We need to talk about television 

Tuesday 4 July, 2017

As you know, I am an entertainment consumer buff. If I’m not watching films, I’m watching TV, if I’m not watching TV, I’m playing games, reading books or listening to audiobooks. I go through cycles and phases but I am always consuming media of some sort. When my health craps out, when I have the flu, when I’m brain tired but not body tired, I watch television. I don’t want to sound like a hipster, but I was marathonning tv shows before it became ~cool~, before the Netflix generation inherited the earth.

Here’s the problem, television keeps dissappointing me. It might just be me and maybe I have high standards, but there’s not many television shows made in the last 10, even 20, years that I have watched from start to finish, without either losing interest half way through or suffering through mediocre plotlines and self contained episodes until I can’t suffer anymore.

I could give you a whole list of the shows that have lost me or dissappointed me in my entire life time, but, in all honesty I just tried and I derailed and ranted and remembered how dissappointed in House I was and that spurred a very long entry on it’s own, and then had to go for a lie down.

So I’m going to just mention the last few series I had high hopes for, and try to keep it to the point.

But saying that, shall we get it out the way first? House. You know how I feel about this show and it’s downfall. It was the best thing on television… for all of 2 and a half years. It was everything I wanted from a show, I didn’t even realise it was what I wanted from a show. Murder mystery in a medical setting, because the disease is the murderer. House, like Holmes, has to work out the intricate web of lies and livestyles to figure out why the victim is the target, and who is trying to murder his patient. Sometimes he went wrong, and killed them faster, but usually, the man and his ducklings came through and saved the day. What more could you ask for!?

Well, consistency would have been good for a start. Then longevity. And a little less of the producer’s own fantasy wish fullfilment. I think it should have finished at the end of series 3, when something shifted the focus away from Patient of the Week and Clinic Patient of the Week, on to character drama. Yes, okay, we could have had a bit more about Wilson’s brother in the first series, but there is a middle ground between the strict procedural that left us wanting it was in the first series and the soap it turned during series 3.

I said I wasn’t going to go on about it, and I won’t. But I just really wanted to get that out. I loved House, then House changed, I feel not for the better, and then it dragged us through 5 more series until it ended.

Shortly after that was Alphas. I know, it was generally disliked by the masses. It was like X-Men, it was stereotypical, it had problematic casting by casting a british non-disabled guy to play an American 20-something autistic guy. But… for the first series it was quite good! It had me hook, line and sinker. I do love me some mutant powers and hey, X Men 3 was a botch-job, I had to get my Mutants Saving The Day fix somewhere. And then series 2 happened, and one character’s own personal problems and a love triangle drove one half of the plot, and the other half of the plot came from a personal vendetta characer arc that dragged on for far too long. It just lost what made it enjoyable in the first series. It did not surprise me that it didn’t get renewed for a 3rd series, though I am annoyed they messed with the airing of the second in the UK off the back of that decision. It also could have improved for series 3, with the feedback of what failed in series 2.

I was briefly into Rizzoli and Isles. I seem to be a sucker for any show that is even remotely Holmes and Waston-esque. Here we have Jane Rizzoli, a streetwise hard boiled egg of a Police Detective with her friend and colleague, Dr Maura Isles, an intelligent but socially-blind Cheif medical examiner, working together to solve Murders of the Week. It works very well, and should have remained a strong series despite set backs and personal tragedies, but the writing team behind the scenes changed hands and took the show in a different direction. Apparently, in response to the fan reaction supporting the idea of Jane and Maura becoming an item, they promptly wrote in male love interests for both characters to prevent anyone from doubting the two main character’s sexualities or romantic interests is anything but straight. Nothing is confirmed but the implications have been noted by better notekeepers than myself.

The introduction of the love interests wasn’t as much of a problem for me as obvious signs that the new writers had no idea or care for what came before their involvement. Jane had a dog called Jo Friday, the dog dissappeard off-screen, and eventually we got the bizarre explanation that Jo Friday wasn’t Jane’s to begin with and has been returned to her real owners, which the Mum keeps in touch with. Thank God that explanation was scrambled together, otherwise we might have thought they’d killed off Jane’s beloved pet dog in an arson attack on her flat. The same arson attack that led to her moving in with Maura, which fuelled the relationship rumours the writers became concerned about.

Maura had a tortoise. I don’t know what happened to the Tortoise.  Then we have Jane’s brother Frankie, which is short for Francesco. But you wouldn’t know it from the once-proud Italian-American mother suddenly calling her Italian-American son “Frances”, which just would not have happened in the earlier series. And all  sorts of other little details that were retconned or ignored or over-shadowed in favour of lazy writing, which was clearly starting to affect the actor’s ability to act.

One day I just stopped putting myself through it. Much like what I did with Person of Interest. Talking of…

Person of Interest was a flash in the pan in my eyes, but that might be due to the binge watching. I came to this party very late in the game. It was already on hiatus in America, and it was on Hiatus, from what I can gather, because it lost thousand of viewers over the course of series 4 and something was aired during a mid-season break that got higher ratings so the cast were waiting both to see if the first half of series 5 would be aired, and if it was, whether they would be in the second half. Added to that, the writer’s had admitted to losing interest in the show and did not want to complete it.

Going from series 3 to eventually seeing most of series 4, I can see why it lost viewers. This show, which started off brilliant and almost flawless, and with characters you can believe to be real people, changed into something else. It was a procedural with heart. Finch was the leader, a bruised and broken genius who lost his best friend before the start of the show. He follows the intel a highly intelligent machine gave him, and gave orders to his second in command, John. Along the way, after a lot of pain and anguish, they make trusted acquaintences with two new york coppers, Joss Carter and Lionel Fusco. For the first 2 series, Finch’s greatest enemy is a megalomanic sociopath with computer skills to rival him, she goes by the name of Root and she kidnaps him and terrorises him. John’s ability to take down the enemy for Finch and save people because that’s what good poeple do, Finch’s determination to save people because nobody else can, along with the goodness of Joss Carter and Fusco’s redeption of wanting to do good for Selfless reasons drove the series.

The series all fell apart when the writers dissolved the friendship between Reese and Finsh almost over night during series 3. I don’t like to talk about queer baiting because I still don’t really understand the phrase, but all the work put in to Finch’s past, the relationship parallels between a normal couple of Finch and Reese’s friendship, not to mention the looks between them that don’t seem within the normal paramaters of Friendship, it really feels like a plot bomb that was dropped was the end result of queer baiting and everything was retconned rom there. Then they turned Root from a very scary Baddie, to a redeemed saviour who had all the answers. Suddenly she was better at programming than Finch, a better shot than Reese, and it didn’t matter that she was practically sexually harassing late-joiner Shaw, she was what Shaw was somehow missing after years of working for the ISA. What the Machine was at the start was always going to change, but there’s very little reasoning as to why it had to involve Root being the Machine’s mouth piece over the more logical choice of Reese. Her redemption makes no sense either. It wasn’t like Fusco’s, slow, well written, with acknowledgement of his earlier wrong doings. Root’s is “Well she’s good now because that’s what The Machine wants, let’s forget she spent 2 whole days terrorising Finch, that’s all in the past now~!”

I stalled during watching series 4. I’ve now got 2 episodes of series 4 to watch before I can start series 5 and I just don’t really want to. The procedural element went, there was a lost plotline to do with a third party team getting revenge, and that didn’t really go anywhere, and it does seem to be the “Look at how brilliant Root is at everything” show. That’s not what I signed up for when I started watching the show.

The most recent dissappointment was The Flash. I really liked the first series. I’d been meaning to watch everything Super-hero related everything anyway, I was just waiting for the time to become available as well as the DVDs, then a friend lent me her boxset of The Flash. I watched all of the first series in 2 and a half days. I thought it was Brilliant, and it wonderfully filled in the holes that Person of Interest was leaving me with. It ended on a cliffhanger and I was dying to find out what happened next.

Series 2 did not have the same effect. It started off well enough but somewhere along the line, I think maybe with the Wells we grew to love to hate (and love again if you’re into that sort of thing) going, the dynamics of the show changed. It didn’t quite make the new mark, and the ending annoyed me. This show is superhero procedural with an over-shadowing arc with a Big Bad, much like Buffy the Vampire Slayer was, and as the procedural element was being drowned out by personal drama as the character dynamic shifted and changed, the over-shadowing arc dragged on rather than shone. And then Barry pulled a Barry and left us all wondering why we wasted 23 hours of our lives watching series 2, specifically the Ross and Rachel plot line of Barry and Iris. And then series 3 happened. I won’t get too far into series 3, I think spoiler warnings can sometimes extend to a whole year! But I think it started off weak, everything was a mess canonically and it didn’t make for good watching… besides Julian. That was a nice little gem on an otherwise pile of bricks. I know the fandom loved the Musical episode. I was impressed by the singing, I wasn’t impressed with the execution or arbitrary plot developments leading up to it so that they could have it in the first place.

“Once More With Feeling” it was not.

And the big bad of the series? Called it. Though not the reasonings behind it, because I couldn’t have guesed that mess in a millon years. To me, that part of canon made very little sense whatsoever.

What has happened to this show!? I can only hope, without sounding like i’m mis-quoting D:Ream, things will get better. Before the last episode, I thought if the ending crapped out, I wouldn’t be watching series 4. I’ve heard that Arrow fell in a similar way and redeemed itself during series 4 and came back stronger, so I’m willing to give the 4th series a go. But it has until the 3rd episode to pull me in as much as the first series did, an if it doesn’t, I’m out.

It seems to me that most of these series start with a very strong recipe. They know what they want out of the show, so they know what to put in the show, and then suddenly what they planned ran it’s course. So they throw in personal drama, they change the dynamic, they hope it’ll make their characters grow but put hardly any of the groundwork to make it work like it did in the first series. They guess their audience and half the time they guess wrong.

I’m show hopping right now. I’ve found watchable shows to watch, such as The Blacklist, but nothing that has grabbed in the way that House/Alphas/POI/Rizzoli and Isles/Sports Night/The West Wing/Sherlock/Breakout Kings/Law and Order: Criminal Intent did before their inevitable downfalls.

And that’s what I think about Television now, and televsion shows. It’s only so long until the new shows of today have their inevitable downfalls, so is there really any point in investing time into watching them?

I want to end this on a special mention of the series of long, film length episodes: Hornblower. That show, though it changed over the years, and one of my favourite characters got killed off, never dissappointed me. Upset me, yes, but not dissappointed.

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The Undatables: A Failed Journalist’s Opinion

Wednesday 25 January, 2017

(I originally wrote this at some point following a bunch of conversations I was part of over twitter and facebook. Much thanks to Good Pal Lynsey for reading my word-vomit and editing it up for me so it was more coherent. I’ve become aware that sometimes my long winded sentences only make sense to me, and not much to other people!)

**

I’m going to talk about the Undateables. Why? Well, it’s come up again in the disabled community and I’ve had these thoughts floating around for a while, and I thought it was time to put all my thoughts about it in one place.

I think it wouldn’t surprise anyone to hear (or read) that I do not like the show. I don’t like the premise and I don’t like the tone. Yes, I have seen one episode of it, and I’ll never watch it again. No, that’s not because I’m as romantic as a rock (I can be romantic, I just never am. Let’s not go down this road. Anyway…)

The reason why I don’t like the show is because it is a beacon for inspiration porn. What is inspiration porn, you might ask? Well, it’s using the existence or circumstance of a disabled person to inspire able bodied people to feel better about themselves. It comes out in many forms and disabled people see, hear and feel it every day. When someone on the bus congratulates a wheelchair user for getting out and about, that’s inspiration porn. When someone shares a picture of a disabled bride walking down the aisle, that’s inspiration porn. When someone shares a picture of a bride in a wheelchair going down the aisle and the words “good for her!” are the caption, that’s inspiration porn. When a big fuss is made of an able bodied person going to the prom with a disabled person, that’s inspiration porn. When a Paralympian athlete is photographed at a training session and there’s a big caption over the photo saying “If this person can do it, you’ve got no excuse!” that is inspiration porn.

Yes, some disabled people indulge in it, but I’d say the majority of us dislike it and want rid of it. It’s only inspiring because these things are seen as exceptional, but when you come to understand disabilities beyond the “disability binary” then you come to realise that most wheelchair users can get up and walk (a bit, relatively speaking. When I get out of my wheelchair, it’s usually to make it easier to put my coat on or to go to the bathroom with crutches). You also realise that a lot of wheelchair users get on the bus to go about their fairly unexceptional day (when there’s not a sodding pram in the wheelchair space!) and a Paralympian athlete is just like any other athlete. They are fitter and stronger than the average joes of the world. Do people point at Jessica Ennis-Hill, Mo Farah, Gregg Rutherford or Rebecca Addlington and say “If these athletes can do it, you’ve got no excuse!” ? No. Because first of all, people would probably assume you’re implying that black people and female athletes are somehow less capable in the first place than white male athletes, and also implying that having ginger hair impedes a person’s ability to be good at sports. Second of all, because in this enlightened day and age, you know that these able bodied athletes are at the top of their game, because that’s where their training and hard work got them. Disabled athletes train to be athletes all the same. You’ve got “no excuse” regardless of whether Tanni Grey Thompson is doing a marathon or not. We are not a measuring spoon for how capable able bodied should feel about themselves.

So that’s inspiration porn summarised for you.

And that’s what Undateables wreaks of. That show is presented so that people go “Look at all those disabled people, bless em, they want true love, isn’t that sweet?”.

My other problem with it is this “have your cake and eat it too” notion from the makers of the show. Channel 4 have said this show is to highlight disabled issues, and to normalise disability. They say it’s a show for disabled people to connect with, but if you ask on Twitter, most disabled people will reply saying they’ve felt alienated watching the show by the way the editing process and undertone treat the people who go on it.

Normalising disability actually means treating it as if it’s so unexceptional that you take it as just as normal as seeing able bodied people everywhere. We once thought the Spork was amazing, now it’s an everyday item we eat salad with, and new generations wonder what all the fuss was about back in 2003.

Channel 4 are not going to achieve “normalisation” with a whole show dedicated to only disabled people in a dating show, usually being set up on dates with other disabled people, edited to highlight how bizarre and weird (*cough* undateable *cough*) a person’s disability makes them. There’s a thin line between recognising perseverance through adversity, and pointing at the freak of the circus and saying “Dear God what is that thing!”, and I think this show skates firmly past the line into the latter.

I think if Channel 4 really wanted to achieve normality for disabled people, they’d ditch the show and accept more disabled people on to their other dating shows. I believe there’s a show called First Dates, and that that has, on the odd occasion, featured a disabled person looking for love. Now I’ve not watched that show and I don’t know how they treated that person, but I imagine there was less of turning a disabled person into a freak show and more of drink, food and awkward conversation that the rest of the participants also go through.

Keeping disabled people to a speciality show is segregating us from mainstream programming, it is that simple. People will categorise it as a special needs show, and they’ll either not watch it because they don’t want to watch disabled people, or they do watch it because they want to get teary-eyed and warm-hearted over it. It is plain to see who these shows are made for, and it is for the able bodied community. It is a narrative of disabled people skewed so people can lap it up and weep over. And you might ask yourself what the difference is when people do that for the Undateables and when people do that for First Dates. The answer is tone.

Which brings me on to my third point. The show makers keep defending that the name of the show, the “Undateables”, is irony. It’s a nod to the culture that says disabled people aren’t dateable by showing that is an untrue stereotype. As in, they’re not undateable, because they’re on the show to go on date! (YAY~) Skimming over that, I just don’t see them destroying this stereotype via the content of the show. It’s obvious that the subtle irony is lost on most people who watch it.

Look on Twitter, look on Facebook. Read the reactions. It’s The Feels coming from a place of ~Feels~. Because, again, if dating and disability were normalised, I don’t think we’d see as much of a maternalistic reaction as we do now. How do I know that? Because First Dates doesn’t get those same reactions.

And worse is the mockery. There’s a meme that goes around on Facebook and Twitter where people announce that they’ve got through the selection process to appear on The Undateables, with the joke being that of course they’re not “retarded” to go on “that show”. There’s people who live tweet and make horrible comments and jokes about the participants, about the way they look and how they act. There’s people who call other people names of memorable participants. And it doesn’t matter what defence they use, they follow the same formula, and don’t let pathetic reasons tell you otherwise. They’re not calling someone Tourettes Adam* because of a facial feature or personality trait that they admired in the participant who had tourettes, they are using tourettes as an insult towards these other people.

Americans love this defence, it’s called the “But it means something different here and they’re not even disabled”. It doesn’t matter what you say your intentions are, if you are making fun of someone by using an aspect of disability (such as retard, spaz, mong), then you are making fun of disabled people. You are saying that this aspect of disability is bad, it’s something to mock. And the same goes for when people on twitter call their mates “Tourettes Adam*”. They aren’t making fun of JUST their mate, they are making fun of someone with Tourettes.

And for the record, Retard, Cretin, Spaz, Mong, and other such words, were born from use against disabled people. It doesn’t matter if your chair is fire retardant and that that meaning is something different in that context, no one is telling you not to call your couch fire retardant. We are telling you that using the word retard (or the other words) in a context where you are making fun of someone for an aspect you would find in a disabled person, who is less able than you in some way, or not as smart as you academically, then it goes right back to the disability slur. Yes, even if it’s because your friend got a D in their Maths GCSE when you got an A. There is no defence in using these words.

So, back to The Undateables. With all those reasons combined, Channel 4 are not kidding me, nor many other disabled people.

It’s up to you if you keep watching, but I hope after you read this you question why you watch it. I hope you compare it to other dating shows and see the differences that we can see, and think about how each show makes you feel. If you know there’s a difference in how you feel watching it, then you know there’s a difference in how and why they make it.

And I hope you come around to our way of thinking and realise that the show, and the way it makes you feel, is hurting disabled people. It is not helping us, it is definitely not normalising dating and disability, and with that in mind I hope that you eventually stop watching it.

This has been AFJ.

Please come back soon!

*- Tourettes Adam does not exist, as far as I’m aware, however I have seen a similar nickname be thrown around on twitter and I did not feel right about using it.


9/9/2016 – The Anniversary of The Start Of The New Beginning

Friday 9 September, 2016

Hello to the void! I don’t know if I still have any readers about this place but if you are indeed reading this, then I am indeed addressing you.

It’s cliché of me to say, but any perceptions of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. I actually have a half written entry on what’s been happening over the past 8 months that have prevented me from updating on the more regular basis that I was hoping for. And that will still come, but, it’s ironically also been prevented from being written updated by the same factors that have been preventing me from updating.

But anyway!

Today marks a year since my first self-hired Personal Assistant left and I couldn’t let the day go by without acknowledgement. Since I lost this PA (who I hired through a half care agency, half recruitment agency), my endeavour to hire my own PA, with myself completely at the helm, has been nothing short of a nightmare. And to be honest, the events immediately after my PA put her notice in was not all smooth sailing either. From the second I decided to have control who my Personal Assistant would be, it’s been one bad experience after another.

When my PA put her notice in and subsequently left rather suddenly – she actually put her notice in with intent to work her two weeks but because of bad health had to finish her notice on sick leave – my time frame to get a new PA went from two weeks to 0 days. She texted me first thing on the Wednesday morning, but the office didn’t even ring to tell me until 3 in the afternoon, 3 hours before I was due to have a shower call. They were meant to call me back to discuss it further, and they didn’t call me back. In fact I rung them back at half 4, done with waiting, only to be told “We finish at five, and it’s half four now….”. I was told I would have to wait until the next morning.

There was just no urgency of the matter, no sense of duty of care to help me hire someone to replace the person they suggested I hire due to her being on the books already, with very little hours. I was subsequently passed from pillar to post, I did not speak to the same person twice. I spoke to one person, they tried to offer me spare cover of whoever was available with no guarantee of consistency. I emphatically turned that offer down, I was told they would have to speak to their manager and call me back. They did actually call me back but only to offer me cover again. It was like I’d entered the twilight zone.

Then, they, unbeknownst to me, moved offices on the Tuesday. I was meant to be rung back on the Monday, and I wasn’t, so when I rung them on Tuesday morning and was met with a dead phone line, you can imagine what I was imagining! I was up the disability creek without a PA to paddle. When I eventually did get through to someone, I was told the person I’d spoken to previously had left her position (second time I’d heard that), and someone else would be put in charge of the situation, but I wouldn’t hear back from them until the end of the week at the earliest, because they were moving offices.

If I got one thing from all of these phone calls, it was that it was just an unfortunate circumstance that I would be left without care, but they were just really busy over there with their moving offices and changing job positions.

I think what happened after that really sums up my experience with Your Life, Your Way best though. After my final phone call with someone on the morning of 15th of September, 2015, I wrote a very thorough complaint letter to the managing director of the company and told them I’d decided, following that phone call, that I no longer wanted their so called services.

I was called up two days later by a member of staff trying to set me up with cover. My complaint had not only not been shared to other members of staff, it hadn’t even been read yet.

10 days after I sent my complaint, the managing director of the company emailed me back, first to apologise for my poor experience with the company, but then ended her email by stating I’d contacted her office since my email asking her to get in contact with me because I wanted to interview people, not just have cover sent to my house.

Does that message sound familiar?

After that, I decided to go at it fully on my own. I’ve talked about this before. I put up adverts, I booked a room to interview people in, I arranged interviews, people confirmed, and then came the day. I went ready and prepared, I had my best friend and my mum with me. They were going to be the Karen Brady and Nick Hewer to my Alan Sugar.

Nobody turned up.

The next set of interviews I organised, 3 out of 5 people turned up. I gave someone the latest slot I could give them because they asked for a later slot due to prior engagements, and they didn’t turn up. Following that, I had someone leave verbal abuse on my phone to someone called John. They never left their number but I recognised their voice from an applicant who never turned up.

Out of the three people who did turn up, though, I hired one person. I thought she was just perfect for the job, and I think for the first 6 weeks she was. And then something changed. I don’t know what brought it on exactly, but the first incident was her turning up late with no real explanation. Then it was a last minute cancellation where it was like a chain of knock on effects, her mum got called into work so couldn’t look after my PA’s son, so my PA requested to change days. These things happen but as someone with no priorities, I always feel like I can’t say no without sounding unreasonable. But the fact of the matter is, I choose these times and calls because they are the best time and days for me. And then I’d say the death knell was her getting another job for more money, which I understand was necessary for her, but it killed off any availability for me. I was then hurt in an accident which meant I had to rearrange calls, which was difficult because of the aforementioned lack of availability. Further late arrivals, and just had something changed in her attitude whilst she was here. I knew I had to speak to her, and her probation period was ending so the next call I had, I was going to sit her down and talk to her.

Before I even got to really play the role of the boss, she said, amicably and quite friendly, that she would have to put in her notice in, because her other job could offer her more hours, and she wouldn’t have the travel costs and it would just generally work out better. It’s understandable, and I suppose it saved me the job of having to ask her if this was a job she really wanted to keep.

The thing that sort of annoyed me on that, though, is that in the interviews I always ask how the applicants intend to travel to mine. I point out, if they take public transport, that Sundays have different time tables that might mean they can’t work Sundays after all. And around that 6 week mark, my PA started getting taxis home from my house because there was no bus home. The way it worked out she was spending her Sunday hourly wage on her taxi fair, and I look back and wonder if she resented me for it, for maybe not offering to pay for her fair for her.

Since then I have set up four more interview days in the interview room, usually arranging to interview 5 or 6 people a day, and many people have been unsuitable or just not turned up. It’s like I said last time, people were applying without reading the advert. I heard more than once that they thought they were applying for a full time job, and I just don’t know how because the advert specified, at that point, 6 hours a week, with the hours broken down into time and days of the calls.

I found two people I was happy with, and it was a hard choice between them. I have sadly regretted my wrong choice ever since. I went for listed experience over everything else, and I selected someone for a second interview – I was doing this slowly this time and not the rushed pace the social suggested. They came to my house and we chatted. I felt like we got on like a house on fire, so I  told her to think about it for a week, and to get in touch if they had more questions. A week later they came to my house to sign the employment contract. I had to print off so many things for the social to confirm I’d hired someone. I gave her a start date.

She didn’t turn up. I texted, I called, and nothing. I can’t tell you how excited i was to finally get a shower after 6 months. I was left disappointed, and confused. What had gone wrong!?

I eventually shook it off and decided to shake things up a bit, due to lack of all around availability, and I did phone interviews. It was a bit different. I couldn’t get a real picture of some of the people I interviewed and could only go on answers alone. But I found two people yet again I was happy with. I was planning to have further interviews, this time face to face at my house, much like with the last potential PA, to go through further details of the job and see if it was something they really wanted.

I called up one and arranged the details. I called up the other and…. Nothing.

Day of the second interview came for the applicant…. And they didn’t turn up either. To say I was disheartened would be putting it lightly.

It’s been 8 and a half months since my last PA left and seeing as I depend on my mum, who is disabled herself, this situation passed miserable and unbearable four months ago. Except for twice, I have only left the house with friends or for medical appointments, and those two times were quick short trips where I struggled to manage independently, but had to go out because I could not stand being indoors whilst it was gorgeous and sunny outside anymore.

There is no care agency – apart from the care agency I ditched for being unreliable, and I refuse to go back to them – in my area who will take a young disabled person unless they have either a mental health problem, a learning disability or a neurological condition. And I have none of those things. I have some sort of physical bone disorder that is something like osteoarthritis. I have to hire someone, and there’s some more applicants lined up to interview, but I am fed up going through it all – spending time and energy separating the wheat from the chaff, only to be disappointed at the end of the process.

It’s been a year since the last choice blew up in my face, how much longer will this reign of bad luck last?


Interview Etiquette: The Care Edition

Wednesday 17 February, 2016

I’m one of the many disenfranchised disabled people who’ve been left with no option but to employ a personal assistant/support worker directly through direct payments, because the care companies are not good enough or sticking to the high quality of care, including consistency, that they promise to their “clients”. The company I left the first one for was such a shambolic affair that I would suggest they change their name from “Your Life, Your Way”, to “Your Life, Every Way But Your Way, And Good Luck Hearing Back From Us Within A Week Even When It’s Urgent”. I would even organise a whip around to help pay for the name change costs.

It’s not easy going fully independent. There is paperwork, there is tax, there is insurance. There is the ever looming fact that it’s all on you if something goes wrong (Holy responsibilities, batman!), and if you’re not a confrontational person, you might find yourself wanting to dig a hole under your bed and hiding there if an issue does come up. But I was left with no choice, and I find myself, for the second time in less than 6 months, on a search for someone to employ.

I understand how the job centre works. I know because at a point in history I was subjected to Remploy’s practices, and currently have relatives under the power of Ian Duncan Smith’s misery-inducing regime. Advisers tell you to apply for all jobs, every job, or you will be sanctioned, so help you God. They tell you to ignore the stipulation for driver’s licences, levels of experience wanted, specified genders wanted, qualifications required, and sometimes they demand you apply for places you know can’t cater for your disability, all under the threat of Sanctions for non-compliance. I do understand all of that, and the job centre have to understand that it’s affecting employers as well, but alas, they don’t care in any direction.

But I do. And I, an honest understanding person, want people to be more honest and up front with independent, private household employers looking for Personal Assistant/Support Workers/Carers. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say it’s better for us to know right from the off rather than go through the motions of believing you want the job just as much as we want applicants. I’ve now had two lots of experience trying to find someone. The first time, I can’t remember how many people applied overall in the end, but on the first day of interviews, nobody turned up. Myself, my mum (of ill health herself) and my friend were in a little office for a good portion of the day, waiting for all the people who had confirmed their interview slots to turn up, and none of them turned up. The second interview day, out of 6 people who had confirmed, only 3 people turned up. I was lucky that amongst those 3, there was one great applicant worth hiring. But, over all, I was disappointed with the process on many levels. This second time, I had 9 people apply and confirm for interviews spread over two days, and only one person turned up.

So, I’m going to give people a list of What To Do/What Not To Do when you’re looking at adverts for a care job, based on experience I had with Applicants.

1) Either turn up or cancel. Don’t just not turn up, it’s rude. It waste’s people’s time and it kills any chance for a last minute offering to another person who might take the interview slot.

2) If you know you no longer want the job, even within 24 hours of the interview, let the employer know so that, again, they can try and offer the slot to someone else.

3) If you don’t actually want the job, because you’ve been made to apply for it, say so.

One applicant confirmed their slot but then needed a different time. It wasn’t possible on that first day, but I said I’d get back to them about the second interview day when I knew the time and date for it. I emailed them with the new details, and I heard nothing back. Just to double check, I gave them a call a few days later and asked if they were still interested in the job. They said they were. I said that I’d emailed them with another interview offer but heard nothing back. They said that they’d been so busy, they hadn’t had time to check their emails. I understood, because that’s happened to me too. They said yes to the time of the interview, they thanked me for calling them and letting them know about another slot, and they looked forward to meeting me.

They didn’t turn up.

4) Read the advert carefully. Also, consider what’s in the advert as well as what might be between the lines. Ask yourself if all elements are something you would be able to do. Think of the real demands of care, it’s not all shopping trips and making cups of tea.

Universal Jobmatch has a personal details safeguarding system where someone will ring you up to change the wording of your advert if you’ve put too many personal details or you’ve used exclusionary terms in your advert – They have restrictions on specifications, due to equality laws. I am not allowed to discriminate on any basis whatsoever. There are exemptions – i’m allowed to specify female carer – but there’s not many other exemptions allowed.

Sometimes the full role, the full expectations, even the times the job takes place aren’t allowed to be included, because of vulnerable adult safeguarding. And with UJ, I don’t think there’s a system that allows you to ask for more details. You, as a Jobseeker just apply and hope for an interview. Maybe you could use the email or the phone call from the potential employer to ask for more details, before an interview is confirmed and you find out there that the job is not something you can do, for whatever reason.

I’m talking about two experiences I had, and I’m trying not to get too specific, in order to save any potential hurt feelings. But basically, one experience was that I had at least two people misunderstood the advert, or misread the advert. My advert spoke about helping me, an individual disabled young adult, but both of these people assumed they’d be working as part of a team and caring for the elderly.

The other experience is that, although I’m not allowed to discriminate, people with their own mobility problems also applied and it was clear they didn’t realise how physically demanding a job it can be. I don’t need lifting and handling, but there is walking on their part, manual wheelchair pushing, steep slopes, a lot of standing up, and probably other micro-necessities that I can’t think of right now, that you really only notice when you can’t do them. I’m talking from experience of being on the other side. It’s one thing to ask someone to pass you something, it’s another thing to reach up, grip an item, hold and carry the item, pass it over… and then do that all again in reverse when they’ve read the ingredients on the back and realised they’re allergic to it.

For the most part, the lack of disabled people in work places, in various industries, lifestyles, is a lack of effort by the employers. But physically assisting a fellow physically disabled person is not one of those jobs that can really be catered for, and that is something I learnt years ago in my more mobile days, from assisting my friends less physically mobile than myself, to the detriment of my own health. It takes compromise for that to work, for both people to be happy, and quite frankly, to me it’s a compromise enough employing people to depend on. I had just had a PA from YLYW who had her own disability, and though we muddled on, it made planning things difficult. Can we get to this train station in time to get to this place or home in time? Will she be able to carry this today? If the weather’s bad, where will we go, because she can’t push manual wheelchairs up steep slopes and my electric wheelchair doesn’t do bad weather?

Selfish as it may sound, when you only have a guaranteed four hours a week to leave the house, you want to make the most of them, and you need to be sure the person with you is 100% up to the job. I’m not able to offer trial shifts, I have to go with my feelings during the interview.

6) Ask yourself if a permanent, long term care job is something you really want to go for when you know you’ll be leaving in less than a year.

This is a job with a three month probation period to work out kinks in the system and talk through any prospective problems that may pop up. It’s a job where you get to know each other, you get used to each other, and though you might not be friends (Mostly not recommended, though on one occasion it has worked out wonderfully, and not to get too sappy here, but she has kept my spirits up during this whole debacle), you will become a significant part of your employer’s life. You might leave your job at the doorway, but an employer in this capacity is a disabled person who will depend on your consistency, care, empathy and professionalism. Availability is a commodity worth it’s weight in gold, yet we all know the pay is pennies thanks to the government.

It’s understandable that you have better plans for the future, but your employer might need to depend on people for the rest of their life, and people coming in and out of their life every 6 months can be upsetting and unsettling. This isn’t a holiday job. If you’re after a temporary job, go for a temporary job or an agency job, because god knows nobody expects consistency with agencies. If not for nothing else, think of how big a pain in the arse it is to go through finding a new PA, and dealing with the lack of care package facilitated in the interim, every 6 months when their employee leaves cos the better job they had lined up, because of uni, because of whatever comes up.

7) Follow what the advert asks of you. If the advert asks for CV, apply with a CV. You’re not going to impress anyone with a request for an interview if you’ve ignored what the advert asks of you. Especially when it’s a job where you’ll be doing a lot of what the employer asks of you. You’ve basically failed test number 1.

I’ve had a few applicants say that they don’t know how to send a CV. And whilst that’s something I can believe, because not everyone is computer literate, there is an “Upload file” button right above the message block with the extra information of “Use this to send your CV”. If you really can’t upload your CV for whatever reason, you need to offer an alternative. Copy and paste it into the body of the message, or link to another site which does host your CV.

Just evading the request won’t get you anywhere with anyone who is trying to protect themselves from bad applicants, you’ve made yourself look questionable and you’ve caused yourself to blacklisted.

People wonder how so much negligence happens in care homes and care companies, and it’s because people aren’t properly vetted. Private, independent employers like me can’t do much, but faith in a CV and follow up references are one way. I think some people scoff at my over-professional tone and my fastidious nature when I go into Employer mode, but I’m not just going to give the job to someone who sends me a message in text talk promising me they’ve got the experience. Where’s the proof? It’s my health and safety in your hands, here. Give me something I can work with.

8) Ask questions and be honest. One bad piece of advice I was given before the first round of interviews was to tell the applicants what I wanted from them, under the misguided belief that if the applicant doesn’t feel up to the job, they will say so there and then and maybe end the interview early. It didn’t work, they all smiled and nodded. I could tell they just told me what I wanted to hear, what they thought would get them the job.

Think this through. You’ve just been told that hours could change, with advance notice but still, calls could be cancelled at short notice, and that you will have to call in sick if you have so much as a cold and risk losing your pay. You’ve also just been told that part of your job will be to play bodyguard when an angry parent with a buggy wants to fight to the death for the wheelchair space, but understandably your potential employer won’t let up and sit by the doors because it’s a Wheelchair space. At what point do you want to have the conversation where you say you don’t think this job’s for you after all? In the interview where it dawns on you, or, say, afterwards when they hire you? After your first week? First month? After your pay is less than it should be because you had to call in sick to save your employer from catching it and suffering from it worse?

Private, independent employers looking for PAs aren’t going to go back to the jobcentre and complain about you. Not if you actually turn up. We’re too busy trying to seift through the unsuitable applicants that we’d much rather complain about (Female applicants only means Female Applicants Only, Local area means anything north of Southport is a ridiculous distance for you to be travelling) and deal with finding new applicants when the people we had hopes for didn’t turn up. Also, I think we’re all far too decent and understanding for it. We’re suffering under the same heartless bunch of scumbags. As you’re being forced to adhere to a heartless regime, we’re having our benefits and carepackages skimmed to the minimum and waiting to be forced under the same regime ourselves.

My last piece of advice is possibly the absolute most important one. You might like to write this one down so you remember it forever.

9) Do not get your potential employer’s phone number mixed up with your ex’s, and subsequently, absolutely do not leave threatening messages on their answering machines believing you’re leaving them for your ex. Best to just not leave threatening messages to anyone at all, really.

Admittedly I can’t prove it was them because they blocked their number, but I’m a big believer in Occam’s Razor, and I’ve got great voice recognition skills.