The Pub That Time Forgot 2

On the importance of individual choice

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Fed up of Saturday stuck in the house, Wisegrannie & Grandpa ventured out into the biting wind (by London UK standards) & headed for the pub that time forgot.

An important part of traditional English local pubs was always respect for individual choice.

After you had served your probationary period (which could vary between weeks and months depending on the pub’s locality and clientele) when you walked in, the person behind the bar would greet you by name and say –

“Evening ……… & …….. , usual?”

Thus indicating that not only were you known as an individual, but your personal preferences were remembered as important and worthy of respect.

This afternoon a friend of the family was helping out behind the bar. She was unaware of all the intricacies of this demanding situation, but was doing well. She gave Grandpa a straight glass for his half (European translation – small beer) because Grandpa holds the traditional English opinion that beer glasses with stems are for female customers.

But then one of the long established regulars came up with an all time winner in the personal preferences stakes. As she was on the point of pouring out his pint, he called out to remind her of his particular individual choice.

“No, not that one, dear! I have a glass without any writing on it!”

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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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Christmas Past

Advent 1 On being careful what you wish for….

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I have very few childhood Christmas memories. In fact I can only think of one.  Perhaps Christmas wasn’t such a big deal before modern marketing and credit cards.

After the end of World War 2 rationing went on for years, and not just food. Clothes and toys were scarce too. I can remember how careful I had to be of my two precious picture books, specially imported from Holland, my mother told me. The first new coloured children’s books printed after the war.

For the Christmas after I started school I had only one desperate wish. I longed for a doll with hair you could brush. I only had two inherited baby dolls, who rejoiced in the names of Emmeline and Dorothy, but who wouldn’t win any prizes in the glamour stakes. They were both bald.

I wanted a “china” doll with a painted face, eyelashes and opening eyes, plus the all important long golden plaits.

Such things were hard to come by, but my mother searched until she found one and on the afternoon of Christmas day I carried my prize off to my bedroom to brush her hair.

It was then that the disaster happened!  Her hair came away from her head tangled in the little hard brush.  I was distraught with guilt and panic. I hid the crime under my bed and cried. Sooner or later I knew it must be discovered.

But wonder of wonders, when my mother sought me out it was not me she was angry with. She railed against the manufacturers and shopkeepers responsible for ruining children’s Christmas. My growing doubts about Santa Claus were amply reinforced by her determination to call these mundane, non supernatural bodies to account.

At some point in the following weeks a replacement doll appeared, but I never felt the same about her.  I fell back on the secure reliability of Emmeline and Dorothy, and kept Gloria for show.

Like all my generation, I grew up knowing you couldn’t always have everything you wanted. You had to make the best of whatever came your way.

We were a bridging generation, living through the privations of war and postwar, the growing prosperity of the 60s and 70s, then onwards ever onwards into the blatant, credit-driven consumerism of the 21st century.

It’s hard to shake off that early training in the careful tending of scarce commodities.

A few years ago I stood behind a woman in the queue at our local garden centre. She had a trolley full of silver Christmas decorations.

“I fancied silver this year,” she was explaining to her companion. “We had red and tartan last year.”

I was rivetted by this revelation that there were people who actually changed their Christmas decorations. Surely these lived in a box in the loft until they rotted or broke and even then were only replaced item by item as the need arose?

There wasn’t very much pious preaching about recycling and conservation in my childhood. We simply never discarded anything that could be used or reused!

Even now the chairs at my own table are the sturdy wartime utility ones that used to stand around my parents’.

I still can’t bear to throw them away!

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It Was Always Thus

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As I follow Sara’s terrible account of her slow ongoing torture by the Health Trust whose systems and employees caused her son’s preventable death, I am continually reminded of Dickens’ Bleak House, the first book I studied when I went to university.

It might seem a depressing choice, but it is a good preparation for dealing with the law and other public bodies.

Sara, in her last post, asked how people experience working for public services today.  I fear many of them would recognise Dickens’s Court of Chancery all too well. Cases drag on interminably,  “complainants” become increasingly desperate, their anger either fading into depression, or taking over their lives to the detriment of every other facet of their existence. Relationships break down under the strain.The only beneficiaries are the legal firms growing fat on fees.

Yet today’s LA and Health Trust employees surely cannot be likened to the miserable clerks inhabiting Dickens’s dark world, aware of the situation and sufferings of their clients, but powerless to make any change?

While today’s offices may be brighter and have more ergonomically designed seating, power relationships still remain the same and all the information technology in the world doesn’t change that. Basically, just like Bob Cratchit, employees do what they are told. They know from the example of whistleblowers that, if they don’t, all the employment legislation in the world won’t protect them from being rendered unemployable.

In any office there are nasty people who will take advantage of every regulation and directive to be deliberately obstructive, just as there are others who will do their best, within the constraints of their situation, to be helpful. The majority simply grow indifferent.

That is why #deathbyindifference is so accurate.  Indifference is the default setting for any institution where the majority of employees feel little commitment or calling to their work, where they are powerless to change things and/or have cut-back practises imposed upon them. Patronised (at best) by their employer through tawdry rewards and dumbed down “training”, they soon grow cynical and bitter.

No amount of external inspection or internal paperwork can safeguard clients if the workers simply don’t care. Situations go wrong because nobody bothers to check or to follow up some concern in a timely fashion, or to make sure some point of information was accurate. In the end, somebody lies dead.

In Bleak House Dickens decried the indifference of his own day

Dead, your Majesty.  Dead, my lords and gentlemen.  Dead, Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends. Dead, men and women born with heavenly compassion in your hearts.  And dying thus about us every day.

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Yet we don’t live in Dickens’s times. Change has been made for the better. It was brought about by the determination and campaigning of individuals who cared. Those who campaigned to force the law to take children out of the mills and the mines, to free the enslaved, to educate the poor.

In JusticeforLB, and JusticeforNico, we have a campaign for our own age. It is daunting and depressing at times, but we tread in the footsteps of all those who battled against the entrenched practices and injustices of the past.

It isn’t easy.

Fighting for the little people never was.

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