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Posts Tagged ‘commuting’

Pregnant or fat – what bloody dilemma?

October 3, 2010 2 comments

I had a random conversation on Facebook recently about public transport seating, and the horrible middle-class dilemma of whether to offer your seat or not

Please give up your seat for someone less able to stand

New tube priority seating signs.

and I had to hold back from just shouting at people, especially when I read some of the comments on the BBC article about it. This one, for instance:

I will gladly offer my seat to an elderly person , I believe that you choose to get pregnant , but aging is one thing you cant avoid! I’m 31 and anyone that is obviously older than me gets offered my seat , but pregnant people … not !
Kevin, London

I hope Kevin never gets close enough to a woman to be able to make her pregnant – he has clearly forgotten/not been taught biology well enough to realise that he also is of woman born, and therefore made her back ache too at one point. Enough of misogynistic ignorant wankers, however, as their existence, though annoying, is incidental to this story.

The prevailing thought seems to be that as it’s sometimes difficult to tell whether someone’s pregnant or not (or fat, yes, just say it), there are legions of otherwise altruistic people out there who would jump at the opportunity to offer their seat to someone less able than them, but they’re traumatised at the potential of embarrassing someone by offering them a seat, as if they’re not actually pregnant, this will inadvertently be calling them fat.

To this I say utter bollocks.

I’ve stood there, heavily pregnant (and obviously so), and been looked straight through, and I’m neither surprised or offended at all by it. There’s no reason that pregnant women, old people, or anyone else should have the automatic right to a seat. Others may be suffering far more discomfort from an outwardly invisible knee injury, other illness or even, heaven forbid, an hangover.

What I am saying is that this fake guilt to cover up the fact that none of us really want to give up our seat, is exactly that – fake.

I’ve been commuting in London for 17 years and it’s a war out there – nobody enjoys the squeeze of the tube or the rush hour trains & buses, it’s thoroughly unpleasant, and I daresay we are all sometimes guilty of “I thought I could get away with it and hoped they wouldn’t notice me looking shiftily away.”

It’s not surprising that involuntary close contact with hundreds of strangers makes us guard our personal space so carefully. One of the methods we use is to have a book to read, or studiously avoiding eye contact – not surprising then that we sometimes miss the tell-tale signs of someone else’s greater need than ours.

That said, I am amazed when the occasional man tells me a story of a woman who has rudely refused an offer on the basis that it’s old fashioned/patronising – both at the woman that supposedly threw the offer back in their faces (sister, what are you doing??!!) and the man for taking this as a sign that all women will henceforward be like that. Is it ungenerous to suspect they’re slightly relieved to have an excuse never to offer again? 😉

My feminist sisterhood hackles are also raised by women who remain glued to their seat (older women are actually the worst offenders) in the face of a pregnant woman in obvious discomfort.

In reality we just have to accept that it’s supremely arrogant of us to expect anyone/everyone else in the same carriage/bus to a) notice us or b) care.

I know only too well that it’s hard to think of anything else when you’re pregnant, and it does sometimes feel like the entire planet wants to queue up and coo, guess the gender and stroke the bump, uninvited; but there remains a huge percentage of the population who are untouched by your own personal miracle, and just want to get to work on time without interacting with anyone too rude or smelly.

Baby on Board BadgeSo, take responsibility for yourselves, ladies. For a start you can now pick up from any underground station, a badge that says “Baby On Board. That takes away any excuses of those that do actually look at you.

For the people who don’t notice/hope someone else will stand up, there is always the tried and tested way that I used – walk up to a set of 4 or 6 seats (giving yourself the best chance by not putting just one person on the spot) and say “Excuse me, I’m heavily pregnant and uncomfortable, would anyone mind me sitting down?”. Not once did this fail me, and was usually met this choruses of “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t notice.” True or not, they have an excuse, and you now have a seat. Win:win 🙂

For those who still have a slight quandary, just bloody well offer your seat will you – if you’re really that bothered by it, why not offer your seat and not make it obvious why? A simple “Would you like to sit down?” doesn’t bear any social stigma for anyone, and will spare you the non-existent cringe factor.

Recession? Sorted.

July 20, 2010 2 comments

If I said that I could, in one fell swoop

  • improve work/life balance for those people who’d like it
  • reduce congestion at rush hour
  • prevent layoffs
  • decrease the need for dependents to be farmed out to childcare/old people’s homes
  • increase staff loyalty & reduce churn
  • make it easier to retain experienced staff nearing retirement age

would you be interested in finding out how?

The answer is simple – flexible working, offered to all – men and women, parents or not, at all ages.

I know I’m biased, due to having a toddler, and also about to be made redundant due to financial issues, but I do think if we reconsider the 9-6 commuter presentee-ism rat race there are many benefits that people would appreciate, and would often be more than happy to sacrifice a portion of their salary for.

Many people during the recession have been offered the chance of /coerced into working shorter hours in order to save the company money – often on the premise that this is a way to retain the jobs’ existence. I’d be really interested to hear if this has been met with enthusiasm where it’s been offered. I know that when I returned after maternity leave on 3 days a week, then increased to 4 days a week, many people – not just fellow parents were envious of this flexibility.

Add to this the man hours lost to rush hour traffic, the difficulty in juggling school opening times and holidays, the fact that many jobs can be done sitting at a computer almost anywhere rather than having to be in an office in an urban centre, and there are clear reasons that it should be considered, not just for parents (yes, of both sexes) but for all employed people.

Many people have outside interests, education, social commitments, transport issues that would make working a full 40 hour week difficult or impossible, or frankly – just not worth the constant juggling. If we’re all going to have to work till we’re 70 anyway then why not make as much of it bearable as you can, and prevent ourselves burning out.

I’d be mad to not see the difficulties of course – there would need to be a massive shift in the lack of trust and presentee-ism attitude amongst some employers, that assumes that staff are shirking if they’re not under a watchful eye. Also the logistics of ensuring coverage for clients/critical issues may be hard, but no harder than organising the rota of a supermarket with a few hundred staff with differing hours, surely? A bit of give and take can solve most problems I’m sure.

Some jobs require face to face meetings, and for staff to be contactable at expected hours – all this is possible within a flexible framework; and even jobs that would be difficult to fulfill in a short week can be shared between more than one person, with the understanding that they work together to make sure the job is done, and flex around each others’ needs if necessary.

Most worries about staff performance can surely be addressed with a combination of performance/delivery based targets and guidelines; and management who are willing to delegate responsibility to the employee themselves to get the job done, within a reasonable limit.

Please let me know if you’ve come across this in your workplace – I’m intrigued to see if I’m being over-optimistic (which I am wont to be) or not.

I propose a medal for..

July 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Whoever decided to put a nursery in the train station at Watford Junction.
After moving to Watford from south London (about which more later) I had a few days panic of figuring out the childcare/commuting question.

The formulas most working mums have to juggle are:

  • long working hours + long commute ≠ most nurseries closing at 6.30pm at the latest
  • availability of childcare near home or availability of childcare near work = quandary of being near enough to get there in emergency, or having a day off and having to commute anyway
  • getting child to nursery (in car or pushchair) + expensive/no parking at station = add (journey home to pick up car + to nursery to pick up child + commute)  deduct this from 6.30pm to see what time you have to leave work (hoping for amenable boss/flexible working times/reliable train operator)

Once you bear in mind train times, not getting out of long meetings on time and the added issue of if your child is ill/the nursery is closed for training for the odd day, then you have a jigsaw with ill fitting pieces and the thing that has to give is your stress levels, and often, sadly, your career.

My saving grace currently is Buffer Bear nursery in the (ample) car park at Watford Junction train station. Mornings involve a 7.30 departure, a 5 minute drive, followed by dropping Eleanor at nursery – slip through the (genius) swipe card door to the platform to catch the 7.44 to Euston (20 minutes – more genius) and be easily be at work before 8.45am. Hometime is the other way around – I leave work at 5.30pm on the dot, catch the 5.51 from Euston and arrive at WFJ at 6.11. There is a swipe card door from the platform (repeated as it’s too good to miss the first time around) to the nursery, where I can pick Eleanor up at around 6.15, and be home for 6.30pm. Milk and a biscuit, some cuddle and playtime before bed and calm is resumed, wine in hand, by 7.30.

Medals all round.