11 November 2012

Green, green grass of home

A young heron fishing at Park Lime Pits last Friday
On Friday, Aiden and I went for a long stroll around Park Lime Pits and Lime Pits Farm. Despite the fact that the Estates team were carrying out a lot of much needed work around the top end of the large pool, it was an incredibly tranquil walk. Looking at the abundance of autumnal colour, leaves falling through the air and finding rest upon the still waters of the pools, I felt privileged to live so close to a place that is largely unknown to the wider world outside of Walsall but that is precious to those who know, use and love the place.

Like many nature reserves in the Black Country, Park Lime Pits has it's origins in the Industrial history of the area. The industry is long gone and in its place nature has reclaimed areas for herself. I really cannot find the right words to describe to you how I feel when I walk around our local woods and nature reserves and especially Park Lime Pits. My spirit is cleansed and renewed and I feel peace. I know that I am not the only one who finds local walks in lovely places an essential in ridding oneself of the stresses and strains of  every day life. A place where I can relax, empty my mind and focus on the simplicity of just stopping and watching nature, enjoying the seasons as they journey into the years of my life. When I can stop to watch a heron fish or a woodpecker hammer, smell the flowers or forage for plums, apples, mushrooms and more, I know that I've found that space in my head that allows me to get through all the dross that sometimes fills my mind and replace it with the beauty of nature.

Following this blog many other local bloggers spoke from the heart too about what our local green spaces, nature reserves, commons, parks and so on meant to them. Brownhills Bob wrote of the sheer diversity of Walsall's wildlife, The Mushroom wrote about the variety of birds at Park Lime Pits, my lovely man talked about what a surprise the nature reserves of Walsall were to him when he moved here and The Plastic Hippo talked of allergies, dog walking and managed to mix a spot of politics into it all, as he does so very well.

It was with a heavy heart that I read of the proposed cuts in the 2013 budget of Walsall Council and that the Parks, Green Spaces and Countryside Services had been heavily targeted with a devastating £400K cut. My mind went back to a blog I wrote over two years ago. It made me feel incredibly sad that my worst fears could be realised on my own doorstep. For me this service may not be a statutory service but it is an essential one and cutting at its roots has dire implications further down the line. How long before we have to close our nature reserves because they are unsafe to walk around? How long after that are they sold to the highest bidder for development or paintball/war games? How long before playgrounds are dismantled due to them becoming too expensive to maintain due to vandalism and other anti-social behaviour? How long before there are no pleasant places in our locality available to all, from young to old to merely sit and enjoy the air, to relax, recharge or even to just watch the world go by? Some of us already have a negative view of our local councillors who have allowed our town centre to decay and crumble under the weight loss of empty shops, have allowed our heritage buildings to be neglected and torched but just how negative do they want us to be, if the one thing that is done well in this borough is also destroyed on their watch? Do they want us to lose all pride in our town and borough? Do they want this on their consciences or do they not care?

Much is being made of difficult choices and local council services never being the same again. Has all the fight left us? Do we really want to be (erroneously) brainwashed into thinking our national debt is on a par with that of Greece and therefore we have no choice; we must accept these cuts and if we don't accept one cut then we have to find something else to snip away? Do we have to lie down and just be so grateful for the crumbs at the table that are the remnants of services we were once proud of but now offer only the basics? Is all that is left for us a thankfulness that services to protect life and limb are now run on but a shoestring? Why can't we make a stand and say no? We want and deserve more than what we are being offered. We are told that all this cutting is so that our children and grandchildren do not have to pay our debts. I don't recall there being any national outcry over the tens of years that we paid off debts incurred because of World War 2. We got on with it because it was part of our duty for a previous generation. Are our children and grandchildren going to thank us for leaving them no green heritage to speak of because we destroyed it in cuts because we didn't pay £10 more council tax? Will our children and grandchildren be left with empty spaces where memories of visits to parks to play on the swings or have a game of football should be?

These are some of the things that I think about and I know I'm not the only one. If I was there wouldn't be people supporting the facebook group I set up or signing the petition to the council. I'm led to understand that I've upset some of our local councillors because I've had the audacity to mass e-mail them all not once but twice because I feel so strongly about this borough wide issue. So be it because after my first e-mail a mere 8 councillors bothered to get in touch with me. After the second a couple more got in touch but not my local tory councillors of Aldridge Central and South. To those who feel grieved and annoyed by my emails and the campaign that I've started and to my local Representatives who cannot be bothered to respond when  someone from their ward gets in touch with them about  a subject as important as this, I say hang your heads in shame. Please continue to bank your ample allowances whilst the borough is laid to waste by your ineptness, ignorance and inability to represent the people of your electorate. I would like to say that the ballot box will be the answer but alas the next elections will come too late on saving our green spaces and countryside services because any statutory redundancy notices will have to be issued at Christmas. I sincerely hope that if those notices are issued that the councillors who are on mute and are allowing this to happen suffer some seasonal digestive discomfort whilst wassailing and enjoying their festivities at Christmastime.

Oh and that £400K countryside park idea announced on Friday that the council is just about to spend thousands embarking upon a feasibility study for? Pray, I ask myself who is going to plan for, manage and maintain this park if you make redundant the staff who would have done so? The Park Fairies? I have an idea (not the only one  should they ask but they don't, regarding finances instead of cuts) it's a very simple one. That £400K exactly matches the sum that the councillors want to cut our service by....do you think they need it spelling out?

9 November 2012

Save Walsall's Green Spaces and Countryside Services -NOW!

Park Lime Pits looking stunning today despite the gloomy skies

I've been a little busy since my last bog and I fully intend to bring everyone up to date with everything over the weekend. In the meantime I have this very important link to share with everyone. It is a petition to Walsall Council to save our Green Spaces and Countryside Services. The Service is facing savage budget cuts in 2013 leading potentially to a loss of 2 Countryside Rangers and 4 Senior Park Rangers. More later but please, I implore you, if you live, work or study in the Borough of Walsall, SIGN the petition. Thanks!

20 October 2012

Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got, 'til it's gone

Joni Mitchell sang wise words about that Big Yellow Taxi, paving paradise and putting up parking lots. A hit 40 odd years ago, the words of that song are timeless and as relevant today as they were back then. On a day when hundreds of thousands of ordinary people including the wonderful Aiden and the Jafro Boy, also known as plebs, are marching in London to protest against austerity and just what the realities are of being a pleb and being in it together far more that any tory boy minister will ever be, it is apt that I write about how precious are the free things in life. Except that they're not really free. There is always a cost and when that cost is not met, there is a heavy price to pay.

People who live in Walsall are incredibly lucky. Yes you read that right! We have a jewel, a precious jewel. That jewel is called Walsall Countryside Services. There must be some very committed and hard working people who work there because the miracles that performed within this urban borough are a credit to them, a credit to the people of the borough and a credit to Walsall Council. They do an awful lot with not a lot of money and we all benefit from it. Think of the wonderful and beautiful green spaces, nature reserves and parks that we have in Walsall and you start to understand what miracles are performed.

The photographs here are of Park Lime Pits which is a beautiful place just 2 miles from the centre of Walsall. I take visitors from all around the UK there and always they are incredulous that such a place exists in Walsall. Other places that I enjoy on a regular basis are The Dingle, Cuckoo's Nook, Barr Beacon, Merrions Wood, The Arboretum; all of these and the many others in Walsall such as Shire Oak, Moorcroft, Rough Wood and Fibbersley Nature Reserves, the Commons of Brownhills, Clayhanger and Pelsall, Goscote Valley and Stubbers Green are cared for, nourished, improved, conserved and maintained by a group of staff from Walsall Countryside Services.

I'm lucky enough to know one or two of those committed and hard working souls through various means but the person I have most contact  with is Morgan Bowers. This is because I'm involved with Friends of Park Lime Pits and the Pits and Lime Pits Farm are part of Morgan's portfolio of work. I'm told that the other staff at Walsall Countryside Services are every bit as friendly, driven, conscientious and enthusiastic as Morgan. There's a lot goes on outside normal working hours such as the Meteor Watch at Barr Beacon tonight, courses on basket weaving, Peregrine Watch, all designed to bring what Walsall has to offer closer to the local people.

We all need a little time out to enjoy an oasis of calm and green and Countryside Services make sure that those spaces are maintained and kept well for us to be able to do that. Alas my concern is the financial juggling that the Council are about to embark upon in preparation for setting the budget for the 2013 financial year and the effect that loosely juggled balls will have upon this precious service. I am not aware of what cuts may be made and what that could mean in a practical sense to the service and for those that work for it but what I do know is presently they do a brilliant job, which the council is quick to milk for publicity purposes (because let's face it some other services at the council seem only to be able to garner bad publicity in recent times) and that it would be a great pity if those committed staff were to suddenly find their hands tied when it comes to providing a first class service or worse still, they find themselves making fortnightly visits to sign on.

We perhaps take this jewel a little for granted. If we do then we really will not know what we have enjoyed until it is gone. Personally I don't want to take any risks and will be emailing my local councillors to let them know that I do not want to see this service cut to the bone and decimated and for the jewel to be allowed to tarnish. I urge everyone to do the same.

29 September 2012

We Are Walsall

It has been a number of years since I've attended a demonstration, static or otherwise. One of the reasons for this was the political fire in my belly had virtually burnt out through disillusionment, betrayal and being kept busy in other ways. Recently though events have transpired to re-kindle and the political flame has been re-lit alongside the flames on the fire licking away at injustice and inequality. I blame the government!

Today the thoroughly nauseating and vile EDL held a static demonstration in Walsall. I'm not quite sure why they chose Walsall. Walsall may be a lot of things but it's never had a problem in welcoming people from all over the world to live and work in the borough. It has, by and large existed as a peaceful multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural town since I was a small child holding my Mother's hand as I walked around town, mesmerised by the exotic looking ladies in their sari's back in the 60s. There have been no race riots here, no big news stories that may have divided a community. Perhaps that's why the bigots chose Walsall; because as a community it tends to get on.

The EDL were confined to Leicester Street. We headed up to Gallery Square where the counter demonstration was being held. The first thing that struck me as we walked into town from Lower Rushall Street was how quiet it was. One didn't need to dodge cars ignoring red lights at pedestrian crossings and there was only one market stall set up. My heart went out to the market traders who through no fault of their own, were losing a days takings because the racist EDL had come to town for the day. There were a large number of police officers around the town. I silently wished them a non-eventful shift. We passed the end of Leicester Street. There appeared to be about 20 EDL supporters there at that time. Up in Gallery Square there were far larger numbers that increased as the day went on.

I had forgotten just how many leaflets you can accumulate on demonstrations and also how many people will approach you about attending other demonstrations. My bag is stuffed with every kind of leaflet.  The live music was good and we chatted with various folks and enjoyed the friendly ambiance, speakers and coffee from Costa Ratheralota. A group of about 50 young people marched into the square and for a little while the atmosphere was a little less relaxed but a couple of speakers spoke of peace and non-violent protest and of removing scarves from faces. That did the trick and normal service was resumed. The police were noticeable by their sheer numbers however everyone seemed to be on good terms and even the guys with EGT (evidence gathering team...apparently) emblazoned on their backs were up for a chat.

By 1.30pm we were cold and needed to run a few errands and so began a long trek around Crown Wharf, the Fire Station, Stafford Street in order to get back towards Lower Rushall Street. Many roads by that time had been closed, as was the bus station. The Police were incredibly apologetic and helpful. We passed by the end of Leicester Street again. By now their numbers had swollen to about 200 but it was a nasty atmosphere. Lots of football type chanting and as we walked away they had turned around to chant in the faces of the police officers. Reaching half way up Bridge Street we heard a loud firework type bang, the chanting and shouting became frenzied and before your could say SPG, the riot helmets were on and a rather loud police officer was telling us and others to go away. Any questions directed towards him resulted in the same message being relayed in ever increasing decibels.

We left Walsall but not before being held up at the Arboretum whilst the police escorted in three coaches which we later discovered were for the EDL to get them out of town. Pity they came in the first place. They didn't achieve anything, just massive inconvenience for the people and traders of Walsall, an awful lot of costs for the policing of the day oh and one massive positive; the people of Walsall of all races, creeds and colour coming together peacefully to say EDL, you're not welcome in Walsall. We are Walsall.

12 September 2012

For Claire

I've known Claire since she started primary school with my sister many years ago! She will not mind me saying that the last few years have been traumatic for her and not least because she has suffered from breast cancer. Claire is back running now and this weekend will be participating in The Great North Run, attempting a half marathon.

She is raising money for Breast Cancer Care. You can read Claire's story here and also make a donation. I urge to spare a little cash on behalf of Claire for this charity that helped her through some pretty dark days. She's an Aldridge girl through and through and an inspiration to all that know her.

11 September 2012

Lessons, learning and sunshine

Despite the fact that Aiden had been ill enough to be admitted to hospital in late January, February was in my memory a sunny month. In terms of weather it didn’t actually get sunny until towards the end of the month but in my minds eye, the sun shone and hope was eternal. Aiden bought his new crossbow and returned from two competitions smiling and pain free. Most of you will remember March as incredibly sunny month and weatherwise it was but apart from the 1st day of that month, when I went out for a ride and began to realise how the potential of cycling in warm weather would be a wonder to experience, March was an an incredibly dark month because just before 6pm that day, Aiden encountered the nemesis that was his accident.

It wasn’t just his injuries and the pain he endured that made March and April so dark, it was the fact that WM Police didn’t attend the accident, didn’t listen to me when I tried to explain the extent of his injuries and didn’t understand that the justice we sought was about acknowledging how wrong they were in not attending, admitting they were wrong and was nothing whatsoever about prosecution or an insurance claim.

We were both grateful that so many wonderful people rallied to Aiden’s cause. It’s worth mentioning once again that people such as Brownhills Bob and The Plastic Hippo penned powerful and far reaching blogs, various cycling forums, magazines, writers became interested in what had happened and BBC Radio WM in the form of Adrian Goldberg’s programme got interested and stayed interested enough to follow Aiden’s story plus there was Councillor Imran Azam and so many other individuals that I’m not sure would want the publicity!

All the help and support was a wonderful thing to behold and it helped us so very much but I cannot pretend that the period was anything but awful and the strain of constantly having to chase up the Police and then when a final result to the lacklustre investigation was imparted to feel so sickened and let down and wondering if justice was unobtainable, did take it’s toll. I’m sure that had everything been handled correctly from the word go, Aiden’s mental recovery would have kicked in a lot earlier than it did.

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve worried and maybe even intimidated a few coppers along this journey. I’m not sorry for that because the uppermost thought in my mind was justice for Aiden.

Once the complaint, made in two forms; firstly on the policy of attendance at RTCs and secondly regarding the incompetence we had encountered from moment the 999 call was made, had been submitted to the Chief Constable we were fortunate that Inspector Paul Dutton, took ownership of events and ensured that justice did indeed finally prevail. It’s been quite humbling to be in his company and to witness his energy, enthusiasm, dedication and sheer love of his job. He investigated what had happened from start to finish (including his own less than helpful role two days after the accident) and made strenuous efforts to research the policy that WM Police work under and to understand that it was not fit for purpose and to contact other officers that could possibly influence a change and he visited Aiden and me in our home a couple of times, arranged for us to visit the Operations Room where the call concerning Aiden was routed, explained the set up, the roles and allowed us to observe a complex and incredibly stressful environment and then led a session on a training day for his team about the lessons that could be learned from our experiences and invited us to attend so that we could observe and witness just how seriously we had been taken.

The whole experience with WM Police was a little like going from the ridiculous to the sublime. True, if events had been dealt with properly from the start then there would have been no need for a complaint and for all the angst that went with it but I have to applaud them for recognising their shortcomings both in terms of policy and service and having the guts to hold their hands up and admit they were wrong, apologise and to then take affirmative action not to put things right because it was far too late for that but to attempt to ensure that this sort of incident doesn’t happen again and to take a serious look at the policy in question.

When we attended the training session at Aston the contrasts of police work were brought home to me. We sat and watched and listened (unidentified until quite late on in the session) to a group of officers discuss what had gone wrong with Aiden’s case (plus one other case) and we saw their facial expressions and heard the gasps when they saw a photograph of his injuries. Their reactions were genuine and it was clear that there was regret that a member of the public had suffered such bad service on their watch. I realised that I was in the company of a group of people who did take pride in their job and did want to provide a good service to ordinary people like me and Aiden. At the same time I was very aware that right next door to us was the practice theatre for firearms and in front of us on the floor were piles of protective clothing. What came to me was that sometimes these officers I was sitting amongst, put their lives on the line for the safety and protection of everyone. Another humbling moment.

I am not so naive as to believe that every cop is a good cop and that the Police will not continue to make mistakes however, if lessons are learned and they are willing to learn from those mistakes as was our experience, then my faith that the vast majority of coppers are hard working decent men and women who enjoy their job, want to serve well and do their personal best, is restored.

We are led to understand that the policy regarding attendance at RTCs involving cyclists and pedestrians is to change for the better although we have no final word on that at present but at least the wheels are grinding away in the background and our experience will have had a very positive outcome.

Aiden returned to work last week. It's been a long road to a recovery that will never be a full one in terms of having full use of his arm and rather amazingly the sun came out to play again once he returned! There's a message there somewhere....

17 July 2012

Here's to a Gold, Silver, Bronze, London Summer Sponsor Bonus

I remember exactly where I was when it was announced that London had won the right to stage the 2012 Olympic Games; in my living room in Aldridge, watching BBC News24. We had been in Paris earlier that year and had seen their advertising and I could not believe that London stood a chance and so when I heard the word ‘London’ I whooped and hollered and was so very happy.

I love London and don’t mind admitting it. I lived there for a very long time and my son and daughter were both born there. It’s a fine city and like Dr Johnson I could never be bored whilst living there. Sure it is crowded, dirty, sometimes violent, a heaving mass of people but it is also beautiful, vibrant and relatively peaceful considering the diversity and sheer numbers of its make up. I never wanted to leave but circumstances dictated it must be so. I had only been back in Aldridge for four years when London won the Games and still felt that London was my home.

I love sport too. Always have. My first live football match was at Fellows Park to see Walsall play host to Fulham. I can’t remember exactly how old I was when Dad had finally got over the fact that I wasn’t a boy and decided that a girlie could attend a match but I suspect I was only about four. There was no stopping me after that. For many years I was one of a very small crowd week in, week out at Darlaston Town Football Club although by my teenage years there was the added attraction of watching fit young men as well as the football. Not that there were many fit young men because Darlaston seemed to mainly have old has beens in the team such as former Wolves player Terry Wharton and even the young players seemed more gifted at blowing smoke rings and drinking Banks Mild than at playing football but it was my love of sport that kept me watching.

Much to my parents and grandparents delight I became Birchfield Harrier at age 10 and my participation in athletics continued well into my twenties, as did playing league Netball. Athletics, track and field to be more specific, has been my number one love in sport terms since I can remember and it was a love I shared with my Mom. I can still remember watching David Emery winning gold in Mexico City and the joy we shared even though I really was far too young to understand the significance of his win and the world record attached to that run. We attended the Alexander Stadium and the NIA for various meetings until she became too ill to enjoy sitting for long periods of time in confined spaces. When not watching it live we would share a sofa and shout our encouragement at the TV and Dad would always say the same thing, ‘they cor ere ya, yow know’.

Back in 2005 and that announcement, first thing I did was call Mom and we talked excitedly about how we would be able to attend and watch our dream; the Olympics in Britain. Mom was ill by then but not so debilitated that we couldn’t imagine not attending. We were both looking forward to London 2012 so much and I was also excited by the fact that I could witness with my children a truly historic event that they would remember for the rest of their lives.

The next thing I did was register to volunteer for the games. For years I enjoyed the volunteering emails sent every month, kept up to date with what was going on in London and having chatted with my son got him to sign up for volunteering too. What better way to spend a summer when 18; a worldwide event in the city of his birth, enjoying the vibrancy and specialness of the event. Alas this interest proved to be the first personal disappointment of London 2012. When the time came to complete the application process I was accepted as a volunteer but my son wasn’t. No reason was ever given. On being accepted I then read through the masses of gumf and realised that although a meal would be provided when on duty (presumably of the fast food variety by one of the sponsor partners) plus travelling expenses within London itself, no allowance would be made for travelling to London or for any accommodation costs. I was on my own at the time of this discovery and really could not afford to be a volunteer.

Never mind thought I, at least I could go and watch something but the whole ticketing fiasco put paid to that consolation. I did try again after the initial ballots but the only tickets that were available were way out of my price range. Aiden and I even tried for tickets at various practice events to no avail.

I still wanted to be involved in some way though and thought that perhaps it would be a truly wonderful thing if my son could carry the torch at some point through his adopted home town of Walsall the day after his 18th birthday. He’s battled through so much during his life and I thought that maybe that could be recognised. I called up the online forms to nominate him but after some deep reflection decided that he didn’t stand a chance and knowing how he’s not good at dealing with rejection, the form was never sent. I was pretty upset therefore when looking at the profiles of those chosen to carry the torch through Walsall, how few of the chosen actually came from the Borough, how many were chosen by those ‘partners’ and that my son was just as deserving of such an honour. So I didn’t stand by the roadside and cheer them on because it all felt so very false.

That sense of falseness continues with the sponsors,sorry read partners tax dodge and the sponsor control over everything to do with what should be our Games. They are not. Yesterday I read that brand police will despatched all around the country to ensure the sponsors exclusive rights over words such as ‘summer’, ‘gold’, ‘silver’, ‘bronze’ and even ‘London’. Then there’s the beer (never mind the chips that’s been done to death!) where Heineken are the supplier of Olympic ‘beer’. They will be serving up John Smiths as British Bitter and Strongbow cider, well that will be just ‘cider’. Lord knows what the world will think about our beer and cider if this is all they can get at Olympic venues.

When you think about it, it doesn’t really matter what city in what country hosts the Games. They can be held anywhere and the same crap in terms of food and beverages would be served up by the partners. A wonderful opportunity for any city and country to market all that is great, good and wonderful about them is no more for it is only the sponsoring partners that are allowed to do that. I have no desire to see cities and countries bankrupt themselves in the name of hosting the Olympics but the commercialism now involved means they don’t have to because they’re hosting an event without spirit, that has forgotten what it supposed to be about. The Olympics is just one big marketing opportunity...but not for the host city.

I will be watching the Games on TV and I am hoping fervently that athletes such as Mark Cavendish, Sir Chris Hoy, Jessica Ennis, Mo Farrah and even our own Ellie Simmonds in the Paralympics, give me genuine goosebump moments that have me jumping up and down in the living room and making the TV wobble and where I’ll hear my Dad from half a mile down the road shouting ‘they con ere yow in Lundun’. I’ll be celebrating their individual achievements as true athletes that I admire enormously participating in something that I have loved all my life, that happens to be taking place in a city I adore but those partners? I’m not buying their hype.

27 June 2012

Many happy returns

My son celebrates his 18th birthday this week. I’ve done the sentimental, gushing, love you blog before as you would expect from this over emotional baggage, so now it’s time for celebration by way of day to day ordinariness or how life really is with a tall, skinny, handsome and he knows it, intelligent and he knows it,  annoying, slightly lazy, pedantic, crazy…you get the drift, a fairly normal teenager.

Except of course he isn’t fairly normal. He is very Asperger’s and this brings with it blessings, a completely different way of looking at life, along with all the normal hormonal teenage angst. Life can be interesting at times!

At three he stood in the middle of a football sized grassy area in our local park in London, pulled down his trousers, mooned at the passing world, stood up and shouted at the top of his voice ’My Mom is 35 today’ .I was there was no denying that point. Nor was there denying at that age that my son had a special intelligence. The nursery nurses at his school argued over who would have the pleasure of sitting with him in the book corner to listen to him read. His temper tantrums were legendary. There was no argument as to who was dealing with them; the teacher!

When he was nearly four and I was bemoaning the fact that he had never slept through the night, well except once by accident when he was 9 months old and I woke one morning to see daylight (I never set my alarm, I never needed to) was momentarily confused and then rushed to his cot to check he was still breathing, I was warned that teenagers were far more exhausting to deal with. I dismissed this comment as from someone who had no idea about the world I inhabited but the words were indeed uttered by a woman of wisdom and experience and returned to haunt me.

They say you should never enter a teenagers personal domain, aka bedroom, known to me as the black hole for household objects enter that room and are never seen again. A couple of weeks ago I knew that I could leave it no longer. Previous excursions to the room previously known as bedroom have resulted in unpleasant discoveries, some of which I cannot detail here for fear of upsetting sensibilities, so I donned rubber gloves, old clothes and reminded myself that there was  a shower with my name engraved upon it at the end. I started by clearing the gunk from the sides and underneath the bed. Two bin bags filled with old Doritos packets, soft drinks bottles and energy drink cans later, I examined  the walls and radiator and knew that scrubbing was the only answer. Every time I kneeled down by the radiator my nose was assaulted by the most vile aroma. We’d been having aroma issues for a while and had not been able to pinpoint the exact source of  Canal No5, just that it was in the general direction of the black hole. Now it appeared that the cupboard by the radiator may hold the answer. I drew a breath, held it and opened the draw. My preventative measures were in vain for the stench was all powerful and not of this earth. I gently reached into the cupboard and drew out t shirts, handfuls of them, all enveloped in the stench of a million rotting corpses. Every single one of them had to be laundered. Eventually at the bottom I discovered the source; an old sandwich box c.2006. It was sealed. The contents were indescribable in terms of structure but in colour they were black. I suspect the insect life within may have proved fascinating for biologists the world over, leading to the classification of several new species along with an entirely new genus for fungus.

Ok so I’m a slattern, What sort of woman leaves it 6 years between cleaning out cupboards/ Well a busy one with better things to do with her time says me in my defence! The sandwich box was disposed off (sorry Walsall Refuse Collectors) and the cupboard duly scrubbed. Son walks in a few hours later and remarks that the ‘smell’ has gone. Too right it has.

No doubt there are many mothers with similar stories to tell. I hope so because it means that despite evidence to the contrary, my lovely son is just the same as any other teenager. I do hope so.

Hopefully he’ll be off to University in just over 12 months time and if so then who knows what will be discovered in the ensuing mass extermination and deep cleaning process that will be  a very necessary evil following the tearful departure. I don’t half love him though and I will miss him and I will promise him not sell up, depart and not leave a forwarding address. He’s a joy…no, really he is.

Happy 18th Birthday Son.

Oh and for the record I now have the use of several dozen utensils formerly lost, plates, mugs and glasses galore. I love my dishwasher as well as my son....

12 June 2012


A Friends Group for Park Lime Pits has recently been formed. As a getting to know you exercise, there will be a litter pick tomorrow. That's Wed 13 June 2012! Meet 6pm at the Manor Arms Car Park.

Everyone is welcome including children so please pop your wellies on and come along.

Following the litter pick there will be the first meeting of the steering group for the Friends. Again, all are very welcome.

Hope to see you there.

7 June 2012

Cycle Summit 2012: Policy, infrastructure and safety

A little while ago when we were experiencing out travails with WM Police and we embarked upon a campaign to have our voices heard and attempt shaming them into listening to us, I started following various people, groups and campaigns connected to cycling and cycling safety on Twitter. One of those groups was the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group. Imagine my surprise today when I discovered that I had 'won' a free place at the 1st Annual Cycling Conference; Cycle Summit 2012

I feel elated about this especially having examined the agenda. Since WM Police did start to treat us as we should have been treated right from the moment Aiden was knocked off his cycle, we've been actively involved with reshaping their policy with regard to their attendance at RTCs involving cyclists and I feel that this summit will help inform me even further. I'm just an ordinary old baggage if a little tenacious at times but if our experiences help others in even the smallest of ways then some good will have come out of what was an extremely traumatic event.

I shall blog all about it in due course and hopefully it will promote a local debate at the very least.

5 June 2012

Subjection and Equality....Bah! Humbug!

A very  elderly man has a bladder infection  and is admitted to hospital. Newsworthy? Apparently so. An elderly woman is suffering multiple organ failure, has not moved from her spot on the sofa in four days and nights and yet her GP and GP out of hours service do not think that she is ill enough to warrant hospital admission. Eventually a 999 call is made, she is admitted to hospital and is in fact so ill that within hours she is on the Intensive Therapy Unit, where despite the best efforts of the medical team she dies. Newsworthy? No. The difference between these two elderly people is that one by accident of birth and then fortuitous marriage is royal and the other is an ordinary woman (except to her family and to me as her daughter who see her as extraordinary) but is representative by experience of the vast majority of people in the UK.

I am not a royalist despite my family being so. My Grandfather painted his house red, white and blue for the Silver Jubilee in 1977, one of his last energetic acts for he died in August of that year. My Mother adored the Queen and would not be happy with the sentiments expressed here but I cannot help but think every time  I see the Queen on my TV screen that had my Mother enjoyed the same health care and attention as her beloved sovereign, then she might still be alive today. This might seem bitter but it isn’t, merely observational. My wish is that for everyone in the |UK no matter where they are born and no matter who their parents happen to be are given the same choices, the same treatment and the same opportunities in life and that the privilege of  some births is no more.  Equality for all and not just for the chosen.

The abolition of class and privilege may be what some would describe as a utopian dream and in a way it is whilst millions continue to line the streets to celebrate  their subjection by the same woman for 60 years but I’m a live and let live kind of woman and if that’s your boat then I’m not going to sink it, well not yet! What I do object to however is the absolute saturation coverage by the BBC. Late Sunday afternoon I was cooking a very  late lunch and attempting to find a talk radio station that was not covering the celebrations. It was difficult and I was disappointed to find that even the World Service, (that’s world as in global or so I thought) was knee deep in Embankment Joe Public and how wonderful, fabulous, astonishing, astounding it all was and over on Radio 4 The Archers were having a jubilee party.  It seems that there is nothing to discuss or report upon according to the BBC but the jubilee.

This morning I turned on my radio to hear a large crowd of people chanting for quite some time ‘God Save the Queen, God Save the Queen’. On and on they went. I wondered what sort of country I am living in and drew comparisons with those who lined the streets of Baghdad and chanted the name of Saddam Hussein or of Tripoli and chanted for Colonel Khadafy. You might think that there is no comparison but there is you know especially if you happen to be someone living in another part of the world and see such things on your TV screen….it all looks the same then. Oh and before anyone accuses me of being unpatriotic then I say you confuse patriotism with support for the monarchy; the two are completely different. I love my country and the fact that I am free to express the views that I have. I do not however love the monarchy, nor privilege through class.

I wish the royal family no ill will and bear them no animosity. The Queen seems like an amiable old lady and the Duke reminds me of my grumpy Dad but how relevant are they to my life? They’re not and they never will be because that nice old lady and decent but grumpy old man receive the care and attention that all old ladies and men should receive in the UK but do not because after all, we have never all been in this together and never will be.

17 May 2012

One word, five letters and a whole new outlook

'Sorry'; it’s such a tiny word when you look at it but sometimes it’s an enormous word to say. On a personal level it can be difficult to say because pride gets in the way. On a professional level uttering such a word can leave you open to doubts over competency, even disciplinary proceedings and at worst moves for compensation against you or the organisation that you work for. Yet when people ask what is it that you want to achieve my complaining, most respond that all that is needed and wanted is an acknowledgment that something did go wrong and an apology, that little word ‘sorry’. No compensation is required. Just five letters in one word that together say 'sorry'.

I’ve said before that receiving a complaint gives a person, organisation, service, company an opportunity to pause and reflect. Few actually do this; instead they defend the indefensible to their own detriment and also to that of the person who made the complaint, making a negative process even more negative when it could be a creative and positive process.

Last week we discovered that the failure of WM Police to attend Aiden’s accident was not down to WMAS as we had been led to believe but down to someone in Police Control making a decision without having the full information they needed to make that decision. It had been a difficult voyage to make that discovery because we were thwarted by WMAS trying to avoid what we saw as our rights under the Data Protection Act but fortunately they saw sense in the end and I was able to listen to the 999 calls that were made on 1st March and also to the conversations between WM Police and WMAS control centres.

Last night Inspector Paul Dutton from WM Police sat in our home and admitted that the decision not to attend Aiden’s accident was wrong. He also admitted that were other areas where Aiden had been let down by the service and gave full explanations as to what had gone wrong and why. He gave us background information that was helpful to us and he listened to us. He apologised. That little word ‘sorry’. And that was all we had ever wanted; to be taken seriously. The justice that we had sought for Aiden was never about a prosecution but about someone admitting that when at a very vulnerable moment in his life, the service that we all expect to help and assist us wasn't there and that decision caused further problems.

Thank you.

And thanks again to all those who helped make this possible. Brownhills Bob, The Plastic Hippo, TheYamYam, Adrian Goldberg, Louisa Lewis, Richard Shepherd MP, ACC Marcus Beale and yes, Supt. Sean Russell and Inspector Paul Dutton. Thank you also to the many people who have emailed privately, DMd on Twitter and have supported us publicly on our blogs, Facebook, various forums and Twitter. It’s not over yet but we’re getting there.

There is so much more I could say but not for now. In my own words I need to pause and reflect. The policy issues surrounding when Police attend RTCs is to be examined and personal recommendations made. It is disappointing to us that of all the councillors at Birmingham and Walsall local authorities that were emailed details of the complaint made to WM Police in order for them to consider and discuss the policy issues raised only one, Imran Azam, has taken some time to let us know that the issues will be raised. I need time to develop my thoughts about democracy and accountability. Seems that at 50 the fire in my belly, the one I thought had died back in my 20s is flickering away again, ready to ignite into a large flame and I’m ready to think, evaluate and then campaign, hassle and be a general nuisance once again on issues that are important to me, although Aiden says that it might just be dyspepsia!

One final point. On 13 March we made a formal complaint to the Chief Executive of Birmingham City Hospital about the appalling way Aiden was treated, detailed here and here. Again all we want is an acknowledgement that what was experienced was wrong, shouldn't have happened, an assurance that it will not happen again, oh and that little word ‘sorry’. We still await a formal response. I will not be holding my breath waiting to hear that little word because I would become a permanent Guinness World Record Holder and that’s not what I want.

27 April 2012

Same old scams....

They say they oldest are the best or something along those lines so maybe that's why I discovered today that a scam that first circulated a couple of years ago is alive and well and still trying to pull in the unsuspecting into parting with their cash.

Down at my Dad's today, he celebrates his 80th birthday in a couple of weeks but is still capable of youthful quickness of thought when necessary, I walked in to the living room to witness him advising someone on the telephone that yes. they had the right name but the number must be wrong because all the computers at the Mental Health Trust were all fine. The call continued for a few minutes longer with Dad insisting that the caller had reached some Mental Health Trust and that the computers were all fine. Eventually he lost his patience and rather impolitely advised the caller that they should go forth and multiply.

I asked who the call was from and he replied that is was that Indian fella again. What Indian fella I asked. The one that keeps telling me my computer upstairs is causing madness and mayhem in the town because it's filled with viruses says Dad. Now that computer upstairs runs with Windows 95 (remember that?) and has never to my knowledge, been connected to the internet. So it must be this old scam still playing then.

Apparently Dad keeps getting calls offering him once in a lifetime opportunities to buy shares too. Guess he must be on some gullible  list but goodness knows why because Dad is still sharp as a knife on stuff like this and has never fallen for anything like that. That's my Dad but my reason for publishing this is to remind people that some older (and younger for that matter) do fall for scams like this and it's always worth publicising so that more money does not make its way to any more sleaze balls pockets.

25 April 2012

Rambling Allsorts and Thanks

What a week it has been! As events have been so swift moving, dramatic and stressful this is a bit of a departure to my normal blogging style in that it's more a report and a huge list of thanks you's.

For those of you that follow Aiden's blog, you will know that on Sunday we received the devastating news that WM Police held him partially responsible for his accident because he failed to brake! Aiden was very eloquent and angry about this and explained why this was such a travesty and so very wrong here and here. We started tweeting anyone who was prepared to listen to our story and also WM Police because we just could not accept that this was the result of a true and thorough investigation. The Police always knew there would be a complaint at the end of their investigation because of our concerns over the policy of not attending all but the most serious of accidents but now my attention had to turn to how on earth such a conclusion could have been reached and what we could do to obtain a review.

Along came St Bob on a Bike of Brownhills who published this brilliant summary of the whole situation and added some choice comments of his own. Well we wouldn't expect anything less from our Bob now would we? Bob's blog is widely read and the item was duly picked up by BBC RadioWM.

In the meantime Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale, on holiday made the mistake of checking his twitter account and the wheels of WM Police began grinding in earnest. An email advising us that the file was  under review was received and then I was invited to participate in a discussion about cycling safety on BBC RadioWM along with Police Superintendent Sean Russell. That discussion is well covered in another of Bob's supportive, accurate and well written articles here. I need say no more.

At the same time fellow Walsall blogger The Plastic Hippo published a devastatingly brilliant piece in support  of Aiden and others who have suffered injustices at the hands of the Police. I urge you to read this. It's important.

To the thanks. Firstly to Brownhills Bob, fellow cyclist and a supportive friend. Your blogs made a world of difference and changed events and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thanks also to The Plastic Hippo although when reading your blogs I never feel worthy enough to comment, such is the power of your writing. And thanks to Marcus Beale for being an approachable copper who keeps his word. If only there were more like you.

I also want to thank the very many people who have supported both Aiden and me on Twitter, Facebook, through the blogs, on cycling forums, through email, texts, phone calls, in every way imaginable. Every contact has been valued and gratefully received and to fall back on being ever so Uriah Heep once again,  we have been humbled. You're all fantastic people.Thank you.

Seems we've got ourselves into a safer cycling  campaign now and neither of us will be quitting. The stress and anxiety we have both endured have left their marks and scars on both of us but we do consider ourselves to be very lucky and we will see all of this through to what we hope will be a good conclusion.

For some light relief and also because we both adore the place, we attended the first meeting of the Friends of Park Lime Pits last night, held in The Manor Arms and organised by the truly committed Morgan Bowers, I wonder if Walsall Council know how lucky they are in having such a hard working and dedicated employee? If you use the Lime Pits and would like to participate actively in its future, I urge you to join us. You can email/message me and I'll add your details to the impressive list in terms of numbers who attended last night and let you have details of our first working get together.

And finally...I've mentioned my former life in the Inland Revenue rather a lot recently in this blog. It seems things have changed a lot in the 16 years since I left. Today I discovered that HMRC, their successors, now have a whole department dedicated to dealing with complaints and that currently a complaint will not be answered for five weeks! I was reflecting upon just how many complaints does a department receive in order to have to set up a dedicated sub-department to deal with them and just how many are currently pending if it takes five weeks to respond? It seems that the days of dealing with the odd complaint on the day of receipt have long gone, How very sad in all respects and how indicative of what our public services are reduced to, no longer being able for whatever reason to provide a decent service at the point of contact but being reduced to damage limitation exercises.

23 April 2012

A little less cynicism, satisfaction guaranteed...

It can be very difficult sometimes not to be cynical particularly if you work in a stressful job where you can often see the worst that human kind can offer. It is easy to become hardened and immune to the sensitivities that mark us out as caring, to see and treat everyone with scepticism in a way that says ‘I’ve heard it all before’. This is particularly so for those in the so called caring professions such as in health care and social care but is equally pertinent for say police officers, civil and public servants and the like.

 I speak from experience. Cue boos and hisses again. My last 10 years in the Inland Revenue, which I left in 1996 were spent as an accounts investigator. It wasn’t a pleasant job and it could be incredibly stressful and confrontational. I tried to be as empathetic as I could during interview situations but after you’ve heard the same story of poverty and near destitution from someone sitting in front of you wearing expensive designer clothing and enough bling to light up Blackpool, a few times, you tend towards the disbelieving and that itch of cynicism becomes an all over body rash. When you realise that this is happening it’s cold shower and wake up time and an opportunity to remind yourself that every person you see is an individual with their own fears and worries and that they may be telling you the truth. When I couldn’t do that any longer and approached the office door each morning with a lead weight inside my stomach I knew I had to get out or I would betray myself, my conscience and my life. I have never regretted leaving because if I hadn’t I would have lost my humanity and my natural inclination towards believing in the best of people.

 Pass me that yoghurt to knit.

 In recent times I have been unfortunate in having had encounters with people who perhaps need that cold shower or worse have been doing their job for far too long and need out before they destroy some poor persons life, not deliberately I hasten to add but by default. Hence my capacity for complaining, it is an action not just for obtaining some sort of justice but also a tool that I would hope would cause pause for reflection. Sometimes it is necessary to step back and remember your own humanity and why you wanted to do that job or provide that service in the first place. It is also necessary to remember that although you may see on occasion the absolute worst in people, the majority of those people are decent and although you may not think that what they are presenting you with is important, it is important to them and that decisions you make and the service that you provide can have a devastating impact in terms of stress and worry or indeed the opposite and freedom from those things.

 Those people you deal with though, they always have the capacity to surprise you and cause a break in the monotony and cynicism build up. I once had to deal with an elderly gentleman who had retired at 65 and then set up his own company, traded successfully for 20 years, retired again and then decided he really must let the authorities know what he’d been up to and pay a little tax. He came in without an appointment to see me far more often than he needed to and I wanted him to, always filling my office with an overpowering smell of Old Spice along with his dapper dress and impressive manners. We got along on a professional basis very well and he made me laugh. We had one final meeting to negotiate his settlement offer and I was concerned to see that he hung a walking stick on the corner of my desk. The meeting went well and was cordial. Settlement was reached and he duly signed an offer. When business had finished he stood up, shook my hand and then reached for his walking stick and handed it to me. Perplexed I took it whilst he then proceeded to bend over my desk. ‘Ms Mason’, he said, ‘I’ve been a very naughty boy and I insist that you administer my punishment with the stick in your hand.’ I was mortified at the time and the gentleman was escorted off the premises. Five minutes later I was giggling away whilst relating the episode to my colleagues. It provided us all with a good laugh, a little steam was let go and with that some of that hard hearted cynicism.

 Formal complaints processes weren’t in vogue back then but neither were soul destroying unobtainable targets. Maybe those targets that apparently demonstrate how wonderful everyone is or how wonderful they would like us to think that they are, mean that working time excludes a little light relief time, which in turn leads to more cynicism and by default more destruction and complaints.

 Here endeth tonight’s ramblings of one old, tired and mad old baggage……

18 April 2012

Fairy Tales, Farces and Pantomimes

In a land that time has since forgotten I started my first job at the tender age of 16 in what was then the Inland Revenue. Cue customary boos and hisses. I don't want to paint an over rosy view of those far flung days of the late 1970s but things were different. Once trained at whatever grade or level, you were given responsibility, an allocation of work, for a set of taxpayers as they were then known, rather than the so called customers of today. On a day to day basis you looked after those people, dealt with all correspondence or referred it upwards if that was necessary, took all telephone calls and if they came into what was quaintly called 'the counter' (now an enquiry point)you went to see them. Hopefully you answered their questions, resolved problems and disputes and although nobody has ever enjoyed paying tax, you provided a decent service to your public.

Of course there were slackers, show me any work place back then that didn't carry dead weight but they were a minority. The vast majority of the civil servants I worked with and for, were hard working people who took a pride in providing a good public service. The fact that you had your own allocation of work gave you ownership and responsibility. I'm not sure what the set up for allocating work is now but what I do know is that you cannot any longer speak to the actual officer responsible for your taxation affairs. I suspect that this is because there is not actually any ownership at all. If you telephone it is to a helpline, where to actually speak to a person it is necessary to endure several minutes of 'look at our website' propaganda, followed by 'we're extremely busy, why not call back later...if you insist' and then Muzak. Eventually you speak to a person who is not responsible for the letter that you received, who cannot put you through to the person who wrote that letter but who merely makes a note of your call to 'pass it on'. If you visit one of the few remaining local tax offices, you will be encouraged to use the free telephone to the helpline.

Those big bad Unions warned of all this and how public services would be affected many years ago when Thatcher first started slashing at the numbers of civil and public servants. They continued to emphasise the downward spiral of services that would be available and the service given when New Labour talked of efficiencies in back room jobs, whatever they were and they tried again when 'call me Dave' Cameron began his scorched earth policy of decimating what was left of not just the civil service but of all our public services; ambulance, fire, police, local authority workers, nurses, doctors, carers, amongst some of the services that have now been affected.

Now you may think 'so what', you're not a civil or public servant, you work hard, you pay your taxes and you try to get by. You're not going to shed crocodile tears for what you may think are under worked, over paid public servants. Well you might not until you have to use one of the services that have been slashed and burned. The lack of nursing staff say, might grab the headlines. What doesn't grab the headlines is the sheer lack of quality in services that can be given now by those services we most expect it from.

I have no doubt that the vast majority of public servants loathe the fact that they no longer have the time and resources to provide the service that they would like to. This is the reality of cuts to services, you don't actually get a service and nobody wants to take ownership of your problem, serve you well and see your experience through to a decent conclusion because to do so would put them in the firing line, perhaps even illicit a complaint.

Complaints...they have unfortunately become a sad fact of life for me since Aiden's accident on 1 March and I hate it. I hate the fact that the only way you get any service at all or to obtain answers as to why something has happened be it good or bad, is to complain or perhaps to ask for details in the proscribed and official manner because nobody will speak 'off the cuff' for fear of repercussions. Even when you do complain there are still ways that can be utilised to wriggle and squirm and fail to provide a service and the mantra appears to be certainly do not provide anything in writing because it may be kept and then used as evidence against you. The reality of service in the public sector has sadly descended to this level.

We paid out money, took our choice and voted and look what we have.

If you suffer a road traffic accident the police will not attend, well not in the West Midlands anyway. Policy is such that only the most serious accidents as decided by Control, will be attended. Now I can understand this to a certain extent because you do not want valuable police time and resources utilised on a grazed knee and a slightly bent bumper. As Aiden pointed out on his blog however, woe betide you if you suffer an accident and the 999 call is treated with contempt because Ambulance Control decide it is not serious, inform the Police accordingly and you could be lying on a major route out of Birmingham, blocking two lanes of traffic, experiencing more pain than you could believe possible due to life changing injuries and then to add insult to injury, you then are unable to get the Police to mount an investigation without the involvement of a very senior officer and you cannot obtain information pertinent to events immediately following your accident because the Ambulance Service falsely hide behind third party protection mantra, totally contradictory to the advice they are given by the Information Commissioners Office.

Further insult is added when a belated investigation then finally commences a whole month or more after the accident has taken place but the results of that investigation cannot be relayed to you because a particular officer happens to be on nights and apparently an email isn't an option. Or perhaps the Ambulance service try to forget you exist and the hospital that left you breathless with their incompetency, lack of care and ignorance finally acknowledge a complaint some four weeks after it was made by letting you know it's going to be another month before they fully respond and can you tell us if you're happy with that?

This is the reality of our public services these days, this is the reality of cutting services to the bone and then cutting again. Individuals that work for the services that we all use in one form or another would like, I'm sure, to be able to provide a good and decent service and there are many examples of those individuals going the extra mile to do so but on the whole, you cannot serve the people if you're not given the resources to do so in the first place.

Of course you can use social media to put a PR gloss on how wonderful you would like the public to think you are and aren't we wonderful for embracing the brave new world in this manner but at the end of the day it doesn't matter how hard you buff away, you cannot polish a turd.

9 March 2012

A Change of Plans

My last bike ride was 8 days ago. It seems like a lifetime ago but in may ways it was because of Aiden’s life changing accident. I shall still continue to cycle for I adore this new activity with a passion but alas the charity rides will have to go by the wayside for now. This saddens me immensely.

I have no doubt that I could do the Mac-Ride without too many problems. The Aberdovey Ride organised by Officers of West Midlands Police was always going to be the tougher proposition but both were to be undertaken with Aiden, my inspiration and my mentor as well as my soul mate and partner. There is no way that I could do either without him at my side. This may seem a little unlike me to those who know me well and know how independent I have been throughout my life. I’ve never been daunted by doing something on my own but going on a holiday alone or walking alone are completely different propositions to cycling 100 miles twice on my own. This is particularly so as although I would be surrounded by many others, I would be alone in the crowd and that is a daunting prospect for this elderly woman.

The plan was that we did these rides together and the sad fact is I cannot do either of them without him.

Many lovely and beautiful people have already sponsored me and for that I thank every single person from the bottom of my heart. I cannot unfortunately refund you from Just Giving but what I hope to do is persuade MacMillan to allocate what has already been given to another shorter ride later this year that I can do on my own and want to do on my own. To contact them is on my to do list but as you can imagine at present that list is a mile long but I will get around to it.

I still aim to cycle regularly and I hope that one day Aiden will feel able to get back on his bike, if that is indeed physically possible because it is not a given and once again we can enjoy cycling together.

Tomorrow I shall be leaving Aiden in the safe care of my daughter (and son!) whilst I whisk off for a couple of hours because I noticed yesterday that in the week I hadn’t been cycling spring has arrived. There are trees in blossom and daffodils in bloom and I need to get out there, smell the air, sniff the spring and enjoy the beauty of nature that is free to all to appreciate. I shall even dismount and sniff the flowers and give thanks for the blessings I have. To be honest I need a little time on my own allowing my mind to wander and be free. Many lovely people have told me that at this stressful time I must find time for myself and so I shall take their advice in the morning, ignore the growing mountain of paperwork, ironing and housework, oh and real work too, get on my bike and feel the wind on my cheeks and for a little while shelve the hell of the last week and recoup my zen.

6 March 2012

The Child Within

I should be in bed having been up since 5 am this morning but my brain is so wired I thought that maybe getting a few thoughts down on screen might help me try and put my mind into some sort of order. Having said that there are many who have known me for more years than they will ever care to admit to, that would say that if my mind was ever ordered then the world would have ended. I'll just ramble like I normally do then.

Just under 6 years ago I blogged about the fact that nothing prepares you for the sight of your own Mother on life support in ICT. She had gone into hospital for a routine hernia operation and someone fouled up whilst intubating her causing a massive and uncontrolled haemorrhage in her throat. 5 years after that event I still wasn't prepared to see her in ICT once again, especially as later that evening she died. Take these events and my own numerous hospital adventures and I was still unprepared for what hit me this evening.

My dear man went down to surgery at 1.50 this afternoon. By 4.30 we had to leave to travel over to West Bromwich for visiting and I was told by the Sister over the phone that they expected him back within the half hour. You can therefore imagine my utter devastation when 2 hours later I approached his bay and found it totally empty. Seems that no matter how many times life throws an unpleasant medical type surprise at me I'm left reeling and it wasn't just because of the close proximity to the Hawthorns either, although I had ten minutes earlier felt a bar coded shadow fall over me.

There had been complications hence the length of time in the theatre. Now there's a funny thing to call it, a theatre. I suppose it was because when surgery was in its infancy there were viewing galleries but that was a long time ago. I associate theatre with a good night out not a place where your life or that of someone you love is firmly in the hands of someone you don't know but inherently trust to do a damn good job. About 20 minutes later he was brought back and after he was settled we were allowed to see him. My poor daughter; I said to her I wish that she hadn't come with me because to bear witness to someone in so much pain is rather too much for a 12 year old to handle but bless her heart, she replied that although it had been traumatic she had needed and wanted to see this beloved man who means so much to us.

A little over a week ago Aiden blogged about how difficult it had been to witness my pain when I had a wisdom tooth extracted. I must admit that an hour having your jaw clamped open and constant pressure applied for extraction is rather painful. Now I know exactly how he felt because it was heart and gut wrenching this evening to see him suffer so very badly and to be impotent.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have found a relationship with an utterly wonderful man when I am so long in the tooth....or even long in the toothless if these pesky abscesses keep plaguing me but it doesn't matter how old you are or how much life experience you have, when presented with something you can do nothing about, the child within resurfaces.

There is much about recent events that I wish to return to not least my opinion that West Midlands Police need to review on a very serious level their policy on attending accidents when a cyclist is involved. It stands to reason that if a car and a cycle have a collision, the cyclist is not going to be the winner. I am happy that West Midlands Police are now investigating the accident that was not attended and thank Brownhills Bob for what he has called interference and I call a blessing because without him ACC Marcus Beale would not have got involved and I thank him too. So I will be returning to that subject.

It gives me great pleasure also to report that the Staff on Lyndon 3 at Sandwell General Hospital are a a breath of fresh air; caring, compassionate and efficient. What a difference that makes.

2 March 2012


We seem to do trauma on a fairly regular basis in this household and yesterday was another one of those days. This isn't a diary entry as such but a collection of observations from an eventful evening.

I've never had to endure the delights of City Hospital in Birmingham before although it was known to me basically because the former workhouse building turned hospital was the place one of my Great Grandmothers died a very premature death. My entry to A&E after an expensive but necessary taxi journey was to witness two women, one middle aged, the other barely out of her teens arguing, older woman calling younger a 'motherf****r' and the younger retaliating by informing older of her husbands paedophilia and child abuse tendencies. The half full waiting room appeared to be enjoying the drama unfolding in front of them and if they could have drawn up their screwed down seats for a closer view I'm sure they would have.

Waiting has never been something I have endured gladly. It's a necessary evil in life but those 15 minutes I waited whilst 'the system is down' seemed like an eternity due to my desperation to gain access to the inner kingdom of A&E. So began my five hour marathon endurance test which was nothing to the suffering endured by my poor man.

Let's be positive first. The two Doctors encountered, one an A&E Consultant and the other a Junior Doctor on his orthopaedics rotation were excellent. Mr Consultant deemed it necessary to chase up the nursing staff on several occasions on what was a pretty quiet night in there if the number of empty cubicles was anything to go by. Mr Junior happened upon us when plastering was about to start, realised that something was amiss in the way things were being done, he left (I later discovered to read the notes and ascertain what was supposed to be happening) and then returned a few minutes later to take over the process. Later, on the ward Mr Junior was once again thorough, reassuring, courteous, considerate and quite happy to give his time, as was the health care assistant.

After being there for an hour and a half and female Sister nominally (use of word nominally deliberate there) in charge of care barely managing to provide pain relief let alone all the other things that Mr Consultant had ordered and even in that short time had started chasing up, I needed to go outside to make a few calls and being honest, a much needed smoke. One step out of the exit and 'have you got a spare fag love?' , three steps out 'have you got 25p for a cup of tea love?' which prompted the thought that I must investigate where it is that one can purchase such cheap beverages, five steps 'can I borrow your lighter love?'. I declined the first two requests and then stood slack jawed as I handed over my lighter to watch it being used to light a decent five skin reefer, right in front of the security cameras and two police officers standing a few yards away.

Back indoors nursing care improved a little by way of a young male nurse but female Sister was still busy moaning about Mr Consultant chasing her up for her lack of attendance and care. She quite clearly wasn't interested in doing what had been asked of her and her persistence in not providing basic care was astonishing in its intensity and deliberateness. Young male nurse advised me that going outside in the evening was a not a wise idea due to the local wildlife quote 'you've seen what goes on in here' and he also advised me that under no circumstances should I wait anywhere but inside for my taxi when I was leaving. He was right though I did see what goes on in there and I bore witness throughout the evening to arguments, bad attitudes, lack of respect to either the law or humanity and general all around nastiness. What a sad reflection of what life must be like for those that work there and perhaps in a way an explanation for what can only be described as a cynical 'don't care' attitude towards patients by the majority of nursing staff encountered.

Five hours after my man's entrance to A&E tracks were finally made to the Surgical Assessment Unit for admission. It would have been nice to observe a different standard and attitude towards nursing duties but alas niceness wasn't in the line of duty.

My taxi driver home was lovely. Five children to look after, he clearly worked hard and long hours but was a cheery soul who demonstrated real compassion to a very tired and stressed out woman and for that I am grateful. When you see the worst aspects of humanity all thrown together in one evening, it's always good to be shown that there are people out there who have not grown so cynical with life as to be uncaring and unkind. I am reminded of one of the strands in my life that I always try and act by; treat others as you would want to be treated....otherwise that bad karma will one day come up and bite you on the bum.

Oh and if you are ever unfortunate enough to suffer an accident in Birmingham may I suggest that you offer bribes to the ambulance service in order to get them to take you anywhere but Birmingham City Hospital. The Manor in Walsall is a paradise in comparison and I never thought I would hear myself say that!

1 March 2012

Links to the Past

Having undergone what was for me the most traumatic dental surgery imaginable, it did after all take the dentist a whole hour to remove one solitary wisdom tooth and still feeling the after effects along with the abscess that necessitated the surgery continuing in full on action meaning yet more antibiotics, I decided a ride out on such a glorious day might just lift my spirits. After tootling along the canal to Rushall and then up through Pelsall and Brownhills returning along the canal to Dumblederry Lane in Aldridge I decided to pay a visit to Linley Woods and also to the site of Redhouse School.

Brownhills Bob posted recently about the sale of Linley Woods prompting many memories from childhood to resurface. The woods have always held a fascination for the children of Aldridge and in particular those that lived on the Redhouse. They were forbidden to me but that didn't stop me from going down there when I could; the thrill of the forbidden and perhaps someone reporting my presence there to my parents always made such visits delicious.

Access proved a little difficult due to the what even at this time of the year was dense growth.

However as can be seen from the following photograph it seems that the woods are still well used.

The dips appear just as terrifying as when I was a child and I was tempted to give them a bash on my bike. Maybe another day when I have someone with me to call 999 should an ambulance be required!

I then took the short ride down to where Redhouse School, subject of a recent blog, once stood.

The forbidding gates say it all really but you can still glimpse the school sign just behind them along with a Walsall Council sign warning me of the dire consequences of trespassing. This I ignored as there was a sizeable gap just by the gates that I could squeeze through and I did. I was there not to cause damage or any distress to local residents but to take a few photographs of what is left. There is very little left apart from rubble but it is amazing to see how nature is reclaiming the site at present although I wondered how long for because surely such a prime piece of land will inevitably and despite the protestations of local residents, eventually be redeveloped for housing stock.

Do you remember 'Plant a Tree in 73'? I do because apart from being an avid Blue Peter viewer back then, we planted four at Redhouse. There were four houses, Barnardo, Scott, Elgar and the best house of all because I was a member, Nightingale. Each house had its own tree and I was devastated to be ill on planting day because I had been given the honour of doing a little spade work for Nightingale and so I missed my opportunity of immortality! These are the four trees today, standing testament to a more hopeful future than the one that the school actually encountered. The silver birch was the tree that belonged to Nightingale.

Somewhere underneath those trees is a time capsule or at least there was. Perhaps someone read the school log book before it was closed and discovered this treasure for the future and perhaps it was disinterred. Perhaps not. If the capsule is still there it would be nice if some of us that were there back in 1973 be allowed to rediscover our past.

My final picture was taken roughly from where the old Class 1 stood and looks over what would have been the school hall, classes 3,4,5 and 6 towards the school field. I hadn't realised until today quite how much of the old school field had been sold to the developers for housing when the old Infants School was demolished. It was a massive chunk, virtually all of the space where the football pitch, scene of many famous victories over Leighswood, Cooper and Jordan, St Mary's and all those really far away schools from foreign parts such as Walsall Wood and Brownhills, stood.

I didn't see any ghosts today but I did experience an immense sense of sadness due to the silence. This site was once such a vibrant and noisy scene, filled with children learning and playing and fighting and just being children. Now it is eerily quiet during the middle of the day.