Challenging White Privilege

25 Jul

So you’ve heard the phrase white privilege (possibly with the words ‘check your’ or ‘thank Christ for’ preceding it), and you’re wondering what’s going on and why those kids keep egging your house.

I’m here to help you, but you should know from the start that my goal will be to encourage you to challenge white privilege. So if you’d rather stay blissfully ignorant, stop reading right now. Here’s a short film to keep you entertained while the grown ups are talking.

Okay, now first, let me clarify something.

I’m speaking to white people here. Why? Because in many places, just being a person of colour is in itself a challenge to white privilege. What do I mean by that? Did you know that in some parts of Mississippi the police have added ‘driving while black’ to their official list of misdemeanors? Of course, they haven’t, but for a moment, you wondered. The experience of people of colour is different than white people’s in many arenas of life. If you want to more about what their lives are like, you really shouldn’t be asking me. Instead, you could try listening to them. Here are some you could list to right now if you’d like.

So it’s whitey to whom I’m writing. I don’t intend to blame you for slavery or call you a racist. Acknowledging white privilege is not a slur on your character, any more than it is on mine (and we all know that my character is entirely slur-proof, unless my promiscuity is the topic and quite frankly you should praising, not criticising, me for that). Nor does it mean that everything about your life is perfect and carefree. I’m sure it’s not. Lastly, it doesn’t mean that you’ve not experienced inequality yourself. You probably have, because sadly, there’s plenty of bigotry to go round (I’ll address how to destroy the patriarchy and win the class war in future posts).

White privilege is just a fact. If you look at the historical context of either of my home countries, you’ll see that being white has had quite a few benefits. Or maybe you don’t see that. Let me show you what I mean.

I come from a wealthy, white family. We got that way because my great-great-great-great-great grandfather was involved in what was, in retrospect, a somewhat dodgy deal involving China and a shitload of opium, through a contact he had made in college. He died a very, very rich man, which meant my great-great-great-great grandfather was a very, very rich son of, let’s call him what he was, a dead drug dealer. That grandfather fattened his bank book through his work as a physician. His son, thanks to his inheritance, trained in Europe as a pianist and once played for the President, and his son was able to travel as an archeologist and dug up something which he sold for big dollars. Basically, my whole family has done pretty damn well for itself money-wise; even when they’ve been failures (my great-great grandfather’s young adult sci-fi novel went nowhere fast), they’ve been frugal failures, and as a result, I’ve never been without a penny or two in my pocketbook.

Why does this matter? Well, besides being an interesting historical tale, thank you, it matters because hundreds of Whitt-Wellingtons have reaped the benefits of one man’s successful networking during his college years. Years in which the great-great-great-great-great grandfathers of African Americans were slaves, and thus unable to set up shop with a classmate who had ties to the Chinese opium market.

Now, stop yourself for a moment if you’re thinking, Agatha, my white family has never had the financial benefits of yours. I appreciate that. Many haven’t. Yet I’m guessing that your white family has done a variety of things that, at the time, your black neighbours’ families were not able to do. Those freedoms have their consequences, and many of those consequences have meant good things for your family or for your community, either directly or indirectly.

And if the benefits of those freedoms are still being felt today, it makes sense that the lack of those freedoms still has repercussions. You don’t have to feel personally responsible for that. But you do kinda gotta acknowledge it.

And we also can’t pretend inequality is a thing of the past. When I drive through a town in America and a cop pulls my car over, I don’t worry the event will end with my being dead. I don’t. Because, although I’ve been pulled over a few times, I’ve never once been shot dead — not even the time I was holding Truman Capote’s gun in my lap (long story, remind me to tell you another time). I have received one $20 ticket and zero police bullets.

So white privilege exists. What should we do about it?

If you’re really interested in making substantial change to the current system, perhaps you should be reaching out to more appropriate and less sarcastic sources. There are plenty to choose from. Visit your local library, check out some websites, and get involved in political action.

However, if you’re looking for some starter suggestions delivered simply by a charming international mover-and-shaker, you’ve come to the right place.

There are three simple instructions: think, decide, own. Let’s break those steps down a little.

Think
This guideline should come as no surprise to regular readers; there’s very little in life that wouldn’t benefit from thinking carefully first (Russian Roulette is one exception: with that, always go with your gut). Consider the situation in which you find yourself and think about what role white privilege may have played in getting you there. Sometimes its impact is large (you are able to vote despite not having your ID on you); sometimes its impact is negligent (you’ve tripped over a crack in the pavement). Think carefully, and beyond that precise moment in time.

Decide
If white privilege hasn’t played a role in your current quandary, your decision is probably quite simple. Brush yourself off, get up, and pay more attention as you walk down the street. If white privilege is involved, though, you have an important choice to make. One reason white privilege still exists is because white people benefit from it. Are you going to play even a small role in perpetuating inequality? I can’t tell you what to do in any situation (however, I don’t recommend that you ever voluntarily try to get shot by police, just to prove a point). Ultimately, you have to decide for yourself.

Own
Whatever you decide, own that decision. If you make a choice that feels like a bit of sacrifice, it’s okay to feel good about yourself (but for fuck’s sake, don’t post on Facebook trying to prove how woke you are). If you make a choice that takes advantage of white privilege, own that, too. Even if someone challenges you. Own it. Promise yourself you’ll keep thinking and questioning.

Let’s look at a few practice scenarios:

  1. You and a black man exit a store simultaneously as an alarm goes off. The clerk stops the black man but waves you away. Do you walk off?
  2. You are a white woman has thoughts about Beyoncé’s twins that you’re sure the world needs to hear. Do you write a blog post?
  3. You’re at a business event where a colleague makes a racist comment you do not agree with. How do you respond?

What did you think about? If you’d really been in these situations, would have been able to own whatever decisions you made?

Please do not misinterpret my confident tone and excellent taste in eyeglass frames as evidence that I have perfected the three step programme. There are times when I don’t think enough until it’s too late, and there are times when I regret my decisions. However, I do try and you can, too.

Making it all the way to the end of this post is a good start, but let’s face it, it ain’t your good deed for the week. It’d probably wise now to continue learning and thinking and challenging.

It’s all right if you need to eat something first. Are you hungry? You look hungry. I worry about you, you know. Eat first.  And then go from there.

 

Why You Must Vote on June 8

7 Jun

Trump Collage.jpgTrump HeadlinesIn November 2016, 60.2 percent of eligible Americans voted in the presidential election. Yes, some did vote for Trump, but many who did not vote at all could have changed the result, had they exercised the right that so many people have fought for.

Of course, those who voted for someone other than Trump still ended up with him as president. That is undeniably true and undeniably heartbreaking. But at least those people tried to avoid the disaster that has now befallen America (and the world).

You should try, too.

Don’t give away your rights: make the choice that you think might lead to a better world.

Vote.

How to Effectively Deal with Natural Disasters (Spring Edition)

20 Mar

Today officially marks the first day of Spring, which can only mean one thing: you are now at risk of a major natural disaster. (The date also marks two months since a certain someone became the 45th president of the United States, but I’d call that more of a national disaster.)

However, don’t go shitting any bricks just yet: I am here to help you. In addition to the boatload of badges I received as a member of Troop #4847 in Trenton (NJ), I was invited (by Smokey Bear himself) to participate in the first annual Abandoned Cubs Survival Camp. Although the camp was quickly closed, thanks to a lawsuit filed by Timmy “I Don’t Wanna Wrestle Raccoons” Wilson’s mother, I did learn a lot. I’m pretty confident that I’m prepared to handle anything Mother Nature can throw at me, and I’m happy to share that knowledge with you forthwith.

Fires

If Smokey  taught me anything, it’s that you don’t play with matches, especially when each one represents a grand in a dice game. However, fires happen and require quick thinking. If you caused the fire, quickly throw any evidence into the hottest part of the blaze then get out of there as fast as you can. Stay low if possible to avoid the rising smoke, but scooting around on your belly is stupidly ineffective so try to keep your wits about you. Don’t stop to pick up valuables (except for your purse or wallet; phone; camera; laptop; important documents like birth certificates and banking details; treasured family heirlooms; and children, but only your own). If you have to jump out of a window, try to land on something softer than cement.

Fire-Forest.jpgIf you’re out camping and encounter a forest fire, find out first if it was deliberately set by experts before you start chucking the contents of your Thermos at it. Some people think controlled fires are good because they prevent more dangerous fires, just like smoking crack prevents heroin use. Whatever. If someone official is in charge of the fire, just go home and promise yourself to stop pretending that camping is fun.

Tornadoes

Dszpics1.jpgIt’s relatively easy to tell when you’re about to be confronted with a tornado. It’ll be proper rainy and windy. The air might seem a little warmer than it should and feel weirdly still despite the wind. The sky could even go a strange colour that will make you think, “What the h?” Then all of a sudden you will notice that the ringing in your ears is not just the remnants of last night’s hangover, but a siren announcing that a tornado has been spotted in your area. It’s time for you to act.

Do not run. First off all, if you run while you’re panicked, you’ll be tempted to flail your arms around, and you risk looking hysterical. Secondly, you cannot outrun a tornado: they can travel up to 100 mph and you cannot run that fast, even if your life depended on it which it will.

Instead you need to go to the cellar (if you don’t have a cellar, I’m sure your neighbours won’t mind if you use theirs or just crawl under a rock). Locate something strong and heavy to protect your person: get under some shelves, slip beneath the washing machine, or crawl into a disused refrigerator and pull the door shut tight. Do not, however, try to get inside a working furnace. Make yourself as small as possible: tuck into a tight foetal position and use your hands to cover your head. If you’re religious, this would be a good time to pray but don’t make any promises you can’t keep.

Three things will happen next. You could get caught up in the twister and your body will catapulted through the air until you slam into a barn or the ground and you’ll be dead.

Or the building you’re inside of will be destroyed. This sucks but at least you’re alive.

The most likely option, though, is that the siren will stop, the wind will die down, and you’ll go back upstairs, probably feeling like a cowardly idiot whose knees are now filthy. Clean up and shake it off: this is just the way it goes when it comes to tornadoes.

Note: it’s a myth that tornadoes will lead you to the Emerald City. If you want to get out of Kansas, just relocate.

Hurricanes

Hurricanes aren’t quite the same as tornadoes, but you didn’t come here for science, you came here for practical advice. While the above suggestions still apply, everything’s going to be a lot worse for a lot longer, so act now by constructing a concrete underground shelter and stocking those shelves.

Floods

The best way to protect yourself against floods is to not get gay married. If it’s too Looking_downtown_from_Riverfront_Ave_Calgary_Flood_2013late for that (congratulations by the way), the best thing to do is to get into the bath. As you are normally wet in the bath, it’ll feel less like a crisis and more like the norm and thus you can think more clearly. Don’t bother with sandbags; they are really, really heavy. If you do have the strength, go out to your garden and did holes — this will give the water a place to go. You could even dig one in your neighbour’s garden and charge them for installing a pond — think creatively!

Weaklings should carefully consider which possessions to carry up to the roof first. Help will eventually come, usually in the form of politicians in wellies.

Wild Animal Attacks

Spring weather means that hibernating animals are starting to rouse and emerge from their wintry naps, drowsy and hungry. Plus when they find out that no one stopped January’s presidential inauguration, they are also going to be well pissed off. Your reaction will depend on the type of animal staring you down.

Wolf

Wolves can only focus on one thing at a time. Throw some clothing or an infant at the wolf and then book it out of there before it realises what precisely is going on.Black_bear_large

Bear

Bears look cute, but they are deadly. Seriously. Don’t muck about. Get yourself to the nearest elementary school, borrow a child’s gun, and blow the bear’s brains out.

Fox

If a fox is attacking you, you must have done something to aggravate it. If you survive the attack, promise yourself you’ll leave foxes alone in the future. So what if they eat leftovers out of your bins? Is that a crime? (If it is, it shouldn’t be.) Shop less wastefully from now on.

Raccoon

Always wrestle raccoons. They like it. They think it’s fun.

Chupacabra

If you’ve got a goat on you, offer it to the chupacabra in exchange for your safety. If you don’t have a goat, take a quick photo then back away slowly to make your escape.

Since most of my emergency training was done when I was a child, it is, admittedly, more geared toward those living in the United States. However, soon everyone on the planet will get to live in fear of the environmental repercussions of 45’s well-informed stance on climate change, so at least bookmark this page for future reference.

Until then, enjoy the daffodils!

Behind Lace Curtains

26 Feb

As you know I’ve complained before about busybodies. I’ve got no time for them. To be fair, I don’t even care for the term — if anything, the reason they are as they are is because they’ve got nothing reasonable to keep their bodies busy so they turn their dull selves to other people’s business. It’s sad really and my heart would ache for them if I didn’t find them so utterly annoying.

However, I must confess that it was a busybody on our street who saved the day this week, so while I am unable to retract my annoyance, I am glad to see the issue resolved.

Unbeknownst to those of us who have lives to lead, Mrs Clements from Number 11 has been conducting surveillance on the Hartley family at Number 14 for quite some time. As an active member of our local community, I had, of course, heard mumblings that things ‘weren’t quite right’ in the house, but I would argue that most of my neighbours’ insistence on raising children despite their obvious inadequacies isn’t ‘quite right’ either. Nonetheless, she’s got pages and pages of notes on the dodgy dealings going on behind the Hartleys’ curtains.

It all exploded this week when the police were called. Mrs Clements obviously felt she had enough evidence to get the law involved, and Christopher and I were woken to some brutish activity up the road. Needless to say, I forbade him from peeking through the curtains to try to gain info as that makes us no better than they, so after getting dressed, I promptly walked up and asked the coppers directly what they were playing at.

Although PC Stupidface was quite tight-lipped, it became clear what was going on. The Hartley family was no family at all — the only one at the address was a bachelor named Peter Hartley who lived with a horse. A small horse, but most definitely a horse.

horse-in-window-bw

No one seemed aware of how and when it moved in, nor did anyone understand why. Without having had a cup of tea yet, I couldn’t be bothered to share my insights into the causes (loneliness, delusion, father who lost too much money on the gee-gees), because the most urgent concern was how to get the horse out of the home.

It was a ridiculously complicated affair that I shan’t bore you with, but by early evening, the horse was being led down the road on its way to a nearby farm where it will live the rest of its days, getting plenty of fresh air and water and eating grass instead of fried eggs and beans.

Peter was taken away as well, though, his future probably won’t be quite as bright. He’s likely to be charged with animal endangerment, and cleaning his house is going to cost a pretty penny, but I do hope he gets the help he needs. I do not condone Mrs Clements’s nosiness or her loudmouth children. However, as a result of her intervention, the unhappy state at Number 14 has now come to an end.

Often we don’t know the details of those people who live around us, and until this week, I was 100% on board with that idea. I was willing to give them a quick wave and I’ve always been an active member of many local groups; however, I was quite happy to keep myself distanced from the tedious details of their daily lives.

But seeing Peter’s sad eyes as his horse was led away made me question my attitude. Maybe getting to know the lives of those around us could help keep all of us happier and safer. It’s a delicate balance, of course — invading people’s privacy is still a no-go area and the use of binoculars or listening devices is rarely recommended. But maybe if I had taken a little more time to get to know Peter, I could’ve helped him (or at least noticed the odour of manure). Mrs Clements too was ignorant of his equine companion; for all her watching and note-taking, she had never actually spoken to the man to find out the truth of what was going on.white-629431_1280

When Christopher and I returned from our errands this morning, we passed by the farm and saw the horse at the gate, looking longingly for his old friend. It was such a sad sight that when we got back, I had Christopher spend three hours baking cupcakes which I then had him deliver to our neighbours’ doors. I don’t pretend that my gifts changed anyone’s lives, and, quite frankly, I still don’t like any of them. (I even actively despise one, who knows who he is and who I’m sure remembers the deviled egg disaster as well as I do). But it’s a start.

If a little friendliness lets people know that there’s someone they can reach out to in times of trouble, no harm done. And if it means that no more farm animals will be taking up residence on our avenue, all the better.

Ten Days In

30 Jan

It’s a difficult time to be hopeful, isn’t it?

It really doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or Democrat, if you’re American or not (yes, Americans, other countries have people, too!). If you’re a human, this is a tough time. You don’t have to be a frequent tinfoil hat wearer to see conspiracies and have doomsday worries.

Because this is kind of how the end of the world’s likely to start.

In the simplest terms, a powerful nation has elected a man who knows fuck-all and for whom power is nothing but wank fuel [insert small hands joke here].

His global abortion gag rule will affect women all over the world, but he doesn’t care. I mean, literally, he doesn’t care about abortion; this isn’t a moral issue for him. A White House leak claims his words on the topic were: “It doesn’t effect me, so why should I care if it exists?” (I’m going on the assumption that even when Trump speaks he misspells words.) He pushed forward on the DAPL, despite Native Americans’ and environmentalists’ objections. The following day 138,600 gallons of diesel fuel spilled from a pipeline in Iowa. Of course, Trump doesn’t live in Iowa, so why should he care, right? Some of his cabinet picks, though, do care about the pipeline’s success. Coincidence? He put gag orders on government agencies, telling them not to speak to the press. He began plans for the Wall. And he initiated the Muslim ban Muslims-from-countries-that-do-not-benefit-Trump’-companies ban. He did this on Holocaust Memorial Day, when he also released a statement that did not mention Jews. I’m sure this has nothing to do with Steve Bannon, whose power in the White House continues to grow.

Basically, in his first week, Trump has illustrated that

  • American ideals mean literally nothing to him
  • many Americans themselves mean literally nothing to him
  • issues that affect the stability of the entire world mean literally nothing to him.

It is tempting to lash out at the people who voted for Trump, even the ‘good’ ones who didn’t agree with his horrible actions and words before the election but focused on potential economic benefits. It’s tempting to remind them of all the times they said wait and see or just give the guy a chance.

It’s also tempting to get sucked into every ‘alternative fact‘: the size of his inauguration crowd or his obsession with voter fraud. It’s tempting to retweet and post evidence that proves the President of the United States is a delusional liar.

It’s also tempting to put on a foil cap, curl up in a corner of a cellar, and pray you’ve stockpiled enough food and water to make it to the other side.

All these things are enticing, and I wouldn’t judge anyone who gives in. However, there are other things we can do.

Thousands of people are taking action around the world. Some US government agencies have set up ‘alt’ social media accounts. A few politicians are stepping up — lawyers and protesters showed up at airports, and shortly thereafter, a federal judge issued a stay against Trump’s ban. Millions of people are marching and making donations.

This is good. This is all good.

But it’s also all tiring, and we can’t pretend it’s not. We have to take care of ourselves as we do our best to take care of the world. We don’t know for sure what will or will not work. If at the moment all you can do is sign a petition, that’s all right. If you can’t afford to offer financial support, that’s okay. If you need to take a break from 695b5edf289e965571216ccf3acd3361social media, do it.

But promise yourself that you’ll do everything you can to stop Donald Trump. Because in high school history class, you probably wondered what you’d have done during the early days of Hitler’s reign.

Now is the chance to find out.

 

 

 

Image

Happy New Year and All That

31 Dec

Here’s to a much better year, eh?a5e39061b928e6db841a943a5fe5497b

Happy Christmas to All

25 Dec

All We Need

9 Dec

Friends, I know that recent times have been tough, what with the blatant disregard for morality exhibited by Donald Trump and his followers’ complete acceptance of him and said disregard as well as the hate crimes that have been committed since his election win. It has been well hard to think very positively about the future, near or far.

However, I am here to tell you today that there is something that can save us. It’s not Jesus, no, nor is it the newest, shiniest product you can buy exclusively from this website. No,

it’s love.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am in love.

As disappointing as it may be for Charlize Theron, it is a man who has stolen my heart. Of course, appearances are superficial, and far be it from me to be so shallow; however, with this man, his looks are really just an external reflection of his internal perfection (I’m referring to his emotional intelligence here, though I’m sure all his organs are also equally flawless). His salt and pepper hair is sexy, yes, but it also reveals his years of experience and wisdom. His weedy yet sturdy stature is perfect for providing a sense of security while still assuring that one could knock him flat if the situation called for it. His blue eyes, with their gorgeous limbic rings, offer windows to his sensitive soul. He is clearly committed to success in his work as well as in his personal relationships. No one could deny his kindness nor the calm that envelops anyone to whom he gives just one look.

Basically, he’s beautiful.

René Maltête: Jardin du Luxembourg Paris, 1960

René Maltête: Jardin du Luxembourg Paris, 1960

In a strange twist of fate, this man is Christopher’s Uncle Trevor. Recently, I was in Christopher’s room organising his sock drawer, when I noticed a photo on his bedside table and from that first moment, I was transfixed. You know that my heart is not easily swayed, but, dear readers, something beyond my own logic took over that morning.

Love is often consigned to greeting cards and notes of apology from spouses who’ve been caught playing away with the local slapper. But the truth is love is something that we all need. It can improve every moment of our lives. It reminds us that someone other than ourselves matters, and that the world is greater than our own needs and worries.

Love, of course, does not make Donald Trump go away or keep bastards (criminal or elected) from plying their trades. But love can make those things just a little easier to face, and the companionship and connection with another person that come with love also make those things easier to fight.

So I wish you all the bliss that I am currently feeling. In love and with love, we can all carry on working to improve our world.

 

_____________

 

UPDATE 10 December 2016:

Unfortunately, I am afraid I must retract the above statement.

As it turns out, the man in the photograph on Christopher’s nightstand, with whom I fell instantly in love, is not in fact his Uncle Trevor. After my pestering him for a few days to set up a chance for the man and me to meet, Christopher confessed all.

Apparently, the picture was one he’d torn from a 1960s Kays Catalogue (I am still a bit confused about why it was kept by Christopher’s bedside, but he assures me there is a valid reason). He claimed he thought it’d be “funny” to play “little joke” on the woman who has offered him free room and board for these many years. It appears Christopher has never even met this man, and (he thoughtfully reminded me) in all likelihood, the man formerly known as Uncle Trevor is no longer alive.

I felt I must admit this to you, after my (now embarrassing) display of joy and hopefulness. I apologise profusely and confess that I am both humiliated and heartbroken. I have banned all mail-order shopping from this household until I have overcome this traumatic experience.

What Matters

7 Nov

Words matter.

Actions matter.

Voting matters.

bystanders

 

Perfect Harmony

6 Sep

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my many interactions with other humans, it is that we don’t have to love everyone. We don’t have to want to kiss on them or lend them a book or invite them to ours for dinner. We don’t even have to like them. However, we do have to acknowledge their existence and respect the concept of community to be able to live in a fair and harmonious world.

Last night I attended an event where I saw the devastating effects of those who seem unwilling to recognise that other people also matter. Our neighbourhood association meets on the first Monday of each month, and September was my turn to host. Christopher spent much of yesterday tidying up the house and when people began arriving, we had tea and biscuits at the ready. It all started off so well. However, the mood quickly turned when we began to discuss the stone bench we’d commissioned for the greenway.

Colin from Number 18 had photographs of the bench his nephew Billy had just finished, and as we passed the pictures around, he broached the topic of the engraving. Billy would need to charge by the letter and thus we did not have enough money in the pot to have all our names engraved. It was clear Colin was torn up about the issue — he had offered his nephew’s services, but slowly the original estimate and date of completion had changed, and many in the group were a bit put out about it. Now he was asking for even more money, and Colin was stuck in the middle.

“We’ll take him to court,” said Mr Lee, who is and always has been a dickhead.

The colour drained from Colin’s face. Fearing he might slide off his chair and spill his drink of my rug, I quickly suggested that we each chip in five more pounds, and the engraving could be completed and the bench ready for installation by the Autumn Festival.

“Absolutely not,” Mr Lee grunted. “I don’t literally bleed money, you know.”

I felt like pointing out the idiocy of his comment, but I have learned my lesson in the past about trying to explain the definition of the word literally to this man.

“Billy wants 50p per letter,” explained Colin.

“We pay for our own or I’m out,” Mr Lee stated.

“I don’t know,” mumbled the extraordinarily fertile woman who lives at Number 24. “We’ve had to buy new school uniforms this year. . . ”

“That’s your own fault,” Mr Lee said. He stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out two pounds. “Just my first initial,” he added, sliding the money across the table to Colin.

Now I personally know this man is not hurting for money, but everyone has the right to be a miser if they so choose. However, it didn’t seem quite right that his response favoured him and him alone (we have a lot of long surnames living in this area). There are a number of people who’d wanted to include their family members’ names on the bench, and, of course, my own household’s contribution would be an additional £16.50. I was willing to pay, but since this was supposedly a neighbourhood project, it seemed more appropriate for us all to make the same donation to ensure that everyone was happy. However, Mr Lee, who was born with a short name and who (obviously) lives alone, was unwilling to put the group’s need before his own.

That was until we got to Any Other Business, and Mr Lee proposed a change to our recycling programme. As he is a keen drinker of Coca-Cola products, he complained that his recycling bin runneth over before each designated pickup. His solution was to petition the council for a weekly collection, but he was quickly reminded that the only way this could happen was via an increase in council tax. He said he was happy to pay. When the grumbling from the crowd indicated the feeling was not shared, Mr Lee stood up and shouted, “This group is supposed to benefit the neighbourhood! Why should I have to suffer just because of you lot?”

“Why don’t you just not drink so much Coke?” Mrs Jones suggested timidly.

Mr Lee turned sharply and fearing he was about to resort to violence, I gave Christopher the nod and he quickly moved into action, initiating our secret the-guests-need-to-leave-now procedure of cutting off all the lights in the house.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said, standing up and looking elegantly distraught. “We’ve got some candles round here somewhere,” I added as I moved to open a desk drawer. “Or we could continue this discussion at the next meeting.”

“Fine,” Mr Lee said as he stomped out of the house.

The other guests gathered up their things and started to leave.

“You should get that fuse box checked out,” Colin said as he headed towards the door.

“Will do,” I called. “And tell Billy the bench looks lovely.”

Once they were all gone, Christopher turned the lights back on and we discussed Mr Lee’s appalling attitude. The group’s mission statement is to better the lives of those living in our neighbourhood. When it came to something that was good for all of us, Mr Lee was unwilling to pitch in, yet when the issue was one from which he alone would benefit, he expected us all to play ball. He could not see beyond himself (which is not a comment on his size, though as you might imagine from his soda habits, he is quite large).

Next month, I will suggest that Mr Lee hire some of the bicycle hoodlums to take his cans to the recycling centre on non-delivery weeks. Compromise doesn’t have to be complicated.

I have no intention of ever running for public office — it seems more trouble than it’s worth and besides I don’t own any pantsuits. But in some ways, it’s not our leaders who are the problem. If each of us could just appreciate the fact that all our lives are equally important and ultimately intertwined, we might make better decisions about how our communities run. Sometimes it might mean personal sacrifice, but doing the right thing is sometimes difficult. And besides, if we create a caring climate for others, then it is more likely that we have someone to look out for us in our own time of need.

I mean, I hate those little shits who ride their bicycles up and down the street day and night, but I’ve never once hit them with my car. I’ve abstained because they are people too and have as much right to enjoy their leisure time as I do to safely drive down my road (also, I am slightly afraid they might vandalise my property if I call attention to myself, but that’s besides the point). To live in an environment of peace and harmony, we must create an environment of peace and harmony. For ourselves, for all of us.

Even the dickheads.