Monday, June 17, 2024

Solace

have had worries this last week which I can’t share, but painting in blues, greens and yellows has cheered me up. And painting has grounded me. 

Have you noticed how tall the buttercups are this year? They’re crazily tall on account of all the rain. I’ve never known them like this. And they’re so beautiful.

My painting is called ‘The year the buttercups grew tall.’


Acrylic on board 45.5 x 61 cms

The other cheering activities were seeing the family, having breakfast with Liz at Hassop Station, going to Quaker Meeting, and going out on my electric bike. I can get to places with wonderful views because I can climb hills that I find impossible on my ordinary bike.

See how tall the buttercups are-




I felt so light hearted after this last ride. I passed a man I didn’t know who was wearing a sweatshirt with huge lettering saying BOSS on it, and I shouted “Hello boss!”  Yep, that’s how embarrassing I am these days. 

I hope you’re impressed that I have maintained radio silence about the election on the blog. I certainly wouldn’t be silent if a candidate or canvasser came to my door. Sadly we only get leaflets on our lane.

I will not remain silent about the suffering in Gaza. 

Please don’t forget about it, just because the election and football are swamping the airwaves.

You can donate to the UNICEF Gaza appeal here.

You can donate to Medical Aid for Palestinians here.




Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Robots

Yesterday I went to the post office and in the course of serving me, the assistant called me “sweetheart” a dozen times. “Can you just pop it onto the scales for me, sweetheart?”…”That’s your receipt for the money and that’s your receipt for tracking the item, sweetheart”…”I’m sorry, sweetheart, we don’t have any ten pound notes this morning”…etc.

I liked it. I’ve never understood those (often strident) people who say they feel demeaned when a stranger calls them love or pet or darling or sweetheart.

I like being treated in a friendly way. I like interacting with human beings in public life. But robots are taking over.

On his most recent trip to Sainsburys to stock up on yoghurt, Dave inadvertently brought home some yogurts he didn’t want. He took three trays of six yoghurts off the natural yoghurt shelf (all that there were), but when he got home he found some unwelcome interlopers - several strawberry yoghurts. They had been mixed up with the natural ones and the cartons look so similar that if you’re in a hurry you don’t notice.




He was most distressed, and not just because he always always prefers natural yoghurt. He was upset because the strawberry yoghurts are more expensive, which meant he owed Sainsburys money. He is honest. Utterly and completely honest. So he rang Sainsburys to pay over the phone for the money he owed and the phone was answered by a robot. The robot could not understand what Dave wanted and after several attempts, the robot said they were trying to improve all the time but they couldn’t understand him and then they said goodbye. The robot ended the conversation! The bloody cheek! There was no option to talk to a human being.

At that point I would have said “Sod Sainsburys!” thinking they didn’t deserve the money. Not so, Dave. He couldn’t bear the thought of not paying the correct price for an item, even if he didn’t like it. So he routed his bike ride past the shop and went in to pay. The supervisor who was called could not understand what Dave wanted. You want money back for some items but you haven’t brought them or the receipt? 

He explained again. The woman was flummoxed. This had obviously never happened before. Once she understood and heard that the figure was £3.60 she said thank you but it didn’t matter: there was no need to pay.

This is a long story already but what I wanted to rant about was the dehumanisation of the shopping experience and this is just one example. I hate, loathe and despise self checkouts. I can see they are a boon if you’ve just popped into the shop for a handful of items and you’re in a hurry. But the norm these days in even large supermarkets - such as our local Sainsburys - is to have only two manned checkouts open and to herd everyone else into the self checkouts. I always choose the manned checkout. Going round Sainsburys these days is bad enough: it feels like a bleak warehouse and finding someone to help you locate an item is as difficult as trying to find the item itself.

In some smaller shops there is no option, and there are only self checkouts, so I seek out a member of staff and plead complete ignorance and ask them to help.

I object to the dominance of self checkouts on several grounds:

They cost jobs;

Supermarkets make money out of their customers and they should provide a service - not expect customers to do their work for them;

Most of all I hate it because it cuts out yet another human interaction from public discourse. Everywhere we see headlines saying loneliness is a huge problem these days, for all kinds of people of all ages. The only face to face human interaction some people experience in a day is if they go to the shop. Now even this is being taken away from them.

There are some supermarket chains who are realising that not everyone wants self checkouts. In the Netherlands the supermarket chain Jumbo introduced manned checkouts where customers can have a chat with the assistant while they’re being served. These have proved so popular that they have increased the number. A chain in the northwest of England called Booths have also reduced their self checkouts. 

I go to Aldi every week and they’re going in the opposite direction. The Aldi experience is something else, whereby the checkout assistants will not wait for you to pack your items and it’s stressful. But at least they do it with a smile. Well…some of them do. There was one checkout assistant who always seemed to look down her nose at me…so much so that I would come home and say to Dave that I thought she despised me. So not all human interactions in the public sphere are uplifting. But at least they are human.

We need these interactions not just to combat loneliness but so we all remember how to live together amicably. Covid and lockdowns damaged community cohesion and the norms of public behaviour which is why some ignorant people use their phones during concerts and plays. Hey ho.

I will conclude by saying (rather randomly!) that the Coventry Building Society telephone service is top notch. Full marks for a personal approach that cheers up your day.

And now, to make up for all of these words, here is a photo of the moonpennies on our back lawn that I’ve been cherishing during no-mow May and into June.







Sunday, June 09, 2024

Speechless

I had planned to rant about the dehumanisation of the shopping experience this morning, but I made the mistake of going on Twitter and reading about, and seeing, the carnage in Gaza which happened in the mission to rescue the four hostages. At least 274 Palestinians were killed, almost 700 were wounded. 

How can it be that in this beautiful world a country can act in such an inhuman way and the world can continue to support them? Why are not our leaders speaking out against this? Why are they still sending arms?

It is clear they think that Palestinians do not matter.

I am heartsick. It makes me not want to live in this world.

And there are millions of shocked and caring people all over the world who like me are appalled and heartbroken and who are powerless to help these beaten, bombed, starving, wounded, desperate human beings - people who are just like us. 




Monday, June 03, 2024

If in doubt, don't

I hesitate these days before posting about something domestic or personal because the political situation - national and global - is so desperate. 

But everyday life still goes on with its joys and difficulties and dilemmas, so here goes…

You remember the red versus blue coat issue?

The day after I bought the red coat (which all but one people online said I should go for) I was still wondering: did I make the right decision?

I liked the red, but there was SO MUCH red. I mean, it wasn’t just a waist-length jacket. 

I told myself I was being lily-livered about the change. Just because 80% of my clothes are blue did not mean it should always be that way. So I stuck with it. Some days it brought me joy and some days I felt overwhelmed by it...as though it was the red coat walking down the lane, rather than me walking down the lane.

A week after I bought it, Dave and I were walking back from Hassop Station along the Trail when he said, out of nowhere: "You can have the blue coat if you want, you know."

I was startled. I said: "I know you hate this red coat." 

"Yes, but that’s not the point. I know you’re not keen on it."

"How do you know?"

"You usually go on about new clothes. You're usually excited about them. You haven’t been excited about the red coat. You just bought it home from the shop and hung it on the hook in the hall. No dancing around saying Isn't this fab!"

"You’re right. But I do like it, just not as much as I thought I would. I think it swamps me. The red does suit me, but not so much red. It’s too in-your-face. And the blue one really suited me.  I thought the red one because I thought it was more fun.

"Well, go and buy a new one. A blue one."

"I can’t! Think of the money!"  

(You should be aware that Dave still thinks you can get a decent jumper for a fiver. So this offer was startling, as well as incredibly generous.)

He went on: "It’s all running away in inflation anyway - go and get the blue coat. Get it today. I’m going to Bakewell to get my meds so I’ll get it for you."

"No, really, don’t. I ought to make do with the red one."

More insistence and nagging from Dave.

I said: "I was a little bit doubtful the day after I bought it. I have this maxim - learned from experience - “if in doubt, don’t” - and I ignored it with the coat."

"So go and buy the blue one!"

"But it’s so extravagant! I shan’t be able to tell anyone. I’ll be so ashamed."

Reader, you need to know that I love new clothes but I still have old ones I wear every year. For example I still wear a pair of Racing Green chinos and two Racing Green T shirts I bought in the '90s.




"Well, if you're ashamed, don’t tell anyone."

"I could wear the red coat to town and for trips, and the blue one for walks."

"Whatever! Go and get the blue one."

Reader…I did. And now I have two coats. My last Seasalt coat lasted me for 9 years, so these will last me 18 years - until I am 92.

This morning we walked out together, me in the blue coat because it was a country walk with Dave, and I said "Do you feel more comfortable with me in the blue coat?"

"I wouldn't say more comfortable, but when you wore the red one it was like having a boil on my nose or a splinter in my bum."