Tag Archives: Community

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.

“It Is Always With the Best Intentions that the Worst Work is Done”—Oscar Wilde

30 Jul

God bless him for trying, David Cameron. I do believe he’s got the best intentions, somewhere inside that doughy head of his. But he’s got it so wrong that I almost feel a little bad for him.

Take, for instance, his “Big Society” business. According to the Telegraph:

In his first major speech on the theme of the “Big Society” since winning the election, the Prime Minister will announce the “biggest redistribution of power from elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street”.

Mr Cameron – who is keen to present his administration as offering optimistic new policies that are not just about cuts – will say that the “liberation” of volunteers and activists to help their own communities is the vision which drives his premiership.

As part of his drive to roll back the reach of the public sector, the Prime Minister will attack the previous Labour government for turning state employees into “disillusioned, weary puppets” and communities into “dull, soulless clones”.

Me oh my. Someone is not taking advantage of his public school education on the power of language. Big Society? I just don’t see that phrase appealing to the youth who loiter outside the leisure centre. I bet their parents wouldn’t even swallow Big Society if it were the name of a pizza which came with free garlic bread. Just listen to yourself. You’re going to liberate volunteers? Volunteers are already free—that’s the whole point.

He will announce that four areas in diverse parts of the country have been chosen to form a “vanguard” in realising his dream of “people power” in which individuals rather than the state come together voluntarily to solve their problems.

The four – the greater London borough of Sutton and Cheam, the leafy Berkshire council of Windsor and Maidenhead, rural Eden Valley in Penrith, Cumbria, and the metropolitan city of Liverpool – were chosen after they petitioned Downing Street to start their own projects.

They will be the first to be invited to submit applications to the Big Society Bank, a fund which will allocate the proceeds of dormant bank accounts worth hundreds of millions of pounds to help set up volunteer schemes to improve communities.

Combining Big Society with the word bank, well, you’re on to a real winner there to earning the public’s trust. Also, if we’ve learned nothing from the MTV Awards, we’ve learned that the word vanguard certainly doesn’t mean what it used to. And little David, people power? Really? What’s next—women’s libbers, rap sessions and hep cats? Get with the program, Prime Minister!

Communities already unite to take care of each other in many ways. The little kiddies at our church do sponsored silences to raise money for the hospital. Last month quite a large group “came together voluntarily” to vandalise Mr Willingstoke’s Bentley after he suggested Jeremy Clarkson open our village fête. We stand up for our community like that. As individuals, we also do good. Look at the help Christopher gives me out of the goodness of his heart. The old man three houses up has a volunteer nurse who comes by to look after him once a week and she’s even willing to do it in costume. Alice Wintergarden and I both read to the blind and sign to the deaf (not simultaneously); neither of us are “dull, soulless clones” (though admittedly some of those we help may be). We don’t need the government telling us how to take care of each other.

But we do need the government for some things. After all, what is the state for, Mister Cameron, if not to help the people?  Build some playing fields. Make sure there’s disabled access in the shopping precinct. Insist the local library carry all of my books, not just those published in the last ten years. Go back to weekly rubbish bin collection. These are the duties of government. These are the kinds of things the government should be doing, instead of coming up with ways for us to do them for ourselves once the budgets have been slashed.

Governments don’t give power to the people, the people give power to the government. You were elected by the people of this nation, well, you weren’t exactly elected, but the thing is you’re there now so do your job, do it right and quit being a dick.

Betrayal in the Village

26 Aug

I am finally home and settled from the trip. Crossing the Atlantic is always an adventure and, whilst I did enjoy seeing friends and family and experiencing the sights and sounds, there’s nothing like drinking out of your own teacup.

My timing was perfect. While I don’t flatter myself that I was the sole motivation, I was particularly pleased to be back to witness the exciting Ashes victory. As always, I send my best to the boys in white with the green-stained knees and the red smear along the rise. There’s nothing that swells the pride more than watching Ricky Ponting pull his Bush-the-morning-of-9/11 face.

However, I am afraid I do have to report that not all was champagne and confetti when I got back. I am very displeased by some more local news concerning the Old Vicarage of my village. The building had been for sale for quite some time, and there were rumours circulating about possible purchasers for months. I was distressed to find upon my return that not only had the property been bought, but the new owners have already moved in. I confess to feeling slightly let down by the Parish Council—surely a village resident as important as I (and this is not pride speaking, it’s purely objective fact) should have been consulted before any final decisions were made. I was not, and the first I knew about it was on the morning of my return (Christopher confesses he chose to deliberately withhold the information from me during our twice-daily chats as he knew it would only upset my already delicate traveler’s tummy—bless).

I am very disappointed. It’s not the owners’ background, family situation, lifestyle choice, economic demographic or professional standing which causes me dismay, for I know none of these. Additionally, I have yet to see any dramatic changes to the Vicarage itself since their arrival (it remains St George’s Cross- and Staffie-free). What is sticking in my craw is simply their name.

Before you accuse me of being a nit-picker (which, may I just point out, is a graphically offensive description for someone whose only crime in finding details valuable), I would like to tell you the family’s name. It is Coxender.

Now, clearly there is a sexual connotation present (if you missed it, I suggest you go to your nearest closet, shut the door tightly and whisper the name aloud). It’s awkward, of course, and may lead to their children being bullied but quite frankly the abuse of children by other children has never been a grave concern of mine.

What does disquiet me is the fact that Coxender was the name of an old love rival of mine. Years ago, one of my gentleman friends abandoned me in favour of a woman of questionable morals whose name was Oleanna Coxender. In retrospect, of course, I have no doubt that I was the more desirable catch and that young William was purely blinded by the pressures of masculine pride and the charm of the absence of knickers. Still, I was heartbroken and have done my best to sweep the whole ugly experience under the Oriental carpet. Now, unfortunately, I am forced to confront this hurt every time I am driven through the village. The cruelty is almost beyond belief.

It’s so disheartening that people’s definition of community seems to no longer extend to anyone other than themselves. A truly sad day.