Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Thanks Lisa, and Sorry

In my previous post ranting about BT, I said what I'd like the nice people from BT to say to me.

Eventually I got a very nice woman from BT, Lisa, who was able to handle my case properly. She couldn't fix the underlying issue or restore my overall faith in BT, but she was able to say more or less all the things I wanted BT to say, and provide good customer service. Indeed at one point Lisa said to me that I shouldn't have had to go through such an "ordeal", and that was her word, not mine.

So I want to say Thanks Lisa.

Also Sorry, because I promised to give her positive feedback through their commenting system, but it took me a month to get round to it and the link had expired.  So I didn't get the chance to tell BT that Lisa had handled the case very well.

So Thanks Lisa, and Sorry.

Actually there's another reason for saying Sorry, I'm worried that I might be making BT Care's job harder because I want to say this to anyone having problems with BT. Get in touch with BTCare because you have to wait a few days, but then you get somebody who actually handles the case instead of doing whatever it is everybody else in BT "Customer Service" does.

To BT as a whole, I would say this: make all of your customer service like BT Care. People who provide customer service and handle the cases. Whatever it is you are doing at the minute .... does. not. work.

Incidentally, for those following my adventures, it looks like we really can get internet TV at our address now, but I can't face doing that through BT, and the only other company who does it is ... TalkTalk. So I don't think so.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

What I want the nice man from BT to tell me after they mis-sold me TV three times

19 September 2015

The first time BT mis-sold me TV was when they brought fibre-to-the-cabinet to my address.


We signed up immediately for the best possible BT broadband service, and added whichever TV package happened to be appropriate. They sent out a tv box and we waited for the broadband to work. 

The broadband worked. The tv didn't. I mean the freeview bit worked but none of the channels that come through the internet did. 

Obviously lots of calls to helplines.

On one of those a very nice and helpful lady upsold me onto a different package, explaining that would fix the problem. I mean, odd but ok, I would get nice tv.

I didn't. 

So that was the second time I was mis-sold TV by BT. 

Eventually after a lot of calls, it turned out that no, they were unable to supply internet TV at all at our address. It turns out that there is a thing called "fibre multicast" which our cabinet did not support.  (As an aside, yes this means that if you have the better broadband at our address you can't get BT TV, while if you have ADSL broadband you can.) 

I had paid a £35 installation fee which was pointless, but I never complained about that because they had given me what has been serving as a fairly nice freeview box, so fair enough. 

So yeah, my first week or so as a BT broadband customer involved being mis-sold tv twice. 

They told me they would call back in a couple of months when it was available. 

Well they never called back, but it turns out that is the only good thing they ever did, because for the next year and more I occasionally checked their website and (to be fair) they never offered to sell me a tv package as it was not available at my address. I also checked a publicly available broadband checker, and the date for fibre multicast kept being pushed back. It seemed like it was due to come every two months, until about a week before the end of the month when it would go back a couple of months. 

I happened to check it on July 31, 2015, and amazingly, it was available!

So I logged onto the website and sure enough they were prepared to sell me BT TV. This meant I could watch the Ashes without having to use Sky TV.  For some reason they were only prepared to sell me the ultra-hd package, which I didn't need, and this came with a £44 engineer charge, which was unnecessary because I had already laid the ethernet cable to my tv.  But ok, and the ultra-hd box comes with a nice large hard drive.

So the great day came at the start of August and the engineer came round. He was delighted not to have to do anything except plug in the box. First of all he installed the wrong box, a non ultra-hd one, and then he installed the correct one. The TV didn't work, but he said that was because he installed the wrong box first, and it would work soon. 

It didn't. 

So I booked a second engineer visit for the Monday.  He walked in the door and within about a minute said: nope, you are not getting tv and you are not going to get it until at least September 30. The fibre multicast at my cabinet is not getting installed until at least then. Or indeed for any other cabinet in the postcodes KY14, KY15 or KY16.

I rang up BT to complain while he was here and put the engineer on to talk to them. They accepted finally that indeed I had been sold tv that wouldn't work. Since it was going to start working on September 30 (maybe) I agreed to hang on until then on the basis I wouldn't pay for tv services until then.  I got a note of the complaint reference number.  I unplugged the new box and put it away so that it would be clean if I ever needed to return it - if the tv service never started for example.

And yes, that was the third time I was mis-sold BT TV. For some reason, they had falsely believed that they would be able to supply me with broadband TV, but they were not able to.  

For some weird reason I thought that I wouldn't get charged until the end of September - because they had told me that. 

Until I checked the bill today and discovered I'd been charged the £44 and lots of money for the TV services that I'd never received.  And that I never had any possibility of receiving, because our cabinet can't supply it, and there has never been a single day since it was installed that it was able to supply this address with TV over fibre-to-the-cabinet. Oh, and unsurprisingly the date has moved again from September 30 to October 30. 

So I rang up to complain again. Well actually first I tried the online chat thing, but it turns out that he wasn't able to help with billing so they got billing to ring me up. Which meant of course starting with the explanation again. 

Both the chat guy and the woman on the phone told me that the fault had been resolved. I.e. they thought I was getting TV. Even though this - as I might have made clear - is impossible. So after raising a complaint it had been logged as resolved, and they started charging me for a service which (have I mentioned this?) they are not able to supply.

The woman I talked to took a very long time to understand that we can't get tv. She kept telling me she would put me onto another package. Eventually she went off to talk to some techie people, and when she came back she accepted that we couldn't get BT TV at this address.  

At that point she finally agreed that it would be reasonable to cancel my tv, I could return the box, and she would refund all the tv charges after installation. But I would still have to pay £44 for the installation where the guy came and installed the wrong box, then the right box, then told me it would work soon when it never did. When I said that was unacceptable, she said I had to pay it because I had had 14 days to cancel it after ordering on the net. I suppose I could have cancelled it, but I had been told I was going to start getting the service on September 30, and (I'm good with a calendar) the end of September is more than 14 days after the start of August. (If they had not promised this then obviously I would have cancelled it way back then.) She said that she couldn't authorise the refund of the £44, but could flag it up to the manager, which means being called back on Monday because he doesn't work weekends. So now I'm waiting to be called back. 

So for clarity this is my complaint towards BT TV.
  1. I've been mis-sold BT TV three times. Three times I have agreed to take on the service in exchange for money, and three times BT has failed to supply it. 
  2. BT has claimed the fault as resolved even though it wasn't - as another part of BT was able to confirm.
  3. I've been explicitly told that I would not pay TV fees until the end of September, then been charged those fees. 
  4. BT has claimed I should pay an installation fee for a service that (I may have mentioned this) had zero chance of ever working. 
  5. In the process of mis-selling me TV three times and failing to resolve the issue, I've spent much time on engineer visits which did me no good, and lots of time on the phone and chat line, trying to resolve the issue.
But actually what really galls me is not so much the catalogue of incompetence and mistakes, but the fact that there is no history there. Somehow it seems to me that when a company sells you a product three separate times that they can't supply, the company should kind of have it recorded that they are treating this customer very badly, and if something goes wrong please be very nice to the customer. Instead of which, this morning I had a BT TV rep trying to tell me I needed a different TV package, which would have been the fourth time I'd been mis-sold if I hadn't firmly told her I can't get TV - and when she checked she confirmed this. 

And that's why I've written this blog post. And also so the manager can read it on Monday instead of me explaining everything yet again. 

So, Dear Manager, Hi!  

What would I like you to say to me? Something like this:
  1. Obviously BT will  refund the £44 that we should never have charged because our systems incorrectly thought we could supply a service that we couldn't.
  2. BT will take back the commitment we make new TV customers make to at least another year calls+broadband because that was undertaken as a result of mis-selling.
  3. As a no-fault ex-gratia gesture of apology we will do this nice thing for you, because when we say we are sorry for mis-selling and then charging you after promising not to, we actually mean it.
Update: 21 Sep 2015

Following was originally a comment by me but now I've started updating the post so it makes more sense to go here.

Ok for those of you following this adventure, the manager rang up in the advertised slot. I mentioned this blog post but I got the impression he didn't read it. He did quickly agree to refund the engineer visit. He said he couldn't cancel the termination condition of the contract but said he would add a note on the account that if we cancel early we shouldn't be charged a termination fee.

So that - more or less - deals with the key points 1 & 2.

I did emphasise that while it was good that the immediate issues were dealt with, I'm still extremely unhappy with the way I have been treated with lots of inconvenience and mis-selling. He promised me a letter of apology, and I guess I will have to wait to see what it says before I can judge whether point 3 is satisfied or not.

I can certainly imagine accepting the apology - it's hard to imagine what BT can do to make me want to stay with them instead of waiting the minimum possible time before looking for a broadband supplier with customer service.

Update: 22 Sep 2015

So yesterday I talked to the manager, and you can see my reaction immediately afterwards above.

A few minutes later I got two emails about refunds. One was for £44 for the engineer visit. The other one was for £8.48. Which was a weird amount as we'd paid just over £52 in TV fees. I thought maybe the rest was coming.

Well 24 hours later nothing had happened. So I rang up again. A perfectly polite person I talked to said that the other refund (of about £44) was not there yet. When I asked if it had been issued he couldn't tell me. Obviously this is not his fault, but BT was literally unable to tell me whether or not the refund promised to me yesterday had been acted on.  He seemed to think I was being unreasonable in wanting him to be able to confirm or deny that the refund promised yesterday was in chain or not (obviously I can see it might take a while to process, I just wanted to know if it was in process.)

This agent verbally guaranteed that the full amount would be refunded on my next bill. He also said he would contact the manager who promised the refund to find out if the rest had been issued, and then email me the answer.

But it does seem to me that if a refund has been promised it should show up in their system (even if not actually credited to my bill yet).  If that is not the case it's a horrific systems failure.

Let's remember the summary: I have been mis-sold tv three times. The last time I was promised I would not be charged for a few months. I was charged. Then (yesterday) I was promised a refund. Today BT cannot even tell me whether or not that promise has been fulfilled.

The agent also asked what he thought BT could do to make me happy. All I could say was to let me get out of their clutches as soon as possible. Which (I didn't say this) means waiving any future commitment (we did commit to a year in about May), and also it would be nice to get an actual refund instead of a credit to our account.

Actually I can think of something BT could do. Remember that I am only a BT broadband customer because I expected to get TV. My daughters would still like BT TV. Since you can't deliver it via FTTC, why not lay another phone line to my house and give us BT TV via ADSL, obviously at no cost to me except ongoing TV charges?

Please please please, somebody from BT read this either tell me I've been badly let down, or if not let us conclude that the way I've been treated is par for BT customer service. Comments are open.

Update 23 September

It's 24 hours on and no information about my refund. It might exist, it might not. I never got an email from the representative I talked to yesterday - the one who thought it was unreasonable for me to try to find out if a refund had been actioned or not.

I did get one email from BT about the TV service though. It offered me an upgrade for my existing service for three months for a cheap price. Brilliant! I mean I know it's a generic email, but it is quite amusing. Amusing, though still incompetent, since it was targeted at me as a customer, so they should have known I can't get it.

I did decide to dig out the three confirmations of the three times I've been mis-sold BT TV... so for your enjoyment here they are (click for larger versions).


The first two are from June 2014, the third from July 2015.

Although my current upset dates from the last occasion, in many ways I find the first one the most interesting. I was never charged the £7.50 per month, I assume because somewhere in BT's system they figured out I couldn't get TV. But I was never notified of this and given the chance to change. And indeed before any human at BT told me I couldn't get TV, the middle order was enacted.

So yeah, I've finally realised I became a BT broadband customer after a bait-and-switch. I took it on the basis we could get TV, and not only has it never been available but BT never told me about the switch. Well actually, that's not true, since eventually in June 2014 a technical support person told me I couldn't get TV, and they admitted the second order (not the first) was mis-selling. But BT took an order (the first one) and never informed me they couldn't fulfil the order until after everything was installed, and I was committed by inertia to their broadband product.

So it's not just BT TV I was mis-sold three times, I was mis-sold BT Broadband as well.

Update 23 September 2015 (2)

Just had a call from a member of the @BTCare team.  I tweeted this blog post and eventually they asked me to contact them and eventually they got back to me.

It was a pleasure to talk to somebody from BT who had actually read this blog post. Of course she said that obviously the refund should have been actioned immediately on Saturday without me having to go through managers and figure it out.

We had quite a long discussion about exactly what the refund should be. It turns out, for example that a line of -£30 for rental adjustment on my last bill was actually an earlier attempt to make good the lack of supply of TV - but then I was never told in person or email about this. I'd seen the line in the bill but had no idea what it was. So in fact I had been partially refunded but not yet completely. The BTCare person is going to email me exactly what they think they have charged and refunded so we can compare notes to make sure we agree what the refund situation is.

Actually the exact details of the refund are not critical to me - I'm sure we can resolve that between us. What is probably most important to me is that she said she has taken ownership of this and I will have her contact details. This is what is most frustrating about dealing with BT customer services. It's not that you don't always get the answer you want (inevitable), or even that quite often the answers are completely wrong (unfortunate but we are all human). What is most frustrating is the fact that you are always starting from a blank slate, and can never talk to somebody who you have previously talked to.

I did take the chance to emphasise that actually the refund issue should never have even come up, and while I'm sure it can be resolved, I'd also like at least some gesture about the fact that I'm a broadband customer on the basis of mis-selling, even though I don't expect them to be able to supply TV.

So I'm feeling a lot happier, and mainly because, as I just said, I feel like I have a contact who knows the situation and what things I am and am not worried about, rather than just hitting whichever sequence of buttons gets me off the phone.

Update 3 November 2015

Wrote a new blog post with a brief update and to say Thanks to Lisa from BT Care, and Sorry.

Friday, 26 June 2015

We need to make it all about her, not all about him

I want to discuss what I think is the fundamental problem about the Tim Hunt sexist remarks situation.  

I should mention straight away that I'm now going to stop using his name, for a reason I'll come to. But also, I should perhaps mention that you may or may not know who he is, so I want to give some kind of summary of what he said, what happened to him, and what the reactions to his comments and his situation has been.  This is more or less off the cuff, so may be inaccurate and I might get some details wrong. He went to an event on raising women's profile in science in Korea (and kudos to him for getting off his backside to do that.) He made some ill-judged remarks about how the problem with women in labs is that they fall in love with men and men fall in love with them. The next day he appeared on the Today programme and gave a classic non-apology apology, where he didn't actually say he was wrong, merely that he shouldn't have said it in public. That's when his situation went viral and caused a twitter storm. He resigned from an honorary position at UCL (an unpaid position with no duties) and from a couple of committees he sat on to award funding (these may have been paid or unpaid, I don't know) although there were several other positions he didn't resign from. A few days later a backlash against the consequences of his actions began. He gave a lengthy interview to the Guardian putting his point of view. He said that he had been "hung out to dry" and that he was "finished". His wife said that he had been pressured into resigning from UCL. Many of his friends including some senior women - and indeed many people who don't know him - leapt to his defence as being a good guy who was only joking. Later, The Times discussed his situation with eight Nobel laureates and led their responses on its front page.  Later still, The Times reported that a leaked document transcribing his original remarks showed he was only joking. This led Richard Dawkins to demand an apology to him and his reinstatement. And yes, believe it or not this is just a summary! 

Why did I decide to stop using his name?  Let me show you, by quoting the para in full:
"I should mention straight away that I'm now going to stop using his name, for a reason I'll come to. But also, I should perhaps mention that you may or may not know who he is, so I want to give some kind of summary of what he said, what happened to him, and what the reactions to his comments and his situation has been. This is more or less off the cuff, so may be inaccurate and I might get some details wrong. He went to an event on raising women's profile in science in Korea (and kudos to him for getting off his backside to do that.) He made some ill-judged remarks about how the problem with women in labs is that they fall in love with men and men fall in love with them. The next day he appeared on the Today programme and gave a classic non-apology apology, where he didn't actually say he was wrong, merely that he shouldn't have said it in public. That's when his situation went viral and caused a twitter storm. He resigned from an honorary post at UCL (an unpaid position with no duties) and from a couple of important committees he (these may have been paid or unpaid, I don't know) although there were several other positions he didn't resign from. A few days later a backlash against the consequences of his actions began. He gave a lengthy interview to the Guardian putting his point of view. He said that he had been "hung out to dry" and that he was "finished". His wife said that he had been pressured into resigning from UCL. Many of his friends including some senior women - and indeed many people who don't know him - leapt to his defence as being a good guy who was only joking. Later, The Times discussed his situation with eight Nobel laureates and led their responses on its front page.  Later still, The Times reported that a leaked document transcribing his original remarks showed he was only joking. This led Richard Dawkins to demand an apology to him and his reinstatement. And yes, believe it or not this is just a summary!"
This debate has become all about him, i.e. a man. It should be all about her, a woman, well actually about them, lots of women, but English doesn't have a gender-specific plural pronoun.

Let me say some things. I don't happen to think that Tim Hunt has been badly treated, but that is not my point at all. Lots of people do think he's been badly treated, and they are quite right to stand up for him if so. 

I want Tim Hunt to be treated right. Just like I want women in science and tech to be treated right. And women in science and tech are treated badly over and over and over again and in far worse ways than what happened to Tim Hunt. And it's happening right now, not a historical problem. 

 A random example, from Julie Libarkin:
"The senior emeritus faculty who…this is a hard one to put delicately…Came up behind me at an on-campus retirement party, dropped his knees, and pushed himself up against me several times. Trust me – I had NO idea how to react, and recovering from that violation took me about 6 months. 
"That’s my reality of sexism in science. I can’t possibly be alone.."  
And that's just the last one of 9 examples that Julie bravely posted about in her post "My experiences with sexism in science". 

No, she's not alone, but most women are not brave or foolhardy enough to talk about it in public. For example, take Dorothy Donald (an alias, which is relevant as you will see) writing on Depressed Academics
"I never ever post what I have written because I do not have the energy to be a woman writing about sexism on the internet right now... I berate myself for my cowardice while despairing at the fact that their courage is still required in 2015. We are still here. Is it hopeless?"
You know what women like Julie and Dorothy have been hearing recently? They've been hearing two things. His mistreatment matters, and hers doesn't. And if she complains about his behaviour, many people will leap to his defence while knowing almost nothing about the details of the situation, meaning that he turns into the victim. Good luck encouraging a culture of condemning sexist behaviour when that's the result.  

Am I saying you shouldn't stand up for Tim Hunt or anyone else you firmly believe is being mistreated? Absolutely not, you should do so. Which is what I am doing right now.

I believe that women in science are being mistreated right now and we should do what can to fix it. But we need to make it all about her, not all about him.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

In which I feel unexpectedly elated about voting

It's a glorious day today and I just voted in the general election.

I feel unexpectedly elated.

The last time we had a vote - the Scottish referendum - that ended up with me taking two months off work with anxiety.  This time there are no parties I can wholeheartedly support.  I've avoided almost all the coverage because I don't want to get sucked in.  But the little I've seen indicates that very many people will vote for the Conservatives and the SNP, two parties who have led their governments for five years or more and led their countries in awful directions (very different directions for the UK and Scotland but both awful).  

I was always going to vote though, so I went out a few minutes ago.   It's a glorious sunny day here, and I chatted to a neighbour who said she often sees me running and I obviously enjoy it. I walked across the park to the polling booth a few yards the other side of it. 

When I got there I waited a little in a short queue, and then went to a booth, thought for a moment, put down an X, and put my paper in the ballot box (actually couldn't find the slot for a second but did and put it in.) 

I walked home feeling unexpectedly elated.

I'm reading a book called "She-Wolves" about the female rulers of England before Elizabeth. I'm reading now about the Empress Matilda, who had a civil war with King Stephen in the 12th Century.  They wandered around the country besieging castles and trying to take over from other one.  Every once in a while they made the political mistake of not executing the other one. 

20 odd years ago I saw footage of Desmond Tutu voting in the first free South African elections. After he voted, he celebrated by pumping his arms above his head. Not for his party but because he had been allowed to vote.  That came after the white South Africans had voted in a referendum to allow everybody to vote.  I can't find a picture of the celebration, but there is him voting. 

After the election it looks like there will be messy coalition building or minority government forming. There will be backroom deals and frontroom deals and lies told with a straight face to camera.  But none of the leaders will be taking their opponents prisoner, putting them in irons, and deciding whether or not to murder them.  And if Cameron is ousted, he will leave Downing Street because of millions of Xs on bits of paper, not because his castle has been starved into submission. The amazing glory of democracy is leaders willingly giving up power peacefully. 

I was unexpectedly elated, but it shouldn't have been unexpected. I love democracy.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

My eponymous domain name: ian.gent

There's not a lot to say in this post.  Simply that I bought the domain name

This is possible because recently the Belgian region of Gent (usually spelt Ghent in English) started its own top level domain .gent

I don't know how people have domain names which are their name, i.e. eponymous domain names. It's not that unusual to have a domain like iangent.com, which I also own.  

Right now I've just pointed these URLs to my university address, but it's nice to be able to point people at http://ian.gent. It's basically a modern-era version of a vanity number plate.

Update: I've now moved my main blog URL to be http://blog.ian.gent. I wouldn't have done this but it looks like all the old links still work, which is nice.   So e.g. if somebody sends you to the Petrie Multiplier blog post at http://iangent.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/the-petrie-multiplier-why-attack-on.html, you should find yourself at http://blog.ian.gent/2013/10/the-petrie-multiplier-why-attack-on.html

Saturday, 20 September 2014

How Cupar Food Bank Made Me Happy

I am incredibly fortunate that I have never had to go to Cupar Food Bank. Today I was incredibly fortunate that I went to Cupar Food Bank.
From Cupar Food Bank you can see my house. Though you can't see Cupar food bank from my house. Sounds impossible but the bits of my house you can see aren't the bits with windows.
I have passed it many times. Also, many times I have paid for my shopping at Tesco and passed the box that you can donate food in and gone "oops, forgot to buy any." I have occasionally remembered and donated a small amount of food to it.
Food banks became a political football during the referendum. It was only yesterday that I suddenly realised what should have been obvious all along.  Food banks are not a bad thing, they are a good thing. It's the need for food banks that is a bad thing. Absolutely I believe that current UK government policy is a major factor behind the need for food banks. Benefits penalties, forms you have to fill in online when not only the £300 computer but the £3 bus fare to the library might be impossible. But I don't believe the need for Food Banks will ever be zero.
You're a woman with an abusive husband and two toddlers. You take them for a walk in the park, maybe the beautiful park between my house and the Cupar Food Bank. You decide you can never go back. You can't even risk going back for your handbag. What are you going to eat tonight? What are your children going to eat tonight? If your baby is in nappies, where is the next one coming from? If they're out of nappies what are you going to wipe their bottom with tonight?
This is the kind of problem the Cupar Food Bank deals with on a daily basis - they deliver food to the refuges and safe houses in Cupar so that the women don't have to come out at risk to themselves.
It had literally never occurred to me that Food Banks need to provide nappies and toilet paper. But it occurred to them and they do it because they are wonderful.
Because the referendum moved me so much I decided to donate my modest winnings gambling on it, and the stake, slightly less modest, to the Cupar Food Bank. 
I looked online and watched the video (not of Cupar) there. Everything is about no shame. There is no shame in going to the food bank. It's not an easy thing but the hard part is needing to go there. It's not your fault that you need to eat. I was incredibly moved by the bit where somebody said to them "You saved my life", they say "Well I mean thanks but it's just a bag of food" and he says "No, I mean I was going to kill myself. You saved my life."
So I decided donating to Cupar Food Club was a good idea.
Picked up my daughter from After School Club and stopped off at the Food Bank. I asked if I could give them some money. Not to my total surprise, they said yes.
I thought we'd be in and out in a couple of minutes. We were there about an hour. A wonderful hour that made me very happy.
We had a cup of tea and juice for Sophie. A jammie dodger each. I explained why I was there - because of the referendum - and we chatted about it and this and that. A couple of the volunteers quickly picked out our house and said extremely nice things about our new extension. Not guilt tripping about me having a nice house, just neighbourly interest.
They didn't offer us a biscuit because I was donating, it's because they offer it to everyone who walks in. People less lucky than me come in and shove half a packet down their throats. Just as they are starting to apologise for their greed (hunger) the volunteers ask if they'd like another packet.
Anyway, it's time for a tour. I think it's going to be a room with some food in it. Still think I'll be out in ten minutes.
The first room is where they sit you down if you are a client. They talk to me and my daughter like we were clients. Pro tip. Talk to an 11 year old like she's an adult. Guess how the pros at Cupar Food Bank talked to my daughter? "Wow, that's a house captain badge, were you chosen for that or elected?"....
What do you like for breakfast? Cereal or porridge? Cereal? Ok, yeah, most people say cereal. Tick that box. Do you like full fat or semi skimmed milk? Tick that box.
Do you like tea or coffee? Or both? Do you have sugar with your tea? Ok, tick those boxes.
What about the kiddy? What's his treat? Sweeties? Crisps? Once they had a two year old come in and mum said he loved tomato soup as his treat. No problem, here's some tomato soup.
And so on and so on and so on. Nothing is: you'll take this and be grateful. Everything is: you need food but you also need to be happy with what you are given. And by the way, do you have a can opener to get into these cans?  No? Here's one. That's a lovely dog, do you need dogfood?
That's the first room. The next room is where they pack the food. They've got the shopping list so they go next door and pack the bags.
Unless it's today and they ask if my daughter would like to help pack a bag. They shove an apron on her and she starts to pack. This family likes porridge. It's over there. They're a tea family, get that down from there. They like sugar in their tea. You can't reach? Let me get that for you....
Somewhere in Cupar or nearby, somebody maybe tonight is eating food that my daughter packed for them. It might be one of her classmates. If you can think of a better lesson in civics, let me know.
I'm off exploring more with another volunteer. There's another room with more food in it. The one my daughter is in is the supplies to be used up next. This is the one with longer term storage. It's on rotation, with each section labelled with the expiry date. Some things will be labelled October 2014, but there'll be jams labelled 2017.
There's the milk - UHT of course. Sometimes we run out of milk. We email the churches and they get the word out to their donors so that our clients can have milk that weekend.
No nappies though. Too many sizes for it to be sensible to stock all the options. If somebody needs nappies a volunteer will pop to Tesco to get the right size. Remember that bin at Tesco in Cupar? As well as passing on the food, Tesco donates 30% of the value in cash. If they need nappies they've got that money to get them. Every little helps.
Saved the best for last. They get lots of plastic bags from all the shops, CoOp, Tesco, Lidl, whatever. If you go in to the Cupar Food Bank and leave with four bags of food, they are all bags from the same shop. If you pass somebody in the street they'll just assume you are walking back from that shop. Somebody. Thought. Of. That.
They didn't even tell me this. They told my daughter and she told me. I love my daughter so much. She is incredible.
Just like the people at the Cupar Food Bank are incredible.
While we try to get UK government's disgraceful policies changed, let's change the world we live in as well as the world we want to live in. And along the way let's make ourselves happier as well.
People talk about the "democratic deficit". But the democratic surplus from the referendum is just immense. Yes or No, I know you voted the way you did because you want a better Scotland. I say this:
Make it so.
And if you can't think of anything else to do, take your daughter to a food bank. It made me incredibly happy today.

Cupar Food Bank is at 21 St Catherine Street, Cupar, Fife, KY15 4TA, right on the corner of the War Memorial roundabout. Email info@cupar.foodbank.org.uk. Telephone 07474 453153. Web is http://cupar.foodbank.org.uk/ 
If you need to go to Cupar Foodbank as a client, here's what you need to know. The Cupar Foodbank opening times are: Monday, 11am - 3pm, Wednesday  4pm - 6pm, Friday 11am - 3pm then 5pm - 6pm. You need to be referred by one of the front line agencies - but honestly, if it's too urgent for that, just walk in.  They'll help you get in touch with the right people. 
If you are not local to Cupar, find your nearest food bank here: http://www.trusselltrust.org/map
For this post "today" means 19th September 2014. Photos were taken with permission of the Food Bank volunteers, and posted here with permission of my daughter. 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Please vote No. Don't make Scottish poverty worse.

Why am I voting No? 
This was Cupar yesterday. Please keep it like this.
There are two main reasons. One is my love for my country, which is the United Kingdom. That's no reason for you to vote No if you don't feel that.
But please please please vote No because of poverty.
For the longest time it's inflamed me that so much of the Yes campaign is about making Scotland richer and England poorer - as if that was an axiomatically good thing. It's incredibly selfish, and will increase poverty in the UK and I oppose it vehemently.
But apparently most Yes campaigners don't care about that at all. Ok, so be it.
But it's now become clear that a Yes vote is the best guarantee of an increased level of poverty in Scotland.
Yes campaigners can shout "food banks" and "UK inequality" as much as they like. Do you think I think those are good things? No.
Surely all that Scottish oil wealth will eliminate poverty? It's not *quite* impossible but I'd certainly take a bet at say 3-1 that in 5 years after Independence Scottish poverty will be worse. (I'm serious, I'll take the bet if I know you, and you can even choose the measure of poverty). 
Why am I so sure?
Scotland will start off with - assuming geographic share of oil revenues - a deficit which is roughly the same percentage as that of the UK as a whole. There is no such thing as "Scottish Oil Wealth." There is major income from oil, but it's not a game changer for Scotland - because without oil Scotland is significantly poorer than the rest of the UK. So that's roughly neutral.
And it will start off with a decimated financial services industry. Which employs 100,000 people. I use the term decimated carefully, since probably the rapid loss of jobs will be about 10,000. Probably over time it will be far worse. That's just one industry. If we lose thousands of jobs, take a wild guess who will be the losers? Right, it's not middle class people like me, it's the poor.
And Scotland will start off led by politicians who have spent their whole careers aiming for independence for richer or poorer. That's noble and I respect it, but remember what it means. They literally will take independence at the cost of making people in Scotland poorer. Their entire career is founded on that basis. Remember what that means. Whatever your hope is for an independent Scotland, many longstanding campaigners on the Yes side would grab at an independent Scotland even if it meant the exact opposite of that.
And it will start off in a country where the bogey words "Westminster" and "Tory" have become hate filled code for the unacceptable use of the word "English" as an insult. Led by a party who use this code as much as they can. Just the other day Salmond was talking about "Team Scotland" versus "Team Westminster". You know what, Alex? We are all on Team Scotland. And you can choose not to believe it, but Westminster politicians are too.  
Food banks? Bad that we need them - but where is the SNP support for making them full of food for the poor? At a trivial cost to the taxpayer the government could have made them (literally if they wanted) flow with milk and honey.
Inequality? Where are the SNP policies for redistribution? What have they done to help? I give them credit for exactly one thing - giving money to councils to help ameliorate the bedroom tax. They didn't even have the guts to boast about it - as they had every right to - and I assume that's because they don't want people to know that the bedroom tax is not a big issue in Scotland now. And then they didn't even bother to show up for a vote to eliminate parts of it nationally.
Health poverty? I have watched in disbelief - and fury - at the health minister of my country using the terrible horrible life expectancy in parts of Glasgow as a reason for separation. For example, arguing as a positive point that the reduced life expectancy in Scotland makes pensions more affordable. The health minister of Scotland! I know it's not an easy problem to fix, but my god if it was my responsibility and it was this bad after 15 years of devolution and 7 years of SNP, I would be looking everywhere I could to find solutions, not saying it was all the bogeyman's fault.
Poverty full stop? Why am I paying the same tax rate as my friends in England and Wales? Because the SNP government for 7 years has not raised it to help people less lucky than me. They even let the power to change tax rates lapse.
Yes, some of the reasons I just mentioned are criticisms of the SNP.  I've already blogged about how Salmond tells us that a Yes vote is a vote for him: and indeed he made it even clearer in the second tv debate after I wrote that. But my main point is that - with most of the powers necessary to make things better for the poor in Scotland - the Holyrood government has failed after 15 years.  Actually, to be more precise, I'm sure they have succeeded in various ways, but not as much as we would have liked.  And for complete clarity, I absolutely believe we'll see increased poverty whether Scotland had an SNP, Tory, LibDem, Labour or any coalition government.
Please vote No. Don't make Scottish poverty worse.