Hello, Kitty!

I need to write. My mind is such that its output comes really quickly, like massive data dumps, that often don’t entirely make sense. So writing is perfect as a means of communication for me. I can go in massively quick bursts on a keyboard, then take time to read over, edit, make it sensible. I’m useless in the flesh, unless you’ve got a similar type of mind, in which case we probably get on like a house on fire, and have really loud, non-stop conversations about absolutely everything that go on for hours and leave onlookers confused and occasionally hostile. (If that’s you, then I love you and we need to catch up soon. Message me.)

I have not written much for public consumption, except dabbling in a few listicles. It’s only recently that I’ve been conceited enough to think of my vast output of what I was repeatedly told were the most coherent and well written reports to ever grace a Safeguarding as proof that I can actually write, and if I can write 10,000 words on the Manchester runway disaster in 1985 for fun, then I can start blogging again, and I can start showing people the fiction and non fiction that I write, and I can start evolving myself a good writing voice.

I always enjoyed writing, but it’s not something career advisors had high on their recommendation lists for me. I got the idea about 7 years old that being a forensic scientist would be a cool thing to do and just repeated that. Of course that never happened. I’m now 40 and have finally decided that what I want to do is tattoo people and write stuff. I’m tattooing people, so now it’s time to start writing again.

There will be writing. Some sermons, some listicles, some fiction, some non-fiction, some anything, as long as at least once a fortnight I put something on my blog that counts as writing.

Thanks to Simon, who writes, for telling me I was a writer in a tone that suggested it was the most obvious thing in the world.

[It is in fact the twenty-eighth most obvious thing in the world.]

Time to Talk Thursday

So apparently it’s “Time to Talk Thursday”, in a bid to get people across England talking about mental health problems and help break the stigma. So! I thought it might be helpful if I spoke about my experiences. For the first time, properly. Deep breath…

Because I am high functioning, an extrovert and a clever clogs, I mostly pass for “normal if eccentric” to the mundane. People find it hard to believe that I have mental health issues because I present well, as they say. I also now have insight into my conditions, on the whole: this has made my interactions with professionals frustrating and off-putting. When you present with suicidal depression and you’re told it can’t be that bad because you have insight into it, it’s enough to make you homicidal. Why yes, I can watch myself going mad. What a treat.

If I was a child now I would be statemented as “on the spectrum”. I know some people think statementing functional kids is a cruelty; I say it’s the opposite. It’s cruel to expect your kid to struggle to be functional and have nowhere to go when they need help. I believe that the lack of a diagnosis or any awareness of what was “wrong with me” absolutely contributed to the development of the mental health issues I live with now. In my day we didn’t know – but now we do. There’s no excuse.
I envy modern kids with their vast vocabulary to discuss their mental states. It’s only recently that I have been able to even slightly articulate the things that I think and feel.

I have anxiety, and compulsive behaviours.

I get depressed. I self-harm.

I have been though periods of my life where I was so suicidal only last minute lucky thoughts saved me. Like, one time I didn’t do it because there was a kid staying at the house and I didn’t want him to find my body. Another time I was about to kill myself but realised I was cleaning the scissors I was going to cut myself with and the irony stopped me. It’s always cutting. I used to visualise cutting my arms open and just letting the blood flow out. It was only years later when I took Champix and suicidal depression was forced on me I realised how ill I had been in the past.

I self-medicate.

I have interesting “delusions” that I might even tell you about one day.

I can’t control my extraversion, and spend at least half of my interactions with other people wishing I would shut the hell up and stop showing off.

When I’m not pretending to be normal, I stim, I flap, I behave like a kid and I don’t know what I’m doing. I enjoy time to myself because I can indulge all those behaviours without people seeing me.

There have been times in my life where normality is torture. I spent much of my 20s drifting from shit job to shit job and twice dropping out of Uni because I just couldn’t cope with “real life”.

I don’t like being touched.

I don’t like noisy places and I’m terrified of the Tube, despite also being obsessed with it.
When I get distressed by anything, I have to subsume my urge to drop to the floor, clutching my head and groaning. This is why I rant and rave and yell when things go wrong. If I didn’t, I would have a spaz.

I downplay my struggles because I know people have it worse. “Oh yes,” I said during the Champix times, “I’ve been a bit down before but never like this.” It was all lies; I thought if I described what I’d been through before as depression it would be taking the piss out of people who are so sick they can’t fake wellness, like I could.

My faith in God has kept me together at times when I would otherwise have just stopped.

One thing I do know though is that our society’s definitions of sanity are way crazier than I am. Basically the diagnostic rules were laid down by a load of old white guys who defined sanity as “the way old white guys like us are”. This at a time when they were happily pumping housewives full of sedatives to cure their “neuroses” – when really, they were just unhappy because they were oppressed and downtrodden.

We need to accept that all human traits are a spectrum and that most of the problems we have as people with mental health issues are actually caused by society’s refusal to accept a variety of human conditions. Like how people in wheelchairs are actually disabled by the lack of ramps rather than their wheels, we are often disabled by the lack of tolerance for human differences.

Hopefully this is one of the areas in which we will continue to evolve.

Election sermon

So this:douglasadams

Douglas Adams excerpt is doing the rounds again. It’s right you know. There’s an “elite”, a “Them”, ruling classes who carefully breed and produce children they raise to join their class and rule in turn. These days in our “democracies” we choose between members of those classes.

This is not News. This is Olds.

We might as well call this class “lizards”, to handily label the various manifestations of this class in our various countries and systems, and this suits them as well as any other name. That much privilege can dehumanise even the best of us to one extent or another. We’ve seen many examples of the various types of person the ruling class can produce. We have a long documented history of how those classes have behaved, and we are more educated and able to judge them than ever.

Thanks to the global communication miracle we have today, we have a much broader view and understanding of people and how we think and operate in the world. And we are all getting richer. Even the poor are getting richer. More people have things like clean water and bicycles than never before. In many ways, life all over the world is legit getting better. We’re getting towards a point where we have the technology, skills and labour to actually make a better, fairer world for everyone, and maybe even live in space just for the heck of it. More and more people are thinking this is not utopian dreaming, but actually doable, and the more you think about such a future, the more you realise it is the Lizards in the way.

The reaction of many people on realising this is despair. Why choose between Lizards? They need to be denounced! Overthrown! IT’S ALL SOME TERRIBLE CONSPIRACY. And it kind of is, and it kind of isn’t. Yes, they all know each other (and breed with each other). Yep, they even occasionally meet up at hotels in the middle of nowhere and get drunk, let off steam, and talk freely to each other. So what? That’s what social classes do. It’s what subcultures do. It’s what big workplaces do. It’s also perfectly normal to raise your kids to carry on the family trade. When it goes well, no-one cares, because it works well for all of us, and most people wouldn’t want to run the bloody country anyway. They’ve got their own role in life to worry about and don’t challenge the world they were raised into. That’s how the Lizards get away with war and belligerence and being immoral despots. But that is the world that most people live in and I don’t think most Lizards have challenged the worlds they live in either. They are also just taking a role. They are likely to be a “sheeple”. Even the ones at those Bilderberg meetings and “worse”.

The forces of “good” and “evil” are at work throughout all of us individually, not as social classes, and this includes the Lizard types. The Light shines even on their scaley hides, and for them too, it’s not a religious, corporate or social decision but an individual one to put the ego aside and work for goodness and the future instead of self and the now. Most of our jobs are actually morally neutral. This includes most Lizard jobs. It’s the decisions we *all* make on a day to day basis that plant the seeds of good or evil for the future, and increase or decrease the likelihood of a future Utopia.

If we are stamping around being selfish, miserable bastards, a Lizard will say things like, “blame your immigrant neighbour for your misery!”

If we are being happy and kind, a Lizard will say things like, “Let’s not spend money on war, but on hospitals!”

Humans are all both selfish and kind, so we have an assortment of Lizards all appealing to our various good or bad natures, based on how we appeal to *their* good or bad natures.

If humans were more concerned about other people, we would only vote for candidates who promised to help people, and Lizards would have to work on that basis. We are as much to blame for them as they are for our greed that lets them do bad things to the world.

So, the more humans start to think outside of their ego, and more about others, the nicer our Lizards will also become.

Obviously, nice Lizards sow the seeds of their own downfall. In a better educated and fed free world, awareness that the Lizards are the problem will spread. Even among Lizards. So we can expect the evil lizards to get more desperate, and desperate people make mistakes and get exposed and disposed of. Shrewd voting is a kind of lizard-breeding done by the voters, choosing (actual) memes not genes.

Imagine if the world went vegetarian overnight – what would happen to all of the cows? It would be a silly thing to do and be bad for the cows. You’d have to phase meat eating out and come up with cow sanctuaries and whatnot. For the same reason, we have to carefully manage the introduction of Utopia – what would happen to all of the Lizards? 🙂

The revolution will not be political. As long as people are ego-driven there will be hierarchies and so there will always be Lizards (or even pigs) in whatever political system we live in. Right now we are in a democracy, so vote for the nice lizards and you’ll eventually get Utopia as rights and education open more minds and Lizards become redundant. You can work between elections in any way you want to speed that process. The only real way to bring in that world is by living in it already and being good and honest in every aspect of your life, no matter what you do. Vote for the “wrong lizard”, and you make that goal even harder. Freedom is lost. Books are burned.

Where is all this rambling going? To this shocking twist: THIS ELECTION IS NOT ACTUALLY BETWEEN TWO LIZARDS.

It’s between one perfectly competent lizard and a complete and utter idiot who has used his money and appealing to people’s ego and worse natures to buy and bluff his way into the competition.

It could be so much better if it was two lizards. Imagine if it had been two competent lizards, each making an honest and coherent case for a conservative or progressive approach to the various problems the world was facing. Because if that was what we wanted, that’s what we would get, and it’s what we will get, if we keep selecting for the competent lizards who don’t seem immune to goodness. Calling Trump a lizard is a complete insult to every honest lizard who ever ran for any elected public office after decades of hard work, or who got promoted to the top of their non-elected system after the same!

My Epic Complaint to Southeastern and Network Rail

You know when you’ve just had enough?

A lot of my job is dealing with members of the public who make overly verbose complaints, on the basis of some sense of entitlement based on their own position. It is therefore with some glee that I have cashed in some karma chips and sent an overly verbose complaint to Southeastern regarding the utter chaos this morning, on the basis that I’ve dealt with enough of these over the years to be owed one, and there must be at least one Quality Assurance person like me there whose job it is to deal with this shiza…

Also on the case is my local MP, David Evennett, who luckily has a sizeable majority, as I can’t see either company replying quickly to my long list of questions.

[my address]

Monday 13th April 2015

Dear Sir or Madam,

This is a formal letter of complaint, and some questions regarding the shambles that was the service in the south east this morning, and I am grateful to you for taking the time to read it and deal with my enquiries.

I am aware that there were over-running engineering works at London Bridge, compounded by signal failures this morning, which were the initial triggers for the chaos. I am not immediately convinced that this adequately justifies the delays and lack of information which Southeastern’s long-suffering customers faced this morning, but do not wish to reach any conclusions until my enquiries have been answered.

I will be sending copies of this letter to my MP, David Evennett (Barnehurst and Crayford), and making it freely available on the internet through social media. The replies I receive will also be posted on social media, and I will express my opinion as to how well my fares and taxes are being used by Southeastern and Network Rail. I am not a professional journalist or “blogger”, and I have no specific axe to grind. I am just fed up, and I want to know what causes the chaos which seems to be the only regular arrival for south east London’s commuters.

There is a common perception among the commuting public – that is, the majority of Southeastern’s customers, the people paying such seemingly inflated fares to use the service – that privatised railway companies exist only to take the money proffered by successive governments desperate to prop up the failed experiment in selling off our railways. This perception transcends political beliefs and crosses all social lines.

While Southeastern are dependent on Network Rail to provide their promised services, it is Southeastern that face the wrath of the public, who are not known for their rationality first thing on a Monday morning, facing yet another broken commute. I feel that both Network Rail and Southeastern need to share responsibility when things go wrong and therefore am sending exactly the same letter to both organisations.

Naturally, we do not know the machinations that go on behind the scenes when things are as chaotic as they were this morning. I am the Quality Assurance Manager for a company providing essential services to the public, and I imagine that you have well documented and risk assessed contingency plans for when there are major service disruptions, as we do, and policies and procedures which form the basis for decisions made in dealing with these disruptions. I also imagine that you have formal procedures for analysing and reviewing service disruptions that inform how you will improve your service in the future.

So with that in mind, I will be outlining the difficulties I faced this morning, and asking questions. I would be grateful if you could answer all of my questions that are relevant to your company, or supply copies of relevant documentation where applicable. The content and level of detail in your reply will determine if I take my quest for information further, such as by pursuing a Freedom of Information request.

This morning my journey actually started quite well. I arrived at Barnehurst at 0742, just in time for the 0744 towards Victoria which was just pulling in. The electronic display said nothing but “Stand clear: this train does not stop at this station”, but I looked at the dot matrix on board the train and it said London Victoria, so I happily boarded and the train departed bang on time. I was relieved, thinking my first day back at work after my holiday was starting well! There was no indication whatsoever either on the dot matrix or announcements of any problems. I had checked the National Rail app before leaving the house, but naturally only for my train so I was blissfully unaware of the delays to other services. It was only after several stops that I became aware of any issues when an announcement was made that the train would not be stopping after Lewisham and would be non-stop from there to Victoria. My usual route is to change trains onto the Overground at Denmark Hill, to get to Clapham High Street, so this totally ruined my planned journey. I tweeted Southeastern for advice, as the National Rail app was still showing the train planned to stop at Denmark Hill as usual, and there are no alternative trains from Lewisham. With no response to my tweet, I decided to stay on to Victoria and get the tube back out to Clapham, then apply to get the money back through Delay Repay, as when you are paying as you go and are having to take a completely different route, it has not proven possible to take advantage of “tickets being accepted on other services”.

The train then stopped at every red signal between Lewisham and Victoria. This included at Peckham Rye and Denmark Hill stations, which was especially frustrating – we were there for more than long enough for the doors to be opened and yet they did not. The platforms were chock full of commuters, and the train was half empty, yet no change was made to the plan of not “stopping” at these stations! It was then even more frustrating to have go through Clapham High Street station, and be stopped there at signals too, as I’m sure you can imagine, knowing it would be a long time before I made it back to Clapham on a train I could actually get off!

I finally arrived at London Victoria just after 9am, forty five minutes after the train had not stopped at Denmark Hill. With all the trains being diverted there, plus the usual traffic, Victoria was very busy and access to the underground was being restricted. So it then took a bit more time to get onto the tube. I finally arrived at Clapham Common station at 0940, nearly two hours after my train departed Barnehurst, and rather more than an hour after I would have expected to arrive at Clapham High Street, had I been able to get off the train at Denmark Hill as usual.

I am aware from social media that I actually got off quite lightly, in terms of how delayed I was. Had I not managed to get the 0744 – my “early train” – my delay would have been much worse.

Analysing the various issues with my journey this morning (and reading other people’s comments about their commute) has raised several questions. If this was a failure in the service my employer provides, I would be expected to analyse the incident in a high level of detail. I therefore am quite confident that the quality assurance staff for Southeastern and Network Rail will be able to supply the information I require, per each organisation’s areas of responsibility, as they will already be considering the same questions!

♦ Why was the display at Barnehurst not showing accurate information about the train I boarded? What systems are in place to ensure that station displays are accurate? How are issues reported and fixed? Is there a specific written procedure for this? Will reports be filed regarding the failures at several places this morning and action taken to rectify? Who collates and reviews such reports?
♦ Why was the National Rail app showing wrong information, and continued to do so? For instance, it was still reporting as of 11am that my train stopped where it did not, and has even given platforms. It does not indicate they were cancelled. What systems are in place to ensure that the information on the app is accurate? How are issues reported and fixed?
♦ When compiling statistical data about train services and punctuality, where does the data come from? Will that data accurately show the train did not stop at those stations at all?
♦ On what basis was the decision made for the train to not stop at Nunhead, Peckham Rye or Denmark Hill? Was the rationale for this documented and assessed before the final decision was made? Was consideration specifically given to the fact that Denmark Hill is a major interchange station for South London commuters, changing onto the Overground etc.? Was the potential impact on capacity at London Victoria considered when deciding to not stop the train at Denmark Hill? Was consideration given to the fact that allowing the train I was on to stop properly would have relieved the congestion at Nunhead, Peckham Rye and Denmark Hill?
♦ Is it possible to see any documentation or other evidence that exists for the decisions made regarding the service I was on this morning? Would I have to make a FoI request for this?
♦ Is there a specific policy, procedure or any sort of guidance document that is followed when dealing with major service disruptions which suggests which services or routes are given priority? Is it possible to see this?
♦ When was the next train along the line from Dartford to actually stop at Denmark Hill?
♦ When scheduling major weekend engineering works, before agreement is given, presumably there is a formal procedure to be followed in which the proposed works are outlined and how long they are expected to take. Is there a formal process in which the feasibility of that schedule is considered and the risk of an over-run assessed? Who is responsible for this? Is it possible to see the documentation?
♦ Was there specifically unforeseen circumstances that caused the delay in the work on this occasion, or did they just generally take longer than anticipated? How will this be analysed and used to inform decisions about future engineering work?
♦ Is the engineering work done by contractors? If so, is there a standards compliant tendering process? Are the companies’ quality assurance procedures submitted as part of the tender application, and how is this scored? Is there a requirement to have ISO9001:2008 certification?
♦ Will the companies responsible for the engineering work be penalised for the delays this morning? How is the penalty decided?
♦ Staff responsible for dealing with enquiries, particularly on Twitter, are obviously going to be extremely busy dealing with enquiries and ignoring abuse when there are major service disruptions such as this morning. What systems are in place to ensure that they have the support they need? Are extra staff assigned to dealing with public enquiries at such times?
♦ How is information about service disruptions cascaded to station staff to ensure they are giving up to date information? I noted on Twitter that at one station, staff were advising travellers they could get trains from London Bridge to Charing Cross, which is obviously completely wrong. What follow up do you do when such misinformation is reported to you?

I appreciate that this is a litany of questions, and am very grateful for you taking the time to answer those that are within your sphere of responsibility.

Yours faithfully,
[name and signature]