19 December 2011

Christmas - past and present

It is interesting how attitudes towards particular seasons can be so diverse in just one family, let alone a country and the Christmas season is a good example and my own family an example within that example.

My maternal Grandmother didn't like Christmas and it wasn't difficult to understand why. So many people whom she had loved died around this time of the year including her sister, brother and her mother who died early in a new year when my Grandmother had already lost her Father to World War 1 and she was still a child of 12. I often wonder if it was almost a deliberate thing that she died on 14th December being unable to face another Christmas. Having said that the date appears to be an eventful one for my family; I have a sister and a niece born on that date and one Uncle suffered a heart attack on that date too. It's with relief that I awake on the 15th not having endured some momentous event on the previous day!

My Mother loved Christmas but then as I've said before she had a true Christian faith and so it was natural for her to find joy in the celebrations of her Saviour's birth. Mom made Christmas special for us when we were children. She was a decent cook so Christmas Day lunch was always something to savour and enjoy. She always put the turkey in the oven to cook as she went to bed on the Eve and so my memories of Christmas Day mornings are of getting up to a warm downstairs because the oven had been on all night (no central heating back then) and the smell of the cooked turkey making me ravenous and ready for lunch at 8am!

I'm not sure who started the tradition of no stockings but Mom always packed all of our presents, well except for the really big ones such as the bicycle I got one year, into a pillow case and this was left at the bottom of our beds by Father Christmas (he was never Santa in our house) and his helpful elves. This made for some very early starts in Aldridge as who could resist opening presents when they were there in your bedroom? It also meant that Mom was never really sure which Aunty had given what present because in the frenzy of opening we never read the labels, so the much hated but necessary task of thank you letters was a fraught one.

We always had to have lunch over by 3pm so that we could watch the Queen. We were not allowed to talk during our Sovereign's address to us and the Commonwealth, well except Mom who was allowed a running commentary on how young/old Queenie was looking and whether her dress suited her or not.

It wouldn't be long afterwards that Tea would be prepared. Cold turkey, salad, bread and pickles. Oh how I adored Christmas tea and it's never ending supply of pickled onions and cabbage! And then trifle and home made mince pies, a yule log, Christmas Cake, it was all to die for.

My most treasured memories of Christmas past are of my Mother singing. She sang all the time, all year through but at Christmas she sang even more. She had a beautiful soprano singing voice and during her life she sang in many choirs but for quite a few years when I was a child every Christmas we would travel around local authority homes for the elderly in Birmingham with my Uncle (whom I think was responsible for organising this) Aunt, their friends, my parents and siblings on a Sunday afternoon and evening, singing carols to the residents. It was an experience I always enjoyed. I can still see my Mom's face as she sang, joyful and happy.

This Christmas is my first without Mom and my eighteenth without my Grandmother. Two women who have done more to shape me than anyone else alive and yet with such diverse feelings about this time of the year. I still miss my Grandmother and her little pearls of wisdom and my Mother? Well this is going to be a strange Christmas without her because it's always been such a fun and full time of the year with her. I've no doubt there will be tears shed but because this time of the year meant so much to her I shall feel obliged not to cry too much and to enjoy it because she loved it so much.

Where ever you are, what ever faith you follow or do not, I wish you joy and peace this Christmas time, with experiences that will provide good memories in the years ahead. Enjoy the company of your loved ones, be they friends or family. To anyone who is alone not through choice, I wish you the comfort of happy memories and contentment with life.

11 December 2011

Mistletoe and Wine

There are two things guaranteed to happen at this time of the year and both annoy me with equal intensity. I try not to let them, not good for my karma but Zen is sometimes hard to achieve when there are bloody-minded people on this planet!

There have been festivities in Mid Winter for as long as humankind has walked the planet. Yule and Saturnalia amongst a plethora of festivals, predate the Christian tradition by millennia and many traditions from these ancient winter festivals were adopted by the Christian Church when it decided in the 4th century to make the 25th December the date that Jesus Christ’s birth was to be celebrated, despite the fact that nobody really knows when he was born.

Mistletoe, wreaths, Yule logs, community singing and feasting are all traditions we continue today as our pagan ancestors did in the days of yore. These festivities grew up around the time of the winter solstice to celebrate rebirth and renewal. Ok so in the middle of a bleak midwinter it sometimes feels that springtime is a long way off but following the solstice the days start to draw out once again signalling renewal. Of course we now celebrate these days on what are effectively vastly different days from our ancestors due to the shift from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. Which adds more arrows to my bow…..

If as a non-church goer you dare in this season to venture inside a church to participate in a little community singing and enjoy some Christmas type spirit you would be forgiven for thinking that you were going to hell in a handcart. The vicar or priest will stand there delivering the well worn phrases that I’ve heard since my childhood of how the real meaning of this festival has been lost; lost to commercialisation and to those of no faith who have the temerity to only turn up to church once a year! Talk about a warm welcome, well no, they don’t or at least in my experience they don’t.

It annoys me that the Christian Church thinks it has a monopoly on celebrations at this time of the year when let’s face it, they were the interlopers. This brings me to the second thing that annoys me. It’s all over social media now, Facebook, twitter et al. In the days before these inventions it would be discussions on the radio or TV or even letters to the newspaper. It’s the “I’m not going to wish you happy holidays, cos it’s Christmas. It’s not winterval, it’s Christmas.” You know the sort of thing. It usually ends with a xenophobic type statement along the lines of “if you don’t like it and our traditions then go back to where you came from”.

Now this annoys me on so many levels I don’t even know where to start! Firstly, the media in whatever form has hoodwinked most of the people that post this sort of rubbish, that there are people who object to Christmas. This amazes me. Anyone of true faith has total respect for the faith of others and his or her festivals and celebrations and holy days. I’ve worked in very multi-cultural offices in various parts of the country and the only group of people who didn’t send Christmas cards and give Christmas presents or participate in any way whatsoever were the witness of Jehovah! Yes that’s right; the Hindu’s, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists all appeared to participate in Christmas and in the traditions associated with it including feasting, present and card giving and parties! Most went home and put up Christmas trees too. It strikes me that a few well meaning but misguided liberals way back in the 1980s tried a few renaming/rebranding exercises and thereby started these myths that perpetuate and grow to this day. Whenever you challenge someone who has posted such rubbish to come up with some evidence of where in the UK Christmas is banned, they never can. Simple really, they can’t because it hasn’t. What annoys me even more is the point that so few of those who think like this will actually attend a church or celebrate the day in a Christian manner. Sure they’ll be celebrating, as the majority will but not in the way those vicars and priests I mentioned at the beginning would like them to, which rather brings me full circle.

I can never understand why people just don’t live and let live. Whatever your beliefs or reasons for celebrating at this time of the year or not as the case may be, just enjoy the time that is available to spend with your loved ones, indulging in traditions and rituals that have been around for centuries and looking forward to longer days and the renewal of life. I shall take a spoon of my own advice now and stop getting annoyed….

31 October 2011

Wheels on Fire

Walking became a needful thing for me four years ago when my Ex announced his impending departure from our life together. It became my time; my time to think, to breathe, to revel once again in the simple pleasures of life such as watching wildlife, admiring the bounty that Mother Nature offers up for free, sniffing the flowers so to speak. I rediscovered my love of woods and trees, of flowers, of streams, ponds, lakes, the humble canals. How had I come to abandon such simple pleasures for so long? Walking in effect, saved me, gave me purpose beyond the normal day to day activities we all so often merely endure rather than enjoy.

As my walks became longer and more frequent I often thought how nice it would be to cycle. My thought process was along the lines of being able to cover greater distances but still be able to admire the beauty all around me. My problem was that I knew nothing of bikes and less of actually cycling. Apart from doing silly stuff on the cycles of young children my last ride on a bike was in my early teens. And so, without having access to advice from someone who did know all about bikes and cycling and whom I could trust, my thoughts of purchasing a bike and actually doing some riding were shelved.

Then I met a wonderful man, a keen cyclist and someone I can trust! At the age of 49 and no, I don't mind admitting to age, it is a fact and a number and has no bearing whatsoever on the baggage within and how she feels (there's still a teenager in there fighting like mad to be heard!) I finally purchased a bike last week and have since embarked on what I think may become a rival for my walking!

My first ride consisted of riding around and around some garages. Next came a little excursion around the block so to speak, several times, I even threw in a hill. Method in my madness there, I had never ridden a bike with gears before and so I needed to learn how they worked! I fell off, which for those who know me well, will not come as a surprise as I'm as clumsy as they come, spent many years of my childhood in A&E and/or fracture clinics. The next day I went out with my lovely man for my first proper ride of 9.6 miles and I loved it. The joy of pedalling along, managing the gears and then free-wheeling down hills was unbridled. Realising that it doesn't matter from which direction you approach Aldridge, it involves a climb was not so joyful! On Saturday I went out on my own for the first time and managed 12.25 miles and saw parts of Brownhills I had never known existed along the canal up towards Chasewater and delightful they were too.

My ride on Sunday a mere 5.9 miles did not go so well but I blame myself for pushing a little too hard too soon. This poor experience has not put me off at all. I am looking forward to exploring both on my own and with my partner and I'm also looking forward to putting some miles into my legs and enjoying the simple things so important to me from a slightly different angle. There are new challenges ahead and I embrace them as passionately as I've approached my walking.

The saying goes that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Tosh!

18 September 2011

Between a Bridge and a Pub

There are two planning applications being considered at the present time that in theory could have repercussions for the area in which I live. I speak of the application to erect a rather large wind turbine at Riddian Bridge and the conversion of the old Avion Cinema to a Weatherspoons Pub.

I have mixed feelings about both.

To me wind turbines resemble the windmills of old and are really quite beautiful when seen out at sea from a shore nearby. Even some of those sited on wind swept hills seem to lift some quality from below and make me smile. So I'm not against them per se. Let’s face it we desperately need to obtain our energy from environmentally clean and sustainable sources. The prospect of more nuclear energy terrorises me but that’s just me!

In Walsall we are blessed with some lovely nature reserves and green spaces but there are few beautiful views unless you stand on top of Barr Beacon, which if you haven’t done you should do! The views from Riddian Bridge and towards it too are pleasant and about as rural as you can get in an urban borough such as Walsall, which is where my mixed feelings come into play. I suspect that once it’s been built I will grow to like the turbine every bit as much as others I have admired but I admit to a niggle.

As to the Avion, well to save the 1930s building from the curse of the Walsall Firestarter would be a noble and fine thing but my misgivings here are based upon experience of what has gone before.

With The Elms having gone to being a Crown Carvery it really is no longer a traditional pub and Aldridge could do with a decent central pub open to all. However there is a reason The Elms went the way it did and I witnessed the reasons on a Friday or Saturday night far too often. A casual drink, listening to a live band, a little bop to the tracks played by a DJ became undesirable with the youngsters, unable to handle their earlier home consumed Alcopops etc on top of what was then consumed on the premises, causing madness and mayhem. There was a good reason for all those employed on security duties.

The Elms gained the sort of reputation that had previously been the preserve of The Hop and Grape (or Hope and Grope as it was known locally) until its closure some years ago now. Despite attempts by decent people to manage what happened within, it became a place to avoid and one poor man was murdered in an alley just over the road after being followed out of the pub.

Neither place was the preserve of just the locals, both attracted custom from a much wider area and I always used to wonder what it was that went through a non-local’s mind when deciding that Aldridge was the place for a Friday or Saturday night out!

So both applications have their good points for me but both bring negatives. Que sera…..

A rural view over fields very close to Riddian Bridge. Taken in May 2011

17 September 2011

Snowdon: Our Journey

On a beautifully sunny day a month ago I finally crossed a long-standing ‘thing to do before I die’ off my list. Along with my daughter and partner, we walked to the summit of Snowdon and back down again.

Having been in North Wales for over a week before making the climb we had chosen the day with care, holding out for a forecast when no rain was due and we were rewarded well. At 8am we set off from the car park at Pen-y-Pass using the Miners Track, in glorious sunshine. We were wrapped up warmly as despite the sunshine it was a mere 9C however with a good pace for the first hour or so, layers were gradually packed away in rucksacks and arms and legs shown to the sun. During the day we did see some cloud and the sun hid from us now and then but on the whole we chose a wonderful day in which to do this for the very first time.

The first part of the Miners Path is, well it’s easy and it does lull you into a false sense of security, which is smashed to smithereens later on! However it is a very gentle ascent until well past the causeway at Llyn Llydaw. We were lucky at this time as there were few who were following this path so early in the day and so for the most part we could enjoy the beauty of the morning and our surroundings in relative peace and quiet. How glorious the landscape is. When travelling past Snowdon by road I had often thought how grey and stark it looked but once walking, it became clear that this was not the case at all. The colours are subtle and muted but Snowdon is far greener than I had anticipated.

I tried not to look upwards on my left hand side too often for there lay our destination and although we had been walking for a while, it didn't seem to get any nearer and so it was better not to look! It is a daunting prospect from below.

The water in the lakes was beautifully clear and looked so inviting. Later in the day on our descent we glimpsed hardy or perhaps foolhardy people frolicking and swimming in Glaslyn. I admit that I spent far too long lingering by the waters and taking photographs but I just wanted to drink the whole experience in and imprint the beautiful pictures in front of my eyes along with the serenity I was feeling inside, within my mind forever.

Once past Glaslyn the path becomes steep, uneven and downright difficult in parts! At stages we scrambled upon the scree and more than once I was thankful that there was no low cloud or rain obscuring the way. It became obvious why so many people come to grief in poor weather conditions on this most accessible of mountains. It’s still a challenge no matter how many people walk and climb it and shouldn't be taken as a light task. The penultimate haul from where the Miners Track meets the Pyg Track took an excessive amount of time. It is very steep and by this stage there were many people ascending and one or two early risers who by now were descending having perhaps claimed the summit to themselves as their reward for getting out of bed at ridiculous o clock! I readily admit that I found this part difficult, as did my companions although my daughter’s difficulties were more to do with not liking the drop to our left hand side rather than the strenuous nature of the activity.

The puffing, panting, grunting, hurting all melted away into nothing once we reached the post where the path from Llanberis comes up. All of a sudden a breathtaking vista opens up in front of your eyes. A few fluffy white clouds were in my eye line and then before me lay what felt like the whole world; lakes, villages, hills and in the distance the sea. It had been worth every moment of effort.

With renewed vigour we turned left and walked towards the summit. This took us another 15 minutes or so. It was extremely busy by this time with what seemed to be the world and his wife taking advantage of the glorious weather to make the climb. The train chuffed passed us on ascent and then descent but I did not envy those who had taken that transport to the summit. Apart from those who have no choice through disability, I pitied those who cannot experience the sense of achievement in having done what we were doing.

It was hard to actually get onto the summit point itself due to the sheer numbers of people attempting the same thing but we did make it for a couple of minutes. And then I found a relatively quiet spot and had a moment with my Mom. I admit to having had a good cry then. Mom would have loved it there with the stunning views and it saddened me that she had never made it up there. She told me not to be so daft because she had been with me every step of the way and was enjoying the moment with me. I pulled myself together and rejoined my companions. We purchased top up drinks and a well needed coffee from the café but if you’re thinking of doing the same, I urge you to consider which body part you will sell in order to fund such purchases. There is nothing like a captive market. We then found a quiet enough spot for the three of us to sit together and eat the packed lunch we had brought with us. We sat munching away, reflecting upon our efforts, on the fact that it was worth it and enjoying the views.

I must mention a tiny young lady of just four years old. We first made her acquaintance with her family at the car park and spent most of the ascent passing them or they passing us. She made it all the way to the summit without being carried. I've no idea if the same happened on the descent as we didn't see them again after meeting them at the summit.

We enjoyed a good hour up there to rest and recharge the batteries and then we began our descent, which was a difficult thing to do such was the volume of upward traffic facing us. One of the things that I did find a hindrance was dogs. The rules of the national park clearly state that dogs should be kept on leads. Unfortunately the majority of owners appear to ignore this rule when it starts to get tough, the pathway narrows and the dog starts pulling in a different direction to the one the owner wished to travel. A request, for the comfort and safety of yourself and for others, leave your dogs at home. Several times I was nearly tripped by a free running dog. It seriously hinders progress when you have to be on the look out for the animals and it also ruins the place having to listen to owners shout and call their dogs. You may as well be in a town park.

The decision was made to take the Pyg Track down as it gave us a different route to the ascent and finished at the car park we had started from. On the whole I don’t think it offered such good views and I didn't enjoy it, however this may have something to do with me finding it far more difficult to descend rather than climb. I always have and the advent of creaky joints and bones with my advancing age hasn't helped! We spent some considerable time being distracted by a mountain rescue that took place above us, the RAF helicopter swooping around and finally lowering a rescuer to whomever it was that needed their help. Once the rescue had been made peace once again became our preserve as by now the crowds had thinned and we were seeing less and less people.

We arrived back at the car park just under 8 hours after we had started earlier in the day. We had taken our time, enjoying the views, the sunshine, the experience and having a good rest at the summit. It wasn't a race but an experience to enjoy and savour and I hope to do it again as soon as I can although my two companions may differ on that!

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth

This has been a difficult blog to write for a myriad of reasons but mostly because it’s an emotive subject and as regular readers know I get emotional over very simple matters!

A few years ago Father Christmas asked me if my daughter had been a good girl that year. When I replied that she was always good he gave me an incredulous look but it’s true, she is. She’s always been well behaved, polite, trustworthy and I've never had a problem with her going places with other people because I know instinctively that she will behave.

Back in May during a PE lesson at her Primary school, Whetstone Field in Aldridge, an incident occurred where the teacher in charge that day, grabbed my daughter with rather too much force resulting in substantial bruising on her arm. Every finger and the thumb prints could be seen. My argument has always been that it was unnecessary to grab my daughter in such a way and to drag her across the playground. She wasn't misbehaving and even if she had been to use force that left clear and unambiguous bruising was unacceptable and unprofessional. There was never a question in my mind that my daughter’s report of the incident was nothing but truthful, she doesn't lie plus why on earth would she lie about such a thing? The teacher concerned had no recollection of the incident. Take from that what you will.

This is where events took on a life of their own and where I as a reasonably intelligent person got caught up in procedures and meetings that I knew nothing about. I've never had to deal with Children’s Services and Initial Response Teams and Multi-agency Strategy meetings before and I'm none the wiser now because not one person involved in all of these agencies told me what was happening, what should happen and what my daughter’s rights and expectations should be.

I had a meeting with the Head Teacher where she was shown the bruising and given full details. Her reaction was insipid to say the least and when I asked her what would happen next she advised me that she would probably let the Chair of the Governors know by the end of the day. I walked home and decided that I didn't like the reaction I had just received and contacted the Police.

Without going into detail all I can say is that the agencies involved let my daughter down badly. The Police didn't listen to my initial call and sent a local bobby to interview my daughter about the alleged assault, rather than a specialist officer. The school didn't swing into action as they should have done and there was delay in contacting Children’s Services. The initial response team at Children’s Services were slow on the uptake too. The result of all this was that it was 8 days after the incident before my daughter was examined by a paediatrician who was unable to neither confirm nor deny that daughter’s account of how the bruising happened was true because by then the bruising had faded to a yellow mess.

Unbeknown to me a Strategy Meeting involving the Police, the School, Children’s Services and Serco took place and the decision of the meeting was that no further action would be taken. At the time I was informed of this I didn't realise the importance and finality of this decision. I do now. I was never informed that the meeting would be take place and who would be there. At no stage was I ever informed of any procedures and what would happen. I have learned that when you find yourself dealing with an incident where advice as to what is happening should be given, agencies/authority close ranks and leave you stumbling around in the dark.

The result is that due to ‘the lack of evidence’ due to the tardiness of all those involved including the school who interviewed just one child from a class of 30 who had witnessed the incident and that child on being confronted with his Head Teacher and Class Teacher in a room on his own with nobody to hold his hand, understandably got muddled and confused, the word of the teacher, who had everything to lose, was believed over the word of my daughter who had nothing to lose and no reason to lie.

I have learned a lot from this incident. In future if I find myself in a situation where I do not know the ropes I will obtain specialist advice immediately and I advise others to do the same. If you don’t then there is no justice for a child. Those who preach the mantra of children having all the rights these days and no responsibilities should take heed of this account. My child had no rights in all of this, took all the responsibility and achieved no justice despite having done nothing wrong.

Fortunately my daughter has now moved onto to Secondary school and is happy there. Unfortunately there is still a teacher at Whetstone Field who needs some retraining at the very least but is not getting it and who should if she had any conscience and morality have accepted responsibility for hurting my daughter. I feel for you if you have a child there because in my experience it is not the school it once was nor the school it likes to project itself as.

This is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth as I see it and in my opinion.

1 August 2011

Cuts and Pits

Late last Thursday afternoon we took a walk along the canal in Rushall and through Park Lime Pits. The variety of flora and fauna at this time of the year is amazing and everything looked stunning. The heron was about as always.

We are so blessed to have such beauty on our doorsteps even though we live in an urban jungle

Wild plums are everywhere, we counted at least five different varieties. We now have 14 jars of beautiful wild plum jam. We've called it Parkies Jam.

This is Walsall....the bit you don't see from the M6! Tranquil, lovely and surprisingly rural. This is the Walsall I love.

26 July 2011

On death and life

Death as the cliché goes is part of life. You can pay an accountant to avoid taxes but even those rich enough to be able to buy into cryogenics cannot avoid death. As a child I was shielded from the deaths of elderly aunties and uncles by never being part of the conversation. There were no funerals to attend, children weren’t part of that, people just ceased to be there. Now and then when someone who had been well loved died I saw my Grandfather shed tears but never my Mother or Grandmother. It was all about not showing the children how upsetting death was and so I grew up not knowing anything about real grief.

Of course as the child of a God fearing family I became acquainted with the afterlife in the forms of a floaty, high above the clouds heaven, where everyone was happy and smiling and contented and of the stark alternative of the fire and brimstone with added torturous pain forever through eternity, of hell, through regular attendance at Sunday School but these were abstract concepts to the child and never really spoken about except when I had been a particularly naughty child (and I was frequently) and was told that if I carried on as I had been doing then I would end up in hell. So what I thought, I'm going to live forever.

My first real encounter with the finality of death was the demise of the family pet guinea pig, who one day whilst eating his weetabix at the table suddenly fell sideways and ended up on the floor doing a little guinea pig fit. He was taken to the vets and never came home and so death and death by special drugs only available to animals entered my life experience. I cried and missed little Titch for a while.

When my Grandfather died when I was 15 his death hit me like a pole-axe. I could not imagine a world where he wasn't there, could not countenance a life where he wasn't around giving me hugs, supporting me, encouraging me and loving me. His funeral was the first I ever attended and in retrospect I can see that it was a good funeral to attend for a first. Lots of people there, a Vicar who said some pretty astonishing things that have stayed with me to this day even though he had never met my wonderful Grandfather. Grief was not hidden this time. I saw how his death affected my family and relations; their tears and tantrums; nothing was hidden. I stayed with my Grandmother for over a week after his death and we grew close. She talked about her childhood and about her life with my Grandfather and I learned. It was those days with her that I treasure and that set me on a life long hunt for my pesky ancestors, some of whom prove most elusive after 30 odd years.

A few days after Granddad died, Elvis was discovered on his lavatory no longer of this planet and I was annoyed by what I thought was a so-called faux grief displayed by fans. I remember thinking that these people on my TV screen obviously had no idea what it was to lose through death a magnificent and wonderful man like my Grandfather, who was real and known whereas Elvis, well he was just a bloated, self obsessed, self indulgent has been as far as I was concerned.

Life did go one despite what my feelings were on the day my Grandfather died and in continuing I attended many more funerals including peers who died far too young and children who died in cruel ways. I witnessed grief in many forms and not just caused through death but from the breakdown of precious relationships. Death is not the only form of loss.

Since 21st March I have discovered new levels of grieving. It is a myriad of emotions and a roller coaster ride endured because I'm not sure where or when I get off if indeed ending the rise is an option. It’s not just that you miss someone, it is the realisation that although you always meant to, you never did get around to telling your loved one just how much they meant to you on a day to day basis. We all do it. We love our family and friends even worship the ground they walk upon but we let every day life get in the way, small insignificant things cloud the one true and most important reality of how much we do care and so we forget to let them know. Then comes the guilt, it is a heavy burden even if in more lucid moments we acknowledge that guilt is not an appropriate feeling because there should be none; we did our best and the person whom you loved knew that even if they didn't acknowledge it during life.

There has been laughter as well as the tears, remembering the good times, the ways in which my Mother made me laugh, cared for me, the little things she did that made the world a much better place, the way she loved me and all of her family. Oh but I miss her so. I go down to see Dad most days and his grief has been rather more intensive than my own because they were together for nearly 54 years and I have my children to look after whilst he now has nothing. Little has been moved or changed since Mom died because that is the way he wants it but I find this crippling. Every day I have to face her coats hanging in the hall, still with traces of her perfume lingering upon them. Her shoes, her bag, her paperwork, her toiletries, her perfumes and make up, her clothes; everything as it was the day she died, awaiting her return, a return that will never happen. I would love to talk with Dad about Mom, memories shared but he’s not ready to do that and so I cannot move on with my own grief.

I'm not ready to philosophise on all of this but I do know that when someone dies we don’t talk about them enough. It seems that people go to great lengths to avoid talking about the person no longer there. Why does this happen? If we talked more and shared memories wouldn't that help us all deal with a loss that is all encompassing and so very difficult to deal with?

I don’t share my Mother’s deep Christian faith but as it meant so much to her I like to think of her, in her own room in God’s house, surrounded by all the things she enjoyed and loved so much in life, laughing and enjoying and being free from pain.

12 July 2011

An Open letter to Ken MacLeod

You may be wondering who Ken is. Meet him here.

Dear Ken,

I see from your photograph in the Birmingham Mail that you appear to have a disability; a physical disability, open for all to see. Maybe because people see your difference to an able bodied person they treat you a little more kindly, open doors for you, take a little more time to listen to you and your needs, give you a little respect.

I would like you for just a short while to imagine that your disability is hidden and what that might be like. It's inside. It's real enough but people cannot see it. Imagine that your mind and brain are all there but the wiring got a little muddled and so sometimes you don't understand what is happening around you. Perfectly normal day to day situations can be a challenge because communication is sometimes a little difficult or even very difficult. You don't understand something or get scared of a hostile reaction or something that really doesn't scare anyone who doesn't have your difference and so you become frustrated and because perhaps you're young, people around you make judgements about you as a person and your behaviour and when adding up that two plus two make a sum that is not four. Assumptions are made about you. Incorrect assumptions. You are judged. No jury of your peers, no understanding and no desire for understanding. Can you do that Ken? Can you put aside your own personal prejudices for a little while and put yourself into the shoes of a young person, with a hidden disability? If you can then you're in a pretty scary and judgemental world.

Autistic spectrum disorders are very misunderstood. As a mother of a child who is on the spectrum I sometimes find it very difficult to understand my child but the difference between you and me is that I try to understand and I do put myself in their shoes in an attempt to make some sense of what is happening and what is needed. These children and young people are not delinquents. I could go into massive detail about what it is like to watch your child come home from school day after day, year after year bullied to becoming a complete wreck, just because they are different, tell you how bad provision is for such children let alone that when they become young adults provision becomes virtually non-existent but I will not. All I ask is that you reconsider your comment...

"things they wanted to do there weren't right for the area"

Is Streetly an Autistic free zone? Are there no young people there that suffer from this hidden disability? I suggest that there are but that you have blinkers on and refuse to see anything other than your own prejudices. Knowing a person young or old with Autism is an amazing experience. They see things differently to an non-Autistic person and with that can bring joy at embracing an alternative view of the world. I issue and invitation to you and your supporters. Come and meet with us or perhaps with a group that helps such children and young adults. Come with an open mind and an open attitude. You may be surprised at what you discover about this world and about yourself.

Welcome to the Big Society!


And for those who do want to learn a little more here is a useful place to start.....

8 July 2011

To The Manor Born

Back in July 2011 I blogged the following about The Manor House Youth Club in Aldridge. Seems they've gone and pulled the rug from under the young people of Aldridge and surrounding areas. The Manor will close on 31st August. Seems the six councillors of Aldridge don't know an awful lot about this. Why not? Whose interests do they represent? Why has there been no consultation as promised and why are the people of Aldridge the last to know about this?

We are all in this together. Well unless you're young, old, infirm, disabled, unwell or perhaps a single parent, then you have to shoulder a little more because after all it was the greed of such groups that caused the mess the country is apparently in right now. Taking on that little extra hurts and it seems that government be it local or national is taking the lead sadistic role with pleasure but then that's what sadists do.

I've blogged before about inclusion and provision for young people and also a little about my utopian pipe dreams of how local life can be made a little better for all by concentrating resources in a positive and pointed way towards our young people. They are as the cliché goes, our future. Love 'em or loathe 'em it's the young people of today who are going to be taking care of us in the years to come, so you would think we would like to make sure that they get a good start, learn some decent values and have a little fun along the way in order to develop into the well rounded adults that we want caring for us old dodderers.

I learned my life skills from a variety of sources including in my teenage years, The Manor House Youth Club in Aldridge. I learned about mixing with others who didn't go to my school, didn't come from my estate, didn't share my religion, race or sexual orientation, or my taste in music or TV viewing. There were never any arguments about what channel the TV should be on when Charlie's Angels was on and I recall the collective experience, joyful though we were not Scousers, of seeing Liverpool beat Borussia Monchengladbach in 1977 but those times apart, selection of the right channel required careful bargaining and negotiating skills. This was true of getting on pool tables or table football or even selection of records on the old juke box in the coffee lounge. Oh what innocent times, well except Friday nights and the disco when it seemed to me that every teenager in Aldridge was indulging in a snogfest except me! Well I suppose even that has to be learned. The point is that The Manor provided a safe environment for me and all the other young people in the area, under the supervision of some pretty excellent Youth Leaders to be ourselves and to endure the pains, trials, tribulations and angst of the teenage years.

When I arrived back in Aldridge after a long exile in London I was pleased to discover that The Manor was still there and still functioning in pretty much the same way as it had when I was a spotty teenager albeit with a beautifully equipped music room and much better facilities in general than the 1970s. My son has spent many happy hours there, indeed he even did his Year 10 work experience there under the wonderful supervision of a very dedicated Youth Worker by the name of Matt Gough, sadly for the young people of Aldridge now working elsewhere. My daughter is now of an age when she can enjoy the delights of a vibrant youth centre. Unfortunately it looks as though the experience is to be ripped away from her in the name of budget deficit sadists.

Back on 6th April Walsall Council announced it plans to sell Aldridge Manor House. My immediate thought was what is going to happen to the youth provision? I spent the next couple of weeks tweeting @Walsall Council to no avail and so on 10th May I submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the council and asked 'Once the sale is agreed and goes ahead, will the Youth Club held at the Manor House be closed or will it be relocated to other premises in Aldridge?' The response was a very long time in arriving considering all it consisted of was one devastating sentence

'I can confirm that any decisions in the future relating to the Youth Club will be subject to consultation with all interested parties and will include efforts to relocate the service.'

So there we have it. There are to be consultations on the future of Aldridge Manor House Youth Service...when? Has the decision to withdraw youth provision in Aldridge already been made behind closed doors where the walls had no ears? And these 'efforts', what will they consist of? I've been racking my brains to try and come up with a set of suitable premises in Aldridge that could be converted (no doubt at some considerable cost thereby rendering such a plan non-viable in the financially penny pinching climate of the moment) for our young people and I cannot think of any. How concerted will such 'efforts' be or, forgive me for being cynical I've lived a while after all, is this it? The end of something so valuable for all our futures and all because some are more in it together than others?

Another cynical thought. Aldridge Manor House is a Grade 2 listed building. Who would want to buy such a building, standing as it does in the very heart of a conservation area in Aldridge with the sort of restrictions that such buildings bring with regard to usage? I fear the heat of the flames that will inevitably follow after years of neglect and dereliction. It appears after all to be a Borough Wide Sport here in Walsall, available to all as long as they have patience, money and a steadfast belief that local authorities and local communities are to be ignored at all costs

Will any of the six councillors for Aldridge North and South make a stand for the young people of Aldridge and pledge support for ensuring that youth provision for the area remains in place or will they continue to play follow the leader?

24 June 2011

Ghost Town

24th highest vacancy rate for shops etc in the country. Over a quarter of the units available in Walsall Town Centre are empty. Can’t say I had noticed the plethora of ‘to let’ signs, boarded up windows and the general air of doom that envelopes me when I alight the bus.

This is the bus that has to wait to get into the bus station and then wait again once in, to park up and unload. Bad design, congestion, whatever the cause it’s bad for Walsall. The station itself, a concrete bunker that couldn’t look any better even if the sun shone all day every day. Grey, faceless and downright dangerous to anyone who attempts to cross the road.

Then there are the car parks. The only place you can park free of charge in Walsall is Tesco’s and if Mike Bird has his way that will not be for much longer. Free parking at Christmas didn’t bring in the expected numbers, so instead of looking at why people don’t want to come to Walsall, everyone seems intent on making it even more unattractive. They’re now talking about charging blue badge holders at the same rate as fully able drivers. And not just in the town centre but at the hospital too.

Why on earth would anyone want to come to Walsall to shop? Come by bus and wait and wait and wait, then take your life in your hands. Come in a car, wait for hours at the Arboretum Junction if coming from the north, get charged though the nose to park it, even if you’re disabled. And then once you’re in, browse the empty shop units, the fast food bars, the half empty market stalls and the precious few decent shops that remain. If you come early enough you can watch the rats at play at the top end of Park Street. Come at any time of the day for your head and shoulders to be used as a pigeon toilet.

The marvellous New Art Gallery, brilliant leather museum, our peregrine falcons and now even red deer are not enough to entice people into a place that conjures up in my mind all the fun of a cemetery, one which has had its services contracted out and is thus forlorn, ill-kept and uninviting no matter how much you once loved what is there. And there’s the rub, I used to enjoy shopping in Walsall ten years ago when I returned to the area. All the shops I needed in a compact area, easy to walk around, a decent market. The problems with the bus station were worth putting up with and I presume the drivers didn’t mind because they could park free of charge if they were in the know or got in early. Now I avoid the Town like the plague. I can go and have much more pleasant experience in Birmingham or Lichfield or even Tamworth.

To paraphrase an extremely famous headline, will the last person to leave Walsall turn out the lights….if they’re not already off of course.

19 June 2011

Wide eyed and tickletless

I've always loved athletics. At 9 years old I became a Birchfield Harrier and was so proud to pull on the club colours. I was a decent enough sprinter and long jumper but obviously never made it to the big time although I did continue to run and jump until my late twenties.

My love for the thrills and spills of track and field has meant that I've attended many meetings at various stadia over
the years and since returning to the Midlands in 2001 that has become easier because of the amount of
meetings held at the NIA and Alexander Stadium.

When Manchester was awarded the Commonwealth Games for 2002 armed with a credit card and a large limit, I applied for tickets galore to watch the track and field and through the vagaries of the ballot was allocated none. I was disappointed to say the least but thought that when London was awarded the 2012 Olympic Games, justice would finally be done and I would achieve a life long held dream to watch the sport I love at an International Games in my own country and the city in which I lived for nearly 20 years.

It wasn't easy. First I discovered that in order to purchase a ticket my Mastercard was useless and so I applied and got a brand new shiny Visa card that I didn't really want. I poured through the timetable of events and chose the days when I wanted me and my two children to attend. I was careful, I knew I didn't stand a chance of getting tickets for the session when the Men's 100 meters would be run and in case I couldn't afford the prices for such a session. I stuck to the low end tickets and applied for quite a few.

Of course I knew weeks ago I hadn't been lucky in the ballot because no money had been taken from my card but on Friday I finally received the confirmation email that I had no tickets. I was informed of the second chance, first come first served for tickets that were still available and so I clicked through and examined what tickets could be obtained as long as I was sitting with my fingers on the send button at 6am later on this week. One session of two hours duration, cost of tickets £65 per person and plenty of others with 'good availibility' for tickets costing hundreds of pounds each. I cannot afford these. Not wanting to miss out on the Olympic experience for my self or for my children I thought well try for something else but there is precious little else and at prices that are not exorbitant. No availability at all for track cycling, diving or swimming.

So I've resigned myself to watching 2012 from my living room. What angers me
though is the little advert for 'one of our partners' within the email confirming the bad news. Thomas Cook, partner (read sponsor) still has lots of breaks available that are inclusive of tickets for all events. I bet they have. That's the rub, lots of 'partners' have been allocated thousands upon thousands of tickets to dish out as they feel fit and you can guarantee that there will be events at all venues at 2012 when empty seats will be conspicuous and conspicuous in their numbers because certain people lucky enough to have been allocated such tickets will be too busy enjoying the hospitality outside the stadium or because they just couldn't be bothered.

We get weasel words from Sir Seb Coe about how fair the ticket allocation was. Well no it wasn't. Like most ordinary people, I can't afford to be a 'partner' in order to secure a definite ticket because I'm not a multi-national company like McDonalds or Visa. I just have a love
of sport and in particular athletics, which I've supported as a paying fan for very many years. There are hundreds of thousands just like me. Large in numbers but with no voice.

The picture aside is of me with the big hair on the left with an athlete who ran at more than one Olympics; Pat Cropper. I was thrilled to meet her. It was taken in the hall of Redhouse School, Aldridge in July 1973. Pat was there to present us with the Runners Up Shield for the District Sports and me with my trophy for winning the District Pentathlon Competition. Innocent days.

15 June 2011

Happy Birthday Son

I originally published the following on my blog last June, on the eve of my son's 16th birthday. Unfortunately is was turned upside down, screwed inside out and generally distorted beyond reason by a couple of very sad and immature teenagers and so for my son's sake I removed it from the blog. I am now publishing it again because it is his 17th birthday very shortly and so I've been thinking about our lives together and also in the hope that in the last 12 months some maturity may have taken root.


It was a struggle your birth almost as though you knew that it was better to stay where you were, snug and safe, rather than make an entrance into a world that has sometimes been so cruel to you. Forty eight hours of struggle came to an abrupt end when they told me you were very distressed and an emergency caesarian was needed.

And there you were. Wrapped in a hospital sheet. Blood already drying on your skin. Thick and long black hair and those knowing seen it all before blue eyes which I knew would soon turn chocolate brown. My son. I looked at you and thought how much you looked like your cousin whose birth I had witnessed a few years before even though she had virtually no hair and what little she did have was blonde. There was no surge of love at that moment. We just surveyed one another, taking each other in. This was it I thought to myself. I am now a single mother, solely responsible for you. It was bloody scary.

A few hours later when I was stitched and soothed and high on morphine, we spent a little more time getting to know one another. I marvelled like any mother at how perfect you were, counting your fingers and toes, touching your skin, astonished by the sheer amount of body hair that you had and wondering if someone had slipped a baby gorilla into the cot by my bed when I wasn't looking. And like any mother I started making promises to you, the promises that mothers make to their newly born children; I'll try to protect you always, I'll be there for you whenever and whatever, I will try to make sure you never get hurt, I will never make you cry, I just want you to be happy in whatever you do. And I sang to you. All those nursery rhymes from my childhood came flooding back. You opened your eyes when I started singing and the look of concentration upon your face was that of an old professor listening to a protégée. Who said babies can't focus their eyes properly? They said that because they had not met you, for you focussed and you looked and you held my gaze and you drank it all in.

That rush of love? It came when the midwife suggested I put you to my breast. Not a rush of love because I successfully fed you. Oh no. The midwife gently attached you and immediately you spat my nipple out and turned your head away. Spirit! Independence! My son indeed. The love came at the moment when I saw that you were a truly independent human creature, your own person and you were starting as you meant to go on by doing things the way you wanted to and not the way convention dictated you did. It took four days before the midwife realised all of this which was immediately known to me and admitted defeat.

Tomorrow you are 16, a young man, moving on to another chapter in what has proven to be an eventful life thus far. That independent streak has never been more noticeable. You do your own thing in your own way and I admire you so much. You still struggle against convention and the world at large does not always understand you but we've come a long way my son. I didn't think that I could ever love you more than I did at that moment of love rush but I do because every day I have been blessed with that love growing stronger and deeper but at the same time readying myself for the day you will move away from me for as every day passes that time gets closer. Happy birthday my beautiful, wilful, independent son. I love you.

23 May 2011

High ideals

Due to an incident that I am not going to detail just yet, I was carrying out some research and landed here

I would be interested in hearing from other people who think this is mighty fine window dressing but does not actually bear any relevance to reality in Walsall, in the hope that maybe we can put something together before making more formal approaches to the relevant authorities.

For those not wishing to click the link, the page is from Walsall Council's website regarding children and young people and it says:

Our Vision

We believe that all Children and Young People in Walsall have the right to be healthy, happy and safe, to be loved, valued and respected and to have high aspirations for a successful future.


We respect all children, young people and their families – by listening carefully to their views and acting on them wherever possible.

We are open and trustworthy – by making decisions transparently and involving others and we do what we say we will.

We believe in the potential of all children – by doing all we can to support their development and talents.

We are caring and responsible – by acting as good corporate parents and going the ‘extra mile’ in our supportive approaches to all children.

We will protect vulnerable children and young people – by taking firm urgent action when needed, sharing information and not tolerating oppressive behaviour.

We engage with children and young people, helping to empower them through supporting their aspirationsand giving them responsibility.

We celebrate and support cultural diversity and children’s sense of identity.

7 May 2011

From the Top of the New Art Gallery - no overall control

I was must have been feeling mighty brave this afternoon as I went out onto the fourth floor terrace at the top of the New Art Gallery in Walsall and took a few shots of the town from my itsy camera. My legs were wobbling when I returned inside!

The new residential canal side development, now nearing completion

Over the town, the famous BOAK chimney (grade 2 listed) and a faint outline of the Black Country towards Rowley and Dudley

Railway line, tax office, red light area...yes there is one there just ask the staff in the tax office.

BOAK again

St Matthews Church

Towards the new college

Mike Bird's monument aka Tesco built where the old college used to be and the new college in the background

Tameway Tower and the flats of the Chuckery

St Matthews again

Town Hall Tower...couldn't spot the peregrine falcons today

It all still looks the same as it did on Thursday before the Tories lost control of the council. I hear a rainbow coalition has been proposed...if we get one, can we have a truth and reconciliation commission too?

6 May 2011

What is Year 6 for?

Or more aptly who is Year 6 for? It's certainly not for the children who happen to be in that school year.

SATS (taking place at a primary school near you this week) the thorn in the flesh of teachers and pupils alike and as a parent of a Year 6 child, me too. From the SATS those horrible league tables are drawn up and published and for certain parents, those tables are all that matters when selecting a school for their children. The schools are judged on the results and the individual teachers are judged on those results. Heaven help the teacher who has more than one child with special educational needs and a needs assessment in their class. The pressure must be be unbelievable. So my ramblings are not a direct criticism of any teacher because I happen to think that the majority do an incredible job within the strait jacket that is the national curriculum and annual SATS. No, my ramblings are more against why we have allowed these tests to become the be all and end all of primary education.

It doesn't matter how you look at it the SATS results are artificial. By the end of Year 5 the child of average intelligence will have learned all they need to know in order to attain the level required in the tests they will sit in the following year. There is however a substantial minority of children who have not taken everything on board and need further coaching and there is a small minority that even with the best will in the world, will never ever attain the targets.

So what happens in Year 6? All children are subjected to a year long 'revision' campaign, going over what has been learned over and over again to the point of total boredom, distraction and switch off. There are only a finite number of ways you can teach the same thing again but in a slightly different manner. Then there are the practice papers ad nauseum. There is now a substantial back catalogue of previous years tests to 'practice' upon and all this does is teach a child how to pass this particular set of tests. And that is the crux, SATS results are manufactured, the children are taught how to get the right result. They actually learn nothing apart from a rigid criteria that is set for so called assessing their progress.

What a sham and what a pity. Instead of pursuing subjects and topics that would interest and engage and educate, the majority are not challenged to use their brains, which then get lazy and switch off. No wonder there is problem with some young people changing from reasonably interested in learning at Year 5 to monsters who do anything they can to disrupt and distract and not learn during Year 7.

The sooner all SATS are abolished along with league tables, the better. Maybe then we could concentrate on actually educating our youngsters instead of teaching them how to pass tests in a mind numbingly boring robotic way.

Nurturing a Sense of Pride - part 2

I've received some criticism from unexpected quarters over last nights post so I would like to clarify a few things about my vision!

I have two main rants; firstly schools do not appear to take advantage of what resources are available in their locality, meaning that parents are continuously being asked to fork out for expensive trips to far flung corners of the country, meaning children suffer over long and arduous journeys when there really is no need. So the local schools and teachers need educating about what the locality (and by that yes I do mean Walsall but also the wider central Midlands which is blessed with incredible resources) and you cannot do that without Serco who will not do anything without pressure from the local council.

Secondly we cannot leave everything to a certain type of parent. Educate the youngsters and to a certain extent you can re-educate the whole family. Introduce a child to something that they enjoy and then sit back and wait for pester power to kick in.

My vision isn't just about taking young people out on nature walks! If that was all that my own school days had offered me on out of school activities then even I would have got fed up! It's more integrating what has to be taught through the curriculum with what is available locally. There are environmental, geographical, geological and historical aspects as well as the personal development side and citizenship. The point I was trying to make is that if our young people are introduced to the wealth that surrounds them, they start to care for it and by doing that we make our local society a better place to live.

I could go into greater detail because I have really thought about this but I will not bore you all to death but I will attempt to take this vision of mine a little further.

Employers Training to recognise Domestic Abuse

From Aldridge Village Business Partnership and a wonderful idea open to all employers in Walsall:

Employers train to recognise domestic abuse
POLICE in Walsall are supporting a new training scheme set up by Walsall's Domestic Violence Forum, aimed at employers across the borough.

A number of one-day training courses, the first of their kind, will be held at venues across Walsall during May and June and anyone who runs a business is encouraged to book a place.

Employers will learn about safeguarding their business and their staff. Professional speakers will give guidance on creating a domestic abuse workplace policy and they will gain awareness in identifying victims of abuse.

Three dates and venues have been confirmed, with capacity for 20 delegates: 19th May, 20th July – St John's Church, Bloxwich and 17th June at Holiday Inn Express, Walsall.

Sheri Rogers, the Co-ordinator of Walsall's domestic violence forum, said: "Research informs that domestic abuse costs the economy over £2.7 billion every year.

This course has been designed to highlight domestic abuse and allow companies to put strategies in place to help their business and their staff.

The Home Office state that at least 1 in 4 women will suffer domestic abuse at some time in their life and a great many of those will be in employment.

The work place could be the only the time they are away from their abusers and is an opportune time for them to ask for help.Employers may be dealing with really vulnerable people, who may have been so conditioned; they feel they have to guard every action and what they say. They may take a lot of time off to hide the abuse and it may affect their productivity at work.

The one day programme will give employers valuable guidance in how they can help and identify victims.We can give them advice on how they can put measures in place to safeguard their staff and their business.By putting simple measures in place, such as helping with financial advice or being approachable, can help the victim.

If they have left their abuser, the work place may still be the only constant in their life. This may place them and their colleagues at risk of serious harm within the workplace.

I believe that once employers are aware of what domestic abuse is and how it affects their staff, they will be better equipped to deal with it."

Sergeant Trudy Runham, from Bloxwich police station, said: "I believe that this is a very valuable course that every employer should consider attending.

This is an important educational course to help with our continued campaign to tackle domestic abuse. The course will give people a real insight into what a victim's life is like.

It will also give the delegates valuable information of who they can contact if they want further advice, with the police being one of those agencies they can turn to.

Hopefully this course will allow further early intervention and could potentially save lives."

To book a place on the course you can contact Walsall Domestic Violence Forum by calling Tina on 01922 406767. You can email rogerss@walsall.gov.uk or alternatively visit the websitewww.wdvf.co.uk

If you are a victim of domestic violence and would like further advice you can contact Stepping Stones confidential help-line on 0800 389 5790 or call Walsall police on 0345 113 5000.

Stroke Awareness Day

From Aldridge Village Partnership:

The Rotary Club of Aldridge is organising a Stroke Awareness Day on Saturday May 14th (10am to 4pm) at the Methodist Church in Anchor Road, Aldridge.
Trainee nurses will be on hand to check blood pressure, blood sugar levels, weight/height for BMI and to offer dietary advice. The event is free so please take advantage of this excellent opportunity to get checked out!

5 May 2011

Nurturing a Sense of Pride

Eighteen months ago I had to sit and suffer a patronising meeting for parents at my daughter's school, they attempting to justify the decision to visit a farm in Devon for the Year 6 Venture Week. One of the comments suffered was 'we go for walks and one afternoon we identified 45 different types of plants'. My thought, unvoiced at that moment was if you went for a walk down the lanes towards Stonnall or along the canal and around Park Lime Pits you could probably identify just as many plants and it wouldn't cost me over £300.

We are all guilty of not appreciating what is on our own doorsteps. Twenty years in London and I never did get why Londoners do not appreciate the wonderful city that they live in. Back here in Walsall it's a little more difficult to get worked up about what the Borough has to offer but one thing is does offer in abundance is green space, parks and a little bit of countryside, yet so many of our young people know so little about it and what it can offer them or if they do know about it they have no appreciation or pride and treat it accordingly.

Walking around The Dingle, Cuckoo's Nook and Hayhead Wood or along the Beacon Way as often as I do, I know exactly where I am going, which is fortunate because many of the way-markers and public footpath signs have either been torn down, broken or vandalised to such an extent as to be unreadable. Without casting aspersions in the wrong direction I should imagine that much of this has been caused by the feral, let out unsupervised to drink and smoke and to vandalise their own doorsteps.

So why is there no programme between Walsall MBC and Serco providers of our Education Service in Walsall to introduce all the young people of the borough to the green spaces and wildlife on their doorsteps? Goodness knows our schools spend enough time and parents money visiting other green spaces far and wide but appear to spend no time at all discovering the abundance of flora, fauna and even beauty in their own locality. It saddens me that my daughter is the only child in her class to truly know the delights of these local places, the only one to run wild in the woods leaping on and off logs, getting muddy and wet and discovering that wildlife isn't just for far flung so called real countryside.

If a child is introduced to such things whilst at primary school with the programme extending well into secondary school then a sense of belonging is gained, inclusion is attained and it is less likely that those young people will then go on to vandalise because with a sense of pride comes ownership and if you know that the places around you belong to you and those who live in your neighbourhood, you're less likely to abuse.

It does work. I described how it can and did work in my last blog. Goodness knows there is enough scope within the national curriculum for something really exciting and innovative to be launched here in Walsall that would in the long term benefit the whole community and would also save money! And yes I would willingly volunteer time and trouble because I have the vision but not the capabilities on my own. Instead they're going to close my local youth club.......

28 April 2011

A Sense of Pride

I took this picture in Acton Park, London W3, three years ago this month. This was my local town park, two minutes from my doorstep for the last nine years that I lived in London before returning to Aldridge in 2001. I loved this park and I wasn't the only one; it was loved by the local community.

When I moved to Aldridge, one of the things that struck me about the the area and Walsall in general was the graffiti everywhere (granted not quite so bad now) and in the local parks and green areas, the dog dirt, the broken glass, the rubbish, the druggie paraphernalia and a general sense of the parks not being cared for and loved by those who lived nearby and used them. There are no doubt a myriad of reasons for this including the fact that up here a lot more people have gardens to use and so parks get left for less desirable elements of society but I would like to concentrate on something else.

Acton Park has a little pond, lots of green space, a lovely avenue of horse chestnut trees, a rose garden, paths and shrubs, a playground and a little cafe selling food and drinks at reasonable prices catering equally for the latte yummies and the burger brigade. The most important building in the park though is the play centre. This council run, council funded facility is not an unusual thing in London; it isn't just Ealing that has them and it isn't just labour controlled authorities that run them either. The Play Centre was my saviour! It was open 7 days a week from 11am to 7pm and 9pm for two nights a week. It didn't cater just for the small children but for all young people up to the age of 18. There was a craft room and a games room which contained pool tables and a table tennis table. It was open to all as long as you kept to the rules; no fighting, no vandalism, treat everyone equally and with respect.

You would often see young people of say 14, 15, 16 there accompanied by younger siblings and everyone looked out for one another. It wasn't utopia, arguments did break out, children did upset one another and now and then there would be fisticuffs but mostly the young people policed themselves with the help of the two staff that were always on duty and adult volunteers. These adults with help from the young people, organised many activities with boundless energy and I recall attending acorn planting days, drumming workshops, flag painting, paper mache this that and the other, tree and shrub planting, rubbish clearing and then there were the Park Open Days when we all had a big BBQ and a party.

Acton is a diverse area in common with other inner London places. Diverse in terms of ethnicity and diverse in terms of wealth and poverty. Just down the road from the (then) million pound homes (probably triple that now) were the terraces that I lived on and just down the road from there was the largest council estate in west London. It wasn't the best place to live and it wasn't the worst. I saw street crime in action on more than one occasion but one thing I always bore in mind was that such activities were the responsibility of a tiny minority because the majority ruled.

The park more or less cleared the dog dirt problem with bag dispensers and bins. Bins were places all over and so there was never any real amount of litter lying around. I rarely saw broken glass and as for graffiti, well if anyone did have the temerity to start tagging anywhere then there was a residents/users hit squad who would be on to it anywhere in the local area almost before the paint could dry. Consequence of this was gradually the incidents of graffiti fell dramatically. You didn't get small and large gangs of youngsters hanging around because they were too busy playing pool, table tennis or chilling with their mates at the Centre. And the park was theirs too. On hot, sunny days you couldn't see the grass for individuals and families playing and picnicking.

None of this happened overnight. It took years of dedicated work from council workers and residents together but the point is local people were proud of their space and locality and protected it and this included the young people. When I returned there three years ago after an absence of seven years it was still a place that was being cared for by all.

I shall return to this subject from a slightly different angle focussed on the locality I now live in in a few days but in these days of budget cuts to parks and youth centres for example, I do wonder whether councils really see that by cutting these type of budgets they start storing up troubles and costs in other areas for the future or is only the short term a view that can be seen now?