Why we should leave Wills, Kate and the royal foetus alone

Two days ago a young woman announced she was pregnant with her first child. This is a moment of jubilation and worry for anyone. Particularly for those who are in the public eye.

This particular young woman, having announced her pregnancy, is now going to be watched like a hawk throughout the rest of it, and probably, throughout the rest of her life. Now to be fair she did sign up for this, she was well aware when she married William Windsor that not only was she was marrying into the most famous family in the UK, she was also marrying the second in line for the throne. There is no way she can have been ignorant of the media storms surrounding Williams mother (Diana Princess of Wales) nor can she have missed the fact that every single silly thing either William or his brother Harry have ever done has been reported widely in the media. She knew what she was getting into and she decided it was worth it.

Then she got pregnant. Well that was bound to happen really, it’s what married couples do, and it’s what the nation expected them to do. Her pregnancy was announced by the palace on 3rd December 2012, after Catherine had been admitted to hospital suffering from hyperemesis gravid arum she is believed to be less than 12 weeks pregnant.

This announcement therefore was forced by circumstance, they would no doubt, have liked to be able to wait longer. To confirm that everything was OK. Instead Catherine is in hospital suffering from a severe illness which is being reported in the papers as “morning sickness” which is really something of an understatement in the circumstances and is leading I believe to some claiming she is receiving special treatment because of who she is. This is probably, to an extent true, this baby is very important and there is no way that anyone involved in the care of the Duchess of Cambridge can be unaware of this fact.

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In the hours after the announcement came my Twitter feed was full of tweets tagged #royalbaby. There’s nothing unusual about this, it was an important announcement, so important apparently that for a few hours at least it drowned out tweets relating to International Day of Persons with Disabilities. What was interesting about the comments in my feed was that predominantly they were from people who were complaining that the announcement of the Royal Baby would mean that that would be all we would hear about in the news until well after the birth. And really, do we need daily updates on the state of the contents of the Duchess of Cambridge’s womb?

The answer to this is no, we don’t. In fact it would be better for everyone including the Royal Foetus if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, having been forced to announce the pregnancy were now left alone to cope with the difficulties that they are clearly having on their own with the support of their family. Because right now, I suspect that it doesn’t matter very much to them whether or not the nation is supportive of them, and is worried about the state of their baby and the Duchess of Cambridge herself.

It doesn’t matter right now whether or not that small group of cells will grow into a male or female baby. What matters right now, to William, to Catherine and to the rest of their families is that Catherine has been taken to hospital suffering from a condition which if left untreated can kill; and for which the only solution is to terminate the pregnancy or suffer. Since terminating the pregnancy isn’t an option for this particular young woman (setting aside her and her husbands feeling about terminations), she’s going to have to suffer so wouldn’t it be better if we all backed off, let them have time and space and congratulated them when the baby is finally born.

Speculation isn’t going to help and for those who don’t want to hear the ins and outs of every moment of Catherine’s pregnancy shutting up about it is going to send a clear message to the media that we would like them to respect this young couples privacy and let them tell us what’s going on in their own time.

Discussing their every move and reporting on rumour and speculation isn’t going to help. What’s going on is none of our business, this is between them, and like walking past when you can see there’s been an accident but the paramedics are already there. Letting them get on with it is the best thing we can possibly do.

Please, let them be. I wouldn’t want my body, my baby to be exposed to this level of media attention and they shouldn’t have to suffer it either.

0845 and 0870 I don’t think so

Regular readers of my other blog Miss Inexperience will be au fait with the concept that I live on a boat. As a direct consequence of living on a boat my main phone is … yep you guessed it, a mobile.

Screen Shot 2012 09 25 at 21 10 21My mobile contract is with t-mobile UK (soon to be everything everywhere) which means that if I wanted to I could pay an extra £2.50 per month to get 30 minutes of “free” calls to 08 numbers or I can struggle on using saynoto0870.com to attempt to locate geographic numbers (01 or 02 numbers), other peoples land lines or swallowing the cost of ringing the euphemistically named “lo call” numbers only to spend quite a lot of money hanging around listening to poor quality music in order to talk to say … my insurance company (MCE insurance only list 0844 and 0871 numbers on their site, as do e bike) or fabulously my GP Surgery (the offender has now gone back to a geographical number presumably as a direct result of customer feedback).

Calling a non geographic number from a mobile costs, we all know that, what it is difficult to find out is how much it costs. No where on the t-mobile website is it actually listed, instead there is a page where you can type in your non-geographic number (070, 08, 09, 116 or 118) and a captcha and find out what it will cost you to call that number (if you happen to have a computer with internet access at the time). As an example here’s the main contact number for MCE insurance with the costs for ringing it from a t-mobile phone:

Screen Shot 2012 09 25 at 21 45 57

While I was playing with the form I decided to check an 0800 number, this is the one to call if you need to claim Job Seekers Allowance (which you can do for free from the job centre or a public call box if you can find such a thing and it’s clean enough for you to feel you can use it). It seems from this that T-Mobile have finally acquiesed and made 0800 numbers free, although I notice my current contract is excluded from this. I hope when I renew it they will waive the 7.4p per/minute charge or I might think about not renewing my contract after all.

Screen Shot 2012 09 25 at 21 57 51

Skippy as readers of his blog will know, is with O2 (poor O2 is all I can say to that), so for comparison I went looking for the equivalent tariffs on his network. This is what I came up with:

Screen Shot 2012 09 25 at 22 14 42

As you can see there is no mention of 0845/0844 numbers on there, but I do find this format easier to understand (and considerably more useful) than t-mobile’s take on it. According to OfCom calls to 0843 and 0844 numbers which are used by businesses for sales, enquiry and customer service lines as well as some pay-as-you go internet access services should cost:

between 1p and 13p per minute for landline customers. Calls from mobile phones are typically
charged between 15p and 41p per minute, depending on the provider and the number called.

0845 numbers are slightly cheaper varying from 1p to 10.5p per minute from landlines to between 12p and 41p per minute from mobiles. While 0870 numbers vary massively even from landlines

Calls from some fixed networks cost no more than a geographic rate call (01 or 02, between 2p and 10p plus a call set-up fee in some cases) and may count towards any inclusive minutes in the same way. Calls from other fixed networks typically cost up to 10p per minute. From some mobile networks calls typically cost between 12p and 41p per minute.

Recently some other providers have also included calls to 0845 and 0870 numbers in call packages, making them free at certain times of the day.[1]

So, what is the advantage of having a non-geographic “lo call” number in the age of the mobile phone?
Anyone? No, I didn’t think so. In fact if you search the OfCom website for “0845 numbers” or “non-geographic numbers” you will find a lot of evidence that the general public are most unimpressed with them, so why are they hanging on when people don’t like them? Well, people don’t like automated call handling systems either but there doesn’t seem any likelihood that we’ll be getting rid of those in a hurry either. So, are non-geographic numbers really that much of a problem?

Well yes, actually they are. They are when you have an accident, and need to claim on your insurance and have to spend over half an hour on the phone to the insurance company (quite a large proportion of that on hold), or when you have to ring the RAC (which you’re inevitably going to be doing from a mobile). The extortionate charges for calling these numbers is ridiculous (yes, I know that the out of allowance call rate for geographic numbers (01/02 numbers) is similar, but the difference is the ability to bundle them. Calls to non-geographic numbers (not premium rate numbers if you want to ring those that’s you’re own problem, I’m talking about the numbers for service providers) are to my knowledge outside the scope of all mobile phone contracts inclusive minutes. Some of this is a problem of mobile phone companies charging unfairly for use of their services, but that’s a whole other blog post. In the mean time it is possible for companies to circumnavigate this problem by always providing an easy to find geographic alternative to their “lo call” number.

The continuation (perpetuation) of “lo-call” rate numbers could be down to the fact that these numbers are “revenue sharing” where part of the call cost is paid to the recipient of the call (the way these numbers are administered is due to change in 2013). Whatever the reason behind their perpetuation in a world where there is no difference between the cost to call a number within your area code and a number outside it, they seem like an extremely unfair way of generating extra money from a consumer who has no choice but to call because they require the service that is being provided (i.e. insurance) and who cannot vote with their feet because they are only calling because they have to and not because they are trying to buy something from the company in question.

I don’t have an answer to this other than to say please, give us a geographic alternative.

[1] data from Number Crunching: How much does a phone call really cost? [PDF], (prices correct as of 18-07-2012)

Big Fat Gypsy Weddings: Series Two: No Place Like Home

Somehow I managed to miss this one.  A whole series went out without it coming to my attention, and even when ‘Born to be Wed’ was on I was off Twitter and although I caught a couple of comments about gypsies I didn’t really put two and two together.  This time however, I came on to Twitter early enough in the evening that I spotted this:

which had been re-tweeted by a friend.

This is where I should have stopped.  But I didn’t, I stupidly wanted to know what was going on even though I knew it would make me angry.  So I found the hash tag and I clicked on it.  It made me angry.  Very very angry.  When I calmed down a bit I decided that I should probably find the program and watch it so I knew what I was getting angry about.  Last Wednesday I did so.  Funnily enough I did not laugh, maybe I’m too serious; I just didn’t find it funny.  This is a program about weddings and weddings are, by their very nature, things that people go a bit crazy over; there have been other programs about weddings, I didn’t watch them either.

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In the opening sequence the voice-over claims that the documentary team have gained unprecedented access to the traveller community.  I have no doubt that this is true; however, what they’ve done with their unprecedented access is not unprecedented.  The team wanted to create ‘good television’ and I suppose they have done that.  I have no idea what the viewing figures are but there seems to be a fair amount of Twitter chatter around each transmission.  The problem with ‘good television’ is that it inevitably shows the worst of any community.  Things going right, or things which show that minority communities are ‘normal’, are apparently not ‘good television’.  In the twitter commentary I spotted at least one person describing this episode as ‘train wreck television’ which is odd as nothing actually went wrong apart from the destruction of the Hove Field site.  I don’t know what series one was like, but if this particular episode of series two was anything to go by what the producers have done with their unprecedented access is reinforce stereotypes, which will possibly force the traveller community to be even more secretive and the static community even more determined not to let them settle in ‘their backyards’.

The voice-over and the interviewer focus throughout on the differences between the traveller community and the static community, the questions put were often divisive, encouraging argument and bad feeling.  This was particularly true of questions put to the couple whose wedding was being covered: with Sam and Pat (one of whom is a traveller, the other not) being repeatedly asked about the difficulties they would face.  However, they have known each other since they were children, with Sam describing Pat as her best friend, and Sam knows a lot about the traveller community that she will be joining.  Despite Channel 4 stating on their website that “Romany gypsy Pat faces criticism for marrying a non-gypsy” there was little evidence of this in the program itself, apart from in the voice-over where every time Sam was introduced she was prefaced with the phrase ‘non-gypsy’.  The interviewer also made a big deal about the purchase of a caravan, pushing Sam to the point where, having already said ‘I won’t care if I lives in a bin as long as I can be with you’ she ended up getting irritated with him.  The interviewer just didn’t seem to be able to comprehend the concept that she knew what she was getting herself into.  He continued to push the line about a caravan not being the same as a house, even after he misunderstood her comment about bunks, and asked if she meant ‘bunk beds?’.  She then explained that this meant benches (actually the two are often the same thing at different times).  The interviewer also asked questions which caused the traveller girls to vocalise some of the stereotypes that they hold about the static community.  Including that they consider gorga to be rude, commenting in particular about swearing in front of their mam’s and about not caring who’s around them.  Sam has clearly heard it all before and asked them not to have a go at her culture, they stop – having explained that they didn’t mean Sam, that she’s been in the family for years and knows how to behave – but the interviewer keeps asking questions until she is forced to ask him to stop as well.

There were two sets of first communions shown.  The first (an all traveller communion of eight year olds organised by their grandmother Mary Doll) included some who were wearing traditional white dresses with many layered skirts, as well as some who were wearing slinkier lycra style dresses; the second (organised by their mother Margaret) was of two six year olds.  The six year olds were receiving their first communion early as the site they live on, Dale Farm, is threatened with eviction and if the travellers are evicted they will have to split up.  Communions in the traveller community are a large family event including big parties and are described as a rehearsal for the girls’ wedding days – it is important to Margaret that her daughters get to experience a traditional traveller communion, so they are receiving it early.  The communions themselves were barely mentioned in the Twitter commentary (though I did note one commenter who questioned if they understood what the holy communion really meant – I wish to point out to this person that pilgrims are travellers), however the dancing and the makeup was.  Firstly, the makeup: this is a big deal to these children and they will get dressed up for it as would any one for such an event – these girls do not wear makeup every day, cut them some slack.  There were lots of derogatory comments about the decision to give a six year old a spray tan for the event, in what way has this done her ANY harm?  The damage to her hips came from the dress not the tan, and her mother had been trying to persuade her to take it off sooner so that that didn’t happen.  Have you ever tried reasoning with a determined six year old?  She wasn’t sitting under sun lamps cooking her skin for goodness sake.  It’s just a spray tan.  I’ve seen six year olds belonging to the static community wandering around wearing equally revealing outfits and makeup on the streets.  These girls went to church and then had a party.  Secondly, the dancing: the interviewer asked the children where they’d learnt to dance like that and their response was ‘television’.  Yes, that’s right, ‘television’.  Which last time I checked was available to those in the static community as well.  Also remember context, ladies and gentlemen; these children are dancing at family events where they’re being looked after.  It’s only because of the cameras that you can watch them at all.  The way they were dressed was provocative and yes, they’re underage, but many from the static community dress older than they are as well.  Jenny McArdle former editor of Voice of the Traveller puts the style into context:

Most people are familiar with the very distinct fashion of a young Traveller girl; fake tan, hooped earrings, short skirts and belly tops adorn many a Traveller teenager. Some may say their dress is provocative but it’s very much a case of ‘look but don’t touch’. These ladies are proud of their bodies and comfortable in themselves and see no reason to stay covered up, they’re looking out for a husband and want to look their best. However many will admit that they marry as teenagers to get more freedom, desperate to move out of the family home and escape the strict influence of their parents.

Regardless of whether or not this program is good television it is certainly prejudiced.  A fact which is clear from the language used on the Channel 4 website; I found the above quote by clicking the link pictured on the right.  The use of the term ‘these people’ here states the position of the writer without actually breaking any laws.  Sadly, this is the norm, those of us who live itinerant lifestyles get used to it.  We learn who will be accepting and who will not, as Margaret (the mother of the two six year olds and a Dale Farm resident) states when asked.  Different does not mean inferior, just unfamiliar, and racism is racism.  How do we deal with it?  Where possible I get to know people before I let on that I live on a boat (which is really the acceptable end of the traveller world).  Sad isn’t it?  This is the 21st century and I have to pretend I’m something I’m not, in order not to be looked down on.  I don’t want to live in a house.  If you chopped me in half you’d find ‘traveller’ written all the way through me; if it weren’t a boat it would be a trailer, or a tipi.  For the moment I can still move, unlike most of the land based travellers, I can pitch up somewhere for a few months, a year or so and move on.  But it’s getting harder, maybe soon it’ll be me saying “our travelling life is over” as Mary Doll did.

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Another couple of comments that made me cross were around money: how much do gypsy’s earn? And, how much tax do they pay?  The answer to the tax question is obvious to anyone with half a brain.  If they’re employed, tax is deducted at source, so the same amount relative to earnings as anyone else.  Self-employment is a bit different, and the answer there as in the static community depends not only on the amount earned but also the quality of the accountant and the record keeping.  OK so now we’ve got that one out of the way, the answer to why travellers appear to have so much money is two-fold:

FIRSTLY: This program focuses on special events: weddings, first communions etc. In other words, occasions where there is always going to be a lot of money flying around.  A quick google search will give you an average UK wedding cost of anywhere between £11000 and £21000 depending on the site being looked at; I’m not quite sure why people appear surprised that there’s a lot of money flying around at a wedding.  Remember the travellers being shown are Catholic, there’s no divorce and barring death they’re not going to do this again.  Why not splash out?

SECONDLY: This one is, I’m afraid, going to make you angry but bear with me.  If you live in bricks and mortar you waste money.  Remember, I’ve lived in a house.

  • Houses, even flats, are bigger than trailers therefore you have a larger space to heat therefore you spend more money heating it.
  • Electronic goods – you don’t need three televisions in a trailer and none of them need to be 100 and whatever inches, ditto sound systems, games consoles etc.  I’m not saying travellers don’t have these things, merely that we don’t have so many.
  • Fridges encourage people to buy more food than they can eat, which then goes off and gets thrown away.  I’m not saying this never happens to travellers but you soon get sick of throwing stuff away and buy less, but more frequently.  Fridges in trailers are in general smaller than those in houses as well, so the amount of food you can buy is governed by the space available.
  • Clothes – I’ve lost count of the number of lifestyle programs that go through women’s wardrobes and demonstrate that they only actually wear a fraction of the clothes they own.  Why do you need twenty pairs of identical black trousers?  I own, in total, eight pairs of trousers.  Two are smart, five everyday and one is for painting.  That’s it.  It’s a space thing.  Every item of clothing I buy has to be justified in terms of both need and space.  Go on, count your clothes.
  • Impulse purchases – William Morris said have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.  We all have a little bit of tat in our lives, shoved at the back of cupboards, forgotten about.  Every new thing you bring in to a boat or a trailer has to have a space.  So if your cupboards are full something else has to go which leads to quite a lot of agonising over need.

Of course, not everyone who lives in bricks and mortar will have all of these ‘problems’ but in an age of disposable stuff it’s likely that at least some of the above apply to pretty much everyone who is static, as well as some travellers.  Add on to that that fuel bills are likely to be lower, as every amp or joule of energy is accounted for, and that’s quite a lot of savings that can be made just by giving up the static lifestyle.

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The episode ended with an event that few people picked up on: the horror of what happened at the Hove Field site; it was here that the program’s claim of unprecedented access to the traveller community really broke down.  Their unprecedented access appeared, in this instance, to mean they could interview two people.  One, a 25 year old woman, watching helpless as her home and those of her friends and family were destroyed by diggers because apparently another way couldn’t be found; who intervened when thugs trying to remove an elderly local woman protesting about the eviction hurt her in the process, while the police on site turned a blind eye.  The other, her 12 year old cousin, whose pitch was currently safe but who watched from the top of the joining wall and talked a lot of sense.  I understand the importance of narrative development and getting to know characters within the community, so maybe Cutting Edge are trying to be too broad here.  If they feel they can only develop one or two characters per site (there are over 1000 travellers living on the Dale Farm site) then maybe they should have focused their attentions on one or two sites and got to know the residents better, rather than jumping about all over the country giving surface glances of one or two individual’s lives.

According to the voice-over up to 90% of planning requests for traveller sites are turned down, something which is not surprising but is saddening.  (I’m not sure how well this is backed up by statistical analysis: of the 76 pitch developments requiring planning permission decisions between July and September 2010 41% were approved.  What the statistics don’t tell me is how many of these were appeal decisions, how long each group has been fighting for approval or what dent this has made in the huge mismatch between pitch provision and number of traveller families requiring pitches.  With something like this, the numbers are well hidden and I don’t have the time right now to do an FOI request to get to the bottom of it.)  What I do know is that without planning permission travellers only have the right to remain on their own land for up to 28 days per calendar year, and it seems to be accepted by most support groups including Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) that “The most likely outcome will be that your [planning] application will fail. You must expect this and expect to have to appeal against the decision.”  When applying for planning permission you also have to prove that you have ‘Gypsy status’ which appears quite difficult to do as it’s getting harder and harder to actually travel any more:

In planning law, anyone is a Gypsy if they travel for work. In other words, if they do seasonal work on farms, travel to fairs to trade, and things like that. It is useful to show that you come from a Traveller background (that your grandparents and parents were Travellers and live a Traveller life) and that you still travel yourself. This can just mean that you go travelling to see family or to weddings and funerals and to fairs throughout the year. But you must show that you do still travel, even if it is not as much as your parents or grandparents might have. (from FFT: Planning Permission).

I can think of places in the country where there are no suitable pitches for either trailers or boats, and where there is no chance of being able to develop some.

Do you still think it’s funny?

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See also: assumptions