Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Relief is a One Way Ticket.

Yesterday my son landed at Heathrow on a one-way ticket.
For the past six years he has been working in ex-Soviet countries, first Russia, and more recently Kazakhstan, but now he is back in England, in the sunshine, jogging in Hyde Park, and even having a bit of a lie-down on the fresh spring grass.
I haven't actually seen him.

I hope I have always supported my sons in their careers and life-styles, and been proud of their adventurous spirits, but until today I did not fully appreciate the cost of having off-spring quite so far out of reach.
I realised the effect of this because I went to the dentist this morning and very nearly fell asleep in the chair. Even while I was being de-plaqued and polished, I nearly nodded off.
Then I came home and fell asleep in the sunshine in the garden. Now I am awake and a sort of dull mahogany colour with sparkling teeth, which is really quite unnerving.

I never do these things; dozing off during the day, but I suddenly realise - the relief is immense. Vast. As vast as the distance between here and Central Asia.
And now I can barely put one foot in front of the other, so I sit stretched out, like the Pasque flowers on my rock garden.

I hope I never let it be known, this low-level anxiety. The one thing I have always believed in is giving my children freedom, but this in itself can create in them a feeling that I may not care enough. Such a tightrope, such a delicate balance. As a parent you can but do your very best and hope it is enough, hope you are giving the right messages.

Yesterday, when my son telephoned with news of his arrival on English soil, I said something of how relieved I was, something of the anxiety, which was always made so much more complex by the need to have visas.
'I was always concerned,' I said, 'That you might suddenly need me and I wouldn't be able to come straight away.'
'Yes, Mum,' he said. 'I might have needed emergency trouser repairs.'

Which puts it all into the right perspective, somehow!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Like a Virgin.

The broadband service obtained via Virgin Media became slower, and slower, and slower and virtually packed itself up. This was some weeks ago. I was left without Internet access for several weeks, because at first I thought it was my computer and it cost me £50 to confirm that it wasn't.
Fair enough.
But then Virgin Media told me there would be a charge of £170 to call out an engineer if that same engineer decided it was not a Virgin Media problem after all.
On the advice of the computer technician who had identified the problem I decided to change to BT broadband. He knew of other people in this area who had experienced the same problem of Virgin Media service slowing to a standstill, and had the same problem of the threatened call-out charge.
Fair enough, still?

I did the right things. Virgin Media supplied the MAC code to enable the change, and the process went ahead with only a few glitches.
Then I received a message from Virgin Media Payments, saying I owed them just over £30, about £6 for telephone calls, the remainer as a cancellation fee. I wrote back, enclosing a cheque for the £6 worth of calls, although I did point out that these were incurred by making calls to their Customer Services department, where I received repetitious, inaccurate information. I also pointed out that, according to Virgin Media's own terms and conditions, the cancellation fee did not apply in my case, as the MAC code had been supplied by them and used in the setting up of the new account.
Still fair enough?

No, apparently not.
This letter was deemed to be a Complaint, and was sent from Virgin Media Payments to Customer Complaints. I have now been promised someone who will take personal ownership of my complaint, attempt to resolve it in full, and make contact with me within two weeks. They want me to be a happy Virgin again.
Unfortunately no one at Virgin Media Customer Complaints seems to be in contact with Virgin Contact Management who, within six days of my letter and cheque, are threatening to send The Boys round to collect what they reckon to be their money from me, in person, at my home.

I telephoned Contact Management, explaining that someone in the same firm, different department, was investigating the situation. Was it reasonable, I wondered, to threaten in this way while a complaint was being investigated? Especially as I had paid what I actually owed?
Could I be given any sort of guarantee that these threats against me (there are more than just sending in The Boys) would not be implemented while there was an investigation apparently in process?
No, there are no guarantees. It's standard Virgin practice, I was told.

I am a fairly articulate 72 year old, living alone, but with two very large sons, one of whom is a lawyer, and the other with amazing strength gained by wild-water swimming. Both of them are exceptionally tall.
Don't mess with My Boys, Virgin Media.

But even I, with all these assets, feel threatened by the idea of a stranger arriving on my doorstep, demanding money. It is ridiculous to fear a knock on the door in the evening, but I do now.
And if I can be made to feel this over £24 which I reckon I don't owe anyway, what must more vulnerable people feel?
It is tempting to simply pay to get rid of the bullies. This is how bullies always work, by frightening people into submission.

So I write this nasty little cautionary tale on behalf of others who are bullied and frightened into submission, while I try not to be so myself.

Six hours after publishing this I received a message from Virgin Media Customer Complaints to say that I no longer owe them any money.
Thank you, Customer Complaints, but have you told Virgin Media Contact Management this, or is there still a risk of The Boys coming round to visit and attempt to collect payment?

And, just for the record, I didn't owe you any money in the first place.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Now and Then

It must have been about twenty years ago that I was given this mug. Best Mum in the World it says around the rim. It's chipped now, but still sits beside my desk, holding a selection of working tools. A precious relic, even if my sons, then aged about ten and thirteen, slightly marred things by telling me it was from the dogs.
There are other valued relics in a drawer, cards probably made under a certain duress at playgroup and primary school, later cards with entertaining poems and messages:
We promise we will not fight all day
'day' deleted, 'this morning' inserted.
'promise' deleted and 'try not to' inserted.
Flowers hastily felt-tipped over the deletions.
They were wise even in those early years, not making promises that were well-nigh impossible to keep.

In my own childhood Mothering Sunday started off with a damp fistful of celandines artfully arranged in an eggcup, placed on a breakfast tray with lukewarm tea and burned toast, carried gingerly into my parents' bedroom where my mother waited in trepidation for the whole lot to slide into her lap.

These are the things that I remember most vividly; the hand-made things that take effort and time and thought. These things are so compatible with the early traditions, domestic servants being given a bit of a break in the middle of Lent, the opportunity to go home for a quick visit, taking a few flowers along the way.

Later for me came some beautiful bouquets, thoughtfully, expensively sent - and my subsequent protests against commercialisation of a basically lovely old tradition. (But thank you all the same, my sons.)
Later, for my mother too, came more expensive gifts, meals out and other appreciations of her mothering, but after her death I found a ribbon-tied packet of hand-made cards from me, including a graphic depiction of the Titanic:
'Happy Mother's Day Mummy, and I hope you like this boat'.
She obviously did.

So, Happy Mothers' Day to all mothers and mothers-to-be who have yet to appreciate the joys of the hand-made card, the hand-picked flowers and the soggy breakfast tray.
These are the treasures that will out-live the commercialisation.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

It's Raining Men.....

I have always believed in a basic equality of the sexes. Both men and women are capable of changing nappies, cooking a meal, driving a car, fitting a plug, earning a living, doing a bit of grouting.
And then my horizon changes.

I need men as I have never needed them previously, but I must immediately qualify that by saying that what I need is the physical strength that men represent.
Whatever happened?
I'm a mere seventy-two years old, and suddenly I have trouble getting the top off a child-proof bottle.

So I face facts and admit that I'm weak, not because I'm female, but because I'm old. I know quite a few men who can't get the top off a child-proof bottle of paracetamol - and they are old too.

I face facts and pay for the tough jobs, like emulsioning ceilings and painting guttering twenty feet up in the air, and I pay men to do them because there are not so many willing and able women.

Then I really have to bite the bullet and pay a lot of money to have a chimney relined. I admit that I am not able to haul a great sinuous length of stainless steel up on to the roof and slot it down the chimney.
Would I ever have been able to do it?
Would I ever have wanted to do it?
Possibly yes, when I was under thirty years of age and could have saved myself a thousand pounds by doing so.
Was I ever capable of doing it?
Almost certainly not. I would have cracked a load of slates and probably fallen off the roof in the attempt. But I just might have considered myself capable.

Now, mellowing into old age, I am becoming prepared to admit my limitations, my slight helplessness, my wimpish femininity.
A geriatric girlie, at last.