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Thursday, 8 December 2011

Compassion - an Inside Job

Coran and I watched a documentary this afternoon, that we recorded from BBC2 the day before, entitled Inside Job. I was glad that it was on, since when it was shown recently at the local cinema, courtesy of the town's Transition group, we did not have the opportunity to go. The documentary, which is narrated by Matt Damon and has won several awards, was and is basically an expose of what caused the banking crisis, and how it was in effect, an Inside Job.

The reasons the film makers came to this conclusion were really quite simple. Like the average man (or in this case, woman) in the street, I have limited knowledge of the financial industry and how it works, and despite the fact that I have watched several different programs on the crisis as part of the BBC's money season, this documentary taught me more about how and why things happened than any of the other programs put together.

From my understanding, the crisis began or at least the seeds began to be sown when the way in which the funds for mortgages and loans were arranged also changed. It used to be the case that when one wanted to borrow money in order to finance a large purchase (say for arguments sake a house), you would go your local bank, who would arrange the funds, subject to status. Since the bank were loaning you the funds, and since mortgages typically have a long lifespan of up to 25 years, they were naturally extremely cautious as to who they lent to. This changed when the banks started to sell their loans en masse to investment banks, who in effect sold them on again to a team of investors. The investors could insure themselves against losses in case the loans turned sour, which they often did, but the insurance companies did not have the funds to cover these losses either. Because the banks had covered their own losses already, they did not care who they lent to, allowing those on low incomes or with insecure jobs to borrow funds when they had little or no hope of being able to pay them back. The banks though actively wanted these people to borrow money, since the more risky the loan, the more money they earned. Despite the high risk involved, these CDO's as these bulk loans beame known, were given AAA ratings, indicating a lucrative investment with little or no risk.

This type of lending became known as subprime lending and infected the whole of the banking system by virtue of the fact that most banks are international operations, if not in terms of geographical location, certainly in terms of how their investments are spread around. Thus it was that when Lehman Brothers in New York failed, it had a knock on effect on other banks and indeed other businesses and individuals around the world, a fact which one of the American bankers who was interviewed on this documentary did not seem to realise.

The Americans dealt with the crisis in the same way that we have dealt with it here -the Government stepped in and bailed out the banks that had not already been taken over. These banks then are now in effect owned by the tax payer. When most businesses fail, the first in line is usually the tax man, but in this case it seemed to be the executives, for they received in many cases, pay offs of millions of dollars, to the intense fury of the American voting populace, and I hasten to add, the British too.

When the banking crisis though hit Iceland at the end of 2008, and the country was forced to go begging for loans in order to bail themselves out, how did the Icelandic population though react? In a a totally different way. Once the dust had settled following the collapse of Icesave, the British and Dutch governments demanded that ordinary Icelandic citizens pay compensation to those who had lost out. Instead of giving in, the Icelandic government asked the I Icelandic people if they felt that this was fair, and the people unresoundingly said no, they should not be held responsible for the mistakes that bankers had made - the bankers should clear up their own mess. So, a full inquiry was launched, and arrests were made, and as I write, various bankers are being tried and sentenced. The Icelandic people then set up a consultation group of 27 ordinary Iicelandic citizens from all walks of life to draft a new constitution that was written online for all Icelandic citizens to read, putting both Britain and America to shame. Sometimes I wish that I were Icelandic.

It seems to me that we can learn a lot from the way that the Icelanders have dealt with this crisis, and watching this program it also seems to me that the Americans have a lot to learn with regard to how their actions affect others. They can no longer continue with their insular existence, pretending that the rest of the world does not exist.

I am not of course condoning what happened, but it seems to me that the World Trade Centre and what happened on that fateful day was also a wake up call with the same message. It was called the World Trade Centre for a reason, the reason being that companies from all over the world had their headquarters and offices there, and that as such people from all over the world worked there. The terrorists who flew those planes felt that it was America's fault, yet it was not only Americans who lost their lives and it was not only American families who were devastated. In the same way, it was not only Americans who lost their jobs and their homes through this crisis, but citizens throughout the world. While it would be unfair to lay the blame for either crisis purely on the Americans, they have to accept their share of resonsbility for what happened, and with the banking crisis at least, I see little sign of that.

My hope for next year is that every person on the planet in some way experience compassion, compassion for their fellow man and for the planet on which we live. For each person that will be different, but it seems to me that this the only sure fire way to make sure that something like this does not happen again. It is the attitude that needs to change, and no amount of regulation or taxes on bonusses will do that, it has be brought home to them exactly how it feels to experience a personal crisis of this magnitude and compassion is the only way in which this can really be achieved.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Strength in What Remains

I have read some interesting books this month, from various other cultures around the world including Africa and South-east Asia, but the one that stands out more than any other has been one set in the impoverished central African counnty of Burundi. The book, entitled Strength in What Remains is written by an American named Tracy Kidder, and tells the true story of a survivor of the genocide that took place in that small African country in 1993. It really made me think and question many of the things that we take for granted and which are in the scheme of life, frivulous and really quite insignificant.

Last night we had our work Christmas party, and I was fretting over what to wear. There was a lovely gold top in Sainsbury's that I have had my eye on for some time, and when I saw it was 25 percent off I was in two minds over whether to get it or not. In the end I decided not to, as I reasoned that it was not worth spending that much money even with the reduction, on something that I would in all probability wear just once for a few hours at most. I was also moaning about the standard of the vegetarian food that I was served compared to the carnivorous option, which as usual was far more substantial. Yet Burindians, and for that matter, those in many other countries worldwide, cannot afford basic clothes and have no idea as to where their next meal is coming from. The amount of money that was spent last night by some people that were there was akin to more than most Burundians make in a whole year.

The book quotes some frightening statistics about life in that country - Burundi has the lowest GDP per head of population than any other country on earth with one of the lowest literacy rates and life expectancy, particularly for women, who due to the high infant mortality rate go through pregnancy after pregnancy getting old and worn out way before their time.

The things that the main character in this book saw and experienced cannot begin to be imagined - the book describes a scene where he was fleeing from his own country into neighbouring Rwanda, and he was sheltering in a banana grove surrounded by dead bodies. It was then that he noticed the baby - a live baby trying to suckle it's dead mothers breast. He knew that there was nothing whatsoever that he could for this child and it too would die, a victim of those intent on killing those that they felt were different to them.

If I am honest, I did not really want to go last night - I like a dance as much as the next person, but prefer to do it in a quieter, less showy environment where I do not have to worry about dressing up and pretending to be something I am not in order to impress. Don't get me wrong, it is nice once in a while to be able to dress up, but it is really all about impressing others and trying to fit in and look the part. We do it for others rather than for ourselves. I had arranged to meet the rest of my work colleagues at the venue, and was so nervous on my way there and on my arrival that I drove straight past the car park and ended up having to go round the roundabout and back in again! That should really have given me a hint about what was to come.

When I entered the building, the noise of people talking hit me like a wall. I stood and waited for the boss to bring me a drink while I attempted to make small talk about how nice people looked and how much I was looking forward to the evening, all the time feeling excruciatingly uncomfortable, and wishing that I could just turn round and go back home again.

When it was time to go upstairs for our meal and the disco that followed, I found that I had been placed on a table with staff that I hardly knew, away from my friends that I had more in common with. The conversation was stilted and awkward to say the least, attempting to make yet more small talk, while at the table behind, the wine flowed and they laughed and joked among themselves. When the meal did arrive, I found that the vegetarian starter was half the size of the meaty one, and the main course, which I had been assured was gluten free, contained couscous - last time I checked, couscous is not gluten free. When I knew that I would be attending this party, I telephoned the venue to discus my dietary requirements and make sure that they could cater for them, and specifically requested that I not be given fruit salad for dessert, which seems always to be the default option at such things, what did they give me - you guessed it - fruit salad! So, while my meat eating colleagues tucked into prawn cocktail, roast turkey and chocolate mousse, I got a small salad with a few pearls of cheese, stuffed aubergine with overcooked vegetables and a fruit salad - all for the princely sum of £63 - like I said, almost the equivilant to the average Burundians annual income. Oh well, I guess it is par for the course. I may or may not bloat in a day or so's time from the couscous, but I do know that I not be returning to that venue in a hurry. At least I do know that any bloating I do experience will not be due to hunger...

For me then far from being the big night out that I was hoping for with fun and laughter, it was a bit of a damp squib. I made an excuse and left just after 10.30pm and was home before 11pm.

It left me wondering though, why do we put ourselves through all that in an effort to fit in? I could not work out whether I was more angry with myself or with my colleagues, and came to the conclusion that as always, it was about me (who else is there anyway). I should know by now that these events with their glitter and sparkle, are not me, but about glamour and falsehood, concepts which I find alien and more than a little uncomfortable. I know that this may sound like a judgement, and that I do work with those who are in their way surrounded by death, but I prefer the company of those who think about the deeper things in life, and to let my hair down in a quieter more genuine and authentic environment - the village hall rather than some glitzy racecourse with flashing lights and blaring music, where the alcohol flows freely. For some it is a chance to let their hair down, but for me it is falsehood. I will not be making the same mistake again. Real strength, like the character in the book that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, comes from being willing to face your demons and work with them, not by blotting them out with destractions, which for me at least, is what last night was really about.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

An idea whose time has come

I was really excited yesterday to read an interesting article in The Guardian about love and business and whether it was possible to combine them within the same sentence. When I read things like this, I know that the world is changing and that those such as myself and other like minded friends who have had these ideas for years, are no longer classed as nuts, but as mainstream, with those who do not share these views considered the real nuts. This is not though a debate about who is right and who is wrong, but a debate about whether it is possible to operate a business with love rather than profit as your aim. To my mind, the real question should be is it possible not to?

It is though, as the article points out, a sad fact that this is not on the whole, how the business world operates. Empoloyees, who are most companies biggest asset, are treated not as indivuals, but as commodities to be bought and sold, and tossed aside when they are no longer useful. For far too long, employees have been expected to leave large parts of themselves at home before they head off to the the shop, or the office, or wherever else it is they work, pretending to be something they are not in order to conform so the so-called corporate norm. This is something that I know all about, only too well.

As Neale Donald Walsch states so eloquently in his best selling Conversations with God series of books, the business world (in fact the whole world) is built around the concept of scarcity, the idea that there is not enough of whatever it is that we perceive we need (and most of the time we do not really need, but rather, want it), and that we therefore have to fight and compete with others in order to get our share of that 'stuff'. This is of course nonsense, for there is more than enough of everything to go round. Hence it is though that companies (and indeed life) are run as battlegrounds, with the winners and the losers. If you are not hostile enough, tough enough then you fall by the wayside and are swallowed up by someone who is, usually one of the big four banks foreclosing on your loan. That though is a whole other debate.

As human beings, we know instincively that this is not how things are meant to be - there is another way, borne from love and borne from compassion, work it not meant to be a battleground, but a means of expressing who we are in joy and in love, creating changes in the world, and offering meaning and growth (and I do not mean economic growth either) to everyone. That is nothing less than we deserve, and I count myself incredibly lucky that I have all of that and more in my own working life.

The signs are there that companies the world over, are beginning to recognise that their connection and obligations to society go a lot deeper than their share price, or how useful their goods are. It is time to tear down those walls, the armour that both companies and individuals wrap around themselves stating honestly and openly stating that this is who and what they are - it is time for compassion, for honesty and for integrity but most of all, for transparency. The signs are there that the world is poised and ready for change, as we stand on the precipice of something very big and very life changing, from the Arab Spring to the Occupy protests that have swept around the world. As they say, you cannot destroy a message whose time has come. In short, we need a 99 percent that serves the world, rather than the vested interests of the few. The Occupy protests give voice to that message, signalling the need for change.

The idea of profit being the sole aim of business no longer works, that much is clear. We need a new model based not on what we can do for business, but rather on what business can do for us, based on the idea of prosperity for all, where the acqusition of joy becomes the motivating force, rather than the acqusition of wealth.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Storm Before the Calm

For the past fortnight, I have been reading a somewhat different book for me entitled The Storm Before the Calm by Neale Donald Walsh. Neale is of course the author of the Conversations with God series of books. I have read most if not all of his works, and met him in person during one of his visits to London several years ago. It has though been a while since I picked up a book of this genre, mostly because so few of them seem to resonate with the way in which I have evolved. This one though is different, as it speaks directly to my soul about so many of the things that I have felt instinctively for so long, but have until now been unable to put into words.

I found the book purely by accident, as one does, browsing online for information about the recent protests which began as the Occupy Wall Street movement and have since spread throughout the world. Boris Johnson, the Lord Mayor of London said earlier this week that it was time for the London protestors to reliniquish their base near St Paul's Cathedral, as they had "made their point". To my mind, the fact that he even says this is proof to me that he has not begun to understand the point that they are trying to make. That is that the world as we know it, or more specifically, our beliefs about the world in general, are fundamentally flawed and are no longer (if they ever did) serving humanity's best interests. This too is the basic tenet of The Storm Before the Calm.

It is no secret that within the United States (and for that matter the rest of the world at large), 99 percent of the wealth is controlled by 1 percent of the population. Like Neale, I have nothing against the rich (he is after all one of them). I have tasted myself what it felt like, after my mother died and left me a six figure sum (most of it has since been spent). No, it is the systems that they represent, which are designed to oppress the masses and keep them in their place, so that the rich can maintain theirs. This is not necessarily the fault of the rich, but they nevertheless help to maintain this system and this way of thinking by their inertia and their failure to change this.

What is needed, says Neale, is a change from our current way of thinking, from a dyad (two centred approach where politics and economics rule) to a triad where culture, that is to say everything that is not politics or economics, takes centre stage. At the moment we live in a society where economics are King, where the first consideration is always the cost. The first consideration should however be, whatever is in the best interests of the population, the majority of the population being ordinary working class citizens. It is then not a a question of redistribution of wealth, but more a question of a change of beliefs, for it is our beliefs about life, and more specifically about God (the terms life and God are in fact interchangeable, as God is life manifesting itself through us) that create our thoughts, and those thoughts that give rise to action.

The way to create this change says Neale, and I am inclined to agree, is to start a global conversation based around seven core questions - the most fundamental of which are 1) Who am I, 2) Where am I, 3) What do I intend to do about that. The answers will be personal to each and every one of us, and we have to find out for ourselves what they are to us, by putting the mind to one side, and seeing what lies in the silence that lies beyond. This takes practise and patience, but the rewards are inevitable, but once we are able to achieve this and put this into practise, a global shift will occur, the like of which we have never seen before. All it takes for us to achieve this is to converse with others on the matters mentioned in this most remarkable book. This can be done in any way and in any form that you choose with anyone that you choose, whether in person or on the Internet. I would encourage everyone to try. It is easier than you might think, and what have you got to lose? You may be surprised to find that others have been thinking and feeling the exact same as you, without you even being aware, for that is usually what happens. Someone has to start somewhere, so it might as well be you.

For more information, and to join the discussions go to

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

High Hopes for 2012!

I don't make a habit of listening to the news (too depressing), but can't help hearing the odd snippet during the time that I have the radio on during my early morning drives to work. Apart from the death of Colonel Gadaffi, the story that most caught my ear this week was that regarding the protests about what has been termed "corporate greed". This is a term that many are familiar with, but many are unsure as to exactly what it means.

According to the Dictionary, greed can be defined as the obsessive compulsion for food, wealth or power, while the term corporation can be defined as a group of indivuals who are in business, and act as one unit setting their own rules and agenda. Thus it is that corporations act with little regard for those whom they are supposed to serve (their clients, employees and the world at large), with the sole aim of accumalating more wealth and power for themselves. One of the things that the protestors have been particularly vociferous about is the fact that one percent of the global population own 99 percent of the global wealth - the word own can be used loosely here since less than 3 percent of the money in circulation is "true money" in the form of coins and bank notes, but merely numbers on a screen that exist in a virtual reality world similar to the "friends" that we know online rather than in our real lives. Nevertheless these figures are startling.

The Occupy Wall Street website where the protests began, features pictures of various Americans holding placards stating their experiences of being one of the so-called 99 percent (that is the 99 percent who collectively own around 1 percent of the worlds wealth). My own experience is perhaps not as serious as theirs, since unlike my US counterparts I live in a country which offers free healthcare and do not have to choose between this and eating. In the past few weeks though I have learnt that the man who owns the nursing home where I work, rather than investing in the business that he already has, has chosen to invest in another home, where he expects staff in his other existing business (where I work) to do overtime so that he does not have to pay for agency staff. Thankfully I am not one of these individuals. In the scheme of life of course, none of this really matters, for these issues do not concern me directly. Those individuals who are affected by this have to make their own choices as to what they wish to do, and for the most part they have. What does concern me in a good way are the changes that our new Manager is making.

I have often written about my work on this blog and how hard the housekeepers (this is the job that I choose to do) are expected to work, but when I had the chance to fill in a questionaire earlier this year regarding staff satisfaction which found its way to the Directors, I had little idea how quickly the universe would respond to my requests. I wrote words to the effect that the Directors appeared to have little concept of the workload that the housekeepers are expected to shoulder and that I believed it was time for a complete reapprasisal as to how this Department was run. I added that in order to take a load off our shoulders, the Directors needed to recruit seperate staff for both the kitchen and the laundry, so that we, the housekeepers could concentrate on our real role, that of keeping the home clean and tidy. I have no idea as to whether our new Manager saw what I wrote (she started work long after the forms were sent back) but she appears to share my sentiment, for this week I heard via our staff meeting that a new Kitchen Assistant has already been recruited - without the knowledge of the Directors! This then will be very interesting indeed.

For the moment only one Kitchen Assistant has been recruited, who will work four days a week (Thursday to Sunday) from 10am to 5pm. This has come about under the guise of infection control, rather than a desire to lighten our workload, although that will be the end result. Since there are three housekeepers, for the remaining three days of the week (Monday through to Wednesday) we will each spend one day working soley in the kitchen with the remaining four days of our working week on our housekeeping duties. Whether this will mean that we change our working hours from our existing 7am to 2pm on this day remains to be seen, but that would be very good indeed. It seems then that our job role is about to change quite considerably, and the Director has finally met his match, for he appear to be a fine example of those greedy corporate bosses that the protestors have been so vociferous about. At his heart he is of course a being of love and compassion, but he has lost sight of that part of himself and needs to be shown a different way of doing things. It seems that our new Manager is the person to do that. There will though be interesting times ahead.

At the same time this week, I have booked two holidays - a week on Lundy in March, and 2 weeks on the Isles of Scilly in June. I am staying at my usual haunt, the Old Light Cottage on Lundy and have found the perfect little flat to rent on Scilly, which is one mile from Hugh Town and surrounded by walks and beautiful countryside in all directions. I predict then great things for the coming months, and have high hopes for 2012.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Checking out my past

It is not often that I review books on this blog, but every so often one comes along that makes such a big impact on you that you feel compelled to do so. Usually this is because the book in question tells a good story that resonates with you in a particular way, and I suppose that is true of this one, even though the book in question is non-fiction, for this book, entitled The Checkout Girl in many ways tells the story of my life, my life that is during the period that I too did this job.

Tazeen Ahmad is an Indian born British Muslim working as a television reporter and broadcaster and in 2009 published her first book entitled The Checkout Girl. This is an undercover expose of her time spent working on a frontline as a checkout girl (otherwise known as COG - a most fitting term, since these underpaid employees are indeed the COG's that keep everything, and not just the conveyer belt moving) in Sainsbury's. I too worked for Sainsbury's for 2 years between 2003 and 2005, at one of their larger branches in the southeast. Ahmad does not state which branch she worked in, and this does not matter, for the book is really about the people with whom she worked - this is their story, and as the book says, by the time who you have finished reading it, I can guarantee that you won't ever shop in the same way again. I certainly changed my own habits after I started working there, and like Ahmad, am thoroughly glad that I left.

The relentless grind of this job is enough to drag anyone down - contrary to popular opinion it is a skilled job that not everyone can do. One has to perfect the art of doing about ten things at once (this is the main reason why I suspect the majority of COG’s are women, for men are by tradition useless at multi-tasking), all the while engaging with the customer in what Sainsbury's refer to as a 'meaningful manner.' While it is true that if you stay in this job for any length of time, relationships can develop with customers, the majority of this banter is take it from me, far from meaningful, but enough to put most ordinary people to sleep.

As COG's every move you make is monitored, with hidden cameras everywhere. Those at the top instantly know if a COG has short changed customers, accepted an out of date coupon, forgotten someone's cash back, or heaven forbid, spoken back to a rude and argumentative customer, of which there are many. Their rudeness and arrogance is sometimes breath taking, treating you as little more than paid robots, and robots who are not that well paid at that. This is mirrored by the behaviour of the checkout supervisors - like Ahmad I know all about lack of bag packers, wonky chairs, unanswered call bells, and late reliefs. This for me was the greatest bugbear of all - the fact that if you as a COG are even one minute late for your shift, they deduct 15 minutes from your wages, yet if you are late out, which you are almost every day, you are not paid. Sainsbury's (and no doubt other supermarkets too) must be getting hours of unpaid labour from their COG's held captive at their checkouts, every day. Other staff after all, can simply leave the shop floor and go home, but not COG's who are completely at the mercy of late reliefs, forgetful supervisors and customers with huge trolleys who are unable to comprehend that a closing sign means just that.

These things may sound trivial to some, but when they happen repeatedly every single day, they begin to get more than a little wearing. Ahmad worked just 2 days a week, so you can imagine what it was like for me, working full time.

In the end I went stir crazy - I looked around at some of my colleagues who had been there so long that they were afraid to leave, and knew that if I didn't do something to rectify my own situation, I would end up institutionalised just like them. The day I gave my notice was the day they left me sitting on that checkout for over an hour calling to say I needed the toilet - that gave a whole new meaning to the term pissed off I can tell you, and I haven't looked back.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. I still work in the service sector, but in a job that offers more meaning than sitting at a moving conveyer belt watching food whizz by could ever offer. Reading this book has though made me think back to those days and remember all the reasons why I had to leave, and also I suppose evaluate how far I have come. When I worked at Sainsbury's all those years ago, I would not have dared stand up to the supervisors or the customers in the way that I should have, keeping stum until the anger and frustration boiled over. Not so now. I have learned to communicate properly and with confidence so that these little things do not become larger issues. I am glad that I have changed, and I thank Sainsbury's for the time I spent working there, but I am still glad that I escaped, as most of their customers are too by the time they have finished their shop. It may be stressful for them, but they are the lucky ones for they can take their custom elsewhere, for the COG’s it is not so easy during a recession, when jobs are scarce. Next time you go shopping then, spare a thought for the beleaguered cashier, remember that a few niceties go a long way, and there is no need to be rude, they are after all just like you, only human, and trying to do the best that they can in difficult and very trying circumstances.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Turning up the heat

Well, I certainly picked the right time to go away last week, as during that time off, and for the first part of this week, Britain experienced a heatwave, with temperatures of up to 29 degrees. They have dropped back since to 21 or 22, which is still warm for the time of year, but much more pleasant to work in. It was lovely though while I was away, to spend time on the beach lazing around in the sun and the surf and the spray. On the final day of my holiday, I walked for 2 miles down the beach from Westward Ho! where I was staying, to Northam Burrows, all in the way in the sea, and back again just as the sun was going down. The waves were tremendous. It was exhilerating to say the least, and a grand way to finish off the week. I returned to work on Saturday with my levels of Prana well and truly topped up.

While I was away, I had an important decision to make as to whether I wish to undertake an NVQ in housekeeping. The reason why I say it was and is important is be because to a large extent, my future in the job really does depend on it. When I say this, I mean that if I choose to do it, it would mean that I will definately for the foreseeable future at least, stay there, as my employer will be jointly sponsoring it along with funding from central Government.

The decision was made all the harder as we have a new Manager, who joined us the week before I left for my holiday. My first thoughts about her were that she came across as very austere and business like - she is a large lady, who despite her position as Manager of a nursing home, chooses to wear her own clothes rather than a nursing uniform.

Now I have got to know her a little better, I find that the more time I spend around her, the more I like her. Far from being austere and unapproachable, she is very grounded, and has the Directors very much sussed out. The day I heard her commenting to her Deputy that she could not stand the Director, was the day I knew that we were going to get on like a house on fire! I commented to my own boss, the Head Housekeeper, that it is good to know that the three of us have at least one thing in common!

I have then decided that I will do the NVQ, and the Assessor is coming to see me at work on Monday at 9am to get the ball rolling, fill in all the forms and assess the form (and pace) of learning that will best suit my needs. I expect that I will have to agree to stay at the home for a certain period of time after the NVQ is complete, since my employer will be partly funding it, but as long as it is not ridiculously long (more than a year), that is fine. It will be good for me to know that I do have to stay there, as it will encourage me to get the best from the job, instead of stressing over the small and mostly insignificant details. It will also serve as a signal to them that I am committed to them, and hopefuilly encourage them to give me the pay rise that after 2 1/2 years is long overdue.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Let's get this show on the road

My bag has been packed and my legs have been waxed, so all being well, I will be off to Cornwall within the hour. It has been a strange couple of weeks, with my levels of tiredess increasing more each day, so I really need this rest. The forecast looks good, so all being well, this time tomorrow I shall be on my way to a beautiful Cornish beach for long walks along the cliff tops, watching the birds and listening to the surf.

I don't think that anyone who has a sedentary job can fully appreciate just how tiring a manual job like mine can be - with an office job you get mentally tired and your neck and shoulders ache from hours at the computer, but with my job, every single muscle aches from the moment I awake to the moment I go back to sleep. Lately I have been going to bed tired and waking up tired, with a headache that refuses to go away. At moments like that, I wonder whether I should leave and find something less exhausting, but then I look at the faces of the old people sitting in the dining room at lunch, or in the conservatory reading and doing what they like to do, and realise why I am really there - it is not about cleaning up their mess, but about making a difference to their lives, and an office job would not offer me that, so for the moment at least, I stay.

Our new Manager started on Monday, five months after the previous one left, and she has been ruffling feathers already. She is a very tall and commanding woman with a huge prescence, and very firm ideas as to how things will be - and some of those ideas will not necessarily agree with certain members of staff, or for that matter, the Directors. I had to chuckle the other day when I overheard a conversation between her and her Deputy to the effect that neither of them can stand the Directors, and their attitude towards things! It is good then to know that we have at least one thing in common ...

But, I am on holiday for this week, and so work should be the furthest thing from my mind - on that note then, time to zip up that bag and get this show on the road.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Five days by the sea

Since the Olympic Test Race, which will be four weeks tomorrow, I have been trying to decide where if anywhere I shall go for my next holiday at the end of September. Orignally I had planned to take a full five days holiday, stretching it around my days off to nine, but when I realised that this would not allow me sufficient time for a trip to Lundy in the late winter/early spring, somewhat reluctantly changed this to three days, seven when you allow for my regular days off. My working schedule means that I have Thursday and Friday off one week and Saturday and Sunday the next. Since this is a seven day a week business, in order to have these weekends off, I have to work for seven days in a row beforehand, which really is exhausting. Having to chnage my plans in this way is then less than ideal, since it now means that I will have to work for seven straight days upon my return, but in this case, it cannot be helped.

This could have been avoided if I had not taken a long weekend off for the Olympic Test Race, but at the time I felt that it was necessary to get the pictures that I thought we would need for a special Olympic edition of the newsletter that I hoped we would publish next summer. Unfortunately for me, the rest of the Box Hill News team, for reasons of their own, did not feel that this was a good idea, and so those two days were in effect wasted. Coran and I were not best pleased about this, but what can you do?

The combined effects of this, Corans health issues (he continues to have tests to find out what is causing his sudden energy dips) and constant staff shortages at work, has not surprisingly left me extremely depleted and lacking in energy, so much so that I have been going to bed most nights this week by 8pm. Sleep when it does come is fitful. I wake up several times a night, and once awake, find it extremely dificult to get back to sleep. I wish there was some way top break this cycle, but I have no idea of what it might be. I suspect that what I need is to get out into the fresh air in nature, in particular to sit near the sea. I realise now that it was a mistake to rent a car for as long as I did on the Isle of Man, as it meant that I was unable to do this, and I am now reeping the results, in that I have not had my full quota of light to set me up for the winter months ahead, hence the fact that I find myself now craving the outdoors in a way that I haven't for quite some time.

This is why, despite the long drive, I have decided to go to Cornwall again at the end of the month - actually Cornwall and North Devon. I enjoyed that week that I had there last year so much, walking by the sea and breathing in the air, that I really feel that I need that again, before the winter sets in and I lose the chance. So, I have booked two nights at the youth hostel in Tintagel and three at Westward Ho. I know that part of Devon well from those previous trips to Lundy, and it is a beautiful part of the country, ideal for relaxing by the sea, or on a clifftop with a good book, or in my case, a collection of good books on a Kindle. I can't wait.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Re-kindleing my interest

Last week after several months of deliberations, I finally went out and bought a Kindle. A Kindle for those that do not read books (I really pity those poor souls what they are missing out on), or otherwise live on Mars, is an electronic reading device similar to an Ipod, whereby books are downloaded via a computer direct to the device where they can then be read.

There are quite a few of these on the market, but the Kindle is by far the best in terms of value, not least of all because of the screen which enables you to read in bright sunlight without glare. There are two (in the UK at least, in the US there are three) versions available, one of which works on a normal Wifi signal and one of which works on 3G. 3G is the signal normally used by mobile phones. What this means in layman's terms is that the the 3G model can be used to download books anywhere that a mobile phone can also be used, whereas the non 3G version, which I plumpled for, mainly because of security concerns, can be used only at home or in secure Wifi "hotspots", such as coffee shops and the like. The most obvious advantage of this is that books can be downloaded where and when you like (in some instances I am told, for the more unethical readers, Waterstones - a practise I would never condone). This would be little comfort though if your password details were stolen and your accound hacked into because the network was not secure, as many of them are not, so for the moment at least, I prefer the non 3G version.

This small device though with its six inch screen (the perfect size for a girl), has revlutionised my reading habits. I no longer have to go to bookstores and spend hours browsing the aisles, but can now order everything from the comfort of my own home. If I am not sure as to whether I will like the book, instead of flipping through it in store, I can download a free sample chapter direct to my Kindle in less than a second, and peruse it at my leisure.

Increasingly books are being published only as e-books with no paper edition at all, so it has also opened up a whole new world of choice - books from all around the world in all different genres. In the short time (nine days now) since I have had the device I have downloaded sample chapters from books set in at least six different countries, most of which I will buy. I would almost certainly not have been aware of any of these had I not purchased my Kindle.

Sure, it has taken a bit of getting used to, and nothing will ever compare to the feel of paper and the smell of an old book, but these will still be around for the collectors to enjoy. In practical terms the Kindle will win every time, for that one small device, not much bigger than the palm of my hand can hold 3500 books, more than I am likely to read in my lifetime, with a battery that lasts up a month. How much space would 3500 books take up in your house? It is also better for the environment, since all that paper and ink need no longer be used. E-books may have VAT on them, but in most cases they are still at least a few pence cheaper. The biggest advantage of all though is for the person who actually writes the book, as for the first time, they can publish books direct to the Kindle, taking 70 percent of the profits and cutting out all those middle men - except of course Amazon, who I am beginning to realise are not so evil after all.

The Kindle then for me wins every time, for with this, everyone especially the author, really is a winner, and that is what it is all about.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Olympic Test Race comes to Box Hill

After months of consultation, the long awaited Olympic Road Cycling Test Race (otherwise known as the London Surrey Cycle Classic) finally took place, on Sunday 14th August. The first sign of activity around the Hill was around 2 weeks ago, when a large crane appeared in the National Trust members car park with what appeared to be a TV aerial attached to it. This later turned out to be a mast which was used to test the communications equipment for the Marshalls and other race officials. The mast was quickly followed by a team of security guards. Their presence went a long way towards reducing the criminal element among local teenagers who like to visit the Hill during the summer evenings and at the same time, a significant increase in parking revenue!

The preparations though began in earnest 10 days before the event. The ZigZag was closed over several nights much to the consternation of residents, and red circles were very much in evidence along Boxhill Road. The National Trust car park was turned into a makeshift storage depot for the hundreds of barriers which were gradually placed at various points around the Box Hill loop towards Dorking and Leatherhead town centres and along the A25. Once the barriers were erected, the storage area became the medical centre with first aiders and ambulance crews in attendance. It was difficult to imagine the scale of the event until we saw the infrastructure actually being set up, and it was only at that point that it began to seem real.

As Editor and (unofficial) Asistant Editor of the Box Hill News, Coran and I were lucky enough to secure media passes giving access to the restricted areas, so as to photograph the event. There were three such positions available, one immediately opposite the wristband area, one at the first hairpin bend along the Zig Zag, just past the National Trust car park, and one up at the Donkey Green. We had originally intended that Coran would stay near the hairpin with me at Lodge Hill for the first lap, swapping over for the second, but on the morning of the race after a particularly bad night, Coran did not have the energy for the three mile walk down the ZigZag and so I covered both of these areas while he stayed around the Donkey Green and the village. I was a little concerned as to whether I would have the time to swap between the two areas in between laps, but in the end it worked out well, and we got some great pictures which I hope will be more than adequate for our needs.

We left home shortly after 7am in order to get to the bottom of the ZigZag by 8am, the time alloted for the media gates to open. Walking through the village at this early hour, large amounts of people were already starting to make their way down the Hill. There were groups of marshalls stationed at various points throughout the village manning the crossing patrols and making sure the road remained free of traffic, other than offical vehicles used for testing the route, and ferrying essential personnel back and forth (the roads were closed to the public shortly after 6am and did not re-open until 1.30pm). The Neighbourhood Council and a large team of volunteers were busy at the Village Hall serving drinks and bacon butties, while a few enterprising villagers were doing the same from their front gardens.

I left Coran at the Village Hall and made my way down Burford Spur to the media entrance shortly after 8.15am to be greeted by large amounts of spectators who were waiting patiently for their own entrance to be opened. Most of the media personnel opted to walk to their positions, but having already walked down once, I had no intention of walking back up, so gratefully accepted the lift that was offered. We finally made it to our position opposite the wristband area by about 8.45am. We then to wait what seemed like eternity for the race to begin.

I spent the time walking up and down, watching and photographing the crowds and chatting to the Marshalls and Police Officers, most of whom seemed unaware that Box Hill News even existed. The rest of the media seemed very impressed when I told them that I lived on the Hill, and I soon became enrolled as an informal advisor, letting them know about the geography of the Hill and more about the importance of protecting the natural beauty and wildlife. I stationed myself slightly away from the other photographers to ensure that they did not step in front of me while I shot my own footage, and chose to stay on the left bank opposite the spectators,. This ensured a clear view of the road below and also meant that I had a view of the crowd in the background.

Announcements were made every so often as to where the riders were so that we knew approximately how long we would have to wait, with the crowd becoming more and more excited the closer they got. When the announcement was made that the riders were approaching Dorking, I telephoned Coran to let him know so that he could get into position and be prepared and I set my own camera to burst mode to take a series of shots in quick succession one after the other.

When the lead car arrived shortly after 10.30am, we were informed that Kristian House from the Rapha Condor Sharp team was leading by 6 minutes and 7 seconds.
My position opposite the spectator area provided an excellent vantage point and a bird’s eye view of the riders as they approached around that first hairpin bend. House was the first to appear, closely followed by three others, with the main peloton several minutes behind. A big cheer went up from the crowd, with everyone waving their flags, with the last of the riders receiving the biggest cheer of all.

For the second lap, I hotfooted it down a very steep slope to the photographer’s area at the first hairpin bend. Once again, I chose to stay slightly apart from the other photographers for an uninterrupted view. I had a hairy moment when I thought my camera had frozen, but it later turned out that I had been unable to hear it firing over the noise of the support cars and Police escorts.

With the second lap over, I made my way back to the spectator area at Lodge Hill, and joined the throng for the walk back to the National Trust Centre at the top. Coran met me halfway up and so we walked back up together, feeling very important in our media bibs and beaming with satisfaction for what we had seen and achieved. We handed in our passes before grabbing a bite to eat and a much deserved cup of tea, and then the long walk home.

We had been told to advance to expect crowds of anywhere up to 35,000 but the total was probably less than 10 percent of that figure. The turnout for the stall holders was then very disappointing. Issues with communuication no doubt played a huge role, as all the websites and printed literature advised people to avoid Box Hill as it was retsricted access, and instead watch the race from other parts of the route. This was not strictly true, as it was only the wristband area which was restricted, with the rest of the Hill, from the National Trust centre onwards open and available for all. The organisers in their infinite wisdom failed to differentiate between the different parts of the Hill, assuming that people would know what they meant, which of course they did not, and as a result, people took them at their word and stayed away.

There are many lessons to be learnt from this, and I am sure that meetings will be held in the coming weeks to discuss all these issues and many more. From the point of Box Hill, despite the inconvenience, and the gripes of a small but nevertheless singificant minority, it remains a once in a lifetime opportunity that we have to embrace. No matter how much a small minority might complain, the real race next year will happen and nothing can change that, so we have to embrace it and go with the flow. I for one felt honoured and priviliged to have the opportunity to watch it from this beautiful spot.

Friday, 12 August 2011

The London Riots from my own unique perspective

Important as the forthcoming Olympic Test Race is the people of Box Hill, the biggest story by far on a more national scale has to be the largescale riots which have seen across London and much of the Midlands this past week.

What precipated is hard to tell and depends on whom you spoke to; some say the lethal shooting of Mark Duggan, who was rumoured among other things to be a gang member and drug dealer with an altogether unsavoury past. He was also though rumoured to be a respected member of the society in which he lived, the notorious Broadwater Farm Estate in Tottenham, North London, and a loving father and partner to this girlfriend (fiance) of 12 years. Whatever the truth, what followed was and is truly shocking and a sad indictment of how far our society appears to have fallen.

It is all too easy to fall into the trap of name calling and issuing blame - the words thug, and animal (unfair as always to the animal kingdom who would never behave in this fashion) spring to mind, but this solves nothing, and in fact makes the problem even worse. It is the mob mentality pure and simple, but we are all guilty of that - of following the crowd and being swept along, losing our own sense of identity in order to conform and fit in at some point in our lives. Every ounce of instinct that I had told me that getting embroiled in the emotion of the situation was useless and would not help me, yet being at work the morning after it all erupted, watching it on television, and seeing the girls talking about it non stop, it beccame all too easy to do just that, and I found my own anger spilling over as I joined in the banter and the discussions.

What brought me down to earth with a bump were some comments posted on a reading site that I frequent from one of the US based members. She pointed out that such violence in the United States is in fact nothing new, and that as a Black American (it is a fact and it is not racist to state that the majority of those filmed committing these crimes were and are black skinned), she can see it both ways. But she also acknowledged that not everyone will be able to see it that way - I guess you would have to walk a mile or two in their shoes first. In her own words, when one is pushed beyond reason it is human instinct for either flight or fight. Pent up rage, anger and frustration spills over and results in an outpouring of violence.

Ther are of course though many reasons why people strike out, and not all of these are justified. Some do it simply to get attention, or due to the afforementioned mob mentality, but the majority do it because they feel they have no other recourse. This is not of course an excuse for what has happened, but it goes someway towards explaining and helping us to understand the underlying cause, for there always has to be one. People do not behave in this manner for no reason.

It is easy to say that we have to pull ourselves up and make things happen, but it not always that easy. When you grow up in an environment where the majority are impoverished, poorly educated, and come from highly dysfunctional homes, what else can you expect. The kids who grew up in such an environment know no different; no matter which way they look, everyone else is the same with the same lack of prospects, and seemingly powerless to change their situation. They feel that they have to adopt that 'swagger' and the gang mentality in order to fit in, as if reinforces the idea that they are helpless victims, or are they?

Youngsters today from my perspective have far more opportunities than my own generation ever did - there were no youth clubs in my area, at least not that I was aware of, but the kids did not run riot in the streets. There was little career counselling either, or advice on drugs, birth control and how to stay out of trouble. The youth today have all this and more. They even have the opportunity to go and meet the Mayor of London and sit on a special session just for them, something that would have been unthinkable a generation ago. They have a greater voice than my generation ever did, but the apathy still remains.

I remember something that one of my white South African colleagues told me about her own time working in the townships in her own country, that she would organise various iniatives to try and help the residents and not one of them would turn up. It was almost as if they did not want to be helped. I suppose it goes back to that sense of hopelessness, that if a people are downtrodden for long enough then they start to believe that there is no point in anything that they do to try and help themselves, as it will not make a genuine enough difference to their lives. This is of course senseless and could not be further from the truth, for if nothing else, it makes them feel better about themselves. The collective consciousness then come into play, starting off in a small way, but from little acorns big oaks do grow, and you have to start somewhere.

Of course not all the rioters come from this impoverished background, many are what I would term professional people, who are fairly affluent, and come from good homes, one is a millionaires daughter and so wants for nothing. This is the mob mentality, pure and simple, and these people deserve to have the book thrown at them, so that they can then experience the other side of the coin. It is all about cause and effect.

Those who are not so affluent should of course also have to account for their actions, but this is not all about them, it is about society as whole. If society cna be judged on how they treat the poorest and the weakest, I wonder what it would say about us? And those that serve to criticise the Government and lay the blame at their door for all the cutbacks they have made, should also ask themselves that if the inner does indeed refect the outer, what does that say about them?

Friday, 5 August 2011

The race is on ...

The London Surrey Cycle Classic (otherwise known as the Olympic test race), is fast approaching next weekend. It will be an interesting weekend for the small village of Box Hill where we live, with 148 cyclists doing 2 loops of the Hill right through the centre of the village. Preparations are in full swing with bunting ordered and tea ladies at the ready, not to mention the cameras of yours truly and her intrepid partner as Editor and unofficial Assistant Editor of the Box Hill News.

Our media accreditation has just arrived, so I have spent the last half hour printing it out to make sure that everything is clear and reading it through. We can collect our passes next Friday afternoon but on the day itself have to be at the media entrance by the bottom of Hill by 8am, an hour before the riders leave The Mall. I was excited to hear that Mark Cavendish, the fastest man on 2 wheels will be among them.

This though is a real opportunity to put our village on the map and to celebrate the unity of village life. It's a pretty good one when I come to think of it, and I would definitely not want to live anywhere else. Moving here was the best thing that both of us did, and it will be five years this December.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

A test of strength

Yesterday Coran and I attended a one day workshop with our friend Shirley Flint entitled Rituals of the Dark Moon. This was an invitation to meet and work with the Dark Mother or Goddess in all her glory, transforming our hopes and fears along the way. It was a powerful and tranforming day for both of us, uncomfortable in places, since it meant a willingness to let go of everything and strip it all away (in a spiritual sense), until we were laid completely bear, facing the true reality of who we really are.

The Dark Goddess represents the dark and hidden face of our nature, the wise woman
within. She represents the journey to wholeness through our willingness to look at our inner darkness in all its facets - our beliefs about love, about life and about who we are, both conscious and unconscious.

It had been several years since I attended a workshop of this kind, and to begin with I felt more than a little uncomfortable about sitting round the circle in the Sanctuary sharing what I hoped to get from the day. I had meditated on this beforehand and was clear about this was - the thing I wanted to work on the most was the need to gossip and criticise others, particularly at work, in order to fit in and feel part of the crowd. I received some very practical help with that, and was told that like most other things, it was and is a choice that I have to make. It is as ever about how it makes me feel, for I know in the moment that I do this that it does not make me feel good, about myself or about the person whom I criticise, both spiritually and energetically. There is a better, more appropriate way of doing things and that is simply to speak as I find. What I find is that each being in whatever form they choose to inhabit is a being of love, who is doing the best that he or she can do, the same that I also am. As such, they should be treated with compassion and reverence, for we do not know the agenda of their soul. They should be honoured for the contribution they make to our own evolution in the same way that we ourselves would wish to be honoured.

That is a really big thing for me - the need to be honoured and the need to be acknowledged. I always felt in my current job, that this was not happening, yet during one of the many meditations that we did yesterday, I came to realise that this is far from the case. I have in fact been seen very clearly for who and what I am, by all those whom I come into contact with during my work, including those who own the business. It is that in fact that presses their buttons, in the same way that they appear to press mine. I detect then a large amount of mirroring, but then again, isn't that what happens?

I found myself relaxing more as the day progressed and thinking about why I had stopped attending events of this kind. It started I suppose when we moved to our Surrey village 4 1/2 years ago from the Surrey/south London subburbs. Up until then I had been attending events on an almost weekly basis at our local non denominational church. When we moved here the distance seemed too great for us to travel and so we gradually stopped attending, until we no longer went at all. I did not exactly lose my faith, but my faith changed to one where I was no longer dependant on the 'crutches' of crystals, angels etc that many on the path still seem very hung up on. Many of these things seem to me so very last decade. I have moved beyond the point of needing to attend these workshops, read the latest new age books etc, and am at the point now where I want to just live it.

This is not meant as a criticism to those who feel that they do still need these tools or 'crutches' as I sometimes call them, for they serve a valuable role for those that are new to the path and those who are learning about their own personal power. Many are now coming to the path who previously poo pooed these ideas as new age psycobabble. For me though it is not where I need to be, I am however immensely grateful to those teachers who helped me to reach this point. It is a marker of how well they taught me, and how far I have come.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Shine, shine on ...

It's five days now since I returned from the Isle of Man, and already it feels like a lifetime ago. I had a wonderful time, in almost complete solitude, and will almost certainly go back. The overriding memories are ones of mountainous glens and rushing waterfalls, a cacophony of birdlife and beautiful sunlit coastal walks. Also of delicious seafood and fresh gluten free cakes (no Ray, it is not pronounced gluton, but gluton is spelt June).

I stayed a small hostel called Junior House, part of King Williams College in the south of the island near Castletown, which once acted as a dormitory for younger pupils at this famous private boy’s school. The accommodation was a little spartan, but comfortable nevertheless, fulfilling my meagre requirements of a bed, a shower and a well equipped kitchen in which to self cater (important if you have special dietary needs as I do). I ate out a few times, mostly at The Sound cafe, near the most southerly point of the island, but for the most part, catered for myself. Doing so meant that I could control what I ate, ensuring that the food would not make me ill, at the same time helping to keep costs down.

I rented a car for the first week from Isle of Man Car Rentals, and despite requesting a small automatic, on arrival was presented with the keys for a brand new Mondeo. This was a bit bigger and much more powerful that I am used to, so initially I was quite nervous about driving it, but once I got used to it, I found the larger engine invaluable for negotiating the mountain roads. The island, despite its small size (33 miles long by 10 miles wide), has a lot of mountain roads. The hairpin bends where I live are nothing compared to these, and the views were tremendous. During the second week I relied on public transport, which I found to be excellent, and for the most part extremely punctual and reliable. I found it was much better than driving, since when you take in so much more when walking, and can stop to take photographs where and when you like, without worrying about whether it is safe to park or who might come up behind you. Given the high cost of diesel (almost 149 pence per litre), if and when I do go back, I am certain to use this method again.

Most of my time was spent around the south, as that is where I was based, but I managed to explore most of the island, from the northernmost Point of Ayres to Peel in the west and Douglas, the capital on the eastern side. I must admit that the car was useful for reaching these out of the way places, as not all of them were directly served by busses, necessitating a walk of several miles from the nearest stopping point. One of the highlights was a visit to the Calf of Man, a small bird sanctuary on an island off the southernmost tip, and also the Manx Museum in Douglas, where I learnt all about the islands history and native language. There is much of which I could write, but the memories are best kept to myself as the personal mementoes that they are.

So, on Monday it was back to work and right back into the fray. While I was away it seems that the boss was complaining yet again - not only regarding the standards in general, but also about me, who committed the heinous crime of going upstairs to get changed on the eve of her holiday, having just worked for seven days in a row, five minutes early. The Director wanted the Acting Manager to ring me at home and reprimand me but to her credit she refused, stating that I had probably already left for the airport! If this were not so stupid, it would be almost laughable, but actually this is deadly serious. There is something seriously wrong with someone who is this petty and it is to my mind frankly ridiculous to get upset over a few lousy minutes.

There is no space for anyone in the care home business for anyone who does not come from the heart. The Director does of course have a heat as we all do, but he is first and foremost a businessman, an investment banker with political aspirations, who thinks that the minimum wage should be abolished to make Britain more competitive, and went into this business as he realised it was a growth opportunity that presented the means to make even more money. Care homes are of course a business like any other, and do have to make a profit in order for the Directors to live, but this needs to tempered with the needs of the residents and the staff who work there and should not come at their expense. His attitude then needs to change in order to reflect this.

Given the problems that we have recently experienced, and the criticisms levelled at the housekeeping department, in order to increase accountability, it has been decided that for the foreseeable future, I will work only downstairs and my colleague only upstairs. I am not completely unhappy about this, as I do prefer being downstairs, as you are more involved in what is going on, but at the same time, it also means that I will no longer see those room bound residents who reside upstairs and whom I have bonded with and have a good rapport. We will I am sure both miss each other a great deal. This though is the decision he had made, and I have to go along with it.

I can though turn this to a positive, as the kitchen, lounge and dining room are all downstairs and these are the heart of the house, where all the activity takes place. I am then exactly where I need to be. These areas are by their very nature much more visible, meaning that I too will be more visible, with the fruits of my work on display for all to see, as will also be my ability to interact with and make a difference to the residents with which I do remain in contact. When one works upstairs, one remains unseen, disappearing into the background, whereas downstairs is the opposite, making this role I some ways, much more important. I have had issues with many of my jobs regarding being unseen and unnoticed, and have often felt this here too; this then is an opportunity to shine loud and clear and be seen in all my glory.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

It is better not to know ...

A month, maybe more has gone by since last I wrote on this blog, and as usual too much has happened to detail or even remember for that matter. For the moment then, I havr to concentrate on what I feel right now, in this moment (knowing of course that this moment is all I have). So, how do I feel? In some ways this is a difficult question to answer, perhaps it should be what do I feel?

What I feel is a sense of relief. A sense of relief that the heatwave that we have been experiencing for the past day or so has broken, also a sense of relief in the fact that four days from now I shall be on my way to the Isle of Man, in fact, four days from now, I shall already be there, probably trudging around Tesco's - and I am looking forward to that?!

Seriously, I do need this holiday. I have been getting way too stressed (as usual)of late, with work, with the newsletter that I edit, and with life in general. The Manager of the nursing home where I work left abruptly at the end of May, without the staff being informed until right at the very last moment. She wrote us a letter supposedly letting us know what the situation is, but it left us with more questions than answers. Rumour has it, she experienced some kind of breakdown due to stress - I know her mother died recently, but really it is all conjecture. We will probably never know, but one thing I do know is that if these rumours are even halfway true, then she did the right thing in resigning in order to take time out, as that is the only way to truly heal and reflect on your life. Whatever she is doing I wish her well, but life goes on, and as the Directors atated in their own letter to us, she was just one member of staff, and the rest of us have to carry on doing what we are good at. I just realise that sometimes that was recognised a little more. We have received a staff satifsction survey to fill in detailing our thoughts as to how the home can be changed, so this is our chance to be totally honest and say what we feel, and I for one have taken the opportunity by the horns, knowing that I may not get another opportunity, and that if I fail to take this one, then I have no right to complain.

It seems a lifetime ago since everything kicked off with my sister, but she remains in my thoughts, and I do wonder how she it, and what she is feeling. I had a card from her on my birthday last week, and I gather from that that she is back in psyciatric hospital. They were unable to talk to me without her permission, and in order to get that permission they would have had to tell her that I had been in contact, so it is better at this stage that I do not know. They do however know where I am should there be an emergency.

So for the moment, I sit here at the computer drinking my tea and listening to the rain, wondering what the next few weeks will bring - it is better perhaps not to know, for the fun is in the sense of discovery that not knowing brings.

Friday, 13 May 2011

After the rain - refreshed and relaxed

After my last post, I sunk into what seemed at the time like a deep depression that I can only describe as a feeling of underlying hysteria. This seems to be common at the moment for those on the spiritual path, but when I was in the depths of that despair, that knowledge brought little comfort. It was a feeling of being completely overwhelmed by everyone and everything around me, that life was just too difficult and too hard to bear. I tried as much as I could to stay out of people's way, aware that my sensitivity made be bristly and awkward to be around, but even so, the least little thing would set me off. Several times I got to work and just sat in the car park and cried, and once after an altercation with another staff member, who yet again misunderstood my words, I went to the dining room and bashed the living daylights out of one of the chairs. This person like me, had their own stuff to deal with, and I suspect was feeling just as I was, in her own, and also like me, was not dealing with it very well.

A week later, after an American friend emailed and asked how I was, the feelings finally subsided. It was almost as if, that hand reaching out, and asking how I was, enabled me to open up and finally admit the truth - that I felt lost, frightened and alone, as if, if I found the courage to admit, truly admit how I felt inside, and let go, I would not be able to stop. Loss of control has always been one of deepest fears - perhaps because as a child I witnessed the results of it so many times.

The feelings though did subside, as always, to a feeling of acceptance and great calm and the recognition that I am not responsible for how others feel. My sister has made her choice, as we did too to change out number, and now we both have to live with the consequences. As for the meeting at work, well that too turned out to a bit of a damp squib and not nearly as bad as I feared. The results for the housekeeping team have been outstanding, in that the carers in their unwillingness to help us by bringing leftover trays back to the kitchen where they belong, have created another job for themselves, as one of them is now allocated the task of going back upstairs after their morning meeting to bring them down, clear them away and stack the contents nearly in the sink for us to deal with. It has also been made clear to them that it is their job to wash up and clear away the tea trolley, no matter how senior they are, as some have made comments to the effect that they feel it is menial work that is beneath them. These two small changes have done wonders already to bolster team working, removing the us and them mentality that seems to have developed of late.

So, on Monday Coran and I departed to Glastonbury for a much needed 3 night stay at the Chalice Well Lodge. The weather was mixed - sun and cloud with a light smattering of rain, but it was a joy to sit in the gardens each night and bathe in the energy of the town. I for one feel so much better for the break and can go back to work tomorrow refreshed and relaxed for the seven week countdown to to my visit to the Isle of Man.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Not the best day

Today has not been the best day for me - not only do I have to contend with the aftermath of changing our number and how I feel about having to do that, but I have also had to deal with stroppy memos from the boss claiming once again that the standard of housekeeping has fallen. It is bad enough that I have to deal with one of these things, but put the two together and then consider the way in which both have happened, and you can see how the two things have conspired to tip me almost to the edge.

I have been aware for a while that the boss was not altogether happy with the standards in the home, as there has been a definite increase in the number of items written in the housekeeping book, but I did not expect her to write what I consider to be extremely rude and confrontational memos to her assistant regarding this, expecting her to deal with it in her absence.

When the Assistant Manager informed me this morning that there would be a meeting to discuss various issues on Wednesday, when the Head Housekeeper is back from extended sick leave, this was one thing, but when I read the memo that the Manager had sent to her Assistant asking to deal with it, it knocked me six. It stated that although she is aware that the Head Housekeeper has been away, and there have been three housekeepers in on several occasions (actually not that many at all), there is still no excuse for the falling standards within the home and there needs to be a meeting to address these issues. The memo goes on to say that this meeting is to be properly minuted and a note put on each of the housekeepers personnel files stating what was discussed and what the outcome of the meeting was. This sounds to me like some kind of written warning, which I believe is totally unwarranted, and which I want no part of. When I accepted the full time job which commenced at the end of February, despite the fact that I had been here for 21 months already part time, doing the exact same job, they insisted on a second three month probationary period. I am worried now that they will use this as an excuse to extend it, like they did the first one, again for trivial things which have been largely outside of my control.

Up until the end of February, when the department was fully staffed, we had three full time housekeepers and one part time. When my colleague left and I took over her full time hours, this created a part time vacancy which is yet to be filled. So, when the Head Housekeeper went on extended sick leave, barely one month later, following an accident, this left us one full and one part time person down. When there are two housekeepers in, one works downstairs and one upstairs, cleaning the residents rooms and doing the kitchen and laundry respectively. Three days a week all three of us work together and that is when the Head Housekeeper does her weekly tasks of cleaning other areas around the home - among other things, filling the soap and paper towel dispensers, descaling the shower heads and cleaning carpets and upholstery. This is one of the areas being complained about, which under normal circumstances would be fair enough, but these are not normal circumstances. It does not seem to occur to them that these tasks can only be carried out when there are three of us in, and where this would normally be for three days each week, for the past six weeks it has been for one day every other week.

Given the the circumstances then I think we should be praised for managing to maintain the home as well as we have done. The Assistant Manager, who has been given the task of dealing with this while her own boss is away (the mark of a coward if ever I saw one), has indicated to me that she actually agrees with me, and cannot see what the fuss is about, but she has to go through the motions of conducting this meeting anyway.

To me, after all the hard work that I have put in, it feels like a kick in the teeth, and coming on top of everything else, it has been too much for me to deal with. When I got home, and found that BT had still not changed our number, despite their assurances that it would take 24 hours to complete, I rang them to find out why and was told that they do not count weekends and Bank Holidays as working days, and it will not be complete until next Tuesday - suddenly one day has become six. I really tore into them and told them in no uncertain terms exactly what I thought. Luckily the same rule apples to the call barring which we also cancelled, as otherwise we may have been exposed to yet more nuisance calls.

With Coran away for the afternoon though, helping a disabled friend to move, by the time I got home and finished dealing with all this, I just hid under the duvet and cried. I don't think anyone can truly understand how difficult and how stressful the last few months, dealing with all this nonsense from my sister has been, and the prospect of yet another meeting with her CPN on Tuesday does not make it any easier, as I know that I will have to rehash the whole thing and justify to yet another person why I feel the way I do, and why I felt forced to take the action that I did. I am just sick and tired of people continually pussy footing around giving credence to everyone else's needs other than my own, because I appear to be able to deal with things. Well appearances can be deceptive, because the truth is, I am not dealing with things nearly as well as they think I am. Like DelBoy from Only Fools and Horses, I do not want to play the tough guy (or in this case, girl), but do so because it is all I know how to do. It is a protective mechanism designed to insulate myself from the knocks that life has dealt me, and the lack of support from everyone it seems bar Coran.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Keane - This Is The Last Time

The final letting go

After a month or so of blissful silence and peace, two days ago, we had another 2 calls from my sister, both from different mobile phone numbers. She was shouting so loudly and being so abusive and unpleasant that Coran could literally hear her at the other end of the house. I promptly put down the phone and added both of these numbers to our barred list and then telephoned the Police, like I said I would do in my previous letter to her.They came round the following evening and stayed for an hour, taking a full report and making all the right noises, but it turned out to be just that - noises, with very little substance, for yesterday morning they telephoned again to say that they would not be speaking to her, and were closing down the file.

The only advice they could give us was to go back to her care team and/or change our telephone number, something we had been resisting until that point due to Coran's business. It was clear from that that despite the fact that it was them who actually caused the problem, by giving her our phone number in the first place, they are not prepared to help us, but continue to simply pussy foot around her, because of her 'illness' and unpredictability. It does not seem to occur to them how much this impacts on our lives, and how powerless it has made us feel, instead they just sit there saying that we have to talk to the care team and in their own words "make them earn their money". Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

Well, Coran and I decided that if they are not prepared to help us, then we have to help ourselves, so despite the inconvenience this will cause to both of us, in my role as Editor of the village newsletter, and for Coran in terms of his business, we have taken the power back into our hands and gone ahead and changed our number, knowing that this is the only guaranteed way to make sure that she does not call us again. There is nothing we can do to stop her writing, but we do not have to open her letters, and letters are far less disruptive than her constant whining down the phone, refusing to accept her humanity or the part that she has played in creating this scenario. So in the words of Keane, "This is the last time that I will show my face, one more tender lie and then I'm out of this place".I am sad of course that it has come to this, and I would have hoped that another solution could have been found, but it was not to be, for she showed a total unwillingness to meet us even a quarter of the way and we cannot have a relationship that is based on need, with we give and she just takes. Both of us have had enough.

It does seem so very final and I am so very sad that it has come to this, I am not sure if I will ever come to terms with the way in which this happened, and the way that she has forced our hand. It is like a grieving process, and I know that I have to let her go. The feelings though come and go, as I am sure they will for a while - feelings of anger, guilt and despondency at the seeming injustice of it all, and for the great loss of the person she once was and could be once again - the person that I may never see blossom into her full potential and become a functioning member of society. I have to though accept that it was and is her choice to remain in that situation, and so it was also my choice to accept that choice that she made and at the same time, to let her go. Maybe she will come back to me, maybe she will not, it is not my choice to make. The only thing I can do is to let her go with grace and get on with the rest of my life. With God's help, and the solace of some very good friends and a wonderful partner, I will get through.

Friday, 18 March 2011

One Big Society: Hiding in plain sight

Coran and I were listening to the news this week, in the aftermath of the Japanese disaster, discussing the difference between how this has been handled, compared to what happened at Chernobyl. It made us think how influential the Internet has become in spreading news so rapidly around the world, so that things like this can no longer be hidden. Bear in mind that the Egyptian revolution which recently toppled their Government, and is threatening to topple other regimes throughout the Middle East, started on the Internet.

The world is becoming smaller and smaller, like one big global village, reflecting the changes in society. The average man or woman in the street is no longer powerless, but does in fact have a voice, a voice that is increasingly being heard. We are beginning to realise at long last, that one voice can indeed make a difference, as all change has to start from within.

This also brought to mind the somewhat confusing Conservative Policy known as the Big Society. It is a phrase that has been much bandied about, but very few seem to understand exactly what it means, David Cameron quite possibly among them. The Big Society Network website states that the Big Society is: "a society in which ordinary citizens feel big in terms of being supported and enabled, creating real change in their own neighbourhoods". This is all well and good, but what if we took this one step further, and looked at this not only on a local level, but on a more global scale. We, every man, woman and child live on this one blue green planet, which we call Earth, collectively forming one big cohesive society.

When David Cameron states that we are in this together, people tend to think in terms of budget cuts and how rich and poor should, but appear not to be, sharing the pain, yet if we look at this from the global perspective maybe it does not mean this at all, maybe in our efforts to manage our own small lives, we are missing the bigger picture of what the Big Society really means, for in sharing this planet which is home to all of us, we literally are all in it together, like ants sharing different hills in the same field. Everything is connected by strands and threads of energy weaving their way across the ether, connecting all of our thoughts together until they make the whole. The thoughts that dominate become the collective conscious and conscious is the key word here, for we need to become more conscious of the impact that we have not only as individuals but as a whole, to look at the bigger picture of what will benefit the Big Society (and for that read the entire human race) as a whole. We can no longer isolate ourselves away thinking that the problems of others do not concern us, for we are all one, and we are quite literally in this together, whether we like it or not.

I suspect that Cameron himself is not aware of the deeper implications of his brainchild, this policy that he appears to have created, but one thing is clear from the events of Japan and throughout the Middle East, there will be many more changes to come. It is heartening to see green energy being debated on Question Time as a real alternative to nuclear power. This could also go a long way to resolving our dependence on oil, as the crisis in the Middle East intensifies, spiralling prices out of control. If the Americans think that their fuel prices are high, they should see what we have to pay, an average in this area at the moment of 136 pence per litre and rising.

Of course, I had rather a disaster like the Japanese one had not occured, and I feel desperately sorry for those who have lost their homes and their livelihoods, but maybe it was the only way to get our attention, to make us wake up and force through the changes that are so obviously needed, the redistributon of wealth and power back to the people on the ground, who form the majority of our population, wresting it away from the 5 percent who currently account for 95 percent of the world's wealth. They too can learn a lesson from this, that wealth does not bring power, and the higher you are, the further you have to fall. There are so many lessons that we can learn from this, if we choose to see them, and not buy into the negativity that has become a media frenzy. It is dificult to step back sometimes and see the higher perspective, but this year will go down in history as the one where everything began to change very much for the better, for here we have the makings of a society which truly is equal in every sense of the word.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

The stormy seas of Surrey life

Two weeks into my almost new full time job, I am enjoying my first proper weekend off (apart from holidays) for almost 2 years. It was a novel experience for me to have a lie in at the weekend, and not to have to rush to get up and out ready for work.

I am pleased to report that the transition to full time has been relatively smooth. The 7am starts have not been nearly as bad as I thought they might be, aided no doubt by the time of year, as it begins to get light earlier in the morning. I have settled into it so well that I wonder how on earth I used to do the job without that extra hour. It makes a big difference and enables me to do the job much more thoroughly, finding time to do those extra tasks that I never had the time for before.

This week I have been working upstairs, which was a novelty for me, being used to working downstairs. I had to find a whole new routine, getting to know many of the residents who do not normally leave their rooms, and washing dirty laundry instead of dishes. Next week, starting on Monday I will be downstairs again with Thursday and Friday off, and then have seven days in a row to work until the following weekend when the rota starts all over again.

I find the days go so much quicker when the mind is occupied and relish my afternoons off being able to relax and read. Once the nights begin to shorten and spring turns to summer, I look forward to some afternoons at the viewpoint, relaxing on the grass and enjoying the sun without having to rush off back to work in the evenings.

Sadly not everything in my life is smooth sailing. Just as we thought we were finally going to get some peace, on Wednesday night, we had another call from my sister, three calls to be precise. I picked the phone up, not recognising the number and thinking it might one one of Corans clients, so was surprised to hear her voice, in the usual accusatory tones asking why we had stopped ringing her and why we had palmed her off on the care team. Attempts to explain were as usual fruitless, with my sister becoming more and more agitated and accusatory with every breath. In the end I was forced to tell her that I was unable to continue the conversation and I put down the phone. Five minutes later she rang again, and this time I let the answerphone pick it up. She left a message saying more of the same, why won't we talk to her, she needs us and we need her, blah, blah, blah. Well actually, no we don't need this at all.

One hour and one phone call later, with Coran home from his evening at the meditation group, the number was barred. The following day, calls were made to her new CPN, the local CAB and the Police, asking what the hell we can do to stop this once and for all. As fast as we block her numbers, she gets a new phone and calls all over again, leaving angry and abusive messages, failing to listen to one single word that we say. After the last meeting, two weeks ago, we really thought that this was it, but no, the message has still not sunk in, so this time, with the advice and support of her new CPN, we have written her a letter, setting out in no uncertain terms that we will not entertain this behaviour anymore and that she made the choice to walk away from us, knowing full well what the consequences would be.

She has to understand in the words of J Michael Strazynski, that the problem is not between her and us, but between her and herself. If the message still fails to get through and she continues to harass us, for this is what it is, we may have no alternative but to seek an injunction. This is not something that either of us would choose, but we have run out of other options, as everything else has failed.

Against the backdrop of this, I have then been very pleased to be at work, as it has meant that I am busy there and not sitting at home brooding and mulling things over. On a brighter note, the deposit has now been paid for my trip to the Isle of Man (I am going on July 2nd for 2 weeks), staying at a former boys boarding school in the south of the island). I have three months in which the find the balance, so all I have to do now is save the money and book the flight.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Facing our deepest fears

Three days after that fateful meeting with my sister, Coran and I are waiting anxiously to discover what if any, the fall out has been for her care team. As anticipated, it did not go smoothly at all, and we finished up going our separate ways. When she visited our house just after Christmas, she sat at our dining room table, after we had cooked her a lovely meal, and quite brazenly, without any shame at all, stated in her own words that she did not care who she hurts as long as she got what she wanted. I must admit that that knocked both of us for six, as up until then, I had not realised in quite such stark terms, exactly what we were dealing with.

On Friday then, when Coran asked her if she remembered having said that, she repeated it vociferously and in much more angry and defensive tones. She has a habit of leaving the room when we say anything that is too close to the truth, and in this way, not facing up to the consequences of her actions, therefore nothing ever gets reeolved. Ths time, when she got up to leave, we told her that if she walked away from us, then we would lwalk away from her - forever. She immediately sat back down. However, when challenged again, and after repeating our words to the effect that if she left, so would we, this time for good, she upped and left anyway.

In that moment she made a choice, a choice as to which of her fears was the greatest; the fear of dealing with her issues and what that might unleash, or the fear of losing us - the fear of dealing with her stuff was evidently much greater, for that is the choice that she made, and like all other choices in life, it was hers to make. It saddens me that it had to come to this, but as I previously stated, the situation as it was was completely untenable, and a change of some sort had to made.

We offered her a a carrot, a way out, but in the end, she chose the stick, a stick with which to beat herself up, for make no mistake, in making that choice, to walk out of our lives and not to confront her stuff, she will now be forced to do that very thing that she feared the most, for she will realise in no uncertain terms that this is the bed that she herself has made and she is the only one who can unmake it.

She may not face it in this life, and I may not see her again in this life either, but she will have to face it at some point, and I will see her again, if not in this life, then in another. I comfort myself with the knowledge that in a parallel life somewhere else, this has already happened, and she is a happy and functioning member of society. In making that choice though in this life, she can no longer blame us, or anyone else, whining down the telephone, expecting us to solve all her problems, and come running to the rescue every time she is lonely and afraid. No, she is now on her own.

We have said to her care team that we want no further contact from her in either written or verbal form, and that if she turns up at our home in a taxi, intruding on our peace, we will call The Police. This is the only language that she understands. I am sorry in some ways that it has come to this, and upsetting as it was when it all happened, my consciounce is completely clear - I did everything in my power to help her and she thwarted us at every turn with no intention of moving from where she is. That is the choice that she made, and so we, being unable and unwilling to support that situation any further than we already have, made the only appropriate choice that we could in response - to walk away so that she can find herself once more. In so doing, we have set her free, and also ourselves.