

I am writing to you to express my frustration with the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, and to request that you do everything within your power to hold them to account, particularly in regard to minimising infections by following scientific advice, and following all established protocols regarding awarding contracts paid for from public funds.

The people of the UK have given the government almost 7 months of their lives, since initial restrictions were brought into force on 16th March 2020. Since that date I, and many others, have left our houses only to exercise or buy essential supplies. I have not hugged any person outside of my household since that date, including my own sister, nor have I seen my nephew since January (and it now looks likely that it will be at least a full year until I can see him in person again).

Whilst some restrictions have been eased in recent months, it does not appear that the majority of these changes are based in scientific study to reduce infection rates, but rather were aimed at increasing economic activity with arbitrary conditions being set (why 6 and not 7? why the same indoor and out regardless of the fact that there is very little data to support outdoor transmission? why can strangers congregate in a pub but family members can’t meet in a house?).

I, like many others, have opted to continue to follow the science by restricting my interactions with others to be exclusively outdoors (which is becoming tougher as the weather conditions deteriorate going into Autumn and Winter) or online. I continue to social distance, to wash my hands, to wear a mask in any indoor space other than my own home. I no longer go to the gym, attend dance classes, practise circus skills with friends, or participate in the weekly parkrun (as either a runner/walker or volunteer). My social interactions are limited to a weekly outdoor hot drink with running friends (no more than 6 around a table), and an online group chat of my weekly juggling group (who are now homeless as our venue has been sold for housing).

I appreciate that I am in a luckier position than most, being retired and able to work from home in the creative arts, the pandemic has not hit me financially, and I maintain a roof over my head. But the strain of such a restricted existence is ongoing and amplified by the government’s mishandling of the pandemic.

I have watched whilst unelected advisors flout the rules and receive no reprimand. I have seen billions of pounds in contracts for PPE awarded to shell companies set up by Tory donors, and that PPE to be found not fit for use. I have watched other countries set-up effective test and trace services whilst yet more public money is handed out to consultants and for apps that do not work.

The increase in cases following the return of children to schools and students to universities was entirely predictable, the science has already shown that children can and do transmit the virus and that indoor spaces (particularly with poor ventilation, as most educational establishments are due to their age) are perfect locations for transmission. However, it appears to have taken the head of the NHS Test and Trace programme entirely by surprise. Perhaps if the government had appointed someone with a scientific background rather than a Jockey Club board member who presided over a large data breach in a previous position, things would be different.

The government has taken hundreds of millions of months of people’s lives, as well as costing lives through the late initial lockdown, causing unnecessary suffering to those who have lost loved ones and those whose medical treatment has been effectively suspended since March (with no light on the horizon as to when those treatments such as hip replacements, cataract surgery, breast reductions/enlargements/reconstructions, dental work, etc. might resume).

I, and many others like me, will continue to restrict our lives to try and restrict the spread of this virus, to try and reduce the infection rate and save lives (both from the immediate threat of severe illness and long-term consequences). We will do this not because the government tells us to, or because they tell us not to (they have lost the trust of the people through their arbitrary rules and consequence-free flouting of them), but because the science indicates that it is necessary.

If the government had followed what other countries have done since March: restricting arrivals into the country, introducing testing and quarantine for arrivals into the country, increasing testing levels to those necessary to accurately assess the level of infections and to guide targeted local restrictions, establishing an effective tracing system, recording contact data for all individuals using indoor spaces, mandating masks in all indoor spaces (including schools) for those not medically exempt, the current crisis where we are at the same level of hospitalisations as seen in March could have been avoided.

We cannot change the past, but I ask you as my Member of Parliament to hold the government’s feet to the fire over their failures over the past 7 months. I ask that you demand that contracts (particularly those not open to tender) are published within the government’s own deadline of 30 days, to expose the corruption of those contracts being awarded to unqualified Tory donors. I am aware that the government’s large majority makes it difficult to oppose them on legislation, but ask that you continue to use your platform as a voice for your constituents to raise awareness of their failings and corruption (which is often mostly missing from mainstream media), and to actively vote against damaging legislation rather than abstain.

Yours sincerely,

I’m a feminist, but…

I’m a feminist, but (in true Guilty Feminist style) I feel that I need to explain what that means to me, as there is no consensus regarding the term.

Feminism, to me, is the stance that all humans are equal and should therefore have equal rights and access to services. It approaches the fight from a history of the suppression of these rights and access over the years to people identified as ‘women’.

Why have I put ‘women’ in quotes (just regular ones, not scare quotes). Well that’s because the term ‘woman/women’ has become more nuanced and complicated over the years.

It used to be that sex=gender and there were only two option (woman/female or man/male) and that was it. But the turtle moves and it is now (mostly) accepted that sex (which looks at the physical anatomy of an individual’s reproductive organs and secondary sex characteristics) is different from gender (which is a social construct based on roles, behaviours, activities, etc).

At this point I want to apologise if I inadvertently cause someone offence by using the wrong terminology. If I do so, please understand it is an error and I would welcome the opportunity to learn to correct myself if I do offend and if someone has the time and energy to correct me.

Now, back to sex and gender. If we agree, and I hope that we do, that sex and gender are not the same thing (the first being biological, the second social), then it does not end there. Neither sex nor gender are binary, though some would seem to want them to be. Looking at sex first, whilst typically mammals (including humans) carrying XY chromosomes are labelled ‘male’ and those carrying XX chromosomes are labelled ‘female’ this is not a cut-and-dried, black-and-white, situation. An infant’s sex at birth is generally assigned by the midwife/doctor/nurse attending the birth after an examination of their genitalia. This may or may not match the infant’s chromosomes, hormones, other physical characteristics, etc. and in these situations this is typically (currently) labelled as ‘intersex’. So on the sex front it could be considered that there is a scale that at one end has female, goes through intersex, and terminates at male (going alphabetically, because that makes as much sense as any), not two boxes into which each individual must be crammed (cutting off appendages sometimes if deemed ‘necessary’). An individual may be anywhere on this scale.

On to gender. Again, the most recent prevailing view (historically and in some countries this is not the case) is that there are only two genders: the feminine and the masculine. Now, gender being socially constructed has even more scope for fluidity and confusion in understanding precisely because it is a social construct. It looks at the behaviours and attributes that a society determines to relate to the sex an individual is assigned at birth. This can obviously vary between and within societies as well as over time and geography. Since it is a social construct there is no reason why there should only be two genders, and slowly there has been more acceptance of gender fluidity and people identifying as gender neutral (or no gender).

So what does this have to do with feminism?

Well, as I said at the beginning:

Feminism, to me, is the stance that all humans are equal and should therefore have equal rights and access to services. It approaches the fight from a history of the suppression of these rights and access over the years to people identified as ‘women’.

The key part there being ‘people identified as ‘women”. The vast majority of discrimination relating to sex and gender is actually focused on the gender representation of an individual (since most people don’t go around checking genitalia, hormones or chromosomes before they start discriminating). In championing women’s rights through feminism I therefore include anyone who represents themselves as female regardless of the sex that they were assigned at birth when I use the word ‘woman’. I mention this because there has been a disturbing (to me) trend in some sections of feminism (I’m looking at you Germaine Greer) to only include those determined at birth to be female. This, obviously, excludes anybody intersex, transgender, gender fluid, gender neutral, and so on.

I do not see the benefit in using such a narrow, exclusionary, definition of what a woman is. What harm does it do to seeking equal rights and access to services for all people to include those who are subject to some of the worst discrimination? For me, if it isn’t intersectional then it isn’t something I want to fight for. 100 years ago some women (and more men) got the right to vote, but the fight for equal rights to vote didn’t stop there but continued to include all.

I say this from a position of incredible privilege. I have white, heterosexual, cis, middle class, able-bodied, home owning, well educated, and many other privileges. If it weren’t for the fact that I identify as female I would practically be the patriarchy.

I am also lucky enough not to have been the victim of domestic violence, which I mention because one of the arguments for women-only spaces are DV refuges. The vast majority of victims of domestic violence are people who identify as women at the hands of people who identify as men (though not exclusively). It has therefore been proposed that domestic violence refuges should be women-only on a sex (rather than gender) basis. Whilst it is important that the men who physically assault women should not be able to access those women, it does not follow that the people working in such refuges should only be women-by-sex-at-birth, or that only women-by-sex-at-birth should have access to the services. Instead security should be put in place to prevent those specific perpetrators from accessing those specific victims. Transwomen face the same, if not greater, dangers as women-by-sex. It is good to see that bans on transgender staff at women’s refuges are being overturned.

But does this is a fairly extreme example. It is common to hear someone suggest that a woman request a female doctor if they would feel more comfortable regarding an issue or procedure. I am all for people feeling comfortable when accessing any services (particularly with things like therapy after experiencing violence), but why is is considered acceptable to make a request based on gender (since I doubt the patient will check whether the medical professional is female-by-sex-at-birth, only that they present as female)? Is it similarly acceptable to make a request based on race or sexuality? I think we need to think more deeply about the lessons we are teaching women when making such suggestions, and by presenting DV refuges as women-by-sex-at-birth only.

One medical professional should be interchangeable with any other regardless of their sex, gender, race, sexuality, etc. Personally I don’t care what genitalia my doctor, dentist, or the person using the toilet cubicle next to me is. It very rarely comes up as any sort of issue in my day-to-day life. It does, however, run the risk of treating all women as to be trusted and all men as to be unsafe, when in reality any individual may be safe or unsafe.

The only time, in my opinion, when sex is relevant (as opposed to gender) is for certain medical issues, which should only ever come up between the patient and their medical professional (so Germaine Greer can sod off). Weirdly it still persists as a binary issue in sport (though huzzah for the AFL agreeing that Hannah Mouncey can play in the women’s leagues), and (it being awards season) award ceremonies such as the Oscars which has Best Actor and Best Actress but only one aware for Best Director (if you’re going to double up on the acting awards then why not double up on all?).

So, in conclusion, who cares what genitalia an individual has? If you don’t have equal rights or access to services, then I want my feminism to fight for those rights and access for you. I don’t care what your sex-at-birth is/was, I don’t care what your race is, your social status, your sexuality, etc.. And when I wear my feminist mittens, those Venus symbols are intended to include everyone who wants to claim them (and a pussy hat is so named because it looks like a cat). Include, don’t exclude. It is isn’t intersectional, it isn’t worth doing.

Shame on you Oxfam

I have a politely worded notice next to my front door asking that door-to-door salemen/fundraisers/etc don’t ring the bell and bother me (in a household where both inhabitants work from home whilst having other commitments such as uni and undercat heating I don’t feel this is unreasonable, even without that it’s rude to contact people when they ask you not to). Today I had an Oxfam fundraiser ring the bell. I asked if they had seen the notice (it was still light when they rang) and they confirmed that they had “but were not selling anything”. The sign specifically mentions charities as one of the groups not to ring the bell. I tried to take his name but he held his thumb over the details. I have reported him to Oxfam as a matter of principle based on the name he verbally confirmed.

What happened to being able to enjoy the privacy of your own home without being asked for money? I have supported Oxfam in the past, but ignoring a notice (if he hadn’t seen it I’d have just pointed him to it, I have had other charities honour it) goes too far. Sorry Oxfam, no money from me now. It’ll go to people like Macmillan who apologised as they had rung the bell before reading it.

Optical Express further fail

I am done with optical express, for good this time. Remember the fun and games I had in November. Well I was running short on contact lenses so thought I would give them a call and ask when my next delivery was. Apparently they’re not sending them out because they sent me a letter in May saying I needed an eye test.

1. I received no letter
2. I had an eye test back in 2009 – it is in their records as a contact lens test only but it was a full eye test.
3. The issue of the full eye test being registered as a contact lens test has been brought up twice now and each time they have promised that they would update their records.

Clearly they don’t want my money, so I will take my business elsewhere. I was planning on on having laser eye surgery anyway. Guess where I won’t be having it done.

Oh for goodness sakes

So the financial institutions are in a bit of bother because they took on some bad debts. These bad debts have come back to bite them in the arse and once again the trading of bits of paper has been shown up as being risky.

It’s happened before with tech stocks, it will happen again with something else.

The thing that annoys me? A frankly massive amount of cash has been available to banks in the UK and worldwide to shore them up an ensure that the average guy in the street can get their savings out of their bank. How does the stock market react today? http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7662572.stm
They panic.

The very same traders who are only too happy to swap bits of paper based on the potential future value of pork (and make considerable sums for themselves in the process) are now being the equivalent of the person at the newsagent who spends half an hour at the head of the queue umming and ahhing over whether to buy a Wispa (yay, Wispas are back).

The very people who have caused a lot of the problems by packaging bad debts as good are now sticking their heads in the sand and saying that they don’t want to play anymore. But you know what? It’s time to put your big boy pants on and earn your money by doing your job – keeping money flowing in the global economy.

It is no longer the case that “ordinary” people aren’t affected by what happens in the stock markets. Even those with no direct investments aren’t sheltered from risk with the value of pension funds being tied to stock values. Banks are now so scared that they just aren’t lending, and if they don’t get over it soon there are going to be a lot of small businesses failing because they can’t get a short-term loan to page wages all because they haven’t had their invoices paid yet (because that company can’t get a loan, etc.). Small business can take larger businesses down.

The housing market hasn’t slowed down. It’s stopped. If people can’t get a mortgage because the banks won’t lend out of fear then the only people able to buy are those who are cash rich. I can’t move purely because the people who have been interested in buying my house (and there has been positive feedback) can’t get a bank to stop sitting on their hands and actually loan out the money they have specifically been given to loan out.

Somebody needs to take the plunge and do something. I predict the first lender to start giving out decent mortgages again to get a lot of business (there are plenty of people looking to move, people who aren’t high risk) which will be good for them. People haven’t stopped wanting to buy houses, they’re just been prevented from doing so by a bunch of scared, chubby cats who are going to be getting supermarket brand food instead of the premium stuff for a while.

In other news I have been organising a convention, flying a Tiger Moth, and generally trying to get on with life (whilst being stuck in financial treacle).

I really don’t know why I bother

I left the house even earlier today to catch an early train in an attempt to get to work on time. I made it onto the 08:17 (scheduled to arrive into Paddington at 08:45, though curiously journeys in the other direction are timetabled to take 3 minutes less) and arrived into Paddington at 09:02. In to work late again, having to stay late again, annoyed with FirstGreatWestern again.

I finally got handed a new contract yesterday. It’s another one month contract. No increase in pay (though the salaries for permanent staff increase at 1 October). I am sorely tempted not to sign it and so avoid the aggravation of having to deal with FGW, but realistically I need the money.

It is looking increasingly less likely that I will be able to remote work with this firm, so I am starting to look for jobs locally, which includes getting in touch with ex-colleagues to see if their expat branch are still operating in that neck of the woods. If not then I am going to have to seriously research this whole freelancing malarky (though I am not keen on switching to an uncertain level of earnings – it makes planning hard and I like to plan).

In other news the cat is still pleased to have me back and has spent every night since my return sleeping on the pillow next to me. This does mean, however, that I am conveniently close when she wants a fuss at 3am (where do cats learn to headbutt?).

Just not good enough

FirstGreatWestern have made me late to work pretty much every day this year. Today I tried the old tactic of leaving the house earlier. I caught the earlier train which would have got me to work a good 10-15 minutes early for a change.

The 25 minute journey took 45 minutes and I was late again. This means I shall have to stay late at work again to make up the time and will be spending even longer out of the house.

My season ticket expires in about 10 days time. Assuming I have a job after that (current contract expires on Tuesday and no sign of a replacement yet) it’s debatable whether it would be quicker to drive (not cheaper, but potentially quicker).

Starting every working day frustrated is not a good thing.

Cutting the crap

Still no sign of this letter my solicitors supposedly posted last Friday, so I dropped them an e-mail this morning to let them know, and also to say that if it was just confirming that the consent order had been agreed by the court I could make the payment before I can make the required payment this afternoon if they get back to me by 12:30 (both my building society and the other solicitors are on my route home).

Cue a phone call from a lovely, but confused, girl. Apparently they had sent me the sealed consent order (huzzah, I think this means the courts have agreed it) on Friday, hadn’t I received it? Er, no, that’s why I e-mailed you. Oh. Was is sent registered mail? It is an important legal contract. Er, she’ll have to check.

Oh and we can’t apply for the decree absolute until the outstanding amount had been paid, had I received their correspondence about that? I’d received the correspondence showing that my account with the solicitors is in credit. Oh. She’ll have to check on all of that and get back to me.

Yes, yes she will, and she’ll have to do it quickly if I’m going to get any of it done before I leave. Incompetents.

Normally it’s me rushing around to get something for a client, it’s nice that it’s happening to someone else for a change (and I’m damn well not going to be charged for them applying for a replacement consent order and having it sent registered mail to me when I get back).

Meanwhile I have finally sent of thank you cards from my birthday (better late than never, right?), completely failed to finish the knitting I wanted to get done (the remaining 5 hours work will just have to be done when I get back), and packed for EJC.

Frustration Sunday

Came home on Sunday after a lovely half a weekend spent mostly listening to cricket expecting to find a package from my solicitor. There was a package, but it was the SIPs I had been waiting for and finally bought more sock yarn to replace (they’ll just have to wait until Karlsruhe, I’m on a deadline here).

Spent a fruitless 45 minutes swearing at my new internet connection not working despite using every combination of every password I’ve ever used (it took half an hour of re-entering the double-checked correct password this evening and several reboots of everything before it finally took), then an hour and a half checking the shops for something which just wasn’t being stocked any more and ended up getting the closest thing from the first shop I’d walked in to. Grr. Not helped by not having any contacts to wear with shades as the most recent month’s worth hasn’t been delivered to me yet and I need all the pairs I have left for Germany.

Still, I managed to do the majority of my packing for EJC (just a few things left that can’t be done before departure day), and today I managed to order some currency and get on with some knitting. Still nothing from my solicitors (other than an e-mailed bill, sneaky when they don’t think e-mail works), so I get to spend another day worrying that it’ll be bad news. Gives me longer to prepare myself for the possibility that the judge has made their own order or is dragging us to court. Meh.

Sodding FGW

There were things I needed to do before work today, so I got up early, skipped breakfast, raced out of the house and got to the station in plenty of time to catch the early train. Then my 25 minute journey ends up taking more than twice that and instead of getting into the office early and achieving stuff, I get there late and have to spend the rest of the day playing catch up.

Worst train operator ever.