Friday, 24 March 2017

Caring Schmering

Empathy. It’s overrated. Gets you into all sorts of trouble. And yet not having any also seems to get you into trouble. You can’t win.
Take, as exhibit one, this photo:

Woman walking, I like to call it. It was taken by a chap called Jamie Lorriman when a mentally unstable chap with a grudge decided he’d drive a car over Westminster Bridge and then stab a policeman. You know, that crime that happened on Wednesday that absolutely no newspaper or broadcaster is turning into a huge deal that can be appropriated by bigots to further their own agenda. The photo was subsequently used by a bigoted fool (whose name really isn’t worth knowing, but oddly enough turns out he’s a Trump supporter, go figure) as evidence that she didn’t care about what was going on (‘look at her, look at her, just casually walking past a dying man without any empathy at all!’) and that therefore Muslims = bad and Christians = good. The photographer came out in support of her today to say ‘well of course she cared, she was in shock, look at all these other photos I took which show her to be distraught,’ etc, bla.

Whatever. The point is why do we care (ah ha, I see what you did there) whether she cares or not? I know, empathy is what makes us human, how would we cope if no one cared about anyone else, society would collapse, Google would become sentient, our bank accounts would marry our cars and we’d all go to Hell in a handbasket, fine. But. Really?
Altruism, selflessness, the principle of having concern for others. Lauded, considered a virtue, is the basis of religions and society. But it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Altruism could be loyalty, the concern for special relationships, friends, family and so on and in that form it’s admittedly useful from an evolutionary standpoint because (a) it seems to ensure that parents are nice to their children, and (b) is reciprocal, in that the nicer you are the nicer people generally are to you. Which brings me to the fact that there is some debate about whether people can actually be altruistic. To be truly selfless, to truly care, there has to be nothing in it for you. There’s a cost to you, but there’s no benefit. But there is a theory called psychological egoism, which holds that humans are always – always – motivated by self-interest. The desire to experience pleasure and to avoid pain. Being nice makes us feel good, it makes it more likely that others will be nice to us.
To take the concept of altruism and turn it into a stick with which to beat people with strikes me as being the antithesis of, er, empathy. On the one hand it’s saying you’re a good person because you care, and on the other hand it’s demonstrating your complete lack of care by attacking someone else’s reactions (and in this particular case it’s decrying a lack of tolerance by being intolerant, but no one ever said bigots were logical I guess).
Just…let’s understand that you can be a good person while not necessarily giving a shit about everything. Some of us find it a bit harder to do.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

So, yes. The ongoing saga of the starship Vodafone, and its continuing mission to be as crap as possible. To boldly go where no man – where no one – has gone before, except maybe Southern Rail. They’ve been there. They’ve been there a few times. In fact they’ve been there so often they really should have a season ticket, which would cost them a small fortune and leave them feeling dissatisfied and disappointed, like coming home to find that someone’s eaten all the chocolate hobnobs and there’s only a stale digestive left.
But this isn’t about Southern Rail. This is about Vodafone, and their continuing mission to surpass every previously accepted norm of incompetence, like they’ve dug up Norris McWhirter and are trying desperately to revive him so he can create a whole new Guinness Book of Records entry for Most Pathetically Useless Company in the Western World.
Vodafone, you are truly, absolutely, mind-boggingly shit.
You already know about the ridiculous bill they’ve landed me with, as a result of La Child doing whatever the hell it is adolescent children do with their phones, but ever since complaining bitterly to Vodafone about it the company has managed to dig ever bigger holes. ‘Don’t send texts to La Child,’ I told them, ‘because she’s a child. If you can’t send texts to me, then at least send them to the number registered as the account holder.’
‘Yes, yes,’ they say, grinning like a local asked by a tourist for directions in a language they don’t understand, and of course an hour later La Child tells me she’s had the most bizarre conversation with someone from Vodafone who wanted to talk about ‘the complaint’.
Yes, after having been told that that particular number went directly through to an 11 year old child with neither the competence nor the authority to deal with the account, Vodafone called that very child to discuss why it is they’d allowed an 11 year old child to incur such horrific charges. You couldn’t make it up. So I call Vodafone again. ‘Seriously, lads, don’t call la Child. She’s a child. She’s 11. If she walked into your shop and asked you for a phone you’d tell her to run off and play with her dolls. Come on, cease with the silliness now.’
‘Yes, yes,’ they say, grinning like a… you get the picture. So I try a different tack. ‘OK, we’re getting nowhere now. So I tell you what we’re going to do. I’m cancelling my direct debit. I’ll pay you what I’d normally pay you, plus what I’d have to have paid up front you to use all that nice extra data. But I’m not paying you the balance. You want to talk about that, call me.’
And lo, the direct debit was cancelled, and today la Wife – la Wife, note, the number registered to the account holder at least but still not the number I’ve told them to call – got a text. ‘Oh,’ it said, ‘you appear not to have paid your bill this month. Would you mind awfully going to to pay it please?’
As it happens, Vodafone, yes, yes I would mind. You can take your bill and you can shove it so far up your router cable that you might, just, possibly, start to take note of how very pissed off I am. I try to contact them again, specifically to tell them that their bill does roll up nice and tight and can therefore be used for anal filling purposes, but the website is down. So instead I wander over to twitter to vent. Vodafone respond with this: ‘have you tried our online chat service?’ Er, yes, I believe I have. And calling. Over the past two weeks I’ve spent about 4 hours on the phone to you cretins, and here we still are, no further forwards. ‘Oh,’ say Vodafone, ‘how about, er, our chat service?’
Fuck me with a big stick marked “Really?”
So Vodafone. Let me spell this out for you in words you might actually understand: DO NOT CALL LA CHILD. DO NOT CALL LA WIFE. CALL ME. UNTIL THIS IS RESOLVED I NO PAY YOU NO MONEY. You have my number, and so does the ombudsman.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

And she emerges, blinking, into the sunlight

Regular readers of this admittedly irregular blog will recall that La Child is A Bit Clever™. In terms of intellectual ability she falls somewhere between that annoying friend who seems to be good at everything, and Einstein.
Did you hear the quotation marks there? “In terms of intellectual ability”.
In terms of good old fashioned gumption, La Child falls instead somewhere between Homer Simpson and a three toed sloth. Taking her out of school coincided, by some freakish twist of fate, with the onset of major league puberty, so what with her sudden appreciation of absolute freedom, the realisation that late nights and even later mornings were an actual option, and the dawning of the Age of Rage, you won’t be massively surprised to learn that not much academic stuff happened for a while.
And that was fine. Everyone* will tell you that when you take a child out of school there really has to be a period of unschooling/de-schooling/farting about (delete as appropriate) in order for the little cherubs to adjust to their new, less structured life. That period of unschooling can take a few weeks, a couple of months or, in our case, about two years, but however long it takes it’s an important step. And so we were fairly relaxed about it all. La Child still did stuff. She climbed walls, she perfected her Judo throws, she learned to do a triple Salchow**, she did all that outdoors, activity type stuff that for whatever reason she hadn’t had a chance to do very much of at school. And slowly, some more academic activities started to emerge. She’d go on tours of the National History museum and do a half day DNA sequencing course (the full day ended with you having to bring home a cloned cow, didn’t fancy that); she’d attend a course on the medicinal qualities of various herbs at the Chelsea Physic Garden; she’d spend a day dressed up as Queen Anne at Hampton Court, learning all about the Tudors, and so on.
Then, out of the blue about six months ago, she suddenly announced that she was ‘ready’ and, even more amazingly, ‘willing’ to start studying Maths, and English, and Science, and ‘other stuff’. When La Wife and I picked ourselves up off the floor, we found a little group of other home ed families who were keen to start some more structured learning, and we all clubbed together to bring in tutors.
And now, six months later, La Child is about to take her first GCSE, and by all that’s unholy she’s chosen Maths. She’s 11. Next year she intends to take her English, Biology, Physics and Art GCSEs. Year after that, who knows. ‘Other stuff’ maybe.
Two interesting things stem from all this:
1. If you happen to home ed, don’t let anyone tell you that a relaxed approach doesn’t work. Children will learn stuff when they’re ready to learn stuff. After all, we’re happy enough to adopt a ‘let them learn at their own pace’ approach before they go to school, aren’t we? What does it really matter how old they were when they first crawled, or walked, or spoke, or managed to hold it in long enough not to make an almighty squelchy mess doewn their trouser legs? By the time they’re adults no one will know or care. So why are we so very paranoid about filling them full of facts once they hit school age? “13 years old and you don’t how to factor a quadratic formula? Shit, you’re fucked my sun.” Don’t think so.
2. La Child never quite seems to lose her propensity to surprise. There are times when we forget just how advanced she is, with all that cleverness lost in a sea of attitude and angst, but every now and again she’ll do something to remind us why we went down this road in the first place. And I refer the honourable member to my statement, made some moments ago somewhere near paragraph three, to wit: La Child falls somewhere between Homer Simpson and a three toed sloth. Typical teen, hours spent on Instagram and facetime, but work is a rude word best left unspoken. And yet, here we are with a child who has had to pick herself up by the bootstraps and not only learn all that good GCSE level Maths stuff, but also (in order to catch up with her far older class mates) all of that pre-GSCE level Maths stuff that she didn’t bother learning when she first left school. She’s been sat on her bed all hours of the day and night poring through the books, and bugger me if she hasn’t done it with a smile and a determination hitherto unknown in Casa Branza.
I’m proper proud, I am.

*not literally, obvs.
**no, she didn’t.