Category Archives: Rants

Things I have been cooking lately #100: Spicy holiday cookies

Is there anything more tantalising than the smell of Xmas cookies baking in the kitchen? Probably not, which is why I decided to whip up a few batches to give to friends and family as gifts this festive season.

They make a delicious, personal and fun gift especially if you decide to decorate them. I have provided the ingredients for a basic glacé icing but you can use store bought icing, royal icing, chocolate or any combination of the above. Just make sure you start about 2 days before you want to package them because they take at least 24 hours to dry.

Spiced holiday cookies

Adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

For the cookies

200g butter at room temperature
280g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
400g flour plus extra for dusting
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
A pinch of cloves
A pinch of nutmeg
A pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

For the icing
2 cups icing sugar
2 tablespoons water or milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Food colouring (optional)

To make the cookies preheat your oven to 170 degrees and line 2 – 3 cookie sheets with greaseproof paper.

Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla extract together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until well combined, using a rubber spatula to scrape down any unmixed ingredients. Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix until combined but do not overmix. The electric mixer probably won’t bring your dough together into a ball so don’t be afraid to get your hands involved.

Now dust a clean flat work surface with flour and place the dough on it (if you are working in a little apartment kitchen like me expect to do this in several batches). Roll The dough to about 3mm thick using a rolling pin. It can tend to stick so make sure you dust the dough, surface and rolling pin with flour regularly. Cut out shapes using festive cookie cutters. I did Santas, reindeer and snowflakes. Evenly space out the cookies on the prepared trays and bake on the middle shelf of the oven. The baking time will depend on your cookie size but you’re probably looking at 5 – 10 minutes. I would suggest checking regularly. You want them to be just golden on the edges and pale in the centre. Allow the cookies to cool for a couple of minutes on the tray before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Keep rerolling and cutting your dough until it is finished.

To make the icing sift the icing sugar and then add the water or milk, vanilla and food colouring if using. Beat together with a fork until smooth.

When the cookies are completely cool decorate using a piping bag or even just spread on with a knife or teaspoon.

Leave the cookies to dry for at least 24 hours before packaging.

Makes 30 -50 depending on the size of your cutters

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100 reasons not to vote UKIP.

As some context for my non-British readers, a political party called UKIP is starting to gain support at the moment. Their leader is quite a charismatic guy who makes people feel like he is in touch with them but underneath his smiling facade is a controlling, far right, racist autocrat who will destroy the country if he gets into power. This post explains just why no one should vote for UKIP by exposing what they really stand for!

max j freeman

100 reasons not to vote UKIP.

Please read these reasons not to vote UKIP.  Many of you have concerns about the way the country is being run, but UKIP are not the answer.  There are many parties out there that you can vote for as a protest vote if you don’t want to vote for the main three.  Before you cast your vote, please take the time to see who you are voting for.

Change profile picture on socialmedia to this picture the day before Euro elections Change profile picture on social media to this picture the day before Euro elections

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It might very well be snowing in Morocco, to be fair, Bob…

As Christmas carols start to bellow through my office, I have decided to republish this blog I wrote 4 years ago about my most reviled (and ludicrous) festive tune, Do They Know It’s Christmas? Which, as an African, makes me so angry I have fantasies about bludgeoning Bono to death (although in fairness that would probably happen without the song). Enjoy:

Those who have been reading this blog for a while may remember some conversations I had with a very special character we nicknamed Anonymous Boy. He was the one who thought Africa was one country and it was all a desert. In case you don’t remember, you can read about it here.

For a long time I was baffled by where he got this perception, since although his spelling, grammar and logic was somewhat flawed, he didn’t seem to be completely mentally deficient or incapable of grasping basic concepts. But now… courtesy of a twitter conversation with Tash, I think I’ve figured out who to blame… Bob Geldoff.

Have any of you ever listened closely to the lyrics of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

It’s Christmastime
There’s no need to be afraid
At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime

But say a prayer

Pray for the other ones
At Christmastime it’s hard, but when you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging
chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you

And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life
(Oooh) Where nothing ever grows
No rain nor rivers flow
Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?

(Here’s to you) raise a glass for everyone
(Here’s to them) underneath that burning sun
Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?

Feed the world
Feed the world
Feed the world
Let them know it’s Christmastime again
Feed the world
Let them know it’s Christmastime again

(Bob Geldof & Midge Ure)

Let’s have a little look at some blinding issues with these lyrics:

There won’t be any snow in Africa this Christmastime: surely that’s more about climate than poverty. I can’t remember anyone ever saying, god I wish we had more money so it would snow?? Anyway, there are ski resorts in Morocco, where it may very well snow at Christmas so there. It also won’t be snowing in London, Sydney or Southern California… maybe it’s time to expand some of the aid to these snow-impoverished regions too.

Where nothing ever grows: The UK imports 14% of all it’s fruit from African nations including South Africa, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Egypt… wrong again Bob.

No rain nor rivers flow: Clearly he’s missed out on the glory of a Highveld thunder storm… there are also upwards of 60 rivers in Africa, including the NILE, which happens to be the longest river in the world and flows through Egypt, Ethiopia, Burundi and Sudan.

Do they know it’s Christmastime at all: I’m going to go with probably not and they’re unlikely to care since 45% of the continent is Muslim and couldn’t give a toss about your Christian holiday.

I’m sure Sir Bob’s heart was in the right place but his facts were severely lacking and I can’t help but wonder how much good this kind of bizarre imagining of Africa does. It’s almost as bad as this horrendous Cadbury’s advert that depicts African’s as grinning childlike buffoons.

How is this supposed to break down this “us” and “them” perception between the developed and the developing world?

On female body hair and why it just isn’t fair

This year for winter I decided to stop removing my body hair. This is a statement I feel very apprehensive making and a blog  I feel somewhat nervous posting but I am adamant I am going to soldier on because I can’t possibly be the only person who feels the way I do about this.

Initially it was an experiment. Having conformed to societal norms and shaved my legs and armpits from about the age of 13, I had no idea what was going to grow out. It turned out to be not that much, in fact there seems to be almost no hair on the backs of my legs, but enough for me to feel squeamish about letting said hair out in public. I expected to be somewhat repulsed by my body hair because I have been conditioned my whole life to believe it was disgusting. However, I found it didn’t really bother me and my husband seemed to rather like it.

Last week it briefly got warmer and I started to think about wearing dresses again… ones without sleeves and tights and suddenly my love affair with my hairy legs and pits ended. I thought about the attention a luxuriant underarm bush might draw and as much as I wanted to tell society to fuck off… I shaved my armpits. I also paid a small, but efficient Asian lady to rip the hair out of my legs using hot wax.

Afterwards I felt defeated and a bit naked but also more comfortable with the idea of my legs and armpits being out in public. I guess I’m just not ready to be a hairy woman yet.

Now I know I do and have done several things to my body that are not natural. I wear make-up, I paint my nails, I dye my hair, I have tattoos and piercings. But unlike body hair I feel like these things are my choice. I could choose not to wear any make-up and to let my hair grow out medium boring brown and although I would feel less like me and less attractive, these would be considered valid choices. No one would stare if I didn’t put any mascara on. I don’t feel like choosing to let my body hair grow free is a choice that will currently be accepted by society as valid. It’s not my choice but rather something I am forced to do.

The normalisation of women removing their body hair has become so prevalent that even when we watch TV or films set in a time where no one was removing any hair, we see women with perfectly smooth legs and hairless armpits. Trust me… in the 1700’s they all had pit forests.

I am not disputing anyone’s personal choice to remove their body hair or make any cosmetic choice for themselves. What seems unfair is that it’s not a choice. You either get rid of it or face the fact that you are making a political statement, which is a lot of pressure just to put on your pits.

Maybe next winter I will be brave enough to stay the distance but for now I’m learning to live with my nude underarms and my cowardice. I know there are people who will read this blog and be horrified that I did not immediately remove all hair the minute it appeared and I am steeling myself for a potential onslaught of eew comments but if no one ever says anything how will we ever know how many of us feel like this?

The UKBA… it doesn’t make mistakes, or does it?

Today is a very happy day because the UKBA (fuckers) have finally returned my South African passport and correct naturalisation certificate to me more than one whole month after I sent it to them.

For those who are wondering why I would do something as bonkers as posting the UKBA my passport, they sent me my naturalisation certificate with my name spelled incorrectly on it (more here).

The process for getting this amended is bizarre and based on the premise that the UKBA *doesn’t make mistakes*. At a mind-numbing cost of £851 to process an application for British Citizenship, you would hope they didn’t, but it seems cross checking your name with the mountain of documentation you have sent them is a step too far.

According to their website, you must post back the offending certificate with proof and then await a new one and the return of your documents. Yes, kids, that’s right, you must prove that your name/date of birth/place of birth is what you say it is, not what they say it is. Heaven forbid that they would go back and look at the aforementioned mountain of documentation. The only acceptable proof is your current nationality passport or birth certificate. Considering that my birth certificate has a different name on it (pre-marriage), my only option was my passport. It also declares on said page that they will decide if they are going to charge you for a new certificate when they review your case.  There is no other information – no processing SLA or description or contact information.

I decided to post my precious documents registered post and supply a return envelope. This cost me about £12. I requested reimbursement. After all I have already paid them £851. This was met with stony silence.

After the one month anniversary of the absence of my passport last week I became nervous. I had received no letter of acknowledgement and my only proof that the UKBA even had my passport was a cryptic Royal Mail delivery notice. Of course one isn’t expected to know if you should get a letter of acknowledgement or not, or if a month is long to wait, because as I mentioned, there is no information. The UKBA does not make mistakes. Why would they need a process?
So I decided to contact them. Surely someone must be able to look on the system and say, “Your passport, Mrs Osbiston? Yes, indeed. We’ve thrown it into the bottom of a cupboard. We’ll get to it some time.”  Followed by twelve minutes exactly of cackling.

Well, no, because they will only speak to you if you have a reference number and your application is more than six months old. This particular type of query does not fit into any of their “help” line numbers because the UKBA does not make mistakes. There is an email address you can email. After which you get a stock response that says, “These are the answers to all questions. However if, by some miracle you have another question, you can email this other email address.” Which I did. No response. Eventually I wrote to my MP. Now I have no idea if the unfortunately very Tory, Justine Greening, went and kicked some UKBA arse. I highly doubt it. She normally sends you a heavily embossed letter to say she has had your letter. (Stop spending my damn money on fancy paper, you mad cow, and pay some disabled people their benefits). In any case my passport and corrected certificate arrived today.

I can finally prove that I am actually British. Well half British anyway.

I suppose I should count my blessings. I am not as unlucky as the 16,000 people stuck in the backlog queue, including 2,000 cases over ten years old dumped in a box. Or the people who wrongfully received text messages from the UKBA telling them to immediately leave the country.

UKBA

Why Royal Mail cannot be trusted

Paul and I were supposed to attend an event on Saturday. It was a kind of once in a lifetime event organised for our lovely friends’ Dawn and Bobby’s birthday party. We were extremely excited. We bought costumes. We plotted. We planned. It was all we talked about.

Paul bought the tickets online and paid £6 to have them delivered by Royal Mail special delivery. You know the one where you have to sign for your item. When the tickets has not arrived by Thursday, we got a little worried and Paul called Royal Mail to track the item. Imagine his surprise to find out that it had been delivered to our neighbour.

Doesn’t sound like the end of the world? Well maybe not for some, but our neighbour has dementia. Sometimes she sort of knows what’s going on. Most days – not so much. She has zero recollection of signing for anything of ours, probably because by now she’s put jam on the tickets and eaten them with a nice cup of tea.

When I called Royal Mail to complain they informed me that it was now standard policy to deliver signed for items to neighbours if you are not in, rather than leaving a calling card for collection. Apparently they put flyers through to explain this to people and we’ve all opted into the policy. That’s right kids… signed for special mail basically means signed by anyone who lives relatively close to you.

Does this seem utterly bonkers to anyone but me? It might work in small towns but in a big city? How is it secure to deliver valuable items to people who are not the addressee? What if it were a passport or driver’s license?

Of course Royal Mail is more than happy for us to put in a claim for the value of the tickets, which helps very little in the face of a sold out event. Thanks for nothing.

Our attempts to contact the venue and organisers were met with stony silence. They have a confirmation of delivery from Royal Mail. Their obligation has ended. They already have our money.

So please let this be a cautionary tale to you. You can opt-out of having your items delivered to neighbours but you have to call Royal Mail and request a special sticker for your door. If you don’t know or trust your neighbours I would strongly suggest you do so, or that lovely tiara you ordered might end up being worn by someone’s pug.

If you want me to waste less food, maybe you should sell me less food…

According to statistics from Food AWARE, the UK wastes 18 million tonnes of food each year. I’m not surprised by this when I think about my own little household. I absolutely hate wasting food. Mr Osbiston finds my constant attempts to invent dishes that use up what’s left in the fridge both amusing and scary. However I can’t always get it right and I regularly find myself having to turf out half eaten bags of salad, fresh herbs, mouldy bread and lumpy milk.

I think my home is somewhat similar to that of many urban dwellers, single or dual occupancy with a busy work and/or social life. What this means is that we mostly cook small meals, we can’t always predict when we’re going to be home and our freezer is the size of a letterbox.

I really like to cook from scratch so I buy a lot of fresh ingredients but what I often find is that food is sold only in “family” sized quantities in the supermarket. I can’t buy one chilli or a portion of fresh herbs or salad leaves that is smaller than sizeable hedge. An entire loaf of bread or even the little half loaves they sometimes sell is usually more than we can get through before it develops a lovely green tinge. Same goes for the average sized piece of cheese, a pint of milk or a bag of potatoes. Now I know I can buy single potatoes but normally only of one variety, where the choice is huge for bagged potatoes.  It’s got to be even harder if you’re cooking for one and would like to buy a single chicken breast or piece of fish.

It’s not even really about price. I often will buy a more expensive variety of food if I can buy a smaller quantity and not have to throw any away.

I know I could grow my own herbs, buy everything in precise quantities from an independent greengrocer and foist my leftovers on my neighbours (who hate me because I keep complaining about their late night karaoke sessions), but the reality for most households where everyone works full time is that the most convenient and practical place to buy food is a supermarket.

So my question is, along with more sensible food labelling that doesn’t encourage people not to eat food that’s past a seemingly arbitrary “best before” date, would it make sense for supermarkets to sell smaller portions and give us more choice of how much we want to buy?

Vodafone: how to get around the “business rules”

For those of you who read my recent anti-Vodafone rant, I have an update. After berating Vodafone on twitter, I was contacted by their special web customer service team. Not only did I get a call from a member of this team at a time that suited me, they were happy to replace my horrible HTC Legend, with a brand new phone.

Up until this point I had been told that the only possible replacement for my phone was another reconditioned handset and there was no around this no matter how loyal or long term a customer I was. Considering that I was on my third HTC Legend in 18 months, I wasn’t pleased with the situation. The web team however apparently are not bound by the same business rules as normal customer support and have the ability to completely bypass normal procedure, enabling them to offer me a Google Nexus One as a replacement. While this is not a new model of phone, it is clearly of superior quality to the handset I had before… and new, rather than rebuilt and, in my past experience, inherently subject to flaws.

 

I am very happy with the team that dealt with my problem and grateful for the new phone and the change they made to my package. However, I don’t think the resolution of my specific issue is an indication that Vodafone has improved their customer service standards, just that they clearly have a healthy fear of the power of social media and have deployed this additional team to placate those of us savvy enough to moan publicly. One of the team even suggested that when it was time for me to upgrade, if I decide to stick with Vodafone, that I tweet them rather than upgrading online or in store and that someone would contact me and give me “what I want”.

I’m not sure that this strategy is sustainable or fair but I would suggest that if you have any of your own Vodafone related issues that you tweet them at @VodafoneUK and bypass their standard customer service maze. I, in the meantime, will be playing with my shiny new phone and contemplating my options…

What’s happened to Vodafone?

I’ve been a Vodafone customer for almost eight years – initially mostly because they were the only company that would give me a contract being that at the time I had no credit history and very little previous address data.

After that I stuck around because Vodafone treated me like I was a little bit special. They rung me up to suggest ways I could structure my price plan so I would save money. They processed my numerous insurance claims quickly and without question. Their customer service people were helpful, friendly and knowledgeable. They let me have two contracts. They offered frequent upgrades.

Over the last eighteen months the service appears to have fallen off a cliff. They no longer have any reasonably priced price plans that appeal to me. I don’t want 900 free minutes a month. I never ring anyone. What I want is 2MB of free data, but they’re completely inflexible and out of touch with how customers actually use their phones.

Whenever I do ring up customer service, they’re rude and surly, they hang up on you or they treat you like an imbecile. Also every different person you speaks to tells you something different and claims that its “policy”.

And it’s not just me. I know a number of people who have noticed the same drop in service and cancelled their contracts. The question is: what’s changed? What went wrong at Vodafone?

I used to be one of Vodafone’s biggest brand advocates but now I don’t feel valued as a customer at all, especially as a long-standing, loyal customer that spends upwards of £100 per month with them across my two contracts.

When my contract comes to an end in December, I will with some regret, be cancelling my contract too. Frankly, I think I can do a lot better than I’m doing now. So… does anyone have any recommendations?

In support of same sex marriage… surely it’s a no brainer?

Earlier this week I received a letter from my local MP (on embossed paper about an inch thick… if you were wondering how the government is spending your taxes) to tell me she had received my email about the legalisation of gay marriage and was watching the consultation taking place on this issue. I suppose I should be grateful that she took the time to read my email and actually signed it herself… no stamp or computer print here… but it kind of got me wondering.

Why are we having a consultation on this in the first place?

What possible reason could there be for not allowing two consenting adults from entering into a legal contract with each other? And what logical reason could there be for making name of the contract different depending on whether these consenting adults are a man and a woman or of the same sex?

The entire notion that we would even be wasting the time to consider whether it is a good idea to give all humans the same rights to marriage seems completely bonkers to me.

For those claiming that allowing same sex couples to marry goes against the “sanctity” of marriage, I ask you this: Can your marriage be made less valid or sacred because of someone else’s? Surely passed the standard legal obligations of marriage, the sacredness and validity of your relationship is determined by the couple involved in the actual marriage. Some religions require the female partner to submit wholly to the dominion of the male partner. If my husband and I agree that we’re going to have a marriage of equal power, does that make the religious marriage less valid to that couple? I think not! If you’re worried someone else’s marriage is going to make your marriage less valid, it might be time to assess your own marriage.

Coming onto those arguing against same sex marriage on the basis of religion… if someone’s ridiculous religion does not subscribe to allowing two people who love each other to marry, that is their prerogative. The bill under discussion will in no way force any religious institution to marry anyone it doesn’t want to. The same way a church can currently refuse to marry non-parishioners at its discretion, religious institutions can choose to marry or not marry same sex couples at their discretion… so I’m not sure how allowing same-sex marriage would change anything.

Whether you agree with the principle of same sex marriage or not, I can’t see in any way how a same sex couple marrying would affect anyone but that actual couple. My husband and I have a civil non-religious marriage. Whether some religious organisation recognises or agrees with the fact that we are legally married in is irrelevant to us.

I hope that one day my children, or at least my children’s children, will look back to the time when we had different rights for people of different sexual orientations and be baffled at how incredibly backward we were.

In the meantime while we wait for society to evolve, if you agree with me and agree with the idea of all humans having the same human rights, please sign this petition on the Coalition for Equality’s website and follow their instructions for getting in touch with your MP. Make your voice heard and make ours the generation that says, no more to inequality.

EDF thinks I’m running the Large Hadron Collider from my front room

For those of my friends who live in non “first world” countries, I’d like to share a story with you that might provide some comfort the next time one of your “third world” utilities suppliers screws you over. For those living in the UK, just revel in the schadenfreude… next time it might be you.

The electricity in our flat is supplied by EDF. EDF and I have not been friends for a while now since they accidentally attempted to switch us to another supplier without our knowledge or permission and then bombarded me with marketing calls to find out why I had decided to leave them, even though I hadn’t.

Earlier this week I received a bill from them. I’ve been paying them £50 per month and I was expecting to be a few quid over or under for the six months we’ve been in the flat. Imagine my horror when I opened a bill for £2,614!

Mr Osbiston and I live in a one bedroom flat and we were away for about 6 weeks out of the 6 months. We’re not running the Large Hadron Collider from the front room. I’m not attempting to grow a weed crop big enough to supply the whole of Albania!

The reading EDF was working from was a supposed actual meter reading rather than an estimate so I decided to have a little look at our meter and see what it said. Turns out the EDF “actual” meter reading was out by twenty-two thousand units.

Fortunately when I rang them up they were most apologetic and recalculated my bill, bringing it down to the rather more realistic sum of £35.

The alarming thing is that if I we had been on holiday or something and not contested the bill in time, they would have taken £2,164 from my account by direct debit on 15 May. This is why you should always open your post!

Has anyone had a positive experience with any UK energy suppliers? I’m onto my third one since I’ve been in the country and all of them have messed up my bill at some point.

The Large Hadron Collider, just one of the things I am not powering in my flat

Twelve days to tube rage

I’ve been back in London for twelve days and my holiday buzz has officially worn off. Possibly it has something to do with the fact that I’ve been getting up every morning and heading to work while my husband and houseguest slumber on, but it might also be because, frankly, the tube just hasn’t gotten any better this year.

I mean, I wasn’t exactly expecting it to suddenly become efficient or spacious or less full of dickheads… but when you haven’t been on the tube for a while you suddenly forget just how soul-destroying commuting is.

I don’t think this is exclusively a public transport phenomenon, while in car-crazy South Africa I heard enough of my friends exclaim with glee how empty the roads are in December in Johannesburg and I’ve seen enough wall posts on facebook cursing the traffic and the broken “robots” as I’ve seen “I hate the tube!”

I guess the best way to cope with the creeping rage as someone rests their bag, face… self… on you or shoves you out of the way to nab the last seat or demands that you move down when the only available space is clearly the luggage rack (same goes for when someone cuts you off, stops randomly or runs a red light) is to remember that that they’re all just trying to get to work and that they’re just has harassed and exhausted as you are.

That would probably be the most karma-friendly approach. Unfortunately I’ve never mastered this approach. I prefer to fantasise about how I might murder everyone who has crossed me on my daily journey (read epic battle of doom) to and from work. I also like to intersperse this with occasional thrown elbows, dirty looks and well-timed toe trampling.

I am relatively sure that the amount of negative energy I have transmitted into the universe in the last twelve days has probably put me into negative karma for the rest of the year, however I just can’t stop imagining burning the luggage of every tourist who crosses my path… and if I’m honest… it feels pretty good.

So before I end up becoming the next Kazran Sardick, does anyone have any good rage busting tips… apart from actually pea-shooting people with prams?

It could be worse...

Dear Royal Mail… my katty is ready…

While sending Royal Mail angry tweets today, I had to wonder… is this the future or am I just a sad loser? Recently Royal Mail has made me rather angry, mostly because I think my little neck of Wandsworth has a dodgy postie.

Over the weekend I received a delivery of two bridesmaids’ dresses for the South African wedding. Mr Osbiston and I were both in at the time, but the parcel, which was kindly sent signed for delivery by Vivien of Holloway, was half shoved in the post box, with a “friendly” note that said, “tried the bell a couple of times, no one answered.” Really? Our buzzer reverberates through the flat like a cat in a blender. Heaven forbid we’d been away for the weekend or off on the weekly shop before we went to check on the post. That was strike one.

Strike two involved the postman’s lack of reading ability. We live in 76A. On occasion we get 76’s post. In fact we have had an angry postman at the door, furious that we wouldn’t sign for their parcels even though I explained that 76 is next door. That I can half understand but recently we have also started getting 78’s post… as well as relabelled post that has been mistakenly delivered two roads over.

This means I now have to redistribute all the mail before I go to work in the morning. Is this pure laziness? And on my behalf or that of the postman?

I attempted to find this out from Royal Mail via twitter and the conversation went like this:

From their initial response, I get the impression that they’re not going to be all too bothered by any formal complaints I make.

I’m now waiting for strike three… after which I am going to wait on the front step with a katty and a determined look on my face. Postman… you are my mielie lady…

Recruitment consultants: letting agents for people?

As most of you know, I work for a job site. Recently I’ve been doing some analysis of data collection on different sites which meant I reactivated some of the many profiles I have on various competitor sites. Out of pure laziness and, it seems, stupidity I have had my real CV uploaded on some of them.

The reactivation of some of these profiles has unleashed the rabid mongrels otherwise known as recruitment agents, who now seem to think I am looking for a job. If anyone from work is reading this… I’m not looking for a new job. I’m really, really not. I like my job. It has all the things that are important to me: interesting work, good benefits, lovely colleagues, fair compensation, unbeatable location and as much stability as you can have in the current climate.

I get calls and emails all day from people who not only have limited grasp of the digital marketing landscape, but who also probably have made little effort to even read the aforementioned CV. I know the market is hard at the moment but I’m surprised that anyone would think someone current in a job would be interested in taking a step down the career ladder with a pay cut and a relocation to the sticks.

Dear recruitment agents… I don’t want a non-management role in Kent paying £10,000 a year less than what I get paid now for a company I have never heard of. Please don’t be surprised when I tell you this. I would not like to see the job description anyway. I realise that you don’t immediately know that I am not actually looking for a job but if I don’t return your call, please don’t leave me 17 voicemails. And when I reply to your email saying, no thank-you I am not looking for a job right now, sending me twelve other irrelevant job descriptions is not going to change my mind.  I would understand if you were chasing me for jobs that match my experience level and skill set but you’re not even getting that right. You’re like the letting agents of the job market. If I looking for a job, I certainly would not trust any of you with my future. Thanks, Abbi.

It makes me even more aware of the intense frustration that anyone who is really looking for a job must be experiencing. All I can say is, good luck, you’re better off doing it yourself online and avoiding the vultures, and if anyone needs any good “blow off” lines for getting rid of them, I’m happy to help.

Fuck off… I’m a Londoner

One of the things that’s often claimed as a negative about London is that its inhabitants are unfriendly. As a Londoner, I’d like to say that this is a load of old bollocks. We’re not unfriendly, we’re just busy and very focused.

The reason we don’t stop to exchange random pleasantries with strangers (and tourists, *shudder*)  is because we’re on a mission… whether it be getting to work or school, getting home, getting drunk, getting the shopping done or getting to the next glamorous event, there simply isn’t time to stop unless it’s mission critical.

We don’t talk on the tube because, despite the fact that we’re nose to pit (or crotch) with a slew of other commuters, the journey to and from work is a respite from all the activity around us. It’s our alone time in our cocoons where we psych ourselves up for another crazy day at the office or dial ourselves down ready to connect with the people waiting for us at home. We have so little time that we save ourselves for the friends, family and lovers that make our lives worth living.

Does that make us unfriendly? I don’t think it does. Some of the best friends I’ve made in London come from chance encounters on nights out, in queues… from house shares formed by necessity. I think if you find the city unfriendly, it’s because you’re just not playing by the rules. Obstruct a Londoner’s mission, whatever it is, and you’ll be at worst removed from their path and at best ignored… but join or aid the mission and you’ll find a world of opportunity under the city’s skin.

I love the fact that I live in a city where I can be totally anonymous. Where I can be surrounded by people but choose to be invisible… at peace in my own little world. I like that fact that no one asks me how I am or where I’m going, cos it’s none of their damned business. Maybe one day if that feeling every wears off I’ll escape to the country but for now can you get out of my fucking way please, I’m late.

A van den Berg by any other name…

Before I actually met the man I married, I had no intention of changing my name but once Paul and I actually got engaged it seemed like a natural way of cementing our future family unit rather than a subjugation of my own identity. Plus there’s the added benefit of having a one word last name. If you’re one of my South African readers you might wonder what I’m on about but trust me, attempting to fill in British forms with a multiple word last name is a complicated and often impossible process that regularly ends with letters addressed to Ms A Berg, middle names Van and Den.

Once you get past the bit where you look at things addressed to Mrs Abigail Osbiston and feel like you’re sneaking around in your mum’s good high heels playing dress-up, it’s actually quite cool getting a new name to play with.

So I have been slowly but surely changing my name on things since we got back from the Minimoon. For the most part it has been relatively simple. A couple of places, notably the bank, have wanted me to bring in my marriage certificate but it hasn’t been too traumatic. There was some confusion with the bank when I asked to have new cards with my new name on them. Surely this is not a bizarre request? In the end they did it though… a for free to (that’s just for Rabia).

Today I decided to ring up BT. BT’s call centre is based in India. Now I’m not dissing international call centres out of hand. Often they provide a perfectly valid service but sometimes there is a language and cultural barrier that can be a bit challenging as the conversation below will highlight:

BT: How can I help you today, madam?

Abbi: I recently got married and would like to change my name on my account.

BT: No problem. What would you like to change it to?

Abbi: Osbiston

BT: Can you spell that?

(At this point there follows approximately 10 minutes of me spelling my new last name for the customer service assistant and him spelling it back incorrectly/incomprehensibly, which is too painful for me to transcribe, before we eventually get to Osbiston)

BT: Right, so I have changed your first name to Osbiston. What would you like to change your last name to?

Abbi: Wait, what?  I don’t want to change my first name. I want to change my last name.

BT: Oh… okay… so do you want to change your first name back to what it was?

Abbi: Yes!

BT: What was it again?

Abbi: Abigail!

BT: Can you spell that?

(Some more spelling.)

BT: Okay what do you want the last name to be?

Abbi (now starting to weep): OSBISTON

BT: Can you spell that?

I did eventually end up with an account named Abigail Osbiston although I am waiting to see the actual bill before I believe it… otherwise maybe it will just be less complicated to change my name to Osbiston van den Berg than calling them again.

The last hurdle will be to change my passport, which could be a special flavour of entertaining since it appears I have to have my dirty foreign marriage certificate “independently legalised”. Let the games begin.

Bad Ads Part 2… this time why is there a polar bear in my fridge and please make that dog stop singing

Following on from last week’s bad beauty ads, I now want to know what’s up with the weird and often creepy animal mascots that seem to have infiltrated our food advertising. Are they supposed to be adorable or are some of our best known brands actually attempting to terrify us into buying their products?

On the relatively cute end of the scale we have Vinnie, the Fox’s biscuits panda who is supposed to be some kind of baked goods eating Italian-American gangster. Why they didn’t go for a British fox, I’m not sure but overall Vinnie seems quite fun so no real harm done there.

Getting slightly more weird is the PG Tips “monkeh” who comes across as Johnny Vegas’ only companion… but then what’s weird about a grown man who spends all his time drinking tea with a knitted monkey… err… at least the monkey isn’t scary and it makes for a cute gimmick that they sometimes give away toy versions of it with the tea.

Starting to slide into the creepy end of “food animals” is the Bird’s Eye polar bear who appears to live in people’s kitchen appliances and put them into a kind of trance-like state while telling them about frozen food products. All of these people appear to be stressed out women in their 30’s who are unsure if they’re having a psychotropic experience or they’ve just had too much gin. Either way if Birds Eye prawns come with hallucinations, I won’t be buying them.

Even the Birds Eye polar bear has nothing on the Wall’s dog, who is apparently called Alan. I have tried to get my head around just what the hell is actually going on in this ad but it’s telling that rather than looking thrilled that her husband has produced not jewellery, but a talking dog, the “wife” in this advert looks petrified.  Nevermind the very sexist premise behind the idea of the “husband” being only a bloke and unable to express his emotions. There is something about this ad that makes me think of some of the more surreal European cinema that I’ve watched, the kind that gives you disturbing flashbacks. If anyone has any idea what this ad is actually trying to convey please can you let me know. I’ll be behind the sofa hiding from the nightmares.

UKBA set to further tighten the immigration noose

It appears that the UK Border Agency is about to crack down on granting indefinite leave to remain to migrants who have been in the country for five years. According to an article on BBC News, the government wants to “”break the automatic link between coming to the UK to work and settling here permanently”. However ministers are saying, “they could make exceptions for workers earning more than £150,000 or if they were in economically important jobs” and further to this, “Clearly employers need skilled labour from overseas but in principle our view is that should be temporary, while British workers are trained for those jobs.”

So let me get this straight… first of all there seems to be a perception that you arrive, you stay for five years and then they just hand you a residence permit? Have any of these government ministers ever attempted to go through the process of getting indefinite leave to remain? I won’t bore you with the details of the process I went through to get mine again. You can read about it here, if you’re interested. But I will say the level of expense and hoop-jumping that those of us who have decided to settle here go through means that choosing to settle really is a commitment to being a permanent UK resident rather than an “automatic” right!

Secondly there appears to be an undercurrent here of the UK intending to get whatever it can out of migrant workers and then boot them out as soon as possible… well unless they’re uber rich of course. As it stands permission to work is only granted for jobs where there are no British workers able or willing to take these roles so I’d like to know who is busy training the British workers who are going to replace the working migrants?

Adding insult to injury, this comes after the very recent revelation that the UKBA is incapable of managing the asylum cases that it is flooded with and that it’s often easier just to let asylum seekers stay rather than even bothering to assess their cases.

Now, I understand that some people face terrible persecution for things that are not their fault in the countries that they were born in and in these genuine cases any country that is able to grant them asylum should be morally obliged to do so. These cases do need to be assessed though!

I also think that you should have to work hard to get your residency because it’s a privilege and in some ways an honour. While it was tough paying for mine and annoying writing the test and sometimes frustrating being subject to rules about how long I could be in the country and who I could work for, I didn’t feel like I was being treated unfairly.

And I do understand the UK’s need to manage sustainable immigration… but why punish professional migrants who pay taxes, follow immigration laws and are not a drain on the system. Is that really the logical place to start managing immigration or is it just the easiest place? If the real fear is that people go from indefinite leave to citizenship where they can then claim benefits and a UK pension one day why not reform the laws around naturalisation instead.

At the moment you can apply to be become a naturalised citizen one year after achieving indefinite leave to remain. Although it works in my favour right now, I think it’s too quick. Why not extend that time considerably for anyone who is not able to provide strong ties to the UK (strong ties being things like marriage and ancestry or possibly children born in the UK who have reached a certain age).  That way you keep only those people in the country who are wholly able to sustain themselves, while reaping the benefits of their taxes and expertise but allowing them the freedom to live without immigration controls.

I love living in the UK but there are days when I wonder why I am trying so hard to settle in a country that seems to hate me so much!

Another step closer to citizenship, a daring rescue and bout of extortion

On Saturday I took another step in my “journey” to Citizenship by writing and passing the Life In The UK test, which is now a requirement for anyone wanting to apply for Indefinite Leave To Remain or Citizenship.

In principal I agree with the test. If you are going to settle in a country you should be able to speak the language and know how the society operates. However I’m not sure a 24 question multiple choice test based on a book supplied by the ISO proves that better than having actually lived here successfully for almost seven years… and I wonder how many of my British friends could successfully pass this practise test. Of course my questions were slightly different including such topics as Christian festivals, Scottish and Irish banknotes, who is allowed to stand for office, council tax and the purpose of the United Nations.

Of course there is a tidy little profit in this for the UKBA since it costs £12 to buy the book and £35 to write the test. I almost found myself stranded without the funds to pay for my test when I discovered, already in the testing centre, that I had left my purse in my office the night before. Cue speedy arrival of frantic Mr Osbiston with money having sprinted all the way from our house to Wimbledon Library with some cash. He is truly my hero and as the South American lady administering the test who checked me in at the last minute said, “Joo are bery lucky to hab such a nice boyfriend!”

My joy at passing the test was short lived as I discovered today that the UKBA has put up the price of applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain by £100 since last week meaning that I now have to pay a whopping £1,350 to apply in person. Possibly I should bring along a pint of my blood as well since they seem to want more and more by the day…

Third suicide plunges South West Trains into chaos

Anyone who has had the misfortunate of travelling on South West Trains over the past couple of weeks will have been stuck in train hell at least once after a spate of recent suicides, with yesterday morning’s Surbiton jumper plunging transport in south west London into chaos. And if that wasn’t enough there was some kind of IT fault so by the time I attempted a journey from Waterloo to Earlsfield at 7pm yesterday the carnage was still in full swing.

Prior to yesterday, and last week’s incident where I sat on a stationery train outside Earlsfield for an hour, I’ve always thought SWT was alright particularly compared to some of the horror stories I’ve heard from colleagues who are reliant on Southeastern. But the lack of information, mad platform hopping and general pandemonium that was allowed to continue unchecked yesterday was a joke. National Rail tickets are not free and therefore treating customers as if you are doing them a massive favour by attempting to provide them with the service they have paid for is not appropriate, especially considering just how much that service costs.

I decided to apply for a refund, but there is no refund form to fill in and you’re advised to email their customer relations department, which I did. Apparently they’re going to get back to me within 20 days. If any other service provider behaved like that they’d be out of business within weeks but with no real alternative to public transport whether it be train, tube or bus, they have us by the short and curlies so to speak. Don’t get me wrong, the London transport system is nothing short of a modern marvel… but… its providers shouldn’t forget that we are still paying customers and deserve a modicum of respect.

But what of the poor soul who did the jumping? According to a representative from the Samaritans, about 200 people per year commit suicide on the railways, costing the rail companies in excess of £15million, with the highest number of incidents amongst men with financial problems and those in deprived areas. With a £5m investment in a strategy for the of preventing suicides both for benefit of those attempting to end their lives and the driver and witnesses, who are invariably traumatised by the event, one can only hope that the incidents will become less frequent. In the meantime if you see someone looking sad on the platform it might be worth giving them a hug…