Despair

Don’t read this if you want any hope. I haven’t got any.

Today has seen two articles that have all but destroyed my fight. First, in the Sun –

‘Pretend disabled’ really ARE sick

MY New Year’s resolution for 2012 was to become disabled.

Nothing too serious, maybe just a bit of a bad back or one of those newly invented illnesses which make you a bit peaky for decades — fibromyalgia, or M.E.

The article starts by claiming the the illness which has crippled me and destroyed my life is “one of those newly invented illness which make you a bit peaky for decades”. A bit peaky. Try unable to get out of bed for months at a time, screaming in pain, aching, burning pain, curled up in a ball sobbing from the agony and wishing for death. Hardly leaving the house except to visit the doctor to try another dead end drug because nothing helps really but you have to try. Using a wheelchair when you do go out because you can’t walk. A bit peaky. Right.

Then it claims that you can make lots of money from being ill, that you can park anywhere, that claiming benefits has become easier, and that 80% of people claiming sickness benefits are fit to work. All the usual stuff wheeled out to attack sick and disabled people, with the usual caveat that he doesn’t mean the genuine ones, while asserting that most aren’t genuine.

That was all soul-destroying enough but then a few hours later the Telegraph joined in, ostensibly in response to the complaints about the article in the Sun, but going on to make a far worse attack.

The fake disabled are crippling our economy

There really are far, far too many people sponging off the taxpayer right now with their fake or exaggerated disabilities and they’re one of the reasons we’re in the financial mess we’re in.

And there you have it. Not only am I either faking to get money or just a bit peaky, but I’m also responsible for the financial mess.

So I’ve run out of hope. I can’t take these attacks anymore. These are viscious, uncaring, downright evil attacks on my friends and I and I don’t want to deal with them or their fallout any more. I know this is my depression, but tears and sobbing and despair are the same anyway. I’ve come very close to ending it all in the last hour. Add in the Welfare Reform Bill being rushed through the third reading and the house of commons again next week and I don’t see what is left to hope for.

— EDIT —

Thanks to some very lovely friends and the power of Skype I am not suicidal at this point and have even managed a couple of smiles. Until next time.

The problems with rental agencies

I want to tell you about a rental agency called Timothy Lea & Griffiths of Evesham. If you want to rent a home or a commercial building in Evesham they are hard to avoid as they control a large part of the market. My family has been unfortunate enough to have rented through Timothy Lea on several occasions over the last decade.

One of my sisters got married in 2004. She and her fiance found a suitable home through Timothy Lea and started the process to rent it. They were charged credit check fees and passed the credit check, (with guarantors, which had been arranged) and it was agreed that they could rent the home. The signing of the contract was left for moving in the day before the wedding. Then, three days before the wedding, someone from Timothy Lea made a telephone call to my parents house to talk to my sister. She wasn’t in, and so they left a message with my mother instead. The message was that the landlord had changed his mind about renting the home and that they could not move in after all. A different member of staff later told my sister that they would not let any other home to her and her fiance and they refused to refund the fees already paid.

As a result of this, my sister and her husband lived in one very crowded room in my parents house for three months after their wedding until they were able to find a flat through a different agency and save enough money to pay agency fees there.

Unfortunately the flat that my sister and her husband ended up living in, while let through a different agency, was in a block that was managed by Timothy Lea. (I told you that they were hard to avoid.) The door entry phone was broken when they moved in to the block which meant that if anyone came to the front door of the block there was no way that they could alert the occupants. It meant that my sister and her husband had to rush out of the flat and through the communal hallway to answer the front door before the visitors got fed up and left. Since my sister suffers from M.E. this had an impact on her health too. The fault was reported by the letting agency of the flat to Timothy Lea many times but in spite of this, it was never fixed during the two years that my sister lived there.


My parents house is owned by friends of theirs, but was initially rented through Timothy Lea as it had already been advertised through them and the landlords wanted Timothy Lea to manage maintenance of the house. A few years ago the owners decided that they would prefer to rent the house directly to my parents. They thought that Timothy Lea didn’t do much for the money, but passed lists of repairs on to the owner to be fixed, many of them not things that the owners or my parents cared about fixing.

When the landlords wanted to take over direct control of the tenancy and the deposit that meant that Timothy Lea had to end the tenancy and return the deposit to my parents who could then pay it to the landlords. Unfortunately this was an extremely slow process. They caused great inconvenience to both the tenants and the landlords. During this process I am told that attitudes of staff at Timothy Lea & Griffiths were unhelpful and hostile, although in the previous few years it had been different staff who had generally been helpful and friendly. Additionally, my parents were informed that when my sisters had turned 18 that Timothy Lea should have been informed so that they could be listed on the rental contract as jointly liable. I do not know why they require this, but it seems a rather absurd requirement which must make extra money in credit check fees for Timothy Lea, and presumably if they do not pass, see the family made homeless.


Obviously, knowing this history, when my wife and I returned to live in Evesham in 2009 we wanted to avoid renting through Timothy Lea at all costs. Because of my poor health our credit record worked against us but we managed to make contact with the owner of an empty flat next door to my sister. He agreed to let the flat to us but insisted on doing so through Timothy Lea, chosen because they also managed the whole block of flats. Unable to pass the credit check, the only way that we were able to convince Timothy Lea to allow us to rent through them was by paying six months rent in advance with help from generous family.

Over the two year course of that tenancy we reported several different problems for repair. Some were fixed promptly. Our cooker hob was replaced. When the door entry system kept getting stuck and buzzing continuously it was eventually sorted out. Some things in communal areas such as blocked drains and a frozen tap were also sorted out. The lawn was mowed and the windows washed frequently.

However, we reported other problems that were not fixed.  The fan in our bathroom vibrated excessively and was so loud that we could not turn on the bathroom light at night without waking each other up. In my opinion it was actually in danger of jamming and causing an electrical fire. It was reported at every inspection (which was every three months) but never fixed. We turned the fan off at night using the inconvenient switch near the ceiling which meant that it was often off at the time of using the shower. This led to damp, which we were blamed for.

We reported a faulty night storage heater in the living room in winter 2010. An electrician was sent out fairly quickly. Since the heater was unsafe he disconnected the daytime power supply which meant that the fan and thermostat on the heater no longer worked. He left us with a promise to inform Timothy Lea that the heater needed replacing. Unfortunately the heater was never replaced, despite us reporting it on several occasions and at inspections after that. We know from talking to an electrician at the flat that the heater was replaced the day after we moved out.

Near the end of our tenancy there was a water leak in the flat above us which destroyed part of our bathroom ceiling. We reported this problem straight away. Nothing happened. We reported it several times including pointing it out at an inspection. Eventually, Timothy Lea had arranged with us to allow a prospective buyer to view the flat. (As it had been on the market throughout our tenancy.) We pointed out to the sales arm of Timothy Lea that the ceiling was still not fixed. The next day we had someone round looking at it, and soon after a plasterer “repaired” the ceiling. I say repaired, because it was a cosmetic fix and none of the water damaged materials around the visible damage were repaired. A few days later parts of the ceiling started to become discoloured as more damp came through. After I mentioned this to the landlord he visited with staff from Timothy Lea in tow, expressing his displeasure at what happened. We have since moved out so I do not know how this ended.

One of the edge strips on the stairs leading to our flat was broken from the day we moved in. This was quite dangerous – while we were moving furniture in several people slipped on it as it fell off the step and left the concrete exposed. A lady who owned a flat downstairs from us tried to get Timothy Lea to repair it but was told that it was not covered in the maintenance fees for the block and that owners would be charged it Timothy Lea repaired it. She glued it back in to place but that edge strip came loose repeatedly throughout our stay there. Another example of this is one of the lights in the garden. The glass top of this light was missing leaving just the top of the metal pillar. This light was never repaired during our stay there.

Near the end of our tenancy Timothy Lea showed several prospective buyers around our flat, with our permission. Each time we asked them not to go in by themselves as we have a cat who gets extremely distressed around strangers and particularly if they are in our home. There was a strong chance that the cat would run away when the front door was opened by a stranger. We asked Timothy Lea staff to always contact my sister next door and have her accompany them into our flat. They ignored this every time. They ignored it despite us reminding them each time they asked permission to show someone around. They ignored it even when a note was stuck to our front door to remind them.

We eventually left this flat not by choice but because we were given notice by our landlord. (I suspect because he thought he had a better chance of selling the flat without us there. I believe that he still hasn’t sold it nine months later.) At that time some friends of ours in another flat in the same block had moved out and I asked Timothy Lea if they would allow us to move into that flat. The response was that they would not take us as tenants at all. The phrase “I’m sorry, we can’t help you” was used. My serious illness and the temporary nature of my wife’s employment as a supply teacher and cleaner meant that were unable to find anywhere else to live privately, and our imminent homelessness meant that we were made top priority for social housing. Of course social housing takes time to sort out, and the two months notice was not enough. By the end of the two months we had found a flat through a housing association, but it would be another few days before our new flat was made ready. Timothy Lea were made fully aware of our situation and although they eventually accepted that we would stay another few days and pay rent for those days, for a while we thought we would have to pay to move all of our furniture twice and also to store it. During the last few weeks we were there they phoned us every day, sometimes more, to ask when we would leave. Since I have multiple serious illnesses and suffer from anxiety and this constant contact from Timothy Lea staff severely affected my health. We actually moved in to our new home before everything was ready because of this constant contact and as a result had no available hot water, cooker or other appliances for more than a week. This was also very damaging to my health.

At some earlier stage the fridge had broken. It would no longer stay cold enough, and the door of the freezer compartment was physically broken. We obtained verbal permission from Timothy Lea to discard the fridge and to use our own, and leave them to replace the fridge when we moved out. They had given us permission to throw out the fridge so you would think that it was worth nothing, right? Wrong. It was wired in permanently and we had been unable to remove it without getting an electrician in, so it was still there when we moved out. Timothy Lea charged us £30 from our deposit to repair the fridge.

When we moved out we had the carpet cleaned under the direction of my father, who was a professional carpet cleaner for many years. After we left the Landlord had the carpets cleaned again by another company and Timothy Lea charged us for this too. They claimed that we were obliged to pay a professional carpet cleaner to do the job even though my father WAS a professional carpet cleaner.

We disputed many charges to our deposit and several letters, emails and phone calls were exchanged. The dispute was characterised by staff at Timothy Lea obviously not reading what we said to them. Eventually we realised that the rules about the deposits meant that they had to return the undisputed part and so we arranged this with the intention of disputing the rest through the deposit dispute service used by Timothy Lea. Unfortunately a turn for the worse in my health meant that we were never able to finish the paperwork and so we believe that Timothy Lea still owe us one hundred and twenty pounds.


In the end I don’t know why people are treated so badly by rental agencies. I don’t know if it is a case of them being evil or more the fact that in their world of stable income, property ownership and landlords I think they just don’t have a clue about renting or poverty. It’s not that they wish anyone harm, it’s that tenants are so unimportant to them that they just don’t notice the harm that they do. And that hurts more than if they did wish us harm.

I will not voluntarily take this information down, although I offer Timothy Lea & Griffiths the right to reply with a statement here on this blog. Now that this is all out in the open, here is what I would like Timothy Lea & Griffiths to do:

  • Donate the remainder of the disputed part of our deposit to Evesham Citizen’s Advice Bureaux.
  • Return the fees paid by my sister and her husband.
  • Properly repair the step mentioned above before my sister or her husband are injured by it.
  • Give a written apology to my wife and I, my sisters and their husbands, my parents, and their landlords.

 


I have received a response and as promised here it is.

Dear Mr Sumpter

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the contents of your blog, our response is below.

In respect of your sisters’ experience unfortunately where the landlord has a last minute change of mind, as you point out in your blog, unfortunately instances like this are beyond our control. We do not know of any instance where a prospective tenant has been told that ‘would not let any other home to her’ in these circumstances.

In respect of the door entry phone, where we manage a block repairs are prioritised and completed when the management company authorises them to be done. For the purposes of understanding the delay we are sometimes in a position where we are aware of maintenance requirements but are restricted by the management company’s instructions to carry them out.

With regard to your comments in the delay when sending out a deposit where we are no longer instructed, in that instance the deposit was returned within 3 days of the end of the notice period on our contract.

In respect of your tenancy, perhaps you would like to contact the office as we consider this matter still open and are holding funds allocated to you in our client account on which we have sent correspondence.

In all, we understand that sometimes things happen in letting property that, whilst beyond our control, is still distressing for the persons who then have to find another home. We try to avoid these situations and accommodate tenants but it is not always possible, or clear as to why not, as we have to follow our landlords confidential instructions.

Kind Regards

Victoria Beasley
Practice Manager
Timothy Lea & Griffiths

A bus to nowhere

You may recall last summer I made a video highlighting the difficulty that I had in getting between the village where I live and the local town in the electric wheelchair that I had been given by a relative. Following that video I was informed that a new wheelchair-accessible bus service would be starting up between the two places. Fantastic timing. However, since then, I have been quite seriously ill and unable to even go out in my wheelchair and I have been fortunate enough to have my father help drive me to medical appointments. Today I decided to take the new bus in to town for the first time since it started.

The new bus route 552 out of Evesham and it’s accompanying bus 553 which goes around the loop the other way are advertised as running low-floor wheelchair accessible buses on the timetables and when my wife spoke to Henshaws, the bus company the runs the service, she was assured of that fact.

Unfortunately this is what happened when I tried to board the bus today.

Accessible bus fail
Accessible Bus Fail

As you can see, it is in fact rather inaccessible for a person in a wheelchair.

The bus driver was very apologetic and tried to be helpful. She explained that the usual bus for that route was undergoing maintenance and that it had been substituted with an older bus for the day. She told us that the 553 which goes the other way around the loop was the usual accessible bus but would take a long time to arrive, and suggested that we could also try another bus that passes through the village, the 247 run by First Group. We decided to try the 247 but the bus stop for that service is actually at the top of the hill more than half a mile away. The 247 also does not use accessible buses all the time and so it was only a chance that I would be able to get on it.

Fortunately that bus was wheelchair-accessible. The bus driver helpfully told us that only his bus was accessible today and told us when we could get his bus back from the bus station. Here’s me on a wheelchair accessible bus for the first time.

Me on a bus in a wheelchair!

So what should I take from all this? Well obviously things are improving. The introduction of a (normally) accessible bus service proves that people are making an effort, and hopefully by the target of 2015 all bus services will be accessible all of the time. However, at the moment travelling in a wheelchair is thoroughly unpredictable. If a bus needs maintenance, no one thinks anything of swapping in a bus that wheelchair users can’t get on. If there is someone in a wheelchair already on board the bus, then tough, there is no room for another one. Other people have told me about problems with getting people to move out of the wheelchair space on the bus, and in many areas the buses are decidedly not wheelchair accessible.

What is worrying about this is that with the proposed Personal Independence Payments under the Welfare Reform bill, it is assumed that because of accessibility laws there is no problem travelling as a disabled person now, and therefore disabled people do not need the extra money to help with travel that DLA provided.  This is definitely not the case. Now that I receive DLA I have ordered a car through the Motability scheme and using that will get me to where I need to go reliably and on time, without the possibility of not being able to get my wheelchair into it one time out of ten, or suddenly having to wait for a different car. Clearly the world is not yet equal for disabled people and government ministers are deluded if they believe otherwise.

Reprehensible landlords and nice people to the rescue

Here is a tale of both reprehensible treatment of a disabled single mother and her family; and of heartwarming cheer and the kindness of strangers.

Mould1
Mould in Becki's house

In the week when Channel 4 gave us Dispatches: Landlords from hell and showed us the state of housing that landlords are prepared to leave their tenants in, and that councils were prepared to pay for, it is not that suprising to hear another story of a landlord leaving a family in run-down damp and mouldy accommodation. But you wouldn’t expect that landlord to be the council itself. Well, it seems that Arun district council have not only left a woman and her five young children in such a house, but they even knew about the damp problem before she moved in.

The story gets worse though. Becki, who blogs at Broken Single Mum, suffers from chronic pain as a result of injury caused by pregnancy with her fifth child. She has to use a wheelchair to get around but since her house is not adapted for such a wheelchair, she is forced to use crutches indoors. She is no longer able to manage stairs or her own front door. Because of this she has been sleeping and living downstairs on the sofa, itself mouldy because of the state of the house, and all the while looking after her children. She has to wash in the kitchen sink and use a commode with no privacy. Becki is on the waiting list for a new council house and not surprisingly has the support of three social workers, a health visitor and a disability advocate to help convince the council to make her a priority for a more suitable home. To her surprise, however, when Becki bid on a suitable house the council turned her down. One of the considerations which affected the decision was the state of her house. Apparently the council likes tenants to have their house in “pristine condition” before they move to keep the costs down for the council, but in this case that is an absurd expectation – the house was a wreck to begin with. Becki acquired the house in a council house exchange but there were problems and the family were not able to move in to the house for many months. In that time the condition of the house deteriorated rapidly. In Becki’s words,

When I moved in to this property there was no ceiling in the hallway from the front door to close to the stairs. There were floor boards screwed on to brick walls. There was a hole in the floor of the main bedroom (ok, that is still there, that one has stumped me). The walls were pitted and scarred. The back garden was in such a state that a guy from the council came out and declared it unfit for use! That’s right, they told me it was too dangerous to let my children play out there, that was the state of it. The kitchen consisted of two double cupboards and one single, and a long surface that wasn’t attached to anything.

Unfortunately when Becki turned to the council for help in restoring the house to the state that it had been when she agreed to the exchange, the council refused and quoted a clause in the exchange contract which exempted the council from repairs for several years.

How the house was before
How the garden was to start with

So we have a situation where the tenant dramatically improved a council house at her own expense, put up with all the health problems associated with mould caused by damp which the council knew about and did not fix, desperately needs to move to a house with more bedrooms for her children and a bed and a bathroom that she can actually get to, has the support of multiple support workers, and yet has been refused an available and suitable house because her paintwork wasn’t sparkling clean. And then, to cap it all, when Becki found a suitable private property and requested help from the council to raise the necessary deposit under their deposit bond scheme, they informed her that they would not help because she was currently in “secure” housing.

From here the story takes a turn for the better. Persuaded by her friends through Twitter, Becki set up a page at the fundraising website GoFundMe to allow people to donate towards her costs of moving. Within  hours that fundraiser has already reached £764, more than half of the £1350 deposit needed to allow Becki and her family to move house and get out of the mess that she is in. It really is heartwarming to see that generosity coming from strangers on the internet, helping to do what the council seem unwilling to do. Even after the house deposit is covered the family need to purchase new beds and a sofa and so I’ll finish with a plea. Please, go and add a little bit to that fund and let Becki get her family to safe, secure accommodation for Christmas. You’ll feel better for helping.

—UPDATE—

Thanks to some wonderful people Becki now has enough to cover the house deposit, has a guarantor and has sorted out the rental agent, but due to the way housing benefit is paid she still needs to raise a month’s rent in advance.

Donate through GoFundMe to help Becki

Raise Money Online with GoFundMe.com

Bad stuff

When I woke up after eleven hours sleep and in hardly any pain, I thought this was going to be a good day. How wrong can I be? This is the news today:

GPs should ‘not sign off long-term sick’ [BBC]

A report not only says that an independant board should be responsible for signing people off work, but also that people who are signed off should go on Job Seekers Allowance and look for work. I’ve written a response in Sick? No you’re not!

Ken Clarke hopeful of deal on European human rights laws [BBC]

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke says he is close to reaching a deal which would allow British judges to overrule European human rights legislation.

Human rights legislation appears to be the only thing holding the Tories back. This is bad.

Things aren’t going well in Egypt either. The military are still in control despite promises of elections, and they don’t like protests so much now.

http://twitter.com/#!/adamakary/status/137828845666574336

Then there is this video of police using pepper spray on seated, compliant protesters at UC Davis in California.

Police pepper-spray seated protesters

And I have a flu jab in two hours time.

 

Don’t Talk

I get my phone and broadband from TalkTalk. I know, I was warned off them and I went with them anyway. I know that they are the most complained about internet provider in the UK, I know about all the problems with them trying to bill people after they have left. I went with them anyway because in this village it’s a choice of BT (and resellers) or TalkTalk, and BT couldn’t get me a phone line for six weeks after we moved in. BT can also only provide broadband at 6Mbps here while TalkTalk manage 18Mbps.

I haven’t had a problem with TalkTalk in the last three and a half months. Then yesterday, my broadband just stopped. Eventually after trying for a while, a web page that I tried to load was redirected to a message from TalkTalk which informed me that I had to call their billing department. I called up immediately to speak to them. They told me that I had missed a payment. I realised immediately that they had probably messed up the transfer of my direct debit to my new bank account and told them this. (I have just changed bank from Natwest to Co-op for ethical reasons. I filled in a form that allowed Co-op to transfer all my direct debits from Natwest.) They went and looked, and told me that the new bank account details had arrived with them on the 7th, and that the payment had been due on the 6th, and so it hadn’t worked. There’s a slight problem here – if the details changed on the 7th, then they wouldn’t have known any different on the 6th and would have taken the payment from Natwest. My account with Natwest was operational and had money in it right up to the 15th, so their explanation makes no sense. They received the new details and didn’t bother to take the money.

Worse than that, though, is that after the payment had failed because of their own stupidity, they didn’t bother to tell me. No phone call, no email, no letter. Nothing. They simply waited for three weeks, and then cut me off. I might have left it there if they had reconnected me immediately, but no. I paid them over the phone with my debit card and then was told that it could take up to 24 hours to turn my connection back on! It’s not a difficult problem to turn an account back on. My ADSL router was still connected the whole time, it’s just that they redirected every attempt to use it back to their own website. All they had to do was tell a computer to allow me to use my phone and the internet again.

I’m sick. I have ME, migraines, diabetes, and a host of other things. As such, I’m stuck in this house and often stuck in my bed unless I have help from other people. I also rely on communication with friends over the internet to prevent me from getting depressed enough to hurt myself. I have to be able to communicate with friends and family. I have a mobile phone, but in this house using it requires standing with the phone held up high in exactly the right spot. I can’t stand up for very long. Sometimes not at all. TalkTalk turned off my phone line and internet, both vital for my communications, because of their own mistake, didn’t bother to warn me, and when I fixed their problem, they took until the next day to turn my connection back on.

I want an apology from TalkTalk and an assurance that this won’t happen again.

Aaaarrrrrggggghhhhh

I’m struggling quite a lot at the moment. I’ve recently started Amitriptyline, as well as increasing my Escitalopram, and for the first week I basically slept all the time. I’m still getting bouts of despair and severe depression, and spending a lot of time stuck in bed. Pain is down but dizziness, brain fog and problems walking are up. One of the casualties of all this has been my ability to write in detail about the subjects that I want to. Actually focussing on the detail is a massive problem. I can chat online, but I can’t write proper blog posts.

Some of the things that I really want to write about but can’t include:

  • The possible causes of ME, viral and mental, and the research into them.
  • Visiting a psychiatrist who believes my ME is a mental disease, and asking how I’m supposed to get my depression fixed without my ME being made worse by this idiot.
  • The Welfare Reform bill and the Health and Social Care bill, the problems, and how to fight them.
  • Being accurate in activism; not spreading rumours, and avoiding exaggeration.
  • How the Left and the Right stifle each others speech, or not. (I’ve written this, but can’t finish editing it and write the conclusion.)
  • Report on my experience at an Atos Work Capability Assessment, and Professor Harrington’s latest antics in policing them. (I was declared unfit to work, if you didn’t know.)
  • Discuss human rights.
  • Basing government policy on actual evidence instead of ideology and greed.
Those are just the ones I started writing, never mind the other ones that I haven’t attempted yet. For now, though, blog posts only come out when something prompts my mind to focus enough on one topic so that I HAVE to get the words written.

Go Away! (A personal rant)

My home is my safe space. Anywhere outside of my home, I can be approached by other people who want to sell me something, or ask me questions. In my current state of mind, I can’t deal with questions. I can’t deal with unscripted conversations unless it’s with friends or in the form of text on the internet.

So whether by telephone or in person at my front door, cold callers are really frustrating.

Knocking on my front door means that I am expected to answer it. I have trouble moving around the house. It is bad enough if I am in the living room on a chair or the sofa; I often have to stagger through the house pushing myself off walls and furniture as I go, leaning on my stick. Getting to the front door is not easy, causes pain, and uses up valuable energy that could have been used for more desirable activities. (Some days I don’t manage to move between rooms at all, so you can see that I would rather save my energy.)

If I am in bed then it is even worse, because as well as getting up and moving through the house, I have to put on acceptable clothing. Considering that some days I don’t manage to get dressed, this is also a big problem, and again I would rather use my energy elsewhere.

I get particularly annoyed by people who post catalogues through my letterbox, and then expect them back. If you post something through my letterbox, it’s mine. You have no right to knock on my door and ask for it back. I won’t store it for you, it goes in the recycling. The same with donation bags. And no, I’m not leaving things outside my front door for days, getting wet and looking disgusting and messy.

I could choose not to answer the door, but I have family who visit me, and I don’t wish to turn them away unnecessarily.

To be honest, even if I were perfectly well and had no pain and no mobility problems, I would still be annoyed by people calling at my house to sell me things. We put up with advertising all over the place, and I won’t stop people advertising or putting a flyer through my door, but demanding a response from me is too far. You have the right to talk, I have the right to ignore you.

Then there are phone calls. I have a telephone for three reasons. First, because I need broadband and a phone comes with that. Second, to communicate with friends and family who I wish to speak to. Third, to communicate with companies with whom I do business. I DON’T have a telephone so that shitty little call centres can interrupt my rest and tell me that I am entitled to reclaim my Payment Protection Insurance payments (I never made any) or ask me if I want their car insurance. (I don’t have a car.)

I have been registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) since the day it became available. The TPS is a database of phone numbers that do not wish to receive marketing calls. The TPS is run by the direct marketing industry themselves, under direction from OFCOM, and marketing companies are required to check numbers that they call against this database before calling. They can be fined if they call a number on the list. Unfortunately, the TPS does not apply to call centres that are overseas. And quite a lot of cold callers just don’t care about it. The chances of someone getting enough details from them when they make an unwanted call are slim, and complaints about calls seem to go nowhere at all. As a result, I still receive the occasional phone call, and they don’t usually care about the TPS.

I had one company call me a few months ago, and I told her that I was on the TPS and to go away, then hung up. She actually called me again demanding to know why I hung up. I got very annoyed and swore and hung up again. This woman actually called me back four times, culminating in me screaming and shouting down the phone at her. Whatever you make of my anger, this woman’s sense of entitlement not only to call me, but also to demand that I listen to her, and not tell her to go away, is astonishing and infuriating. I don’t understand how she could not understand that she was intruding into my life and had no right to do so.

I can choose not to answer the phone, and since I have caller ID and I can tell when a number is unknown to me, I quite often decide not to. It is less easy with the front door. In both cases I strongly resent the intrusion and just wish some people would shut up and go away.

My Taxi Adventure

“You’ll have to come back when there’s a doctor here” she said. “We’ll send a taxi for you.”

“A wheelchair taxi?” I asked. “That can take my electric wheelchair?”

“Yes.”

Resigned to another visit to the medical centre, I sat back in the chair while the manager made the arrangements. For all that I dislike about ATOS, the office manager seemed kind enough.

“OK, that’s all booked then. The taxi will collect you at your home at 12 on the 10th of August.”


I’ll let my tweets tell the story of the journey. Includes swearing and typos.

Continue reading “My Taxi Adventure”

Rape, privilege and stupidity

An awful lot of fuss has been made about Rebecca Watson, an anonymous guy in a lift, and what Richard Dawkins said about it. See Blag Hag: Context matters for the original story and Blag Hag: Richard Dawkins, your privilege is showing for what Dawkins said about it.

For those that don’t know, here’s a brief outline. Watson spoke at an atheist conference in Dublin. She talked about sexism and misogyny  in the atheist community and her experience of it. Later that night at 4am she told everyone that she was going to bed, and left the bar. As she got in the lift to go to her room, a man got in with her. He said “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee.”

Speaking about the incident later in a video blog Watson said “Just a word to the wise here, guys: don’t do that. I don’t really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable but I’ll just sort of lay it out that I was a single woman in a foreign country at 4am in a hotel elevator with you. Just you. and I… don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I finish talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualise me in that manner.”

Later on, Richard Dawkins left three comments on a blog post about it. These comments used very derisive language, compared this incident to female genital mutilation and to oppression of women in Muslim countries, women being banned from driving, being beaten by their husbands and stoned to death for adultery. He also said that because she didn’t suffer physically in this incident, that there was no problem.

This whole thing has already been talked about extensively, so I’m just going to state my opinion. The guy in the lift was an idiot. He waited until a woman was in a vulnerable situation (trapped in a lift alone) and asked her back to his room when she had just stated that she was going to bed. I think that most women would be uncomfortable at this. Certainly all that I have spoken to said that they would be. Rape is not rare, and most women take care not to be in a situation where they are alone with a man that they don’t know, especially if they cannot simply walk away as in this situation. The man here was thoughtless and stupid to ask the question under those circumstances.

However, this doesn’t merit a huge fuss. It happened, it was mentioned in passing on a video blog. Lessons learned, carry on. But no, Dawkins had to chip in with his insensitive comparison from a privileged viewpoint and enrage women everywhere.

Dawkins is an old rich white man. He has never been in fear of rape. He has never carried a rape alarm, been told to dress modestly for fear of “asking for it” or avoided situations or walking routes where rape could happen out of sight. As a man if he ever was raped there would be no question of blaming the victim for dressing the wrong way or being in the wrong place. Dawkins probably isn’t aware that at least 47,000 adult women are raped every year in the UK, or that rape is one of the most under reported crimes and has an extremely low prosecution rate. Dawkins is privileged. He should have stopped to consider this before weighing in and insulting people or making stupid comparisons. As Sam points out in the comments below, Blag Hag later stated that Dawkins is not a misogynist, and said “So even though his heart was probably in the right place, he was being dismissive. But more disappointing than his initial obliviousness about his privilege was his stubborn denial of said obliviousness when called out on it.”

So: man in lift, hapless idiot. Dawkins, bloody stupid and thoughtless. Other men: try not to corner women and make them feel threatened when you’re trying to ask them out. OK?

Related links

Blag Hag: Context matters

Blag Hag: Richard Dawkins, your privilege is showing

Blag Hag: Dawkins is not a misogynist

Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced

Richard Dawkins original comments on Pharyngula