Category Archives: society

Challenge 25 policy – grave concerns

Gone are the days of 18 and 21 being celebrated as the birthdays when you get the keys to adulthood. Adulthood has been deferred; minatory has been extended, and that murky inbetween now a longer limbo.

Whether intentional or not, there’s incredible control here of citizens, undermining our rights as humans too, with very nanny state decisions being made.

This Challenge 25 policy isn’t just about drink.

It is used to challenge a 20 odd old buying a 12 DVD, when they are twice that age.

I have always maintained that age isn’t the factor – for we are not all automatically willing and able to cope with things because of our age, protecting young people but not older ones.

The more you forbid, the more you’ll provoke.

And once over 25 – people can buy what they want, and it harms just as much.

It has made retailers our guardians, and the ridiculous fines if they guess an age wrong means that their paranoia leads to arguments at the till. It’s not flattering to be thought younger than you are. Why do we privilege youth?!  So don’t make it sound like it’s kind of compliment: “if you are lucky enough to look under 25…” because it isn’t. It’s causing embarrassment and offence, on both sides, and also inconvenience.

We are proud in the UK not to be an ID carrying country. This policy enforces that on young people, using the frightening technologies of biometrics to learn and retain information about people. The abuse and (even for its supposed proper use) is appalling, continuing the control and following of citizens that we are so angry about and are supposed to accept – even rejoice in!

It makes me wonder if it is a way of starting ID carrying through the back door and influencing the youngest generation.

The adverts about peer pressure and drinking were much better, for they were for any age, and should put the responsibility on the consumer not just the retailer.

Meanwhile, you’ve created an industry around ID, useful for secret services and any who would abuse the system.

This isn’t liberty, this isn’t taking care of citizens, it’s another mixed message such as “we like the income that smoking gives us, but we’ll put health warnings on cigarette packets.” You like the revenue of alcohol, its profiteers are often close government friends, but you want to be seen to be cleaning up the streets.

So I don’t agree with First Minster Nicola Sturgeon that this is a step to be proud of. Scotland has been great in many ways at making sensible laws first in the UK, which then trickle down. This is not one of them.

Challenge 25 website doesn’t even have a contact – my email bounced, so we don’t know who to hold to account.

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Why the Beauty film is Beastly

Yes I mean that one – the new Disney remake of its own cartoon, where more than the cursed prince is hideous.

This is not a story about beauty being within. This is a story which perpetuates harmful and false ideas about youth, beauty and love. It says – you can be too late to find love and be forever inhumanly frozen. And this deadline is in your youth.

It says that you must find love in return to stop the curse. It hasn’t grasped that the telos of love is to love – end. Even if you are rejected or scorned, you and your love are not diminished. You can also find reciprocity in non romantic love.

Crazy Eyes in Orange Is The New Black had a better speech to give on this subject than anything said or implied by the Beastie.

It’s the implication which I particularly am concerned by.

Belle of course is beautiful and young. Cartoon Belle was a disturbing mix of juvenile and ridiculous woman’s figure. She is the heroine who is the darling of her father and the Beast and his entourage. She gets the guy – but he reverts to being handsome and human.

Does anyone else see issues with a creature of at least 3 types having relations with a girl?

But Belle (and we) learn to love Beast in his large and furry form (the cartoon was a bison crossed with Honey Monster) so it’s not surprising that the audience is disappointed when he goes back to being a man – in the cinema I saw the live action film, there was laughter.

The catalyst is the usual trope – the old ugly hag. But she – the sorceress, showing magic is dangerous and spiteful – is young and beautiful really.

I wondered how different ridiculously caricatured Gaston is to Beast, at least as he was. Why didn’t the sorceress pay a visit to Garston?

And of course the Beast has to be aristocrat with a huge home and an estate; he is served by a retinue far greater than his household (ie just him) requires. Is he going to give anything to the community he shuns now the spell has ended? Or will they all carry on with foppish selfish debauchery as before?

The lovers are young – wasn’t Belle 21 in one version? Those Disneyfied folk tales often have such wenchlike heroines, and there’s ageism in Snow White and the Dwarfs too. Why wasn’t an older couple at the centre? And why wasn’t excellent Ray Fearon, the priest, used more? 57 year old Emma Thompson is the mature widow, when at the time of the cartoon original she was the star wench. Why is she less worthy now of being a romantic lead?

And romance is of course dinners and dances and being silly together. Are we at all convinced this is the meeting of souls and the basis for a life together?

And as for his rejoining the human world : I liked the ending of Shrek better.

Read my cinema reviews here

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Canterbury Cathedral – a place for martyrs, medieval architecture…and guns

I sent this to the Dean shortly after learning about the new regime which began last Sept.

I left time for a reply, but didn’t get one.

 

Dear Dean Robert

I was shocked to learn that armed police patrol the Precinct, and the city.

I’ve long been unhappy at your entry fee, but this is even more offputting; I won’t visit whilst this guards policy is in place. It clashes with Christian welcome and values, and either puts the symbolic mother of the established church under the civic and military control, or willingly colludes with them.

Have you read James Alison’s On Being Liked, and his first triptych about the Twin Towers? He writes that God has nothing to do with the ways of violence, but subverts them to overcome them. Yet here, it seems that we fight evil with evil, fear by escalating fear, and begin steps towards a police state.

Using weapons isn’t accountable, it’s an immediate execution that doesn’t require a court, and it’s feared that a new Becket will occur.

Promoting fear and allowing the costly rise of armed police is not the way to handle attacks and threats – although public statements claim that there have been none. Greater defence and shows of strength gives rise to more reason to make us an object of attack with continued wars, along with erosion of civil liberties. It promotes resentment of other – Muslims and Middle Eastern/Indian people, and I fear, this is strong in Kent where you have so many refugees entering. I am already alarmed by what people’s responses have been to the news about your guards – notions that Trump supporters would be proud of.

It also makes greater public resentment of law enforcers and government, and makes us more like the gun slinging US police that we have so many appalling news reports about.

Christians are called to be different. It is a less evolved, less Christ centred society that allows an increase in weapons, an eye taken before an eye has been even lost.

I am frightened at the thought of yet more repeating history (ie another Becket) where curtailment and suspicion become accepted.

I do not believe this to be the kingdom God called us to build.

I am calling for the removal of police in the cathedral and the city.

I will also be publishing my call, but I wanted to give you a chance to respond first.

Yours sincerely

 

Elspeth

My Day Out With Elspeth can be read here. You can read my review of Canterbury’s arts cinema

 

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Not tipping the velvet

I am not referring to Sarah Water’s novel but the so called voluntary extra on some services.

I’ve made a pledge not to tip.

I note I nearly added ‘any more’ so you wouldn’t think badly of me and would know that I have shown gratitude and manners and had contributed to the supposedly tiny earnings of waiters and others.

See? Because it’s about guilt.

On several levels.

And that is not my only objection.

GRATUITIES ARE GRATUITOUS!

Tipping has put me off taking the services of industries who expect it. No I don’t get into taxis. I have as few haircuts as I can. And I don’t eat out so much – and I’ll choose a pub where oddly it’s normal not to tip. But in a café or restaurant it is expected, for offering the same!

I note in America that people can feel fearful. People have even been chased and shouted at because of not tipping, or even not tipping enough, and published stories add to that fear, such as in this BBC article. The one at the start speaks ill of the girlfriend and the waiter.

I don’t think it’s just the US where we worry about tips. Non or low tipping customers think: Will they say anything? Will I feel I can come back? Will I get a worse service next time? Do they try and sense the tippers, and treat us accordingly?

Because our service should never be dependent on us paying more for it.

And why does a hairdresser think it’s acceptable to be tipped but not other retail? Hairdressers are an example against one of the usual reasons for tipping – that staff aren’t paid enough.

One fork of that argument is that taxis and hairdressers actually charge rather highly. £35-50 – for work taking under an hour – is usual for the most basic hair services; a quick dry trim might only take 10 mins and thus still add up to the same hourly rate.

That’s up to 7 times the minimum wage, and not for the highest end of salons. And don’t forget the self employed (let alone unemployed) who don’t see even the £7 per hour stipulated in Britain.

And hairdressers want to charge at their discretion as you sit in the chair – one even says they can add 50% – and then expect a little extra….?! And I’ve heard them say – if you have more than 2 inches off it’s a restyle and will cost twice as much!

Taxis seem to start at £4 – even as I climb in – and I can travel up to £250 miles by prebooked train or budget coach on what they would charge for 5-10 miles at evening rate.

So why do they need fares rounding up? Especially as taxi drivers can be ungracious. We will return to the service actually given in a moment.

The other of my original forks was for service staff – the hotel porter, the waiters. They often just get minimum wage and sometimes less, and it’s hoped that tips make their earnings up to something liveable off.

But is that our worry, as customers? By all means campaign for fair wages, but why should we have to fill in where employers are failing, and are using social controls to manipulate the public into making up their shortfall?

National insurance, sick pay – all the duty of the employee – not the diner!

 

Here is my bottom line:

charge what you need and pay your staff enough.

 

The tipping industries are hardly cheap for customers, even before the “gratuities”!

There is also some more sinister bottom lines regarding tips:

Tipping is tied into capitalism. It says: hard work is rewarded (is hard the same as good?) and that value can only be shown through money.

It is also feudal and controlling. I watched a few films recently and saw how tipping by the rich made the servile classes do their bidding. It meant – I can buy you to do whatever I want. It said – you will do what is unreasonable and even immoral. I can buy superior and preferential treatment.

It suggests that tippees are a class below.

Now they are subverting that and become the ones whom we the clients feel beholden to.

But in other cultures, tipping is insulting. I think it is for both parties.

Tipping doesn’t actually improve the service; the staff don’t know what they’ll get anyway – by the time the tip comes, the service has been done. A survey found that the tip made very little difference to the quality of service.

Tipping is also divisive among friends. As I slide some coins onto a plate – feeling resentful as I’d already paid more than I’d budgeted – I wonder if my companion thinks I’ve not done enough. The last trip to a cafe ended in a discussion about tipping as we divided our bill. One meal ended with a friend calculating my exact tip and that has stayed with me some years, making me wonder about eating with that group again.

So what is meant to be a nice experience ends in a row, or at least unsaid judgement.

And as I sit in a salon, arrive at a hotel, eat my meal, ride in a cab, I’m wondering: will there be some kind of discord at the end of this? Often these are leisure and pleasurable things but I’m not feeling that. I may fall out with the service provider but also any companions.

And that is wrong.

I don’t also like the 10%+ service charge added at meals because the full price should be in the food bill – you are not charged more for a great retail experience or proofreading. And asking for the ‘discretionary’ amount to come off the bill often feels awkward.

Many places have done less than you expect, not more. The last time I ate out, my food took an hour to arrive. Staff are frequently slow to acknowledge or offhand or rush you.

Don’t cinema staff, shop workers, ushers all work to give us a good experience too?

It’s not even true that it’s small vs big businesses, for many places hoping for tips are big chains. And again, customers shouldn’t be paying their legal requirements for them.

A tip may be offered for exceptional service – no that doesn’t mean that taxi driver who helps you our of your wheelchair with your kids. That’s normal service, and people with special needs shouldn’t pay more. Kind words – especially written – should go as far. I was going to say, to a manager, but again, hierarchies come in, and it’s about garnering favour of superiors.

It’s pointed out by tip banning restaurateurs that a successful meal is due to more than just the person who serves you, and so letting the waiters take it all isn’t fair on the rest of the team, and that does include managers.

We should give good service due to pride in our work and caring about what we do. A tip shouldn’t buy us.

Tipping becomes about corruption – I’ll serve you only if you cross my palm. I’ll buy your service, whatever I ask and however I treat you.

I note several campaigns to end tips. That BBC article above includes several studies (the £25,000,000,000 tip industry being the most striking) and a link to this succinct comedian Adam Conover’s stance on Why Tipping Should be Banned

It’s one I’m now joining.

I suggest finally that big chains and those already charging highly are being greedy, but small cafes could just add 25p to each item. No the big spenders and large groups shouldn’t have to pay even more. But I bet this small increase would help with the deficit of losing tips.

Those who’ve already banned tipping and pay staff properly are the places I am attracted to visiting.

 

 

 

 

 

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Upward Spirals

I had many versions of a change of year post. 2016 was the year that Canterbury Cathedral had armed guards posted outside and Britain’s Snoopers’ Charter was finally snuck through. It was the beginnings of extreme disorder acts, curtailing non mainstream opinions. It was also the year that the Snowden movie came out.

 

Wherever I’ve given my attention, whatever era or story I’ve gotten into, I’ve found a pattern: control by the establishment. I heard a discussion recently which asked – even if the controllers change, the pattern seems eternal. Can we ever expect different?

 

The answer is yes of course, and that we should. Rather than a turning wheel that simply crushes all underneath it, it’s a spiral. You’ll know that I like spirals. In the sequel, I explain why I chose to call my first pair of novels Parallel Spirals and how it comes from my view of history – our own and the world’s.

 

Each one of those eras I read about moved on. The floodgates burst, despite the efforts to hold in the water of change. Yes, there was a new dam built, and another, but they burst too. And there is a difference in the water system – there is progress.

 

We may feel that the current dam is an especially scary one and seems reminiscent of dams that we hoped we’d burst forever.

 

But perhaps this is an especially significant twist of the spiral, because there is a new kind of water beyond this dam.

 

All these stories reminded that often it begins with a few. It begins with a few being different and brave, and it begins with a few not being brave or thinking and just following.

 

Snowden reminds us that those in the 1940s doing so were tried as war criminals – not just those senior officials, but those doing ordinary jobs. Those who just did their duty, out of fear or conformity, but who did it nonetheless.

 

It was a clear call to those now – from reporting under Prevent, to all the other forms of bullying and right up the scale. What is your part in this regime?

 

I am told that numerologically, 2017 is a year of new beginnings and thus clearing of what no longer is healthy. So I am encouraged, rather than discouraged that history has always cleared away and that our spiral does progress. Let it be a twist to be proud of.

There has even been one since I wrote this.

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Street Cat and Feral Heart: why I stopped supporting the Big Issue

It’s been a time of social justice films. Whether or not they are actually just is another matter.

I’m not going to analyse the quality of the films, although I will say that the two I saw this week were not films I especially rated.

One was My Feral Heart about a man with Downs syndrome who befriends a man who does community support work as a punishment for his involvement in animal welfare activism. What I got from that was the incredibly dreadful way that care homes treat people. The carers might mean well, but they have no idea about dignity, or that those who can’t communicate as they do or have the same motor skills are not less able to think and feel.

A Street Cat Named Bob is far too popular – unlike the smaller release film above which I saw at a festival and made a point of supporting.

Unlike I, Daniel Blake, or My Feral Heart, the protagonist’s situation is one we may struggle to sympathise with – for James is a homeless druggie. The cat with matching hair helps us be endeared. But I felt for Baz, the other homeless guy who James rejects and then finds dead of an overdose. We might too push away this snot nosed needy young man whom had no one to mourn him, no one to fight to put him on a recovery programme. It’s the Bazes that I really worry about. I worry how many there are. But I have heard statistics that say there are far less dying of illegal drugs than prescribed ones.

The Bob story is true. And of course I’m glad that James found a way off the streets and off harmful drugs – both sorts. But there was much I found ingratiating. One was his writing success, when he wasn’t even a writer. Many writers – me included – work for years, perhaps in poverty, until they gain recognition. I can understand how other Big Issue sellers and buskers would be resentful of the attention that a ginger tom gave James.

The shows that James’s ultimate success is that he has bought a property, in London, Europe’s most expensive city.

It reminded me of The Soloist, another true story about a musician living on the street, this time in LA. And I was angry too at the rules that Nathaniel – that’s the Soloist – was made to subscribe to by hostels and other helpers.

Just like Luke was expected to in the residential home for those with learning difficulties. Just like James was by his support worker and the Big Issue Office.

Are none of these aware of transactional analysis, and that it’s more than the special needs guy that it keeps in nappies?!

I understood why Nathaniel wanted to keep out of the system.

I have always sympathised with homeless people and often bought the Big Issue – I’ve also offered them articles.

I hate that the Big Issue is ‘a hand up not a hand out’. I’ve often asked what our issue is with the idea of giving for giving’s sake, without expectation of the recipient or expecting something out of it.

It’s called grace.

I also hate that the Big Issue is resocialisation into the world of capitalism, where you become useful by selling- a frankly often unwanted magazine of varying quality – and by learning about profit.

The way the Big Issue is portrayed here makes me decide not to support it again. I care about the people selling it. But if the office is full of blunt tough love and lots of rules – including CUTTING SELLERS’ SOURCE OF INCOME over a squabble about selling patches – then I will find another way to support those without homes.

Note again how patches are about territory. I saw Swallows and Amazons – the original – for the first and last time, and these children of military parents were claiming and defending territory in their games, making rules, making leaders to obey without dissent.

James not only lost his Big Issue selling, but he was banned from busking by the police for being the victim of an act of aggression. Busking is how James survived. (Unlike Daniel Blake, no mention of benefits offices here). If he was caught busking, James would lose his recovery programme.

And Joanne Frogatt’s Val was angering – are support workers that bad or is it just how they always appear on the screen? Why did he hug and thank her when she’d been horrid to him in the hospital and forced him to be on a prescribed, profit making drug which is harder to come off than the one he was trying to give up?

He had to go to chemist for a regular dose of methadone or lose his support programme and his disgusting home that only a homeless person would be glad of.

I noted how public his reporting to the chemist was – so that his almost girlfriend learns he’s on drugs when she comes in to shop and sees him taking the familiar little cup.

The Bob cat film also pertains to be about animal rights, but the intrusive procedures that deprived Bob of his intimate parts infuriated me. If we did that to a woman, we call it genital mutilation, if we do it to an animal we say (as in the words of Belle in the film) it’s giving the cat a chance to survive. It’s all about territory and fighting – just like both druggies, buskers and Big Issue sellers.

And all this done by a charity who gives ‘care’ for free and then sees James give his week’s food money to a harsh receptionist for the drugs he didn’t know he’d have to pay for. Cat drugs that is, prescription post operative ones.

Unlike Daniel Blake, which was clearly indicting the system, I wasn’t sure how My Feral Heart or A Street Cat Named Bob wanted their audience to feel. Was I meant to like these support workers? Was I meant to feel grateful for the organisations and institutions which these protagonists got embroiled in?

Was there not a critique of the police’s busking ban, the Big Issue’s selling ban (like benefit sanctions) and general tone towards its sellers, the animal welfare charity, the care home and that an independent man who’d looked after others is forced into?!

Has this not caused a furore about how prescribed drugs are creating a revenue out of those on proscribed ones, and are causing them as much harm?

I’ll have more to say about pro and prescribed drugs another time.

PS I wrote to the Big Issue for comment and didn’t really get any defence, save to say that James chose to be involved in a recent magazine and has a good relationship with them.

 

 

 

 

 

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I, Elspeth Blake

No, that’s not my surname. You’ll have worked out real one by now. But I’m showing solidarity with the film I’ve just seen – I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach’s latest instalment in the Cathy Come Home mould. More humorous I think than that 1960s docudrama, but I hope that this feature film has the same social impact.

I noted that this film about the welfare system chooses to base its story in an inner city, round a manually skilled older man with a medical condition, and a single mum. People we can feel truly on side with without any controversy.

But they’re not the only examples of those hit by state support’s cruelties.

These issues are found in the country too, and with people you might not guess. I’ve been in rooms where we talk about ‘the poor’ as those out there, statistics in particular postcodes. But they were in the room too. I was one of them.

Katie in the film takes 2 years to get a real home – and nowhere near the place she’s from. If you’re not in the vulnerable group of old or young, ill or disabled or with children, support of any kind can be even harder to get.

What struck me is the coldness of the system, the attempt at breaking you or resocialising you. Not just you the claimant, but those behind the desk.

Those in officialdom have lost their humanity.

They need to regain it – their ability to think, to feel, to question. This film is a good start.

I’ve often said that those in various corporate roles don’t understand any other kind of work and are almost robotic in their adherence to rules and shocking in their stupidity.

Are they chosen for those qualities or do they come after the years of employment in government offices? They are removed from the public – call centres, automated phone messages, PO box addresses, the internet with preset answer boxes that won’t send until you put in what they want. Quite often these decision makers (‘adjudicator’ was thought too big a word by the DWP, though it remains in the tax office and ombudsman) are also unnamed, as are trustees of grants for those in need, such as Charis – who have no understanding of the grace of their name. As I pointed out.

I have my own story to tell, but I don’t yet feel ready to tell it here. Of course, I have another which I have told. I also began a TV series script on a comedic satire on the world of work. My Near Professor Sally Gababa is in a different situation to Ken Loach’s Daniel and Katie – an academic misfit of middle years without children or illness, or not one that’s understood – which makes her life such a struggle.

I still recall the name of the jobcentre staff I lampoon.

I do remember nice ones too, and I’m glad that I, Daniel Blake shows one. There are those that helped make the film.

Rather than feeling depressed, I felt energised: The people on the street in solidarity with Daniel when he sprays his appeal on the wall. The packed cinema. And whether those people me had ever suffered what Daniel had – and you can’t tell or guess demographics – they came. They saw. And they clapped. They’re on side.

We need a system that’s likewise, where appeals are not rigged (read PHSO – the true story for more on that), where citizenship doesn’t have to be earned in narrow ways, where we’re not valued for the taxable income we generate. Where we’re not to fit drop down menus and preset boxes. Where, as one staff said to me of my claim, we make free use of the form. Where staff too are not faceless and also support us instead of being a mindless, soulless bullying chain. Where we’re not graded on a point system, where we’re not intimidated and intruded into.

I like the idea of citizenship being about grace, not earning. It’s the theology I have and it’s also the society I believe in. Even those who support Citizens’ Income sometimes talk about deserving – ie fitting their patterns. But I want a world where ‘paying your way’ and rejecting charity are no longer signs of dignity and worthiness; where we don’t have to put our time into categories of work and leisure, living to do the former to deserve a little of the latter. Where we’re not justifying ourselves and our existence to another who won’t be challenged.

“I, Daniel, Elspeth, [your name]” is a statement of individuality, of personhood. As Daniel says, we are not a government given number or term for those who need to use the system; we are ourselves, and we are worthy.

And we look to those who really drain resources, and that’s not those at the benefit queue, but quite the other end of society. There’s far worse handouts and passive income (benefit claiming is not passive) than the dole.

Daniel Blake didn’t tell me anything much new. If you don’t know about the system, go and see it. If you’re in it, go. And if you judge those in it, go. And if you work in it, go.

But let there be a discussion that is wider than just the issues of the film and those I can touch on here. And let there be, as with Cathy Come Home, the sea change that is needed.

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Ombudsmen watchers and academia

Dear Dr Creutzfeldt

I have found your report of last December Critics of the ombudsman system: understanding and engaging online citizen activists regarding ombudsman watchers and would like to comment on it.

I am someone who has had many poor experiences of different ombudsmen over a long period.

I have several grave concerns with the study:

(i) It is taken on by an institution seen as much part of the establishment as the ombudsmen themselves – namely, Oxford University.

(ii) Your colleague is a former ombudsman employee

(iii) You “partner” with the PHSO, one of the most criticised ombudsmen

(iv) You had public money from a government funded council to look at government funded bodies; the Economic and Social Research Council has government staff (as well as business people) on its board, both of whose interests are vested in the status quo of ombudsmen

(v) You had to find watchers who were willing to attend a workshop – this may be seen as even a trap and many ombudsman whistleblowers would be wary of coming, especially given the above. Those who run watchers websites are a small proportion of those contributing to them or reading them, so this doesn’t feel very representative.

(vi) Your report is full of statements like “one said…”, “some felt…” – never anything substantial or specific. No cases and facts are mentioned.

 

(vii) Your remit was for the ombudsmen to understand how these groups work so that they can be “managed” and effectively, it’s implied, not allow them to interfere with the status quo, or “legitimacy”(para 2, p3).

 

Some comments on the summaries provided:

You summarise that the watchers “raise lack of clear themes”, yet in the same piece, note how detailed the watchers are in their ideas for ombudsman reform.

The watchers sites are full of details of cases and therefore strong first hand evidence of what is going wrong. Ombudsmen are a big part of so called just and equal society, publicly funded, so their abject failure should be of very great concern and a cause for immediate action.

I quote from p11 of your summary:

“Individual issues and unrealistic expectations. One participant (from a

scheme whose ombudsman watcher did not attend the workshop described

above) said there were no themes arising from the website concerned with his

organisation because it was focused on the personal experience of a single

individual. He said that as a result of the very individual nature of the criticisms

and the fact that these related to historic practices, there was little scope for

learning lessons in relation to possible service improvements.”

 

Why was this person’s views allowed to be recorded and take up half this section when they didn’t attend? Nothing here is substantiated. Of course the motivation to set up such sites is likely to be from personal experience; the high counts of hits shows that these resonate with a large number. What is the keenness to undermine the individual?

Perhaps the academic/social science aspect does not recognise individual experience, but it is that experience which is most poignant – the very real distress, suffering, anger, frustration, sense of not being heard, that there is no accountability and justice – is the heart of the problems that complainants have with ombudsman and with individuals have large organisations generally. The lack of humanity is one of the biggest criticisms.

That the ombudsmen felt that the effects of the watchers is ‘slight’ is really to be expected – it is in their interests to proclaim that these watchers do not do them any real damage.

‘Unrealistic expectations’ is a somewhat angering and again ironic response to the millions of people over a couple of decades who come to ombudsmen as the only reasonable way to fight their corner. They leave, some time later, with great frustration and disappointment.

As ombudsmen’s cases consist of individuals and small groups against large organisations, it is understandable that the people seek a champion. It seems that what actually is in place is a supporter of the large body that they have complained about.

I have known cases to be elongated which cause danger and even demise. I have seen one such case thrown out by an ombudsman for “insufficient suffering”!

I would like to ask if the researchers are aware of what it is like to bring a case to an ombudsman, the way the complaint process works, the responses of the ombudsman staff. The obtuseness or deliberate deflection and dishonesty is beyond belief. At every stage, the complainant is disadvantaged, controlled and kept at bay. I’d even say it’s deliberate dehumanising and demotivating.

Of course those who have not felt justice and closure will be unhappy, and yet you seem to agree that this somehow dilutes and disqualifies these complainants – who are the increasing majority.

This all seems to be missing from your study.

In your summary you took care to say “again this is not to suggest agreement with [the watchers’ critique” – implying, as throughout the piece, a greater solidarity with the ombudsmen.

Your summary spoke of ways that the watchers misunderstand the ombudsmen, yet it is far easier to level the opposite critique at this study, which discovers more about the people and workings of these groups. I note you speak of the “ombudsman community” – telling – but not of the watchers’ groups as a community.

Also, watchers are endeavouring to make grassroots changes as well as information and solidarity for the public; they are aiming for reform from outside, not within the ombudsman system, so that questions the rationale of the workshops.

I note this is one part of a three year funded project closing this year.

ADR is often not “alternative dispute resolution” for there is no sense of resolving for the individual, only an unsatisfying ending made by the other side. Those who attempt judicial review find further fault there – and those problems again lead back to ombudsmen.

This could’ve been an opportunity for change and scrutiny, but it really says little and feels on the side of the ombudsmen. I would like to ask that the remainder of your project and further research utilises the opportunity to reform and for a fairer society, not a reinforcement of the already unpalatable status quo.

Please note that this is an open letter.

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Greenbelt and me and that book of mine

Today is the official start of a festival known very much to a those of a certain Christian ilk. It’s been running over 40 years around various parts of England, sometimes in the grounds of stately homes, sometimes on a racecourse.

In the words of something very close to me

“Greenbelt was devoid of the very things that put me off all other forms of Christian holiday. It had a firm focus on music and the experimental, was theologically liberal to the point of sometimes being shocking, and therefore attracted interesting people.”

Born at a similar time to the festival – which also began in the same county – I went to my first Greenbelt in 1990, in Northants, just as I was becoming old enough to be autonomous. It was a rebellious thing to do for someone of my background. My Dad’s response to my wish to go was “pass the vinegar”!

I came back shocked and recall writing to the festival’s chair and receiving a generic reply, including things that I hadn’t. Clearly many others had been unhappy too.

I can’t remember much about why – just that Greenbelt didn’t match my idea of Christianity. One reason that was its focus on social justice, not gospel spreading, and its toleration of issues like homosexuality. Ironies coming up.

Curiously one thing I do recall complaining about (for his a book called “Cleaning the Bog and other spiritual gifts”) was a writer I embraced later on. I was reading the late Mike Yaconelli’s book “Dangerous Wonder” just last night. His talks involved the biggest queues of the festival, yet he was moved every year, and surprised, fearing that next year, they wouldn’t come. Perhaps I find his book a little juvenile now, with its stories of waterbombing and other pranks, but I love his spirit – real, passionate living, and a God who is much more into loving us than berating us and getting it right.

It took me 6 years to try Greenbelt again – now a postgraduate, a little broader of mind and less easily shocked. This time I had a little epiphany – one I couldn’t share with my housemate and I felt that her and her church – who’d tutted at me for going to GB – weren’t right, and I made some large and sudden lifestyle decisions because of that.

As a composing musician, the music at Greenbelt was important; a highlight was seeing Iona at the only full band gig of theirs I ever attended. But the book tent, people, the ideas and new ways to worship were also of interest.

I went back the next year, but felt that the mud and the lank hair and skank feeling of no proper washing outdid the things I enjoyed. I vowed I would not camp again.

Then Greenbelt moved – further from me, but into new student halls of residences for the over 25s – happily an age I’d recently passed – and onto the tarmac of Cheltenham racecourse. I enjoyed discovering Cheltenham – my first spa town – and having a town close enough to take a break from the long weekend of festivalling, which can get quite intense and insular. Spiritually, it still felt appealed.  At last, Greenbelt and I were a best fit, although it was smaller and less atmospheric than its Northants days.

Now that Safe Space for LGB Christians felt different.

I’m not really sure why I didn’t return for a while, but in 2007, I was living close enough to attend Greenbelt for a day. I started calling my spirituality Glastonbury rather than Canterbury. I was going to an offshoot of the latter communion who didn’t approve of the former. I was no longer in the Christian music loop – and by that I mean, contemporary bands – and found most solace in a tent of contemplation, and a spiritual advisor. I listened to Yaconelli’s son and felt that whilst the voice was recognisable, finding the ghost of the father through him wasn’t going to happen. Nor did Mike’s own books work so well for me now.

I now cared very about social justice and I embraced the inclusion that Greenbelt showed, but it strangely felt that it, not I, was more conservative. It had taken steps back to towards it more evangelical roots while I’d pole vaulted from mine. We had passed each other like comets, riding together for a time, and veering into disparate directions.

I wasn’t sorry to leave and to explore Cheltenham. I felt that I’d be unlikely to go gain – especially as Greenbelt left that site and reverted to camping.

So why is Greenbelt something I’m writing about now, except that it’s now happening?

Because those Cheltenham visits inspired scenes in my new novel, all about that Safe Space, those seminars where evangelical and liberal meet, where social justice and faith come together. It’s the final chapter.

I think it may be for me and Greenbelt. I approached them to share the novel – naturally – as I’d not only given them a few thousand words of space in it at the most crucial point, but its being all about the kind of things its attendees care about, such as modern church life and those that are a bit different.

But I found that the social justice they preach wasn’t being practised. The book tent has a contract to exclusively sell books on the site and it wants 50% of the cover price to sell yours – though it excludes self published ones when they’ve little space. I pointed out that most books don’t have that cut to spare and causes the author and publisher – which are both me – who has spend perhaps years at their own expense, to make a loss. I was asked to send, at my expense, a free copy to the team for a possible social media mention. A 40 year old festival commanding £150 a ticket for tens of thousands, asking a new self published author who’s been in financial struggle to send a book for them to consider a tweet? And that they were too busy to talk more.

Hence I’m not at Boughton House near Kettering this weekend and may not be again.

But I do hope some festivallers – past and present – might enjoy relieving those Cheltenham years and joining in my fictional weekend at the pivotal point of other Elspeth’s journey.

You don’t know what I mean, and you’d like to?

Then go to http://www.parallel-spirals.webs.com.

More about the fairness of publishing will be appearing on this site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1549 Kett’s Rebellion

During my Robin Hood phase, and unable to get to Sherwood Forest, I went to Nottinghamshire, and then to woods where other rebels gathered. Those woods have just been the backdrop to a play on the anniversary of that gathering, in Norwich.

And again, I’m led to decisive historic moments and battlers for justice. I haven’t forgotten Eliot’s Dorothea and Will – the more gentle kind of battlers – and I’ll pop up my article on their story shortly. I’m also returning to that famous forest so they’ll be more about Robin et al too.

But let me stay with Robert Kett – perhaps a name you don’t know, unlike Robin, or Boudicca, or Braveheart – our best known British freedom fighters, who’ll need little explanation, wherever you are reading this from. But Kett has much in common with all these. Perhaps he is Norfolk’s Robin. And let me link Kett, as the play did, with our current climate.

I’m not going to analyse the pantomime-like play, but its theme. The oft sung song reminded us that although the setting was nearly 500 years ago, it ‘could be any time’ – and ours. The mayor was doing a David Cameron impression. The mean ‘nobs’ all from the same school administered cuts to welfare and bullied plebs in a very familiar way.

*

The piece of news that I’m most thinking about from the last few days is the police shootings in America. I feel a little intrepid to comment, for it’s emotive and needs to be expressed well.

What I will say is that the  events at the Dallas protest turned the focus from the shootings by the police to the shootings of the police. I note that there was 1 officer for every 8 people at that demo, which is heavy. And that the demo which followed involved the police using smoke against the people.

The brutality of the killings – and sorry ‘fatal shootings’ won’t do – and the disproportion of the police’s reaction to the situations – over motor offences! –  has made me livid. I join those (isn’t that the whole world?) calling for justice and the curtailing of armed police and this heavy, ugly way of dealing with the public. A public who pay for the services of those who should be keeping us safe – but instead are unjust instruments of the establishment, and from whom we can be in danger.

I think many of us must feel that our growing resentment for the police, wherever we are, has been augmented by these shocking not even lone incidents.

I abhor that black people were the victims of these killings. It wasn’t hard to learn the names of the most recent ones – Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. But I noted that the day before, two more American young men were killed by the police, yet they are less talked about – I struggled to find their names. These both were from Latino heritage. It is significant that they too aren’t white – but also that the African Americans garnered the greatest attention.

Surely ‘Black Lives Matter’ should be ALL lives matter? I hope that’s a given.

There’s also a lesser known “Brown Lives Matter” movement.

I felt a huge de ja vu last night at the play, watching the king’s forces rush to stop the rebels in Norwich, who were slaughtered in battle or executed. Like the events of recent days, the aggrieved side, however we might understand their aggrievement, did things to their aggressors which I couldn’t condone.

But I did note that Kett’s army took England’s second city for a time. I know Bristol and York will want to squeal at this point ‘We were England’s second city!’ Can’t we share that title? But isn’t the point not a petty division (watch for those) but the empowering thought that people can hold a major city from the establishment.

Did the people of Norwich in 1549 feel any safer with the mob at the helm; was that their definition of democracy?

When I look at all those iconic historic symbols of independence, there’s a sadness that their effects were not only curtailed, but that were are still facing those issues, centuries later.

But did they fail? Should we give up trying to change the fact that, as the chorus sung last night “the many serve the few” and that the rich and powerful’s minority interest continue to crush everyone else?

No and no I do not. I do take hope from the fact that these names of freedom fighters are remembered and commemorated. We’re not cheering the mayors and earls who routed Kett’s group, we remember him.

Last night, we lit a beacon on a hill overlooking the city to not only remember the 3000 killed and hundreds hung in Kett’s rebellion, but all those who have struggled against oppression and still do – and feel under it. It was an exciting moment, to see the flames sweep in way I’ve never seen fire do before, to join with cheers and a banner.

Although not mentioned, we were asking and committing to the kind of world that Robin Hood, Boudicca, Braveheart and Robert Kett stood for coming into being. We are wanting a world which is against austerity, against unfair private ownership, and where the brutality of police and other law enforcers (what a phrase!) and the prejudice behind these recent incidents is history. We wish for justice and for reform – the sort that Will Ladislaw of Middlemarch wanted, the peaceful kind.

There was irony that I realised that no-one other than those at the play could see the beacon, despite its prominent position. Even knowing where to look, as I left Kett’s Heights I could just make out a tiny orange glow between trees.

It was also ironic that given this was a play about power to the people, the city council had to give permission for the beacon to be lit. A council that has many failings – lack of accountability and support to the vulnerable and providing basic reliable services; making heavy licensing laws which involve police in civil liberty abuses – but which also hung its flag at half mast for the recent homophobic shootings in Orlando.

Robert Kett, like Robin of Locksley, was one of the rich who instead of squashing the poor rebelling at his gate, joined and led them. In the play, the Mayor changed sides and opinions.

Out of the many warrior princes and princesses I admire, there is one who comes to mind who insisted on never killing, never using unreasonable force, and who stopped wars with love. She saw that forgiveness and change were more powerful than routing enemies. She saw too that the most powerful way to create change was through mind changing – and I add, heart changing.

I refer to my last post and that wonderful quote of Caroline Lucas, ‘where hope is powerful than hate’ – even when we feel we have a just cause; and that healing and uniting communities is more important than demarcation of difference, even self defining; brothers (and sisters) before otherness.

And as Kett’s county’s police motto says – we all need to feel our police’s priority is us.

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