Category: General Life


And Justice For All

Some days we think we’d sooner stay in bed, on a few of them by the time we come to the end of the day we reflect that had we done so the negative vibes we felt and the possible calamitous events we may have suffered might have been avoided.

Today was not one of them.

Today a simple man was able to go back to his work, he was able to return to his life.  Today the balance is redressed from the overly harsh punishment to which he had been subjected some weeks ago.  It is of enormous pride to me to have been involved at all in him returning to his doting wife and being able to say that the nightmare is over, life can go back to where it was and continue as it has done for the last 26 years not be abruptly brought to an end.  I say simple man with affection not judgement, a man with simple needs, wish to provide a home for his wife and to do his job every day, a man nearly in tears just to learn that tomorrow at 7am he will be back performing his duty.  He wanted to give me money, he wanted to buy me a beer, no no a crate of beer.  I said perhaps one beer would be acceptable, how could I begrudge him that.

Today a humble lady, wronged by someone who should have been supporting her was finally told that she should indeed have been able to expect that duty of care and that she had been treated badly, unfairly and unacceptably.  She was told someone at least was sorry and that they would try to do something about it to ensure such things did not happen again.  She was validated and vindicated, she was believed.  She wanted to buy me lunch.

This is not about self-aggrandisement it is an attempt to ensure that I remember when the days are hard and the efforts seem frustrating and unsuccessful that there are reasons to get up, reasons I do my job and reasons why I should continue to do so to the very best of my ability.  There are more defeats than victories in this job, unequivocal victories are rare and two in one day is sufficiently rare for me to struggle to remember another in my 10 years but at the heart of it there is the knowledge that my victories are not about me, they are about people and their lives and sometimes the returning of equilibrium a little.

Tonight I hope I will sleep well, if I do it will be with peace and the knowledge that I justified my place on Earth and in society today, it was worth getting out of bed and going to the places in which I was supposed to be, two people may be afforded their own good night’s sleep because of it.

Song Of The Day ~ Fréro Delavega – Le Chant Des Sirènes

My blogging comrade Big John – himself going for the same decade as I have been – recently posted on the occasion of his 75th birthday about how things had been ‘in his day’ as opposed to that which is available (to children) now.  It got me in comparison mode so I decided to put another yardstick in giving how the world was in my childhood.  You have to bear in mind I was in Chelsea (when it still had council tenants) so what we had was in many respects streets ahead of those living outside ‘the smoke.’

Anyway John’s formative years involved the following:

  • Television .. Just the BBC on the radio wireless.
  • Telephone .. The nearest one was two streets away on a shop counter.
  • Computers .. Great fun was had playing games in the street.
  • Motor car .. If a tram or bus didn’t go there, then, neither did I, unless I walked.
  • Bathroom .. A scrub in the kitchen sink or a tin bath by the fire.
  • Toilet paper ! .. I won’t go into detail.
  • Fast Food .. Only fish and chips. ”Bring your own newspaper”.
  • Holidays .. Abroad ! Where was that ? .. Well, maybe a day by the sea.
  • Supermarket .. or “Can I scan your ration book?”
  • Refrigerator .. Only a daily walk to the shops by my mum.
  • Central heating .. Just open coal fires, even at school.
  • Shoes .. Oops ! .. No .. Sorry, I got carried away for a moment, so I’ll …

As opposed to a man in his 70s I was a child of the 70s and things were different, we had moved on, evolved, advanced with almost wanton abandon, things were thus:

  • Television .. Only bought when I was 13 and so my grandmother could watch the news, took up half the room in a wooden cabinet and 3 people to lift! Just two BBC and 1 ITV which I wasn’t allowed to watch because adverts were evil (this is quite correct of course!) Oh and it didn’t run in the morning except for schools programs and it didn’t come in the afternoon until 3.30 with Play School. It then shut down after the late film at around 11 and the National Anthem played! What’s a colour TV?

[Channel 4 came along in 1982 – it was such an event people took time off work to watch the opening… ceremony would be a bit strong, it started with Countdown one of the most sedentary gameshows ever!]

  • Telephone .. The nearest one was two streets away in a red phone box – queues down the street on a Sunday before dinner and hoping you had enough 5p coins to beat the pips!

[Later when we moved out of London in the 80s we had a 3-digit phone humber!]

  • Computers .. just came in – Yellow River on the BBC involving Xs or Spectrum cassette tapes which took hours to load and made a noise like a fax machine.

[I got my first computer in 1998 it was an Apple Powerbook Duo 280c and the snazziest system I had ever seen!]

  • Motor car .. Trams? Bloody luxury, we didnt have them in my day.  It was the No. 11 bus to school I had or a 20 min walk to the nearest tube station at weekends.

[I didn’t learn to drive until I was 28 and that was for a job.  I don’t exactly feel the richer for it, though my 27 year old car is cool!]

  • Bathroom .. Hot running water but an outside khazi still very much in evidence in the terraced housing, we had a separate toilet indoors in our flat for a while but when moved had to share a bathroom with the people above!

[Outside toilets were a nightmare, in the Winter it was bloody freezing and anything could be lurking in there and frequently was!]

  • Toilet paper ! .. Unlike the Big Man I will go into detail – shiny on one side and ripped your aris to ribbons it did. Izal – I’ll never forget it, I saw some on sale not so many years ago, heaven knows what idiot still buys it.
  • Fast Food .. Still only fish and chips. Newspaper provided! We did have an ice cream parlour – yes “parlour” but it was the Fulham Road you know!  In the very early 80s we went ‘into town’ to a Nepalese restaurant in Euston – it was the most exotic thing we had ever done or eaten in my life.  I still visit as and when I can.
  • Holidays .. Calais, we were cosmopolitan and my Grandmother lived in Kent!
  • Supermarket .. What? We had the grocer, the greengrocer, the butcher, the baker and knew them all by name. They’d give my mother a little extra because she was on her own and they liked my smile! (Tried that at Tescos and have another 6 months on the Anti-Social Behaviour order!)
  • Refrigerator .. I got to go on the daily shop with mother!
  • Central heating .. Coal? Ha you’ll be lucky, miners are on strike and all the powers off!
  • Shoes .. So many choices, Clarks or Start-Rite!

If there’s anyone else who wishes to reminisce either here or on your own page then I’d be interested and perhaps amused about your decade.  Feel free to share.

Song Of The Day ~ The Rifles – Shoot From The Lip

It was admittendly some years after Fi’onna that I had heard the afternoon play. Initially it was easy to listen to the mellifluous voices, those of actors familiar, the woman’s warm yet vulnerable, the man’s enthusiastic and slightly swashbuckling. The nature of the familiarity of those voices led to a superficial involvement for a time, until the plot deepened it was so carefully crafted and well-acted that it pulled like a plughole and it brought it all back. The play highlighted the highs and the lows of non-physical contact, a relationship that is often more intense than those not familiar with it could imagine, often more intense even than the physical itself. It is something I know, something I got caught up in, an intensity that burns to the touch but is as nurturing as the sun in what would otherwise be the blackest darkness. There is the sensual direction of the person being as much as you could ever hope for, there is nothing to suggest they may not be all you wanted, needed and perhaps more. There is the heightening frisson of getting slowly, almost inexorably, closer and closer to someone, the very denial of certain senses necessitating an inexorable reliance on the others. A reliance we are not used to, a downhill run too steep to be measured or braked. What begins as a safe gradual relaxation of the boundaries, distance affording a cape of seeming invincibility, continues as a headlong dash, the wind whistling past, the thrill of the speed and the knowledge that the sensation is daring, exciting, utterly out of control, maybe there is no end, maybe this time the brick wall is made of paper and the velocity will bring you crashing through to the other side and a world where pain and cynicism is replaced by contentment and a lack of expectation of either good or ill, a living for being alive. It is as much beauty as it is tragedy.

The dynamic whilst not unique to inter-personal relationships is more critical because the lack of the space between. Those undulations of moods the patterns of love, trust, fear and faith coinciding only at specific points on the graph to allow empathy and connection whilst at other times seeming so distant as if reality tries to yank back from the edge of something that could be so much better. The highs of the psychological narcotic are such as to be so alluring, so consuming as to lay waste to the otherwise mundanity of the day. This in turn left the yearning in times of no drug to be as excruciating as to be physically tortured and the effects on mood just the same. There is all too often so little information that just to survive the silence we invent something, anything, just to show we are still there and they are with us, the mind trying to give us one last safety net suspending us over that abyss that spells a pain we cannot begin to speculate on. For me it was as emotionally violent as a previous relationship had been physically so, although on this occasion it had not been by design merely by circumstance.

In truth I could romanticise about how it all started but I don’t really know, or remember, or perhaps both. What I do know is the chain of coincidences that led to it. A chance comment on a picture put up on a profile to justify the humorous title of same led to a cheerful response because something in the comment had seemed bright, neither serious nor flippant, more friendly than merely polite. Therein began a conversation that effectively lasted 2.5 years and the effect a further 1.5 subsequent to that, the full fallout cannot be adequately measured because all events in our lives shape the people we become. We would be different if not for them and the world and our perception of it and those within it would be altered. We are the sum of our experiences coupled with our genetic predisposition as to what we are able to experience. Given these factors and who we are at a specific time we were perhaps always going to head along certain paths. I was always going to fall for her because she was always going to be the one that drew me in at that time in my life.

Just as the deep rush of positive emotion made me feel childlike, the exuberance, the cradle of a new creativity, a tone to my writing and a sudden outpouring of feelings and fresh awareness of the world and the things around it. The garage door opened, the light coming only from the gap under the door now flooded in with a radiance that brought with it warmth, vivid colour, and a small amount of fear. So the end when it came left a feeling the like of which I had not felt since 17, that first breaking of innocence, the dashing of the hopes that you may have held within you since the notion of deep relationships first starting growing from the soil in your dreams. Such uprooting is not like trimming the leaves or deadheading the flowers, nor even cutting into the stem, it is a wrenching from the roots removing the whole plant. It will not grow back. This is not hyperbole, this is not some idea that the world is over, it isn’t, there may be other circumstances there may not but this strand of innocence is gone, the empirical evidence now replaces the dream, any future moment that appears to be proceeding down the same path will ring alarm bells. Others will inevitably be judged by the sins of them that have gone before, it is unfair, it is unavoidable.

I have long since speculated as to whether given the chance to expunge the events and memories of that period I would do so. At times I have had distance and grace to think that I would not, that the writing to her and the emotions accompanying it were such as to tell me that which I did not know about myself, a level of me I had not hitherto attained not even been aware of, a seam yet to have been mined. There have been darker times when the hastily applied dressing has come off and opened up the wound a little to reveal raw flesh beneath and the twinge of pain that just piques a reminder, briefly spells the agony that once required such hasty binding of the cuts then. In those moments I would go back to the cynical and yet more naive me – a person not aware of that which could be and the consequences of both its successes and failure and I would tell myself to run in order to preserve the little saplings so that they may live to grow in better soil,

Like so much that we have to put away before its time so as to function properly day to day there sits at the back of my mind a box and in it the ephemera of each section of memories and unsolved little strands of them that wait in case ever needed for a little haunting, a little self criticism or just occasionally, very occasionally to be tied up and put on the shelf with the other things that time and closure has rendered benign. The latter is far rarer than the formers but not impossible and the catharsis drawn from such a situation is liberating. I sometimes believe that were I to have neatly tidied all the boxes I would be a happy man living a normal life, but I might also be dead with nothing left to make me live from one day to the next. It is only ever likely to be something I hypothesise about.

To open such boxes is a dangerous business, like chemically induced highs you may never quite know what you are going to get and once the walking of that path is begun there is no turning back for some time. Moreover it is not always within your control to keep the lid on the box and so in this instance it was that the play acted as the catalyst that heated the feelings causing them to expand and push off the lid to release themselves into the air again. It did not awaken the sorts of emotions there had been before, neither the level of love nor the level of anguish. In fact it wasn’t to do with the level of these at all, the detachment itself was both illuminating and disquieting. Time had not healed, the wound was still there but it had not bled for a while and I had forgotten what it felt like to have it do so. It could never be as bad as it was originally, then there was no way I could have expected that severity of pain, now it is just like revisiting something unpleasant but familiar where it is more the memory of how unpleasant it was at the time that causes the emotion than the specifics of the actual discomfort now.

In physical relationships we very often have things that go wrong and breakups that are not of our choosing, but there has often been much beforehand that we have learnt, the very variety of our senses bring us to conclusions of what is going on. After these there is often a proximity to a person that forces us into a state of acecptance or ambivalence, we are forced to confront the situation head on, the person continues to exist in our physical world (even if at times we may wish they did not) and this requires us to act. This is not at all the same with distance, endings are abrupt, feelings forced off like a broken circuit, sinapses still twitching and shaking as the energy of the impulses ebbs away. It is not just that a relationship is dead, the whole world with it has died, the person no longer exists and this is unnatural and allows your brain no peace. The cliff face has collapsed whilst you were standing on it.

Memories of things in the physical world are rounded, colour and odour, a sense of how someone moves and holds themselves, their bathroom habits, their clothing anomalies, the foibles that come together to make up the whole. Yet this means that the life goes on as an undulation the peaks and troughs not always noticable in the way they might be for the lack of stark comparison. But is this not better than the sharp climb to a world of more personal completion and the plummet to a world where the realisation that one is not and has never been whole renders it an aberration, a place devoid of the pleasures one used to take comfort in?

If you return to black and white having seen colour where black and white can no longer ever be the same, would you prefer to have continued life in black and white in ignorance that this is a hollow bliss or a comfortable numbness or is the fact that you then know that colour exists making your world the richer even if you are not able to enjoy it. Answers on a coloured postcard.

Song Of The Day ~ Gotye (feat. Kimbra) – Somebody I used To Know

Country Life

It is so easily done.  Other things to do, other activities, other people to see, other pubs to drink in, ones where people may already know your name.  Those who have always been in the towns and cities, or perhaps those not from Britain or Ireland, will not appreciate the significance of the village pub.  This is not the same as your “local,” which could be one of many in a selected area,somewhere that you may or may not have some allegiance to,  this is a place that for those who may not go to church may be the only meeting place for an entire community.  My village is one whose local nickname had been Paraffin City so late had they adopted electricity, even now there remains no gas supply and half of the village loses electric power on a regular basis and apparently has done for years (Christmas Day last year in the middle of cooking Christmas dinner for example).  The main fuel here is still coal, unsurprising in an area where local pits still formed the bulk of inhabitants’ work until the mid 1980s.  The burning of coal comes with a distinctive smell, it is one that evokes the past and lends itself to that sense of a bygone era already prevalent with village life.  It is the equivalent of the smell of peat burning in Ireland.  It is ironic since most miners will tell you that burning it is the most wasteful use of coal that there is.

To sit in the village pub, my possessions almost packed, whilst four old men sat and chatted about events of their past and another watched the football on the television made me realise how fragile such institutions are, in spite of their importance to the community at large.  A business cannot survive without customers and in times of economic squeeze it is often that unnecessary activities such as going for a drink must go by the wayside.  The village in which I live(d) is small and somewhat insular, it is not on the road to anywhere so there is no passing trade for any establishment, it is a village that many people who have lived in the surrounding area for years have not heard of let alone been to and it sits in a dip so you wouldn’t even see it unless you were on top of it.  It has circa 1300 inhabitants and on a chilly Tuesday evening only 5 of them had turned out before me, it is the only pub in the village the other having closed some years previously.  I had only gone in because I briefly done so earlier to find someone who was due to pickup an ebay purchase from me, it had seemed churlish not to go back and at least have a pint.  I did so and left not long afterwards not because I did not find the place interesting but because I had packing to do and a cat to feed.  As I walked back I did feel that perhaps I was doing so too early on what was likely to be my last visit.  It felt sad, it was in fact the first time I became a little melancholy that I was leaving this little village.

In truth I have been to the pub on no more than about 5 occasions since I moved here some 16 months ago, I had gone in on the first night I arrived, it seemed appropriate, a mark of the arrival in a new village, I went with a sense of both excitement and apprehension  The village was a place in which I knew no-one but the same had been true where I had lived before and I had managed to get myself accepted there, I was confident that I would at least try but villages in the country can be strange places, often something of a time warp and extremely closed when it comes to strangers be they from the next town, county or further afield.  That night it had been quiet and I got talking to the landlord who had recently taken over.  He seemed pleasant enough, not much of a conversationalist but generally friendly, he explained he had plans for the place and intended to start making food there.  I had worked in a village pub many many years ago where food had been served to a very high standard and people had come from miles around to eat there, perhaps this could be the making of the pub.  I heard later that there had in the past been two pubs in the village but one had closed some time ago and this one’s future had been in the balance for some time with a succession of caretaker landlords not giving any stability that would make it a going concern.

The next time I went in was Christmas that same year when the pub was packed with large numbers of locals jammed in to wish one another festive greetings, a proper communal feel and a genuine advantage of living somewhere where people know that you are a local.  It had been only the second time I had been in, not by conscious avoidance just a factor of circumstances.  I did sometimes go back to another pub in the place I used to live because I still took part in the quiz and knew plenty of people from the 5 years I had spent there but generally I was going to the pub far less often due to the substantial rise in rent that I was now paying.

The third time I went into the local pub was one that rather shaped my view of it.  I was there with some friends from the village, these were the first people I had met and got on well enough with to be invited out for drinks of an evening and since they like me had two children it seemed ideal and the pub was a nice local place to meet.  As I had now been twice I expected to receive the nod of recognition that usually greets someone who is frequent enough to be seen as a person who probably lives in the village but not so that they would merit any actual conversation yet.  My friend had bought his children some chips, I tended as a rule to try to steer away from junk food for my children but it was a Friday and the chips looked nice and I felt it unfair that my children should watch someone else’s have a treat.  When I went in and asked the barmaid if I could get a portion of chips she looked over at the landlord who was at the bar in a chef’s outfit and supping on a pint.  “Kitchen’s closed” he responded and went back to studying his drink.  And such is the impression that can define one’s actions for many a year.

I had only been in on two occasions after that and had since found another pub a mile and a half away where I indeed walked past the village pub to get to, but I was now a local there and greeted as such by landlady and customers alike.  In there I had heard that where villagers who knew each other from their children attending or having just attended the local primary school used to meet of a Friday evening for a couple of pints and a chat they had now shifted to the pub I frequented.  Each time someone came in to this pub who had been to the village pub that evening they remarked on how quiet it was.  No-one seemed surprised, nor particularly disappointed by it,  the landlord’s manner was blamed for it and with a shrugging of the shoulders we went back to our drinks.

Now I am to move to another village, one with a busy trunk road with garages, petrol stations and 4 pubs, 3 of which are on the main road and will doubtless collect the trade from it.  It will not be the same.  I have neglected the village pub and however valid my reasons may have been I cannot help but feel that I, and perhaps the village, may be somewhat the poorer for it.

Song Of The Day ~ Dream Academy – Life In A Northern Town

Seeing the film Kidulthood brought back some very unpleasant memories and in truth made me feel deeply uncomfortable, my mind cast back to a time I have long tried to forget. This is not some attempt to portray my past as having been “in da hood” there were too many reasons why that was simply never going to be the case, not in the classic sense, but I was in a location and a social situation that was contradictory and ones where I could be comfortable in neither. In many respects I stood out sufficiently in both home life and school life to be more of a target than I might otherwise have been. you are not always able to choose your environment, nor for that matter the entirety of that for your children.

In 1980 we moved into a council flat off St. Anne’s Road, just around the corner from Latimer Road, a single parent family, 1 parent, 1 child. This was very different from the tranquil friendly atmosphere of East Chelsea where I was born and spent the first 6 or 7 years of my life in a childhood, not necessarily idyllic but sufficiently content for me to have no issues or angst regarding it either at the time or subsequently.  Where we moved to is an area still very much etched on my mind with all that is negative. The borough of the estate is Kensington, it is just off Holland Park Avenue, the postcode indeed the salubrious W11.  In most people’s minds this will conjure up pictures of multi-floored detached houses with large gardens and larger fences.  The preserve of diplomats, oligarchs and politicians, where we were this could not have been further from the truth.

Holland Park Avenue is a dividing line, I have no reason to suppose that has changed either, on the one side the great houses of the very wealthy, the comfortable, overlooking the park and with CCTV cameras, well before these were usual, adorning the imposing walls with their glass shards and barbed wire to keep the riff raff out. Whilst on the other side it is as close to bedlam as I ever wish to get, populated by the very riff-raff the other side wishes to keep at greater than arms length. Anyone aware of West London and the A40 westway will have seen the 3 large foreboding tower blocks that are the Edward Woods Estate, large brutalist carbuncles that wreck the otherwise comforting mundanity of the landscape. We lived in the shadow of these in a series of blocks a mere 9 storeys high.  For me home life was as unyielding as school life but at the other end of the spectrum, I was mocked at school for being from the wrong side of the tracks and beaten up at home for being at a posh school.  This is not unusual this just happened to be the areas in which I stood out, children find the differences and pick away at the seams until the underbelly is revealed, at which point the knives come out, they always do.

This is all a contextual preamble to the description of why Kidulthood was such disquieting viewing for me and I suspect others like me. Sometimes in spite of all your parents do, or how comfortable your home life may be behind the front door there is no getting away from the world in which you are forced to live with your peers. The plight of Katie in the film is testament to this, being a fish out of water is not just psychologically damaging but it frequently lends itself to the worst treatment at the hands of the children with whom one is forced tot share space, be it at school, area around home or both. When the world of the parents is so divorced from the daily life you are forced to lead the sense of alienation from all sides is inevitable and there are many ways in which this can manifest itself be it trying to fit in by joining gangs etc.  This is often the case for young boys who are seduced by the idea of being protected and principally belonging.  For young girls the ingratiation with the opposite sex in order to garner some friends and respect amongst the cooler and older of the peer groups is equally common. If a child remains disenfranchised the playground demonstrates that akin to the Serengety plains with the perceived weakest of the herds picked off by the bullying predators, the pain may be more metaphorical but it is no less damaging and all too often the final result is the same as the last and most extreme option for escape remains suicide.

In the case of such an occurrence all parties will be shocked. Parents will be astonished claiming they didn’t know things had got so bad, and hurting that this should not be just something that happens to children in the newspapers.  Fellow pupils will be astonished as the reality of life not being as it is when playing dead in the playground comes a little closer, but as Kidulthood shows it is more the ones who do not stand up to the bullies who suffer the perceived consequences of their actions, the bullies themselves have often long since abdicated responsibility and perhaps those left know that their buffer from the same treatment has been eroded.  Teachers will be astonished because they often don’t notice the quieter ones, the bullied ones, because those are the ones forced to avoid the teachers for fear of incurring more wrath from their persecutors if they are seen to be “grassing”.  As class sizes increase and do so more in the denser-packed ill-resourced inner cities so the simple logistics dictate that you cannot know everything about everyone and can only be largely reactive rather than proactive.  In the case of severe bullying this is inadequate and an explanation not an excuse but the teachers themselves cannot entirely, if at all, be blamed for it.   All parties will feel ashamed, all parties will lose a little of their humanity and in many cases their innocence, all parties will be forced to continue life with the thought nagging away at them as to what they might have done differently. It is all too late by then but tragically the lack of lessons learnt merely allows  the cycle to continue.

Righteous indignation on behalf of the establishment is very often a front for the covering up of the embarrassment of another failure but it should not be mistaken for a genuine desire to address the very fundamental problems of inner city depravation.  To characterise teenage suicide and wider troubles as something surprising is to mollify the lives of all of us, to make us believe that generally our children are safe, were we to know the reality we might start looking for reasons why and therein lie the roots for social change which cannot be allowed to happen.  We must also take responsibility for it since it helps us to believe the myth, helps us eat our breakfast whilst we send our children to school, helps us run our day without wanting to check in on our children’s welfare every hour.  As a parent deep knotted fear is an everyday thing, we anaesthetise ourselves just to get through from one day to the next.

As a film Kidulthood would I’m sure make interesting viewing for anyone, it is well-scripted and well-acted, the story illustrates well the very arbitrary nature of circumstance and the cyclical nature of bullying and violence. There is no glorification of that violence, though much is depicted, the nature of it and what it stems from are all too real for young people not just in West London but across Britain. The plughole like vortex that sucks more and more people in to its continuation is very well-handled. This should not be seen as an over-dramatisation, I only wish it were.  The riots last year should be a clear gauge for those who wish to believe that things have changed, the lid on the inferno will not stay on for ever and when it doesn’t we are all going to get burnt a little.

For many viewers the film may represent the sort of unhappy viewing and elicit pontifications of how things aren’t what they used to be after the war and kids these days run riot. These are the debates that can take place at distance from such affairs. There is some truth in that things were not the same back in the 80s, gun crime was not as rife in the area, though knife crime, violent assaults and muggings were certainly commonplace, I know this only too well from personal experience.  The perception of adults was also not quite as polarised as it seems to be now, back then being caught by an adult was something everyone sought to avoid whilst now it seems almost a necessary right of passage. The lack of respect is not new merely the way in which it is articulated. This is probably just as much to do with the removal of adults from children’s inner circle as it is anything else. Families are no longer as tight knit, nor necessarily so geographically close. Parents are often forced to work longer hours, teachers to deal with bigger classes and neither side is allowed to exercise the sort of discipline they once were, some of which is a good thing. I have heard the argument that children these days have more rights than ever before and this has led them to be a great deal more secure in the knowledge that not much can be done about their behaviour.  There may be some truth in this but to my mind only in conjunction with the other factors listed before. A more comprehensive and consistent approach to things from family and schooling prresents more of a united front and backs up either side.

The breakdown of social cohesion and inclusion by its very nature destroys social responsibility, you only have ownership of that which affects you and you affect, if society distances itself from you you will cease to engage with it.

Song Of The Day ~ Tracey Ullman – Breakaway

Reasons To Be Cheerful

For some time now the things I have done within my working day but not directly related to the IT work I do generally have been more rewarding. I feel useful in my union work and have been part of setting up and participating in committees at a national level within this part of my day. I also serve on two workplace committees locally, something my line manager sees as interfering with my day job. I find this a little ironic since I would have thought being part of university administration and governance would be seen as a very integral part of the day job. I do it anyway which says much about my relationship with my line manager as anything. One of the committees looks at funding worthy schemes in the local community with a sum of money made available for such purposes by the university following the savings they had made using a tax loophole that they were going to pocket until we got wind of it! I could choose to see the amount of money as small in comparison to the university’s turnover or even the amount of money they deducted from staff following our day’s strike in November but it would be churlish and a disservice to the causes not to try to make sure the money is well-spent and furthers the inclusion of disenfranchised members of local society.

We fund two particular schemes within two of the most deprived areas of the town (the town has 4 out of the top 10 most deprived wards in the county) these provide drop in centres for people to access internet, legal help, meet the local fuzz and just have someone to talk to. This is done almost exclusively through the funding of the council and donations such as ours but would not function without a truly astonishing level of work by the people, or sometimes person, running the schemes. We also receive bids for up to £1000 from a variety of projects from around the borough. It is often difficult to whittle it down to within the amount of money that we have available and it is quite a responsibility to know that you control the well-being of such causes for a period of time. Sometimes schemes such as chairs for a village hall or money for groups that are somewhat niche and already well-served, like scouts for example, or where there are other parties who could and should be more active, may have to be given only a portion of or no money if it enables the schemes that are unlikely to receive little external help. A decision of whether able-bodied people have somewhere nicer to sit juxtaposed with funding a project getting teenagers off the streets and into groups where they can learn and be given opportunities for wider involvement is a bit of a no-brainer, at least in my mind. Fortunately in other cases we are able to give all the requested money to a project that is clearly going to make a tangible difference. Today I got to witness one of these.

Music therapy is something I have been aware of for a while, in fact I knew someone from college who had gone into this field, but whilst on paper it looks clearly laudable and valuable you cannot really get a feel for it or the difference it can make. As I had made the case for the funding of the scheme at the committee meeting I was dispatched to hand over the cheque and do the publicity bit. No big Comic Relief style cheque in this instance but one no less important. Visiting a very grateful centre armed with some funding to help them they invited me to stay for the morning session. I was only too pleased to grasp an opportunity not to have to return to the office and I thought it might also be interesting and valuable to report back on what our donation was going to be used for. I do not find it terribly easy to know how to sit with people that have in some cases little and in some cases no standard method of social interaction, you feel a bit of a spare part and ill-equipped to be of any use. You also don’t want to disrupt the equilibrium or the routine of something they clearly look forward to. It is not a question of not wanting to be there it is one of not wanting your presence to be a negative factor. For the majority structured linguistic verbal and written communication are their only ways of being understood and in truth I’m very often not especially at home with new people regardless of the group or the location, it usually results in my saying nothing or babbling incessantly. However structure in this way is a very subjective concept it just means parameters that we acknowledge and are comfortable working within. It is easy in this sort of context to see just how alike we are with all people regardless of their personalities, our diversity is what makes us interesting but sometimes it can make it a barrier to communication. I might be interested to know someone from Outer Mongolia but if neither of us can speak one another’s language then we have to look for other methods of communication and recognition and the same is true for those with physical and mental conditions that make their communication less conventional.

The more enthusiastic participants to a great extent remedy your passiveness and any unease by engaging using the instruments they have and at times singing loudly. The structure of the sessions involves introduction of each member of the group to one another followed by free play and one-to-one attention and assistance to each in turn and at the end a group farewell focused on each individual member so that all feel they have their own personal time as well as that within the group. I was included in the welcome and farewell songs and acknowledged and made to sing during the session and felt only the embarrassment I have felt in many such team-building exercises! Only in this case people were pleased to see me. It is a stimulating environment for them, you can see this in their engagement and each has their own way of expressing some form of enjoyment, some interact directly with the session leader and even those of us observing, others are intent on their instruments but can replicate pitch showing capacity to listen, comprehend and an ability to reproduce, something many people would struggle with. I am told that some of the current group have been together for 3 years whilst one is quite new but this friendly atmosphere is evidently conducive to relaxing and being part of things and some beam from ear to ear for the entire session, it is an infectious pleasure.

At the end of the session one young man who had taken very little open part in the session said “no” very loudly and forcibly when told it was time to sing the farewell song to him. I found myself somewhat disappointed too, and this was not related to the fact that I had to return to work. I can see how leading such a session must be a challenging but so rewarding a job, it will be highlighted every day what a difference you make to people’s lives and how you are able to get through to someone who would otherwise be locked within their own world. We are pack animals, we work together, protect each other and have something to learn from each member of those around us. The simple unadulterated fun that this group demonstrated shows me how much we get bogged down in daily crap and fail to spend any time just appreciating other people’s company and making music or conversation with them, being glad that we are here is something we forget and showing others we are glad they are here is perhaps an action we should communicate a great deal more often. So who is it that really lacks the capability to express themselves…?

Song Of The Day ~ Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter

I grew up on Rev W Awdry railway stories and so did my children so we were really looking forward to the Snowdon Mountain Railway, it was one of the principle reasons for going to Llanberis to base ourselves.

I was not prepared to pay the full price of the tickets which was an eye-watering £25 for adults and £18 for chidren, because this did not give you the free-reign of the railway for the day it was for one trip only which I’m afraid I found so astonishingly expensive I preferred the normally unheard of step of getting up at 7am to catch the 9am train to receive the “Early Bird discount” which cost a mere (!) £43 for myself and the 2 kids.   To start with when we arrived we had to stand out in the rain getting soaked whilst the coach sat empty at the platform, the children were pretty crestfallen to find it was a diesel and not a steam train – they don’t mention mountain diesels in the railway stories – even I was pretty disappointed, there’s something magical about those Swiss engines that are built on a wonk, the smell, the noise all the things you expect of the trip which we weren’t able to experience which was a real pity.

According to the management most people don’t care what takes them up whether steam or diesel, I’d like to know what they are basing these claims on as I doubt they are surveying many real people, however if they wished to stand by their spurious statistics then why do they not publicise which type of locomotive will be working in advance and people can then make their choices?  I suspect it has more to do with the fact that the fuel costs are vastly different between steam and diesel, I saw something that said according to 1987 costs the diesel round trip cost £3.05 in fuel whilst the steam train was a little over £50. These costs are undoubtedly significant but when you consider that there are at least 40 people in each carriage and if you take £18 as the base rate that’s £720 per trip, which bearing in mind there are trips every half an hour between 9am and 4.30pm is £1440 per hour and therefore well over £10,000 per day.  Now I know fuel is not the only cost and some trains in the off season are not full but when they’re making £10k per day I think they’ve enough surplus, bearing in mind the revenue from the various cafés and gift shops is in addition to that.  I also suspect you’ll find that the Early Bird discount or skinflint bastard trains as they probably see it are deliberately all diesel-hauled.  If it were a weather thing that would be a fair excuse but to see steam engines chugging up with their passengers as we were on the way down does make you feel pretty hard done by.

The carriage itself was basic, in fact the windscreen had a huge crack across the middle of it so photos through that were out of the question, it had hellishly uncomfortable seats, I’ve sat on 3rd Class wooden seats that gave me less arse-ache, and there’s barely anywhere to sit if there are 3 of you, which meant on the way back the children had to sit somewhere completely different to me.  We couldn’t hear any of the commentary at all so we just got a droning noise with no discernable words the whole way up – there is no commentary on the way down, probably by this stage even the SMR have given up the pretence that they are trying to provide a service.  The carriage windows got steamed up so quickly that in the breaks in the cloud no-one could see anything anyway and the train only stopped at the now disused stations.   The stations themselves are all boarded up so it doesn’t feel like a railway more a grudging shuffle of people to the top and down again just to have fleeced them of their money.

You don’t get a certificate for your £43, that costs extra, you don’t even get to send postcards from the Summit with a special stamp unless you pay extra 25p per card, and beware you don’t run out of time before you can write them because that 30mins goes pretty quick, just enough time really to get up to the top, take a few photos, use the loo (one of the only things that was free so you might as well enjoy it.) and get to your train, otherwise you fall foul of the “Friendly notice” which is literally stuck up everywhere telling you that if you miss your train down the railway is not obliged to take you down and it’s a 2 hour walk.  When I say this notice is everywhere you’d struggle to find any area more than 2 ft sq. that didn’t have it at least once and perhaps multiple times.  It doesn’t come across as friendly but then neither does much of the railway.

The trains aren’t to blame, nor are the drivers who are nice fellas but this whole thing is run for profit, not by enthusiasts as most of these sorts of things are, this is what happens when the money men get it and suck all the life out of endeavours.  What I find so sad is that these are feats of engineering built by men of vision and when raped by the bankers to squeeze every last fiscal drop they are robbed of their very soul.  You don’t get clusters of people hanging around the station chatting and taking photos, little boys gawping at the engines whilst their (grand)fathers stand with glazed nostalgic looks in their eyes, no on the SMR you’re practically herded out into the overpriced gift shop, I’m surprised the platform doesn’t recede after 5 minutes, it all leaves a really sour taste in your mouth. I had to explain to the children that we couldn’t go on again to get one of the steam locos because we’d have to pay again and it would be £61 which I couldn’t afford and bloody wouldn’t have wanted to.

Yes I know I had done the maths beforehand, I knew what the price was and the fact that we only got 30 mins at the top, I could have found out they might run diesel or steam, there are always get-out clauses, so one could say I in fact contributed to this situation that allows these bastards to rip more people off each year by knowing these facts and still paying up, but what I find sticks in the craw so much is the way we were so blatantly used, it is the very zenith of using children to prise you from your money, and then the SMR has the temerity to claim that it is Wales’ favourite family attraction, well I’m sorry but that’s just bollocks from many of the reviews I’ve seen and I wish to try to do my bit to redress the balance a little and if I can stop one family parting with their money then I will have put my words to good use.

I offer this advice to anyone considering such a holiday, do go to Llanberis which is a really nice place but take your kids (or your inner train spotter) on the Llanberis Lake Railway which cost us around £12, the ride is nice and the drivers are superb, a far nicer activity and much more worthy of the money. It’s exactly like the Skarloey and Rheneas part of the railway stories and has a load of history of slate mining surrounding it.  Go to the National Slate museum which the railways runs past and is free and wonderfully rich and entertaining, have ice creams at Giorgio’s and fry-ups at Pete’s Eats and Pizza and a pint in the evening for these are all the sorts of things that holidays are made of and not only will your children have happy memories but you won’t be sporting a bank statement with a galling entry for the Snowdon Mountain Railway and all the exploitative capitalistic claptrap that it stands for.  You will feel better for it, trust me, I don’t wish you to have to find out why.

I tried writing a complaint but as yet still no response, and I don’t expect to get one either because they give off the very strong impression that once they’ve taken your cash they really couldn’t give a toss.  On a different note I wrote an email to the Lake railway thanking them for being so pleasant to the children and they wrote back within 24 hours delighted I had taken the time and thanking me for doing so.

Song Of The Day ~ The Doobie Brothers – Long Train Running