30 October 2010

Alone and not lonely


Those who are with me on Facebook know that back in September I enjoyed four nights away on my own in Devon. This was the first time I had gone away solo since before my son was born more than 16 years ago. My Mother didn't believe that I was going alone and neither did quite a few other people so I waved my double room for single occupancy booking for all to see!

It's not as though I haven't trod the solo route before. I did frequently before becoming a Mother. It's never bothered me being on my own as much as it appears to bother others. It has many things to recommend it such as not having to take the wants and needs of a companion into account, doing whatever you fancy doing without having to explain why, eating and sleeping when you want to, being free and through being free, using that freedom to allow your mind to wander in whatever direction it cares to take without interruption or disruption. That time to think and to touch your own soul is precious and is experienced by so few.

Ask yourself when was the last you were truly on your own for more than a couple of hours? Do you actually have time to allow true free thought? I value this solitude so much.

Of course there are negatives to being alone. Nobody to turn to to express delight at some view or experience and to share that with them. Nobody to chat about the day that has been. Nobody to discuss some of the things you have had the time to think about! And there is the safety aspect that many seem to place above all other considerations. Whilst walking on my holiday I stopped to pass the time of day with other walkers, to admire the views and all were surprised that I was walking alone but being on my own revealed to me that there are many men that walk alone and I bet they don't get the note of surprise that I get when revealing the solo nature of their exploits. It is amazing that in the 21st century a woman partaking of an activity alone is still considered to be doing something abnormal and yet a man doing exactly the same thing is not. There are many measures of when true equality will have been attained and this is definitely in the top ten for me.

There were two occasions whilst I was away when a worry about what might happen flitted briefly across my mind. The first was when I was walking through a quite densely wooded area which had the added attraction of steep cliffs too. I noticed a man ahead, probably about the same age as myself, also alone and he noticed me. He slowed considerably and it wasn't long before I had drawn abreast of him. We exchanged pleasantries but I made it pretty clear that I didn't want company by picking up my pace in an effort to draw ahead of him. He shadowed my every pace even when I slowed down and then increased pace again. That was when the thought made a brief flit. I came to a halt and decided to light a cigarette. He stood there watching me. He wasn't taking the hint, he even reached into his pocket and brought out his own cigarettes, which was when I firmly but politely explained that I wanted to walk alone and he was preventing me from doing so. He made an unrepeatable remark but moved on and I sat down and gave him a full half an hour and a dozen other people walking in the same direction before resuming.

The second occasion I really was rather silly but it was so invigorating! 'No access to the beach' the sign said. What beach I though to myself. Looks like sheer cliffs to me. So I followed the pathway and eventually it became apparent that there was a lovely little beach some 500 feet below. The path was steep and in very poor repair and I ended up scrambling using both hands and legs, crawling on all fours when necessary to get both down and then on the return, up. It struck my mind that if I did fall I would be without help for a long time as there was no mobile phone signal and there wasn't a soul around but any misgivings were replaced by total euphoria at having that little beach to myself for half an hour, just sitting watching the waves crashing on the sand and the birds circling overhead.

I've never minded being alone in the city late at night either. The nights I spent in the student union bar when I was at university in London, getting the last tube home on my own and then the 20 minute walk the other end. People said I was being silly and taking risks but to be honest the only risk I ever considered I was taking was not being able to make work at 8am the next morning.....I rarely did (good job it was flexi time) or not being able to hold my bladder until I got in....I always did! I still do it now and whenever anyone expresses concern I point out that I really am in the wrong demographic for being attacked. It is young men between the ages of 16 and 25 who are most at risk, not old biddies like me!

The one thing that my holiday did for me apart from rejuvenating me, making me feel exceptionally happy, fulfilled and fit was made me realise that I really should get away on my own more often, money permitting!

As Deeprak Chopra says "To make the right choices in life, you have to get in touch with your soul. To do this, you need to experience solitude, which most people are afraid of, because in the silence you hear the truth and know the solutions."

23 October 2010

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing...

if you live in the Borough of Walsall that is. If you got yourself an education you might then realise that the people in charge of your local council are ignorant. So the council is making plans to ensure that the local population gets no access to books, or maps, or newspapers or the internet through a local library.

It's taken me a while to calm down about the article shown aside. I was so incandescent with rage that I have been unable to put fingers to keyboard and articulate how I feel about this. Until now.

Councillor Mike Bird is the leader of our council. It's his third crack at this job having twice previously in the last ten years been ousted from the role by his own party; the Tories. If ever David Cameron wanted an example of how differently his cultivated image of the national party is to the reality of a local image and how corrupt and bereft of ideas a local party can be, then he could find no better exmple than the Tories of Walsall. Councillor Bird hits the headlines regularly due to his chronic foot in mouth disease. Back in July it struck when he tried to defend the system of councillor allowances in Walsall that give him an amount of £29,000 per annum. Apparently he's worth every penny because if he was in charge of a 750 million pound budget in the private sector he would be pulling in salary in excess of £100K a year, which rather conveniently ignores the fact that as in common with other local councils, Walsall has a Chief Executive on a salary of £180K per annum!

Councillor Bird also defended these grossly inflated allowances for what is supposed to be a public service and an honour by saying that he works so many hours for Walsall Council that his hourly equivalent is £1.64. This is where it's best to keep the local population ignorant and uneducated otherwise they might calculate that £29K, £1.64 per hour mean he works 345 hours a week. Perhaps Walsall Council did a Napoleon and changed the way we calculate and look at time here because much as I try I still can only find 168 hours in a week!

Walsall has managed to pull itself up to the lofty heights of 130th in the pupils gaining five GCSE league tables, that means there are only 20 local authorities with worse results and might be why local schools are enforcing choices at Year 8 for a three year GCSE course, see my blog here. However Walsall has been busy casting aside and losing any cultural identity it did have for many years. You only have to look at how the birthplace of its most famous son, author Jerome K Jerome has been treated as a good example. Still close the libraries and even less locals will have heard of him and therefore it really will not matter!

Another reason for keeping the locals ignorant is you wouldn't possibly want them to know about another literary figure; Big Brother. Back in May this year, it was revealed that Tory Walsall Council were the third most likely to spy on you council in the country and our hero and gracious leader said 'I'm proud that we do this.When I'd heard that we'd come third, I was disappointed. I wish we'd come first. Now we've got something to aim at next year'! He was also proud of the fact that Walsall Council do not tell innocent residents that they have been subject to covert surveillance, sometimes for weeks and months. And this man represents these people!

I have digressed long enough. Walsall Council has some pretty diverse wards. Some are leafy, middle class and a pleasure to live in. Others are some of the most deprived areas of England. In the west of the borough life expectancy is some eight years less than in the east. Whichever way you look at it, in terms of education, health and employment, Walsall figures in the bottom 25% of the country. This does not seem to concern Councillor Bird however who thinks 'People can download books, we don't have to have bricks and mortar to give people access to reading materials any more'. This conveniently ignores that many people he represents do not have access to i-pads and kindles or broadband internet even in the relatively well off ward that I live in. My local library is two minutes walk from house. I use it regularly as do my children. We don't use it for the internet facilities, although they are useful when there for trying to track down books and articles. We use it to borrow books and maps and study materials that we cannot afford to buy. My one observation of our local library is that it doesn't matter what time of the day you visit, it is always busy and the computer terminals always packed; older people during the day and students in the afternoons and early evenings.

Hitler and his Nazi's burnt books. Looks like Councillor Bird and his colleagues are about to join their illustrious company. Unless of course Cameron does take a look at this disgrace of a local party and how it has mismanaged Walsall Council over the last decade or so (making national headlines in several occasions) and that those who are within at a local level take a good, long look at themselves as well and perhaps come up with some other money saving exercises that would mean that this most loved and needed of public services is retained. Personally I would start with allowances for local councillors and the Chief Executives salary. I also sincerely hope that the local electorate do the decent thing next May. However because of the way the wards of the council are made up, it is unlikely that anyone but the Tories could ever gain control of the council.

18 October 2010

Black Stuff

BBC4 have recently been showing the whole of the devastating 1982 series Boys From The Blackstuff.

Alan Bleasdale wrote this comic-tragic commentary on what happens when an economy is not run with the ordinary working person in mind and I had forgotten just how emotionally gripping it is. Like many I watched this series when it was originally broadcast. I was just a youngster back then and politically naive but not so stupid as to not realise what a true to life depiction this drama was of what I saw around me every day. Who can forget Yosser Hughes and his catchphrases 'gizza a job' and 'I can do that' and the sorrow of seeing a man completely disintegrate and lose everything; his wife, his children, his home and his sanity.

There was dissent about this drama when it was shown; some people down south could not accept this as a true to life depiction and talked about the feckless unemployed and how they should get on their bikes and I remember wondering at the time, why would they think that, we all live in the same country, don't we? Two years later I moved to London and discovered that we didn't all live in the same country, not when it came to how Thatcher's policies affected the lives of individuals. It was different down south. Sure there were unemployed people but the ratios were vastly different. The economy was completely different. No wonder there was and still is to a certain extent, a north/south divide.

As I watched Yosser last night, my mind was drawn to what is in store for us all when the levels of budgetary cuts are announced on Wednesday. We like a little self flagellation we Brits, we take it because we know a little pain is good for us, builds our strength and character. Trouble is, it can all get out of hand and those who have the power forget how those at the bottom who don't have a voice or don't shout loud enough to be heard or have simply given up hope, can be pushed to absolute rock bottom 'for the good of the economy' and so that 'your children and children's children don't have to pay for our mess'. What happened in the late 70s and early 80s destroyed a whole way of life for some. Communities never recovered properly from virtually all of the employment in that area disappearing. We lost generations; men in their 40s and 50s that never saw paid employment again and young people for whom there was no possibility of a job until it was far too late for them to know how to work.

I don't suppose our political leaders have been watching the series. Pity really, they might have got a gentle reality check; that the decisions they make affect real people and can ruin lives. I suppose it all depends on your individual political perspective. Me? Well I don't see two and half million jobs suddenly appearing in the private sector to replace all of the jobs that will be lost in both public and private sectors because of the cuts that will be announced on Wednesday. If someone does see where they are going to come from, please tell me. I'm all for believing in miracles. I also believe in a steady and progressive action that is sustainable. A bit like losing weight; lose too much too quickly and you end up in worse trouble than before you started. After all, if you tighten your belt too much, you can't breathe.

1 October 2010

Summer Stolen

In my imagination it was all there. Images of what could come and how it might be. My dream.

The candles were purchased, the cushions sewn, the blankets laundered, the rough edges smoothed. Flowers in bloom, trees fruiting, the garden fertile and alive ready to greet us. I had cooked the meals and poured the wine. The music was chosen, soft and melodic; a perfect accompaniment to warm and gentle summer evenings. Evenings that were just a breath away, yet to happen but real and tangible with my anticipation. The sunsets would be glorious in their deep crimsons and purples gradually fading to black when the flicker from the flame of a candle would then illuminate your face. It would get cooler but never enough to chill the ardour.

They were to be nights to remember. A summer of love. Of golden times making golden memories.

But summer never came. You stole it away all for yourself. The meals were never cooked and shared. The wine was never poured. The music never played. The candles never lit and the memories never made. My dreams unfulfilled.