Fighting Monsters 2

Three lessons in one blog + a pitch for Wisegrannie.com

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Lesson 1:
Once years ago I came across a short paper written by a liberation priest working in South America. It was called “Taking Sides”.

He challenged the widely held belief that any problem could be equitably solved by bringing the two parties together to discuss the matter. He pointed out that this was too simplistic. In some situations, where the power balance was unequal, it was a nonsense.

In oppressive or unjust situations, one party is in the right and the other is in the wrong. There cannot be a meeting of minds. In such a situation you have to look at the evidence, disregard the propaganda and the rhetoric, decide for yourself, then act for the right.

Sometimes you have to take sides.

Lesson 2:

Another time, when I was idly half watching one of the many World War 2 documentaries, I was suddenly shocked into attention. The scene showed an architect’s office and, on a drawing board, the meticulous plans for the gas chambers.

Somehow it was more chilling than the dreadful images of the death camps themselves. A cultured, urbane designer sitting down with his cup of coffee in his well appointed office, taking up his pencil and his slide rule and, with every attention to detail, calmly calculating the measurements necessary to achieve the greatest efficiency in destroying his fellow human beings.

Yet, by a purely technical quality assessment, here was a model of an excellent architect, carrying out his commission in an exemplary fashion.

Sometimes the worst monsters are in the office.

Lesson 3:

I learnt another lesson from the example of Elizabeth Kenny the pioneering Australian nurse who transformed the treatment of polio victims.

Ridiculed, looked down upon and obstructed by the medical establishment at every turn, she steadfastly fought on, in defiance of the accepted wisdom, to demonstrate that her approach was more effective. With grass roots support from patients, their families and others who paid serious attention to her evidence, she eventually succeeded in revolutionising practice and transforming the lives of victims.

In the end, if you can keep going, have sound evidence and a groundswell of support, you can win through.

The Way Ahead for Wisegrannie:

Campaigning operates on different levels. There have to be initiatives and activities to keep existing supporters in good spirit and to bring others on board. There has to be effective dissemination of information. There has to be conversation, debate and sometimes conflict.

So there is a a need for somebody to bring us back to our shared humanity, our fallibility and frailty and our dependence on each other. To get us down from our high horses, to encourage us, to remind us of our worth and make us laugh together again.

That’s the place in the blogging universe for Wisegrannie, the little old person hanging on in there, still fighting monsters in the ideological forests of an unequal world.

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Making a Difference – Blogging to Save the World

Why my story – and your story – matters

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Why do I blog, why do we blog? What gives us this urge to shout into cyberspace about what we think and do and experience?

So many voices out there, so many different people, hiding away from their families and their real world chores, bent over a keyboard,
And why? Why does it mean that much to them?

For some it’s simple, I suppose. It’s their job. It’s how they hope to make the money to keep their real world lives afloat and thriving.

But for the rest of us?

It’s been puzzling me all week, but I woke up suddenly this morning from a dream in which I was speaking to a group of people, and I felt I knew!

Although we’re, each of us, only one in a huge crowd, we want to be seen and heard. We know in ourselves that what we see and feel can make some kind of difference in the world. We know our story, our unique story, matters.

We might want to entertain or to share the frustrations of our daily lives. We might hope to help others through difficult times. We might want to share the experiences of all the places and people that we love.

But somehow we believe (enough to expend hours of our precious time) that our unique view is worth listening to, that it has the power to enhance and influence other people’s lives.

Of course we might be deluding ourselves. We might be vainglorious, wanting to bludgeon the world into thinking and seeing just like us.

But I don’t believe this of the majority. I think we’re doing the most worthwhile human thing of all – reaching out to others to say “Listen! This is what I’ve learnt along the way. It might lighten your path too!”

We believe our story matters and we need to share it.

We’re witnesses to life, our little bit of it. And by giving witness we can contribute to the whole world wide community, as well as our own tiny corner.

We want to make a difference. But we can only do so if we listen in return.

Because our stories matter.

Each and every one.

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Being On The Receiving End – Think Before You Blog!

Another of life’s hard lessons- do they ever end?

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I have enjoyed myself so much remembering people and happenings in my past, but I am very wary of writing about memories in a way which might identify, or touch on the experiences, of the others involved. I’ll tell you why.

I was listening to Book of the Week on Radio 4 one morning as I pottered around and suddenly I began to recognise the scene that was being described. It was eerily like an event in my life.

It went on in more detail.

There was no doubt, it was my life!

I had to sit down.  It’s quite a shock to turn on the radio and hear a bit of your distant past being humourously retold for the entertainment of the respectable elderly doing their housework on a Tuesday morning.

One of my daughter’s childhood friends had gone on to become a sort of jobbing media personality and had made use of her memories as fodder for some of her writing. 

It was the most peculiar feeling.  It was the difference in perspective of the same event that shook me most.  I had experienced the incident as sad and distressing, but she had written it up as funny and laughable.  It was mocking the people involved.

For me it was one of those moments in life when the scales fall from your eyes.  When you realise you don’t matter to another person.  You are just an insignificant, but marginally amusing detail in the backdrop of their lives.

I did track her down at one point and tax her with it. 

“Oh it wasn’t you, it was someone else,” she replied, with more than a hint of irritation.

“What rubbish!” said my daughter, when I eventually told her. (I had been reluctant to mention it to her in case her feelings might be hurt). “Of course it was us! I knew the moment I read the book, but I didn’t like to say anything to you!”

It is easy to get led astray by your own desire to be witty and clever, especially if that’s what makes you a living. Even a humble blogger can get carried away with the pleasure of gaining a few extra hits.

But it doesn’t feel nice to be on the receiving end, to be valued only as the raw material for somebody else’s vanity.

Still, I’ve had that lesson, so perhaps I’m safe to continue!

Blogging for the Common Good

On finding a voice and learning by doing

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I’ve lived through an educational revolution in England and I didn’t experience it as a good one.

I trained as a teacher in 1973, and my dissertation then was on Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society.  I also referred a lot to Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Postman & Weingartner and Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Try doing that nowadays in UK teacher education. Nothing to do with delivering the National Curriculum? Forget it! We can’t waste time encouraging our teachers to think, or worse still, dream! Why, it might rub off on the pupils, and what mischief might that lead to!

Whatever and whoever I taught, I wanted them to think. I wanted them to question. I wanted them to experience places and people outside their own limited surroundings. I didn’t want them to be trapped by fear of the unfamiliar, or intimidated by dogma or deceived by marketing and spin. I wanted them to be the best they could be. To be ready to take on the world. To know they mattered. To have their own confident voice.

I still want that.

I can’t change my ways. I’m obviously a bad old person. I won’t accept that I should just bow out of active life, shut up and wait for kindly euthanasia. I still value the sheer enjoyment and frustration of learning by doing, of jumping into new experiences, of finding out with the help of enthusiastic mentors and the company of others along the way.

While I may not be going out into the forest any more to plodge around in muddy streams and discover strange living things, I’m exploring the online world of blogging and social media, and encountering all its weird life forms, its good angels and its monsters.

And, by so doing, still playing my little part in fighting the grim Mr Gradgrinds in their dingy classrooms and their endless “Facts! Facts! Facts!”. Fighting for creativity and joy in learning and in valuing others for their unique humanity, not for what they can deliver to the economy of an all consuming state.

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The Pub That Time Forgot

On community and the lost art of real life conversation
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1963 – the year Kennedy was assassinated – was memorable for me because it was the first time I went into a pub. I was eighteen years old. In Scotland, where I had been brought up, respectable women did not drink in public houses.

When I moved South to the strange new culture of England, there was a pub on the corner of the street where I lodged, built in the Victorian fashion, on the corner of a little street of terraced houses.

It was a “local”. Neighbours dropped by on their way home from work, or just for an evening chat and a smoke, or to escape the children (quality family time not having been invented then).

It had a coal fire in winter, a  faithful clientele – the ” regulars” – and it didn’t serve wine. Ales and spirits were what you got. Women drank a half of lager and lime or a gin and tonic. The bell rang for last orders just before half past ten. Perhaps it was eleven at weekends. I seem to remember it was bit later then.

And anybody from the nearby streets was accepted there. A few had their own particular seats (a bit like Sheldon’s spot) which nobody else could sit in at certain times. If you wanted somewhere to take your arthritic old grannie in her wheelchair or your 40 year old son with learning difficulties,  somewhere they wouldn’t be stared at or made to feel uncomfortable, you went down the local.

Over the years, however, the area was gradually gentrified. The pokey houses, originally lived in by locals or bought by hard up young couples because they were cheap, became highly desirable. Within commuting distance of the City the prices shot up, the upwardly mobile moved in, raving about the quaint village atmosphere – “So lovely for the children, growing up in a proper community!”

The pubs had their carpets torn up, their floor boards sanded, their dartboards banished along with the few remaining regulars, who spoiled the ambience.

All but one.

We were told about it by a neighbour who had come across this relic of the past in his ceaseless quest for real ale. Hidden away in a back street, next to the last untrendified area of social housing, was the pub that time forgot.

We went the first time apprehensively, ready to be disappointed. But as we opened the door the years vanished.

The first thing that you noticed was the noise, or rather the lack of it. All you heard was people chatting companionably, the sound of their voices absorbed by the swirly 70s carpet. No loud music, no television screens, no shrieking young professionals showing off to their colleagues.

And looking around we gradually recognised familiar faces, other refugees from the gastropub, the sports bar and the echoing scrubbed wood standing only spaces, brewery designed to discourage leisurely drinking.

I went towards a comfortable looking seat by the fire, but then I hesitated. I sensed an atmosphere and felt a discouraging stare. I read the signals. I moved away. The man collecting his drink from the bar appropriated the inviting space.

Of course he did. He was a regular.

It was his spot.
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