Wednesday 29 July 2015

Producers versus consumers.

Here's an experiment.

Call your bank and arrange an appointment with your local branch's manager to discuss a business loan. Try to make the appointment for eight o'clock on a Sunday evening.

Here's another.

Go to your local Post Office to post a parcel at two in the morning.

These are thought experiments, really, because the results are so bleeding obvious that real experiments are not necessary.

The thing is, I can absolutely assure you that your bank have lots of staff working away at eight on a Sunday evening. Banks are twenty-four-seven operations. Their overnight and weekend work is vital. For a large bank, there are probably hundreds, maybe thousands of staff at work at that time. So why can't you get an appointment with your local branch manager?

The Royal Mail, similarly, is... well, I don't think it's a twenty-four-seven operation, but it is twenty-four-six, or maybe -five-and-a-half. Correct me if I'm wrong. But the point is that at two in the morning on, say, a Wednesday, hundreds of Royal Mail staff are at work, beavering away — and yet your local Post Office is shut. What the hell is going on?

In reality, this is a huge mystery to no-one at all. We are perfectly capable of understanding the utter lack of paradox involved in an organisation doing some things while not doing other things. We are not baffled by the way Marks & Spencer employ staff even when their shops are shut.

Except, of course, when it comes to the Glorious NHS.

Apparently, British doctors, nurses, and a large chunk of the public are incapable of distinguishing between whether the NHS has any staff at work right now and whether a service is available to the NHS's patients right now.

'I'm in work Jeremy... are you?': Angry doctors take to Twitter to post pictures of themselves on duty after Jeremy Hunt claimed medics weren’t doing enough weekend shifts

NHS staff turned to Twitter to condemn Jeremy Hunt today after he lashed out at the health service for the standard of its weekend care.

Dozens of medical staff posted pictures of themselves in uniform with the hashtag #ImInWorkJeremy in a bid to show the Health Secretary their commitment.

It comes after Mr Hunt suggested senior staff were not working enough weekend shifts and said top doctors should ‘get real’ about the importance of a seven-day service during a radio interview on Thursday.

Bravo. You're at work. Well fucking done. I've done a lot of shift work in my time, so am not that impressed when others go on about it. Yes, working antisocial hours is tough. It's tough for warehouse workers and supermarket shelf-stackers and lorry-drivers and IT support staff and the police and farm labourers and call centre workers, so I'm sure it's tough for doctors and nurses too.

But does the fact that these crowing staff are at work mean that the NHS's services are available to those who need them? Well, no, obviously not. And we all know it, and so, if they're honest, do they.

I have rather a lot of anecdotes about the ways in which the NHS's weekend service is inadequate. Here are two.

As it happens, I need some treatment at the moment. I live in Northern Ireland but work in London. I am registered with the Northern Irish NHS. I'm available in NI at weekends and on bank holidays and every other Friday. Speaking to the NHS staff on the phone about this, it was made clear to me that not only are they not available at weekends, not only would they never work on a bank holiday (as I myself have done for most of my working life and as many millions of people in Britain do for shit wages), but that they won't even be able to see me on a Friday, ever. Friday is apparently a bit too close to the weekend.

Eight years ago, as long-term readers may remember, my wife Vic was in hospital, too damn near death. It was a tough time, made tougher and far more dangerous by a variety of fuck-ups. One weekend, a nurse was insisting on giving her a dose of a drug which her doctors had told us would be dangerous, possibly lethal. (The instructions were fucked up: instead of saying "Vary dose X based on reading Y", they said "Take reading Y and give dose X regardless".) The nurse of course wouldn't change the instructions without the consent of a doctor, so I set off to find one. It took me literally the whole day: hour after hour of searching the hospital, informing staff of how important this was, making phonecalls, being fobbed off. This was, remember, for a matter of what the consultants themselves had assured us would be a dangerous, possibly even a lethal, dose of the drug. Because it was the weekend, there was one doctor on duty to do the rounds of every ward in the entire hospital. This, we were assured, was normal. That doctor eventually made it to Vic that evening, after having been informed of her case and giving it absolutely no priority whatsoever. That's an entire day to get a basic but life-or-death decision made by the only doctor available. In a hospital.

Does making this point mean that I have contempt for all the staff who were working that day or that I think they were doing a shit job? Obviously not. I am grateful to the nurse who listened to us and agreed to delay administering the dangerous dose until a doctor deigned to check it. There are nurses in the NHS (and I've seen it happen) who simply insist on following the chart no matter what. That day, my wife had a sensible nurse, not a jobsworth. Thank God for that.

But that is not the point. This was in the days before social media, but any one of the skeleton staff in the hospital that day could have taken a selfie and bunged it on the Web to prove they were at work. So could the one lone doctor who covered every single ward that day.

So here's my question. What fucking use would those selfies be to any of their damn patients?

Thursday 16 July 2015

A complaint to Transport For London.

Just submitted this complaint to their website:

This complaint regards the driver of train number [xxxxx], Central Line, which left Mile End at [xx:xx].

I was on this train from Liverpool Street to Mile End. During that short time, the driver made two announcements to tell passengers to stop leaning on the doors. The first announcement started "I don't know how many times I have to tell you." The second started "Cars three and seven have passengers who can't understand the PA announcements." His tone of voice was what you'd expect for that sort of phrasing: annoyed, hectoring, condescending, borderline sarcastic.

Firstly, I hope you agree that, regardless of the purpose of the announcements, this is a completely inappropriate way to talk to customers.

Secondly, although I was not in car three or car seven so don't know how crowded they were, I am sure you are aware that the Central Line in rush hour is often so crowded that it is literally impossible not to put pressure on the doors. Telling passengers to stay away from the doors doesn't make it possible for them to do so. Telling them rudely is no less ineffective than telling them politely.

Finally, London is a popular destination for tourists and migrants. There were almost certainly people on the train who could not understand the announcements, as there are all across the Tube network every hour of every day. Since tourism is a major source of the funds that pay TFL drivers' salaries, it would make sense for said drivers not to be rude or abusive to non-English-speakers.

Please do raise these matters with the driver in question.

Thank you for your time.

Joseph Kynaston Reeves

I don't expect the Tube to be nice, and it would never even occur to me to complain about, say, overcrowding or dirtiness, but getting on a train and hearing the driver say "I don't know how many times I have to tell you" over the PA like Ray Winstone teaching kindergarten really takes the fucking biscuit.

I'll let you know if they reply.


Well, they did reply. It's not an interesting reply, but it's only fair for me to put it up here.

Dear Mr Kynaston Reeves

Thank you for your email of 16 July 2015 about the poor customer service you experienced from one of our Tube drivers on the Central line on this day. We appreciate you taking the time to get in touch.

I’m sorry you experienced such poor customer service from one of our Tube drivers on the Central line. The behaviour you describe falls well short of the standards we expect from our staff.

Good customer service is a priority, and we invest a lot of time making sure our staffs are trained to the highest standards possible. It’s always disappointing when these standards aren’t met.

We take all complaints very seriously, so I have informed the Service Manager responsible for the Central line about your experience. As a priority, they will identify and then interview the Tube driver you described. They will take appropriate action to make sure such behaviour isn’t repeated.

Thank you for contacting us and, once again, I’m sorry you experienced poor customer service. If there is anything else we can help you with, please reply to this email. Alternatively, you can speak to one of our Customer Service Advisers on 0343 222 1234 who will be happy to help you.

Kind regards

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Sex for toddlers.

On one hand, in a world of politicians obsessed with power and influence, it makes a pleasant change to see that Norman Lamb is so uncorrupted by such desires that he's in the running to be leader of the Liberal Democrats. On the other hand, this shit:

So for example, should they should have gay characters in Peppa Pig, or is there a limit?

If you impose arbitrary limits, you’re saying that actually at heart, it’s not equatable. It should absolutely not be out of bounds, which it appears to be at the moment.

It is inconsistent with the philosophy that has led to the legislation. That’s the principle point. So, we have to be clear and consistent.

Clear and consistent, eh? Consistent with what? Well:

We must have compulsory sex and relationships education in all state schools, including faith schools, in a way that makes no assumptions as to whom those learning will choose as their future partner.

So Lamb's position is that the force of law must be used by the state to force people to teach that homosexuality is good even if they believe it is bad — his reference to faith schools makes that clear. And he believes that the same approach — a consistent approach — should be used to force television producers to put homosexuality into childrens' programs whether they want to or not. Even programs for children as young as one, which is what Peppa Pig is.

I have two objections to this.

Firstly, I don't actually care whether they put a same-sex couple into Peppa Pig. Maybe the geniuses at Astley Baker Davies will do so one day; maybe they're already planning to. And maybe they won't. But they're extremely good at this stuff, so I am confident that, if they did, they'd do it well.

But it's up to them. It's not up to a bloody politician to dictate the content of TV shows. Really, this is Soviet stuff. Just no.

A true liberal — one who knew what the word "liberal" means — would have answered a question about putting gay characters into Peppa Pig with "Why are you asking me? I don't make the show. Talk to its producers." But no, Lamb is an authoritarian meddler. He wants control of everything. He's Home Secretary material. No, that's not a compliment.

Secondly, if a gay character were to be in Peppa Pig, it's not as if they'd be having sex on screen, is it? None of the heterosexual characters do. It's a show for small children. And there are already plenty of unmarried adult characters in Peppa. So how does Lamb know none of them are gay? I don't, and I know the show inside-out. He doesn't actually mean he wants gay characters in the show; he means he wants obviously gay characters in the show — a show with no sex or mention of sex or vague allusions to sex in it, ever. Really, he can only mean that he wants a character obsessed with musicals who makes bitchy comments about everyone's shoes and flounces around like a turkey on a trampoline.

And isn't that a tad ... you know ... prejudiced on his part?