Thursday, 14 August 2014

Too poor and ill for a Post Office Account?

Red filled oval with the words Post Office in white
Since the government is determined to pay everyone their benefits into a bank account these days I expected opening one of the new current accounts at the Post Office to be plain sailing, but no, something I said or ticked on the form didn't fulfil their criteria and I was sent away head hanging knowing I'd failed at yet another attempt to be a normal everyday person.

Let me explain, as you may not have read many, or indeed any of my blog posts before:

I was diagnosed with a couple of chronic illnesses about eight years ago now.  Due to my increasing tiredness and appalling sick record at work my employers attempted to 'terminate' my contract when my application for early retirement due to ill health was turned down because, according to the doctor at the local pension authority, I would be fit to return to full time work within three years.  Eventually, with support from friends, I was able to hold out for redundancy and officially left my employment in early 2011.  I hadn't been at work since the summer of 2009.  And, as you can easily calculate, I have not miraculously become well enough to work in specified time period, and even the DWP agrees I am still unfit for work, although not unfit enough to get Employment and Support Allowance beyond the one year cut off.

I am now wholly dependent on my husband (the OH) for food, clothes and a roof over my head.  This is not what he signed up for when he married me - at that point I had a good job, I even earned more than him towards the end of my job.  Fortunately we had paid off our mortagage before I was made redundant - but that's another story!

Four metal spoons in a row

These days, if I am careful and count spoons (read this article for an explanation of spoons), I can get about a bit, go to the library for a local history meeting and the Archives to do some research.  I don't go 'out' anymore, unless the OH takes me in the car, and I used to love real ale pubs and beer festivals.  This summer for the first time in 22 years I have not gone down to London to work (as a volunteer) at the biggest beer festival in Britain - the Great British Beer Festival at Olympia, because in order to qualify for the free accommodation you have to work a certain number of hours a day and I just can't manage it any more.  CAMRA, who organise the event, have been much, much more accommodating than my 'real' employers ever were, they have allowed me to work split shifts for the past three or four years so that I could go and get my head down for a few hours on an afternoon and they transferred me to a desk job about six years ago when it became apparent I just couldn't manage the hours and effort needed to be a Bar Manager any longer.  

Last year I began to give local and family history talks for a small fee, which just about covered my expenses (paper, printing, leaflets, photocopies and the OH's petrol money for taking me to Sheffield and places even further afield), and mostly I get paid by cheque.  Little local history groups and church groups don't generally keep large petty cash funds and it is perfectly usual for me to turn up and the cheque has already been written and signed and I am given it even before I begin to set up, let alone speak.  

Red filled rectangle with Santander in white and a sort of flame on a plate logo.

 At the end of June our local branch of Santander was closed, at no notice at all. We had been told it was to close in July and then apparently one afternoon in June two men turned up and closed the branch telling the staff that that was it, with no notice to them either! I had been accustomed to paying in my cheques there and any others the OH receives as the co-ordinator of his work's lottery syndicate (no, they never seem to win anything!) and as the branch was only a few hundred yards from our house it was well within my normal capability to get there.  I did ask at the local Post Office, but at that time all they could offer was envelopes for me to post the cheques to our bank's central offices.

The nearest branch of Santander is now in Barnsley, four miles and a ten to fifteen minute bus ride away, plus about a five to ten minute walk through the town centre from the bus station to the branch.  Not far on a good day, but on a bad or even on a middling day, it is a step too far for me.  So when I saw that the Post Office was going to start offering current accounts targeted at people on low incomes or on benefits I thought, "This is perfect, I'll have one of those!".  

Extra encouragement to change banks had been provided by my last couple of experiences trying to pay cheques into the branch of Santander in Barnsley town centre where they had queried my latest talk expenses cheque (for just £35) because it wasn't made out to my full name.  I am one of those not uncommon people who is known by my middle name rather than my official first name ... and the Family History Society I had spoken at had written the cheque out to the name I am known by, and as I mentioned, had it ready for me when I arrived, not that I would have thought it was necessary to get my full and precise name on the cheque ... I can easily prove I have two names - they are both on my full photo id driving licence for goodness sake and both are listed on our bank account too!  Unnecessarily fussy in my opinion. 
Three Post Office gift cards, one pink, one blue and one black in an offset pile.

The Post Office current accounts have been on trial in the north of England for some time and have just been rolled out in our area (according to the lady in the Post Office in Barnsley this morning).  I received an email yesterday  - I had registered my interest online - telling me that I could now open an account and that if I switched accounts before the end of August I would be given a £100 gift voucher.  Wow!  Free money! Yes!

I printed out my copies of my proofs of id (they now expect you to provide your own photocopies) and filled in the form for the account switch.  I was going into town today anyway to visit Barnsley Archive for a bit of First World War soldier research so I planned to call at the main post office, which had been indicated on my email, afterwards.

According to their website "Pop into one of our account-opening branches and fill in an application form. We’ll process it while you wait and aim to open your account there and then."  Hmm, that is the point it all started to go wrong.  I gave them my switching form and id documents and I said quite distinctly, "I want to open a new current account and I want to switch my present bank account to it and claim my gift voucher please."  Her first question, looking down at my part completed switching form, "Have you already opened a current account with us as I need to put your new account details on this form?" "No," I replied, "I want to do that now, as I just mentioned to you." "Oh, yes, you did say that ...."

You cannot open one of these accounts online - it says that on the website.  The lady cashier behind the counter then said to me, "Have you filled the form in online?", me, "Err, no, there was no way to do that."  Cashier, "Oh, well I'll have to ask you to fill in the form in one of our booklets", me, "Yes, OK - do you a have a chair, I'm not very good on my feet today, I am disabled".  They let me sit in the little office they have for interviews to fill in the five or six page form.  I was even given a Current Account freebie pen!  Filling the form in online would have been much more sensible, I could have typed instead of writing and it would have saved a lot of hassle for the staff.

The lady in that office looked through my form, supposedly making sure I had filled it in correctly, but then she explained that she hadn't done the training on the new accounts yet, but that they were sending her on a three day course next week (A three day course in checking peoples' forms when they open a bank account? What?)  After that I had to go back to the counter and wait to be seen again, more standing up, and wait some more while the cashier entered all the details I'd just written in the tiny boxes on the form onto her computer.  She was not qualified to check my id which was a necessary part of the process, but the lady from the office said she'd deal with that afterwards (Well, I am glad she's done that course - wonder how many days that took?)  Meanwhile I was drooping, leaning more and more on the counter, putting my head down on my bag, shuffling my feet to spread the aches and pains around a bit and hoping it would all be completed soon.

Computer Says No around the David Walliams Little Britain character sat at a computer

Then the computer said no!  The cashier explained that the system had timed out while it was checking my data and that the only option on her screen was to abandon the application.  I wasn't having that - having got there and filled in the form by hand and waited and stood up for so long wanted my new account and I wanted my £100 gift voucher!

The cashier consulted with the lady from the office - then she phoned someone.  She came back to the counter - remember that all this is happening in full public view in the middle of a busy town centre Post Office - and she began to read code numbers off the screen to the person on the other end of the phone.  I was still leaning and drooping.

Eventually she put down the phone and said that she'd been told to give me back all my forms and id and to tell me that I would be contacted within ten working days with a decision on my application.  Oh, yeh!  "Did I fail the credit check?" I said.  "Oh, no," she said, "The system just timed out checking your application."  "What does that mean?" I asked.  "Oh, it's just the system, I don't know." she replied. I protested that in two weeks ('cos ten working days is a fortnight) I would have timed out for qualifying for the gift voucher as that application needed to be made before the end of August.  She took me and my forms back to the lady in the office ... who said the same things, reassuring me that next week, after she had done the training, she would be able to sort out my problems if I didn't get a response within the ten working days.  

Err, my gift voucher ... the email, only sent yesterday ... less than two weeks deadline ... sort out my new account there and then ... I tried and tried but to be honest both ladies were powerless, the computer had said no! and that was it.

So I came home and wrote a blog post about it ... as it helps stop me crying.
Sorry!

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Too tired to Research; Why I'm tired ... and did you know it's Raining?

It's been a busy eight days or so and I'm frankly astonished I've held up so long.  Last night my legs barely carried me up the stairs and this morning I don't want to get out of the warm, soft, bed, which has a wheely table ideally positioned for typing, reading and eating.  In fact so far I've only got up to forage for food, clean my teeth and put the last but one load of washing in the tumble dryer (as the washing line outside is quite out of the question in the current monsoon).

So, what have I done this week:
Last Sunday I attended the unveiling of the Dearne Towns War Memorial at Bolton upon Dearne Cemetery. The OH took me in the car, so actually it wasn't a very arduous day, although we did do a quick trip to the supermarket too and the ceremony in the morning had involved a lot of standing up unsupported while the OH took photos.
The Northern General Hospital in Sheffield
On Monday I had a hospital appointment in Sheffield (I wrote about this journey last year, it's always a doozy).  It should have been four bus rides, a total of an hour and half travelling each way, but a huge hole in the 'leading up to peak hours' 265 timetable caught me out on the way home (I had just missed one and had a 50 minute wait for the next) so I added a devious move via Chapeltown and caught a train instead which actually got me back to Barnsley at about the time the 265 was due at the hospital.  Still, total time out of the house exceeded five hours, and I travelled on five different buses and a train!

On Tuesday I rested - well that was the theory - actually I cleaned, gardened, cooked, and typed up stories about the unveiling of war memorials.  Odd how even on a rest day you still need food ... Oh and there was the upsetting discovery that my talk for the Friends of Barnsley Archives, booked by them last September, about Barnsley War Memorials (link to poster), which I am going to do on 10th November at 7pm in the Learning Lab at Experience Barnsley, had not made it into the Experience Barnsley brochure about 'The Road to War' which was launched this week.  Being tired I got very emotional and the OH had to do a lot of hugging and reassuring me that I wasn't being purposely overlooked because I'm rubbish.  It later transpired that it wasn't included because it attracts a charge - which is made to raise money for the Archives - all the other events listed are free.

James Hirst, who has no known grave,
remembered on his parents' grave at Wombwell
On Wednesday I was collected by a friend in his surprisingly cool car (can't say more as I don't want to a) identify the chap and b) embarrass said chap) and whisked off to Wombwell Cemetery.  We knew the Friends of the Cemetery were 'in' on Wednesday mornings and we hoped they'd be able to help us in our search for War Memorial Gravestones.  Unfortunately their priorities don't particularly match ours and although a gentleman has created a file of soldiers who are buried in the cemetery (CWGC gravestones - we aren't particularly interested in them per se) and of men from Wombwell some of whom are remembered on their family gravestones the referencing and mapping was insufficient for us to be able to go straight to the plots.  So we opted for the 'walking up and down the aisles' approach.  My colleague on one side of the cemetery and myself on the other.  

Within an hour I'd photographed 15 gravestones, 11 of them War Memorial ones and four which were probably actually burials - useful for information for our project even so.  It had started to spit with rain so I went and had a sit down in the Friends' building at the Cemetery entrance and met up with a lady I know from the Archives.  Back out again after twenty minutes or so I soon racked up a total of 23 War Memorials gravestones and 93 photos!  That was enough for me, an hour and a half slow walking up and down, I was finished!  But my colleague, who doesn't know me very well yet, was keen to continue and it was another hour or so before he was ready to take me home.  I wasn't much use for anything else that day.  

On Thursday I visited Barnsley Archives in the Town Hall.  Several of my friends and some of the Archive staff commented on how tired I looked.  Fortunately searching the digitised Barnsley Chronicle is quite soothing and I always bring along my own laptop riser and wrist rest to make life easier.  I managed about two and half hours, with breaks to help a visitor from Kent who was having trouble using the other copy of the Chronicle and to chat with various friends.  Well, that's the other reason I go, it's a cheap way to meet people and socialise.  You just have to buy some printouts (40p a sheet) and they'll let you stay for hours!  There wasn't even any reason to rush home that day as the OH had left at 7am for the Great British Beer Festival without me.  The first time in 22 years I haven't gone down to London for the summer.  Yes, another reason I'm a bit down at the moment.  But I am keeping up with events on Facebook and Twitter!

On Friday I could stay in, so another rest day.  I wrote up three Barnsley Soldiers Remembered stories that I'd had on file for a while.  My ToDo list for the Barnsley War Memorials Project (BWMP) is horrendous.  I am the Secretary and main creator of the web pages and run the Facebook and Twitter accounts too.  I am also researching three war memorials of my own (they do overlap a bit - that's why I'm doing three) and helping out with a couple of others (one of our researchers lives in Woking so he can't get at the Barnsley Chronicle as it's only available in Barnsley Archives).  My new boots, bought with money from my Mum, arrived, and on opening turned out to be the wrong colour  - since when is 'honey' anything like black?  Grrr!  They will have to be returned - to Germany of all places!
Poster for WW1 Event

On Saturday I had promised to attend the Thurnscoe Local History Group's WW1 Event.  A friend's mum had told me (via Facebook) which bus to catch and where to get off, so I had a well worked out plan for the travel - it's only a 15 minute ride in a car to Thurnscoe from our house according to Google Maps but rather longer on the bus.  Of course the car was not an option as the OH has gone to London ...

What I didn't know was that the rain on Friday night had damaged and some said flooded, Barnsley Bus Station, to the extent that it was (and as far as I know still is) closed.  When my first bus arrived in Barnsley we were all told to get off at the Railway Station.  Passengers for Thurnscoe and Wombwell and other places on the south and east of Barnsley were being directed to Sheffield Road to catch onward travelling services.  I don't expect you to be that familiar with Barnsley, so I'll just explain that from the Railway Station to Sheffield Road is about half a mile walk and involves either going through the undertoft of the markets (strong smell of fish) and around the multi-story carparks that they cleverly built blocking the pedestrian routes into town or by walking through the pedestrian areas and through the Alhambra shopping precinct (this route only works in the day time as when the shops are closed you can't get through the Alhambra).  Either way it's a long walk and involves several slopes and sets of steps or long ramps.  They had made no arrangements for the elderly or disabled.  I saw one old couple head towards the taxi rank to get a ride up to Sheffield Road - but I can't afford that.

I had a five minute connection for my onward 219 bus to Thurnscoe, well, of course, I missed it as it took at least ten minutes to get to Sheffield Road.  Sadly if the Cudworth bus driver had told us about the bus station being closed I could have bailed out a stop early and cut through to Sheffield or Doncaster Road (slightly further along the route) avoiding the town centre altogether, but that's with the benefit of hindsight.  The other people at the stop told me my next bus to Thurnscoe was the 226, I had researched this one, it takes longer to get there but at least I'd be moving.  It wasn't due for another twenty minutes or so though.  While I was waiting I noticed that there were no SYPTE (South Yorkshire Transport) people on the site to help travellers find the right buses, if the stop a bus was meant to visit was already occupied (and there are only two bus stops on that stretch of road) then the buses were pulling in anywhere and relying on the passengers to spot them and make their way to them.  The 226 pulled in at the very bottom of the layby and an elderly lady had to be given an arm by a chap to rush there before it pulled away.  

I hadn't bargained on the reality of the actual length of time it was going to take to get to my destination via this route - over an hour!  Good job I'd prepared by eating and drinking nothing since 5am.  With a tour of Wombwell (wave to War Memorial on the way past), Cortonwood (wave at War Memorial), Wath upon Dearne (out of area for us but wave to War Memorial all the same), Bolton upon Dearne (ooh, already been here this week, wave at both War Memorials), Goldthorpe (nope, haven't a clue where the church, library or Working Men's Club are relative to my position so no waving possible) and finally Thurnscoe, I arrived at the Rainbow Centre two hours and fifteen minutes after I'd left home!

Thurnscoe's War Memorial - I've seen it!
The display was great and the man I had arranged to meet very friendly.  He has agreed to allow BWMP to use his photos of church windows and other hard to access and hard to photograph memorials.  Result! and very grateful thanks!

I was directed to the Thurnscoe War Memorial, well I couldn't go all the way there and not visit could I?  Photo on left.

I had been given some helpful advice about buses too and decided to try the alternative route that Travel South Yorkshire had suggested in order to avoid Barnsley town centre on the way home.  This involved a bus to Great Houghton and a change to another bus direct to Cudworth where I live.  Looks sensible on the map ... Ha!

The 219 (which does go all the way to  Barnsley, but that wasn't my plan) turned up on time and I asked the driver where was best to get off in Great Houghton - another place I'd only ever been driven through by the OH before.  I really didn't comprehend the complexity of the apparently simple task of changing buses in the village.  The 219 driver helpfully told me that the 26 (the bus to Cudworth via ATOS and Grimethorpe) would stop any of the stops in the village where he stopped.  So I got off near the church, well you never know I might have time for a look around.  Hmm, a quick look at the timetable on the bus stop showed I'd missed the connection by about five minutes and the 26s were only once an hour.  I went and had a look at the church as there was no seat in the bus stop.  It was shut, of course, but I sort of waved at the War Memorial which I would like to see in real life one day.  Photo on the BWMP web page by the chap I'd been talking to in Thurnscoe incidently.

I carried on walking, in search of a bus stop with seat nearby if not at the stop, past the chapel (closed, of course, but wave at War Memorials anyway) and on down to the Miners' Welfare Hall which has a War Memorial but the BWMP hasn't got a photo good enough for a transcription yet, so another one I'd like to see in person one day.  There were seats outside the hall and a bus stop just beyond the grounds so I waited and tried to read the Barnsley Chronicle I'd bought in Thurnscoe in the rather gusty winds.  I and some others are not particularly happy about the plan of a Barnsley councillor, Joe Hayward, and Dan Jarvis, one of our MPs, to campaign for a new memorial to the Barnsley Pals in France.  Yes, the Pals lost lots of men there, but what about the rest of Barnsley's casualties, the other 4000 Fallen and the thousands of men who came home wounded and traumatised. 

Finally on the right bus, after a couple of false alarms, and the bus filling up to standing room only with people wearing red polo shirts at ATOS (must have been shift change) I eventually got home at about 4pm.  I'd left at 10.15am.  So another long day, and a lot of walking.  I would have gone straight to bed, except I'd stripped it for washing that morning, so I had to get the hoover out (I'm allergic to dust mites along with everything else so the bed has to be hoovered every week!) and put on the new bedding.  Sooooo tired! 
Great British Beer Festival Tannoy seat and Radio seat in the office
But to cheer me up my daughter had posted some pics on Facebook of the Great British Beer Festival Organiser's Office team working well without me.  Kinda wish I was there for the friends and a bit of beer, and having seen the pics on Facebook this morning of the rain and the puddles they've got in Olympia, oddly missing it even more as it will be exciting down there today.  

Well that was my week - and I might get up in a while, maybe after lunch - or then again I might not, after all you can watch tv on the internet these days from the comfort of your bed!  And I have soooo many War Memorial photos to catch up on!