Tag Archives: politics

Smell the coffee, make a difference

If you click the picture a charming video plays. Please take a couple of minutes to watch. I think this makes an effective point, and one with which I agree. These days I make sure to spend time smelling the coffee, so to speak. For years I rushed, head down, trying to do good stuff. When my parents died I realised how much I had missed and how much I had made other people miss in my hurry to be good. In my hurry to be good I had been, perhaps, less effective. Now I take time to sit on my front steps and watch the birds in the sky and listen to their songs; I watch people as they hurry by, perhaps missing things too; I watch the clouds and wonder how to paint them properly and then go and try; I smell the earth. I still make a difference sometimes, and still try to be good: I work doing things I believe in with people I admire and respect, but I don’t do it exclusively any more. I also choose words for stories, colours for paintings, actually hear the music I am playing. My life is the better for it and I think I make a better difference now. Working smarter not harder is a cliche, but it is a cliche because it makes sense. I just wanted to share the point…If you have some interesting work, let me know. I am your woman.

 

Brexit. Trump. Strictly. No, don’t click me away! Bear with.

Cards on the table, I don’t much like the tellybox. I watch, occasionally, stuff like Railway Journeys with Portillo, or that wonderful Canal programme with Timothy and Prue, but on the whole most of it passes me by. Most of what I do see is caught accidentally when the rest of the family are watching and I stumble into the room on my way somewhere else. However, I have become surprisingly interested in Strictly Come Dancing this last couple of series – maybe it’s because I remember watching the original all those years ago, usually with an altered state of mind which helped.

Bear with…….

This year has been in interesting year for anyone with half an eye on politics. We have, allegedly, seen a rise in the proletariat offering a bit of a slap to the people who have seeped and dribbled into offices of power and decided they know best. Not only that they know best but that the proles know nothing and need to be kept in their place. Our place. To that end, arguably, Education and Health, and to a large extent the Criminal Justice System and Housing, have been morphing in recent decades, leaving behind much of the social construct and responsibility that most of us value and developing a profit motive that no longer has to try to hide. Priorities in socially important organisations changed of necessity – it was do or die –  and in part that has been supported passively by people still believing that someone with a lot of money and a private education knows better than them. Pair that with the desperate need of many to simply keep body and soul together leaving little time to be involved in much else and a consistent lowering of expectations and we have a perfect storm of passivity and fatigue that allows people who do have the time and money (and the networks developed at school and Uni and by family connections) to buy a pathway into power. I mention no names…….

And then came 2016. Hands up who approached 2016 thinking “Thank Goodness 2015 is over, what a year, it can only get better”…..? Yes, well that went well, didn’t it? Apart from lots of lovely people dying who had created my history and the musical and artistic backdrop to my youth, we also had Brexit and Trump. Divisions created deliberately by the powerful to conquer the masses led to the very public murder of one woman, an increase in the confidence of people with shameful attitudes, a legitimising of all kinds of isms from ageism (the older generation have spoiled things for the young/the young don’t understand the issues) through racism (go back to where you came from/who will you blow up next) and a general atmosphere of mistrust and hatred. Conversation was replaced by brick throwing and chanting, voting was seen as an act of defiance rather than an inalienable right and duty and more people voted for Brexit than at any General Election for years. Public dissatisfaction with politicians who fiddle expenses and despise their electorate was having some practical results. Trump had already hopped onto the bandwagon and shamelessly – alongside some of his opponents and supporters – traded insults and lies rather than debate and detail, whipping up his gang to hatred of others, violence, intolerance and a lack of facts. Taking mansplaining to a whole new level, and behaving publicly in a way that many parents would justifiably have slapped their children for, he set new and deeply unattractive guidelines for public debate and demeanour. In both of these events we witnessed the powerless grasping onto something over which they believed they had some control, a new experience for many. In reality the power and control remained exactly where they already were but the illusion of influence was conferred, more expertly in some areas than in others. That precious vote, hard won by ordinary people over the years, wrestled from the wealthy and powerful and certainly not given freely by them, was being manipulated to support the very people who stood to gain most. And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is politics in the 21st Century. Ordinary people are encouraged to think they have had enough of the elite – by some of the elite – in order to get them to vote for the elite.

But something did happen. The idea of sticking it to the elite has taken hold. The concept that perhaps people can make choices, sometimes dangerous or wrong choices, and define their own reality and outcomes and live with the consequences is becoming clearer. And so we arrive at Strictly. I told you to bear with. Ed Balls joined the Strictly dancers and immediately gained the publics support for dancing badly, but with charm and warmth. The pubic enjoyed his efforts and his ineptitude, his determination to do his best and move forward – they liked it much better than some of the other dancers who danced better but were less appealingly human and had less distance to go to dance well. Someone who until recently appeared as part of the elite was shown to be Like Us. Not only Like Us, but likeable and funny. He charmed. The judges were ghastly to Ed and that just increased his popularity – they gurned when he danced, were outright discourteous, were way less encouraging to him than the other “better” dancers and generally behaved like, well, like the elite. Clearly they are the experts, clearly they are dancers, but their unpleasant behaviour rendered that immaterial – we liked Ed because he wasn’t an expert and wasn’t elite. We didn’t like the judges being smug and telling us what to like and what not to like. We Brexited them. We Trumped them. We voted in droves for the Little Man. Apparently. Well, job done. Ed is rehabilitated and the People have spoken. He has worked hard and redefined his place in the public eye.

Quite a few of The Elite are chums of mine. Quite a few of The People are chums of mine. I like them all – I think there is a little bit of fabulous about everyone, without exception. Their politics are not what I admire about them – if they charm me and make me laugh, if they have a brain and a heart, are kind, and hold a conversation well that is what I admire. What they do in the ballot box is not my business. What is my business is what happens when the votes are counted and policy decisions are being made. As someone who has worked for years in health, justice and social care and across all the sectors, and as a school governor, I have seen how public policy impacts actual people. Left and Right are almost irrelevant as long as socially important organisations and services remain at the whim of people many of whom will say and do almost anything to sit in a seat of power, many of whom have no meaningful experience of the departments they lead ( I am sure you know what I mean and who I mean……), and who potentially change direction regularly every few years. When there is actually a direction to change and not just a dogma to follow.  While we have no available Intensive Care beds for children anywhere in the country, while nearly 9,000 people slept on the streets in London alone in 2015/16 – and that is only the recorded figure – and 57,750 households were accepted as homeless and in ‘priority need’ in the same year, a six percent rise on the previous year, while mental health services are randomly delivered and under-funded and a false economy as so many people bounce around the expensive system, while almost as many people leave prison unable to read as entered it (this is changing, thank goodness, thanks to some fabbo people, but so slowly), while people with a criminal record are routinely excluded from jobs and housing denying them the opportunity to desist, while all of these things and more are happening Left and Right can argue until blue/red/green/yellow/purple in the face but it will remain a disgrace and the responsibility of all of them. And all of us.

There are some properly decent people in and around government and in and around some of the organisations that develop and deliver services, people who actually want to make a difference and not a fortune. I insist on feeling hopeful that the vote for Brexit – and Strictly – is an indication of the start of increased popular involvement in government. Whether or not I agree with outcomes upon which people vote does not matter – it is up to me to make a case for my view and debate properly. If votes go a different way to the one I would like I still rejoice that democracy has taken place. We have become a tad complacent in recent years, the freedoms and opportunities that have taken so long and so much painful sacrifice to attain are at risk. That complacency has allowed bad practices to slip under the wire – without some darn good journalism the expenses scandals would have remained unknown, for example, or at the least unremarked. Our inexplicable faith in people in positions of power, supported by the anaesthesia of media dependence, has let us take our collective eyes off the collective ball. My optimism tells me that people are perhaps willing to become more engaged and knowledgeable about the things that will affect their lives and less tribal in their allegiances. Brexit and Strictly both cut across most demographics…….

So, vote for Strictly! Vote in your local and general elections! Talk to your MP, find out what she or he actually thinks and don’t take it on face value – challenge, probe, question, scrutinise. And crucially, tell her or him what you think and what you expect of them. Own outcomes. Learn to Salsa and wear some fancy clothes. Dance and vote like no-one is watching.  And remember that T Blair is creating a global organisation to combat populism  – that’s you and me – and promote globalism – the thing that fills his pockets. We must be becoming dangerous……….

Germaine Greer at the Folkestone Quarterhouse, childbirth, and the Universe. (Warning, some dubious language is employed……..)

I nearly didn’t go. I was behind with everything and had so much to do, and am still working on not being a workaholic, which prompted me to actually go – take time for me. So, I went to the audience with Germaine Greer at the Folkestone Quarterhouse last week. And I am so glad I did – and a massive thank you to Stephanie Karpetas who arranged it.

Germaine has morphed so many times, as indeed we all have. We have to morph to keep up. And we have to keep up to make a living and to stay afloat – if we don’t morph we run  the risk of drowning in redundant self images and out of date mores, a painful way to go as they can stick in your throat.  Her current incarnation suits her well – a slightly world weary battle scarred Grande Dame who has worked out that she hasn’t worked it out yet but is still having a damn good try and is happy to take us with her. As a Spare Rib veteran and a bit of a Grande Dame myself I found no startling revelations and no new truths in the evening, but I wan’t expecting any. What I did find were prompts and nudges, a few winks and pointers towards where my natural urge for introspection should go. And a bit of a jolt. I found myself remembering how I had been, how I had felt all those years ago when I had realised the world was a bit off balance, that some people did not have the same opportunities and rights as others, and quelle horreur, I was one of them! As a woman there were some barriers to  what I might achieve. I remember as if I were back there watching how it felt and what I thought: fuck ’em, bring it on.

I am not going to get into the details of inequalities and all the complex events and factors that reduce a persons or a groups opportunities – those have been done to death and only those with something to lose if it changed would say that those inequalities do not exist or are easily overcome with “hard work” and “persistence”. Those help, but do not address the core challenges. I am also not going to list the multiple groups affected, such as women, people of colour (I think that is still safe to use), people identified as disabled, people with a forensic history………too many to list here. I will only say that coming from a Convent education it was a bit of a shock to realise that women might not be powerful, clever and interesting to everyone else. Even the unpleasant ones in my youth had been clever and interesting, and certainly powerful. And if they also made me laugh – which most did – I could forgive them almost anything. Actually that still works now. Dammit.

Germaine talked about many things, and in particular how our biology impacts our lives. Especially apt with Wolf Hall doing so well on the Tellybox. I think all of Henrys wives would agree that their biology dictated their lives and even their deaths. I was reminded – how could I forget – of the birth of my first surviving baby in the 1980s. We had miscarried a few beforehand so I was almost surprised to find myself in actual full term labour. Being a dutiful middle class educated woman I had, of course, attended NCT childbirth classes with the Old Man and we had made a loose birth plan which specifically said we don’t expect it to go according to plan but here are a few things I would like you (the health care professionals) to notice and we had been careful not to be demanding, only make suggestions. I will not bore you with details – or scare you with them. It was a long and difficult labour and I met a huge variety of people all primed and ready to patronise me and on whom I was dependent. One image I carry still, and which memory Germaine prodded into the front of my mind , was when I had almost had enough and was exhausted but still polite and meek, and the shifts changed on the ward – remember how long ago this was! – and a new doctor arrived. She loomed over me and said – and I remember the words, the voice and the tone as clearly as if she was here now – ” I have read your demands. You have to remember that you have a precious package in there”. I panted, I rocked forwards, tetchy by now, and I said ” And there was me” pant pant pant “thinking it was” pant pant pant “a bag of FUCKING SUGAR”  collapse pant pant. Not my finest hour.

And even then I was aware of how dangerous and precarious childbirth is and how it changes things. And I was surprised at how it – my biology – changed me over the next few years. I had made all sorts of plans about returning to work within weeks without even considering how I might feel. The Old Man – also at that time an unrepentant feminist – was going to stay at home and I would go back to work. I was earning more, it all made sense. What took no notice of sense at all, in fact it looked at sense, threw it to the floor and stepped on it, several times, was emotion. I could not leave my baby. Why had I not considered that might happen? My feminism and independence were both kicked into touch by my biology. Who knew…….

Things are better now. Even my subsequent experiences of childbirth were better, less botched – there was no non-English-speaking doctor Down There stitching me up silently with the odd disturbing giggle, for example. Yes, that did happen. And the midwives were more assertive and in control – a much better situation. And one of my own daughters recent experience of childbirth was excellent – although it was overnight, and seeing the day staff and watching them work I think that might have been sheer luck and in large part down to her magnificent awesomeness. But it was what it was and she had a good experience so we will just be grateful. And another daughter is herself working in Maternity and Obstetrics and I know she will make a positive difference.

Germaine, with a weary but acute eye, brought all those things into focus for me that evening. She turned my gaze – which is too often on work and survival – onto me, and onto my daughters and son – also, to my joy, an unrepentant feminist – and their futures. We have come so far, so fast. Only a sockful of years since women were first allowed to vote, and we now have woman clergy, for example. But still so far to go. As long as we have FGM (as Germaine pointed out, often perpetuated by women on their daughters), rape as a weapon of war, convicted rapists lauded by football fans, page 3 as a “right” (WTF?), and violent porn freely available to offer  that warped picture of sexuality to our youngsters; as long as we have slut-shaming and twitter-trolls offering to rape women who hold an opinion, rooms full of influential politicians without a woman to be seen, the ex-prospective French presidential candidate casually abusing women and still believing it was ok (allegedly…..), women on television routinely judged and criticised for their appearance rather than their performance where men are not, and women still being scared into anonymity after domestic abuse, we will still have a long way to go. Women are not the only group to find ourselves overshadowed, but it was women we were discussing last week and women I am discussing now, unashamedly.

So, I am glad I went to see Germaine. I also met some women there who I would not otherwise have met – always a bonus. And they were all, yes, interesting and amusing and excellent company. Thinking is a genuine pleasure, and how happy I am that Germaine prompted some thoughts. Thank you Germaine. And thank you Stephanie Karpetas! And finally, a huge shout out for the Folkestone Quarterhouse – my first visit there and I don’t understand why I haven’t been before. A lovely venue with terrific staff and a wonderful menu for the next few months.

https://www.quarterhouse.co.uk/

Decisions Decisions…….

Decision making is a hot topic, in Government, in Business, in our personal relationships. Politicians like to be seen as “decisive”, strong leaders, capable. Their decision making can speak clearly about who they are and who they represent. We make decisions every day from the moment our eyes open, mostly not challenging decisions (which cereal to have…..) but the process will be similar to any decision making: reduce and select the options, weigh them up, obtain corroboration as required, risk assess, choose.  Some decisions then have to be verified – not the cereal decision, but pubic-impact decisions! They have to be demonstrated as good and in the public interest. Doctors, for example, can be held to account in a very public and structured way for their decisions, and quite right too.

In this modern, vibrant savvy age of entrepreneurship, business, public relations and increasingly rapid development of products and policies it has been fascinating to attend local council meetings and watch the archaic and frankly absurd methods used to reach and share decisions. I can recommend it as a means to explore power and how it moves around people and traps them.

Well-intentioned people of all sorts run for government, local and otherwise – and some less well intentioned people too. To be elected all we need is a bit of cash and some voter apathy – produce the right words on the leaflets, smile and kiss babies (or promise toilets in the town centre), get your name known so it is familiar on the ballot sheet and Bob’s your uncle. With voter turn out at its lowest in decades you only need a handful of people to recognise you, a sockful of cash and favours to distribute as required, and not have too much visible mud sticking to you and you can lever your way in. Once in, there are a multitude of ancient processes designed specifically to protect you from scrutiny and consequence. Public council meetings, for example, are run by a Town Clerk who positions him/herself, like the Presidents Bodyguards, ready to take a bullet for the people authorising her/his salary and apparently relevant education, rottweiling away any pertinent and grown up conversation behind the smoke and mirrors of process and protocol. Understatement of the day at my last meeting was “this is not a conversation, not interactive” barked at a member of the public daring to supplement her already submitted, then scrutinised and whitewashed questions with a mild query after the tepid and qualified response from the council.  Not interactive indeed, not there, not anywhere.

One wonderful example of the antithesis of voter engagement was at the last meeting I attended after which a councillor (famous for audibly addressing a colleague with whom she disagreed as a prat, in front of a variety of members of the public including children after the Remembrance Day Ceremony) cantered over to the group  of the public attendees specifically to make a point of her own, and then when someone asked her a question backed off so quickly she almost fell over herself arriving saying “I don’t answer questions”. If not then, when? A gold plated gift wrapped opportunity to engage with voters about a hot local topic. I know – let’s ignore it. Maybe they were all prats? Sadly that is not  an isolated councillor behaving inexplicably but a realtime indicator of some local government attitude.

If I were in that elite group of elected officials who have the privilege to serve their community at the communities expense (and that has Precious Little chance of happening I hardly need to add) I think I might start to question those processes. Yes, they have been there for centuries (as have Scarlet Fever and Plague, both thankfully almost eradicated with universal approval) and yes, they are traditional, but until recently so was sending kids up chimneys and wife-beating. We have civilised ourselves past that. Those protocols, processes, trip-wires, smoke and mirrors, call them what we will, are man-made – like nylon, like poverty – and we can un-make them and create a better, more accountable, more engaged, more people friendly way of making decisions that will, ultimately, impact the entire community. It is probably about time we did so, and in the process expose some of the decisions made on our behalf and their consequences. Good people get elected all the time – as do the less good and the downright dreadful. It is probably time we freed the good ones up to do what they want to do – a bit of good for the community and a bit of proper public engagement. Some of those good ones who sit around, and at the head of, that local council table are becoming stained with their colleagues fallout and grime – how lovely it would be to liberate them.

Hay Festival 2014

The Hay Festival couldn’t be more middle class if it changed its name to Pippa and married its cousin. And I love it. And if it becomes more Hay Market than Hay Festival at times, with the clear purpose of shifting tomes, then who cares? It delivers what it promises: a literary festival, a celebration, putting the word above all else and giving us all permission to sink into a proper vocabulary and literally indulge in wordplay.

 

I have spent most of this week sloshing around in mud listening to and talking with people who love words, people with something to say but who reached that point by listening to others and by reflecting and not by following dogma.  Joyfully reaching for the right words and finding them, hearing new ways of using them, turning context on its head and finding a new way to slip the surprisingly appropriate word prolepsis into general conversation – thank you Margaret Drabble! – has been a genuine inspiration.  Rustling about happily under the trestle tables in the Oxfam bookshop in the boxes filled with rummageable delights waiting in the dark to be found was the best time I have had in weeks. Possibly months. WarHorse and Michael Morpurgo  thrilled everyone, watching Marcus Brigstocke casually overtake a bunch of feathered aliens without a second glance on the path outside the Friends coffee shop was a little surreal, noticing the fact that we probably all had a proper education under our belts and were using it to good effect was a significant pleasure, and hearing children pronounce their words properly and insert the letter “t” in the right place was phenomenal! No extraneous or dropped aitches either, bliss! Not a baggy trousered foul mouthed rap artist in sight or hearing, and there were times when I was one of the youngest in the queue, and it is a long time since that happened………

Listening to a group of academics with serious life experiences attempt to shed light on prison life and its consequences – dear to my heart – it occurred to me that even in a room full of Telegraph readers, and I am one, the Grauniad Effect (my husbands media drug of choice)  was apparent. Most of us gave a damn, giving the lie to political drubmongers who like to insist on the differences rather than the similarities between groups of people.  That was also apparent in other conversations, and one that focussed on corporate greed was particularly pertinent. The workshops around Social Enterprise were a real pleasure and welcome at the heart of the Festival as a demonstration of how things can be done  ethically and well.

Downsides? Well……..I was unprepared for the ill mannered stampede of middle aged middle class audiences as they clambered over and around people to find their favourite seats! The wonderfully patient and charming stewards allowed those of us with mobility issues into the tents first to avoid catastophe – no-one wants Hay Headlines about mangled elders or the dissed disabled – but as soon as the hordes, or to use their title Friends of Hay (and I am also one) were released into the tents all Hell broke loose with disabled feet trodden into the dirt and bags ground into the floor as they shouldered and elbowed their way to “their” seats. Clashes were inevitable and there was,  I am sorry to say, a degree of braying involved at times. And although the lavatories maintained their dignity against all odds I did occasionally wonder, as I took my ease,  on  the number of buttocks that had been pressed against those seats during the week……..I was also a little alarmed to find I shared Jonathan Millers haircut and colour so startlingly that I wondered who had put the mirror on the table as I entered the bookshop……..

Being a seasoned Hay Friend I staggered my meals so that I ate between the usual meal times and avoided the crowds and it was very pleasant with all tastes catered for, although I did wonder if vegan and gluten free also meant salt and pepper free a couple of times as I searched for seasoning – but once I had found it the food perked up. In fact, the food even for us fussies was indecently good and I enjoyed it very much. Good choices, well prepared, charmingly served. The people running the show, from box office to stewards to food hall and more, deserve a medal!

The B&B, The Old Vicarage in Prestiegne, where I always stay was, as usual, perfect and this year they even have alpacas as well so I woke to the sound of sheep, alpacas and chickens and a real symphony of birdsong, and breakfasted brilliantly with a view over the fields and with the sound of a stream in the background. It couldn’t have been better. Best start to a Hay Day ever.

 

And now my Hay Days are over for 2014, but the mud is still on the car and my boots – and my jeans and my skirt and my jacket! And I have a fresh stash of books, images and memories and the certainty that words matter, that we can use them better, and that we should.  And I will plan for next year when I hope that we will make Hay in the sunshine and not the rain and I can rummage and read and rest and draw comfort from more wordsmiths. Hay Ho.

 

 

 

 

Freedom fighters and terrorists

I was brought up in an Irish “community” which yo-yoed between London and Wexford – I didn’t even know I lived in London until I started school – I thought, if I thought about it at all, that we lived in Dublin. And the Convent did nothing to reduce that view populated as it was with weatherbeaten old Irish nuns and a few young and timid Irish nuns all of whom appeared to think Galway was the centre of the Universe, priests were Supermen, and who spent a lot of their time blushing. And using their ebony crucifix as a weapon of mass destruction in the classroom – I still have the migraines to prove it – but that is another blog entirely. Most of the Irish in that community had integrated well with the Brits, worked hard, played hard, were charming and funny, generous in the boozer, and made no trouble. Making no trouble was important: if you made trouble you were visible and if you were visible you were a target. I am old enough – just –  to remember the No Dogs No Blacks No Irish signs. I am young enough for that not to have hurt me as much as it must have hurt my Dad. Making no trouble also lost me most of my Irish identity at my Shires Grammar School where it was clear that British – or even better English – was the only way to be so that is how I sound. And then in the ’70s when some Irish people were committing appalling violence on the mainland sounding English was another good way of being invisible.  It is what it is.

We have heard a great deal in the past few months about “communities” responding to news of terrible crimes, the dreadful murder of a young man in Woolwich for example, a crime to which many of us, including myself, responded with anger, rage and a profound desire to show support and to evidence our own corporate abhorrence, a complete refusal to tolerate that kind of offence. For most of us the complexity of the West’s involvement with the Middle East was not relevant – one of our own had been violated and that was enough. It always will be. I was never asked, at any time, for my communities response. “Muslim communities”, “religious communities”, “local communities” were all asked for and gave their responses. Which was my “community”?

There is so much accepted wisdom about “communities” and the need to belong. Belonging to a community implies a committment, a shared identity, a shared purpose and some shared experiences. If those shared experiences, which are often deliberately re-told to include and sometimes encourage a shared sense of being wronged or misjudged by another “community” in order to consolidate the brethren nature of the group, are used by people with their own agenda, then we have “radicals”. Or, people with strong political beliefs. If these communities really do exist – and I remember with love my own splinter community in Kilburn where I felt safe and warm – then they will inevitably harbour dissent.

It is all in the words. Semantics rule. One mans radical is another mans believer; Freedom Fighter or Terrorist depends on where you stand when the landmine goes off.  If your community tacitly agrees that there is another community that oppresses yours, that there is a valid reason for dissent, then the people who resist perceived oppression will be Freedom Fighters, people to be if not feted then supported and protected. Our Own. The other community calls them terrorists. Whatever we call them they still kill and hurt people. The name does not mitigate the behaviour. There are many people today in the “communities” who are being asked for their views who make it clear that they do not know of anyone who is “radicalised” or a threat. Nonsense. I may not have known names or specifics as a youngster but I knew that there were people being hidden, supported, funded and fed by people who were good people, but who were supporting bad things because they were Ours. It is not possible to be even a small part of the group and not be aware of something. And that implicates the whole community. I remember my Dad and indeed our family being viewed with suspicion just for being Irish despite the fact that he was the least likely person ever to be a radical. Ever. The community was tainted.

Cards on the table: I support British troops to the max. My wonderful son in law is in the British Army and I don’t think I even have to add anything to that sentence. This piece isn’t about me, or him, or the British Army, or any communities. It isn’t even about politics. It is about perception. Perhaps because of my experiences I do not feel a need to belong to any particular group or community. That feels good. It means I am free to like anyone, or dislike anyone, based not on their community or group, their culture or their colour, their beliefs or their appearance, their criminal record, politics, height, weight, dis/ability, status or wealth but on their behaviour and their charm. That means I have a lovely eclectic collection of friends and acquaintances who give my life colour and depth. It also means that I would not shelter any one of them if I thought they had behaved oppressively or had hurt anyone. I don’t have to. I am free. I am free to love and support them whatever they do, but also free to disagree and not to feel obliged to shelter them if they do wrong.  That liberates both parties.

One of the first things that will support Radicalised people – people passionate about a cause –  to stop doing bad things to other people is for them to see those other people as people and not part of a group or community. Oppressing people will never relieve the oppression of another group, it will just complete the circular journey of hatred. But those groups will resist – why would they give up the power they have? It is in individuals that the answer lies. That means you and it means me.

Indeed…………

 

 

Another powerful argument against Yes-Men and Yes-Women!

 

Life and Business and a Major Thank You……

Going into the New Year I need to offer a Huge Thank You. A Thank You so huge it has its own postcode, so warm you will need to wear sunscreen to carry on reading. I want to thank all the people who have been so marvellous, so warm, and so caring while I was unwell in the last few weeks. Life and Business, eh? Always something to learn……..

My Old Man took me to see the new Bennett at The National on Saturday as a celebration of the fact that I am now able to both go up and down the stairs, and cough without passing a kidney and half a lung. A measure of how ill I was is that we had tickets to see Fiona Shaw at The National in December and I couldn’t go. A measure of my wonderful Old Man is that he chose also not to go. He also chided me very gently, reminding me that it isn’t worth it, for continuing to work as much as I could, doing all the things I was able to do without being seen in public – it was not a good look. I found having a head the size, shape and texture of a football was surprisingly repellant and I found a good use for that spare hooded jacket we have lying around. (It had fallen into dis-use as we were all too scared to use it in case a Tory MP started to hug us.) Given that I also lost my voice and most of my hearing the work I could do was reduced to that which could be done remotely, and that I was glad to do. Those who know me will know that I will be working until I peg out and belong to that merciless club formed for  the Workaholics among us. He was, of course right, but please don’t tell him that!

So, I am now able to get up the stairs to bed – comfortable as the wonderful recliner is, there is no substitute for a bed – and able to speak and hear again. Hurrah! And the most wonderful thing to emerge from the last few weeks is the certain knowledge of who my friends are and who I can trust, who has warmth and humanity within them and who has not. Not a bad lesson to be learned! I am grateful to all of you – you know who you are! – who were kind. I cannot believe, incidentally, that my eldest daughter spontaneously did the huge pile of ironing that had mounted up and which she knew would be bothering me. Ironing!!! Blimey! Thank you!

Given the lessons learned I should fess up and say that the lessons I have learned have not surprised me, they have simply confirmed for me what I really already knew and shone a light on those people I am so lucky to know and lucky to have met. I am a reasonably tough and ruthless woman with a sound and hard business head, but I know that underpinning all the ruthlessness, all the toughness, all the business decisions, there has to be a purpose and a warmth. Without that scaffolding the rest is worthless, its value is brittle and cold. Those of you who follow my posts, and those of you who know me,  will know how much I value the heart of a business, the beating heart that informs the purpose and the ethos of an organisation. You will also know that I view success from a sideways perspective, not solely in terms of P&L (only one of the tangible range of measures of success) as much as in the balance of achievements, the path that is developing, and the ability to survive. Life and Business are not too different (for me they happen to be the same thing….): they both need purpose, a raison d’etre; they both need  planning and effort but also the ability to take an unexpected turn, to field a curve ball, to take a punt; they both need some tough decisions to be taken sometimes; they both benefit from a firm but loving touch. They both need the interactions of the people inside them in order to survive. It is not good enough for a business to exist, it also has to have a reason to exist and a benefit to the communities it touches – that includes the workforce as well as those who use its services and the wider environment. No namby pamby soft centred rubbish here – those who don’t pull their weight need to be managed – but rather a holistic view of business as a force for good and for change. The Big Issue is successful for that reason – Richard Branson is  a man I admire for that reason!

Life is packed with lessons to be learned, adventures to be had, and achievements to be made. Even the hardest, most punishing of experiences is an adventure and an opportunity to learn – often those are the very best opportunities to learn. So, Thank You kind people for re-affirming my already warm and appreciative view of you. And thank you, too, to the others outside of that circle for, well, for the same! A lesson learned is always worth learning!

Happy New Year to all of you. Here’s to more adventures, more lessons, more warmth and more achievements.   Here’s to 2013!

The Accidental Buddhist

How are you doing? Do you sleep well? Do you manage to hold all the boxes in your life inside the one container that is you? It isn’t easy. We all have to find our own pathway to peace.

A few months ago I was casually clicking about, as you do, on the laptop in between doing more meaningful stuff (I bore easily!) and I started to read a blog about Buddhism. To my astonishment I recognised myself. Raised a Catholic, and now a Buddhist. I was a little surprised……….

For a few years I have been doing what I discovered to be meditating – spending time focussing on nothingness and depth, breathing, and looking straight ahead reasonably fearlessly. Re-aligning myself, if you like, every day. I fell into doing this after a turbulent period, a time when I was not sure if I knew who I was or what I wanted to be, if I had any meaning. Very selfish! It took me years to realise that in fact being centred and sorted was the best thing I could do for my family, friends and colleagues.  I accidentally started to meditate while taking a break from paid work some years ago to re-evaluate things. I had come to a full stop and needed to do some real things like painting pictures, writing poems, playing some music. During those activities I found myself lifted into a new place and a new way of thinking and it was apparently and very naturally simply because I was deliberately creating things – I began to think around corners a bit, think not harder but better, with more colours and less white noise. I had to let the colours and words in my head out of their boxes in order to create the things I wanted to – needed to – create. There was no option – it was a simple need. It was accidental. I now make time to do this, often just before sleeping, but sometimes at work, or I pull the car over into a parking space and tap out, and it happens anyway when I am painting or playing music. I make the time. That isn’t always easy either: washing piling up, letters to answer, work to be done, people to see. But the best way for me to manage all that is to make the time for the tapping-out-thing.

Accidents are such a huge part of what we do – the incidental or accidental conversation, the inadvertent over-hearing of a radio programme that chimes with you, meeting someone at a conference or dinner. The excitement of knowing that most of what happens is by virtue of accident is truly liberating! And this from a woman notoriously wedded to GANTTs and action plans, who examines all the What Ifs with a fine toothcomb. Who knew!?

A large part – the largest part –  of my drive at work, before and after my break, has been around respect, dignity, Human Rights, giving a damn. When I began reading – accidentally – about Buddhism I realised that I had been practising the basics of Buddhism for years. Accidentally. I don’t think the diagnosis of Buddhism made a difference to what I was doing, but stumbling across the name for how I live was extraordinary. And I don’t want a cure!

What works for you? How do you re-arrange the shelves in your head so that they fit?

Disabled or Liberated?

This is a first:I stopped myself talking this morning. What was I doing? I was about to say that my disability was “only caused by age”.

I am no Spring Chicken – in my fifties and with a grandchild I think I can claim to be comfortably middle aged. I became disabled a couple of years ago with severe joint pains and deteriorating ligaments and have struggled with my mobility and the pain since, using my walking stick and relying on my car much more.  It has been a challenge at times, but as I blogged a while back it has also brought blessings. It forced me to re-evaluate what I do and how I do it – from a bouncy and energetic boss (probably rather irritating in hindsight…!) to a more paced and interactive leader, I think my style of management improved. I know the quality of my relationships improved as I had no choice but to take time to listen and engage with people rather than hop around being dynamic! I see people doing that whole energetic-crazy-lookatme-letsgetitdone crap now and frankly it simply annoys me and I can see it annoying others. It fails to engage, fails to create the right relationships. So I am grateful for my disability, however weird that sounds. It liberated me and gave me better relationships and much better insight into how people, organisations and relationships work. It also, incidentally, showed me who my friends were………

So, I am middle-aged but only in my fifties, not ancient (although I suspect my children might disagree). And I was about to say this morning  that my disability was “only” about age; to reduce and trivialise it and degrade it as unimportant because I am older. Well,  sod that for a decade of the rosary. Age, disability, even simply being a woman, are too often trivialised. We are expected, as we get older, to put up with more and more crap, to recede into the background and fade away, to sit at home, be grateful, and wait to die. Either that or lose our dignity in the rush to appease the Gods of Youth and have ever more flesh tweaked and sliced and be more and more uncomfortable in our own skins. But whatever we do we are trivialised – my own Mothers experience of hospital care as she was dying, in her eighties, was cruel, undignified and inhumane beyond belief. The recent outcry about the Liverpool Pathway is entirely justified, and certainly from what I witnessed during that time nursing as an overall profession has lost much of its claim to moral high ground and to “caring”,  notwithstanding the few – very few – nurses who still seemed to give a damn. The elders on the ward my Mother was on – a Stroke ward which was bizarrely touted as excellent by inspectors who mercifully never had to actually use the service – were stripped of any dignity, denied care and compassion, and hardly viewed as human beings by the people with the word “care” in their job descriptions. If it had been a childrens ward there would have been a justified public outcry. Why should age reduce that need for dignity and care? Our expectations should not be lowered incrementally with our increasing years.

And that, my friend, is why I stopped myself saying that my disability was “only” age related. That does no favours to either elders or the disabled. Whatever age we are, whatever the disability, wherever we come from, we should never be expected to tolerate less than humane treatment and compassion. Whether we are ex-offenders or inmates, elders or children, Christian, Atheist, Muslim or Jewish, living in poverty or comfortably off – whether we live in an affluent state or a developing nation – we deserve the benefit of humanity. It is never “only” age, colour, status.

There are many organisations who deserve our support in order to protect our humanity and dignity. Please check out, for that reason, the following organisations, as well as your own, more local, ones and others:

PACT http://www.prisonadvice.org.uk/

NACRO http://www.nacro.org.uk/

Spark Inside http://www.sparkinside.org/

AGE Uk http://www.ageuk.org.uk/

The National Autistic Society http://www.autism.org.uk/

Hft http://www.hft.org.uk/

St Martins Emmaus http://www.emmaus.org.uk/

Porchlight http://www.porchlight.org.uk/

Demelza House http://www.demelza.org.uk/

The Big Issue http://www.bigissue.org.uk/

UNICEF http://www.unicef.org.uk/

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