Every Little Helps … Give Me A Break

tesco1While I am extremely jealous of the vast range of goods available at British supermarkets, I do not envy their customer service. Tesco’s current tagline is “Every little helps” but apparently they have not truly applied this to their business practices. If they believe that for the customer every little helps they would understand that being sent to another Tesco store for an out of stock item only to find that it is £20 more expensive is really going to make for a bad day. Perhaps what they really believe is that every little more they they can wrangle out of their customer helps line Tesco’s pockets.

Mum decided to buy Dad a nicer printer for his Christmas present. We visited a few local stores including Tesco in Cumbernauld and noted down the printers available. I then researched and read reviews and we decided on a Canon we saw in the aforementioned Tesco. A few days later we headed back to purchase the printer but they only had the display model left and were not willing to sell it. The assistant was very nice and offered to order one but could not guarantee it would be in time for Christmas. The assistant very kindly called the Coatbridge store and we were told they had 5 in stock right now so we headed off immediately to Coatbridge. In the Cumbernauld store the printer was £99.97 but in the Coatbridge store it was £119.97. In her own words my mother was “bealing!” For those not familiar with the Scottish vernacular she was very pissed off.

We looked for an assistant and pointed out the price discrepancy between the stores. This is where I was astonished at the service level. Back home in the USA, WalMart’s advertising campaign for the holidays was to make WalMart your only stop for present shopping. They guaranteed if you found your purchase at ANY store cheaper they would refund the difference. That’s right, not just finding it at another WalMart store but ANY store. Given the effort seen by the stores back in the US I was sure the assistant in the Coatbridge store would make this right for my Mum. Instead he shrugged his shoulders and said there was nothing he could do. He didn’t even put on an apologetic demeanor for the trouble we had gone to coming from the other store. The only thing he gave us was an air of “I don’t give a damn!” Mum asked to speak to the manager but was told he was not available. We insisted there must be someone else in charge so a duty manager was called. It was immediately obvious that she was just there to hear the complaint and continue to be shruggingly dismissive. Again Mum asked about the manager and this time was told he was there but the duty manager doubted she would be able to get a hold of him. She did call but reported that she could not get an answer from him.

We refused to give Tesco the trade, especially at the higher price, and decided to look around at the other stores in the same mall. The first store we tried, Currys just across the car park, had the very same printer at the cheaper price we had seen in the Cumbernauld Tesco store. Thankfully the Christmas present was handled!

That evening Mum emailed Tesco to report the terrible service and situation and is still waiting for a reply. That was on December 23rd and I am writing this on December 27th. I tried tweeting @UKTesco the next day and received a quicker response.

@UKTesco Dreadful service in Coatbridge store after being sent by Cumbernauld where printer was out of stock. £20 more in Coatbridge.

The response wasn’t terribly satisfying.

@docmjs Hi, really sorry to hear this, each store can set their own promotions. I’m sorry that it was more expensive in our Coatbridge store.

There is at least an apology but after the service I have been used to back in the USA I found it hard to wrap my head around how little they seemed to care about how this looked. I expect to have to shop around between different companies and find different prices but not being able to rely on the fact I am paying the same price within the same company no matter the store doesn’t exactly instill faith. The stores are only 15 miles apart so there are no excuses for the prices being different. I work in a PR department myself on the tech side of things including handling social media. We take every such tweet seriously and investigate and respond with great care. I understand the need to build trust in your brand, especially in the social media channels.

I responded to indicate how this made me feel about the Tesco brand now.

@UKTesco That’s a terrible way to do things. It instills no trust in your brand. Staff handled it dreadfully. I will be blogging about it.

@docmjs I’m really sorry to hear you feel that way. Most promotions are the same but some stores can opt out I’ll be feeding this back.

At least the offer was now added to feed the concerns back. Hopefully that will happen and it is not just empty wording to placate a tweeter. Every little does help so hopeful this little word of warning about trusting the big brand UK stores will help someone else ensure they are getting the best price and service.

Living Online, Living in America

Love actually is all around


One of my favorite movie moments is Hugh Grant’s monologue at the end of “Love Actually.” I think about it at this time of year and every time I am at an airport. In the movie real life scenes from the arrivals gate at Heathrow play out as Hugh delivers these wonderful words.

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world. I think about the arrival gate at Heathrow Airport. General studies make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. Seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it is not particularly dignified or newsworthy, it’s always there: fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were of hate or revenge. They were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling that you’ll find that love actually is all around.”

I find it hard not to get a bit misty eyed. My emotions are very easily manipulated by movie makers but in this case the sentiment seems very simple and genuine. It doesn’t feel like the usual contrived attempt to turn me into a blubbering heap on the sofa.

Travelling back to Scotland to spend Christmas with my family it kept coming back to me. It popped into mind as we created one of those scenes ourselves at Glasgow airport. I thought about it even more as we wandered through Newark airport to make the connecting flight. As we wandered through Terminal C it was incredible to see so many people headed to so many different locations on that one evening of the year.

I looked at faces as they passed and wondered about their story. Who? What? Where? When? Why? It’s overwhelming when you realize just how many people are at that one airport at any point in time passing through on their way to something else. It made me think of another quote, this time from Douglas Adams in his book The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

“Space,” it says, “is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space, listen…”

Forget space, this world is mindbogglingly big and full of people! Many of the people at Newark were headed to a similar arrival gate scene, especially at this time of year. Newark is just one of so many airports operating that same evening. It’s easy to get bogged down in the bad of our world but as the movie puts it so well “I’ve got a sneaking suspicion love actually is all around.”

Life is Beautiful

Stop using “Merry Christmas” as a weapon

Christmas Eve 1973 in Hozier Street with Stephen and Jon-Marc

Christmas Eve 1973 in Hozier Street with Stephen and Jon-Marc

I love this time of year, it truly is the most wonderful of time of the year. From the beginning of September until the end of the year is my favorite season. The weather is more conducive to my Scottish blood and all the best holidays happen now. As soon as I feel that first inkling of a nip in the air I get more of a spring in my step.

This year the Christmas season will be one of the hardest but also one of the most joyful I will experience. It will be the first without my beloved brother who passed away on November 6th. I had planned to return to Scotland and spend the time with him and the rest of my family but the cancer was too agressive and he didn’t make it. Instead I will be returning to spend my first Christmas in Scotland since I married back in 1994. It will be my son Sean’s first Christmas and New Year in Scotland and it will be the first where my parents have all of the grandchildren together. How can that not be wonderful? We will be sad and remember but make new memories to take forward.

What does all this have to do with the title of my blog post I hear you ask? I’ve had a building concern over the past few years with what I am hearing around me regarding the wishing of “Merry Christmas” to others at this time of year. With the great sadness I have just experienced but also with the memory of my brother’s lust for life and the great intentions he always had for those around him it concerns me more than ever. I think everyone needs to just stop, count to 10, take a deep breath and GET OVER THEMSELVES :)

A friend of mine posted a story from the Huffington Post on Facebook which I feel says it all better than I ever could – “Non-Existent ‘War On Christmas’ Is Apparently Being Won By The People Who Invented It

Visit to Goldberg's Santa Claus in Glasgow with Hugh Vincent, Jon-Marc, and Stephen

Visit to Goldberg's Santa Claus in Glasgow with Hugh Vincent, Jon-Marc, and Stephen

All I can say is the people who are acting in the way described by this article are doing more harm to Christianity than anything else. A good Christian is supposed to lead by example. The way a good Christian conducts his or her life should cause others to say I want to be like him or her. The Christians described in the article are turning the words Merry Christmas into a weapon instead of a heartfelt wish of good tidings to all. What REALLY matters is the intention behind someone’s words. What ever wording a person uses to wish you glad tidings, be it Happy Hannkah, Merry Christmas, Joyous Kwanzaa, or a greeting related to any of the many holidays that occur at this time of year, think about what is behind that greeting. All that person wants to do is wish you well. If you get angry and say the words Merry Christmas back at them in an act of defiance think about what you are really doing. Is that really the reason for the season?

Family, Losing My Religion

Pantomimes: A Uniquely British Tradition No Longer

As we get ready for our sixth year of Pantomime here in rural Virginia I was asked to write something about my part in bringing this quirky British Christmas tradition to the USA. Here’s what I wrote.

I don’t remember my first pantomime. The early years have bundled together in a single memory of fun nights out filled with laughter, song, romance, and choc ices. A choc ice is the generic British term for something like a Klondike bar and a choc ice at the intermission was an essential part of the experience when I was a child.

Jack & the Beanstalk, my first time on stage in Panto

Jack & the Beanstalk, my first time on stage in Panto

It wasn’t really Christmas without at least one trip to the Panto. Often there were more as we went with our class from school, brownie/girl guide (scout) troop, family, and friends. It was always a magical evening as the tale was told on stage along with terrible jokes, yelling at the characters on stage, and various demonstrations of theatrical magic. This was how I fell in love with theatre and I remain in love to this day with the spectacle that can take place on a stage and carry you away with its magic.

I moved to the USA 17 years ago and didn’t realize just how many cultural differences there would be with which I would have to contend. It didn’t strike me that I was leaving behind my beloved pantomimes. Even as I grew older I took my younger cousins or the children I babysat as a special treat. As much a treat for me as it was for them. It wasn’t too bad until I had a child of mine and realized he would grow up without the magic of pantomime.

Playing the Evil Giant's Wife I Got l Lots of Boos!

Playing the Evil Giant's Wife I Got l Lots of Boos!

One day, while out working at the Waterworks Theatre, with Dudley Sauve and Bea Oyler I decided to ask if they knew anything about pantomimes. Dudley’s initial reaction was horror as he imagined I was asking about mimes, those creepy characters that lurk in city parks and harass passers by with lame tricks. I tried to explain but when you grow up with something that has so many traditions and customs it can be hard to explain. Even harder when it comes to mentioning things like cross dressing dames and principal boys. They were intrigued and with further urging from Bea the idea was pursued further. I brought a DVD to try and give the Waterworks Players board a taste of this uniquely British theatrical tradition. Thankfully they were with me and we decided to try and stage one that year.

That first year we took on Puss in Boots and it was a great success. Since then the show has gone from strength to strength becoming a part of Farmville’s holiday traditions almost as much as it is for the British. For me it has been a gift as my child has grown up knowing about Pantomime and the traditions that go along with it. This year my son will get to attend his first British pantomime but the Farmville Waterworks Players pantomimes will always be the most special to us.

Living in America, Parenting

Eulogy for Jon-Marc

I recently lost my brilliant 40-year old brother to cancer. I’m sure I will have more to write about this experience. Jon-Marc kept a relatively frequent blog http://scarpadog.wordpress.com/ and it has been so wonderful to go back and read his posts. I’ve let this blog languish, but following his lead I’m going to write and get back in the habit of keeping relatively frequent posts. To start I want to post the tribute I gave at his memorial service.

I am blessed to have three amazing brothers that I love dearly. We couldn’t have wished for a better childhood with two wonderful parents. As children our imaginations ran wild as we played and grew together sharing many precious memories. I think I speak for everyone in my family when I say it now feels like a part of us is missing.

Jon-Marc and Me on My Undergraduate Graduation Day

Jon-Marc and Me on My Undergraduate Graduation Day

It’s a testament to the incredible man Jon-Marc was to see the outpouring of messages both during his illness and over this past week. We are incredibly grateful to each and everyone of you for being a part of his life and for celebrating his life as you have.

Jon-Marc lived life to the fullest. I’ve met few other people who knew how to enjoy themselves to the fullest, experience life to the max, and live in the moment when that moment was there to be savored. When asked to picture pure joy I think of Jon-Marc on the dancefloor especially if the Stone Roses was the track being played. I see him arms outstretched, not caring what anyone else thought and taking the greatest pleasure in that moment.

Jon-Marc climbed mountains both literally and figuratively. I intend to keep climbing mountains in my own way for him and I hope each of you will do the same and when you do take pause to think of Jon-Marc with that wonderful big grin on his face.

One of my Favorite Recent Photographs of Jon-Marc

One of my Favorite Recent Photographs of Jon-Marc

A friend of mine recently lost someone very close to her. She posted the following passage by Dawna Markova on Facebook on Friday and it struck me as so appropriate for Jon-Marc so I want to close with it.

I will not die an unlived life. I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire. I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid, more accessible, to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.

So long and thanks for everything dear brother xox


Scared of Bags?

Continuing on the theme of sustainability, is it just me or does it terrify check out staff everywhere when you bring your own bags? One of my attempts to be more green is to bring my reusable bags to the supermarket. I forget about 50% of the time and it does make things easier at the check out. It just seems to confuse and disorientate the cashier when I say those words “I have my own bags.”

I was LMAO watching a Wal-Mart ad on television last night as they displayed happy shoppers and happy staff loading groceries in reusable bags. I want to know where that Wal-Mart is located so I can shop there.

Growing up in the UK loading your own groceries into your own bags was the norm. If you needed a carrier bag it cost you. My Mum brought our bags and she had me trained to group everything together as it came out of the cart. That way she could pack the bags efficiently as they came through the line. It took me a while to let the cashiers pack my groceries when I came to the States. It felt wrong to stand there and let someone else do all the work but when I forgot and started to pack my bags I got the strangest looks.

If this move towards sustainability is to work the supermarket chains need to educate their staff as well as the shoppers. As long as the staff react so badly shoppers are going to be deterred from bringing their bags. First step is for the cashier to give the shopper a chance to use their bags instead of launching straight into their trained routine of grab, scan, bag. Then there needs to either be an allowance to let the shopper pack their bags or train the check out staff how to do it properly. With plastic bags the check out staff got used to throwing 2-3 items in one bag pulling it and starting another. Again Wal-Mart is the worst offender here. I’ve gone home with a ridiculous number of bags for the amount of groceries I bought. With reusable bags you can get a LOT more into each bag. Unloading my car is a lot quicker with properly packed reusable bags!

Living in America

Global Warming Doesn’t Matter

I don’t really care whether the theory of “Global Warming” is true or not. Actually, that’s a bit harsh, I do care. What I really mean is, whether global warming is really happening does not reflect on my belief that we need to take better care of this planet. I find it frustrating that so much energy is being spent on arguing for or against global warming. That energy would be better spent making this world a better place to live. There I said it and I know I sound like a hippy. I grew up with 3 brothers that spent all of our teenage years telling me I’m hippy so I have learned to deal with it.

Can someone explain to me exactly what the danger is to our future by being a bit more careful with the resources provided to us by this planet? Just what damage are we going to do by making sure that we are not polluting the landscape and killing off entire species? It doesn’t have to be grand gestures. Personally, I just try not to be wasteful and take little steps to be a bit more sustainable. Whether or not global warming is actually happening at this time, doesn’t it just make sense to try and live a more sustainable life?

Living in America, The Body Politic

Women in the Church is Still an Issue?

First let me expand on the title of this post. To be more precise it should be “The Role of Women in the Christian Church in the Western World is Still an Issue?” Rodney Dunning wrote about this topic earlier in the week http://dunningrb.wordpress.com/2010/02/03/women-in-church/ and it has surprised me how much the subject has been rolling around in my brain refusing to leave. It seems ridiculous that this should still be a subject for debate. There are many issues where I believe most Christian churches need to lighten up and they need to do it soon if they wish to grow in any meaningful capacity but I thought we had figured out the role of women by now.

I commented on Rodney’s post and in doing so realised that it really is still an issue and is part of the reason I can’t find an organized church where I feel I will fit in. I usually think my difficulty comes from my other more liberal tendencies but I never consider my belief in the equal standing of men and women to be an issue. Most churches are not as repressive as the views reported by Rodney but there’s still a tendency towards the belief of a woman’s submission to a man in the household even if there is an attempt to coat it in frilly curtains and pink flowers. I attempted to participate in a mother’s group a few years ago that was following a bible study about the role of a wife and a mother. I was dumbfounded to find lessons about how to submit to my husband and make him feel like a real man. Most of the women in the group talked about how this was a struggle for them but they realized to be a good Christian they must attain this goal. Really? I have to ponder for hours and put an effort into making my husband feel that I submit to and obey him? Will that really make the world a better place? Would the world be a better place if the strong women who have forged ahead and made significant contributions had instead spent that time learning to be more submissive to the male of the species? I personally think my time is better spent with my husband debating our opinions, testing our theories, and agreeing to differ where we can’t reach a common ground. Both he and I learn more much more from those times.

As I said in my comment to Rodney’s post, a good church needs the contributions of everyone whatever their skills may be and whether they be man, woman, or child. I think there are more masculine roles and there are more feminine roles but I don’t think the masculine roles are necessarily better carried out by a man over a woman and the same is true for feminine roles. People are so wonderfully varied in their personalities and what they can do that each needs be accepted and allowed to contribute on their own particular merits. This goes beyond gender issues, it covers race, sexuality, political ideology, and so much more. Every person can contribute in some way and we can all learn from each other and grow to be better people by understanding our differences more than by understanding our similarities. A church that can realize this to be the case would be an amazing and wonderful entity and just what is needed in this day and age.

Gender Issues, Losing My Religion

Growing Up Online

My son is 7 years old and home-schooled using a mixture of unschooling and formal schooling. One skill that has been slow to develop is reading. Leapfrog produces a wonderful wee gadget called the LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Alphabet Set that takes refrigerator alphabet magnets to a whole new level. My son received this Leapfrog toy around the same time he was able to walk under his own steam. He used his new-found ability to walk up to the fridge door and play for long periods with the letters. Thanks to all that play he has known his letters for a long time but putting the letters together and reading has taken almost another 6 years.

Thanks mostly to online gaming his desire and ability to read have taken off in the past several months. Yes, my son wants to read so he can play games online and communicate with his online friends. He plays a 3-d immersive game called Free Realms and for right now that is also where he is gaining one of the main talking points of those who fear homeschooling – SOCIALIZATION. This is going to be a contentious subject over the years. The major fear of those who don’t like the idea of homeschooling is how our children will learn to socialize. My son is learning exactly the same lessons children have learned for centuries in a whole new way.

Here is a typical childhood playground scene, all the older kids are having a blast playing a game together and there is one annoying younger kid that wants to play too but doesn’t have the same skills to be on the same level with the rest of the kids. There will be some of the older kids who will take pity and try to include the younger but ultimately it is pretty darn annoying. Right now that is my son. He has enough skills to get around, play the games, communicate awkwardly, and put together a wee house for himself. Right now he wants more furniture for his house and is wandering around asking the other kids for furniture. He is hoping someone will trade but his skills at asking and managing the trade are primitive. Most of the kids exit the scene as fast as they can.

My husband and I are trying to talk to him about how to properly interact. It struck me that this is the same type of conversation most parents end up having with their children. Our kid is only different because he experienced the playground politics online instead of offline. We don’t intend for him to gain all of his socializing online, he participates in other activities offline with other children, but it is interesting that he will gain some of it online. I wonder how this is going to set him up for interactions in the future. Will it put him ahead or behind his peers? As more and more of our life moves online our children need to learn to navigate that world. My child is already learning his life lessons both on and off line. Is this the way of the future?

Home Schooling, Living Online, Parenting

What “Big Love” Teaches Us About Marriage

When I first heard the concept for the HBO series “Big Love” I thought I was going to hate it. Hearing of a show about polygamous marrige I figured it would play into male fantasies about how a polygamous marriage would be and give the producers an excuse to provide titillating scenes unhindered by the restrictions placed on commercial television stations. I was SO wrong.

Once again HBO has delivered a series full of complex and interesting characters in situations that make us question and consider our own beliefs. The main subject explored is the nature of marriage and what is it that defines a relationship as a marriage. The main family in the series is comprised of Bill Henrickson and his three wives Barb, Nicki, and Margene. The most interesting aspect of this marriage is not that this one man has three wives but that each of the wives has one husband and two wives. As much as each of the wives is married to Bill they are also married to their “Sister Wives.” Ok, let’s just get all the giggling and fantasizing out of the way because this really isn’t about sex it is about the commitment these people have made and how much they love each other. These four people have their differences and some of those differences are pretty huge but they all love and care about each other deeply. Is there really anything wrong with their desire to commit to each other and build a family? If no one is being coerced or harmed why shouldn’t a group of people who want to try making such a marriage work be prevented?

Personally such a marriage is not something in which I would have any interest. It’s time consuming enough trying to make a couple work! What I do understand is what it means to love someone and want to make a life with them. When you have that deep a relationship with someone and want to spend your life with them it should give you some rights and standing in their life. I can’t begin to imagine how painful it is to be denied that status in a relationship. What must it be like to have to stand by and be denied your true status as the person, or one of the people, who best understands and knows the wishes of your partner. At its core marriage is about love and who are we to define what it means to love another person. Obviously this goes far beyond polygamous marriage. Shouldn’t any combination of people and sexes be able to commit to each other and form a longlasting bond as long as it does no harm to anyone? I’ve yet to have someone demonstrate the damage done by any willingly made loving commitment.

Living in America, Losing My Religion, The Body Politic