Friday, December 22, 2006

Feels like Christmas (brrrrrrrrrrrr!)

Ok, its f***ng freezing!!!!!!! Just checked the BBC website and today's maximum temperature is going to be a balmy 1 degree centigrade. This has all come as a bit of a shock to the system as until last week we were nearly pushing double figures. This is when our lovely Victorian house gets put to the 'holding on to heat' test.... so far it has failed miserably:

- The traditional sash windows need rebuilding and so are draughty (and single glazed of course).
- The lovely, brand-new kitchen installed by our predecessors has no insulation in the walls (not even plaster behind the cabinets) - bit worried about food freezing! There is no insulation in the floor either so slippers are essential.
- The front door needs replacing and we currently have no flooring in the hallway so there is nothing to stop the drafts coming up through the floorboards.
- The loft is not insulated completely and as these houses were built cheaply we don't have full walls between our attic and our neighbours.
- The radiators downstairs are of the the single panel variety (and don't have thermostats) so aren't very efficient.

- The central heating is fairly new and so far is doing a valiant job in keeping up with the temperatures when its on full blast (just given up and put it on for a couple of hours).
- I have a microwaveable hot water bottle.
- I have a fan heater.
- I have two cats (unfortunately neither of them are Pallas Cats (right) - but they're trying to be)

Speaking of the fur balls... Lyle (a.k.a. Mr Tumnus, incompetent cat etc.) has cost us £230 this last week. There goes Husband and I's Christmas present budget. Why oh why didn't we get them insured yet? Anyway, he was a sorry looking cat last Monday as we came down in the morning and he couldn't walk properly - his back end was just not co-operating. We took him to the vet, who couldn't find anything wrong with him, gave him an anti-inflammatory injection and told us to bring him back for x-rays if he didn't get better.

One week later, after the injection had worn off, he was still hobbling around the house; so back to the vet for the x-rays. These showed he had fused vertebrae - probably from an earlier slipped disk - and a trapped nerve in his pelvis. Either/both of which could cause his mobility problems. Luckily/unluckily there is nothing surgically that can be done for either problem so the vet just gave him a long-acting steroid injection. It took a couple of days but he is starting to move around normally again and certainly looks an awful lot happier. Poor thing he must have been in a lot of discomfort - pity he couldn't tell us.

The cats are both scheduled to have their pre-Christmas bath this weekend. Oh they're going to love us. We've only washed them once before and it was 'interesting'. They've actually managed to both stay in remarkably good condition this winter - despite putting on about 3 tonnes of extra fur each. They are, however, starting to get a little bit smelly from getting damp-dry-damp again. Soon they will be smelling sweet again of Herbal Essences Rainforest Flowers shampoo. Then they'll love us even more as we'll have to grab them an apply anti-flea drops - woo hoo!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Something has really been getting to me lately. It's not that I haven't thought about it or tried to make some changes but I think its time to make more of a commitment. So here is my pledge to the planet for 2007:

'I will reduce my ecological footprint and that of my household in every way I have the power to do so, and so take responsibility for reducing environmental degradation and climate change'

My initial thoughts are the following (but I'm sure I'll think of new ways as time goes on).

1. Stop using plastic bags!
2. Get a wormery to turn our organic waste into compost.
3. Be even more fastidious about recycling everything possible.
4. Fit a water saving device to our toilet cistern and work on the 'if its yellow let it mellow, if its brown, flush it down' principle.
5. Buy all food that I can locally and increase the amount of organic and fair trade food and clothing I buy.
6. Have another look at 'green' energy suppliers (after readings this article)
7. Replace all the light bulbs in my house with energy efficient ones.
8. Make an effort to 'green' my workplace.

Anybody fancy joining me in making a planetary pledge or have any other ideas for action?

(Sorry for the squiffiness of the formatting in this post... very odd)

Monday, December 18, 2006

And finally it has happened

The BBC news at 6pm analyses the personality of a recently arrested alleged serial killer by looking at his Myspace page.

We apologise for the recent interruption in Mad Medea's random chatter posts, which have been replaced with rants on social and political issues. We are hopeful that her intelligence quota for the year will soon be used up and the inane ramblings will then be able to resume.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Let the nuclear holocaust come!

That's what I thought as I was piling our 'big Christmas shop' into the kitchen cupboards. If something horrific were to happen to the UK/world in the next couple of weeks at least we wouldn't go hungry - for a while at least. It also reminded me to go and see if there was a petition on the CND website that I could sign to voice my objection to the, seemingly automatic, decision of the UK government renew or replace the existing stock of trident nuclear missiles.

I think the Non-Profliferation Treaty has got to go down as one of the most comedy worthy pieces of international legislation. So right, we won't build any more nuclear weapons (except we will), but we'll hold on to the thousands and thousands we do have (for as long as possible and then 'renew' them).... but if you want to make some new nuclear weapons we'll go ape sh*t at the very thought.

Now don't get me wrong the thought of Iran/South Korea or any other rather unhinged nation's leaders getting their hands on nuclear weapons scares the crap out of me. The fact that our (marginally less unhinged) leaders already have their hands on them scares the crap out of me. The thought of all the other stupidly destructive weapons that are also accessible to the worlds' leaders (and those pesky terrorists/freedom fighters) also scares the crap at me.

I just don't know what moral/legislative high horse we can climb on and wag our fingers (interesting mental image) when disapproving of Iraq and South Korea's desire to have their own nuclear arsenal. We have them and intend to keep/renew them. We are not choosing to find a nice big hole and bury our segment of one of the stupidest inventions in history, seal it with a nice big concrete cap and then have nice meetings discussing what symbol is likely to still mean 'this stuff is bad, B.A.D' in 10,000 years time. So what right do we have to say another sovereign nation should not follow their own stupid desires and develop an arsenal of their own? As far as I can see, until we make some genuine moves towards significant disarmament ourselves we don't have a moral leg to stand on.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Me? Pardon...?

Ok Adventuring Jen... here I go, this is me at the moment:

1. Yourself: bloated
2. Your girlfriend/boyfriend: out on work Christmas do after afternoon of festive falconry
3. Your hair?: in desperate need of a cut cut
4. Your mother?: in desperate need of a hair cut
5. Your Father?: depressed
6. Your favourite item: new DVD player that is able to play a DVD without subtitles!
7. Your dream last night: probably involved being suffocated by a cat
8. Your favourite drink: Waitrose Raspberry Cordial (have just run out... boooooo!)
9. Your dream car: Mazda RX-8
10. The room you are in: dining room
12. Your fear: being too tired to do anything
13. What you want to be in 10 years: not tired
14. Who you hung out with last night?: girlfriend (soup and gingerbread... yum)
15. What you're not?: conscious
16. Muffins: apple and museli (although I have a recipe for the mincemeat ones I must try)
17: One of your wish list items: An Angel Directs the Storm by Michael Northcott
18: Time: 19:38
19. The last thing you did: ate a fruit tea cake
20. What you are wearing: Laura Ashley wrap dress
21. Your favourite weather: cold and crisp
22. Your favourite book: at the moment I have fond memories of 'An Equal Music' by Vikram Seth
23. The last thing you ate: see 19.
24. Your life: tricky
25. Your mood: too tired to be sure (sorry Jen but we're on the same page)
26. Your body: right shape wrong size
27. Who are you thinking about right now? my cats
29. What are you doing at the moment?: writing in my blog.... what a silly question.
30. Your summer: pardon?
31. Best part of your life: learning stuff.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tell the world!

Tell the whole wide world... spread the news... da da-da da daaahhh. I don't know what that song is. My mum used to sing it when Thomas II 'announced' that he had used the litter tray (odd cat). But it seemed appropriate as I just got home to find at letter inviting me to an interview for a middle-management post at another organisation. The deadline had been about two weeks ago, so I was starting to think that I wouldn't hear anything. But I did. Although the job would be interesting (and very scary), more challenging (and more money), the main thing I'm happy about is that now I now that, on paper, I'm good enough to get to the interview stage. Yippee!

The Corporation by Joel Bakun

This was an 'on the way through the airport on to a train' book buy. I'd had my fill of fiction (having just finished Pi) and fancied some anti-establishment prose. This book is a little 'lite' for my taste - only 166 pages of actual book and another few in an 'appendix' interview with Noam Chomsky. I did, however, have medium hopes for it as it is written by 'an academic'. Joel, however, let me down on that front as you really couldn't tell there was a Canadian law professor lurking behind the rather light analysis presented.

The book does present a nice handy, hand-bagged size 'why I don't want to work in the private sector' tome. I think I got two main things out of it - which I kinda knew already but were brought to the front of my mind.

Firstly, that private corporations only exist to make profit for their shareholders - this is a fact that we must never, ever forget. Therefore any attempt at genuine 'corporate social responsibility' (i.e. not tokenism intended to get more customers and therefore eventually make more money) is actually an 'immoral' act for a corporation - it goes against their fundamental morality of profit making. It also means that in every calculation - to pollute, not to pollute, to poison workers/not to etc. - is based on cost. Is it cheaper to pollute now and be more profitable and pay the fine later? If it is, the corporation has a 'moral' obligation to follow the most profitable course of action.

Secondly, the up and coming concept of 'public-private partnerships' in the delivery of public services is a truly terrifying development. I've always disliked the idea of PPPs, but never really been able to justify clearly why; now Joel has provided me with a neat explanation. Corporations exist as entities created by the law and so under the 'rule of law' to some extent. But, when a corporation enters into 'partnership' with government, it implies that they then move on to equal footing with the law - to be cheesy, they become a 'law unto themselves'. Very scary.

Groundhog Day (1993)

Tis the season and therefore Husband and I start working our way through our 'Christmas' set of films. Yes, I know Groundhog day is 2nd February - but its snowy and a bit of a 'Scrooge' story - so it counts, alright?

It was Husband that introduced me to Bill Murray's body of work and I have to admit, I think he is a comic genius. I have a soft spot for that cynical, sarcastic acting style (or is it really just him) that comes out in Groundhog Day and many of his other movies. Which is probably why I really didn't like Lost in Translation. Very worthy and all that - but just not an enjoyable (or alternatively thought-provoking) film to watch. Why does that get all the plaudits and his comic work is just so undervalued.

Anyway, if by some terrible accident of nature you haven't yet seen Groundhog Day (or Scrooged for that matter) for goodness sake go out and find a copy!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sex in the air

Right... now I've got your attention. Well, I just about survived my 16-hour day yesterday, but now I'm totally exhausted. Again, all I saw of Paris was Charles-de-Gaulle airport, the inside of 'le taxi' and the 8th floor of nondescript government building. Meeting was good. My papers went down well and there was some interesting discussions. Also had some time alone with my boss on the plane - which is very rare these days - and managed to ascertain that a) he hadn't found out about my recent debacle, or b) he found out about it but didn't want to know - either situation is fine with me.

Anyway, my observations from the flight have set me in mind to continue my recent foray into posts of a more sociological bent. It was the early flight to Paris, and so exclusively populated with business travellers. The plane was a Embraer 145 (very impressed that I managed to find this out within two clicks on the British Airways website - top notch navigation) which seats 49 passengers. The plane yesterday was full.

Not including the flight attendants (both women) I only spotted one other female passenger on the plane. She looked as if she was travelling alone but I was there accompanying my boss (so I don't count really). Just made me think about the lack of women in middle and senior management - to me the level of seniority where you are allowed out the country unaccompanied! I think (actually I hope) that in most organisations and business conscious sex discrimination doesn't happen any more. In my organisation we have a lot of women 'senior managers' but we all four directors and the CEO are men. Bit odd.

Maybe enough time still hasn't passed to get women far enough up the greasy pole. Maybe women just don't want to get to the top echelons of business and government administration. Maybe they prioritise other things in their lives. Maybe all the business women who could have been on that flight were all heavily pregnant or indisposed in some other way. Maybe women just don't like to fly...

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Really not sure how I feel about this one. I like the first third - looking at Pi growing up in southern India, living with a zoo keeper father, falling in love with religion and becoming a practising Christian, Muslim and Hindu (simultaneously). Nice insight, nice characterisation.

Then the shipwreck and all the animals on the lifeboat. I just didn't really want to hear about a hyena eating a zebra alive and a tiger killing an orangutan called Orange Juice. I know, I'm a total softy when it comes to animals... and the ending does explain the violence but... still not sure I wanted to read that. In fact, I ended up skimming the first few tens of pages of life in the lifeboat.

Then it did get fairly interesting - tiger taming at sea was always going to pose a challenge. But then we have the surreal algae island.... still not clear about what that acutally was. Nice image of sleeping up a tree surrounded by meer cats. But then, I like meer cats.

Actually the main thing that pissed me off was the ending. I'm getting a little fed up with books that use the 'it was all a dream' or 'he was barking mad' excuse to tie up fantastical storylines. Some books can pull it off - Ian McKewan's 'Atonement' a case in point - because it doesn't undermine the 'reality' of the storyline. But sorry Yann, I'd rather have had either a nasty frenchman from the start or stick with the marauding tiger - don't cheat me out of both.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Funny thing about Christmas

Let's put my cards on the table, I'm not a Christian. In fact, at the moment, I'm not really anything. If you pushed me I'd say I was an agnostic with leanings towards Wicca and Buddhism - but that's just right now. My Mum is a Christian, my Dad is an ex-Christian (yes, that does make home life interesting sometimes). I studied religion for my BA and more recently I've researched issues surrounding equality and diversity in the UK. So, when the head of HR at my work announced that we couldn't call our work do a 'Christmas party' I flipped my lid. Luckily, unlike in the situation I blogged about below, I only went mad internally.

It has been a topic of conversation, on and off, around my office ever since. In fact, I chatted to one of our union reps the other day and she said it had been the thing that people had come to her about most often recently (which considering they've just rewritten our contracts and every HR policy is quite a feat).

From my understanding of legislation, the crux of it is than no one should be treated less favourably or harassed on the grounds of their sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability... and just recently age. They all have slightly different bits of legislation but the underlying principle is the same.

correctness' overkill where religion is concerned. It seems to be the bit of the whole diversity thingy-me-bob where sense goes out the window and every little bit of life must be stripped of its religious content. Since I live in an, at least nominally, Christian country this normally has the impact of wanting to Unfortunately, I think this has caused a particular 'politicalde-Christianise all our holidays and other traditions. So Christmas becomes 'the festive season', Easter is 'spring-time' etc. for fear of offending anyone of any other faith (atheists don't seem to get considered in the reasoning).

To me this is a total load of bunkum. Is anyone, of any religious persuasion, offended by someone else expressing their own religious beliefs? I think 99% of the time the answer would be no... and the other 1% need to undergo a good talking to by their religion's leaders. Thankfully, some of the religious leaders of the Christian and Muslim faiths in Britain did get together this year and formed the Christian Muslim Forum. They issued at statement back in November, to try and cut short any discussion this year along the lines of 'is Christmas offensive to Muslims?' (although I think their statement could be equally applied to all other religious faiths).

I really like their statement, and the open letter to local councils that followed it (although sadly this was too late for Lambeth Council). To quote from the statement:

'We believe that our open and democratic society should promote freedom of religion in the public space rather than negatively restrict its observance.... We believe that any attempt to privatise and hide the celebration of religious festivals promotes frustration, alienation and even anger within religious communities. Such negative approaches devalue religion and undermine the positive contributions that faith communities bring to society.'

In their letter to Councils they explain that society has a choice between two ways of handling religious diversity: equality of affirmation or equality of invisibility. At the moment the trend seems to be towards equality of invisibility. Wouldn't it be better to work towards equality of affirmation? To celebrate or give everyone the opportunity to celebrate the range of religious affiliations that are present in a community?

Anyway, I'll be sending the Forum's statement to our head of HR and her boss for consideration of our policy towards religious diversity and I encourage you (whoever is reading this) to do the same.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Head on the block

.... or more accurately head rolling away down the scaffolding platform with my eyes still blinking. I don't normally write about work on this blog. Partly for fear of getting fired for making public comments on my organisation and partly because that isn't normally what I feel the need to blog about. Well, today I really feel the need. I'm reckoning if you know me, you already know who I work for, and if you don't know me there is definitely not anywhere near enough information in this blog for you to work out where I do work.

At the moment I'm not sure whether I'm feeling like a total idiot or really, really angry - most likely a combination of the two. I think I went a bit too far in a paper I submitted to a group today. The Chair went ballistic and basically said he wasn't going to allow it to be discussed. He couldn't see why I'd written the paper, why I hadn't told him (breaching protocol I didn't know there was), where I'd got my conclusions from etc. and basically informed me that I was casting aspersions at an innocent party (the party by the way was not a person, but a policy).

Now, admittedly, my motivation for writing the paper had evolved along the way, I soon realised the little task that I wanted accomplished actually related to much wider issues. I still stand by my opinions and it actually makes me smile to think of what I didn't put in the paper. I am however worried that I
a) am going to get a b******ing from my line manager when/if he finds out; and
b) have permanently p*****d off at least two senior managers.
So those two things in particular make me feel like an idiot and that I should have kept my mouth shut. Put me in the naughty corner please.

I am also really, really angry that the group didn't actually get to discuss the subject of paper (they can turn the paper itself into paper airplanes for all care) - as it was immediately taken off the table by the chair. I'd done an initial background sweep of key managers (not all positive reactions but mostly) and I knew I had at least one other person present who would back me up in a debate. I'm also angry that I was right in my original suspicions there is no room in my organisation for anybody to: constructively criticise, make suggestions (my paper was a proposal), have ideas, or want to change anything. I just don't get it. I've never worked anywhere that is so mired in its past and unwilling to change. So much of what is done for the 'management' of the organisation - as opposed to what it is our business to do - is simply lip service. There is no sense of the value of staff or the desire to make it a great place to work.

Everyone is very keen to satisfy our external stakeholders, but I've never heard anything about internal stakeholders. Over this last year we've had a new 5-year strategic plan and several new internal strategies that have flowed from that. Staff were not briefed when the strategic plan was launched and haven't even been notified in many cases when major internal strategic documents have been approved. And they wonder why there is so much apathy? There is no accountability for strategic planning to the staff - if you say your going to do something or want something to happen that relates to us an organisation you should be accountable to your staff for that; not just to the Board of Directors. But if I make any noises in that direction I get told either to shut up or to stop being so naive or both.

Well I'm going to have to follow the advice of the loyal and wise Husband: accept that I'm just going to always have to keep my mouth shut and my head down, or start looking for another job...