Thursday, September 24, 2009

Customer Service

Slightly alarming letter from Social Services today, telling me that my Direct Payments Monitoring Return had been due at the end of July and that if I did not submit it within 14 days I would be in Trouble.

Quick call to the office who sent the letter, turns out it's a form that I have to send in with some bank statements and whatnot, to show that I am properly using the Direct Payments money. They sent it to me at the beginning of June. It didn't arrive. Happily, they believed me that it didn't arrive and are going to send another copy.

Much relieved, I decided to pull out my big Social Services folder (when you have brainfog but have to deal with reams of paperwork for government organisations, you develop excellent administrative habits) to make sure that I had all the bank statements and timesheets and suchlike to hand. I felt happy and confident in my filing system - all the bits of paper were grouped together in their little sections, and in date order within those sections - when I spotted alarm bell number two. One of the statements was missing. The one that would have been sent at... can you guess?... the beginning of June.

I'm not even going to bother with a rant about Royal Mail. There is a persistent problem here with mail (particularly birthday cards) not arriving, packages being left unattended on the doorstep, you name it, and all we ever get told is that nothing can or will be done unless the item of mail was sent by a Signed For or Special Delivery service and we are able to get the sender to provide the receipt for this service.

What I am going to do, is praise the customer service of the bank. I phoned the local branch. A person picked up within a few rings, no automated system. The person spoke good English and offered me two options - I could have a printout of the transactions for the missing period sent for free, or I could have a duplicate statement sent, but that would cost £5. I explained what I needed it for and asked what she thought I should do. She offered that she could send the printout, free, but stamp it with the bank stamp and the date stamp, and then if Social Services said that wasn't good enough, then I could pay the fee and get a 'proper' statement. Whole conversation took less than five minutes. Hurrah.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Assisted Suicide

I've tried to stay more or less out of this one, but today brought the news that the law on assisted suicide has been 'clarified', although the level of that clarification is slightly unclear and seems to consist mainly of a list of factors that will be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to prosecute.

Firstly, let's remember we're talking about assisted suicide, assisting and enabling people to kill themselves. We are not talking about euthanasia, which is actually doing the killing. Big difference.

Secondly, let me state for the record that I am NOT suicidal and have no intentions to kill myself or enlist others to do the job for me. I have reasons to get up in the morning and am looking forward to tomorrow, next week, next year and beyond.

However, I can understand why some people might want to kill themselves, and how it is possible that they can feel this way with a mindset of 'calm and rational' as opposed to 'agitated and desperate'.

I can also understand that on a practical level it is a difficult thing to actually physically do and succeed with if you are impaired in some way. You need to be sure that your chosen method will be effective, and that you will not be thwarted by a lack of physical strength, or an inability to get hold of the necessary materials, or by a carer calling for an ambulance instead of allowing you to get on with it. A failed suicide attempt is in many ways worse than a successful one, as you have to continue to live with not only the factors which made you feel suicidal, but also the shame and frustration of failure, not to mention any additional impairments caused by the attempt.

So I understand that, since you'll need help, you want to be sure that those close to you won't be prosecuted for allowing and enabling your suicide - although I draw the line at anyone else actually carrying out the act.

But. Any kind of blanket law saying "this is legal, that is not legal" wouldn't work. It would be open to too much abuse. Which is why, although today's clarification seems at first glance to just be a fudge, I quite like the way they've done it.

Partly because there are so many different situations, so many factors, so many shades of grey. There needs to still be case-by-case consideration.

But mostly because it forces people to take the risk of prosecution, and therefore forces them to think really, really carefully about whether it is a risk worth taking.

You see, it's a big and serious undertaking, to help somebody to end their life - or indeed to ask for that help. It should never be a quick decision. It should not be taken lightly.

If, as an incurably ill and suicidal person, you know that there is a risk that your loved ones may be prosecuted for helping you, you'll think long and hard before ever bringing it up. If, as a loved one, you know there's a risk you may be prosecuted, you'll think long and hard before agreeing to take that risk. If, despite the risk, you both go ahead anyway, then it demonstrates how important you think the issue is.

If the suicidal person and their helper look at today's guidelines and, for example, rewrite the Will to ensure that the assistant does not stand to financially gain from the death (and remember that in many cases the assistant is the next of kin and most likely to gain, that's a big something to give up) then that also helps to demonstrate that they have both seriously considered the issue, the outcome, and what is most important.

I think forcing this kind of consideration helps.

I still don't like the idea and I still don't think it's one I'd go for myself, but the way they've gone about the clarification makes a sort of sense to me.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fantastic Mr Fox

Last night, Steve and I went with some friends to see Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs. Synopsis in a can: amateur scientist invents machine that makes food from water, greed, lack of forethought, it all goes horribly wrong, amateur scientist and friends discover hidden depths to save world. It was predictable, with all the family-values schmaltz and barely disguised moralising that you have to expect from a kids' movie. But nevertheless it was fun, with lots of gags, silliness, and bits that fly over the heads of the kiddies in the audience while making the adults choke on their popcorn. All the nerds and geeks will feel their toes curl as they empathise with Flint (even while they shout at the screen about the dodgy science and how water doesn't have a "genetic code" - remember guys, it's a kids movie), and there are no prizes for identifying the charcter voiced by Mr T.

But the thing that is still bugging my brain today is one of the trailers, for a film version of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox. There are many things you can say about Roald Dahl, but "his writing is really compatible with predictable Hollywood formula" is not one of them. He was a dark genius, and the glory of his writing is that it is often highly disturbing and that the "winner" is not necessarily "the good guy".

What I recall of the storyline of Fantastic Mr Fox is: a family of foxes who steal their food from nearby farmers find themselves in trouble, when the farmers decide they've had enough and start to take some extreme pest control measures. But with skill and daring, Mr Fox manages to not only evade the farmers, but finds a way to steal even more food than he was stealing before, enabling all the vermin in the surrounding area to "eat like kings" for the rest of their lives. With the notable exception of the Rat who lives in the cider cellar, who Mr Fox and Badger, big bullies that they are, threaten to eat if he attempts to stop them stealing the booze for their party.

Mr Fox is not and does not claim to be anything other than a thief. That the farmers are upset by the constant thefts from the businesses that are their livelihood is quite understandable. However the reader is encouraged to be firmly on the side of the criminals, and against the farmers who are protecting their property. Where's the moral? Who knows? It's quite likely there isn't one. Dahl never claimed to be guiding or educating children - in fact he quite liked the idea that he might be just a little bit corruptive, a little bit wicked.

However I can't see a celebration of breaking rules for purely personal gain cutting the mustard with a Hollywood focus group. There must have been changes, and big changes at that.

Which makes me wonder. Do I go and see it, because I am a Dahl fan and it is a film version of one of his books? Or do I avoid it like the plague, because I am a Dahl fan and I don't want to see his work smashed to pieces with a saccharine hammer?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Second Job

Yes, that's right, in these darkened times when there are many more jobseekers than jobs available, I'm being a greedy git and deciding to have TWO at once.

Okay, so they're both part time - the existing one at 17.5 hours a week and the new one at somewhere between "a couple" and "a few" hours - and even the combined pay wouldn't be enough to lift anyone without financial support from a partner out of benefits dependency - but nevertheless.

As you've probably guessed, precise details are at a hazy stage with a start date of "once the paperwork's done", but I've filled in my bit of a P46 and been shown around the system I'll be using so I don't think I'm jumping the gun in considering the job to be a definite thing.

It's very flexible and it's mostly working from home, data entry and envelope stuffing and suchlike, which is why I'm able to take it on. There's no way I could do more hours in my main job, since by the time I crawl into my taxi at the end of an afternoon I am utterly shattered, barely capable of talking, and wincing at every pothole and speedbump on the way home. But the idea with the new job is that once I've got home and had a couple of hours to rest and get a bit of dinner inside me, then if I feel up to it I'll be able to sit up and do anything between twenty minutes and two hours of additional work. And if I don't feel up to it, or if I have something else to do, then I won't. I can stop the clock for a break whenever I need to, and I can take that break in the quiet and comfort of my own home which is so much more effective than trying to screen out the noise and busy-ness of a hectic office. I won't have to force myself to keep going until a taxi arrives, either, which will be nice.

Of course, the first person I called to tell was my mother... of course, her immediate reaction was a comparison to Sister Dearest and her Fabulous Career*. Admittedly I know by now that any phone call to my mother has to include several minutes listening to the praises of SD and her FC being sung, but on this one occasion I really could have done without it - I wanted to play the game where we at least pretend to be proud/congratulatory/encouraging of my hard work and minor accomplishments.

Happily, Steve and my friends are more than capable of bolstering my self esteem when it flags and did a sterling job of being pleased for me. Even my current boss congratulated me, once I'd assured him that it was a second job and I wouldn't be leaving his company (his immediate reaction in the seconds before I'd fully explained that bit thoroughly reassured me that I am valued within the workplace).

I've got a desk set up at home now, complete with two desk tidys, a coaster, and my Sunshine Buddy. I have a wireless mouse but I need a mousemat as it's a glass-topped desk. Well, I say need, it's possible to get by just using a bit of paper. But I'd like a proper mousemat. In fact in an ideal world, I'd like to try one of those ones with a padded bit for your wrist but they seem a bit pricey and I'm not sure how much difference they make. If anyone has any input I'll be happy to hear it.

Access to Work are being their usual cagey selves - you can't determine what help you may or may not be able to get through them until you're fully signed up to the job, have a start date, and have completed an application for support - but I've been told that I am "eligible to apply" for support with this job as well, and have two separate support packages running concurrently, although they'll probably be handled by the same person. I'm hoping to get the same deal on transport (I'll be working from home but I will have to go in every so often) where I pay an amount equivalent to a bus fare, and AtW top it up to a taxi fare because I can't use a bus. Equipment-wise, I'll need to have a good think - as a rule, they'll provide anything that is (a) to be used solely by me, AND (b) an item or a specific version of an item needed because of disability-related reasons. So for instance they won't supply biros but they might supply any of these for someone who has trouble with their hands. Ideas?

* Fabulous Career = working for several large national chains of bookies, encouraging gambling addicts to indulge their addictive behaviour. Since she falls in the narrow margin where she can write her own name but is unable/disinclined to get a different job, she has over the course of several years worked her way up to local management. While I realise I'm hardly a high-flyer myself, I can't get quite as excited and impressed by this as my mother seems to.