Scottish Power – the most inept service provider in the UK? I think so!

Originally posted on my Facebook wall, I thought I would share my words for the benefit of the many, many hundreds of you who live in the UK. If you could afford a £900 bill all in one go then this won’t affect you but I’d love to hear from you so I can borrow some money!

ScottishPower you are absolutely useless. I have written you a long email today after speaking to the Ombudsman and choose to give some details here where hundreds of my friends can read just how hopeless you really are as a service provider.

Last year you failed to take three months payments when I moved home. I thought you’d got ‘monthly’ and ‘quarterly’ mixed up and foolishly waited for you to get your act sorted out. In February you realised you were charging me way too much when I told you British Gas was ready to slash my bill in half. I found out then that YOU had put my account in arrears.

You put me on a new tariff which equalled British Gas plus a little extra each month to repay what I owed (thanks to you remember) over the next 12 months. Foolishly, I agreed. We all make mistakes, I thought, I should give you a chance.

This month you called me, told me how it was all your fault about not taking the payments last year and offered to credit my account one month’s payment to say sorry. I accepted! Fool that I am. You also told me there was an even better tariff now available and put me on that. Great, I thought! Silly me.

Last weekend I looked at my account and discovered – wait for it – you had taken nearly £900 from my account! You can imagine how overjoyed I was by this.

Today I find out that it was your error – again (you don’t say) – but…again, wait for it…you couldn’t return more than about £300 because that’s all I have in credit. So thank you for putting me more than £500 in debt. £500 which I don’t have. Thank you for telling me today that,effectively, it was my fault. Of course it was. I should never have believed you were capable of looking after your customers.

I can’t wait for the Ombudsman to be involved. Until then, I hope you lose lots of business as my friends swap over their business before this happens to them or throw away that quote you sent tempting them away from their current utility provider. You don’t deserve the customers you have.

Posted in Life, British, Corruption | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Reflections on being a dog-owning writer: The first four weeks

It’s been a rough ride over the last few weeks; some reasons are personal others less so. Over the last week we’ve been reeling from the shock announcement that the school my kids attend is to close at the end of the academic year in July. It’s at moments like these when having a pet makes all the difference.

Asha has been hugged and cried over more this week than in all the previous three weeks put together. It was good advice someone gave us to get a pet to help us all psychologically as we settled back into UK life. No one could have guessed what a roller-coaster ride this would be for the four of us nor how long it would continue on for.

But I digress. Enough to say, Asha has made us all feel a little happier, a little more loved and a little more secure this week when we really needed it.

Last week Asha was taken for her final vaccinations and so we were able to extend the boundaries of where she could go. Whereas before we took her out to the courtyard on a lead so she could wee but not go eating something that might make her ill, now she goes out off the lead and chews, licks or eats whatever she wants. “It’s what dogs do,” the vet told us, “they’re scavengers in the end and she’ll be exploring with her mouth like any youngster does.”

And so she has, indeed, been exploring with her mouth as she has found the delights of our back garden complete with grass, sticks, mud, dead leaves and two frightening and menacing chickens in the chicken shed. Scary stuff for the little pup!

We’ve also began taking Asha out for walks in the village. Puppies, I’ve found, are like babies in prams: babe magnets. Well, maybe not babes but certainly every woman we came across made baby eyes and cried out “oh she’s adorable!” and we instantly struck up conversation. It took me back to the days of when Things I & II were babies. Same thing happened then. Alas these have been the only times in my life where I’ve briefly received attention from the opposite sex. Just as well I guess – I wouldn’t know what to do with it if I had more. Run away probably…

Asha, while loving every single bit of attention from she received from humans, was not so keen on the dogs which often accompanied them. She coped with three nice, friendly but respectful collies we met until one of them started barking at a car in the distance. This scared Asha. By the time we met the third set of dogs within a handful of minutes – all lovely and friendly – she was screeching like someone had stood on her foot and cowering behind my leg. I had to pick her up in the end so the lady (of course it was a lady walking the dogs) could say hello and talk in baby speech to her as they do. We are going to have to work on the socialisation side of this puppy…

Obedience training is coming on well. I’ve almost got her to go down on all fours, flat to the ground, on command. She sits (mostly) and ‘stays’ (again, mostly) on command and is beginning to get the idea of heeling. Outside, of course, it’s all a total dead loss. Too many exciting things to focus on silly things like commands…

Oh and the writing? Yes, we continue to work out a compromise between my need to do my work and Asha’s need to be given attention every single waking minute of the day. Taking her for walks is a help though – she sleeps a looong time after those! The book is on standby because I simply can’t find time to get it finished (a couple of stories I wanted to include need finishing and editing) when I have quite a few paying gigs coming in at the moment. There are other reasons too why things aren’t going so fast but, for now, they are too personal to talk about. Maybe one day…

I had many requests for videos to be posted so here’s a couple. One of Asha coming out of the bath and the other showing her in training.  When I did a dry run with her before taking the video she went down straight away and perfectly for the first time! She was a bit weirded out by the camera in my hand so wasn’t quite as responsive as normal here but nevertheless I’m very proud of how she’s coming on! Enjoy.

Posted in Life, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Great St Bees Water Challenge

This Friday I will be cheering on some gallant folk from St Bees safely behind a pen and reporter’s notepad.The gallant folk are the St Bees Triers who will attempt, within 24 hours, to collect 5400 litres of water collecting it from the beach and running with it to St Bees School where the collective amount will be measured.

The St Bees Triers are a local running group whose members are all ages and abilities. Each year they take on a new event to raise money for charity. This year they are raising money for Comic Relief and Water Aid.

Triers + Water Challenge Banner

Source: Mike McKenzie

One of the event organisers, Chris Robson, told me that the aim of the event is to raise awareness of what many living in developing countries have to do to survive each day. The recommended daily intake of water is around 2-3 litres per day but for roughly one tenth of the world’s population, clean, safe water simply isn’t available. Obtaining water can mean walking many miles to find a source. Women in Africa and Asia often carry water on their heads weighing up to 20kg – the equivalent of the UK’s luggage allowance at airports.

“There are around 1800 people living in St Bees,” Chris informed me, “so we thought we’d try to carry 3 litres of water for every person in the village within 24 hours. We will pick up the water from one of two becks which flow into the sea and take it to the school where the water can be collected and measured. The distance there and back is about two miles.”

Dry run bottlefilling

A dry run for the team (Source: Mike McKenzie)

Although things are very different in the UK to how they are in Bangladesh where I lived for many years I can see how powerful this simile is. I would often be woken in the mornings by the squeaking of a nolkup, a hand-pumped deep well near our house, as a Bangladeshi woman would fill a bucket with water and carry it back to her house. Few in the country have their own water supply – such a sharp contrast to the UK where we take running water for granted and waste gallons washing our cars every year. I will be very interested to see the similarities and differences on Friday when the Triers’ event begins at noon.

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Developing countries like Bangladesh struggle to provide safe water for their largely rural inhabitants.

“We started these fundraising events three years ago,” Chris told me. “We began simply running around St Bees but last year we decided to run Mount Everest! Only rather than go to the expense of travelling out to the mountain itself we went to a local hill called Dent and ran up and down that instead. Between us we ran the equivalent of nine Everests and raised thousands of pounds for Comic Relief.”

I love the imagination of this organisation as much as their commitment both to running (a feat in itself as far as I’m concerned) and to raising money for charity. They are hoping to raise a lot of money again this year but that depends on how many take part and get sponsored.

“We have no idea how many will come on Friday or if we can even manage to collect that much water within 24 hours,” Chris admitted. There’s no sign-up as such – anyone is free to get their friends to sponsor them, come along and help collect as little or as much water as they like. There’s no obligation to run and there’s even an option for those who don’t feel physically up to it to have friends sponsor them to live for 24 hours with only the same amount of water a person in a developing country would live on. For those who are up to it though – including the Triers – it will mean running to collect water right the way through the night in order to meet the target. Time is running out though if you want to get involved!

I won’t be braving the chilly seaside night winds to watch these guys, I have to admit, no matter how much I admire their efforts though I will be there for when the event ends at noon on Saturday to see if they met their target. I have the ‘excuse’ that I’ll be writing the day’s events up for my local paper on Friday night but, more to the point, I think they must be mad! But it’s a madness I admire and one I hope is catching.

Every year Comic Relief raises a huge amount of money for good causes and Water Aid is busy every day of the year bringing clean, safe water to millions at an average rate of 200 people per hour. So this is an event well worth supporting. On Friday the whole country will be going rather bonkers for good causes and I’m looking forward to seeing Cumbria go crackers in a way that only northerners can.

It’s never been more serious.

You can sponsor the Triers via Just Giving here.

Posted in Bangladesh, British, community | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s black and blue”: How ‘that dress’ might make us more open-minded

Did it happen over night for you like it did for me?

I woke up to find a friend had written a post about a dress and why some saw it as ‘black and blue’ and others as ‘white and gold’. He often writes comical posts so I thought it was a prank – the dress was clearly black and blue. No doubt about it.

This dress is blue so why do some people see it as white?

But as I popped on Facebook during the day I saw a huge number of threads about this blasted dress. It was the same on Twitter too. The internet was, it seemed, awash with dresses. I clicked on one post explaining why this illusion works and was rather shocked, when looking at a large picture of the dress, to see it was now, very clearly, white and gold.

There was almost a heated argument when Wifey and Things I & II returned home at the end of the day. Thing I and I were adamant the dress was white and gold. Wifey was incredulous and thought we were pratting about. It was bloody obvious the dress was blue and black.

By the next day, of course, the internet was full of jokes about the picture (my favourite being the Dr Who one below) and – fickle as the internet is – criticisms and Facebook posts of how fed up everyone is about the damned thing. Who cares? seemed to be the general opinion and the fuss died down.

Dr Who dress colour

I thought nothing more about it, though I wondered if the person who took the original picture ever expected it to not just go viral but super-viral, until I came across some psychology research this morning.

Psychologist William Hart has found that optical illusions – like the dress – can actually help counter “naive realism” – people’s instinctive belief that they perceive the world how it actually is. I’ll let you read a report for yourself here (it also contains a link the research itself if you wish to explore further) but basically Hart found that combining explaining to subjects about naive realism with looking at optical illusions made them more open-minded and doubtful of their perceptions when asked to judge the character of four people presented in written form and deliberately ambiguously.

So, assuming we learn something about the psychology of perception and how we’re easily and unconsciously swayed by everything around us, looking at that ‘damned dress’ might actually be beneficial not just to us but to the whole of society. Who would have thought it?

And if you don’t believe me that you can be so easily persuaded to believe things which aren’t true, take a look at this image I came across a few days ago. The list(s) aren’t complete (there’s plenty of other things I could add to both) but the point is a good one. We’re told what to think by the media every single day. In the UK, with elections fast approaching and the politicians  throwing bucket-loads of social psychology at us to gain our vote, maybe the best thing we could do to objectively weigh up the truth of their promises is spend some time looking at dresses?

What the papers tell us

The dress, by the way, is absolutely white and gold. All other opinions are wrong. End of.

Posted in Culture, psychology | 11 Comments

Reflections on being a dog-owning writer: The first week

I’m writing this one-handed and very slowly because a certain young lady is using my other hand as a pillow. Sure enough, I’ve been up with her since 5:30 and after having a mad play session to use up some of that energy (hers, not mine. Definitely not mine) which has been building overnight I’ve finally got her back to sleep. But only on my lap.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This first week has been one of discovery (on both sides) and compromise. Surprisingly, it’s been quite productive from a writing point of view.

Asha and I have slowly developed a routine we can both live with. I’ve moved my ‘office’ to the kitchen where she lives for most of the time. I get her up first thing in the morning and, as with all her sleeps, take outside to do a ‘wee wee’. Asha is hit and miss about this, initially not having a clue what was expected of her but assuming she was missing something terribly exciting inside and so wailing like a banshee rather than actually do a wee. Of course, as soon as I’d get her inside again she’d piddle on the kitchen floor. Then, mid-week, she got it. Life was great again. Yesterday, however, now she knew what to do, she chose not to do it for some of the time – but I know her game and I will win…

Anyway, after toileting, we always have a mad, fun playing session largely involving her chasing one of her chew toys as I drag it around me until she catches it and brings it on to my lap to chew. Gradually, the play lessens until Asha and I cuddle for a bit. Within minutes she is sleeping and then I transfer her to her bed. That’s the point when I can get work done. I rush to the laptop and get writing.

I never know whether I’ll have minutes or half an hour to write so every second it precious because once Asha’s awake the whole process of toilet-play-calm-sleep begins again.

As time goes on and her bladder gets bigger these time frames should get longer. Should. I hope so anyway. But for now it seems a routine we can both live with. She gets the attention she needs and I get time to write.

On top of this, the obedience training continues apace. The girl is getting very good at sitting and she will remain sitting with the instruction of ‘stay’ allowing me to walk to the other side of the kitchen until I tell her to ‘come’. I’m starting to work on ‘heel’ this next week so we’ll see how long that takes. She really is a clever little thing though.

The focused ‘heck-I’ve-got-to-get-this-written-fast’ sessions are suiting my ADHDness very well. As long as, that is, I don’t think ‘I’ll just check Facebook quickly first of all’ or ‘I’ll just have a quick look at my emails’. That’s always a disaster. A ‘quick’ look at Facebook before I begin writing usually means just as I come off and bring up my article-in-progress I’m greeted by a cheery wagging tail and bright shiny eyes saying ‘play with me! And do it quick because I need a wee!’

My other studies and music practice, however, have gone out of the window. That’s another thing I need to introduce to the routine: leaving Asha when she’s awake for ever-lengthening periods of time. I can go to the loo – just – but little else so far. Even then, the wails echo around the house and, I very much suspect, the neighbours house too. But I’m hoping to begin leaving for short bursts quite often until I can safely go and play a Debussy Prelude on the piano or something before coming back. However, this will all be a bonus. The important thing is that the writing is back on track.

It has to be said though, when Asha is asleep she is simply the cutest creature ever. This means, of course, that sometimes – sometimes - I don’t take her off my lap when she falls asleep and transfer her to her bed. She’s just too cute to go.

Hence, this one-handed post. At least it meant I kept it short.

Posted in Life, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments