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The collected opinions of an august and aristocratic personage who, despite her body having succumbed to the ravages of time, yet retains the keen intellect, mordant wit and utter want of tact for which she was so universally lauded in her younger days. Being of a generation unequal to the mysterious demands of the computing device, Lady Bracknell relies on the good offices of her Editor for assistance with the technological aspects of her journal.

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Location: Bracknell Towers

Monday, December 31, 2007

Postage and packing

Yes, I know. I wasn't supposed to have been buying any more beads until payday. (Or, "today", as it's otherwise known.)

But those strings of mixed chalcedony I mentioned in the last post but one were so cute, and so cheap, that I just had to order a couple*.

And, because I delude myself that somebody, somewhere, reads this blog for the sole purpose of establishing which mail order companies are worth doing business with, I thought I ought to recount my experiences with Exotic India. (That's Exotic India Art dot com, obviously. Wouldn't want you running away with the notion that I might have been spending the last week in an ashram, signally failing to achieve the lotus position.)

Well. Blimey. I placed the order on Christmas Eve, it was shipped on Boxing Day, and it was delivered last Friday afternoon. Now, ok, I don't imagine for a moment that India grinds to a halt over Christmas like the UK does. But I still think four days is a pretty damn' impressive delivery time.

But that's not the half of it.

Cheery UPS chap hands me a heavy, rectangular package. I am confused. I am expecting a handful of beads. Beads usually arrive in little ziplock plastic bags inside quilted (or "padded", if you prefer) envelopes.

I carry the package upstairs and attack the copious swathes of Sellotape (or generic equivalent thereof) with a pair of scissors. This allows me to open the box. Whereupon I find that this was only the outer box. Inside the outer box are something square wrapped in green holographic foil paper; a greeting card; and some lengths of polystyrene which have been carefully added to prevent the contents from being damaged in transit.

So I take the green paper off, and lo! It was wrapping a square jewellery box, beautifully and painstakingly hand-painted in shades of gold and peacock blue. Inside which, in a safe cocoon of cotton wool, are nestling my few strings of chalcedony sweeties.

Now, if there's something on the Exotic India website which makes it explicit that even the smallest bead order will arrive in its own jewellery box, then I have yet to spot it. I do almost all my shopping online, and I can honestly say that I have never received anything so exquisitely packaged from a company before. (Individual artisans selling through Etsy, yes: big business, no.)

So I have no hesitation at all in recommending that you rush to the website at once and order whatever you like the look of. (I've just checked, and there are still two strings of the pretty mixed chalcedony left.) You'll have to be fairly quick if you want to catch the 25% discount, though, because that ends at midnight tonight, India time. Sorry. I would have written this earlier, but I've been feeling distinctly under the weather of late.

The Editor

* Pop doesn't know about this. I waited until he had left to visit his sister for Christmas. I am in Big Trouble if he finds out. I am prepared to come to some sort of arrangement with those of my regular readers who could, if they so wished, and if they were big meanies, grass me up to him.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

In the beginning was The Wire...

Well, that's the most profitable Christmas Day I've spent in a long time...

The Editor

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bead pornography

I don't know - and won't until/unless I buy some - whether the beads on Exotic India are of an exceptional quality, but I do know that they're doing something very right indeed with their bead photography.

I spent much of yesterday evening gazing, misty-eyed, at the screen and almost drooling with lust.

Unfortunately, I made the tactical error earlier in the week of giving Pop written permission to be Very Stern Indeed should he glean even the slightest hint that I might be tempted to purchase anything else of a beady nature before payday. And a stern Pop is quite a scary thing to behold. So I'm only allowed to look for the moment.

But, on the assumption that some of the people who read this blog (erm, probably mainly the female ones, if Pop's response to semi-precious stones can be taken as indicative of that of his entire gender) might want to only look for the moment as well, here are two of my very favourites.

These yummy chalcedony beads are an astonishing £3.75 for a 14.5" string.

These sweet little faceted Peruvian opal briolettes are £24 for a 5.4" string.

Everything on the website is currently reduced by 25% in price for a "holiday sale". (They seem rather reluctant to make a firm statement as to when the "holiday" finishes, but I'm hoping it'll carry on for another eleven days or so.) Shipping is free worldwide, and they reckon to be able to get your goodies to you within 4 - 6 working days.

Of course, beads aren't the only things they sell. There's artwork and sculpture and textiles and all sorts. And, as a rather charming added bonus, a lot of the illustrations can be sent as e-cards.


The Editor

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Not fit out

I'm too tired to check back, but I'd be very surprised if I haven't made at least a passing reference to my insomnia in an earlier post. Or five.

If I am ever going to start hating Pop, it will be because, at the advanced age of forty-cough, he has retained the sleep patterns of a small child. He goes to bed when he is tired; he falls asleep the moment his head hits the pillow; his brow remains unfurrowed by bad dreams; and he wakes up refreshed and ready to start a new day. (In fact, I would go so far as to assert that he is damn' near intolerably bouncy first thing in the morning.)

How unfair is that?

Back in the real world, however, in a break from its regular insomnia pattern, my own system has plumped - just for a change - for me being able to drop off to sleep no bother. This sounds good, no?

Well, it might be, were it not for the fact that, every night for the last two weeks, I have had dreams of such frenetic vividness that they have woken me up several times a night, and I get out of bed in the morning even more exhausted than I was the night before.

I don't think waking up in the morning is really supposed to come as a relief from the rigours of the night.

I'll not burden you with the details of the dreams in question. (Suffice it to say that many have been extremely distressing, and those that weren't have just been incredibly hard work.) No, the point of this blog entry is to recount the Terrible Things which can happen to an Editor who is Too Tired To Cope.

Take Thursday, for instance. I had to go for my quarterly diabetes check-up in the morning. It wasn't until I tried to flag down a large, red blur that I realised I had left the house without any glasses on. Something I last did about ten years ago on my way into work, spending the rest of the day developing a pounding headache as a result.

But that's not all.

Oh no.

It gets worse.

Thursday - as any fule kno - is acupuncture day.

So, there I was, standing at the bus stop. Feeling a) very cold, and b) very glad that I was wearing my snuggly, purple, faux-fur coat. And I happened to glance down. And I realised, to my utter horror, that the stick I was leaning my not-inconsiderable weight on wasn't purple. Purple glasses; purple earrings; purple coat.

Red stick.

My reputation lies in tatters....

The Editor

Friday, December 14, 2007

Blue within blue

For Katie, who has taken the plunge.

A feeble attempt to demonstrate the colours changing depending on the viewing angle. (Seven thirty on a dark December morning has nothing on the bright light of a sunny summer's day.)

(With a bit of luck and a following wind, these pictures should be clickable so that you can see the wing - and the silver mount, which I really should have polished before I started messing around with the camera - in greater detail.)

The Editor

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Way, way back, many centuries ago...

... oh, ok, perhaps not quite that long ago, but long enough ago to make me realise that I really am quite old these days, I used to make jewellery.

I wasn't ever really all that good at it, and the last of the things I made went to the charity shop in my most recent major clear-out, but I did used to do it. And I still have a tackle-box full of bits and pieces. The pliers and the findings are all perfectly usable but, dear God, the beads...!!

Ghastly, my dears: simply ghastly.

See, in those days, we didn't have the Interwebnet. There were three sources of beads:-
  • bead shops
  • jumble sales, charity shops, fleamarkets, etc, for old pieces to take to bits and re-string
  • mail order

There wasn't exactly a bead shop on every corner. I did occasionally visit the one in Covent Garden - this was back in the dim and distant past when I lived in Milton Keynes - but I was never very impressed. It stocked vast quantities of beads, admittedly. Just none that I really liked.

Janet Coles Beads produced a couple of glossy catalogues a year, and it was from them that I bought most of my supplies. I think they must have sold the catalogues in the periodicals section of WH Smith: I can't imagine how else I would have found out about them.

I'll come back to Janet Coles in a minute.

Meanwhile, back in the present day, since my discovery of Etsy earlier this year, I've looked at a lot of hand-made jewellery. (I may also have bought just one or two pieces. Nothing excessive, obviously. Merely a handful.) And I've quite often thought, "Well, I could make that. If I had the right ingredients. And if my back would hold out long enough". I can't do anything involving enamel, or kilns, or hitting metal with hammers, but I can string and wire beads together. Not necessarily with the degree of finesse required to produce anything I wouldn't be ashamed to put up for sale, but certainly well enough for the results not to drop to bits* in a high wind.

Over the last few months, therefore, the conviction has been growing in me that I really ought to at least try to start doing it again. And that a very good time to start would be over the Christmas break, given that, no matter how amateur the results, it would probably be better than slashing my wrists. I mean, I get the impression from Pop that, when he drives home from his sister's after spending Christmas with her, he'd prefer it if I were still alive to answer the phone. So, a-beading I will go.

To which end, I have been buying all manner of semi-precious beads from both Etsy and eBay. In order to do things properly, I've even invested in a proper pair of wire-cutters to replace the pair of nail-clippers I ruined snipping head pins all those years ago.

Which is how I came to find myself yesterday in email conversation with a rather charming American lady from whom I had just ordered a string of glorious Peruvian blue opal beads. While replying to her, I became increasingly convinced that, when I was last buying beads, semi-precious ones were ruinously expensive. I know I didn't earn as much in those days, but my gut feeling was that it was more than just that.

So I had a bit of a rummage in the bottom of one of my book cases. And I managed to dig out a Janet Coles catalogue from 1992. (Told you this was all a long time ago...)

And then I had to go for a bit of a lie down to get over the shock.

In 1992, a 30" string of amber chip beads cost ... wait for it ... £144!!!! One hundred and forty four pounds sterling. Plus postage and packing.

A very cursory search on Etsy this morning shows a 16" string of very similar beads for $12. (I've stuck them on the top of my Etsy favourites for the moment, so that you can click through to them from the Mini Etsy gallery in the sidebar and see the price for yourself.) Which means a 30" string would be about £12. Or, if you prefer, £132 less than was being charged for the same string fifteen years ago.

Of course, it's even worse than that. Back in 1992, £144 was worth considerably more than it is now. In fact, according to my brother-who-is-an-accountant, 50% more. So £144 in 1992 is the equivalent to £216 in today's money.

Which is an absolutely staggering amount of money for a string of drilled, polished chips of amber. A rough string which you would need to have replaced with proper beading thread and a clasp. Not even a finished necklace. And chip beads are - in my not very humble opinion - horrid. I'd rather not wear semi-precious stones at all if I couldn't afford anything nicer than chips. They just scream, "I can't afford symmetrical stones, but I'll be damned if I'll wear plastic or glass beads!!"

So, it's all very mysterious. I know the advent of the Interwebnet as a purchasing tool has eroded the price differences between various parts of the world to a considerable degree, but I don't believe it can have done so to the value of £204 for one measly string of amber chips.

Has the bottom fallen out of the semi-precious gem market in the last fifteen years?

Or was Janet Coles not actually the nice, be-cardiganned, middle-class lady she always carefully portrayed herself to be in her glossy catalogues?

The Editor

* Even more years ago, a then boyfriend bought me a necklace made of little round blue lace agate beads. From a proper jewellery shop. (In Barnstaple, as it happens.) I know the necklace was professionally-strung, because I was with him when he bought it. Said necklace suddenly fell to bits while I was teaching an RE lesson in front of a class of second years, and all the beads fell into my bra. Which was one of the more challenging moments of my short-lived teaching career.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A displacement activity

Being under the vague impression that it might be a good idea if I were to write my Christmas cards this weekend - so that I can post them next Saturday when I go to pick up my monthly wheelie-bin of meds - I have been delving in cupboards.

For those of us who buy Christmas cards in the January sales, the annual cupboard-delve can be a salutary lesson in the dreadful ravages which have been afflicted on one's taste by the day after Boxing Day, even when one has sedulously resisted all special Christmas television programmes, and has been unable to watch commercial stations at all for at least six weeks on account of the intolerable seasonal adverts. (No: I don't want a new sofa. No: a table groaning with £150 worth of tasty Christmas morsels from Iceland - for those Christmas buffet meals which are, in any event, a complete mystery to me - does not have me salivating with anticipation. Cheese on toast will be more than adequate, thank you.)

One pack of cards of which I really was quite proud when I bought them on a cold, rainy day late last December was one with oversized reproductions of one of the paintings by that-bloke-who-paints-sheep-in-the snow-and-whose-name-escapes-me. These were ear-marked for my mother's siblings. (My maternal grandfather was a sheep farmer: it is something of a family tradition to send cards with sheep on them.) Only earlier this week, I was wondering how much they would cost to post, what with the pricing system having altered, and envelopes now being charged on their dimensions. Anyway, I'm not going to find out. Not this year. The cards have hidden themselves. Completely.

On the plus side, I have managed to turn up the roll of Christmas gift label stickers which went AWOL at least two years ago. Although I'm pretty sure they only ventured back into the light because they know damn well I bought a replacement roll yesterday.

Apart from never liking the cards I bought almost twelve months previously when I see them again in the cold light of day, my other great Christmas card failing is a tendency to surround myself with all the cards in my possession and choose the ones I think certain individuals will like. (A sensible person in this situation would just work through the available cards one by one, and not give a stuff whether the individual recipients would particularly like them.)

This deplorable pandering to the perceived preferences of my friends means that I have half-packets of cards dating back years. But I never dare use them up for fear that I might commit the appalling social solecism of sending someone exactly the same card I sent him or her only five years ago!! (Yes, thank you: I do realise that nobody remembers the cards they were sent even last year, let alone who sent which one. It's an irrational fear, but it's one which haunts me...)

But what do you do with cards you daren't send? You can't just throw them out: that would be wasteful. You can't send them, in their loosely-flapping, ripped, cellophane covering, to the charity shop in the hands of your trusty chauffeur with the massively-developed upper body strength.

I probably need to work out some sort of degree-of-memory-retention equation to allow me to calculate exactly when it would be safe for me to put the vintage cards back into circulation. (Well, either that or start keeping a list of what I've sent to whom.)

So. There are dozens and dozens of such cards lurking in the sideboard, waiting for their time to come again. And, even without the large, impressive cards with the sheep painting by Wotsisname, there are 113 brand new cards bought since last Christmas. In fact, I'm seriously considering moving out into the garden shed so that the cards can have room to spread out a bit.

The moral of all of which is that I absolutely must not, under any circumstances, buy so much as one single, solitary Christmas card Ever Again until such time as even the most rigorous search of the sideboard and its immediate environs fails to produce even the slightest hint of anything festive.

There is also probably a second moral here: something to the effect that writing about writing Christmas cards on one's blog is not really the optimum way to get one's Christmas cards written....

The Editor

Thursday, December 06, 2007


Lady Bracknell would be extremely grateful if persons who intend to drag two wheelie bins behind them through their gates and up their drive would have the goodness to clothe themselves in colours which are distinguishable from those of their drive and their garden walls.

It is not good for a person of Lady Bracknell's advanced years and multiple infirmities to be subjected to shocks when she is patiently awaiting the arrival of the omnibus.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

A rant

I'm angry.

I've been angry since Thursday afternoon, and I'm still angry.

I have ranted to the people who know about these things and who are professionals in the same field. They have confirmed that, faced with the same situation, they would also be angry. Very angry. This knowledge, although gratifying, has not, unfortunately, rendered me significantly less angry.

So this is blogging as catharsis. Don't feel under any obligation to read any further.

In a nutshell, I am being barracked by a severely non-disabled fuckwit who is labouring under the delusion that equality in employment for people who "suffer from a disability" equates to letting them carry on being worse than useless at a particular job because it's rotten for them that they are afflicted with this terrible condition, so we should be kind and forgiving. Even when they do something so staggeringly unprofessional that there aren't enough words in the world to describe one's reaction to it.

Now, I'm probably re-stating here what I've said many times before, but I need to write it even if you don't need to read it.

Disability equality is about disabled people being treated equally.

The DDA is, admittedly, the only piece of equality legislation which permits positive discrimination. But it only permits positive discrimination up to the point at which the people it protects are receiving equal treatment to the rest of society.

From an employment perspective, this means that someone covered by the DDA has the right to have reasonable adjustments made which will put them on a level playing field with their non-disabled peers. Reasonable adjustments are statutory positive discrimination.

What the DDA does not demand - and neither should it - is that disabled people should be paid to work in jobs for which they are completely unsuited, and that their employers should turn a blind eye to how rubbish they are at what they're being paid to do because, oh God, it must be dreadful and appalling to "suffer from a disability".

We are the only minority group for whom people feel sorry: this makes disability discrimination very difficult to tackle. The severely non-disabled fuckwit to whom I referred earlier thinks he is supporting the right to equality of the hopelessly crap crip in question by insisting that it would be unkind to discipline him for behaviour which, if it came from a non-disabled person, would immediately and unquestionably be subject to disciplinary procedures. Can I persuade him that his approach is the one which is disablist, not mine? Of course I can't. Pity is so inherent in his response to impairment that it's impossible for him to get past it.

What's worse is that so many disabled people in employment fall into exactly the same trap, thereby confirming the prejudice. When I pulled someone up recently for his use of the word "handicapped" in a training module, he wanted to argue the toss with me about whether it's an acceptable word or not. "I spoke to a woman in our office who is wheelchair-bound, and she confirmed that she sees her wheelchair as a handicap.". Oh, right. So, just because this woman feels sorry for herself, and is as yet uneducated in disability equality, that makes it OK for an organisation which has publicly declared itself to be allied with the social model of disability to use the "h" word in its publications, does it?

And why exactly is it that, if I were quality assuring your draft training module with my other professional hat on, you wouldn't dream of telling me you think you were right all along and I'm just being needlessly picky? But as soon as it comes to disability equality, well, that's about people, isn't it? And, because you've got an opinion about things which are about people, you naturally assume that the expertise I've gained over more than a decade working in disability equality is also just an opinion and, as such, no more valid than yours? I mean, God forbid you should recognise that expertise in equality should be accorded the same degree of professional respect as expertise in any other technically-demanding professional specialism.

Ahem. Anyway. Back to the topic in hand.

In employment, as in every other aspect of the average crip in the street's life, your thinking will remain muddled unless you have grasped the difference between equality (something to which you are legally entitled) and the impact of your impairment/s (something which the law can't alter.)

If equality is what you are after (and I would very much hope that it is), you need to recognise that you will not achieve it by presenting your colleagues with a four-page essay on what it is like to have to live with a hideous impairment.

The acrobatics you have to perform in order to get your knickers on in the morning are your business. I work with a team of people I like and respect, but I can tell you now that I don't want to think about how any of them clean their bums after they've had a poo. And, despite the fact that my own approach to this very personal task will be markedly different from theirs, I'm pretty damn sure that they wouldn't want to think about me doing it, either.

I'm even more sure that there is nothing on God's green earth which could persuade me to tell them about it.

And yet I have lost count of the number of personal stories of that nature which I have seen in the workplace over the years. Groups of disabled staff have concluded that things would be better for them at work if their colleagues had a better understanding of what they go through on a daily basis. In other words, they want their colleagues and managers to feel sorry for them, and make allowances accordingly.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. (What is it Heathcliff says? "I repeat it til my tongue stiffens"? Something like that.)

You will never be considered to be equal by people who feel sorry for you.

I can't stop you feeling sorry for yourself. (And, if you think I don't often feel sorry for myself, you are severely mistaken.) But I will point out that we are the only minority group which makes the illogical assumption that telling people - in gory detail - what it's like to be us will make them treat us as equals. Do our LGBT colleagues publish articles for their colleagues to read about what it's like making love to a same-sex partner? Of course they don't. Their colleagues don't want to know, and they don't want their colleagues to know.

But us? Oh, we write things like, "I can barely move when I wake up in the morning. My husband has to help me get dressed. Coming down the stairs is very painful for me.".

And, despite the fact that the minutiae of our personal lives is nobody else's business, most people will lap that sort of detail up greedily and then look round for more. Because cripdom exerts a curious fascination over non-disabled people. Encourage them to see you as a collection of intriguing symptoms and revolting bodily oozings rather than just as a colleague who is entitled to various adjustments, and they will do so. You might as well just set yourself up in a booth at the end of your nearest pier and be done with it.

Look. It's like this. Even on those occasions when the DDA is firing on all cylinders in your workplace, the most it will achieve is what it was designed to achieve: it will eradicate discrimination against you.

It won't make your impairment go away.

It won't allow you to do any job you like the look of, regardless of whether you have the necessary qualifications or aptitude.

It also won't allow you to do any job you like the look of, regardless of whether it is feasible to make sufficient adjustment for you to be able to perform in that role.

Life isn't fair. Disability equality won't enable you to take part in an Olympic skipping contest if your legs are paralysed. Disability equality won't "make you better". It won't solve all your problems. You will still have to live with your impairment. That will be easier than it is now but, in the vast majority of cases, it still won't be easy.

And we won't get equality at all if we can't resist encouraging the normies to pity us.

Rant mode now disabled.

The Editor