Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Me vs Bromley Parking, part two

Given that my appeal to Bromley council regarding my parking ticket was rejected on the basis that there IS adequate signage for their CPZ in Bromley Town Centre, I have finally, some 2 months later received the 'Notice to Keeper' which entitles me to officially challenge the ticket and their decision.

So here is the letter I am about to submit to Bromley, to again try and make my point.
I am somewhat entertained that in the same week that I decided to make the formal challenge, that a story would appear on the BBC website, stating that some councils, inc Bromley appear to be setting targets, therefore acting illegally with regards to parking enforcement notices issued.


So, here is the letter which will be completed and sent off via email, the appeals website, and of course in paper form too. I will in the meantime be speaking to other media outlets to highlight the behaviour of Bromley Parking, and in an effort to get the area re-signed in a more open and fair manner.

Dear Sir / Madam
I am writing to you in relation to parking ticket #******** issued on *********.
I have contacted you on a previous occasion relating to this matter, and already pointed out by email, and open letter, the flaws regarding the signage of the suppose Bromley CPZ.
I shall again make my point, in the hope that it is better understood, taking your original response into consideration.
I approached Bromley town centre from Bromley Hill, coming in from Downham. To be precise, up Bromley Hill, onto London Road, left onto Tweedy Road, along Kentish Way, right onto Masons Hill, straight on onto High St, and right onto Elmfield Road. At no point along this trip was any form of CPZ sign seen. On parking and walking the route in the opposite direction, I finally found a sign. Just after the bus stop on Masons Hill. Please see the attached image from Google Maps of the sign, turned sideways, tiny in size, and ridiculous to believe that Bromley Parking consider this 'visible' and 'adequate' to notify drivers entering the area that it is indeed a CPZ.
Inline image 1

Furthermore, I should add that on standing in as near as I could to a driving position in the road, when a bus is at the bus stop, or just pulling away, the sign is completely obscured.
From my understanding of the requirements to establish a legitimate and lawful CPZ, one of the requirements is for the signage to be clear and visible, maybe even adequate. Given that the distance travelled from entering the borough of Bromley, to the point of the ticket being issues is some 2 miles, and that the area apparently covered by the CPZ is just after an area of slower moving traffic, with traffic lights, and open roads with many opportunities for better signs to be erected, I am left only with the belief that the sign has been carefully placed to ensure there IS indeed a sign, but it is of absolutely no use to motorists entering the area. There is no other logical explanation as to why a sign of such importance would be put in such a hard to see place. I should also point out that after turning from Kentish Way to Masons Hill, the number of pedestrians and hazards for motorists increases astronomically, so concentrating to hunt out a hidden sign is rather dangerous from this point on.
Unfortunately on reading recent articles such as this one on the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-25865055 , I am led to the only logical conclusion, and that is that this is an attempt to gain as much revenue from parking enforcement as possible, while skirting what Bromley believe to be just within the legal requirements of a CPZ.
Therefore, on this occasion I completely reject the argument that Bromley make,  that there are 'a number of signs from London Road, all the way into Elmfield Road' where the ticket was issued. I can honestly state that I observed NO clearly visible signs on my way to the point of parking. And upon finding a single yellow line with no hours of enforcement close by, I parked in good faith believing I was entitled to do so. Obviously now I know the centre of Bromley is a CPZ I would not do this again, and would choose to park in one of the many VERY well signed pay on exit car parks.
It seems that Bromley are happy to point people in the right direction of a pay to use car park, but not so keen to warn people that yellow lines fall under a badly signed CPZ. Seemingly a win win situation for Bromley.
At this time, I feel I am well within my rights to appeal this ticket, and the decision made by Bromley the first time I appealed, on the following grounds.
CPZ is not adequately signed.
Appeal decision states signs are in a place where they are not.
I look forwards to hearing back from yourselves on this matter in the near future.
Please note, as before, this letter will be shared openly on my blog, as well as Twitter, as will any reply received unless explicitly requested otherwise.
Michael Snasdell

Friday, January 10, 2014

Modern day police, the media, and the public.

Recent days have seen some terrible stories out there, deeply damaging to the reputations of the police, and I should point out from the start that the stories are what the media are reporting, and not necessarily based on cold hard facts, or indeed contain all the facts available. But more focus on what makes the hard hitting headline.

I think it is fair to say one thing for sure, the reputation and trust in the police is something that has always been a talking point in society. Minority groups, ethnic groups, immigrants, people of certain social stature are just a few of the areas that relationships with the police not only have 'room for improvement' but also ones that are unlikely to ever really see huge changes in perception, both ways in some cases.

The most recent case to really blow up was of course the conclusion of the Mark Duggan inquest, where it was ruled as 'unarmed and lawful killing'. Accepting that Mr Duggan was indeed unarmed at the moment he was struck by bullets fired by SO19 officers. However the report is keen to impress upon people that he was 'at some point' in possession of a firearm, and one the officers were informed he would have in his possession.

I'm not going to go into the ins and outs of the case itself, it is a very controversial case to say the least. I have my own personal opinions on what happened, having sifted through a bit of the evidence which has reached the public domain. However will be keen to see the full and official report whenever that becomes available.
But one of the most focused upon issues in the Duggan case is of course the belief that the officers colluded with each other before making their official reports. Reports that would be later called into question. 'Facts' such as all the reports apparently referring to a gold vehicle, when the vehicle was in fact silver, point to the fact that all the officers based their reports from a similar pool of information. The likelyhood of all the officers independently mistakenly noting it as a gold vehicle is pretty slim. The is IF indeed these 'facts' reported by the media are found to be true. Or if it is another example of the media short quoting in order to get a sensational story.

Speaking of the media and their reporting of the case, when  the verdict was given, watching all media outlets, I could not help but feel the sensational and aggressive way the story was being reported was in some way almost insighting a violent and explosive reaction, maybe hoping for something again on par with the riots of 2011.

The next story involving the police which made big headlines at the time, and has come back in to the public's crosshairs this morning is the Andrew Mitchell 'Plebgate' affair. With one of the officer's,  PC Wallis, who was claiming to have witnessed the events, having now resigned, adding more fuel to the fire of why people should trust the police.

One of the things that really bites for me is my previous application to join the Met about 5 years ago, and having been refused based on a minor criminal conviction I received some 17 years prior to applying. While on the one hand I can understand the Police stance on the matter, that their name should not be able to be questioned should a serving officer be required to give evidence. With the word of someone with a criminal record being far easier to call into question, than that of someone with no record.
But on the other hand when you read stories in the media (true or hyped) of officers being charged with offences but kept in service, or other officers like Wallis who dare to lie on such a high and public level, when already given so much trust and serving in SO16, DPG. Sometimes I see these things, and it for a moment trivialises my 'offence' and I feel cheated from not being allowed to serve. Especially given how much involvement I have had with the police since then, with a lot of assistance being given.

Anyway, this is about the police, not me, so onwards and upwards as they say.

Growing up as a kid back in the 80's, The days of wooden truncheons, big helmets, and very little PPE being worn. The thought of calling a copper a name was bad enough, but god forbid considering laying hands on one. Respect for the police was inbred, knowing that they had the power to make life a little miserable for you, knew the people on their patch, and kept a close eye on anyone they knew had been released from prison following one of their arrests. In the social groups I grew up in from hitting my teens, I have crystal clear recollections of some of the encounters of my friends and the officers. But as much as some wanted to avoid coming into contact with the police, the respect was always there in one way or another.

In the current day and age, the last couple of generations have somehow turned that message around, and it seems that there are huge social groups of people out there who have an unsubstantiated hatred for the police, just for merely existing. No interactions, no run ins, just life long taught messages of 'hate the police, they are bad'. For some I can start to understand why this may happen. If someone close to you has been affected by corruption of some form from within the police force, a victim of racial hatred on one of its rare occasions from within the force, or any other sort of hard hitting miscarriage of justice, then it is only natural to in some way preach hatred of the establishment. But the masses who claim to hate the police, and want anarchy, are just opportunist little thugs riding on the wave of social disruption for pleasure or gain.

Going back to Mark Duggan for a moment, and the riots of 2011. I remember them very well as they occurred around the time my mother passed away, so what was already a strange time for me, became even more confusing. Coping with a changing world around you is hard enough, even harder when the social fabric around you is tearing and burning.
The explosion of anger, violence and destruction on the streets of London, and then other cities was maybe ignited by the shooting of Mark Duggan, but the actual fuel for the continuation of the unrest was 90% based on the sheer lack of respect some generations have for the law, the police, and society as a whole. Most people running around smashing things up and stealing had NO idea about the shooting in Tottenham, let alone the circumstances. And of course the reports had not even been submitted by the SO19 officers at that point, let alone become public.

Still, all the while, whilst these mindless little thugs ran around causing terror and distress, the police, the exact people the protest was about, the people who's behaviour was in question, were out on the streets, protecting the wellbeing and the property of the members of public. Like many things in life, we are keen to forget the good and focus on the few small bad things that happen. You only have to check an online review website to find this. Sites such as TripAdvisor are full of negative comments about hotels, carriers and other holiday based reviews, but very few take the time to compliment a service provider for something good they did. Its the same in all walks of life. Now I know the Met and other police forces are hardly tour operators or McDonalds servers, but the principal is the same. We LOVE to moan, and shout names loudly, but it seems we are too shy to say nice things.

Now so far I have focused on the public and the police, but there is a third party here, and that is the media. Like the fire triangle, it is quite apt that this story which also results it high temperatures and explosive events should have 3 also. The oxygen, like the public is all around us, lots of it, found everywhere, then there is the fuel, in this case the police, not everywhere, but usually found in areas where fire is possible. But it seems that both can exist, albeit in a volatile environment, but they can exist without the fire. Friction causes unrest, unrest which attracts heat, aka the media, and the rest is history. Like the public, the media sometimes seem hellbent on causing a bigger and bigger story, taking what is a small smouldering mess, and fanning it, publicising it, and giving it more and more attention, until there is fire.

The events in Tottenham after Mark Duggan's shooting would more than likely have remained 'quite low key' or lets say local, had the media not decided to sensationalise, and hype the situation to a point where it was almost sold to the bored and angry younger generations as the right thing to do to vent their anger and pass some time. Looting, violence, life changing destruction of property, all apparently in the name of a man very few knew, and with facts that were at this point still very cloudy. Something even his family seem keen in public to distance themselves from. But thanks to the media, the death of Mark Duggan and the riots of 2011 will forever be entwined in history together. Regardless of what the family or police would like.

This of course is not the first time that this has happened. A few years prior we had the 'anti capitalist' marches in London which were later to be known as the MayDay Riots which gained a reputation for themselves, and all future May Day protests were tarnished with the same brush, and then of course we cannot forget the G20 protest / riots which  unfortunately will always be remembered more for the sad death of Ian Tomlinson rather than the behaviour and actions of masked cowards which created the stage for the interaction in the first place. That's not to take away from what happened in the incident, but just to put it into perspective.

There have been many occasions in which the police's behaviour has been called into question, usually when someone from the public has fallen victim to the actions of someone in uniform. But its strange how those who call for action, those who demand the police are reeled in react when the scene changes slightly.
All matters above have referred to incidents where the police have in some way instigated an interaction with an individual, and their subsequent actions have been somehow questionable in the eyes of the public and of course the media.
So lets switch to the case of Drummer Lee Rigby, and his brutal and public murder. The police were called to attend a fluid event, and one which had many many permutations of how it could end up. With the police receiving radio updates as they sped to the scene, SO19 officers arrived on scene, and within seconds of doing so were set upon by one of the killers. Running towards the car with a meat cleaver, he was gunned down by the passenger of one of the SO19 vehicles in order to protect the driver of the vehicle.
The officers then switched roles to care givers and approached the man who was laying on the floor, as the officer approached he noticed a handgun and fired at the man again. No shots that day were fatal, but both suspects were taken to ground following being hit by shots from the SO19 officers.

Amazingly, the reaction from the majority of the public is that these two men should have been killed on the spot, that the SO19 officers in the blink of an eye should have played judge and jury and sentenced both men to immediate execution by firing squad. Judge Dredd springs to mind here. It is all very well to suggest such a thing, but one thing is always overlooked in situations like this.

Lets look at SO19 for a minute and see what they do as a day to day role. This is far from a complete duty list, but I want to focus on two of them.
There are planned operations, where they support other groups and offer firearms protection to all officers involved. Close attention is paid to detail, information is gathered and studied about the location. All officers go in with a good understanding of the situation they may face. The outcome of the operation will be considered a 'success' if it ends in a way which was foreseen during planning, I am pretty sure this involves the consideration that the target person / persons may be shot in the process. The aim is to not have anything happen outside the parameters of the plan.
Then there are unplanned and dynamic situations. These are the sort of operations called in by the public or officers requesting support. SO19 officers are required to attend a location they may have little or no knowledge of, and have an effective impact in ending the situation in a way which remains within guidelines. Sadly this may sometimes involve firing lethal rounds and killing someone.
In the latter type of call, which the Woolwich murder resulted in two people being shot but not killed, much to the public's dismay, there is actually a good lesson here. The officers do a lot of training for many situations, but as anyone knows, life is NOT a rehearsal, and you only get one go at it. With most people believing the 2 men should have simply been executed, it shows our primeval thought process that says fight or flight, kill or be killed, and in this case for some reason we accept it.
The reason we the public accept it is simple, hindsight! When making these judgements and decisions we are armed with the plain and simple facts, these two men had just run someone over, then brutally tried to hack his head from his body. We saw it reported over and over in the media, we were told graphic detail.
The officers however would have received a call to an armed assault, possibly a murder, with the suspects still armed and posing a threat to the public, their job is to apprehend the person, NOT execute them.
On their arrival, even after the threat of a machete attack, and then having a gun pointed at them, the officers were able to avoid killing these men, but instead subdue them and apprehend them. Their principal role.

When Mark Duggan was shot, the same rules of engagement would have existed, the same goal would have been in sight. Unfortunately, no matter how good a shot, no matter how much practise on the range, or how good the weapon, the result of a gunshot is never a certain thing, especially when taken at any range further than point blank. Numerous people have been shot multiple times, some through vital organs, but lived to tell the tale. Others have been shot in seemingly 'harmless' places such as the leg, and the bullet has ricochet and travelled through the body causing death. Of course the officers are trained to practise lethal and non-lethal shots, but even some of the best shots in the world cant guarantee the outcome, unless of course its a glass bottle or a clay pigeon.

I guess what I am trying to get at here comes down to the following.
1/Regardless of belief, 99.9% of people who sign up to become police officers do not do it with the dream of hurting people, causing upset, and ruining peoples lives. A small percentage might have a bit of an ego trip going on early days, but generally those people leave the job after a short while, once they realise how challenging and horrible the job can be.
2/ Racial hatred is a nasty thing, and very much a two way path. The hatred aimed at, and received by both sides of the walls does nothing to help relationships, and as it perpetuates from generation to generation it gets deeper and angrier. Once it just led to vocal exchanges, and the occasional physical incident. Nowadays it is something that can arise from the smallest of interactions, with the race card being played all too often, and frequently unnecessarily. One that the media love to sink their teeth into, as if there is a race related incident involving the police, there is potential for a far bigger story.
3/ All police are not corrupt liars. The media would sometimes like to you to believe they are, as I said previously, keen to dig up all the dirt but not so keen to highlight some of the amazing acts of bravery from officers of the police forces up and down the country. Examples like these Police Bravery Awards

Finally, its quite simple, without the police, regardless of what the hardnuts of the Manchester estates would have you believe, or the anti capitalists, anti-authoritarians and all the mindless people who would love a police-less society, without the police, without law and order the UK would fall into genuine anarchy. Anyone who believes the country would be a better place without police is sadly misguided.

There is a lot of work to be done out there, relationships will never be perfect, the crime someone commits will always be petty, and the officers should focus on someone else. Speeding will always be trivial, anti social behaviour will be present until families re-take responsibility of their kids... And so on.

But the big issue out there, for me, is the way these things are perceived by the public, and sadly the main perception of the police is provided by the story hungry media. Its a vicious circle, and one that wont improve any time soon. As the police increase their attempts at public interactions with open days and events, the public seem to just shy away from these attempts. David Cameron once coined the phrase 'hug a hoodie' well maybe its time to roll out 'cuddle a copper' and break the barriers down once and for all.

If you have got to the end of this blog / rant, I congratulate you. I didn't think I ever would!

PS, I want to add a big fat thank you to all the police officers out there, putting their lives on the line day after day, and making London a safer place.
Hats off to all those who use Twitter as a medium to break the barriers down, and encourage conversation and interaction with the otherwise shy public. Shouts out to.

There are many more, but this is a handful that I follow day to day, and enjoy interacting with.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

High tide at the Thames Barrier

I have always been facinated by nature and what it is capable off. The all might man, out smarted by mother nature herself. So when the Thames Barrier (@AlanBarrierEA) twitter account came to my attention I watched with interest.
Over recent weeks we have seen a huge rise in the number of closures, and today being the weekend, and being daytime allowed me to take the time to get over there and get some pictures, and hopefully some time lapse too. I say hopefully as it is currently uploading as I type this blog.

Anyway, I saw the tweet go out earlier, and mentioned it on Facebook to a friend who recently said they wanted to see it closed. Another friend on Facebook then asked if I would be going along. With nothing else planned for the day I thought why the hell not, so headed over there.

First time at the location I had no idea where I was going, so headed to the West side of the barrier, and took some snaps, and a time lapse of two of the gates shutting. Once that was done, and with Iain on his way, I decided to explore a little, so walked about until I realised I could get to the East side of the gates. With a few left to shut, and a better, raised viewing platform I set up for another time lapse, and took a few stills.
Iain arrived and we got chatting about all sorts of thing, the final gates began shutting, and the water seemed to start to settle a bit, as it had nowhere else to go. With one gate left just open the rushing sound of water filled the air, and drew our attention back to it. Watching for a few minutes, then suddenly seeing the first signs of water lapping over the side of the footpath (we were much higher).

As we watched, the small washes became a little bigger, and the water began to fully breach come over the walls banks. Over the course of the next 30-40 mins we stood and watched, with a now growing crowd, as the level continued to rise, so peacefully.
As I began tweeting pictures out over Twitter I was shocked to see the number of retweets, replies, questions and comments coming in, so thank you to everyone for contributing to my 15 mins of fame.

At one point the Met Police helicopter appeared over head, not directly, and possibly not related, but it added to the atmosphere on the ground. Eventually we reached high tide, but the flow of people was now increasing even more. As I left, with 2 flat phone batteries and numb hands, a steady flow of people was still arriving, heading towards the viewing point.

The time lapse I am happy to say has come out amazingly well, so I shall leave you with a link to it, and also a whole host of other images taken on my trusty Blackberry Q10
If you choose to use any of the images, I would love a comment or tweet just to let me know you did.

Time lapse video here.

@michaelsnasdell (Twitter)

Here are the pics...

**Please note... The water regularly flows into the park at high tide with the barrier closed, and for this reason there are signs and safety measures to prevent people going to the water. The images were taken  from the top of the ACTUAL flood defences which are approx 10ft higher than the foot path**

Friday, January 3, 2014

The polls are in, and Yodel.......

... well quite frankly they suck !

A recent poll from a reputable source, conducted in the UK about domestic parcel delivery put Yodel dead last.
In fact they were SO last, they actually had almost double the amount of BAD votes to the next placed carrier. Now that really says something when it comes to customer DIS-satisfaction.

Good592 votes (18%)
OK654 votes (20%)
Bad2104 votes (63%)

As the boss of a company scoring THAT badly, surely you would start to look for ways to improve.
As the boss of a company USING a company that scores this badly, surely you would be looking for alternative carriers to keep your own customers happy.

But thats not how business works, we all know that by now. 
Most people complain about foreign call centres, but more and more companies are outsourcing their customer service centres by the year.

So, all my moaning, all my complaining and blogging. It seems I was far from alone in my bad feeling towards the company. Even more reason to maintain my stance that I will NOT order anything from a company in the knowledge that they use Yodel as a delivery agent.

How the other half live!

A phrase I am sure many have used at some point, and with general reference to those further up the economic and social ladder to oneself. However I was to take a different approach to this age old phrase for a moment, and open your eyes (and mind) a little.

First up I want to say, this is not an egotistical ramble, nor a hunt for praise or recognition. But a genuine heartfelt appeal to others to stop for a moment and think.

A week or so ago a post was made on a community forum I frequent, SE23.com. It was asking for help with a minibus run, a driver to be precise, for an event being organised at a local church hall. From what I understood, the bus trip had been successfully done a couple of times already for Xmas and Boxing day events, but needed a driver for the final New Years Day event.

As I am far from excited about the whole Xmas and New Years thing, and never plan anything, I decided I would put myself forwards for the role. I like driving, know the area, and enjoy a challenge. At this point, I knew nothing else about the job, nor anyone else involved in the event. A few emails later, and names like Alice, Tommo and Rob (CellarDoor) were becoming common place in conversations and emails.

Finally faces were seen, and I met up with Tommo at St Hilda's Church hall in Brockley. Immediately in the mix of things, I found myself loading up the minibus that I would be driving the following week, and helping transfer everything to St Saviours Church Hall where the next event would be held. Meeting Peter and Sue in the process, these were my predecessors and had done the bus run on the past 2 days. A quick handover of the list, then off to meet the next people.

Parking the bus at Alice and Alan's house, I met the couple for the first time. Mental and social overload for me already by this point meeting 5 new people in one day.

Over the next couple of days, once it had become apparent that the bus run could not be done alone, I got in touch with Rob aka CellarDoor, and we begun to arrange how we would plan the logistics for the day. Finally agreeing to meet up, take a look at the minibus, and work things out, Alice and Alan were kind enough to play unsuspecting hosts to what turned out to be the first annual convention of some sort. My apologies again for keeping you both for so long, but Baxter is simply too adorable to be separated from without force.

Rather than dribbling on about me me me I shall fast forward a few more days to New Years Day. Agreeing to get to the hall for about 7.30 on the day was maybe a decision that I made in haste, however it was a good choice in the end. Having roped my niece and nephew into helping at short notice, I picked them up bright and early, and we went to the hall. On walking in, we got straight into potato peeling and Calum (nephew) got started putting the tables out. Rob arrived a little while after, and again got stuck into the spuds with myself and Daryl, leaving Tommo to get on with other things too. Time flies when you have 10kg+ of potatoes to peel, and before we knew it, it was time to get the run started.

All at short notice, a little more help arrived with the driving, in the shape of Elisabeth, Liz or Lizzy depending on who was speaking to her at the time (all one person, and I thought I struggled with Michael or Snazy) and EJ was also on hand to drive. Just before heading out Rob also agreed to drive, so Calum was left helping me on the bus.

Now this is where 'them and us' really starts. All I knew was, we had a list of names and addresses. These were people invited along to the event, and they would come from various social groups, from elderly to isolated. Little did I realise at the time, but I in fact isolate myself to some degree, and as time passed on the day I would realise it more. Calum also is quite an introvert, so this would be a challenge for him also, but a good exercise in operating outside your comfort zone.

Picking the first few people up, it was a great start with some chatty elderly ladies, delightful in conversation, and immediately I began to feel at ease, and slipped into relaxed conversation. With each stop, a different social aspect was added to the group, and soon I started to realise that we are not all the same. In fact in such a small minibus, we were already putting together one of the most diverse groups of social soup I have ever been a part of. But rather than an awkward silence as you see in most confident social groups, when you add an unknown quantity, this group adapted, making the new piece fit, and rearranging itself to accommodate the change.

For a group if people, most who didn't know one another, some who were quite clearly not used to interacting with a group of this size, and in such close quarters, it was amazing to see how such a complex and diverse group of people could just adapt to a constantly changing situation. I have to add that it was also a pleasure to be an ingredient in this social soup as I call it.

By the end of the minibus runs, once the whole group was assembled in the hall for the days events, it was even more intriguing to see how the dynamic continued to change, and evolve. Sub groups developing, people finding their comfort zones, but mostly maintaining conversation. All helped along by another amazing group. The volunteers.

It is an honour to include myself in this group, and I was dumbstruck by how strong minded, and focused each volunteer was. Each with their own individual skill, somehow the people who had put themselves forward to help on this day came together as a faultless and capable crew, who together could achieve all tasks thrown at them. Serving, decorating, clearing, conversing, entertaining, assisting, you name it, it was going on.

As the day drew to an end, and as the guests were slowly dropped back off home, I realised that I had been a part of a fantastic, amazing, and revealing day. I know for a fact that Calum and Daryl both benefited in some way from the day. The social interactions, the challenges, and the insight into how others live their lives. For me also, the chance to socialise and interact with social groups that I would not usually have reason to. I think I learned more about myself in the past few days, than I have in a long time, and hope others came away with the same.

When I said at the start 'how the other half live' What I in fact meant was, we all THINK we understand the person on the bus who won't make eye contact, or the person in the shop queue who just wants to strike up a conversation. We guess they are a little bit different to us, and for that reason, stay comfortable, don't engage in conversation, and play it safe. But maybe if we exercised our minds a little from time to time, stretched our boundaries and gave a little of our precious time more often, we would not only do something positive for someone, but also learn something new each time we dare to dive right in.

Life isn't about playing the hero, or being a saint. But it's also not meant to be about just yourself, or being the best of everyone. Its about being a part of society as a whole, playing a role, and doing the right thing. 

In the past week, I have truly expanded my horizons, reached WAY outside my comfort zone, and reconnected with the person inside me that wants to be there for others whenever I can.

So thank you sincerely to everyone I have met, socialised with, and interacted with in the last week. Thank you for the awakening from within that I so badly needed. What a fantastic way to start a new year. 

So.... next time you look up the food chain and think to yourself, 'it's alright for some', just remember, it's pretty tough for many more people other than yourself. Sure there is always someone better off, but I guarantee there are 10 more who are worse off for ever one that is better off.

Thank you for reading :)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Fantastic New Years Day

For some, the night before is about getting blind drunk, over indulging, and 'celebrating' a little too much. For others its a quiet night in and just another day in the morning. For others however its another day of loneliness, and isolation.

Being anyone who falls into the category of vulnerable in this day and age is not easy, especially in the hustle and bustle of a city. Over looked, forgotten, and brushed aside by a society which has become too busy and self involved to take a moment to lend a hand.

So this New Years Day, a large group of volunteers in the SE23 area got together to assist a wonderful man Tommo, who has been organising a lunch and fun afternoon for such groups over Xmas and NY for over a decade now. Following a post for help on the local SE23.com forum by Alice, a whole host of people jumped on board to help out with the last of the 3 days. Some however had helped the whole time, so hats off to those people.

A minibus would collect groups of people from the surrounding area, and the interactions with one another would begin. I ran  the minibus with my nephew Calum, who for a young shy lad did a great job knocking on doors, and helping people to and from the bus. A great exercise for overcoming the shyness he suffers from. As each new character joined the bus, the mood changed up a gear, excitement, general conversation, and some wonderful interactions.

On arriving back at the hall after the first trip, the volunteers had done an amazing job starting to set the place up, and by the end of the last trip, the place was transformed in both image and energy. (as you can see)

By the early afternoon the logistics planning of getting everyone home again, but without making them feel rushed or left out was underway. Talking to people about what time they wanted to leave, while they were trying to concentrate on a game of bingo was not the easiest task. However, along with many other tasks, like phoning ahead to let people know we were on our way to pick them up, Daryl, my niece, took to it like a duck to water, and got the job done.

By the end of the day, after a few misunderstandings, a few unplanned diversions, and a whole lot of fun, all the guests were safely dropped back home, the minibus returned to Sidcup, the keys back to Swanley, and the final curtain fell.

This morning, we got the rest of the clearing up done, all the cooking equipment, food, and decorations back to their home, and the hall was like new again.

So I want to sum up by saying this:

Thank you to everyone who volunteered time, goods, or just a little effort to the whole event. I only did the one day, and have huge respect for those who did all three. I only found out about all this at the last moment, and seeing the way Forest Hill and its people pulled together to help on the day was quite touching. So if you are local, or were drafted in, like helicopter crazy Ali :) Thank you all for answering the call.

The call, which came from Alice, who took on a huge task so soon after having her first beautiful little baby. Awww. Looking after a newborn is quite a task in itself, but to have managed to coordinate all this too was really quite amazing. So thank you Alice for bringing us all together, putting us all in touch, and especially for the hospitality and patience having myself and Rob (CellarDoor) over to start getting sorted.

A special thank you to Calum and Daryl, who for my end of the job played a HUGE role in the day, and made things work as clockwork as they possibly could. It was a great experience for you both, as well as a heck of a long day, so well done, you both did a brilliant job, and I really could not have done it without you.

Events like this not only make you realise how fortunate you are, but also how important you are, and what a difference a small gesture or bit of time can make to someone else's life.
So here's to the next time we are all able to do something as amazing as this, I hope opportunity comes knocking soon. Tommo, you are a great guy for making things like this happen :)