Friday, 29 August 2008

Addressing a letter - or a person, or automated machine

I have just been writing a letter to an old friend of my mother's. Well, this lady is the mother of a girl I went to school with (and haven't seen for about 30 years) but the lady goes to my mother's church and betwen them they share family stories and pass them on.
My mother came to visit me last week and brought with her a letter to me from this lady and a selection of old journals and magazines from a writing group she attends.So my letter is a one of thanks to her.
But how do I address her? My mother calls her by her first name (of course) but to me she always has been "Mrs... " "or Hazel's mam," or even at one stage in our lives, "Guider" when she was leader of the Girl Guide Group I was a member of. Of course, I have addresed her as "Mrs..." and then went on to explain this to her. Should I need to explain to her why I have not called her by her first name ? Maybe not, and maybe when she receives the letter she will find it strange that I have tried to explain.

We seem to be addressed these days, by our first names, by a range of people that often I find quite inappropriate - or is this just me being an old gimmer.....?
(Gimmer def: similar to "git" which I don't like the sound of - a person who is stupid or unpleasant)
Hardly a day goes by when I am do not speak to someone on the telephone who introduces themselves by the forename and asks if they may call me by mine. Sometimes this seems ok - if I am speaking to someone who I am likely to be speaking to again in the near future or on a regular basis, then yes, call me Brenda. But when I have inadvertently got myself into a conversation with someone attempting to sell me a mobile phone package, I don't particularly need to know, or care, what name their parents chose to give them at birth.
When I am telephoning the gas or electric company to give them my meter reading or discuss a direct debit payment, I don't really need to have them ask if they may call me by my first name - especially when we have just spent five minutes confirming who I am by my full name, address, phone number, bank details, password, husband's name, mother's maiden name and what I intend to have for dinner. (ok , I made the last one up) Don't call me anything at all - just get on with the reason for our conversation !
At the doctor's reception desk I am greeted loudly by my first name as though we are long lost friends. The whole of the waiting room can now wait in anticipation of Mrs and my surname being rolled across the overhead screen in bright red letters when I
am called to the doctor and can now add a forename to the initial. If you are looking for promotion of yourself for whatever the reason, this is the place to be. I have to say that my doctor himself does not feel the need to address me so personally, though he has seen more parts of my anatomy and perhaps has more reason to,than many.

Well, I know it's all part of customer service and customer satisfaction to make the "customer" (and yes, even at the doctors we are customers really) feel wanted and secure. It's also a very good sales tactic, that many of us are taken in by. I n actual fact, this addressing issue is all a matter of respect.

But I think I will continue to expect to be addressed in what I feel is an appropriate manner. If I ask to speak to "Mr so and so" I expect that he wil refer to me as "Mrs..."
If I introduce myself with my forename, then no doubt that person will introduce themselves back with theirs. On some occasions no names are needed at all.
This old gimmer will continue to try to keep her standards, even if they seem to go against the norm or the majority.

Embracing a philosophy of goodness

How do those of us who are trying to embrace a philosophy of doing what we believe to be good/right deal with the anger and despair that we feel over the injustices all around us?
Would you rather give the world a hug, or a slap in the face?
Would you rather get up there and battle, or leave it alone for the sake of a peaceful life?
I am sure that many of us can relate to this. It isn’t just my worry, it’s a human question.
We all fight with our anger over issues in our own lives as well as in the wider world. Often, it leads us to the depths of despair and we feel any effort on our part is futile. So we give up.
But anger is a powerful emotion, and when it is channeled properly, it can be a force used to positive affect. Rather than ranting at the world – or worse, allowing the anger to destroy you inside by keeping it hidden, we need to find a way to use it and work for change.

"The reasonable man attempts to adapt himself to the world and the unreasonable man attempts to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all change is created by the unreasonable man" . George Bernard Shaw

The comment is clearly a viable one - but does this persuade anyone to NOT try to change things? Conversely, does it make us want to change even more, just for the hell of it? Maybe some of us don't want anything at all to change, so do not need to consider. "The terror of change has been exceeded by the terror of remaining the same " said someone at a conference on teamwork, that I was at once.
Perhaps it's unreasonable to want to change things for the betterment of society. And selfish to want to leave things as they are, because it's 'comfortable' to do so. And who is to say what the betterment of society is? It's a bit of a subjective subject ! I wonder if "doing good" is also a selfish notion, as it makes us feel better ? I have always struggled with this, and the response from my staunch Methodist father was that "God knows who is acting for themselves and who is loving their neighbour". Sound advice to a believer, but not so easily taken in by someone with no religious faith.

So, I have to conclude that it's a personal thing, which no one can advise on or give suggestions on, but ourselves. In other words it's about conscience. What our conscience makes us do or not do might bring harsh words from others with differing views. I have just yesterday had someone say that I was being hypocritical, in my views-the one thing I strive against constantly. But only I know the truth about my thinking and actions.
And only you know yours.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Still Proud

I had a feeling that as soon as I wrote the phrase “…I was incredibly proud
to be British” on this blog , the other day, that within a short space of time I would have reason to question my views. And yes, I already have these reasons.

I read that a 16 year old student from Qatar is beaten and left for dead by a drunken mob, which police have confirmed was a racist attack. Mohammed Al-Majed, died from his injuries two days later. He was on a visit to Britain to learn about it’s culture and traditions. There’s little that can be said about this appalling tragedy which wouldn’t sound patronising to the family.
An 18 month old baby boy is critically ill in hospital after his five year old sister accidentally shot him in the head with their father’s air rifle. Do we need to discuss why the air rifle was even in the home?
A schizophrenic who was locked up indefinitely 10 years ago, for killing Police Constable Nina Mackay, is back on the streets in preparation for his permanent release. Elgizouli , who has a “deluded hatred of police” had stabbed his daughter and PC Mackay went to arrest him. But mental health officials believe that his psychiatric condition has “improved significantly”. Not very consoling for PC Mackay’s family I am sure.
A computer sold on eBay has personal details of more than a million bank customers on it. The massive data loss is one of the worst ever in Britain Coming just days after the Home Office admitted losing the details of 127,000 criminals. Makes the Data Protection Act seem rather useless.
British prisons are so full that a scheme was brought in a couple of months ago to allow prisoners to be freed 18 days early. Since then, around 35,000 criminals, including 6,000 violent offenders, have benefited. Criminals freed 18 days early have gone on to commit hundreds more crimes, including a murder and a rape. Now, plans are being made to increase the 18 days to 20 or more, freeing a few hundred more cell places.
Lost for words yet ? Wondering if my “proud to be British” still stands?

Well it does.
I am disgusted and very angry about the violence that continues to occur under the ridiculous title of “anti-social” behaviour. I am shocked at the stupidity and irresponsibility of some adults in potentially dangerous situations. I am disillusioned at many “officials” attitudes to issues that they appear to understand in theory but do not realise that they do not work in practice. I am deeply concerned at many government policies that the majority of ordinary people can see will not work or are not right.
But this is how my pride in being British can continue to grow. The belief that the majority of people in Britain are good, kind and moral and want the best for the country and mankind, is the reason for this. I am sure that it is a minority that wish otherwise, though sometimes it is difficult to keep with that view – especially for those who are affected personally by awful happenings.
I do not wish to moralise, or appear saintly – these are only my personal views. But I am still proud of being British and of the notion of the importance of nationality.
“I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe the laws faithfully and fulfill my duties and obligations as a British citizen.” (British Citizenship Affirmation of Allegiance)

This does not mean that I will agree with every law that is passed or every policy that is implemented. I will continue to voice my opinion on what I believe to be wrong – and also on what I believe to be right! And I will look for opportunities to celebrate British culture – however diverse that may be.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Being British

I must admit, I have been rather cynical recently, of the government’s rules and regulations on immigration and gaining British Citizenship. (What you - cynical? I hear you say with more than a little irony)
The“British Citizenship Test” which began in 2005 – the year my husband and step family came to Britain to live – didn’t inspire me with much confidence of what the government thinks constitutes “being British”. But if you want the passport, then you have to read the “Life in the UK” book then take the test on society, history and culture. A 45 minute test, which costs you £34, of questions that many people born and educated in Britain struggle to answer, doesn’t seem to be the best way to integrate people from different cultures into a culture that is difficult to define – but there you go, that’s what you have to do.

Almost 60m people live in the UK. By what factor do the native-born English outnumber their Scots or Welsh neighbours? A) 9 to 1? B)7 to 1? C) 6 to 1?
Blowed if I know - and does it really matter that I don’t know ?

When did all 18 yr olds get the vote? A)1918? B)1928 ? C) 1969 ?
Erm…well I am almost sure it’s not 1918, as the first votes were for 21 year olds. And I am almost sure it’s not 1928 – but I am only guessing.

What's the minimum time you must have been married before you can divorce? A) 6 months? B) 1 year? C) 2 years ? I had absolutely no idea there was a minimum time – but at least I have surpassed all of them now and may divorce if I wish !

Anyway, my husband learned the facts, and passed the test with flying colours – though the colours were still not red, white and blue.

To celebrate becoming a British citizen, the government also introduced new citizenship ceremonies where prospective citizens make an oath/affirmation to Her Majesty the Queen and a pledge of loyalty to the United Kingdom. My husband and stepsons received their letter of invitation to the ceremony, sent off some more money and arranged a date at the Registrars Office, where the ceremony would be held.
And here is where my cynicism left me, for the time being at least.

A speech of welcome was made by the Superintendent Registration Officer and a speech by the local Mayor explained what it means, legally, to become a British citizen – to follow the laws, rules and regulations made by HM Government and to strive to be an honest and caring person, within the community.
Each person then took the oath and pledge and was presented with their certificate of nationality and a commemorative gift of a British passport cover.
At the playing of the national anthem. I actually got a lump in my throat and was incredibly proud, for the first time in my life, of being British. And not just for the passport.

Now, most of us get emotional at such occasions, whether it be a wedding, baptism or presentation for an achievement. We also feel proud of the people involved, often even when they are not family or close friends.
But this was the first time that I truly felt that a nationality was of importance and a British one, for me and my family, the most important one. I wish there were more opportunities for us to celebrate Britain. I hope that other people have the chance to have this feeling. I hope this feeling stays with me.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Letter To Cllr A Rushforth

To : Cllr A Rushforth , Maltby Town Council, Rotherham

I am writing to take issue with you over the comments that you have made and are quoted in The Star, Tuesday August 19th 2008

I quote “Town Councillor Amy Rushforth ….who was not at the meeting when Mr Morton was suspended said “This confirms what I said at the start of this episode that the suspension of the clerk had not been done correctly and there would be repercussions about what they had done” What THEY had done? Who are THEY Cllr Rushforth? Are you not one of THEM yourself?

Firstly, I am concerned that you feel able to comment on events at a meeting that you did not attend. Everyone appreciates your unfortunate personal circumstances of late, but you have not attended any Maltby Town Council meeting now since April and four months is an extremely long time to keep track of the happenings within the council, even when attending and minuting meetings, which many residents are doing recently due to disputes concerning records.

You do not appear to be aware, Cllr Rushforth, of the extreme conflict and disarray that is MTC currently. Minutes have been resolved to be amended and not been, extraordinary meetings have been called, with some councillors not being formally advised (if at all) and members of the public have been seemingly kept in the dark by meetings not advertised widely enough for them to be notified. An Extra-ordinary meeting called for Wednesday August 13th, for example, had one notice posted inside the Edward Dunn building – this for an electorate of around 17,000 to presumably view. The Chair of MTC did not receive a formal notice; one councillor had her invitation thrown onto the driveway of her home, another received hers through the post with less than the required 3 days notice. (at many meetings certain councillors have been abusive to the Chair and other councillors when the 3 days notice issue has been raised !)
I, as a member of the public, was interrogated and verbally harassed by the assistant to the Town Clerk - of which we do not have one formally appointed at the moment but rely on the “volunteered support” of Cllr C McMahon and Cllr J Kirk – about why I was asking for a copy of the notice. There have been a number of occasions when I have been treated in this way by this assistant.

At the risk of repeating myself to those who know of and understand the real situation within MTC, I am informing you that at council meetings The Chair, some Independent Cllrs and the public have been constantly verbally abused by other, supposedly, Independent Cllrs. It is well known who these councillors are (I will certainly name them if you require this) and it is clear to anyone with an ounce of sense (or perhaps that should be a gram for legal purposes) that their intention is to have the names of the “real” Independent councillors dragged through the dirt and ultimately have them either ejected from the council or for them to resign. The whole scenario is totally unacceptable and unfortunately, it now seems that the Legal Department at RMBC are claiming they have no powers to support MTC – they suggest the Standards Board, which as you are well aware has been approached and appears to be either unable to do anything or does not care to do anything.

Concerning the suspension of David Morton, of which you commented. Mr Morton was suspended at a meeting on 18th June. Cllr Ben Slade, taking it as his perogative as Chair to insert an item onto the Agenda. This was explained fully to all present (amidst the now usual appalling behaviour and language from 4 Cllrs in particular) The Town Clerk was well aware of the dissent within the council , he had in fact caused the majority of it. If Mr Morton was so sure that his suspension was “illegal” then why did he wait 2 days and then resign ? Why is he going to a tribunal for constructive dismissal when he himself resigned? Why did he not pursue the “illegal” suspension case first ?
As far as I am aware, it is highly unusual (in fact not good practice) for an auditor to give advice on legal matters such as this or to make suggestions as to a councils actions in these situations. I am awaiting a response from MTC’s auditor on this issue.

Finally, as per The Star report, the public did NOT attend this meeting expecting to debate on the removal of public pay phones (this was on a later Agenda) and they certainly did not expect to talk about buying a new cross for a local church ! Not on the Agenda and not even correct information – the only discussion about a Church Cross currently, is Cllr K Stringers notion that the cross at the former Bede Church be acquired by the MTC – presumably to add to it’s store of other church items “stored” by them.

Many of the public did applaud as Mr Morton left the meeting, followed by his assistant (and certain cllrs of whom I have spoken, abusing the public and the press on their way out of the building.) The applause, however, was for the fact that he was LEAVING and that justice would at last be done. Unfortunately, justice is conspicuous in it’s absence.

MTC’s crucifixion by the media? It appears that this is the aim of some. For those who know the truth and are striving for real openness and honesty, the ex- town clerk is digging a hole deep enough for himself and his followers to fall into and to not reappear, which is possibly the best thing that could happen for Maltby.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Comparisons and Likenesses

I do wish people would stop describing the worst areas of our country and communities as “like Beirut”. Areas which are constantly suffering from anti-social behaviour and criminal activity are often referred to in this way. A newspaper report tells us that residents in the Page Hall area of Sheffield say that they are living in a “hell hole which belongs in downtown Beirut, not 21st century South Yorkshire”. Note - not even just Beirut, but downtown Beirut.

Now I am not for one moment suggesting that Page Hall is not experiencing serious problems (as are many areas, with the numbers of incidents increasing) There are reports of appalling behaviour, with partying till all hours with loud music, people living far too many to one house to be either healthy, safe or legal, car racing, rubbish being thrown on the streets and into others gardens and other totally unacceptable ways of living within a community. They are particularly despondent and despairing that the efforts that were put in last year with Sheffield in Bloom have been wasted, and they feel destroyed mentally and physically. Understandably. I empathise with them and hope that the multi-agencies that need to be involved in these issues, according to police sector commander Andy Barrs, get moving extremely quickly and sort out the situation as soon as possible.

I am concerned, though, at the labelling and comparisons that are made and reported in the paper, which will no doubt already have been passed on, and furthered the impressions and misconceptions of a place that I am sure, none of these people have been to.
The families named as causing the anti-social issue are Slovakian. My geography may not be perfect, but I am sure I am correct in stating that Slovakia is in Central Europe. It borders the Czech Republic and Austria, Poland, Ukraine and Hungary. It’s largest city and capital is Bratislava. Beirut, however, is the capital of Lebanon, a country in the Middle East (sometimes now called Western Asia) and it’s borders are Syria and Israel.
Ok , I can hear you saying, we don’t need a geography lesson, either. But my point is that if you are going to liken something to something else - be it an area, country person or whatever - then at least make the likeness appropriate. Not only do Slovakian people not generally live in Beirut, but “Downtown Beirut” in 2008 is as far removed in similarities to Sheffield’s less fortunate areas than it is in miles. (or kilometres, if we want to be precise on both sides)

In 2004, the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire stated that anti-social conduct was making people feel like they lived in Beirut. “If they feel like they live in Beirut, they won’t care one bit that we are stamping out gun-crime” he announced. I went to Lebanon that year. I lived in and experienced the poorer towns south of Beirut – and yes, poor there can be really poor. I returned again the next year and whilst I saw many guns, carried by army personnel and the police, I never once feared that I would be shot, just for the sheer hell of it, by a gang standing on the streets. The terrible wars were over by now and so I had no fear of snipers either. Or of being stabbed as I emerged from a cafĂ© or strolled on the beach. Beirut has it’s less affluent parts and it’s richer parts, as do all cities in the world, and during the war untold damage was done. But it was the same in Sheffield during the war here.
Today “Downtown Beirut” is a major world tourist attraction. It has a multitude of fine buildings, marbled plazas and fountains and as many top class restaurants, cafes, theatres, and entertainment as anyone could wish for. It also has beautiful beaches kept clean and tidy, and no one stays at home after 6pm in case they get abused on the street by a teenager.

The situation in Page Hall and many other areas in this country is deplorable. But don’t liken it to Downtown Beirut as the comparison just does not work. It also perpetuates divisive thinking and community and racial disharmony – which surely is what we are trying to prevent.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Deja vu? No just another council meeting....

It would be good to be able to comment that Maltby Town Council, amidst it’s current situation and disputes, is turning around for the better. However, this does not seem to be the case.

The last full Town Council meeting on 23rd July had, yet again, members of the public and councillors being verbally abused and treated with total disrespect by certain councillors. A meeting of the Environment Committee last night, showed one of these same councillors - in the public gallery for this meeting- and her daughter, treating members of the public with the same appalling attitude and disrespect.
The Chair of this meeting handled this by telling everyone to be quiet so that the meeting could continue. Though this is fair enough comment for the immediate situation at a meeting, it does nothing to resolve the real problems. No matter how much people in Maltby want the council to move forward and be supportive of the town and it’s residents, progress cannot be made until past and present grievances have been brought to light and discussed. Many of these grievances are due to certain councillors attitudes and conduct and no matter how delicate the matter, this must be resolved. (Yes I am repeating myself - because the same scenario is being repeated over and over again !)
A member of the public who attended this meeting, for the first time attending a council meeting for a long time, felt intimidated by the appalling manner of this councillor and I can see her point, though I refuse to be intimidated by this outrageous situation that we have in MTC at the moment.
I have commented in the past that any person attending an MTC meeting recently could be forgiven for thinking that they have entered a pantomime. The Environment meeting was more like The Two Ronnies, with the chair of the committee Cllr J Kirk, and Cllr C McMahon, presumably to (unsuccessfully) defuse an uncomfortable situation, putting on a performance akin to a comedy show.
We now have Kevin Barron (MP), Rother Valley, responding in the local paper about a Maltby resident’s suggestion that the problems at Maltby Town Council have been caused by Labour Councillors. He questions how this can be suggested when there are only three Labour Cllrs out of eighteen. (MaltbyNews, August 2008)
Here you miss the point completely Mr Barron. The suggestion that the resident made was that CERTAIN councillors are causing problems. There may be only 3 Labour councillors on the council but there are others who used to be Labour who did not get re - elected and are now elected as supposedly Independent. Come to MTC meetings, Mr Barron, perhaps your eyes will be opened as to what is really going on in your local council.
Chairman of MTC, Cllr Ben Slade appears to continue to strive against mounting harassment and dissent, to support the council in doing their job openly, honestly and in an appropriate manner. He needs all the support he can get.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Well Done You !

How often do you congratulate yourself ? On anything at all ?
It’s not often I do. In fact, without being pious or sanctimonious, I don’t think I have ever really said “well done me”, even if what I have just done or achieved is something that I would definitely have congratulated someone else on.

We say it to other people all the time, often at times when it’s really unnecessary.
It’s your birthday, congratulations ! Like you did some major thing for the sake of mankind. All you did was just “be”, for another year.
Well done , you just won a tenner on the lottery ! Thankyou, it took such a lot of effort to buy that ticket when I was in the supermarket.
One I saw today – My Blog Is One Year Old ! (and a flurry of well dones, and good for yous followed) Wow – you mean a year ago you started writing down your thoughts hoping others would read them, and you have written 6 pieces since? Such stamina.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t say well done when someone has achieved something or something good has happened. It’s what makes life more pleasant for everyone. And it does also make the praise giver feel good too. But maybe we should leave the real congratulations for more important issues, and maybe also we should congratulate ourselves more. Because when all’s said and done, only you know what a real achievement for yourself is.
I might win a 100 metre race in record time (I did say might) Now that to me would be an achievement. But you may have just had a hip replacement, and you walked slowly 4 steps. That’s an achievement to you. So you need to congratulate yourself, because my 100 metres can’t really compare with your 4 steps. You get my drift….

So where is all this leading? Just that today I AM congratulating myself (and adding to the very many others that I am receiving and am grateful for)
I have completed my book Crossing Borders, it is published and I have already sold some copies with more ordered. It is a dream come true – I am a proper writer. My life has not suddenly become perfect. Far from it. I have more problems this very day than I have had for a long while (not connected to the book!) as do we all.
But tomorrow is another day, and today I am saying “well done me !” and I am basking in my own congratulations.
Give yourself some before the day ends.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Maltby Town Council - Open and transparent yet ?

Recent turbulent times have seen residents’ attendance at Maltby Town Council meetings increase, but many of the public and councillors themselves are still unhappy at the shortage of answers.
Eight councillors, still legally serving on the council and innocent till proven guilty of what is alleged to have been committed (if the British system still works that way) A Town Clerk, who was suspended then resigned. Continuing unresolved questions about minutes, receipts and the signing of cheques. An unsettling and inappropriate attitude and approach to colleagues and the public by certain councillors.

The question of the signing of the cheque for the Maltby Festival compared to the signing of the cheque for the Bede Playgroup is still being raisedand still no answers are given. The issue of user’s access to the Edward Dunn building is also still being raised - some users are concerned that whilst they have a room booked they are unable to gain access because of the doors being locked. This discussion has prompted Cllr A Laird to say “If they keep complaining, why don’t they go somewhere else” Again, no answers. A member of the public has asked why Cllr Slade did not read out her letter regarding the accessing of minutes from Town Council Meetings as he had promised to do. Minutes of certain meetings she said, appear to be unavailable for lengthy periods of time, and then when asked for , the response from certain councillors and staff is less than appropriate. Again, no answers.
Maltby Online, which the council had set up to provide access to information to everyone, is discussed, yet again. The council seem to want to walk away from this, after a little questionable legal hassle about discussions on the online boards. Understandably, this appears to the public that the easiest way to avoid answering difficult questions is to ignore them. Or use diversionary tactics.

Rotherham Council is looking to train new councillors in Maltby “as soon as possible” so that they are aware of general council procedures. Perhaps if this had been done a long time ago then the council might not be in the situation it is in now.
And now, Cllr Chris McMahon (who volunteered to support the Assistant to the Clerk of the town council ,with the help of Cllr John Kirk until such a time as aTown Clerk is in position) has been selected as a last minute candidate to fight the Wickersley by-election on August 28th. Perhaps he thinks the problems of Maltby Town Council are solved and he should move on.

There are many issues to be resolved within Maltby Town Council – many from months or even years back. Some of these issues are about certain councillors conduct and attitude towards each other and the public, so it is a delicate situation. But delicate or not, the truth must be shown and the honesty and integrity of some people questioned. Anyone who has nothing to hide has no fear of their integrity being questioned, after all, we question our leaders in government constantly, and so we should, because we are the ones who elected them to represent us. People in Maltby want the council to move forward and to be supportive of the town and it’s residents. Moving forward can not be done until past and current grievances have been thoroughly brought to light and discussed.

This must continue to be done, no matter how long it takes, for the sake of all Maltby residents.