Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Just because...

Rashida Manjoo has visited our country to look at our approach to violence against women.  She was here for 16 days.  She saw some of the things she wanted to see but claims she was denied access to the Yarls Wood Immigration Centre.

She discovered she believed sexism was worse in the UK than in other places, and warned that the government's austerity measures were having a "disproportionate impact" on women's risk of violence.

I saw a report on Channel 4 News and started to look at the story on the internet.

Then I started to look at the comments left beneath these stories.

There seemed to be people in three camps.  

The first, small, group agreed with Ms Manjoo.

The second, significant group were outraged.  Surely the UK wasn't as bad as other countries?  What about Saudia Arabia?  What about Pakistan? What about, what about, what about…?  The point was that there were other countries that were worse than us so the criticism was unfair.

Really?  So if we have a sexist culture then that's OK providing there's somewhere else that's worse?  Isn't that like condoning torture in the UK providing there are some other countries that have "worse" torture?  Saying it's OK to kill people but that our "kill rate" is lower than some other countries. I could go on but you get the idea.

And then there was the third, reasonably-sized, group who just thought she was wrong.  Maybe she is, maybe she isn't.

 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

A riveting tale

This blog post is a misnomer because this is actually about a stapler.  Well a stapler and a minor personality defect.

A few weeks ago at work I needed a heavy duty stapler.  I wasn't just stapling a few sheets of paper, I was stapling a book.  OK, maybe not quite a book but a chunky wad of cheap paper.

Pete, the Stapler King, was out of the office but this didn't deter me.  I knew he wouldn't mind so I went and borrowed from his desk-based stapler display and grabbed the biggest, fattest stapler I could see.

My first staple didn't go too well.  The second attempt was also a bit rubbish.  After about seven staples I had a gummed up stapler with wedged staples.  You know the kind of thing, the more you try and staple your way out of the problem, the worse it gets.

I asked Al for help because that's what you do.  If you can't fix something yourself you ask for help.  I wasn't sure that Al had what it would take, but he was quietly confident.  It turns out that Al just added more staples to the staple mass that had wedged itself into the inner workings of the stapler.  I needed more help.

I turned to my best friend, the Internet, and found the Rexel website.  Surely there would be an instruction manual for this staple of office equipment (see what I did there?)

I searched in vain but I did discover a contact us link.  I duly clicked and filled in the brief online form explaining the stapler paralysis I had encountered and asked for an instruction manual.  I even attached a photo so they could identify the correct model.  I was being a little optimistic because the stapler I was dealing with was old, but, as I explained in my email, one doesn't buy a heavy duty stapler without expecting it to last for a considerable time.

I waited about ten minutes.  There was no email with an attached pdf and I still needed to staple things.  It was then that I took drastic action.

Ken also happened to be out of the office so I raided his tools and found some long-nosed pliers.  Brute force and long-nosed pliers succeeded where Al had failed.  I pulled a vast quantity of spare metal from the stapler and it was usable once more.

I thought nothing more about this until this week, three weeks after the incident, when an email appeared from Rexel.  An engineer had clearly been given the task of responding to "this nutter from Ford" because that's exactly how he addressed his email to me.

Actually he didn't, well he might have.  I just don't know because I haven't read the email, because I don't need to; I have my solution and I needed that solution three weeks ago.

Monday, 24 March 2014

The blogger's weapon of choice

'This blog isn't secret, but it doesn't need to be.  Yes, I expose a lot about me and my life here but I'm OK with that.  Typing it here takes it out of my brain where there is limited capacity.  I can store thoughts on the interweb thus expanding my brain capacity virtually.

So why do people do secret blogs?  Well there is the infamous Belle de Jour blog where the blogger had a very good reason for hiding her identity.  The Secret Footballer is by his very nature, secret.  And there was also Fleet Street Fox who is now exposed but was once a secret journalist blogging from within the industry.  I'm sure there are many whistle blowing type blogs where secrecy is essential.

I think I've found another where secrecy is optional, and lack of secrecy can be used as a weapon.

Ethan lied to me last week and told me he'd done his maths homework.  Since then he claims he lost his homework over the weekend (but he hadn't done it before he lost it).  He could have asked for another copy today at school and still had time to do the homework this evening before the deadline tomorrow.  Tonight was when he chose to tell me he'd lost the homework and I launched Operation Find Homework (which failed dismally).  We didn't find the homework but we did find lots of disorganisation, lots of mess and lots of junk.

The thing that really annoyed me, other than the complete disgrace of a messy school bag, was the stuff I'd given Ethan for the school Mothers' Day sale.  It has been carried to and from school for about a month without actually making it into school.

I honestly don't know how to improve Ethan's organisation, tidiness and memory.  I've tried a lot of things, but I now have a secret weapon - the blog.  I took embarrassing pictures of Ethan's messy life and created a blog, just for him.

If his attitude towards his life improves measurably then the blog can stay a secret.  If not then it will be published on Facebook and Twitter and his messiness will be exposed to all of his friends' mums and naturally filtered down to his friends.  I'm hoping that the threat of public humiliation might just be the turning point I've been hoping for.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

How very dare you?

We're thinking of selling the house.  Well when I say thinking I mean we might have had a casual conversation about it and the next thing I know I'm booking valuations with three estate agents.

And there's the thing, I booked the appointments.  Dave wasn't involved at all.  I might have mentioned it in passing to him after I'd booked them but it was me that sorted it.

A couple of the estate agents asked about who else lived at the property and asked for and took Dave's details.

These two estate agents confirmed the appointment in writing.  And the letters were addressed to my husband and me.

They thanked my husband and me for giving them the opportunity to provide us with an up to date valuation.  Why are they thanking my husband?  It wasn't his idea and, when booked, he knew nothing about it.

They looked forward to meeting us.  Well they'll only be meeting me because I'M THE ONE THAT MADE THE APPOINTMENT!!!

They said if we had any questions we should get in touch and they'd be happy to help.  Well I've got a question "WHY THE HELL DO YOU FEEL IT'S NECESSARY TO WRITE TO MY HUSBAND WHEN I'M YOUR CUSTOMER RIGHT NOW???"

I'm a tad annoyed.  Their copy books are already blotted and there had better be a significant improvement in attitude or they'll never see a penny of commission, if we sell, which we don't really want to.

How very dare they?

Monday, 17 March 2014

Parenting advice needed

Today was not a good day for Ethan.

On the plus side he remembered his football kit this morning.  That doesn't always happen.  He also tells me he learned something at school today.  This never happens.

The downsides started just before nine o'clock when I received a call from Sarah. (Thanks Sarah)

Apparently our garage door was open and the keys were in the lock.  The keys on the keyring could open the garage, the shed, and the back door of the house.  Sarah kindly offered to lock the garage and pop the keys through the letterbox.  (Thanks again Sarah)  

These keys were left there overnight and this morning until Sarah spotted them.  Ethan left them there.

When Ethan was in the house after school I tried to get him to think about what he might have forgotten to do.  He didn't figure it out so I told him I was disappointed with him and I explained why.  I also told him about the potential consequences of his behaviour: the shed contents could have been stolen, the garage contents could have been stolen, the house contents could have been stolen, we could have been murdered in our beds.

None of this happened.  But that isn't the point.

So after explaining what he had forgotten to do I had expected an apology.  Nothing was forthcoming.  Nothing at all, just silence.

If the worst didn't happen then was I right to be disappointed?

Then in a chance conversation with Nyree (Thanks Nyree) I discovered that parents' evening is next week.  I should have received a note asking when we would like to meet Ethan's teachers.  The note had been languishing in Ethan's school bag for a fortnight.  I was completely unaware.

The form for parents' evening was due back last Wednesday. 

I once again explained my disappointment and this time there was an apology.

These are not isolated incidents.  Ethan has history.

I need advice from more experienced parents.  What the hell should I do because I'm all out of tether?

Friday, 14 March 2014

I'm on a bus

I'm actually on a bus. And it's one of those quaint ones run by a private company outside of London. It's a very different experience to the TFL red bus experience.

To find out which buses run from one place to another use traveline.info.  This site also tells you when they run and which particular bus stop you need.

This bus company running the local 21 service doesn't have a website (how very retro). The franchise switched operators recently and either the new operator is SM Coaches or the new operator bought vehicles from the previous operator who was SM Coaches.

I turned up at the bus stop early so I wouldn't miss the bus. Right on cue a number 71 approached. I hesitated. From a distance a seven can look like a two without a bottom. I let it pass.

I waited. My bus was late.

I looked around the bus stop for clues that my internet research was correct. There was nothing. No timetable or any kind of bus information. It could just as easily be a resting place for a weary as it could be a bus stop, apart from the sign that said "bus stop".

Six minutes late, my bus arrived. And I found a new way to get from my house to Ongar. 

One of the reasons for taking the bus was to check the route worked, and it does. And I had a little adventure along the way.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Ann's tarty lemon tart

I've tried several recipes and this is my own recipe based on having a 25cm flan tin and needing a recipe that works for that.

Serves about eight with very generous helpings. This recipe needs a 25cm non stick flan tin with removable base.

Ingredients

For sweet pastry shell

  • 180g plain flour
  • 120g cold unsalted butter chopped into smallish pieces
  • 20g icing sugar
  • 1 large egg

For filling

  • 6 large eggs
  • 150ml double cream
  • 260g caster sugar
  • finely grated zest and juice of 5 medium lemons

Method

  • Put flour and butter in a food processor and blitz until it resembles sand.
  • Add egg and blitz until the starts to come together as a dough.  Pop in a plastic bag and put in the fridge for half an hour or longer.  You can freeze the dough at this stage for use another day.  Chilling the dough makes it a little easier to handle.
  • Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured piece of baking parchment with a lightly floured rolling pin.
  • Carefully lift the pastry into the tart tin - balancing it on a rolling pin can help.  If the pastry breaks, don't worry.  You can patch any broken pieces together quite easily.
  • Make sure the pastry is gently pushed into the tart tin.  The outside of the middle section of your index finger will do this perfectly.  It needs to be pushed gently into the fluting of the tin edges. No matter how I try to do this properly this section always expands when baked resulting in thicker pastry than I'd like.  It's not a disaster but I'm not quite sure what the fix is.
  • Excess pastry hanging over the side of the tin is fine at this stage.
IMG 9430
  • Pop the tart case in the fridge for at least 30 mins.  You can freeze the tart case at this point if you want to get ahead.
  • Heat oven to 180˚C (for fan oven).
  • Prick tart base with a fork - this prevents the tart case from "puffing up" later.  Keep a small amount of dough to one side just in case you need to do emergency patching halfway through the case baking.
  • Line tart case with baking parchment and baking beans. (Baking parchment can be made more pliable if you wash it and dry it or scrunch it up and unravel.)
  • Place on baking tray and cook for 15 mins.
  • Take out of oven. 
IMG 9431
  • Carefully trim excess pastry from the top edge of the tart tin (not easy) and remove the baking beans and baking parchment and pop back in the oven for a further 15 mins.
IMG 9432
  • Your tart tin should now be fully cooked and needs to be cooled ready for the lemony bit.
  • If you've turned the oven off while the tart case cooled, then turn it back on again - 180˚C (for fan oven).
  • Whisk the eggs and then add the remaining ingredients and whisk again.  You're not trying to whisk it to add air at this point, just to mix it until well combined.
  • Once combined, pop into a jug.  
  • The best way to add the lemony bit to the case is to pour it into the case while the tart tin is sitting on a baking sheet in the oven.  This isn't easy.  My oven shelf, when half pulled out is not horizontal; it's on a slight slope.  Ideally you want your tart case horizontal as you will want to fill it with as much filling as possible.  What you want avoid is the filling spilling over the edge of the tart tin so take care.  I end up pouring with my right hand and propping up the oven shelf with the other hand.
  • Bake for 30-35 mins.  The centre should have a wobble when it's taken out of the oven as the tart continues to cook after it's removed from the oven.  If you cook it for too long it'll crack as it cools.
  • Cool and then pop in the fridge.
IMG 9436
  • Dust delicately with icing sugar just before serving.

 

 

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

My reply to John

Hi John

Your prospect database needs updating.  I’m not the droid you’re looking for.

Kind Regards,

Ann Cardus



Hi Ann,

I’ve noticed some of the online ads associated with Ford, and I wanted to reach out because I think 
XXXXX can help you improve performance and lower costs at the same time.

XXXXX can transform your static display methodology into a robust data driven dynamic program that will increase the performance of your campaigns and allow for a more efficient use of your media dollars.

Here are a few strategies and objectives we have supported for our client's:

-          Message / Performance Testing.  We offer a simple A/B test to determine what types of headlines or offers work best, multivariate testing for message refinement
or we can use our flexible taxonomy to define any test you like.
-          Best Match. This is where we can connect with your DMP to target ads based on behavior or different audience segments.
-          Media Agnostic. Client's use us for Mobile / and Web ads. We support HTML Ad Rendering and Flash Rendering when needed.
-          Performance Lift. We help clients raise performance by identifying underperforming ads sooner allowing a more efficient use of media dollars.
-          Reduce ad production costs. XXXXX can drastically cut ad production costs, in some cases by millions.  Having real time update capabilities also cuts down on trafficking time.

Would you have some time for a brief introductory call to see if we can help with your display ad program? 

Thank you and I look forward to speaking soon.

 


Regards,




John

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Hey Tom

Tom wrote to me: 

Hello Ann, 

This is Tom with XXXXX Company, a Chicago-based Adobe Executive Level Partner. 

Although XXXXX Company has performed over 130 successful AEM/CQ5 implementations and helped many clients take advantage of little known features within the Adobe Digital Marketing Cloud, we don't have much contact with the team at Ford. Therefore, I'd like to set-up a short introduction call. 

The intent of this call is simply for introductions, discuss your Web initiatives, and see if XXXXX Company's Adobe expertise fits the direction Ford is headed. Attached is a brief overview of XXXXX Company. 

Are you available for a 15 – 20 minute call early next week to assess whether or not it makes sense to continue our conversations? 

What are your thoughts? 

Best Regards, -- Tom 

and I replied: 

Hi Tom 

If I told you that I worked in the UK and that my responsibilities are nothing to do with Social Media or Digital Marketing would you still want a chat? 

I doubt it. 

Wherever you have found my email address you have discovered an out of date contact. If you have paid for this as “prospect data” then I would a) like to know who is supplying my personal information without my permission and b) advise you to request a refund. 

I know working in sales is tough and making that first contact is tough, but it doesn’t help when the prospect data you’re using isn’t reliable. 

I wish you good luck but please remove my name from your database. 

Kind Regards, 

Ann Cardus

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Don't privatise our probation service

The privatisation of our probation services is a disgrace. Payment by results for a service to be delivered by private companies is wrong. It just is.

I have worked for the probation service (albeit a six month stint in HR) but I discovered enough to know that people who work in the probation service do so because they are caring individuals who want to make a difference.

Will these same individuals want to transition to a private company motivated by corporate greed? The answer is no, and they are leaving in droves.

Hear for yourselves why this policy needs changing on Radio 4's File on 4:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03vf0f7

Spam, spam, eggs and spam

You know those irritating texts for personal injury or the ones offering a payday loan? Or in my case texts from the furniture company Dwell.

I signed up to receive marketing info from Dwell a few years ago and then they went bust. Within days they were up and trading again. But to my mind the new company was new with new owners. I had given the old company permission but not the new company.

I tried to stop this new company sending me texts by following the instructions in the text that asked me to reply with the word STOP. It didn't work and each new text from then irritated me more than the last.

Last night I decided to report them to the Information Commissioner's Office. By doing that I discovered that there's an easy way to report SPAM texts to your mobile operator.

Simply forward the offending text to 7726. You'll then get an acknowledgment text asking for the number of the sender. Text back with that and the offending company is reported. Job done.


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Sunday, 16 February 2014

Muted Make-up

Hannah mentioned that amongst her school group there was an email going back and forth about whether Year 7 girls should be allowed to wear make-up.

She wanted to know how to mute the conversation as there were a large number of girls engaging in the email dialogue and all were using the reply to all button.  She's not in the slightest bit interested in wearing make-up or in having a conversation about it.

Well the great news is that in Gmail it is possible to mute a conversation so you're not bothered by reply to all on a subject that isn't of interest.

But it got me thinking, and researching, make-up for teenage girls and women.

It turns out that make-up can make someone feel better about themselves.  The kicker though is that those wearing make-up generally have lower self esteem than those that don't.

I think the best place to be is to be comfortable without the mask. Far better to work on the self esteem problem than to cover it up with make-up.

I don't need to provide Hannah with this advice but I hope she retains her positive attitude and never feels she needs make-up.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

A definition

Female genital mutilation is very much in the news.  To be honest I'd rather it wasn't.  Clearly it's a completely hideous practice but that isn't why I wish it wasn't in the news.  Being completely selfish I just hate hearing about it.  Hearing about it makes me think about it and I really don't want to think about it while I'm eating my breakfast, driving to work, cooking the dinner or relaxing on the sofa, or actually anytime.

So when inflicted on girls FGM is child abuse.  I'm pretty sure that's not in question.

I assume, by applying the same reasoning, that circumcision of boys is also child abuse.

I imagine that applying a tattoo to a child would be considered child abuse too.

What about ear piercing?

I think I'm in love (with an energy company)

Scottish Power wrote to me today to let me know how much energy I used in 2013 and how much I might expect to pay for my energy in 2014.

As the money normally floats out of the joint account on a monthly basis I had no idea we were spending that much.  Actually that is a big fat lie.  I did know how much we were spending but, because the numbers were so horrific, I had blocked them in the same way that people can't remember traumatic experiences; they're pushed into the subconscious to give us all nightmares.

So I dragged myself to the Uswitch website.  

The last time I switched energy bills was I think after I was cornered in Sainsbury by someone who clearly earned a big fat commission.  At the time, Scottish Power were a better deal than British Gas so switching made sense.

I plugged in my usage numbers as this provides an accurate comparison tariff to tariff.

Uswitch told me I could save £404.  £404!!!  That's one hell of a shopping trip that I can claim because it's me saving the money.  Or it's a large chunk of the summer holiday paid for, or it's a hundred and one other things like fixing the rotting garage door and replacing the garage guttering.  The garage is the most likely recipient of any saving, which is a shame because I'm overdue a shopping trip.

The company that can save me this cash is Ovo energy.  Now weren't they the ones who were telling the truth to the House of Commons Select Committee whilst nPower, British Has, eon and the rest of them lied about fluctuating energy prices?  I do believe they were.

Ovo Energy also source 15% of their energy from renewable sources.  How terribly ethical.

Ovo Energy also pay 3% on credit balances.  Really?  I mean really?  That's better than any High Street bank or Building Society.

What's their telephone number?  Funny you should ask: they have a call centre in Bristol full of lovely Bristolians and you can dial 0800 5999 440, free from most landlines, or 01179 303100 for those of you with free minutes calling from your mobile where 0800 numbers are chargeable.  How thoughtful; you get to choose which phone number to call depending on which suits you. 

Oh, and they're on Twitter @OvoEnergy.

And ofcourse Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ovoenergy

And they're even on Google+ (weirdos): https://plus.google.com/+ovoenergy/posts

And YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/OvoEnergyTV

And they blog (only freaks blog): http://www.ovoenergy.com/blog/

And if that isn't enough they're happy for you to pop in for a chat.  I know!!!  Speak to a real person face to face.  You have to be in Bristol mind but that might be half the fun.  (40 St Thomas, Bristol, BS16JX)

And for the old folk they have e-mail, how sweet: sales@ovoenergy.com 

I sound like I'm on commission, I'm really not.  I haven't even switched yet, but I will.  I haven't even spoken to them yet, but I will.  I have sent them a couple of tweets though, 'cos I'm like that.  I also sent Scottish Power and Uswitch a tweet too, 'cos I'm like that.

 

Friday, 24 January 2014

Shooting the locals

Someone was shot today near Shenfield station as they emerged from their car.  They were shot in the leg so the person with the gun either didn't mean to kill them or is a really lousy shot.

I found out about this soon after it happened because it resulted in a temporary station closure at Shenfield.    I started out being interested in the associated disruption to my daughter's journey to school and then started to be curious about the shooting.  You see it's not a regular occurrence in this neck of the woods.

Later in the day I saw the incident reported by the Gazette and posted on Facebook.  The first and only comment, when I saw it, was from someone who said "No one gets shot for no reason though usually, do they?"

She's absolutely right.  It's usually because someone who isn't very nice is holding a gun and pulls the trigger.  

But seriously, did she really mean to imply that the victim must have been "asking for it/deserved it"? Really?  Without knowing who has been shot or what are the circumstances if you are a victim of a shooting then there must be a reason?

I don't know who was shot.  I don't know why they were shot, and I'm not going to guess or assume anything.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Easy peasy choccy biccy wocs

Biccy wocs

This is a Nigella recipe.  I didn't read it properly first time and got them wrong.  This is a baking crime because it has to be one of the easiest biscuit recipes on this planet.  It also has hardly any ingredients.

Nigella thinks they are a "chic accompaniment to a tub of good vanilla ice cream."  My needs are simpler and I think they are the perfect, in significant quantities, with a cuppa.

You will need a couple of baking sheets and either grease these or cover with baking parchment (I did the latter).  Makes 35 if you like small biccy wocs like Nige.  Makes 24-30 if your walnuts are a bit bigger (this makes sense later).

Ingredients

  • 250g (yes that's a whole slab) of unsalted butter at a squidgy-ish room temperature
  • 125g sugar (Nige uses caster but I use cheaper unrefined granulated - not sure it makes a jot of difference)
  • 300g self-raising flour
  • 30g cocoa

Method

  • If your oven takes a long time to heat up, turn it on to 170˚C or 150˚C for a fan oven.  If you have a super speedy oven then wait until after your mixture becomes a dough.
  • Chop your butter up and then whack it in a mixer with sugar until it is pale soft and creamy.  This means mixer at full speed, scraping the sides occasionally and waiting until it's properly pale and light and creamy.  It is possible to this by hand and if you do you may well eliminate bingo wings.
  • Sieve the flour and cocoa onto your creamy yumminess and then mix at a slow speed.
  • Have faith.
  • It will become a dough before your very eyes.
  • Don't overdo this bit.  As soon as it has become recognisably a dough you can stop mixing.
  • Grab a walnut-sized bit of dough and roll in your palms to make a walnut-sized ball and place on your baking sheet.  Repeat until all the dough has been used
  • Space the dough balls out a little bit on the baking sheet because they spread whilst cooking (not a lot, but you don't want them all joining up in the oven.)
  • Take a fork and squish your balls leaving tine shaped indentations.  This is the bit I didn't do first time and it turns out to be important!

Biccy wocs prep

  • Pop in the oven for five mins and then turn oven down to 150˚C or 140˚C for fan oven.  
  • Leave in for a further 15 mins.
  • Use a palette knife to carefully move the biscuits onto a cooling rack.
  • Store in airtight container.
  • These are freezable but will keep in a tin for quite a few days (if they last that long).

Easy peasy.