Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Desperately Seeking Cash

The interesting experiment that is Jo going back to work went through for the first time this week. To me, the most interesting bit about it is Jo getting back into an office job after a year of absence, even if a lot of it involved working from home. However, I feel this issue would be best discussed in Jo’s own blog, so I’ll move on to discuss the other aspects of Jo’s return to work – notably, Dylan’s childcare experience.

First there’s the obvious issue of getting Dylan to childcare with us on the morning train. From the train station I push him along to the childcare place, which is normally around a 10-15 minute walk. It takes longer with Dylan, though, because I don’t disregard red lights when I’m with him. That said, I still have my usual walking style of brisk walking and zigzagging around the slower pedestrians. Not that I’m in a particular hurry to get to the office, it’s just that this walk is my only form exercise nowadays and I try to make the most of it. It does tend to take people by surprise, though: you stand at a pedestrian light and everyone pushes ahead of you because they don’t want to be behind the slow pram, and then the light turns green and all of a sudden this pram overtakes them. There is a definite expectation problem there with slow walkers risking life and limb by sticking themselves in front of me even though I’m faster than them. I can assure you it’s just a matter of time before I lose it and ram one of them with my pointy Beema.
So far it’s all nice to do the walking, but I dread imagining how things would be like in more wintry times. Getting up early to a dark, cold and wet universe is hard enough without Dylan around. I guess it’s just another thing we’ll have to contend with. In the mean time, I’m enjoying the exercise – the pram makes a big different, effort wise – and Dylan is enjoying the stimulations offered by a big city center.

Next we have childcare itself. Allow me to say this: it’s not as bad as the previous experience Dylan has had, but I’m less than inspired. To say the least. For organizations that are meant to specialize in baby handling, the childcare facilities we have seen so far show incredible lack of professionalism.
Where can I start? On his first day, Dylan ended up being given the bottle only once, immediately upon us dropping him off in the morning. We were told he refused it later, and while he did have his share of solids the bottom line is inexcusable: when I picked him up he had more than 8 hours without a drink, and it was visible. Not only in his irritation, but also through basic signs of baby dehydration, such as the feel of the cavity between the bones making up his skull (you know, with babies the skull is not fully formed yet and you can feel the different bits).
Then they gave me his bottles back, and two out of the three we provided them with were still full. If he had one in the morning then what was it, exactly, that they offered him later given that you’re not allowed to reuse baby formula bottles after you warm them up? Private investigations have revealed that they don’t adhere to basic formula maintenance policies such as reheating and reusing. And they’re supposed to be the pros.
Today I went for a visit and found Dylan crying in his cot. He untucked himself and rolled over, but as he’s unable to roll back he was just crying (and who knows how long for). All the while the carer was having a conversation and generally ignoring him in the hope that eventually he’d settle for some sleep; which he won’t, given that he rolled over.
You can argue that all of the above are to be expected, to one extent or another, in a childcare facility full of kids. Thing is, since most people are still on holiday leave, Dylan was on his own in childcare yesterday (other than a couple of hours when another mother had her baby in for acclimatization). If that is the service he got when he had the carer’s undivided attention, I don’t want to think of what is to happen when it’s back to business as usual and Dylan becomes a one in ten.

Last but not least, there’s getting Dylan back home. On the train, again. The trick there is that while we take an early enough train in the morning to avoid the rush, the evening train is during the rush (although not at its peak). And the Connex experience is not the nicest experience even without a baby around.
On Dylan’s first day of operational childcare and just as he and I got to the platform together, the announcer told us that the next train has been canceled and that Connex apologizes. Thing is, the PA system is so loud and coarse, Dylan immediately started crying his guts out; I was on the phone to Jo coordinating our train effort, the announcer was repeating the message again and again, and Dylan was exploding with cries. Lovely! Thank you, Connex.
Needless to say, the next train was crammed full because it had to take double the load of people. An enjoyable experience for all to have! Thank you, Connex.
Talking about Connex’ service levels, I have a bit more to say. As a yearly card holder I get a compensation ticket each month their service is below the standards set by the government. Thing is, out of the 12 months that are in a year, I counted 7 compensation tickets. That is, for 7/12 of the year, Connex’ service was below par. That is, most of the time, the service was below par. That is exactly my definition for shit service; we’re not talking here about an occasional mess, we’re talking here about routine.
And it’s not like Connex’s standards are fairly high either. They need to have 90% of their services on time, roughly, within a generous margin of minutes. Given that most of the 10% of the problems bit are during rush hour, when you and I actually feel it, and given that they can’t comply with this standard for most of the year, one can clearly see just how bad Melbourne’s public transport system is.
I blame Connex, but more than Connex I blame the state government. Connex is just an operator trying to make a buck; it’s the government that has this attitude of providing the crappiest service it can still get away with, as opposed to having the view of genuinely supplying good service to the people and actually trying to move people around efficiently and on time. It has been proven again and again that such efficiency is worth any investment that can be made, but go figure. Their look at things is so grotesque, coming from a government that is there to serve the people, I just find it amazing they can get away with making our lives so miserable.
Looks like Dylan’s first swear word is going to be “Connex”.

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