A customer came into work the other day and asked me in stilted, albeit understandable broken English if anybody in the branch spoke Bengali. As my own knowledge of language outside English consists of asking (in French) for directions to the station and a ham sandwich, I didn't feel I could offer him a great deal of help, so I trotted off to ask my colleagues.
And it was rather amazing, one colleague offered Urdu and Punjabi, another Russian, German and Armenian and the last one Hindi and Bengali (so the customer was delighted and conducted his business cheerfully in our branch.)
But... What?? They all seemed so matter of fact about their ability to speak so many languages. When I think of the blood sweat and tears of my GCSE french classes (and my terrible attempt at the accent, ooh la la...!) Its just mind boggling to me that I seem to be working among a team of geniuses. But they don't see it like that, one of them just said he was brought up bilingual and that's how he speaks two languages so fluently.
Well I thought I was doing well when I could read in one language at three years old. Imagine the confusion of being brought up in two languages. Except it wasn't confusion at all, it seems to be an eminently sensible way of doing things and its given him an excellent multilingual grounding. The linguist Noam Chomsky talks of a system in our brains called innate grammar and believes that we need to be exposed to language in our formative years if we are ever to speak it fluently. Apparently after a certain age our ability to learn a language reduces sharply... (is a second language on the primary school syllabus these days Mr Cameron?).
But it still doesn't explain why so many people are proficient in so many languages. Some of it is the parents. The non British parents have a much more enlightened view of language. A Muslim friend told me recently that she speaks two languages at home and English (her third language) outside the home. I think that's good parenting. Not that I'm criticising my own parents for not giving me a solid grounding in Urdu or Latin before I started school. It just doesn't seem to be a big thing in western culture. I didn't even start a second language until secondary school and even then it was only two hours a week. Mind you two hours of listening to Jean Pierre ask Marie Claire the way to the bibliotheque was more than enough for me. But there was no impetus, no expectation to pick the language up beyond the basics and certainly we were not helped to understand what an advantage numerous languages could be in the wider community.
I dropped all the languages I could at college and even shunned studying Theology at uni because I couldn't face the thought of studying Greek, Latin or Hebrew. Shame and in retrospect a bit of a mistake, Looking back I should have put the work in and studied where my passion was.
So now with my pitiful solitary language I'm starting to feel something of a dinosaur in a world and a community where having three or even four languages isn't considered all that unusual. And I'm feeling a bit outclassed by all these brilliant young people who can communicate so much more effectively with the diversity of the customers who come into the bank.
But you know what, my own limitations aside, I think its all rather wonderful. I think a world where a man speaking Bengali can walk into his local branch and find somebody who can comfortably speak the language with him is a pretty good world to belong to. And the sooner we catch on to the whole multi lingual thing and start making it a priority for the next generation, the better. Because you don't want your kids ending up like the Degu Witch, lost in a random French train station with nothing but a ham sandwich to her name....
Image http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1131421 (Robby_m)
We celebrated Yule as a family together yesterday. I've always been glad that we have no die hard Christians in my immediate (though entirely un blood related family). It has made it a lot easier for us to focus on Yule rather than Christmas as the principle Midwinter festival. And it means our last minute shopping is done when all the shops are open which is a bit of a blessing as my husband always manages to forget something at the last minute....
As the only practising Pagan in our group (though the rest of the family have their own individual spiritual beliefs) I wanted to make Yule a celebration of family unity as well as honouring the more traditional Yule belief of the birth of the Sun God. Yule is the festival of the Winter Solstice and marks the turning of the wheel to the longest night of the year. After Yule, we start to get a bit more daylight again. And for anybody who gets up early in the morning in Winter that is something definitely worth celebrating!
So Friday the 21st I was commuting on the train and frantically trying to write a ritual while wondering at the back of my mind whether it was actually worth the effort if the world was going to end later on that day. (It didn't unsurprisingly..) My own personal sabbat tradition is to write a little poem to celebrate the turning of the wheel and you have no idea how hard it is to pull a coherant bunch of rhymes together in a 40 min train journey while people are shouting into their mobile phones and dinging their festive ringtones in my ear. But I finally managed to produce something that I was ok offering to the Goddess.
My ritual was structured into three parts. I read my poem aloud as an offering to the Gods. Then we completed a candle ritual to symbolise and strengthen the bonds between us for the year ahead and then to conclude our ceremony I used an adaptation of an old prayer as a blessing for our home and all those starting a new year from it. It was the only solemn moment in a fun filled day but I valued the chance to share my beliefs with those I love and to make my Midwinter festival something more meaningful than just a day of enjoyment. Yule for me is a time to thank the Gods for the return to the light and the warmth. And it symbolises the message of hope - that light and happiness can follow even the darkest of times.
Anyway, the day itself was lovely, we swapped presents, cooked a lovely roast dinner with exciting gingerbread stuffing, drank way too much and ended the day in a happy pile watching Little Shop of Horrors on the TV. Great fun. Even my miserable old bag of a cat gave me a festive cuddle!
So the wheel turns. Next stop Imbolc!
(written by Deguwitchrose)
The wheel turns
The candle burns
The dark gives way to light
The God is born
Behold the dawn
As daytime follows night
Light up your flame
For the Sun God's reign
Begins on Solstice night
Shadows pushed back
Light up the black
And sunshine is in sight.
Our Home Blessing
(prayer slightly adapted by Deguwitchrose)
This is our home
Let peace dwell here
Let the rooms be full of contentment
Let love abide here
Love of one another
Love of mankind
Love of life itself
And love of the Gods
Image http://www.sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=view&id=1409522 (Krappweiss)
I actually detest christmas. I spent a lot of years pretending I like it but in all honesty I absolutely loathe and detest this time of year.
I hate all the tacky tinsel, the silly santa lights, those insane people who spend a fortune on electric turning their house into a psychedelic winter nightmare. I hate christmas music, christmas telly, santa outfits, grottos, turkey, crackers and blow up snowmen. And I chuck all christmas cards in the bin so don't bother the Degu witch with your seasonal snowy views.
I respect the Christian core beliefs but as Jesus was most definitely not born in December I'm a bit unsure why they want to celebrate it at this time of year? Bless them, they get a bit confused sometimes. And their message seems to have morphed from loving your fellow man and maybe giving him a touch of frankincense to eating, drinking and spending to excess. (I'd get that sorted New Archbish if I were you. Maybe explain to your flock that Jesus probably wouldn't have been a fan of all this consumerism. And I can't see him wearing a paper hat or playing charades either...)
And incidentally, why does christmas have to start in August? It completely spoils the Autumn for me. Mind you, I save a fortune as when tinsel makes its first appearance I stop shopping. And I wear my headphones everywhere just in case Slade makes a sudden appearance to assault my non festive ears.
I'm so vitriolic on the subject of christmas loathing that I've even been asked if I have some secret traumatic past that has scarred me into my dislike of the festive season (I suspect the person who asked had been watching too much Gremlins...) And no, not a hint of trauma in my christmas past. In fact I rather liked christmas as a child. I liked eating all the chocolates and I always got brilliant presents. I liked the fact that my mum could whip up a lego castle between cooking the christmas dinner and making me a cold turkey and stuffing sandwich after the festive showing of Mary Poppins.
I became a bit blase in my teens of course. The presents were still good but i kind of felt I'd done my share of Christmasses. And by then I'd heard enough Roy Wizzard and Mud to last me a lifetime. (Why why why do we have to listen to the same music every year. I hate it all with the single exception of Tori Amos's Midwinter Graces. Good album that. And I heard on the grapevine recently that she is pagan herself? Ill keep you posted....)
But for me the rot really set in during my early twenties. And its no coincidence at all that it coincided with my first job in retail management. Oh the stress! Tons of stock, thousands of customers, staff on holiday, everyone in a bad mood because they are all exhausted from spending too much on presents that nobody really wants. And in retail you take christmas down before the day itself. So there I was at some ungodly hour on xmas eve dismantling my tinselly snow sprayed shop window displays. I was pretty sick of the whole festive thing by the time I even got my first whiff of turkey.
And things got worse when I got into banking. So many customers getting into debt and piling thousands of pounds on their credit cards. No joy or merriment, just a load of people bowing to extreme social pressure and bankrupting themselves to buy a load of tat that will probably clutter up a cupboard somewhere. Somewhere amid the supermarket aisles of relentless unnecessary extravagance the real meaning of christmas appears to have faded away. And greed and gluttony have taken its place. Its sad really when you think about it.
And its a complete myth that christmas makes people happy, it jolly well doesn't. Even wallowing in all the greed and gluttony I see more unhappy people in December than any other time of year. Especially in the current financial climate. Telly adverts encouraging reckless spending, kids wanting a fortune spending on them (do you know a furby costs sixty pounds? SIXTY POUNDS?). And don't get me started on the masochism with brussel sprouts. What kind of country has an annual tradition of cooking the one vegetable that every sane minded person hates? And nobody likes turkey either. Not really. Not if they are honest with themselves. Its dry, bland and boring. Goose is even worse, fatty and tasteless....and so expensive.
But the thing I dislike the most about christmas is the hypocrisy. I could even stomach the tinsel without the hypocrisy. The same people who feel they can live their lives selfishly from January to November suddenly come over all holier than thou the second they get their advent calendar out. And it makes me feel a bit sick. Everything is so falsely cheerily, people suddenly start giving money to charity and helping old ladies across the street. What about the rest of the year you fickle bastards? Is that really the message your Archbish wants to get across? Be a bitch all year but its ok if you're nice in December? As someone who tries to be a decent person ALL year it makes me cross when I see this total u turn in behaviour. I secretly hope they all choke on their turkey. Or at the very least trip over their tinsel!
So all in all, for me its a tacky, stressful, financially awkward and hypocratic time of year. And I may sound like a miserable old bag (actually reading this back I really do sound like a miserable old bag) but tell you what, look me up in January and I'll be cheerful as you like knowing its at least another eight months before I have to encounter another piece of tinsel or hear some has been rock band urging me tunelessly to have a Merry Christmas. Because I didn't and I never intend to....
Cheery January wishes to you all from the Degu Witch!
Image http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1409263 (MeiTeng)
After taking rather a hard line on the whole love spell thing I find myself wondering this week if a potion or two for my own use would be helpful. Rather fortunately I don't have to compromise my principles too much as the object of my affections isn't some poor unknowing chap, it is actually my favourite cat. I have five cats, all of whom love my husband more than me. Its the only time I ever feel a twinge of the old green eyed monster. Actually I'm terrible, I go to all sorts of lengths to make the cats love me best. And I pinch cat affection off other people.
No doubt a psychiatrist would say this is fairly typical behaviour for a woman in her mid thirties with no children. And he would probably be right.
Especially with my needy greedy Didi. She brings out ever such a maternal streak in me. And I love that cantankerous pussy cat with a mother's love. But the trouble is you see that she doesn't seem all that bothered about me. My husband says he doesn't know why I'm so fond of her, I mean he loves her but he thinks she's a stroppy and self serving kitty. And she delivers far too much "pointy love" of which he bears most of the brunt. But the more misunderstood and muddled she is, the more motherly I feel. And we are now at the stage where I spend entire evenings patting the sofa and coaxing her for a cuddle or worse, sitting on the floor while she sits on the sofa and magnanamously lets me stroke her a bit.
Now philosophically there is an interesting moral angle to all this. I've said I don't like the idea of manipulating the mind of a person by magic, but is it more defensible to do it to an animal? And is it subject to all the usual issues of whether that love is genuine. And does it really matter with a cat? I wonder if I am after genuine affection from needy Didi or whether I just want a fluffy bundle to cuddle in the winter? Or worst of all, do I just want to win at the cat love game?
I wonder if I would be compromising my integrity by using magic and denying me and my cat the chance to build a mutually loving and real relationship. Its a tricky one. Already I am starting to be a bit hungry after dinner as I keep saving tasty bits to bribe her with. And I don't like eating less dinner at all.
It seems that the relationship between mummy and cat is similar to the whole man and woman thing. The more keen you seem, the more they take you for granted. And the more desperate you appear, the more they run away. I've got that sussed in my marriage (I don't let him take me for granted, lol) but until I've learned the same lesson in the world of felines I fear that I will be eating a lot less dinner and spending a lot of my evenings sitting on the floor.....
Well after my rather heavy last post I thought I would keep it a bit more light hearted today. Incidentally some strong feedback from my capital punishment blog. (Though I do wish some of you would learn to use the comments button...) Most of you agreed with me but a couple of you did comment on my rather self opinionated style of writing. Well I can't deny it, the Degu Witch is certainly opinionated. What can I say? I like being right! And let's face it, I usually am..... ;)
But in keeping with the spirit of something a little jollier I'd like to introduce you today to some of the people I follow on Twitter. Yes hidden among my fellow witches lurk some real characters and some of them really, really make me laugh. So here are a few of my favourite funny tweeters...
Roger the Degu
Roger is a poop throwing, reality tv hating degu who is determined to start the degu revolution. He says “yus” a lot. When not being tickled under the chin with a red hb pencil, Roger likes to make poop stashes in his cage and complain vociferously about the many perfumed bubble baths taken by his long suffering owner.
That Fucking Cat
Resents his owners, life and pretty much the world in general. Adopts a slightly belligerent attitude to all those who cross his path and uses some very naughty words!
Believes in the philosophy that if your cat bites you, you need to ask yourself why you are such an idiot and what you have done to deserve it!
Gin O Clock
Whoever would have guessed her Majesty's mobile would ping so constantly with questions from Nick Clegg, David Cameron and all the members of the Queen's own family. Is it any wonder that she values the time she spends with the gin bottle so much?
PigeonJon likes to express himself by plopping on celebrities. He enjoys finding portions of what he refers to as “pavement soup” and offers regular excellent, if slightly obvious, advice on the lines of: “If you do not want to be shopping on Christmas Eve, do not leave your shopping until Christmas Eve.” Can't fault his logic!
He also “does the face” but nobody has ever been able to work out what that actually means....
The ghost lives with a family and likes to float things around to annoy them. He has a “gang” comprised of himself, the cat, the fish and the dog (he hates the dog). The ghost also has a bit of a breast fixation and spends a lot of time watching the woman in the shower....
Unfortunately he isn't as scary as he would like to be and he isn't too bright either, managing to mistake a pizza with a slice missing for pac man....
In his own words ......“I like sausages. And every night I get drunk. Then I kick my neighbour's bin over. Naked. Any questions?”
A somewhat aggressive rodent with a penchant for alcohol and disorderly conduct. One rather hopes the oft referred to Future Mrs Furious will keep him in line. His recent answer to an advent calendar was kicking down his next door
Neighbour's door to look at his Christmas tree.
The beast is obsessed with the acquisition of cake and frequently finds itself up against the law for harassing local bakeries. Beast thinks its a bit of an intellectual whizz but everybody else thinks its a bit of a berk! The beast is a bristly, stout and rather unappealling creature who wants to be like the ladies in Dallas and spends a lot of time wearing silky nighties and polishing its trotters. Beast always refers to itself in the third person and is kind of gender neutral albeit with a desire to be an ultra feminine pink clad lady beast.
I'm involved in a debate at the moment that has produced some pretty strong opinions on both sides. The death penalty is a contentious enough issue in itself but adding the question of paedophilia into the mix seems to fan the flames to heated hysteria. So I thought I'd explain my thoughts on the matter to you all.
The thing is that I don't believe in capital punishment at all. Death is not an axe to be wielded in the hands of arbitary earth based justice. Matters of life and death are best left to the Gods. I also think it is the one punishment we can't go back on if we get it wrong. And I believe very firmly that absolutely anybody can be rehabilitated and supported into a better life.
Paedophilia is the crime of the moment. Two thousand years ago it wasn't even a crime, possibly in the future it will cease to warrant its current hysteria. I'm still baffled by how wide the sex offenders list casts its net. Do we really think that some lusty sixteen year old lad having a quick bonk with his consenting fifteen year old girlfriend is in the same league as a thirty year old molesting a ten year old? We need to understand what paedophilia actually is and stop jumping on the bandwagon of indignation and fury at the mention of the word.
I consider myself pretty fortunate. I was born into a body with a good old normal sexual desire for other adults. This makes it very easy for me to find a socially acceptable partner. But how hard would it have been to have been born a paedophile, to have desires that the rest of the world shuns and hates you for, to be isolated within your own mind with no outlet for your frustrations. I don't think its any wonder that these people eventually crack. Society offers them nothing but self righteous condemnation. I'd be prepared to bet good money that if we offered a bit more support and a bit less moral outrage we would see the level of actual sex offences drop. And that's got to be good news for everybody.
I am assured by a fellow debater that paedophiles always reoffend and are incapable of being rehabilitated. Well that just isn't true. There are charities that work on integrating these people back into a normal life. And with support (and that's from people like you and me, people with no sexual interest at all in children but who care enough about humanity to break the isolation of these people and befriend them) they have a pretty good success rate of preventing reoffence.
Now I'm not saying we can get to the stage where we can remove the actual desires of a paedophile (possibly controversially I'm not even sure if I would approve of that kind of brain washing anyway) but what we can do is support them in not acting on those desires. I maintain there is nothing at all wrong in what goes on in the privacy of your own head, the danger to children only comes when these thoughts are acted on. So the focus needs to be on providing paedophiles with the education and support to prevent them from acting on what is to them a natural impulse. I believe this can be done, the support charities believe it can be done and I'd like you to prise your own minds open a crack and have some faith that these people can overcome their own base natures and live in the world without causing harm to others.
Your own head is your own business. And I think we have to be very very careful about making any kind of moral judgement on a person's thoughts. We're a whisker away from Orwell's 1984 thought crimes here. What a man thinks doesn't matter, our concern has to be with that he does. (Our legal system reflects this, to be convicted of a crime there needs to be evidence of an act, the actus reus and the intent, the mens rea. The intent or desire on its own is non culprable. I'd like to think our morality could run along similar principles.). And let's not forget that the vast majority of paedophiles never harm anyone, they keep their impulses under control and to themselves. I do hope nobody is advocating that we go out and execute these people as well on the basis that they “might” commit a crime...
So if we believe paedophiles can be rehabilitated we can't use protection of society as an excuse to execute them. Which begs the question of what we would have to gain with execution. I suppose supporters of social justice might see it as punishment. But death is not a punishment and should not be used for that purpose. Everybody is going to die and by using it as a penalty for crime we endow death with a fear it doesn't deserve. Death is just the next step on the journey.... (I've a terrible feeling I'm paraphrasing Professor Dumbledore here...)
One of the principles of judicial sentencing is deterrence, the idea that having a justice system with penalties deters other people from offending. Well make your minds up! Either paedophiles cannot help but act on their urges in which case the deterrence of capital punishment becomes pointless or they can choose not to act on their urges in which case it is worth rehabilitating them. You can't have it both ways!
You know what I think? Well I think people call for the death penalty for two reasons. Firstly there is the distaste for the crimes some paedophiles have committed. The vigilante brigade are unable to overcome their revulsion so come over all sanctimonious and start baying for blood. Not a very humane attitude (and those of you who are Christians, do you think Jesus would have agreed with you? He seemed like a pretty compassionate chap to me. I bet he would have been helping to support those paedophiles not clamouring for their execution...)
And the other reason? Well I think its fear. Its like the old witchcraft hysteria, its accuse rather than be accused. Its the whole you've got to be for or against mentality. And its bloody dangerous.
Its all also pretty cowardly. Some of you need to get off your soap boxes, stop treating paedophiles as monsters and start seeing them for what they are, - unfortunate people who were born with desires that nobody would ever choose to be born with, people on the margins of an increasingly judgemental society and who with help can become no more of a threat to children than you or I.
And a bit of compassion goes a long way.
Image taken from Facebook. Unable to credit as can't make out TM. Will credit if advised.
When I am asked for guidance in spiritual matters, the primary and most crucial advice I can give is to know yourself. Everything else can grow from your understanding of who you are. When I started my own spiritual journey, I had a strong sense of identity but found it difficult to reconcile the different parts of who I was into a single cohesive whole. And its hard isn't it. How many hats do you wear? Balancing the different roles we have to fulfill can be a mine field. I'm a wife, witch, bank manager, daughter, friend, aunt, spiritual counsellor, romantic novelist...the list goes on. And I found that although I understood each of the parts that made me up, I didn't initially see how they could harmonise together and enable me to move smoothly from one hat to another without feeling I was playing a part or acting to the gallery.
So I had to excavate beyond the surface of each of my hats and find the common ground, the core elements that remained consistent in whatever situation I was in and whatever hat I was wearing. It takes a lot of self honesty to look at yourself in a critical light, evaluate your strengths and hidden weaknesses and understand yourself as a person beyond every layer of self protection that we all wear as our personal suit of armour. But under all those layers is a truth, your truth and in my case, my truth. And those integral elements of who we are allow us to understand the person behind the hats. Once I discovered that, the hats became easier to wear, it didn't feel like an identity exchange, just focusing on a different aspect of myself for the situation at hand. And because I started to understand my own personality I learned what I could compromise on and what it was crucial to stick fast to at all cost. And in learning this, I achieved an integration of my discordant parts and a unity of the different aspects of my personality.
The hardest part of my journey was sharing this honest and unified personality with other people. I've always been rather content to be written off as a bit superficial, its suited me very well over the years to be honest. I'm a bit ambivalent about sharing personal things with other people. But the next stage of my journey is taking me further down a path of spiritual direction and supporting others and I can't follow that path unless I can demonstrate the self honesty that I am promoting to other people.
And its important for those who come to ask me for advice and guidance that you know I'm not a cardboard cut out quoting excerpts from the Wikipedia. Its important for you to identify me as someone who has had their own ups and downs and struggled with their own journey and their own spiritual path at times. My advice wouldn't be worth having if you didn't know that I've been where you are now and worked out a way to go forward.
Image http://www.sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=view&id=1395333 (Xmeltrut)
Its probably inevitable that whenever you get a group of women together, the conversation always ends up morphing into a discussion on weight. We really are fascinated with the whole concept of being overweight. We compare dress sizes, waist measurements, pounds, kilos, ounces, bpi and even body fat content. It is safe to say that women have something of an obsession with the whole subject. (I'm not being sexist here by the way, its just that I have no idea what groups of men talk about when they are on their own. I always presumed it was golf or cricket, but I could well be wrong, maybe they swap diet tricks with just as much enthusiasm as the girls. Not being a man, I will probably never know...)
The thing that always interests me is how many excuses women make for being overweight. Its all about thyroids, slow metabolism, no time to exercise... Wrong kind of foods... I've even heard chubby because doesn't eat enough! The one thing I never hear is overweight because they eat too much....
Well, always being one to swim against the tide, I'm going to confess something here. The reason I am a (generously underestimating here..) British size eighteen is simply because I eat too much. I do, its true! And I don't do it because of psychological problems or comfort eating or any of those other excuses. No, I eat too much because, simply, I like food. I like all food the good, the bad and the very bad. I like that lovely feeling of fullness after a delicious meal and wine. Yes - and while I'm in confession mode, not only do I eat too much, I drink too much too! Not enough for the doctor to start raising eyebrows but enough for the scales to groan a bit harder on the weekly weigh in. And why do I drink too much? Yep, nothing to do with blotting out problems, its because I really really like the taste of wine. I don't look for the answers to life at the bottom of a wine bottle, I just enjoy emptying it.
So basically, what I am saying is I am not a size eight because I am fundamentally greedy.
Now I like to practice self honesty and have to admit that if I lost thirty pounds and dropped to a size fourteen, I would probably look more attractive than I do now. Not that I don't do my hair nice and wear lots of make up, but slimmer my features would stand out more and I could fit into slinky little black numbers.. No fox and sour grapes here, slimness is not something I don't want, its just that I don't want it enough. I don't want to give up all my lovely meals, sneaky little lunchtime pasties and bold red wines. I don't want to cut down on cheese or cream or (Goddess forbid) chocolate! I don't want the hassle of calorie counting, I don't fancy stinking of cabbage soup and I don't want to join those sad ladies lunching on half a lettuce leaf with a brave but miserable expression on their faces.
I'm lucky really because my doctor and my husband have both worked out that there is no point pussy footing around with me. To get the message I really do need to be likened to a hippopotamus. Telling me I've gained a pound or two just doesn't do the trick...
So my husband always has to point out when it really has to be time to diet (occasionally I lose twenty pounds and then have all the fun of putting it back on again...) I always know he's serious when he switches from using words like overweight to using the f word. The three letter f word that causes far more upset than its four lettered friend. Yes, when that word makes its appearance even this wobbly witch has to concede it might be time to cut down for a while...
But let's look on the bright side, he hasn't said it yet, so I will raise a toast with my bottle of shiraz and cornish pasty and enjoy the good times until I'm (temporarily at least) back on the lettuce leaves!
The headline article on the BBC news website the other day stated that 1 in 10 people in Britain are now officially unemployed. That’s a pretty bleak statistic. I’m sure our Conservative government (who I didn’t vote for, I’m a Labour lass through and through) would like to tell us its all down to people being too lazy to look for jobs but that attitude, though typical of them, really isn’t very helpful and more importantly, its wrong.
To be honest they’d do better making the Degu Witch Prime Minister because I can tell them in one sentence why so many people haven’t got jobs – we keep giving the jobs to machines instead.
The last few years has seen the introduction of the self service till. I have a real problem with these machines, in fact I truly hate them. They never work (especially yours Tesco, yours get my vote for being the worst. Actually I’m avoiding your shops full stop at the moment. I read the book “Tescopoly” recently and discovered that you are a truly immoral organisation. And I’ve cut up my club card as well, I’ve heard the tales about you stalking your customers. You can stuff your money off coupons where the sun’s rays fail to penetrate).
Anyway, these self service tills give my poor husband high blood pressure (and he’s a pretty laid back kind of chap. Goddess alone knows what they’d do to my Father, I can only assume Mum doesn’t let him use them….). And they drive my own blood pressure up too when they insist on telling me I’ve put an illegal item in the bagging area. I bloody haven’t put an illegal item in the bagging area - I’ve put an almond croissant in the bagging area. Its hardly a bag of cocaine. I’m getting cross just thinking about it.
And some of the darn things even tell me to have a nice day. Imagine, the insincerity of a machine wishing you a nice day! But these hopeless (and frankly rude) machines seem to be the future of customer service. Obviously spending money employing a real person seems to be a thing of the past where most companies are concerned….
Mind you, the machines themselves aren’t the worst of it. What worries me is how, while the machines are slowly being programmed to emulate humans, at the same time the humans are being trained to be nothing but machines. Think about it. Think about that poor soul on the (probably Tesco) counter asking if you’d like a hand with your packing. (No, I don’t, I’m only buying a bottle of orange squash, I can stick it in a bag myself.) That cashier is a person, she has feelings and emotions and ideas, she’s probably an interesting person to go to the pub with. And unlike the self service machines she can think. So why do the supermarkets insist on treating her as nothing but a robot and giving her a script of only three sentences to say? Where’s the benefit? To the company? They obviously think they are promoting good service. Well I’ll tell you this, it isn’t good service. I’ve actually stopped shopping at Boots because I got so annoyed with being pestered for an advantage card. (Every time I went in I had to justify why I haven’t got one. I’m then always told they will “validate your receipt”. I don’t even know what that means and what is more I don’t care. In the end I got so fed up I just stopped going there. And that’s bad luck for you Boots, I buy a lot of make up!).
And how does it benefit the cashier? She looks bored stiff because she is bored stiff. If you gave her a bit of leeway to interact with people naturally, she’d probably have a lot to say. But sat there asking for the millionth time if people with one item would like help with their packing is destroying her soul bit by bit. She just wants to go home and get the hell away from it all. I bet she recites that flipping script in her sleep.
And me as a customer? Treating me the same as every other customer in the queue robs me of my identity. I don’t feel valued, to be honest I feel patronised. I feel I have accidentally stepped into a mechanical world where I am coerced into using the same kind of scripted language as the long suffering cashier. I’m being moved through the system as efficiently as possible so the company’s profits can mount up as quickly as possible. And I’m frustrated because the experience is so drearily impersonal.
I don’t know where it is all going to end up. Already I can go into town and do my shopping and banking without speaking to a single human being. I can navigate my way round the shopping centre with interactive information boards. I can book my cinema tickets with an automated telephone system. Should I at the end of all this soulless hobnobbing with technology want to end up killing myself, they’ve probably got an automated helpline for that somewhere. Some robot offering counselling and emotional support…. Maybe not yet but I bet that’s the way its going... They’ve even talked about automated teaching. I don’t want my niece taught by a computer, I want her taught by a stern man with a bushy beard (like Mr Duffett who scared me witness as a child but my goodness did I get my sums right in his class…).
Secretly I’d like to go back to the 1950s. I’d like a shopkeeper to chat about dinner recipes with. I’d like to be spoken to human to human rather than human to machine or even worse machine to machine. I’d like the world to slow down a bit, forget maximum efficiency and value a little social interaction instead. And I’d like to see people talking to each other instead of bawling into those interminable mobile phones.. (actually that whole mobile phone subject is worth its own rant on another day).
So my mission at the moment is to make sure I treat people as individuals. I’m breaking out of the script mould, at home, at work and most of all in the supermarket. I’m a one woman crusade against the machines and a lone voice in the wilderness desperately hoping that one day some of these companies might just start to understand what customer service actually means. (Even you Tesco, but in your case I won’t hold my breath).
Image http://www.sxc.hu/photo/827556 (Thadz)
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