Connect with us

Features

Customer Service in a Septic Isle

Published

on

by Septic Service Michael Patrick O’Leary

Mellifluous Amiability

During our lengthy visit to the UK from Sri Lanka, my wife and I went to the Walter Sickert exhibition at Tate Britain. I bought Matthew Sturgis’s hefty biography of the painter from the Tate shop and found it an absorbing read. Sickert was a handsome, witty and charismatic figure, friend of Degas and Whistler, with more female conquests than a rock star of today. Sturgis authoritatively dismisses crime writer Patricia Cornwell’s absurd notion that Sickert was Jack the Ripper. In the summer of 1917, the Sickerts went to Bath. “Bath is it”, Sickert wrote. “The mellifluous amiability of west-country gaffers & maidens …” He took a studio at 10 Bladud Buildings.

My wife and I decided to celebrate our Silver Wedding anniversary by spending a week in “a luxury Regency apartment in the historic and cultural city of Bath.” I have enjoyed many visits to the city over many decades. I had not visited the city since I left England in 1998 and I was shocked to see what the once-elegant and sophisticated Bath has become.

The “cultural city” seems to have become a venue for stag and hen parties. There were huge gangs of bizarrely attired young women roaming the streets and hordes of shouty, boozy young men whizzing recklessly around pedestrian areas on Escooters. All the restaurants and pubs in Bath are jam-packed and noisy. Bath has entered the contemporary world with a vengeance and turned into a Benidorm located in boozy Britain itself.

Oxters of Maskless Strangers

I am a methodical, kind of a chap, and I planned meticulously in advance. Before setting off from London, I stored as much vital information as I could on my smart phone and made sure the dread gadget was fully charged. My OCD nature was no match for GWR (Great Western Railways), who were providing our transportation, or for the property rental company providing our accommodation.

My target was to check in at our Bath accommodation at 16.00. The tube trains heading for Paddington were scrunched to the gills with unmasked passengers in shorts, many of them carrying cute little dogs, (like the one which allegedly voided on Johnny Depp’s bed) which seem to be this year’s fashion accessory in Britain. We contrived to arrive at Paddington Station with plenty of time to spare to catch the 14.02 Bristol Temple Meads train which stops at Bath Spa. The passengers awaiting that train were getting cricks in their necks looking up at the information board to see which platform to go to. Screaming hyper-active infants were writhing about on the ground where the miniature dogs had micturated and humans had vomited.

It was way past 14.02 when the information board told us that the train was “preparing” but the board still did not tell us which platform to go to. The concourse was throbbing with sweating, obese, tattooed people. When the go-ahead was given to board the train, the masses wobbled forward menacingly but I did not panic, because I had reserved seats in Coach H. Except….. there was no Coach H! A very stressed GWR functionary manandwoman-handled us on to the train. We were left standing in the train corridor for the entire two hour journey with our faces in the oxters (not all armpits are charm pits) of maskless strangers, buffeted by back packs.

No Admittance

We were glad when we arrived at Bath Spa station but the place was upheavaled because of building works. There was also an unexplained police presence, which surprised our Bath friends, who thought Bath police station had been closed because of government cuts. British police these days only investigate pronouns not real crimes. Disrupted Britain. The prime minister (at time of writing) Liz Truss celebrates disruption.

In days of yore, we might have been able to relax in the café of Debenhams department store just opposite the station. The store had been operating since 1813 but closed in May 2021. We waited a long time for a taxi but it was only a short drive to our accommodation. On the taxi journey I noted that, despite the demise of Debenhams, most of the nationwide retail chains were represented – Primark, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer – and each had in their doorway their statutory homeless person with dog (or two). Food banks and street sleepers have become part of the warp and woof (pun intended) of British life (along with shuttered-up shops) even in affluent locations like Bath Spa. There is even a statue of a homeless man and dog outside one Bath store.

Blocked Passage

I had been notified by an email from the rental company that the keys would be in a box which could be accessed by using the code 4774. I had made a note of that number on my phone as well as on old-fashioned paper. The key box did not open in response to code 4774. I had been told to ring a mobile number at the rental company when we arrived. I did so, but nobody answered. I also sent three WhatsApp messages which were ticked as being received, but, to this day, no one has responded.

We went to the Queensberry Hotel opposite the apartment and made phone calls to several of the rental company’s numbers while consuming very expensive beer. Nobody answered any of the calls. The hotel receptionist was anxious to help and gave us an address at Bladud Buildings (a few doors away from Sickert’s studio) which he said was the office of the rental company. The streets of Bath are steep and the sun was intense but we went to Bladud Buildings and found that there was no office there, only rented apartments. Luckily, one of the tenants at Bladud Buildings (a young man with rather fetching black nail varnish and much metal facial furniture) used his phone to call another number. I spoke to someone who suggested that I try the key code 1812. The tenant said that was the code he had been given to access his apartment at Bladud Buildings. We climbed back up the punishing incline to Royal Crescent. I tried 1812 and it worked.

I note that a six-bed apartment (popular with the hen-parties that roam the streets of Bath) in Bladud Buildings was available in 2017 for a rate of “From £1,277 per night”. At today’s exchange rate that is LKR 512,277 per night. The company that locked us out is clearly doing well, although there was a note in our apartment reminding us that refuse bags were expensive.

The boss of the rental company (whom I will call A) seems to have a penchant for overblown language. In spite of our travails, we got a standard message on departure expressing confidence that we would have had an “amazing time.” When I first told A about our problems getting into the apartment she said she was “mortified”. She said “I feel terrible for you both. Certainly not the arrival we want any of our guests to have. Please accept my sincerest apologies.” That is fair enough, but I detect a strategy often adopted by organisations dealing with customer complaints. A said, “I don’t understand why your calls were not answered? Did you have J’s and the main office numbers?” Later, I got an email from the Office Manager, whom I will call B) who remarked in passing, “Normally we are all extremely organized so I am unsure how this has happened.” No admittance of fault. Sorry, it must be me.

An Absence of Humans

Office Manager B did clarify something for me. There was no human being actually available from the rental company when we were locked out. I had dealings with at least eight people at the rental company. A said, “I was at Lucknam Park for my anniversary so didn’t have reception.” I was also trying to celebrate my anniversary, but I am a mere paying customer, so don’t worry about me, just pardon me for interrupting your celebration. Sorry to be a nuisance.

Office manager B said, “I was actually on leave when you arrived.” B promised to contact K (who had given us the misinformation that banished us to the street) “when he returns to the office later today”. K does not work on Fridays, so why did he ask me to phone him? B said she would speak to J (the Property & Logistics Manager who had claimed to have sent me the correct code) “when he returns to the office on Thursday”. At the time B was writing this A was “currently out of the country.” Lights on, nobody home.

More about customer service in my next article.



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Features

Teaching feminism at SL universities

Published

on

A women’s right protest. (File Photo)

“Feminism is not a synonym for man hater though we need a new man now”:

By Aruni Samarakoon

Recently, I was in a discussion on Feminism with the members of the Post-Graduate Research (PGR) community at the University of Hull, in the United Kingdom. They were my colleagues, from the Middle-East, Asia and Europe, representing the natural and social sciences, but, apparently, did not possess any prior knowledge on feminism. I say this because most in the natural sciences seemed to characterise feminism as a political ideology against man (man in this context represents male). This discussion provoked me to recollect why feminism was stereotyped by these scholars, who were researching for their doctoral degrees at the time.

The objective of this article is to extend my argument of teaching feminism at the Sri Lankan universities in my last Kuppi column (25/10/2022), which drew attention to the gaps in teaching and learning feminism in the classroom and practicing it in everyday life.

I introduced the basic notion of feminism in my last Kuppi column, but would like to extend the conceptual understanding of feminism in a new direction, that is the notion that feminism is not an anti-man discourse. bell hooks—lowercase letters symbolise, for hooks, resistance to injustice and prejudice in the capitalist system or a “new language” of equality and justice for all—in Feminism for Everybody: Passionate Politics (2000) states, “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression… and it was my hope at the time that it would become a common definition everyone would use. I liked this definition because it did not imply that men were the enemy ” (p.01). hooks’ proposition was further reinforced by socialist feminist Sheila Rowbotham in her book, Women, Resistance and Revolution (1972). Rowbotham suggests that feminism is a new political project to empower both men and women and create a new man and woman. Notably, hooks and Rowbotham did not agree with ‘binary politics’ that constructs man as “enemy” and woman as “victim”.

Who is the “New Man”?

The political notion of the “New Man” was developed by Rowbotham. She critically examined women’s representation in post-French revolution politics and asked how the latter “represents the voice of women in the French Revolution”? She suggested that women moved once again into the second sex (subordinate role) paradigm at the end of the French Revolution as revolutionary politics turned into patriarchal politics. Therefore, she suggested the concept of “New Man,” a man who recognizes class and sex oppression as the primary determinants of exploitation. The “New Man” understands the equal significance of ending classism and sexism at once. I draw on hooks and Rowbotham to propose that a “new man” is a necessary condition for teaching and learning feminism at Sri Lankan universities.

The question is whether you see the “New Man” in any context in Sri Lanka? Let’s start with the recent peaceful uprising of “Gota- Go-Home-2022”. Revolutionary political agents of both male and female sex were visible at the beginning of the uprising. For example, the image of a woman carrying a child in one hand and a placard in the other went viral on social media. The female undergraduates were on the front lines of the protests, holding the banners and shouting the slogans. The activities of women in this scenario took me back to the French Revolution;

“The idea of a march of women to Versailles to stop the bloodshed spread in April 1871. Beatrice Excoffon, the daughter of a watchmaker who lived with a compositor, told her mother she was leaving, kissed her children and joined the procession at the Place de la Concorde. Nobody was clear about the aims of the march or knew definitely what they should do, but there were political rather than strictly economic motives” (Rowbotham, 1972, p.104).

The women who came to the streets in the Sri Lankan uprising had both political and economic motives. They were not certain about the plan, though their voice was to end the “dictatorship” and restore “democracy”. The fundamental question is where are these women now? How many of these women were in the political party negotiation table at the end of the uprising? How many were able to voice their political motives? I argue that these revolutionary women were thrown to their private spaces by the “Old-Man”- the agent of patriarchal politics. The irony is that the “Old-Man” was preoccupied in ending the dictatorship in parliament, while maintaining sexist dictatorship in their revolutionary political bodies. Thus the “New Man” is a necessary condition to practice feminism as political ideology for everybody.

“New Woman”

The aims of feminist academic discourse and activism were/are to raise women’s political consciousness and empower them to be the “New Woman”. The scholarship of hooks and Rowbotham interpret the “New Woman” as one who opposes patriarchal politics. The “New Woman” can be found today in every sector; these women are in a hard struggle to establish the “Woman’s identity” in those settings. For example, the underlying impetus driving the ongoing Iranian protest is to recognize Women’s identity as a human being. Tearing off their hair cover was a symbolic representation of their voice to get identified as human, in my interpretation. However, creating the “New Woman” is a contested and difficult political process. What is the role of teaching and learning feminism at universities in creating the “New Man” and “New Woman”?

“Learning outcomes” of Feminism

A key “learning outcome” of Feminist pedagogy would be to critically examine a given social reality. The given social reality contains the stereotypes, power hierarchies and objectification of the human body. Feminism then, will throw light on this social reality and raise the critical mindset of both woman and man to question that given social reality.

Feminism, in that case, plays the role of activism for social transformation. The focus of old school pedagogy was examining theory; activism was not a part of older pedagogical approaches. It was feminism that introduced activism as a new method of teaching and learning Amy K Levin states in Questions for a New Century: Women’s Studies and Integrative Learning (2007) that, “feminist studies programmes work to meet knowledge and skills goals and activism is the requirement of the course” (p.18). Connecting knowledge and personal experience is a part of feminist activism.

However, in the context of Sri Lankan universities, activism is yet to be recognized as a legitimate pedagogical activity. In my experience, the most university academics in Sri Lanka maintain a hierarchy of academia and activism. They tend to present the theoretical arguments of other prominent scholars in academic language, rarely understood by the public. In activism, the theoretical explanations are discussed in simple language and examples of everyday life are connected to theory, to engage the public.

In conclusion, the point of feminism is not an anti-man thesis, but to create the “New Man and Woman” . The “New Man ” concept in Sri Lanka can and must be improved and expanded by teaching feminism at higher education institutions. Training undergraduates in activism is necessary for social transformation, which should be the ultimate objective of education. It is worth noting that the Kuppi collective has taken the lead in discussing new approaches to education; feminism is part of that discussion.

(Aruni Samarakoon teaches at the Department of Public Policy, University of Ruhuna)

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies

Continue Reading

Features

Indian model as wayforward

Published

on

President Wickremesinghe

By Jehan Perera

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement that district committees can be considered as part of the solution to the vexed problem of power sharing between the ethnic communities has caused a considerable furore in the Tamil community.  It came as both a shock and a disappointment as the president has also been speaking about fast-tracking the national reconciliation process. The president said he is ready to reintroduce District Development Councils when former president Maithripala Sirisena proposed setting up of district councils under the provincial councils as a cost cutting measure.  “Former President, I listened to your comments on District Development Councils and I am ready to do it,” the President is quoted as having said. Subsequently, the president’s media unit clarified that the President meant that the District Development Committees (DDCs) will be established within the Provincial Councils.

The president’s media unit further elaborated that the DDCs would provide a platform for coordination between the government, the provincial councils and the local governments for all executive decisions. It also said this will ensure the process is not duplicated and will reduce financial wastage.  The concept of the district as the unit of devolution was tried before in 1981 by the president’s uncle, the late president J R Jayewardene during whose period the government established DDCs to be part of the solution to the ethnic conflict that was getting worse by the day.  The Sri Lankan security forces had been ordered to control the growing Tamil militancy.  The security forces were armed not only with guns but also with the Prevention of Terrorism Act which was abused then as it is abused today though to a much greater extent then, than it is now.

The memory of the brief period of the DDCs is an unhappy one to the Tamil community.  The elections to the DDC were contested by the ruling party, the UNP, to which the president belongs.  The government’s attempt to rig those elections and win them at any cost led to the catastrophic burning of the Jaffna Public Library in 1981.  This seat of learning was one of the most sacrosanct institutions of Tamil civilisation that symbolised the high quality of education in the north of the country that was the envy of other parts of the country.  It is therefore not surprising that the president’s media unit was quick to deny the very negative inferences made with regard to the president’s speech.

REINTERPRETING WORDS

The president’s media unit can be relied upon to accurately portray the president’s cryptic remark with regard to his willingness to resuscitate the district council system.  However, the very idea of creating a complex platform for coordinating the central government, provincial councils and local government bodies for all executive decisions seems to be a difficult task.  It runs the real risk of killing any possibility of decision making through a multiplicity of committees.  Coordination within one level of the government is difficult enough.  Coordinating between multiple levels will be even more difficult.  There have been issues when two drivers sit at the wheel. Who does the Government Agent in a district report to as he also serves as the District Secretary? What is the protocol when a central deputy minister and provincial minister attend a formal meeting?

The questions noted above have been raised in the past and many remain unresolved and making further units of devolution will be confusion compounded. The irrelevance of the proposed district committees to the solution of the ethnic conflict can be seen by another problem.  The provincial councils, which were formulated to be the solution to the ethnic conflict, and to represent the wishes of the people of each province, do nothing of the sort at the present time, as they are non-functional where people’s representation is concerned.  For the past four years, the provincial councils have only been administrative bodies run by a presidentially appointed governor who can act, and does act arbitrarily, without consulting the people of the province.  During this period, elections to the provincial councils have not been held.  Far from being institutions of devolved power, the provincial councils now represent the centralised power of the state, both unfortunately and perniciously.

The ability of the government to neutralise the provincial councils by the undemocratic method of not permitting elections to be held for 4 years gives impetus to the Tamil community’s rejection of them.  The provincial councils were brought into existence in 1987 as the main democratic part of the solution to the ethnic conflict. They were meant to provide the people of each province with the power to decide on locally relevant matters.  But this right has been denied to them.  This would be the main reason why the demand for federalism is once again coming to the fore. In a landmark judgement the Supreme Court in August 2017 with Chief Justice Priyasath Dep presiding ruled that “Advocating for a Federal form of Government within the existing State could not be considered as advocating Separatism.” The court dismissed a petition that ITAK (or Federal Party) had, as one of its “aims” and “objects” the establishment of a Separate State.

POSITIVE RESPONSE

The TNA which is the largest Tamil party (with ITAK as its major component) has responded positively to the president’s announcement that he intends to seek a solution to the ethnic conflict by the 75th anniversary of Independence.  They have said that they will seek a solution on the basis of federalism.  Their spokesperson M. A. Sumanthiran has pointed out that there are more than 25 countries in the world which have federal system and they are very much united, and contain over 40 percent of the world’s population.  The United States, India, Switzerland and Malaysia are examples of federal states.  The key feature in a federal state is that the government will not be able to change the way a provincial council is governed.  Certainly, the government will not be able to arbitrarily postpone elections to a provincial council for four years and then run it centrally through a governor of its own choice.

On the other hand, from the time that the Tamil polity has asked for federalism, beginning in the 1950s, the Sinhalese polity has rejected it as being injurious to the country’s national sovereignty and security.  There is misapprehension that federalism might be the first step to secession. The examples of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia are given as examples of federal states that broke up on the lines of their federal units.  The Sinhalese position is that a unitary form of government would protect the country from being divided in this manner.  However, even unitary states have been divided if they did not manage their ethnic relations in a constructive manner as was the case in Sudan (which divided into South Sudan) and Serbia (Kosovo). The enlightened reasoning and decision of the Sri Lankan Supreme Court in 2017 needs to be explained to the political parties and to the general population.

The 18th century English poet Alexander Pope wrote “For Forms of Government let fools contest whatever is best administered is best.”  Just across the seas from Sri Lanka the world has a good example of a diverse and huge country that has held together as one and is now getting stronger and stronger, both in terms of its economic might, but also its international stature.  The Indian form of government is neither wholly federal nor wholly unitary, but can take on aspects of either as the situation demands.  In times of peace it is federal, in times of stress it can become unitary.  This was the solution that India and Sri Lanka agreed to in the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 and which was distorted in the 13th Amendment.  Recently in parliament, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa went one step forward to say he was for discussions on 13th Amendment plus. India has been Sri Lanka’s best saviour at the present time in terms of the economic crisis, giving Sri Lanka far more than other countries.  With India’s political support to a political solution based on its own learning and experience, a viable solution can be found and Sri Lanka can forge ahead as a truly united nation to economic development.

Continue Reading

Features

Top acts heading overseas…for 31st night

Published

on

Sohan & The X-Periments, and the new-look Mirage outfit, will not be around to usher in the New Year – 2023.

While The X-Periments will take a break, from 31st night activities, their leader Sohan will be away, in the UK, making sure that the folks, over there, have a ball, as the New Year approaches…and after!

He will be at the Honeymoon Banquet Hall, in Hounslow, London, together with the band Roots, and guest artiste Damin David – UK Lankan’s Voice Winner – to welcome 2023.

This dinner dance will commence at 7.00 pm and wind up at 1.00 am, and will be held in typical Sri Lankan style, with kiribath, tea, coffee, after the countdown.

Among the highlights will be the selection of the New Year Queen.

This will be Sohan’s third trip to the UK, for this year, and it did come as a surprise, he says, adding that he is glad that he is in demand in the UK, as well.

Sohan will also take wing for Australia, to perform at a very important event – a concert to honour the late Desmond de Silva.

It will be held on 11th, February, 2023, in New South Wales, and will also feature Mignonne and Suraj, Melantha Perera, Mariazelle, Corrine, and Sohan Pieris, among others.

Honouring the legend…Desmond de Silva

This concert will showcase the music from Desmond’s incredible musical journey…with the Spitfires, Jetliners, Foreign Affair (UK), Replay 6, Desmond and The Impressions, and the baila king himself, in ‘hologram.’

In the meanwhile, the new-look Mirage, who captivated a full house at the Peacock, Berjaya Hotel, Mount Lavinia, last Friday night – December 2nd – is scheduled to head for Oman for two important seasonal gigs – on 23rd December and 31st December.

On Friday, the 23rd, they will be at the Grand Hall, Al Falaj Hotel, in Muscat, for ‘Sri Lankan Musical Night’ – from 3.00 pm onwards.

In addition to their Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve gigs, the General Manager of the Al Falaj Hotel, Praveen George, indicated to me that Mirage will also be seen in action at a few more events, in Oman.

Down Under, too, elaborate plans are being made to celebrate the dawning of another New Year.

Two popular bands, in Melbourne, Replay 6 and Ebony, will be at the Grand On Princess, to provide the right kind of music to make this New Year’s Dinner Dance nostalgic.

Continue Reading

Trending