The Small Things: a comparative study

Regular readers (hello!*) will be aware that my heritage is out of the USA.  When I visit I spend the whole time sponging off relatives and staying in suburban houses.

After complaining for as long as I can recall about what a fuck-up the USA is my parents, for reasons I think I now understand, bought a place in Florida.  We took the Sprout there to visit them, and two sets of aunts and uncles who also have places nearby.  I had to spend quite a lot of time listening to my father moan about subjects ranging from poor quality food to the evils of Comcast.  He was really harshing my mellow, and I took to yelling DOOM DOOM DOOM at him whenever I caught him mid-bitch.  Because while like any country it has its serious problems, the USA does plenty of things better than the UK.

I’m not talking about the big important things like equality, democracy, human rights, healthcare paid through general taxation, and non-shrieky news outlets.  I’m talking about the small stuff which has a minute impact on one’s daily pleasance.  After two weeks in the USA, I felt markedly less like I wanted to scream at random folk in the street about how bloody difficult life is.  So I started a ground-up compare and contrast study and I now present the results of seven whole minutes of brain-busting concentration.  What does the USA do better than the UK?

1.    Free and plentiful drinking water. 

In the UK if you want a free drink of water, you have to carry it with you or guzzle from a nearby river with a rusting supermarket trolley situated upstream.  This is even the case in nightclubs and airports.  There’s a thinly-carved exception for restaurants: there you must wait decades for a waiter to approach then request water, at which point they will offer you a choice of still or sparkling at a price that would make Bill Gates reconsider, and you have to ask for ‘tap’ to avoid being charged.

In the USA, drinking fountains abound.  In the airport they are every 250 feet or so.  At the beach, if it’s a decent one there will be a fountain.  In restaurants, a person with a jug of ice water appears ten seconds after you have sat down and pours you a refreshing free beverage before returning at intervals to top up your glass.  Incidentally, my father finds a way to hate even this: he says it’s unnecessary and intrusive (!).

2.  The availability of (free) toilets.

Let’s start with the notion that public toilets, in my view, should be readily available, free, and clean.  It is a public health issue not to mention a comfort one. Instead, in the middle of supposedly civilised London during a large street festival involving consumption of a fair amount of liquid on a hot day, I have had to pee in a bush in a council estate because all the local pubs and eateries had closed their facilities and I was in agony.  I had to walk past a makeshift men’s loo consisting of vertical slabs of corrugated iron to screen the action and jump over the streams of urine issuing forth from underneath and polluting the road-surface.  It was vile.  Was there a women’s toilet available?  Was there hell.

I have paid 30 pence to use a toilet at a railway station.  K-man has been trapped for three hours on a broken down train without a functioning toilet available and emerged in serious pain.   When one is lucky enough to come across a toilet that is free (whether that’s a public or pub/restaurant one) it is often woefully filthy and lacks the key element: toilet paper.  They are often so tiny that it’s near-impossible for me (and my 5 ft 3 inch medium-build frame) to enter, turn around, and close the door without advanced yoga postures.

In the USA, many of the toilets lack sensible joinery and afford little privacy, but they are very available and are always (as far as I know) free.  They are also generally clean.  I have climbed a mountain and found, to my astonishment, a well-kept toilet at the top.

3.  Refrigerators

Refrigerators in the USA are sensibly proportioned, and because of the vertical split approach easy to access.  They also come with an ice-maker about which I am generally ecstatic (see 1, above).  They are better in just about every way I can think of.  Refrigerators in the UK involve a stupidly small freezer compartment at the top of the fridge, or a hard-to-manage drawer arrangement at the bottom which requires double-jointed elbows and wrists to properly access.  You can get an American-style fridge, but only if you’re one of the ten richest people in the country.

4.  Sandwiches

I hadn’t noticed this one until my most recent trip to the USA.  It was painful to acknowledge because generally, I find food in the UK infinitely more palatable.  But the sandwich is the awful racist uncle of the UK food world: you wish it would buck up its ideas or just fuck off.  It is typically 80% limp bread and a thin smear of flavourless filling.  If there’s meat, you might get one extra-thin slice and it will be disguised among a forest of wet lettuce that has caused unacceptable bread-sog.  If it’s Sunday and you’re in a pub it might be accompanied by some stale crisps.  It is not a meal, it is a rip-off.

In the USA, the bread is a side-show to the main event: a creatively compiled gut-busting array of filling plus condiments.  It will probably appear alongside an acre’s-worth of fries.  You will not require further food for a week.

5.  Road layout

Even driving in cities is easier in the USA.  Roads don’t change names half way down them.  They do not bend back on themselves seventeen times to purposely disorient travellers: they are set out in a grid pattern.  They don’t lose a lane without warning.  Two-way roads aren’t so narrow that while it may have been possible for two horses to pass each other without brushing whiskers, it definitely isn’t possible for two modern cars to do so without someone losing a wing mirror.  There are no roundabouts.  This video neatly illustrates how many things you have to think about simultaneously to cheat death on a roundabout.  What it does not explain is that many drivers view roundabouts as a racetrack and will drive like dickheads.

There is one exception in the category of road layout: highway entrances/exits.  Why, USA, why?

UK 1

There is no reason to force cars trying to exit to cross paths with cars trying to enter, all in the space of less than ten seconds’ driving time.  It is entirely logical and possible to avoid this problem by having the entrance come after the exit.  In fact, it’s been tried and tested elsewhere.  Everywhere else:


Observe Car ‘A’ calmly exit the motorway.  Car B didn’t exit and continues on his merry way.  Road etiquette dictates that if it is possible for car B to move into the middle lane to create extra room for Car C, that should be done.  Car C can enter without fear of someone trying to cross his path to make the exit.  At no point do cars A and C cross each other’s path.  They don’t even know each other exist.

OK, that’s all I’ve got today folks.  If you know of any small stuff that’s done markedly better in a country other than your own, have at it in the comments section!  I’m always interested, even if I can’t find the time to reply between nappy changes.

* Thank you for continuing to read my sporadic writing and for saying lovely things to me.  I really do appreciate it.

Cruel World

Just a warning: this subject is profoundly upsetting. I’m fine, but someone else isn’t.

Since giving birth, I have more often lost control of my emotions beyond a reasonable response under the circumstances.  The first time it happened, a few days after Sprout’s birth, was when this story* hit the headlines.  I sobbed uncontrollably for a while, thought I’d got over it, and then was being driven through the city concerned weeks later when the tears fell again.  The second time I saw a documentary featuring a couple whose baby had died at 26 weeks’ gestation.  Their baby’s first two names were the same as Sprout’s.  It took me several hours to stop crying, and several days to stop dwelling on it.

And then.

A friend and colleague became pregnant.  There was much rejoicing, and she had a text-book pregnancy.  She went on maternity leave amidst a flurry of gifts and smiles.  We all looked forward to meeting her offspring: no doubt it would be, as she is, a delightful kindhearted ridiculously-smart wonderful human being who would never intentionally harm anyone or anything.

My boss called me the other day.  He said, through a cracking voice, that my friend had been for a routine scan feeling fine, but doctors were unable to locate the baby’s heartbeat. Her baby had died.  That is all the information he was able to give me, so my brain filled in the rest.  Intra-uterine death is the medical term.  How that term disguises the true reality.

I knew that at some point, her living baby-with-feelings would have closed its eyes for the final time.  Her labour would have been induced, and my friend would have had to go through it knowing that her baby was dead.  Perhaps she hoped it had all been a terrible mistake and she would have a living baby after all, only to have this tiny hope smashed too.  She would have been asked if she wanted to hold her dead baby, and she probably said yes.  Then she would have looked into its face and felt, well, who can say except she?  She would have had to choose whether to consent to a post mortem.

I do not know if the baby was a boy or girl, but I do know that she had chosen names, and prepared her home with all the equipment and accoutrements one needs to care for a tiny delicate being.  She would have had to go home and face all the preparation, and un-prepare it.  I know she will be feeling disbelief, anger, devastation, loss: emotional pain so bad it is physical.  Her heart just fell off a cliff and got stomped on when it landed.  In addition to that, she is recovering from labour: hardly a walk in the park on the sunniest of days.

What do you say or do to help?  I finally settled on sending a card, and agonised over what to write in it.  After all, my own baby is alive and well and six months old.  I am acutely aware that I have what she so desperately wanted: being reminded of my very existence might worsen her pain.  I do not want to intrude, but I also did not want her to feel alone, unacknowledged, and ignored.  So I sent a card; it’s all I can really do until, in time, perhaps she will be ready to see people – me, and maybe my son – again.

I grudgingly observe that there are two tarnished silver linings.  First, she is young and has plenty of time to recover and try again (though lard knows any future pregnancy would surely have its own emotional issues attached).  Second, my friend is entitled to a full year of maternity leave should she wish to use it.  This gives her plenty of time to access the kind of emotional support she will need, without financial concern, and only return to work when she is ready.  Plenty of people don’t have that.

I feel odd about my own reaction: weirdly self-focussed and guilty about that. Like I have no right to be, and should not be, as upset as I am.  I have not gone through this terrible tragedy; she has.  I can only gaze in from the periphery and begin to imagine how it feels.  Yet I am unable to press pause on my brain.  I am desperately sad, and enraged that such tragedy could happen to such a wonderful person.  I feel helpless, and wonder even whether I did the right thing to send a card.  I look at my own baby and feel incredibly lucky but also devastated for my friend.  Buying a card for her, I burst into tears in the shop.  I wake at night and think about what happened, and cry.  I ponder for hours the fact that however sad I feel, she feels infinitely worse.  It is unhelpful that I have only baby-care to occupy me, so everything I do (down to the nursery rhymes  – seriously, have you paid attention to nursery rhyme lyrics? many of them are acutely distressing) reminds me of her situation.

I know that in time, these feelings will pass.  Far into the future, perhaps they will lessen for my friend, though I am damned sure hers will never disappear.

How could this happen to her?  It is a bloody cruel, cruel world.

*In summary, a woman with mental health issues left hospital with her four-day old baby and jumped off a cliff.  Mother and baby died.

When the wheels fell off, and I became obsessed with my hair.

The best laid plans of mice and men, and all that.

The three hour daytime naps are a thing of the past. Our quiet little routine, and my magical sleeping son, flew out the window and waved goodbye eight weeks ago.  That’s when the Sprout had a whole-body eczema experience, and his cradle cap got infected.  His angelic self was replaced by someone who could out-grump Oscar the Grouch.

In episode 19 of the Blame the Mother Chronicles, two people (one of whom is related to me, and should know better) asked ‘but how did it get infected?’ in tones suggesting marked chastisement designed to plummet my self-worth.  Pointless, really, since I didn’t know how to feel worse than I already did.  Hell, I have no idea how it got infected.  Maybe because he’s a baby and he rolls around on the floor all day, and if I sterilised the vicinity every time he dribbled or puked then he would starve because I wouldn’t have the four-ish hours a day required to effectively feed him.

Anyway, Hell Week consisted of administering liquid antibiotics four times daily and crossing fingers that his nappy would contain the orange shit-fireworks he experienced in consequence, rubbing hydrocortisone and emollient cream all over a squirming screaming red thing twice daily, and hoping against hope for a fucking break for both of us.  But no, because of what must have been his horrific discomfort, not only were daytime naps limited to half an hour (four, if lucky) but also (possibly because my son has a Viking’s appetite) night-waking became a thing.  A big, bleary-eyed, please no not again, thing.  It’s still a thing even though he is back to perfect health.  In the last nine weeks he has slept through the night twice.

The infection took a week to clear, his skin a further week to heal up, and then we went on a transatlantic holiday.  But more about that in future writing.  First, I must talk about my hair before I burst from vanity-related angst.

I never really paid much attention to my hair before.  It was up there, on my head, with hair-schizophrenia: really quite curly in parts but straight in others.  Dealing with it was a minor chore: three minutes of attention every two days because.

It turns out that it’s only possible not to care about your hair if, without really considering it, you know deep down it looks OK.   A little bit birds-nest, but basically OK.  Nobody is laughing at you on the street so it must be OK, OK.

Well.  Hormones bitch-slapped my hair down the plughole in vast quantities starting when the Sprout was nine weeks old.  It was coming out in handfuls, and I do mean handfuls.  I had a lot of hair, so this happened for a few weeks without aesthetic consequence.  Now, over three months later, I have a receding hairline to rival Jude Law.  If I scrape it back into a ponytail, the volume is about one third its former glory.  Last month I went to the hairdresser and pleaded with her to cut my hair in a way that would make it look half-decent then and after further hair loss.  I tried not to have unreasonable expectations.  She tried to make me look like I hadn’t gone three rounds with a world champion hair-puller.  We both failed.  In a shampoo advert, I would be the limp, grey, lifeless ‘before’ picture.

People, observe:

DSC_2531 - Version 2

I am not making this shit up.  To the right hand side of my hairline on the photo you can see the recession.  But for the angle, you could see the same thing on the other side.  At least it’s symmetrical (see: small mercies).

People (by which I mean the hairdresser, and the internet) tell me this is completely normal, it will grow back, and be patient.  But I’m still trying every volumising shampoo on the market, staring into the mirror holding up my few remaining strands of hairline, and weeping.  I dwell endlessly upon how it will be a year before I look like myself again.  I have toyed with the idea of getting it all cut off, but that might make a bad situation worse.  There are no places where I am completely bald, but large areas around my temples where it is a damned close call.  As you can see, in bright sunlight it is particularly noticeable.  Oh, hello summer!

I know I’m not alone in these struggles.  I am eternally grateful that the Sprout doesn’t (I am touching wood) have a serious illness.  And there are more important things in life than a temporary hair-blip.  But good grief, Charlie Brown, motherhood is harder than a really hard thing.


Down the Hatch

Thanks, Wikimedia Commons

Thanks, Wikimedia Commons

The pearls of wisdom dispensed to expectant mothers include a string of statements about the importance of breastfeeding though it may be ‘slightly uncomfortable‘ at first.  Perseverance, I was told, is your friend.  Soon I would be snapping and unsnapping my contented baby from my boob with the kind of careless abandon generally reserved for summer holidays.  It should not hurt.  Soft pillows and feathers would surround me.

After Sprout’s very medically assisted entry into the world, I was determined to breastfeed exclusively for the recommended six months.  I went to a class about it, I read books, I watched videos.  The latch, well-meaning internet videos opined, is all-important.   Just follow the easy steps and everything will be golden and glowing.


I hardly know where to begin.  I am still exclusively breastfeeding, but if I had one iota less of bloody-minded resolve, I would have given up after six weeks.  I knew the first two weeks would be difficult; the information I had overloaded assured me that I would be trapped in a chair with a baby clamped to my chest.  If only that were all I had to contend with.

Those instructional videos might have been relevant for the 1% of mothers who have a perfectly calm hungry baby who obligingly gapes open its mouth while the rest of its body hangs relaxed.  Me?  I had to feed an angry octopus.  Trying to carefully manhandle a flailing fragile red-faced bundle of desperation into the correct position was a game I was destined to lose.

Oh, I won in the sense that it worked: he got enough to eat.  But the teeth-clenching toe-curling pain I endured for the first few minutes of every feed; the cracked and bleeding nipples which took days to heal; the number of times I almost sent K-man to buy an industrial quantity of formula.  These things will stay with me forever.  Sprout puked pink, and I worried about him bleeding internally.  No, said the midwife, he’s swallowing your blood and he can’t digest it.  For two weeks I used a combination of lanolin cream, nipple shields, and a breast pump: I stopped bleeding, and the pain lessened from severe to serious.

The assorted instructionals implied that this was happening to me because I was doing it wrong.  Maybe I interpreted it this way because I was a hormonal emotional wreck, but one thing I’ve learned so far about motherhood is that there really is a shit-ton of Blame the Mother flying around.  That’s a whole separate piece of writing I’ve got boiling away inside me.  The three breastfeeding advisers I consulted all checked the latch and pronounced it to be perfect.  One told me I have Reynaud’s disorder (I don’t).  I expended far too much mental anguish worrying about the need for a ‘correct’ latch and trying to follow step by step instructions and ‘bring the baby to the boob, not the boob to the baby‘ while Sprout wailed and tried to turn himself inside out.

After eight weeks, it gradually stopped hurting.  I believe several things happened concurrently to cause this.   First, Sprout’s mouth had grown so he could feed more effectively and not abrade the surface of my skin with his tiny tongue.  Second, my nipples had toughened like an old goat’s.  Third, I jettisoned the well-meaning advice about how to achieve a latch and just jammed as much boob into his mouth as he could take.  It worked.

I wholeheartedly appreciate, accept, and support breastfeeding and would never suggest formula is better for the baby, and would not have it any other way for Sprout.  But I still find breastfeeding a pain in the tit both literally and metaphorically.  But I don’t think it would hurt humanity if it were publicly acknowledged that not every woman finds it a blissful spiritual experience.  I cannot think I am alone in finding it very difficult but continuing because it is better for the baby.

Even without the pain, there are still major drawbacks.  Chief among these is that nobody can do it for me and sometimes I would like to spend more than two hours of my life without boomeranging back to my son to present my boob.  Pumping milk enables this, but means I have to prevent my milk supply dropping by either feeding or pumping as close as possible to the time I would have been feeding anyway so it seems rather pointless.

Sprout has gastric reflux, which means that after most feeds I need to give him Gaviscon Infant.  To do this, I have to dissolve lumpy powder in just-boiled sterile water in a sterile container immediately before feeding him, then find a way to get it into him at the end of a feed when he is full.  At home, this is difficult.  On the road it is virtually impossible.  If I were formula feeding I could simply tip the sachet of powder into his bottle, shake, and have at it.

Yes, I know it is but a short section of my life.  I also know that the benefits for him outweigh the inconvenience to me.  But this inconvenience should be acknowledged as such: the fact that a benefit exists does not mean a corresponding disadvantage disappears.  I don’t need or want a medal.  I’m simply fed up of reading and hearing information given in a wrist-slapping chagrined tone, and which implies that women who do complain about breastfeeding or give up before too many weeks have passed are selfish delinquent mothers who are doing it wrong.  Breastfeeding might be all marshmallows and halos for some, but the truth is that for others it is a painful, dismal, lonely experience which they go through because they know it is the best thing for their child.

I refuse to feel bad for finding breastfeeding difficult and looking forward to its end.


Edited to add:  This morning, an envelope arrived from my mother containing a cut-out of an article by Eva Wiseman (my mother said it’s because she thought I’d enjoy receiving post, but I think she had no idea how to search for and email a copy of the article to me).  In the article Wiseman says pretty much what I’ve said above, only she says it better and more succinctly.  Find it here.


Everywhere I turn in my life, things are broken.  Not insignificant things like the zip on a little-used pair of jeans: giant ball-ache things.  Specifically, in the fifteen weeks since Sprout was born, these things:

  • At four days: the National Grid arrived outside our house to replace metal pipes with plastic as part of a regional improvement programme.  This required digging up our driveway, turning off our gas supply for two days and fucking about under my kitchen floor fiddling with my gas meter; our heating is gas-powered, they have statutory authority blah blah blah and although they are supposed to give five working days’ notice they didn’t.  Do they care that you have a warmth-dependent newborn or that it’s December?  Of course not.
  • At seven weeks: the central heating broke down, and shortly thereafter our only fan-heater blew a fuse.  I found myself flailing around the house trying to think of heat-generating appliances from which I could purloin a 13A fuse to get our only source of heat working again.  I did it, but it was not easy with a wailing baby in tow.  Lesson learned: always store a variety of fuses in an easy-to-reach location.
  • At eight weeks: the car broke down when we were in the town centre and an hour away from company arriving.  The car is a complicated electronic hybrid thingy and once its variety of warning! imminent death! flashing lights start illuminating and the engine doesn’t start, you have no choice but to call the vehicle rescue service.  You’re going nowhere without their help.
  • At ten weeks: while we were in The Province for the weekend, our central heating leaked into the kitchen and dining room ceiling.  Only the dining room ceiling actually fell down, but water damage ruined the carpet, walls, curtains, and (typical) led to a massive restoration bill for the most expensive item we own – my piano.  I had to move to my parents’ place for a week while the repair work was completed.  I will forever be grateful that I was not standing under the ceiling with Sprout when it fell.  I am not grateful to the insurance company, which required a different assessor for each category of damaged item to visit at a time of their choosing.  We’re still arguing about the value of our carpet.

After that heartbreaking incident, I looked at K-man with tears in my eyes and wondered aloud what else could possibly break in our house.  I should not have tempted fate: at thirteen weeks, the toilet broke.  Gone are the days of a simple ballcock arrangement that can be fixed with a piece of coat hanger – now one must have full and half flush options and they come complete with specific-to-your-toilet part numbers and internet orders and three day delivery times.

So, all that might explain why I haven’t had as much time to write as I hoped.  I’ve been practising positive thinking, so I can confidently say that I’ll have more hours at my disposal from here on out.  Unless this computer breaks down.  In which case you will find me under the desk curled in a ball, sobbing.

Rites of Parenthood


Wikimedia Commons, credit Jon Sullivan

It seems this parenting lark comes complete with several rites of passage, inexperience of which leaves you outside the inner circle of the knowing parental head-nodders.   Several of these rites are in the category ‘poo’, and I had personally cleansed Sprout of several episodes each requiring a two-layer costume change.  Embarrassingly, the first one happened at a friend’s house in the relatively early stages when I had even less idea what I am doing. However, I had been avoiding second on the list in the category ‘poo’.  That is, until yesterday.

Sprout had not, as medical professionals so delicately describe it, moved his bowels for nearly three days.  I suspected his digestion had gone awry and practically begged him to take a shit, if only to save us both from his third trip to the doctor.  Though I did fear the what might happen when the floodgates opened.  As I sat listening intently during a paediatric first aid course, a faint waft floated up to my nostrils.  There were other babies in the room so I couldn’t be sure, but I hoped my offspring had followed my instruction.  After class, I rushed home to change him and on our arrival he was, unusually, still awake and looking pleased: my hopes rose further.  Nappy-removal unveiled a smallish turd.  No constipation, no trip to the doctor.  Feeling smug, I changed him with liberal praise.  Later, he was crying for sleep and needed another change so I proceeded upstairs thinking I could look forward to a blissful hour of not having to tend to any of his needs.

How is it possible for babies to curl out a turd that’s over half the length of their entire body?  Sprout filled one nappy and then, after a quick-draw nappy-shuffle, a second.  Like pride before a fall, my smugness soared to new heights. I left the nappy open and, hoping to release all his discomfort-inducing waste products in one session, executed the wind-relieving yoga pose the teacher sold us.

Seconds later Sprout released his sphincter again, only this time there was no containing the carnage.  My jeans, top, and the surrounding carpet area were comprehensively covered in diarrhoea.  I should be grateful for small mercies: the bum-trajectory was horizontal rather than arcing up to face height.  Nevertheless, I took an involuntary leap backwards and yelled out, which made him cry.  We both looked like we’d taken a tumble into the bog of eternal stench.  I cleaned him up, put him in his cot, and then – him still screaming – went to the bathroom and tried not to cry over the possible ruination of my favourite, most expensive, jeans.

Once I had recovered myself sufficiently to be an effective parent again (it is remarkable how little time this takes when one has a needy bundle of scream) and changed my own clothes, I calmed him down and then we laughed at each other for several minutes before calling K-man for advice on how to remove baby-shit stains from various fabrics.  And it was alright again.

Modern Life is Irksome, Part the First

Sometimes my TV channel of choice is marginally more intellectually challenging than E! Entertainment! Network!  and lately I watched some talking heads discuss the problem that some people are paying too much for their electricity.  The problem is, claimed the heads, people aren’t switching companies to the one offering the lowest price.  If only people would switch companies, they collectively sighed, their household debt would evaporate.  It was the verbal equivalent of a pitying head-shake at the laziness and stupidity of many consumers, with a raised eyebrow of blame.

Now.  I’m going to leave aside the contextual issues including that, for example, many consumers of electricity surely find the switching process extremely challenging (they might for example be older and unused to internet-slash-call-centre trauma, or not speak sufficient English, or have a disability).  Let’s assume we’re talking about the person accustomed to, able to cope grudgingly with, and infuriated by, commercial labyrinths.  Like me.

I have quite strong, yet inexpert, opinions regarding the true nature of the ‘problem’ that some people aren’t switching back and forth like politicians.  I have not yet heard my opinion expressed within the current narrative that more competition is better and people are stupid.

I am, like so many people living Modern Life, time-poor.  Switching electricity company would be bearable if I only had to do it, say, thrice lifetimely.  But that’s not how it works.

Each of the largest six power companies (92% of market share between them) have hit upon the obvious corollary of commercial competition for an essential resource: periodically ensure that theirs is priced lowest, for a Limited Time Only.  So the consumer is bombarded with price packages that include a (relatively) fair rate that rests slightly lower in the murky depths than the second-cheapest deal.  However, there’s a nasty bite in those depths: after the first year or so, the Introductory Special Offer Super Hot Deal disappears and the poor chump who hasn’t diarised a year in advance to research electricity offers during a particular month, and organise switching company, suddenly finds their wallet open and their hard-earned notes blowing away.

To get somewhere approaching the best deal, you have to switch companies anything up to once a year and choose from a quite bewildering array of tariffs.  Will you be boiling the kettle every day and twice on Sundays?  How many people live in your house and do they shower in the middle of the night?  Do you open the window after a particularly malodorous fart?  Given that the last time I engaged in the switching process it took up quite a bit of my time in research, providing meter readings to two separate companies and then listening to them argue over who had made a mistake when they recorded what I told them, several trees sacrificed to confusing paperwork, a month of actual earth time to switch the supply and a further few weeks to refund me for the financial loss resulting from the aforementioned error, this is irksome.

I further note that the average Modern Life household is not expected to limit this approach to electricity.  See also: gas, broadband, telephone, mobile telephone, TV, savings account rates, and insurance deals and find yourself swirling around in a competition-driven nightmare having lost all sense of which way is up.  Or don’t, and get screwed.  Depressingly, a parasitic industry has sprung up amidst the carnage: the switching ‘service’ that uses computer algorithms to do the research and organise the switch for you and pretends the process isn’t that cumbersome.

Before I carry out acts of tedious household expenditure, I perform a rudimentary cost-benefit analysis and recall that I am reasonably cash-rich and very time-poor.  The generalised ball-ache of switching is significant.  The saving might be a few quid or maybe as much as a three-figure sum and I don’t know which in advance.  Even then, it just isn’t worth my time, folks.

Last time I switched company I vowed never again.  Why oh why, I wailed amid rending of garments and through rose-tinted goggles, can’t we return to the days where you signed up with a company and paid a fair and transparent price for your power, building a happy mutual relationship with them, rather than being fiscally whipped for not shopping around constantly to get the best deal?  Put simply, I do not have time for this shit.

So I dropped out, at least where power is concerned.  I finally found a company that appears to share my perspective.  They charge all customers the same (slightly higher) rate regardless of when they became customers or how they pay (aside: many power companies charge poor people with no credit-rating exorbitant rates to load up a plastic pre-pay access key with credit – this should immediately be made illegal).  There are two tariffs, your choice depending on how much you care about renewable resources versus how much you can afford to care.  They don’t have call-centres or choice-menus.  For as long as they continue this approach to their business, they will have my custom.

I resent being impliedly categorised by the meedja and politicians as a lazy simpleton for not constantly switching companies.  I am making a calculated choice taking into account my priorities and resources.  I resent that my options are to either engage in the switching shenanigans, or to pay more.  I resent that many more people who simply don’t know they are being overcharged, or are too busy getting on with life to be able to address it, continue to be overcharged and that according to the received wisdom they are faulty consumers not properly clicked in to the glorious world of commercial awareness, rather than that the companies are mercenary for taking advantage of them.  It is the government’s responsibility, having privatised the power industry, to sort out this mess so the burden rests less with consumers.


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