Monthly Archives: September 2015

Swimming Against the Tide that is a Culture of Lies

Probably unique is the adult who has never told a lie. Even that paragon of virtue that I sometime feel myself to be (I’m wrong, of course), tells lies. Though seldom very deliberate and blatant. Like my father though, I can spin a good yarn and, just occasionally, these can be embellished in the telling. So when I have to deal with people who use deliberate falsehoods to try to persuade the rest of us of the validity of their argument or, worse, to hide from us the reality of what they are doing or plan to do, I have been known to take offence. The word “scumbags” springs to mind and lips.

Now most people, even our much maligned politicians, try hard not to lie outright. Indeed, telling lies to Parliament is regarded by MP’s as a most heinous crime. Even a former Labour Prime Minister is said to have found that the hardest job was persuading himself first. Yet there are some (and we’re not looking too far here) who say whatever it is that will get them out of the immediate hole that they are in, whether strictly true or not. Moreover they emanate from, what appears to be, a belief that the rules that apply to the rest of us don’t apply to them. It’s as if they regard themselves as superior as, indeed, some of their comments would confirm. “Calm down, dear” being particularly offensive for its combination of being patronising and sexist in a way that reflects a, somewhat, privileged upbringing.

Now, having come across this situation, both professionally and personally in my life, I have a way of dealing with appalling behaviour that works for me. Starting with a good rant on my own, I first consider my own part in the exercise, followed by a determination to keep going in the way that I believe to be right. It may take a while to have this course of action reaffirmed but, recently, it has done with some aplomb when the opposing course of action proves to have been, not only wrong but predictably and spectacularly so. Schadenfreude doesn’t even come close to describing it.

So, when I read of in today’s Guardian that Jeremy Corbyn might be the toughest Labour leader that the lovely Dave has faced, I am heartened. Not because of that statement but because of the reasoning behind it. This is that Mr Corbyn refuses to engage in the routine forms of political combat and doesn’t even acknowledge the official scoreboard. Moreover, that his principal objective seems to be building a new campaigning movement. Lastly, that he answers questions with a relaxed, shrugging charm and that spin seems to be noticeable by its absence.

Yes, he has an enormous fight on his hand, not least from those within his own party who, long ago expunged the word “socialism” from their vocabularies. What he appears to be trying to do, however, is turn the tide of a culture of lies and dishonesty that has built up these past 35 years. More power to your elbow, JC. Far be it from me to say it but don’t most Christians believe that someone with similar initials tried to do that a couple of thousand years ago. The point is that the original JC may have come to an unhappy end, yet there are millions of people today who believe in what he is said to have promulgated.

It’s a good way to start a Monday morning.

No Wonder They Keep Getting It Wrong

I still shake my head in amazement that some people, especially those in government, take such a cynical view of the rest of us. Even those with obvious disabilities who are unable to work are deemed fit to do so, with predictable consequences. It is petty and mean spirited when there are those with far broader shoulders who could bear more of the burden. Moreover, using greed, avarice and mean spiritedness as society’s motivating forces is unlikely to get the best out of anyone. Even Sir Alex Ferguson, famed for his reported “hairdryer” treatment of players, said that “Well done” were the words that everyone wanted to hear.

Worse still, is the cumulative effect of this mean spiritedness on society as a whole which is to make it less amenable than it could be. Decency, honesty, courtesy and an amiable good nature being what most of us value in our day to day dealings. Not only that but, as I keep saying to whoever will listen, if you’re good to people, not only will they be good to you, but that you will attract others who are behave in the same way. Together you create a virtuous circle.

Indeed, I would go so far as the say that people who exhibit such meanness of spirit are only able to get away with it because someone else is making up for their negativity. After all, can you imagine a world in which everyone behaved in that way? I thought not. Now you can see, perhaps, why MP’s peculiarly closeted, working conditions mean that they merely reinforce one another’s attitudes to create a sort of white, male, middle aged group thinking which bears little resemblance to the diversity of the world that the rest of us inhabit. Yes, I know that there can be nasty people out there; fortunately they are few and far between and we don’t need to run our society as if we’re all that way inclined.

Now this isn’t sanctimonious, but I can’t really work that way, although prepare for fireworks if you push me too far. What is more, I gain enormous benefit from not doing so and I don’t think that these two are unconnected.

For example, when I wanted to publish my first book, I was quoted a figure far in excess of what I could afford. So that, and a combination of a determination to be able to do things for myself, led me down a different route. Friends put me in touch with other friends with the result that my first two books were published in paperback and Kindle for less than £1,200. This included a book launch. Well, Gaynor and I have made good use of our network of like minded people again recently. You see, my lovely wife is setting up her own concern called “Greening and Growing”. Under this banner, she plans to help schools to make good use of those areas of their grounds that are unused by working with the children themselves to grow things. Well she did a flyer but needed a logo. Are you with me, so far?

In the meantime, I’ve just finished my third book and another good friend is using the specialist software programme that she has to get it published. She is very good and inexpensive. The next stage was designing a front cover and I had a good idea of what I wanted, namely a series of photos taken at various stages of my life. Cue another good friend who has taken said photographs and is designing and producing the cover for me. Now the additional beauty of this is that he is also designing a logo for Gaynor. All this for free. Such are the benefits of treating people decently.


Autumn is upon us and another year is entering its closing months. Months that have, to me, always signified more than just a change of season. In my mind November was always dark, dismal and dreary. Furthermore, with the dark evenings came a greater darkness that enveloped everything like a fog. Appropriate, given the smog that even brought traffic to a halt in the early 1950’s.

Conversely, Xmas seemed a time to look forward to and the spring, with its promise of new growth, seemed to herald the prospect of better times. In addition, it has to be said, life was, indeed, much simpler all those years ago. Harsher for many, although that quality was lessened by some sense of its shared nature within that small world of my childhood.

Interestingly, nearly 40 years later, when I went back to where I used to live, the distances that I remember seemed much smaller. The houses were gone, to be replaced by a 1960’s estate, but the railway arches, where my grandfather had a coopering business, were still there as was Southwark Park, where I played. As, also, was part of Nelldale Road where my grandfather lived when he was first married and even George Row, where my great grandfather lived when he emigrated from Limerick in the 1860’s. Those, and successive visits, along with research into my family history provided a sense of continuity that hadn’t previously existed.

Those “November” feelings persisted for many years until I managed to unravel the ball of knotted string that was my early life. I’ve succeeded such that I now have a happier, more contented one with some sense of achievement. I may still be somewhat driven, although I can cope with that. Crucially, November for me is now just another month.

Categorising People Lessens Us All

And perhaps that’s the point. After all, if you keep telling people, that they will never amount to much, the likelihood is that, eventually, they will believe you. This is especially so of children who, should anyone need reminding, are just those most in need of nurturing. For those who have had a problematic childhood, this can lead to problems stretching well into the future which can either be ignored or dealt with. In my own case, the trauma that was involved led to a transient and disjointed life which is, only now, being resolved. The results, I have to say, have been life changing. So much so that even I am starting to believe in me. Steady on, old chap!

So, for those of you who don’t know, my life has involved early bereavement, being fostered, signed into the army at 15, being married, raising two children, leaving the army, working in architectural practice, being divorced, a single parent, student, community activist, barman, cleaner, pizza chef, unemployed, a Charity Director, sacked, marrying again and having a second family, setting up my own business and becoming an author, public speaker and still working despite my age. Along the way, I’ve had bouts of depression and a breakdown. Yet in each of these incarnations, I was still me.

What is quite funny, though, is that many of those who knew me actually did see more than I did. Unfortunately others, usually those who didn’t know me too well, just saw the particular incarnation that I was at the time. Certainly, when I was in the army, I was seen as a squaddie with all the connotations that that particular categorisation includes. Working in a pub, I was seen as a barman, as a Charity Director, I was certainly seen as such and, when I stand up to speak, there can be no misunderstanding. Yet when I was unemployed, was I a scrounger? I think not. Interestingly, I received positive comments as a male single parent when most of my, female, compatriots received negative ones. So, can we be categorised as shirkers or strivers, hard working and aspirational or lazy and feckless? I think not. Most of us can be one or other of these at various times in our lives.

So, the next time you see someone on the streets who happens to be homeless, please don’t ignore them. They may also be a former soldier who fought for his or her country and who has mental health problems. The point is that you don’t know why they are in that situation and, if you don’t know, how can you judge?

So, in these austere time when politicians use categorisation as a political tool, don’t follow their lead and try to see the real person underneath. Oh, and don’t just ignore them. That probably hurts more than anything else. After all, do you want them to categorise you as “uncaring”?

Please Hold, Your Call is Important to Us

As most people who know me will confirm, I am an optimist, albeit a more cynical one nowadays. I am, therefore, reluctant to blog pessimistically. However, even my optimism can be sorely put to the test these days. So, in an effort to redress the balance and, perhaps, to acknowledge that the world is not always as good as I would like to believe it is, here is today’s blog. Two days earlier than usual.

Now I am aware that the world that I was brought up in is long gone. In addition, it was not always all “Open all Hours”, free school milk, GP’s who came out for home visits and footballers in long shorts; if you can have such contradictory items of clothing. However, today’s casual disregard for customers alongside a recorded message that tells you that the company staff “are all very busy but that your call is very important so please hold” is particularly annoying. Being based, as it is, on not really giving a toss about you. So just a few experiences of my own over the past few months.

The postal service was privatised earlier in the year and it didn’t take too long for the famed “private is better than public” to be shown up for the reality that is “profit before service”. Now we have three recycling bins alongside the access to our flat and I’ve built an enclosure to house these. If you pass these, at our front gate we’ve put a small mail box to save the postman (why no women?) the effort of going through the gate to our front door. Are you with me so far? Well, every morning I take stuff out to put it in the recycling bins. On this particular morning, what did I find when I opened one of the bins? Only that morning’s post, including one large envelope from our GP marked “Private and Confidential”. It seems that the postman can’t tell the difference between a small, black, metal mail box and a tall, green plastic recycling bin. Perhaps glasses or a little training are required. Or perhaps a work schedule that doesn’t require the postman to hurry quite so much.

Now today I needed to check an annual bill that we have to pay and it’s a good job that I work from home and don’t waste my employer’s time in all that this involves. It being quite alright, of course, for those self same employers to expect me to waste my time doing their job for them. I went onto the internet to get access to the company website. This required me to select from a number of categories in order to get the particular telephone number that I needed. So I rang only to be told that they couldn’t do anything without the reference number that was on any correspondence. Fortunately I managed to find this and rang back.

The person I spoke to couldn’t find any reference to my renewal and asked for my postcode and name to be able to get access to the system. Something the previous member of staff didn’t seem to have been told was an option. Unfortunately, however, this was now dealt with by another office, the number of which I was given. I rang said number. Unfortunately, they couldn’t deal with this as the matter is now handled by a call centre in Manchester. Whereupon I was given another number. It’s a good job I’m known for my perseverance. I again dialled said number to have three options offered to me. I chose the appropriate one only to be told that all their systems were down and “could I ring back this afternoon?” The delicious irony in all this is that in their recorded message, they asked if I’d like to provide feedback on the quality of their service. It is I have to say, quite difficult to give feedback on something that has been so completely lacking. And don’t tell me that the free market rules and that I can take my custom elsewhere. In this particular case, I can’t. I’ve tried.

Lastly e mails. Now much of my work involves contacting other people which I now do either by phone or e mail. And don’t you find it isn’t a coincidence that a telephone number can be harder to find on websites than an e mail address? But what happens when you do use that address? Well, it’s my experience that this, virtually, instantaneous means of communication also seem to have a built in “I won’t bother to respond” response.  If you contact me, however, I do respond. Isn’t that just common courtesy? Even if the response is “Sod off, I can’t be bothered”.

So, is your call important to them? Is it hell as like.

A Change in the Air?

As I’ve written about previously, my whole life has been one of change. As a result, that particular phenomenon is usually something I accommodate, even relish. Even when that change hasn’t exactly been sought, positives can always come out of it. So when I hear, for example, those who have just failed to win an election, saying that Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable, I shake my head in wonder. When they go on to say that the result of the election for the leadership of the Labour Party means that it will be out of power for ten years, I remember that these are people with such a large crystal ball that they failed to predict the economic crisis of 2008. The truth is that no one really knows what will happen in five years’ time.

Yet there appears to be an idea that a centre ground exists in the country on which the parties need to concentrate their efforts. It is hardly an accurate picture. After all, only a little over 24% of those registered to vote actually voted for the Conservative Party. That leaves 75% who didn’t. Moreover, one third of the population didn’t vote at all. That is, surely, where anyone with any sense should be concentrating their efforts rather than trying to persuade that, relatively small, clique to change their minds.

I would, therefore, refer you to a letter in The Guardian today. This describes the experience of teachers at Goldsmiths’ College showing that, for some time, there has been a rising tide of resentment reflected in social media and at meetings. Something that you might expect if you thought about the plight of many young people today. Those young people who are, after all, the country’s future. Many of whom face a future of their own that includes a lack of jobs, enormous debts, soaring rents and little chance of owning their own homes. The real irony in this is that is that the letter goes on to say that many of the young Corbyn supporters aren’t particularly left wing.

Finally, I would remind you that, what can only be described as a left wing government, was recently elected in Scotland. So the makings of a coalition of progressive parties who believe in sharing and caring and not “Sod you, Jack” might just be there. So, yes, there might just be a change in the air.

You Learn Something New Every Day

One of the things I’ve always liked about my, somewhat, peripatetic career is that I never stop learning. Whether it was army drill, avoiding orders (I never took them very well), learning about buildings and architecture, cooking and bringing up my children, renovating property, photography, fundraising, planning, organisation, management,  housing, the environment and now writing and public speaking. There’s always been something new to learn; as there continues to be as a charity consultant. It also means that I get to meet a lot of interesting and helpful people. In this latter incarnation, I am currently helping to set up the Urban Crafts Foundation as a Community Interest Company.

Among the things I wanted to investigate was the feasibility of including glassblowing facilities and I got in touch with London Glassblowing. A lovely woman called Sylvie was extremely helpful and suggested that I meet Bruce (who turned out to be her husband); he could talk to me at lunchtime today. Moreover, if I turned up at 12.30, I could watch a glassblowing demonstration. So off Gaynor and I went where we got a very individual exhibition of the craft with Bruce making a “Monet” vase. Try imagining the different colours in the original painting.

Who knew about how difficult it is to get the colours that you want? That’s because the glass gets very red, you can’t see any colour difference while you’re working it. That, in one case, it had taken nearly 40 tries to get the different colours right. That one kiln needed to be 1800 and one at 1200 degrees. That for glass blowing, the kilns need to be operating 24/7. That there was kiln forming as well as glass blowing. That the rods for blowing are stainless steel; not because they conduct heat badly but that they conduct it well and also radiate it quickly too. This enables the blower to hold it without gloves. That, instead of a glove to help shape the glass, the blower uses wet newspaper as it’s the nearest to hand touching.

All that and really helpful advice. So, if you’re ever in the London Bridge area, pop in. It’s in Bermondsey Street and  well worth a visit and the glass is amazing. And, of course, it provides the basis for a good blog that shows how kind and helpful people can be. Something I always enjoy.

Things Can Be Different

The summer holidays are over and I have no excuse not to commit pen to paper again. Well, fingers to keyboard actually. I return to a world that hasn’t got any better in the intervening weeks so I inhale deeply, grit my teeth and keep going. Yes, it is getting more difficult to do so but I don’t seem to be able to do anything else. The alternative seems to me to be accepting the status quo and that I can’t do. Still, I’ve just finished writing book number three and am working for a number of very good voluntary organisations and getting paid for doing so and that always lift my spirits. As did an article in today’s copy of The Guardian.

It’s about a group of dinner ladies who, after months of protest, are, at last, earning the living wage. According to the article, had you met these women a few months ago, you might have considered that their cause was as good as lost. Well, not any more. And just to paint the full picture, this was not about union agitators as the women weren’t in a union. Indeed, at the outset, some of them hadn’t even heard of such organisations.

Central to the argument is that, although these women weren’t paid the living wage, it seems that their compatriots in a neighbouring borough, working for the same outsourcing company, were. The difference was some hundreds of pounds. Well one of them went to the library, read up on workplace rights and joined a union. The fight caught the attention of the local paper which named and shamed the chairman of the company. To cut a long story short, the women won their fight.

The moral of this story is that what we’re told is economic sense, the orthodoxy in fact, can be shown to be less carved in tablets of stone than we have been led to believe.  These 300 women have demonstrated that. So, yes, it can be different. I feel better already.