Wednesday, July 22, 2020

My case to remain working from home.

It's been a strange time for the past four or five months. I have been tempted many times to write a blog about my feelings on it all, but that would just turn into a foul mouthed rant, screaming about my frustrations at those who just don't seem to get it. So instead I have saved myself for a more grounded entry, full of deep thoughts and considerations to the Work From Home world that we rapidly morphed into in March 2020.

Since March, I like many many other people in the UK, and indeed around the world, have been working from home. Blessed with an office based job, and a flexible (within reason) company, once the word Covid became common place, a massive effort was made to get everyone who could work from home, set up at home and working as smoothly as possible. I played my little part in the early efforts, getting the machines in our office compliant and set up, spending evenings searching for Wi-Fi dongles for everyone to use, and helping trouble shoot for other teams getting up and running.

From the moment I got set up at home, it was a whole new world for me, for a number of reasons. Setting myself up at home meant I could use other equipment I already had at home, so a two screen set up instead of one, better keyboard and mouse, and dare I say a much better internet connection. But there are other benefits too, some people will already know some of them, so lets get into it, and run through the pros and cons of WFH.

Firstly, no commuting. For someone who once commuted by train, I know the misery of it. Bad weather, delays, crowded carriages, not to mention interactions with a 1,001 annoying, rude, miserable, arrogant people. And yes, I am sure I fit into some of those categories for some too. In the summer, it's hot and stuffy, not to mention over crowded, and a guaranteed face full of armpit on any busy train. In the winter, it's cold, wet and miserable, not to mention even more crowded, with the increase in numbers due to most not wanting to walk or cycle.
Add to that mix a healthy dose of anxiety, and on some days, it's a simple non starter. The idea of being tightly packed into a train, with people looking at you, some wanting to speak to you, send shivers down my spine just thinking about it to write this, brrrr!!

Of course you can drive! Simple solution, no weather effects, run to your own timetable so long as you plan for delays on the road, sorted! But... There are a few downsides to this too. Parking for starters, not everyone has good parking near their place of work, and the residents near large businesses suffer badly from mass parking on their residential streets. Then there is theft from your vehicle. Parked away from home, out of sight, I have fallen victim to theft from my car twice now. Of course that can happen anywhere, but if it puts your car out of use, you are stuck back with the train or bus.
But lets touch on the real one here, environment! If the lockdown as taught us anything, it is that without commuters on the road, and a heavily reduced school run, the roads are empty, the air is cleaner, and the world is a happier place, well, so to speak!

Having cycled in town for the past few weeks, even with numbers of vehicles on the road starting to climb again, the roads are a much happier place. When walking or cycling, if you take a moment, you notice a serious lack of irritated and stressed people. The sound of a car horn is a rare thing right now, as people are not stuck in long traffic jams, no-one is taking the piss cutting in, and the number of serious carseholes (see what I did there!) is rock bottom. Surely that is a good status quo, and one we want to keep?

I know it isn't practical for everyone who is working from home to stay working from home, but even if those who could, and want to, were able to, that would cut down on the number of people on the move in the rush-hour. That's a good thing, right? Reducing the number of vehicles on the roads, and passenger numbers on public transport, is a massive improvement for those who HAVE to use these methods. There has long been a push to reduce car journeys, increase bicycle usage, make public transport more bearable for those using it. But we never had a way, or should I say there was never a way that most companies would consider.

Six months ago, if most office based employees had approached their companies, either their line manager, or a senior director, the idea of allowing people to work from home would have been sneered at, and written off as too expensive, not viable, and a million and one other stonewall reasons. Yet here we are.
When Covid popped up, it forced the hand of many major companies, as well as a lot of smaller ones, to find ways to continue operating, but also to follow government guidelines on safe work environments, and social distancing. Suddenly, WFH was a reality, and who'd a thunk it, not as bad as most companies and employees had thought it might be. Amazing what can be done when it benefits a business!

Since that time, systems like Teams and Zoom have become common place, acronyms like WFH, VPN have become second nature, and a whole new world has been born. The phrase, "the new normal" gets used a lot now, and for me, personally, WFH is the new norm. Or at least I hope and pray it can be.

But before I carry on pleading to remain working from home, let me continue to delve into the mystical world of working from home, and share some of my reasons it's a positive thing, sometimes on a purely selfish and personal level.

Imagine for a moment, if we DON'T go back to normal. If say even 25% of the traffic never returns to the rush-hour. If 25% less people are crammed into train carriages and buses during peak times. If some of those, even maybe a larger number choose to use bicycles to get to work, using the less congested, less dangerous roads, and some of the wonderful cycling infrastructure which is appearing. Those who can work from home do so, while those who NEED to go to their place of work, have the space to arrive fresher, calmer, and ready to work. Rather than stressed, and needing 10 mins to compose themselves, before shutting down mentally 30 mins before the end of the day, as they begin to contemplate the nightmare journey home.

Add to this, the environmental impact, and the green credentials for businesses. Lets be honest here, we are becoming more and more environmentally aware these days, and businesses want to be able to proudly boast about how they have reduced their carbon footprint. You don't have to be a transport company, or a heavy industry to be responsible for your carbon footprint. Any business, especially one which requires large volumes of people to travel daily to a common office space to work as an individual. Call centres for example, that requirement, as a business demands hundreds if not thousands of people to travel daily, by all means. Each one, another footprint in the sand.
If your record as a company was recorded as footprints in the sand, would you want your image to be a beach in Marbella in the middle of the school holidays, or a Caribbean paradise, with a few solitary footprints disappearing into the sunset? OK that was a bit weird I know, but you get my gist.
Every movement of employees counts, even if you as a company do not use vehicles for business .

School holidays
The peak time for people to book time off work. Lots of families using almost all their annual leave to make sure there is someone home for the kids during school holidays. With a school year being about 39-40 weeks a year, that means some families struggle to make sure there is care for their children for 12 weeks of the year. Imagine being able to be home, working, but able to be sure the kids are safe. Being able to book a few days off during the school term so you can recharge, and have some time to yourselves while the kids are safely at school. Wouldn't that be nice.
It is something that most families will never have been able to consider, a break from the mad school run, then dash to work, then rush home to make sure you are home when they get back from after school club. Heck, what if they didn't need after school club, and could come straight home. Save another few quid a day right there.

Sickness / Attendance
Next up is attendance, and of course this is something which directly affects and benefits the companies. I don't know about the teams you work in, but the bigger the team, the more frequent it is that there is a sickness, or short notice absence due to home matters. Be it a sickness which just makes travel and being in a social space un-viable, or a burst water pipe, and having to wait home for an emergency plumber. Oh or childcare, mustn't forget childcare emergencies!
Whatever the case, absence of any sort is disruptive on a number of levels. Increased workload on the team, unable to participate in group meetings to name a couple. With work from home, most emergencies or cases of sickness still allow the employee to participate, even at a slightly lesser level, rather than be out of the business.
For me personally, the team I work in, has had ONE sickness since March, and that was the employee who was still choosing to work from a company office and not home. And of course, not to mention timekeeping. No more "the train was late" or "my car broke down", you wake up at work!

Then of course there is flexibility. A good example for me in my role is, the other night, after I had finished work there was a problem. Under normal circumstances I would be at home with no access to company systems, but with the PC at home I was able to log in and help resolve the matter, hours after I would usually have been able to help. I am sure this sort of thing could apply to others too. Also under the banner of flexibility, is being able to change working hours, attend online team meetings, and work later if required. All things I am happy to do now, and continue to keep doing moving forward. If this was an office based environment, my decisions on being able to be this flexible would depend on travel, prior arrangements at home etc.
I for one, if at home out of work hours, and asked to perform a task, help with a matter or do something else work related, would be more than happy to do what I needed to, if the situation permitted it. Which lets face it, if you are home, the chances are you can.

Mental Health
There are two sides to every coin, and mental health is no different. For some like myself, we struggle on a daily basis with issues like anxiety of the environment we work in, being around too many people, interactions with others in a busy work environment. This isn't to say its impossible, but the past few months for me, even with the added uncertainty of everyday life, have been far easier mentally. Once of course I got out of the routine of being housebound. As an avid cyclist, being cooped up indoors for weeks on end finally took its toll on me. However now I am getting out for my fix of air daily, in the form of rides and walks, all is well. In fact, all is amazing!
And again, in a more generalised view, people with mental health conditions are commonly adverse to getting public transport as I mentioned earlier. Enclosed, uncertainty etc. Either way, mental health deserves a look in here for sure, especially as over recent months there has been a sharp inline in people struggling.

It would be ignorant of me at this point not to mention that the other side of the coin is those who have struggled without the social interactions of the work place environment. This group also needs careful consideration, and how both groups can achieve their highest working output, while being taken care of on a mental level. It is all well and good for me to bang the drum of isolation and WFH, but I totally get that some want and need the complete opposite. I am sure with some careful consideration a happy compromise can be reached, while the company benefits also financially from the changes.

It is hard to write a piece on the benefits of WFH and not mention it in its own right. Covid-19 at this point in time is still the enemy, no known treatment or vaccine for it, and still not much known about transmission of it. With that in mind, some people in society, a shrinking number at a worrying rate, as considerate of contracting and passing on the virus. So with this in mind, the responsible among us are still observing social distancing, minimising interactions with others, and keeping a heightened sense of personal hygiene. Of course, companies also have a responsibility to be "Covid compliant" and make adaptations to working environments to protect against transmission, which costs money. The bigger the company, the bigger the outlay, so obviously it would make sense to allow people to remain working in their own bubbles.
In time we will get a handle on Covid I am sure, be it vaccine or a herd immunity, but the road map that it has set out for businesses and how we work will remain deeply embossed in the work environment.

Just like they say a war drives the greatest leaps and advancements in technology, so Covid, a global pandemic will go down in history in changing the way some people work, and businesses operate forever. A genuinely momentous time for many I am sure.

So as a quick overview and to add a few more points into the mix, let me summarise my thoughts so far.

So long as those working from home are as productive as they are at work, if not more so, are willing to attend the workplace when requested to do so, for a meeting, a day at the office, or other work related matters, and behave in a way that is fitting with the requirements of their employer, there is initially no immediate reason from a productivity standpoint that WFH should not be viable moving forward.
There is an element of "hands off" for managers, which I would expect is a concern for some places. When the boss is away and all that. However, as grown-ups, we as employees should be respectful of the length of rope we have been given, and not try to take more, but instead appreciate the freedoms it allows us. Not abuse them to a point that it will all be reconsidered and taken away again. For some roles there will never be a spare moment to try and take liberties, for others, they will no doubt find a way to make it work to their advantage.

I would completely expect any company to exercise the right to check up on staff, be it home visits, check calls, or video calls to ensure you are present and correct. Any violation of that, in my opinion should be treated as gross misconduct. I would not expect any permanent WFH scheme to come without terms, and am pretty much onboard with anything I can imagine those terms might be.

I hear from a few friends now that some of the large businesses they work for are taking huge strides towards changing in the long term to WFH. Global companies with large swathes of  their workforce being offered WFH permanently, or simply told there will be no offices to return to when the pandemic subsides, instead their roles are now WFH.

Some people I know have questioned the cost of working from home. Who pays for the electricity, are there insurance implications, what about equipment for use at home. For me, I have the space, an office already set up, and a good broadband connection, so I am good to go. I would happily pay for some of my own equipment for my home office if the role were to change to a work from home role for sure. Standing desk for starters! I don't expect this is the situation for everyone, and would not for a second expect everyone to be of the same mindset as me, but would encourage careful consideration of how life changing working from home is.
Sickness reduced, no commuting, ability to deal with unforeseen circumstances, always home for deliveries, closer to your health care providers for appointments, control of your preferred working environment including temperate, background noise, lighting etc. Whats not to love!

OK for some it is probably the perfect storm, stuck at home with family all day, constant interruptions, no space or alone time. All things that some strive for daily. Something for both employers and employees to consider. Either way, the past four months have been both a trial period, and a snapshot and sneak peek into the future, hopefully!

Can you tell I am pro Work From Home yet?

I will leave it there for now.
I am sure I have left loads out, but having thought about writing this for a long time now, I thought I would at least make a start on it, I am sure there is more to follow soon.

Good for businesses, saves running costs on buildings, reduces the sick leave, improves timekeeping and flexibility to name a few highlights.
Bad for business of course could be not being able to keep an eye on tricky staff members (simple solution for that). Raises questions over work space management, and wellbeing.

Good for workers, no commuting, reduced travel time/costs, ability to work when not feeling great, more free time, own work environment.
Bad for workers, questions over expenses, not everyone has space long term, losing "away" time from home.

So what is YOUR take on work from home? Would you if you were offered it long term (only where applicable to your job), do you have concerns over costs, and long term effect? What percentage of the working week would you want to split between office and home?

Here's to all the companies who can accommodate this new way of working, doing so, and may it work to the advantage of everyone involved, not just a few.

Once I have read this through again, I am sure I will find things I missed, and write another blog to cover that too. Sorry in advance.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Just my opinion...

We all have opinions, some of us choose to share them, some act upon them, but the majority as a whole stay silent. Just from time to time making a brief statement which is driven by their opinions and beliefs on a certain matter.

Right now the world is a pretty troubled place. The fight for climate change raged throughout last year, rightly so, changes need to happen. Something I will get back to in a bit.
Then of course Covid-19 struck the world hard at the start of the year. Most of the world is still squirming trying to get a hand on the matter. While conspiracies deny it's existence, the main focus lays at the feet of the governments who globally have acted too hard /soft, fast/slow and whatever other variations you can dream up. Everyone is an expert. Which brings me to now... BLM.

George Floyd, and the unlawful death which triggered massive uprisings in the USA and UK, not to mention other countries who have reacted to this death in a way which can only be described  as the straw that broke the camels back. A brutality, observed and filmed very clearly on the streets of Minneapolis, then shared globally caused what I can only describe as near unified outrage. Regardless of creed or colour, more people in the civilised world saw this or heard the story, and were truly disgusted to hear such a thing could happen in 2020 in public, in the West, during such an incident.

I am going to blissfully ignore Mr Floyds background, and any incident which lead up to the events, and just focus on the gross and totally unacceptable level of force used against him for such a prolonged duration. This part is the part that needs to be paid attention to. Arguments will be made about Mr Floyds background, I hear them, and agree if true, it paints a picture of a very unsavoury man. However, regardless of history, once subdued and controlled, he becomes a normal citizen again. Posing no threat, there is no longer any need for use of force. From the moment he was cuffed and controlled, the situation should have been scaled back.

So there is it, the single part of the action which triggered an uprising of people around the world to say enough is enough. People took to the streets, so social media, and to television to name a few platforms to show their support and solidarity to the movement. But that was just the beginning.
From peaceful protests, it started to turn nasty, and like most events like this, a small minority took it upon themselves to turn things nasty. As has happened in the past at other protests and rallies, groups of people, the majority of whom are fundamentally not interested in the cause whatsoever, joined in. Setting fire to cars, damaging public property, and eventually spiraling down to behaviours such as looting, or violence against the police and other people who they felt did not support their actions.

I am all for peaceful protest, and by this I do not mean silent. Hell no, I mean people able to voice their opinions, speak their minds and share their stories. Chant, sing, scream, be heard, for this is a message which needs to be heard, and spread to everyone.
We as a society will NOT tolerate mistreatment of people by the authorities.
We the people will NOT tolerate unfair treatment of any person or group based on their appearance, beliefs or cultures.
We the people DEMAND accountability of those in the public domain.
We the people INSIST on equality for all those who participate in a fair society.

But its not that simple is it?
Years of behaviours by many parties has led us to what has until now been an impasse. Authorities who has behaved irresponsibly and unfairly, without being held to account. A society who has decided that violence and criminal behaviour is the right way to react and retaliate. And a majority of the population who have stood by idle claiming they are not a part of the problem, so therefore cannot be part of the solution. Until now.....

Now is the time. A population already in an empathetic mindset from all that is going on with Covid-19 is watching and acting on what they see. A sedate society, suddenly able to hear and see what is happening, and actually afford it enough time and thought to appreciate the injustices that occur. The people stand united against the continuation of this behaviour.

To be clear, my perspective, which I appreciate is that of a while male in his 40's, so will differ to others who have different experiences, is that there is not this not a common occurrence. Certainly not in the UK anyway. The stories we here of BAME individuals fearing for their lives when they go out to work each day, the knowledge of one simple encounter with the police could result in their death, and living in fear of blue lights in the rear view mirror are spectacularly over played. In my opinion.

Please remember this phrase "in my opinion". If it differs from yours, I make no apology. Opinions are part of discussion, which itself is part of a wider debate. To have a different opinion is a healthy thing, and helping others understand how you reached that opinion is both interesting, and an important part of change.

Right now we are starting to hear stories from the people, from A-list celebrities, some of whom have stayed quiet about their experiences until now, and others who have championed this cause for a long time now. Right through to every day people finally feeling their have a platform and a voice to be heard with. The ones the resonate with me the strongest are those who have faced battles to achieve the simplest of goals. To be accepted into the popular group in the work place, or just to achieve a dream of having a certain job. I struggle more with the plight of the A-list celeb who has made it, and quickly forgotten their struggles as they now enjoy the highlife. Only to return to their stories when the cause gets momentum, and there is popularity to be found in once again supporting it. 

Seeing young ladies run in front of crowds of grown men who are trying to mob the police, putting themselves in the line of fire. So passionate about the cause they are marching for, that they will put themselves in harms way to protect the message, and make sure their voices are not lost in the clouds of mindless violence. Those are the voices I want to hear, these are the people I will listen to, and try to understand what their goals are. They are the people who will carry this movement to the next level.
Whilst I am on the subject of this, I think it only fair to mention there were men doing this too, including one confronting the mob with the simple but clear message "come on man, you are fuckin this up for us bro". Pleading with them to stop the stupidity, and keep the protest peaceful and on message.

I feel right now like I have woken from a bit of a daydream, walking in ignorance, and now finally seeing what is happening, and what else needs to happen from here on in.

The "I'm not racist, so I can't be part of the solution" approach is a very common one, and one I am certainly guilty of. That is not to say I will not call out and speak up against racism if I see it, and feel I can make a difference. Not long after changing jobs some years back I went on a training course with a colleague. During the time we spent out on road with the instructor it became obvious to us that he had some very blinkered views, and he made some outrageous racist comments about our surroundings and the people around us. On returning to work, I formally reported this behaviour, and he was dealt with accordingly, and never used by the company again. I don't mean this as my "token anti racist gesture" by all means. There have been many other occasions where I have openly spoken my mind about behaviours and conversations being had. This is just "that one" where I decided to escalate the situation to its conclusion. 

The message now is, "Its not good enough to not be racist, we must instead be actively ANTI-racist". Something that took me a moment to get my head around, daft I know, but now I hear it properly, I get it, and I am on board. Does being anti-racist mean going to rallies, signing petitions etc. Well, to me, like most things, it is about doing what YOU can do in your situation. The circles you mix in, the workplace, friends etc. Not everyone can just get up and march, for a multitude of reasons. But everyone can be a part of the uprising. Everyone has a voice in one shape or form. It might not be over a megaphone, but even taking the time to support movements for even the smallest of changes can be of use. 

Sign petitions, but please, choose your battles wisely. At times like this there is a lot of passion and fire, and messages are easily lost with either a poor choice of words, or a misguided attempt to fast track change. Demands of government must be clear, with good reason, and achievable. Be it local or national government, the approach needs to be the same. A 3 line petition demanding equality, an end to prejudice, and other such "simple to achieve" goals, while well intentioned, will gain no momentum. The key here is the agenda.

To make change, there has to be a plan, solid goals, and an agenda to achieve them by. We are too used to seeing popular politics at play. Pledges to have sweeping reform to appease the disgruntled, and quiet the crowds. Dispersal tactics, not true change. This NEEDS change, and now is the time, so the approach must be measured and considered. Taking to the streets and being heard gets attention, the masses can play a part in that. But once a committee of people representing all walks of life is assembled, it is down the the voices chosen to speak for the masses who we rely on to move forward, and discuss what changes must happen, and how. 

There are plenty of loudly spoken "leaders" out there. Some able to fire up a crowd, some able to pacify and negotiate with those angered and upset by what is happening. But choose wisely, and make sure your voice carries far enough to help guide who is put forth to speak on your behalf. You only have to look on social media to see how many variations of the message are out there. Some seriously hard hitting social influencers have posted their own takes on what change is needed. And the range of messages swings wildly from one extreme to the next. I think the key here is the work "extreme". Nothing to either end of the spectrum is the answer here. Violence is NOT the solution, but then neither is sitting by idle, and allowing the momentum to be lost, and the voices to once again fall silent. 

Another key here is region. While this whole thing was really triggered with the death of George Floyd in the USA, it is important to remember that I/we do NOT live in the United States. Regardless of what hype some choose to believe, no matter how many stories are told of living in fear of the police every day, the UK simply does not have the same ingrained problem as the USA. Most of our officers are not armed, most roadside stops are not made at gunpoint, and most officers attempting to apprehend someone, rightly or wrongly, do not have the ability to use lethal force. This is not to say harm has not come to people in police custody, or at the hands of the police on the streets, of course it has. As this is what we are fighting against. The unlawful treatment of persons at the hands of the police, and force used above and beyond acceptable and necessary levels. Slogans such as "hands up, don't shoot" have far less relevance in the UK than they do in the USA.

There is of course a flip side to all of this, and that is behaviour of the public, which triggers reactions of the police. Speaking to a friend recently we touched on the "expected behaviours". Those behaviours which have become expected by our peer groups, should an encounter with the police occur. Over the years, as tensions have risen between ethnic groups and the police, somewhat driven by the treatment of their members, it has become more and more common to become aggressive and combative from the start of any encounter. Immediately becoming defensive and non compliant with the requests. These are the cases where we generally see mobile phone footage emerging from, showing what appears to be unnecessary physical conflicts between officers and members of the public. 
The part to remember here is both parties feed from the behaviour of the other. If a man doesn't wish to comply with a police officer, the officer will respond accordingly, attempting to detain the person. 
If the action of the person is to immediately become combative, then it is likely the officer before instigating such a challenge will request more support. Immediately we have a situation which appears at face value to be heavy handed and some sort of power show. But in fact, the numbers of officers present is driven by the assumed response to the attempt to speak with the person. 

It is a vicious circle now, and I mean that both figuratively and literally. With more and more peer pressure to not tolerate being stopped by the police in any way whatsoever, and the police unwilling to deal with such stops without more officers being available "just in case", we have reached an impasse. But one which requires work from both sides to move forward. There have without any doubt been some appalling incidents involving police offices and unprovoked hands on approaches, not to mention unreasonable levels of force.
That said, it would be unfair and stupid to ignore the fact that simple stops, be they roadside stops, or stop and searches, have turned ugly for no apparent reason, with attacks being made on the officers simply for daring to stop someone they wish to speak to. And of course, not forgetting that some of the time, the stop has clearly been justifiable on its conclusion.

Sadly there are those out there, who even when presented with facts, will argue them for the sake of it. Say for example a black male is stopped and searched by the police, and found to be in possession of a knife, and after a struggle is arrested. Some would argue still that the male was unfairly targeted and searched by the police in the first place. Rather than focus on the positive that a knife was taken off the streets.  Of course the argument is partially valid. What was the reason for choosing that male in the first place. Why was he targeted by the police.  And this is where awkward statistics come into play.

Many years back, when it can be argued that there was far greater undertones of racial inequality, and strands of racism running through the police force. When the UK was still seriously ignorant towards any form of equality, there was without a doubt an unfair bias towards black and minority groups. 
Statistically for every 10 people stopped by the police, lets say 8 were BAME. If 10 out of every 100 stops resulted in an arrest, statistics would point towards BAME individuals being 4 times more likely to be committing some sort of offence than a white person. 
When you skew the statistics like that, even when you move on from such levels of racism, and start to have a more intelligence led approach to matters, you still have statistics that lead you to stop more BAME individuals than white. Is it right, heavens no! Does it start to explain the imbalance, possibly?

Unfortunately the situation we are now in is generations after the inequality first really started to become obvious to people, but the situation appears to be getting worse. But why?
This is where dialogue is important. To understand exactly why a black youth seems more likely to be stopped by the police than a white youth. And for the police to understand why it affects the BAME communities to seemingly be targeted this way.
At the same time, it is also important for behaviours on both sides to change, and for those from BAME communities to understand that the majority of police officers have no axe to grind, and are genuinely there to try and make our streets safer for us all. It is hard to shake beliefs which have followed you through life, especially when you are of an age where you can personally recall such times and inequality. But it is important for our future generations to break free from these beliefs and ideals, and take a new approach. 

I am spending too much time on this one issue, time to move on. It's a key part of the situation, however I know my comments and observations will not match those of others, so shall not dwell. This is part of the key discussions which need to be had at a much higher level, by a respected group of representatives. Obviously the biggest issue here is sometimes once opinions start to differ, our trust and belief in someone we once chose to speak for us changes. You only have to look at the outcry against people who have spoken out against some of the actions of "protesters". 

When damage to public property started to become a thing, key figures from the BAME community spoke out. Some seeming to support the violence as some sort of extension of peoples voices. Others were very much opposed to it, and said it needed to stop. The same has happened with the swathe of public apologies for past behaviours by some celebrities, with some coming out to defend their actions, and others agree that an apology was called for. Leigh Francis for example, aka Keith Lemon. He made a video apologising for his representations of black celebrities in his show Bo Selecta. Driven clearly by the rising support for some equality and balance for all, his message was clearly well intended. Some said too little too late, some applauded the apology, and some questioned why it was ever necessary, and that no harm had ever been intended. We will all have our own opinions on such things, I am not going to try and change that. 
However the interesting thing to observe here is that some black celebs who have come out in support of Leigh, and the characters portrayed in the show, have come under fire from others for being "racist" or perpetuating the racism in the entertainment industry. Some of these people have faced racism themselves in their day in the spotlight. So who is right? 

Is it impossible to agree to disagree where the blurry line is, and should we focus on defining once and for all what does and does not constitute racism? Is that even possible to do so, without needing to look to each situation for context? Can you make a stand against things such as the "n" word, while people in some high profile walks of BAME society continue to use it, in a "justifiable" way?
Can you justify the use of a racial slur because you are from a certain group in society? How do you then define who can and cannot use that slur, and when they can. Surely it is easier to identify something as harmful and derogatory  and simply say enough is enough, EVERYONE? Or is that some form of censorship and oppression in itself?

In a recent conversation with a friend on the above matter, he had the following to say.

" I hate the use of the word and the legitimisation of it in certain circles...It shouldn't use it in any context end of..Why would people who have had to suffer its use toward them think that by calling each other by that word diminish it's continued harm throughout the world on a daily basis...Can't have it both ways ...Why do black people use these words amongst themselves..other nations and races wouldn't dream of it...Never heard a Jew call another Jew a yid....Never heard another Asian call themselves paki...So on and so on."

I am inclined to agree.

However I know that if I were to have the same conversation with other friends I would be told that it is the black mans right to use the word, and that within their own social groups it's meaning and context is far less offensive. That is unless of course it is being used purposely as a derogatory term, in which case again it's fine, as it is still within the community, so its context is different once again. Surely this is an impossible matter in itself, and this is just one word! But then what do you do with popular music, accessible by all, which uses the term? Is it wrong for any non black person to recite the lyrics to these songs? All very confusing indeed. Yet one of the most frequently used racist words unfortunate enough to be in English language. 

Time and time again we reach these points of disagreement. Not only across the broad scope of the population, but within the BAME communities themselves. Are those slightly more liberal than others somehow letting the side down, or betraying their own communities by having a lighter take on some parts of the situation? I don't think so, in fact I find it refreshing that in the midst of such times, with so much pressure being put on certain social groups to stick together, stand as one and be heard, that the individual voices are still audible,

During another conversation, discussing peoples stances on the protests, and how some were not only starting to turn ugly, but also starting to go off message, I was somewhat saddened to learn that the daughter of a friend from within the BAME community questioned her perception and beliefs on the situation. Asking if she was somehow out of touch, and wrong for not understanding some of the extreme anger and hatred being demonstrated by some on the marches.  To hear that someone who should be supported by such a community felt they did not belong, so to speak, is very sad indeed, and just goes to show how deep the divide really goes.

This divide, some would say is part of a plan, to divide the BAME communities, to weaken them, forcing them to accept a second tier existence. Others like myself, would simply argue that there are rifts between those who stand fast in their timeless beliefs. Beliefs such as  that the white man is the oppressor. And will always demand that there has been no change in the situation for decades. While other more progressive minds will see change can and has occurred, and with the right pressure, support and direction, can continue to do so until we reach complete equality. Hopefully, in my mind at least, the latter group of progressives will be the ones to lead the way ahead during this uprising in public support for change. The rational and constructive trains of thought can plough on with progress, and make a change that this generation can be proud of.

Whilst writing this piece, a few days have passed, many more conversations and discussions have been had, and a number of events have continued to unfold. Some I am totally comfortable with, others I am less enthusiastic about.

The toppling of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol a few days ago for example, was a true eye opener. Whilst I have been familiar with the situation in the USA for years now, and the open resentment towards the confederate flag, once popularised by the roof of the General Lee in the Dukes of Hazard, I have blissfully been unaware of the history of other similar subjects in my own country. The subject of statues. It is easy to ignorantly follow suit and just assume that statues are good, and represent positive things in our countrys past. However the falling of the Colston statue taught me otherwise. The celebration of an oppressor and slave trader, certainly not something that has a place in the modern UK.

Now, before I continue, I have to say this.... Is it right for the public to take matters into their own hands, and remove such objects?... Under normal circumstances, certainly not. However, in this situation, the removal of this single statue has kickstarted and fast tracked the discussion about other statues, which I must confess is a good thing, especially with others with questionable messages remaining. But there is an issue, and again it falls to opinion... Whilst some see a single action of a person depicted in such a statue as reason enough to have it removed, others will disagree strongly. Churchill for example.... Some insist that his actions in the 20's were that of a racist, power hungry white man. While others will point out that he was the leader who was at the helm of the country when we defeated unquestionably one of the  racist people of recent history. Tough one there... And I am sure many other such examples exist where opinion is split.

In such matters, is compromise acceptable? Or should all demands be met without challenge or consideration. In times like this it is far too easy to swing wildly from one side to the other, without consideration of the future consequences. 

This brings me onto the next matter. Stop and search. As I touched on earlier there are some questions to be answered about the methods and mindsets behind stop and search. Recently we have seen a massive increase in the use of Section 60's following any marge events of unrest, or in situations which are building towards unrest. The demonstrations in London recently for example. I think most are familiar with what a Sec 60 is these days, however here is a quick link to the exact wording of what one is, straight from the Met Police Website.  Met Police Section 60

In short....

Section 60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (s.60) gives police the right to search people in a defined area during a specific time period when they believe, with good reason, that: serious violence will take place and it is necessary to use this power to prevent such violence; or that a person is carrying a dangerous object or offensive weapon; or that an incident involving serious violence has taken place and a dangerous instrument or offensive weapon used in the incident is being carried in the locality.

These have often been seen as a method of pushing out mass unjustified Stop and Search purges, often targeting black youths. On the flip side, it can be argued that such occurrences often result in removal of weapons from the streets. I have been stopped numerous times by the police myself. Spoken to like an idiot by over keen officers determined to find something wrong. Both on foot and in the car. The most notable times of recent was on a High St after a serious car crash, which had somehow resulted in a 20 on 20 running battle between a group of Turkish men and a group of black men. 

I arrived shortly after this disorder had been dispersed, and was completely ignorant to its occurrence. The road was still closed, and I walked across slowly, as at the time I was dealing with an injury. A bus which had been stationary started to move off, and sounded its horn at me, before coming to a stop as it was blocked. I approached the bus and using some strong profanity suggested the bus driver open the doors and talk to me about what he had just done. Within seconds I had 3 or 4 police officers running up on me, surrounding me and getting in my face. Complete overkill, this was just an argument. 

On speaking to a senior officer the following day, and becoming aware of what had actually happened, I penned an apology for my actions. One way to look at it is the officers should have been more professional, it was something separate, and I should have been dealt with accordingly. The other is to appreciate the incident they had just dealt with, and understand the duress they would have been under a short while before. Seeing tempers flaring again, their reaction, to me, in hindsight, was understandable.

So, back to Stop and Search. Today it has been announced that there is consideration to stop doing it. Now if this means entirely, I see problems ahead. If it means address how it is conducted, and as I have discussed before, make officers more accountable for it, then I am all for it.

Being stopped isn't nice at all, especially in certain circumstances. At night in the car, you have a police car behind you, lights flashing, bringing the worlds attention to your situation. As you stand at the roadside giving details, the world looks on in judgement.
On foot, in some circumstances, even for a simple non aggressive stop, the person being stopped may be cuffed "for theirs and the officers safety". It's a strange phrase, and most would observe someone in cuffs and consider them as detained for committing an offence. Because it doesn't happen every time, sometimes it is considered a removal of freedom, and a precursor to actual arrest. 
In fact the phrase is a valid one, and the reasoning for the cuffing is also understandable, and in most cases in no way to try and remove someones dignity or make them look like a criminal.

We hear stories of people be taken to ground, tased, or even shot, for making a movement which made the officer make a snap decision, sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly, and inflicting harm on the individual they have stopped. By cuffing the person, the liklihood of making a movement which is innocent in nature, but perceived as threatening, is far less likely. That is where the "for your protection" comes into it. Obviously the "for my" part is based on those who would intend on causing harm to the officer.

Maybe the answer here is to place anyone in cuffs for the duration of a stop. Many people willingly get into the back of a police car when stopped in a vehicle, but don't see this in the same light as being placed in cuffs. From my own perspective, if this were normal procedure, I would be far less inclined to be upset by being cuffed, than if it were an optional and discretionary choice by the officer. Maybe this change would help remove the stigma from the cuffing part of stop and search. A conversation just now with a friend pointed out that in most videos of black people stopped which have gone viral in the UK, the person is cuffed or being physically detained when crowds start to gather and get upset. Unlawful detention is how it is seen, rather than a standard roadside stop.

Stop and search is certainly not without its issues. Simply giving people the power to stop and search someone based on probable cause is a risky things at times. And if you give this power to an individual or a group of people with an agenda, things can get out of hand. A short while ago I watched a video which recalled the time when the founder of the Black Cycling Network was stopped by the police while out cycling with friends, and was stopped at a red light. First he was accused of jumping the light, then detained for a search under the misuse of drugs act as the officer claimed he could "smell cannabis" and it appeared to be coming from Mani's person. The whole thing was filmed and published, and was a clear display of misuse of power, not cannabis. It is situations like this that we as a society need to be vocal about. Demand the matter is reviewed, and that the officer(s) are held accountable.

And there we are, full circle. Accountability is the key to all of this, along with society and its 60 million strong voice (in the UK). While we demand change from our leaders, insist on legislation to push through reforms in how certain groups of people are treated in society, it is important to remember that we should also demand better from one another. 
Call out racism, point out discrimination. One of the things this outpouring of emotions has shown us is that we are not alone. The majority see the need for change, and want to do what they can to make it happen. We do this by speaking up when things are wrong. Supporting someone we see in a bad situation. But not with anger and violence, but in a measured and controlled way. 

If  you see someone being mistreated, get names, get numbers, check on the welfare of the individual, and make sure you see the matter through to the end. Injustice can be painful, embarrassing , or simply inconvenient, but the one thing it should never be is repeated. By standing together, speaking up and using a rational combined voice, it is time to be heard, and it is time for there to be channels to be heard through, rather than hoping a video goes viral and people show their disgust. 

I have dragged on with this for long enough, so thank you for taking the time to get this far... To coin a phrase "you are free to go". 

I hope if nothing else, this has caused you to form your own opinions on what I have touched on. I don't expect everyone to agree, I hope some completely disagree, its part of the process. But I do hope anyone with a moment of time will give some consideration to what comes next, and how we move forward.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Poor sleep.. the penny drops!

For as long as I can remember now I have had trouble sleeping. Getting to the morning and feeling worse than I did before going to bed in the first place on some days. Waking throughout the night at the slightest sound, it has gone on for years.
Since the arrival of my first sleep app, or activity tracker / sleep monitor , I have seen on screen just how bad and disrupted my sleep actually is. As the devices have gotten smarter, so the numbers have become more depressing. If I spend 8 hours in bed, 45 mins will usually be deep sleep, the rest of the time its splatters of REM, or light sleep, complete with some time spent awake. It is as regular as clockwork.

When you look at the breakdown further, a pattern appears. After laying around for a while I will eventually drop off, usually falling into deep sleep quite quickly. 30-40 mins, and it is all over. I am usually awake again, or at very least drifting in and out of light sleep.
It is quite common for me to be awake and sometimes up by 1am, trying to get my mind to settle, and get back off to sleep, even if it is light.

For a long time now I have put this down to anxiety, and my own periods of depression and anxiety. With the disturbed sleep becoming the norm now, even when not in a dip. However... Last night, during one of my waking moments, the penny finally dropped. When I lay there and put two and two together, the answer was finally, without doubt, four!

Thinking back to even 6 months ago when Tuvaaq was still with us, I would wake and hear him walking up and down the hallway. Not making a lot of noise, just the tippy tap of his claws on the flooring would get my attention. Eventually when he settled, I would drift back off to sleep. Even now, the slightest sound wakes me, and gets me focusing on it til I know what it is, and it passes.  But why? When did this start.

Well, as I worked out last night (early hours of this morning), it was about 2008.

Finally, I remembered. After being diagnosed with COPD a good few years before her initial cancer, mum had breathing difficulties. With the onset of the cancer, and the meds affecting her health, her breathing became much worse, and all quite suddenly. If I woke in the middle of the night to go to the loo, I would hear her coughing away, borderline choking. Eventually she would clear her chest, and go back to sleep as quickly as she had woken. Sleep was never an issue for her.

However, on coming home from work one day, and finding her already in bed, curiosity got the better of me, and I went to check on her to see why she had gone to bed so early. It turns out that was a good move, as I found her cold, and non responsive. Barely breathing. Ambulance called, rushed into hospital, and things were sorted. Back home a few days later, and "back to normal". Or so I thought.

Turns out, from that day on, or should I say night, I have never slept properly since. Thinking back, I can now clearly recall waking up each time she was coughing, listening out to hear the right sequence of sounds to know she was OK, and not going back to sleep, or even trying to, until she was safely back asleep. Regularly I would go in to check on her to make sure she was breathing after an episode.

So THAT is where the light sleeping began. Over the few years she was at home, in the different rooms of the house, depending on her needs, the process remained the same. When she finally moved into the lounge with her hospital bed, I think the listening intensified. Now with carers coming in 4 times a day, starting first thing, I had to be on my A game to make sure they made it into the house OK, that she was not being awkward or combative, and that indeed they were doing their job properly. Given some of the interactions with the carers, I was thankful I was home, and sometimes wondered how they would have coped had I not been there to help or refer to.

After a few years of living like that, I guess it is only natural it has become routine for me now. However, given than mum passed over eight years ago now, I would really love to get back into a routine of better sleep. It was kinda handy being that alert as Tuvaaq got to the end of his days, but now, I would really love a good nights sleep.

So what is the next step? The doctor mentioned to me a while back that CBT was one of the things they use when treating sleep issues. Trying to overcome the over thinking of the anxious mind etc. I guess that is one option. In fact, dealing with how my mind works, and perceives the "risks" of falling into deep sleep, is the only way to overcome things. I don't particularly think it is a physical issue, and now that I have recollection of how and when it started, it all makes more sense to me.

Maybe I will book an appointment with the GP anyway, and see what they can come up with, then go from there. Yoga, mindfulness and relaxation certainly play their part in a settled bedtime routine for me.

If there is one positive to take from this, it is that I can officially separate the sleep issues from the anxiety I struggle with at times. I know now that when my mind is behaving, the issue remains because of the long-term routine I established a long time ago.

One less mystery in my life... Phew!

Monday, October 21, 2019

Comfort zone, or mental prison?

We are all guilty of living within our comfort zone at times. It is something which comes naturally to most, and be it a conscious or sub-conscious decision, at some point we will find ourselves settling for what we know.

Be it a regular dish at a restaurant, or a job, the idea of doing something different, and changing from the norm can be a bit of a worry. Just the thought process behind making a change for some can be more than the change itself is worth. At least that is how it can feel at times.

Why change my car, I have been so lucky with this one, over 10 years, no major repairs, high miles and still plugging on. I know people who have had almost brand new cars go wrong. I should stick with this one.
I really like the sound of that twice cooked pork, in sauce with noodles at the Chinese, but I know I like the chicken fried rice. I will stick to what I know, I would not want to waste money, and go hungry.
I'm getting really bored at work, but they have been really good to me over the years, with everything that has happened. What if I changed jobs and I don't like the new place? I should be grateful and stick with what I know!

There is a real pattern there, and it is a familiar one for many people, whether they realise it or not. I speak to so many people who have such dilemmas, but choose not to tempt fate, or rock the boat. That said, I know many people who have reached a point where change is the only logical option, like for Ann (my other half) who was recently almost (well no, actually) forced into looking for another job, after things went against her at her last job.
Sometimes, it is that shove that we need to force our hand, and in a lot of cases, things actually turn out OK.

I say sometimes, but I guess I mean, most times to be honest, especially when our hand is forced. After all, to be in a pinch in the first place suggests something is not right, and change is needed.

For some people, like me for example, the idea of change is simply terrifying. So much uncertainty, so much unknown. Why would you throw yourself into a chasm of fear, for the sake of possible improvements. Are things in your current situation REALLY that bad? The wheels start turning, the head starts spinning, and you struggle to find a way to ground yourself. Before you know it, you are back to safety, and reject the idea of putting yourself through that again. Case closed.

However sometimes the lid of the box keeps popping open, the the doubt of your happiness in that comfort zone gets questioned more and more. Are you actually happy, or just trapped in a routine of known quantity? This is a common thing with relationships for sure, and most people will confess to having been in at least one like that. Been there, done that, won't be doing that again! But while you are there, all seems OK.

I would say that recognising situations similar those which have happened in the past, is a good way to move forward, and question your current comfort zone on contention. Weigh things up rationally, and remove the fear factor for as long as you can. It is going to come calling at some point, but in the meantime, get as much thought done as possible, rationalise things the best you can, and consider the genuine pros and cons without the terror of the "what if's".

 For people who over think, worry, and spend their whole life taking only the most calculated of decisions, with the most certain outcomes, life can be really dull. But which do you choose? Dull and controlled, or exciting and chaotic? A mixture is ideal, but for some, with chaos comes confusion, and with confusion comes panic and instability.

CBT teaches a process in which you are able to try and have the rational thought process, while avoiding the spiral of doom and gloom. Keeping away from the edge by reminding yourself of positive outcomes of similar situations. Something as simple as going out to the shops during anxious times can be terrifying. Thinking about the scary things which could happen if you venture out, immediately makes it a bad idea. However reminding yourself of the good experiences which have happened when you have taken that little leap, can bring the rewards to the forefront of your mind, and in some way tempt and nurture your curiosity into make the decision to once again leap.

This same process can be applied to the cycle of the unknown outcome in the over thinkers mind. 10 years ago when I bought the car, I was worried, but look at me now. Now it has become the benchmark
When I tried that dish the first time I went to the new restaurant, I wasn't sure, but now I love it.
Sometimes things work out well, even when we have literally set ourselves up to prepare for failure of the worst kind. You just have to look back to the right experiences, and realise that sometimes, most of the time, nearly all the time.... things work out OK after all.

I guess in summary, there is nothing wrong with the comfort zone. As long as you can take a look from the outside, and say you are honestly happy. I could eat chicken, rice and veg all the time. But is change from that nice... Sure it is!
I could aspire to live in a hot country, with loads of space and all the free time in the world. But would I be happy? Probably not, my mind needs feeding regularly.

There is something safe and usually satisfying about being in your comfort zone, however, there is also something exciting about venturing outside it once in a while. The frequency is the key here, and from time to time, you just have to leap....
For the thought of any sort of change to have even entered your mind, there must be something to is, right? It isn't a random out of the blue thought. It is not a pipe dream being sold to you by a con man. It is an opportunity which has presented itself to you in a rational way, makes sense, and is worth a shot. So why let it worry you?

You know what Michael, I think you might be right!

Welcome to my thought process. The easiest way for me to see things like this is to say them, out loud, to the blog. Then read back, and hear it in my mind as a conversation. Break everything down into a format I can understand and process, and run through it again.

Maybe I am in a prison after all, maybe it is time to leap!!!

Watch this space....

Friday, September 27, 2019

What is a "cyclist"

A question which seems to be getting asked a lot lately, so I thought I would have a go at answering the question. So lets give it a go...

  1. a person who rides a bicycle.

There you go, debate over. If someone who rides a bike is referred to as a cyclist, regardless of what they are doing, or what context the statement was made in... A cyclist is a person who ride a bicycle.

OK, I know it isn't really that clear cut, certainly not for some.

Recently a lot of offence seems to have been taken by the masses about the generic term "cyclist". A favourite of the media, with headlines such as "cyclist headbutts pedestrian", "cyclists causing mayhem on the roads" etc. As generalisations go, I don't personally see "cyclist" as a negative term, and am happy to be called one, even while the idiots wheelieing into oncoming traffic are also referred to as cyclists. After all, we both ride bicycles.

The term motorist of course is acceptable to many, especially when using it in a derogatory fashion. "Selfish motorists", "entitled motorists" etc. Terms batted about daily by the hardcore on social media.

The terms I have more issue with are "pro-cycling". I tend to read this as those in support of cycling, however the status of the term appears to have been elevated to one meaning more fanatical, than supportive of. Over the past few years, mainly due to the anonymity of social media, and the safety blanket of screens and keyboards, there are those who have sprung out of the woodwork to let the world know what is right, and what is wrong.
The general breakdown of this is, cyclist is right, motorist is wrong. What they say is right, what you say (even if you say the same thing in different words), is wrong.

Now to be clear here, before the bitching starts, and the frantic spreading and misquoting / mis-representation of what I am saying begins, I am a cyclist. I am someone who regularly uses a bicycle on London's roads, commuting and for leisure. In rush-hour and in the early hours of the morning. In the enclosed spaces of Richmond Park, or the closed roads of Ride London.. I think you get the picture, I am a cyclist.

There have been a few examples of these new extremes people go to, all in order to make their point, and be right.
A year or so ago I posted a picture of a jacket I use for commuting in the winter, made by Proviz. Nice reflective panels for standing out clearly with the smallest source of light shining on it. I posted a comparison picture of it next to a black jersey I have, using the flash to create a light source to demonstrate its reflective qualities.
The internet lost its shit!

I was empowering arrogant motorists, suggesting cyclists are solely responsible for their own safety, and somehow freeing motorists of their responsibility to look out for cyclists and other road users. I was demanding that cyclists spend their hard earned money, dress like the tin man or a robot, to save the entitled motorists from having to watch out for vulnerable road uses.
In fact my point was, (and still is) there is no harm in wearing a sensible choice of clothing in the darker months, to make yourself visible to motorists, with the view of the sooner they see you, the sooner they can start to give you space.

One of the examples I was given was, when you see a cyclist at the last minute, and question what they are wearing and why they were so hard to pick out, "you saw them didn't you"! Yup simple as that, seeing someone at the last moment is good enough, and if you actually make the effort, and look hard enough, you WILL see them, eventually.
A secondary argument offered was, if cyclists should wear hi-vis, all cars be painted in hi-vis colours. Well, I suppose if you want to be stupid about it, having the roads filled with reflective cars would indeed make them more visible. But that isn't the point that we are trying to get to here. The idea is to make the cyclist visible to the motorist. After all, the cyclist is the vulnerable one in this story, and on a free moving road, is also generally the slower moving vehicle, so more likely to be approached at speed.

After a while the animosity towards me grew to such a point, I did something I rarely do, and muted the topic. The post was being retweeted with all sorts of stupid headlines about what I was demanding cyclists did. Lots of tweets from complete strangers questioning my mental capacity, my ability to use the roads on a bike or in a car, and my attitude towards cyclists. Somehow I was anti-cycling, while riding 5-7,000 miles on the roads a year. Go figure! A danger to other road users, sending the wrong message, blah, blah, blah. All this from people who claim to be "pro-cycling" and standing up for the rights of the cyclist. Well if that is how you speak to strangers, with such anger and vitriol, then please do not claim to speak for me.

Going back to the whole title of this blog for a minute, the term "cyclist". It is strange how the title is OK to use when it is by someone speaking about cycling to a motorist, or someone else who is being berated by a "pro-cyclist" on social media. "Cyclists are vulnerable", "give cyclists space"... etc. But if a motorist makes a comment about a cyclist jumping a red light, pulling into their path or something similar, it is a sweeping generalisation, and should not be used that way. How dare a motorist make such a statement about a person riding a bike. It is all very confusing to me, especially as both a cyclist and motorist. More the former than the latter these days, but quite experienced at both.

Which brings me to another example of how cyclists can turn on one another (a bit like you could say I am doing here actually) about something that is of mutual benefit. Especially when simply asking a question about something you saw on the road. Cycling home the other night I saw a cyclist come into conflict with a motorist. From what I can tell, the cyclist, who had been riding behind me, decided to pass me, moving out wide of me, at the same time as a car was beginning to pass him. For me, the suggestion to avoid this would be the cyclist checking his shoulder before moving out.
However finding himself along side the car, and about 4-6 ft from the kerb, the cyclist decided to express his disapproval at the motorist, by remaining along side, gesturing to the motorist, before banging on the front wing of the car.
Personally, finding myself this close to a car, my first reaction would be to move away, followed by making my feelings known. If the opportunity arose to speak to the driver, I would do so.

So I posted a clip from my Cycliq on Instagram, and asked "Close pass or taking the piss? Was the car too close? Was the cyclist right to hit the car?"

Simple question, no statement or assumptions, just asking other peoples opinions of what I had seen.
Of course, someone always comes along and takes things out of context. I was asking a question, so getting replies like these irritates me somewhat.
"You're showing a serious and dangerous driving offence and asking if it's ok. I seriously hope you don't drive a car."
You just saw the driver of a ton of metal threaten flesh and blood and you're asking if hitting the car was appropriate? Driving like that is an offence for a reason."

No, actually Judge frickin Judy, I am just throwing it out there. But for some reason, for asking opinions of others, I am a danger on the roads, don't know the law, and should be ashamed of myself.
Like the Proviz jacket tweet, sometimes a general comment seems to set off a reaction in the brains of some people, who's instant response is to openly and viciously attack the person making the comment. This certainly seems to be the trend at the moment.

Take a moment scan through social media, and you will find posts and tweets from people who almost seem to have nothing better to do that trawl through Twitter, searching "cyclist" and getting offended about how the term is too much of a generalisation, and suggests all cyclists are the same. When in most cases, if you take a second to digest what has been written, that is not the case at all.
In a lot of cases the tweets which receive the attention of these people has never mentioned the person, or anyone they follow. Instead it has been selected after some careful trawling, and singled out for a multi pronged attack. Re-tweeting the post, with an alarmist comment, it is open season for the "pro-cycling" people out there. A simple "grrr cyclists, one rode straight out in front of me" is turned into "all cyclists should be banned from the road with immediate effect".

Now I have to say, this is very two sided and a very broad scope. There are plenty of anti-cycling motorists out there too. Those who want to see cyclists off their roads, stating all sorts of rubbish about road tax, etc. We know they are out there, they pop up all the time, and are full of negativity. Many pro-cyclists will tell you that these people have no right to be on the road, should be banned, and are a danger. The latter I am inclined to agree with. Bad attitudes towards a collective group of people, regardless of how similar or dissimilar is a bad thing. Both ways! Negative Nancy's like these are the biggest issue within the whole conversation between road users.

It is all a bloody nightmare. Those with the loudest voices also seem to be those with the most extreme views. Such is the feeling on social media these days, those with the voices of reason are quickly shouted down ( I mean people like you and I Paul !!! lol). Once you have been set upon by these cretins once or twice, you actually become reluctant to have your say. And so the voice of reason fades away, and only the shouty angry ones get a say anymore.
From an outside perspective, with no knowledge of how these things wear away at the more reasonable people out there, it appears that all cyclists have a bad attitude towards motorists, make unreasonable demands such as "ban cars", and are aggressive towards anyone who tries to question them.

While writing this I have popped onto Twitter, seen quite an amusing post about a pedestrian thanking a cyclist for stopping at a crossing, started to type a jovial reply, then deleted it, as it would no doubt have caused controversy for some unknown reason. Silenced by my own people, beaten down by "cyclists". It's a shame really, I like a positive discussion, but when the conversation is guaranteed to turn nasty within a few replies, I am not even going to both.

A few more weeks ago, I posted a video of a lovely lady cycling across a crossing, into the stationary traffic, between vehicles, and pop straight out in my path. Only to throw me a dirty look.

Posting it on Instagram, saying that riding like this, and attitudes like this are what give cyclists a bad name, I was once again set upon on Twitter. Promoting hatred towards cyclists, generalising etc.
The thing I was generalising about was how people who do not particularly like cyclists react to one bad experience. Almost in a single move, explaining why some feel the generalisation of the term "cyclist" is so hated by some. Used only as a description of the mode of transport the person in the incident was using, much like pedestrian, motorist, motorcyclist etc, it is somehow taken as a derogatory term, rather than a descriptive term. Not wishing in this instance to be associated with people who ride bicycles in a stupid and dangerous manner, offence is expressed at daring to use the term. They are simply a person using a bicycle. Huh! so a cyclist then?

So to recap... Cyclist - a person who rides a bicycle (like a pro, or like a twat)
Not a derogatory term, just a description of how that person was travelling at the time of your interaction or observation.

To all you brave little keyboard warriors out there who have taken it upon yourselves to speak on other cyclists (or what ever you identify as), if your first response is to call names, rally the troops, and stir up hatred towards a complete stranger on the internet, you are an idiot, and you do not represent me in any way whatsoever.
If you want to be constructive, listen, give balanced and polite responses, don't feel you have the right to judge someone because you disagree with their opinions. If you really don't like their opinions, say your bit, and leave it.

As things stand, road infrastructure is poor, but slowly improving in some places. Cars are not about to be banned from the roads any time soon, and we have certain areas where we will be in close proximity with other road users. Don't try and be a hero.

Like anything in life, the summary of this entry is simple, a small number of people ruin it for the masses. That small number of people also have the loudest voices, and create a negative attitude towards the rest of the group. It seems that it is human nature to be caught up in this destructive cycle, and appears that is not about to change any time soon.

Quick footnote to add...
If you think that someone pulling a wheelie on a busy road, into oncoming traffic isn't stupid or dangerous, our opinions differ vastly. If you think having someone like this pull into your path, and cause you to take action, is OK, again, we have a different view of OK.

Reading a tweet the other day, someone suggested that a pushbike doing a wheelie into the path of an oncoming car causing it to swerve or brake hard was no big deal, and the "poor motorist" would "just have to brake".. Yet I am sure if a car turned into the path of  such a person, causing them to brake on their bicycle, the situation would be very different. Dangerous driving, aggressive motorist etc.

How does that work? You can't have one set of rules in one direction and them be polar opposites for situations in the other direction. There are small exceptions to this of course, but in general, any road user causing any other road user to take sudden action, be it change of speed or direction is in the wrong, period.

Using the excuses that "they are only kids, its better than then being stuck indoors on an X-Box, or out on a street corner" is just plain stupid. If they were playing chicken, running across busy roads, would that be OK too? After all, its physical activity, even if it does cause accidents.

Right I have rambled enough, and totally lost my way, I'm done here.

Out of the blue...

Today 27th September, marks one year to the day of me coming across one of the most horrific accident scenes I have seen in years. It was already an hour or more after the accident, but the scene was still pretty chaotic. Those involved in the accident itself had been transported away, but the scene was very fresh, and the investigation in its very early stages.

Heading to the doctors that morning, I had seen on social media that there were reports of an accident right by the surgery, so I decided to walk. On arriving at the junction of Kirkdale and Wells Park Road, I couldn't believe my eyes. The completely mangled remains of a motorcycle, and a damaged van, mid way into the side road. The collision had clearly been a heavy one.

Standing around while I was waiting for the doctors appointment time to come around, I saw the officers trying to get an ID on the motorcyclist, and then make contact with their place of work, and with friends or family. A naturally hard time for all.

Being my usual self, I took a number of pictures of the scene, trying to avoid anything which would cause alarm or distress to anyone, and not wishing to be gorish. Posting one on social media, and stating where the accident was, the image was soon picked up by local media. Used as part of their story, I followed the updates on the situation to see if there was any news about the motorcyclist.

Early reports suggested very serious injuries, broken legs and arms and all sorts of speciation. A media report a little later stated a serious condition but nothing much more.

As with most things, the media soon dropped the story, nothing more was said.

So, a year later and its today, Friday 27th September 2019. Late last night (actually now but by the time I publish this will be the 27th) I received a Facebook message request. Anyone using social media will know, getting a random request is nothing unusual. Usually you just read it, block and delete, but this one seemed genuine. Reading the message, it was from a lady by the name of Alessandra. Complete with a link to a media story about an accident. At first glance I wasn't sure I remembered it, but reading on, it was one of the stories written using my image.

Now I know some will be thinking, "you people who take pictures of accidents sicken me", and to a degree I agree, it can be a horrible thing to do, but bear with me on this...

Alessandra was asking if it was me who took the picture and if I witnessed it or had any more information on the matter. Obviously I had not witnessed it but had more pictures, thanks to cloud back-up on Google Photos. Scrolling back through my history, there they were.

It turns out Alessandra was the lady riding the motorcycle that day, and was trying to piece together what had happened that day. Having spent ten days in a coma after the accident, she has very little recollection of that day at all, let alone any idea what happened or what the scene looked like. So was trying to get more images and info to piece things together a little better.

My first reaction was to be embarrassed and apologetic about taking pictures of the scene. However I soon realised she was happy to see them, so that was a relief. On speaking a little more, it appears she has had one heck of a year. Spending months in hospital, having a number of surgeries, and healing from multiple broken bones. I can't imagine for a second what that must be like.

It is one of those strange moments in my life where I feel my actions actually had a purpose that day, and I really hope that they have helped her in even the smallest possible way.

I wish you a great recovery Alessandra, and thank you for not being mad at me for taking the pictures. Thank you for reaching out to me.

If anyone else has any images or memories of that accident that they wish to share with Alessandra, please get in touch and I will be sure to pass them on to her, or put you in touch.

The world is a weird and wonderful place at times, and today I am feeling so happy to have heard from her, and know that she made it through.

The images below are some of the images shared with Alessandra. I have her permission to post this information and these images. Please be aware one of the images shows the wreckage of the bike. I hope this doesn't cause anyone any upset.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

The only thing worse than being caught with your pants down, mid lie, it to lie more to get out of it. Once you reach the stage or having to lie to cover your lies, it's all going to go very wrong! And there is no better current example of this than the goings on on a local community forum.

There is no hiding the fact that I have had my fair share of run-ins with the forum, or more precisely, its admin. No love lost there, but then walking away from the site and not looking back has been one of the best things I have done for my mental health in years. For others, stepping away while their name is being defamed has been a little harder.

Recently a local lady, who I must say does a heck of a lot for the community in her own right, took matters into her own hands.

Having had running battles with the admin for a couple of years now, with back and forth of comments on social media about each others behaviour, things reached a head. The admin of the forum has a habit of making up fake or sock-puppet accounts in order to troll, attack, and stalk people who have blocked him from seeing their accounts on his other 20 or so Twitter accounts etc.

This blog actually got some attention from him a little while ago. Comments made on a couple of entries by "Mateo C" and "Dennis" were indeed without a doubt his work. Strangely, once called out on it, outed on social media, it stopped. Albeit after a little denial and mocking by him.

Comments like this are really appreciated, especially when struggling mentally, and knowing the person posting them knows full well the damage they are doing.

"We are go" sounded pretty exciting... until I read further and discovered another self-obsessed, cringeworthy and boring post. 

Where do you find all this time to write such mundane and repetitive noise, for the benefit of your eleven followers? 

And there's so much pent-up spite and bitterness in everything you write about your area. If you hate the people around you, why not do them a favour and move on to somewhere that has the drab food and drink chains you crave. Basically, any low-rent, undesirable town, anywhere in the country would offer everything you need from life (or so it seems from reading your crappy monologues)

Dennis abuse
Mateo C abuse

So as you can see, there are no lengths the man will not go to, to cause hurt and upset, and in some cases, going further to try and damage peoples names. Mentioning you in tweets about things he doesn't like, telling others to contact you to air their anger or disappointment at something as mundane as a Costa Coffee opening locally. Yup, really! Using the social media accounts of the forum to reach a wider audience, to make sure at least some upset parties read it and get in touch, even if he can't because he is blocked.
Belittling efforts made to be healthier and fitter, suggesting you are overweight and its funny to see you try and do something about it.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg of my experiences.

One person, dozens of stories of mistreatment, mis-use of the forum, it's social media accounts and its following. All for personal satisfaction, and maintaining a little control over things.

So in the latest episode, the admin started up another twitter account, with the intent of getting accepted as a follower, in order to read the tweets on the local ladies account. Not just Dave1947 or something, no no that would be too simple. Instead making up a fake West Indian Bakery, calling it Flava Baker. Complete with images of patties, a bio, use of Patios, following other similar businesses, and following the local forum. Then for authenticity, having a conversation with themselves between the admin account and the Flava Baker account, and putting a post on the forum welcoming the business to the area. Those are some extraordinary lengths to go to, to simply get to see the tweets of someone who doesn't want you reading them. Private means private. Unless you mean private messages on a forum, but that is another matter!

Wise to this behaviour, the local lady became suspicious of the new follower, and started asking questions. These were mainly about the  accounts claim that there was a dispute between the business owner and the webmaster. Another elaborate storyline to draw people into believing it was a real thing. After a bit of back and forth, she was now convinced that is was the admin of the local forum, so in a strange, powerful, and rather far reaching move, she collated a load of information about the forum admin, and sent it in an email to the email address of Flava Baker, confident it was actually the forum admin. Keeping up?? Phew!

This email contained a collection of pieces of information and pictures taken from the admins very open and public social media accounts. Nothing found by means of deception or stalking (as has been suggested). The way it was put together was a little questionable, and for the brief moment it was made public, some felt it was very threatening, although no threats were made in the email.

Now I mention it being made public, this is the strange part. Up until this point, information had been taken from a public internet space, collated and sent to one individual, believed to be the owner of the information, which it indeed turned out to be. It contained no identifying information, first names at best, and no mention of the forum admin
In a very strange move, the admin took the email, pretended that Flava Baker had forwarded it to him, and then posted it publicly on the most open part of the forum. Along with a very damaging statement about the local lady, complete with full names, and a lot of accusatory language. Interestingly, the claim that it had been sent to him by Flava Baker didn't add up. How had they worked out who to sent it to?
After the outrage started on the forum, the victim status now well established, the lies continued. Going on to say that Flava Baker had reached out to him with the information, and allowed him access to their email and social media in order for him to put together a complaint if needed.  Many of the posts on the forum suggested he go to the police with the information. However in what appeared to be an act of compassion, and one that was spelled out very clearly for maximum effect, he stated he didn't want to hurt her or her family by filing a report.

Very quickly it became talk of social media, as well as questions being asked on the forum thread itself. Until one local well respected gent called the admin out on the story, and picked a few holes in it publicly.

From this point on, the lies to cover the lies really got going.
In an unexpected act of honesty, the forum admin posted a tell all statement, admitting he was indeed the owner of the Flava Baker account, and had used the account to try and get access to the private tweets of the local lady. Stating that it was to defend himself again the hurt and defamation he believed she was posting. Initially this was welcomed, and he was wooed with compliments for his openness and honesty, and how terrible it must be to "live in fear" of such a person. However that didn't last for long.

Questions about his honesty and integrity soon started to appear. So in a regular move, a mod moved in and stated the thread would be closed as it had served its purpose. Again, this was met with resistance, and people demanded it stay public and open. To prove their point, mods posted a poll asking what they should do with the thread. Within hours the votes were not going their way, so it was moved to another part of the forum, which while visible, allowed far less people to interact with the thread and the poll. 24 hours later and a vast percentage had voted to keep the thread open and visible to all.

Shortly thereafter, it was announced that a police investigation had been launched, so the thread needed to be locked, and moved from public view, so not to influence or interfere with the "ongoing inquiry". Convenient?

Meanwhile on a neighbouring community forum all hell was breaking loose, and people were free to express their thoughts on the man and the matter, without being moderated, or told off for doing so.

That thread is here.... Open and free discussion

Statements were posted on the local forum asking for people to stop discussing the matter, and not to mention it again on the forum, all for the sake of the police investigation.
Now it is worth noting that when asked for proof of this investigation, namely in the form of a Crime Reference Number, everyone from the forum declined to provide one, simply stating that they had seen it, and were satisfied that it was genuine. When asked to name the people named on it, and confirm that the local lady who had sent the email, and was therefore involved in the thread which had been moved to protect the investigation, was the subject of the police report. Again, this request was denied, and a statement saying, no names would be given, was made.

Now anyone who watches CrimeWatch, the local news, reads the local papers, or follows Police on Twitter, will know a Crime Reference Number is a simple code which can be used by people to offer information to ongoing investigations. It identifies no-one, mentions no names, indicates nothing about a crime, and only means something to anyone directly involved. If you approached the Police with the number and had no relation to the case, you would be left none the wiser. However in this case it is a crucial and secret piece of information. Or is it.

My theory is that while this CRN may or may not exist at all, the speculation about it is being used by the admin to continue his abusive control over the local lady. Much as he was happy to make deeply hurtful comments to me while I was low, he feels this is his the only thing he has left to try and maintain some control over her. Occasionally mentioning it when the opportunity to gather some pity and support presents itself, like recently on Twitter.

The above was posted recently, strangely, discussing matters which are apparently not to be mentioned in public as they are part of an ongoing investigation, so some would have you believe.

Up until now, the entire moderation team of the forum have stood behind his statements of desperation driving him to use the Flava Baker account, and that this is the only time he has used sock-puppet accounts to attack someone like this. Dozens of other people would say otherwise. The same group of people who are slowly coming together, sharing stories of how they have feared repercussions for speaking out or against the admin and his ways. Sadly, it is all very convincing from his side of things, or at least in the very controlled way information is allowed to be exchanged. In favour, all is well, speak up. Against or questioning, shut your filthy mouth!

As the weeks go on, the appetite for the topic is fading, but the questions remain. Still unwilling to part with the CRN, even though a number of parties have made inquiries with a number of police forces, and come up with nothing after extensive checks against many parameters. However the appetite for speaking out against this treatment is growing, fast!

From all this we can see that the admin is of questionable integrity, happy to hurt people for his own personal gain. So much so that he has apparently decided not to moderate the forum any longer. However keeps being seen active on the forum. A couple of previously low profile accounts have suddenly assumed a very high profile presence, and almost become a moderator in their own right, strangely using very similar language, and having very similar tells to the admin himself. Strange!

What will become of all this, what will happen next, well that is anyones guess. But one thing is for sure. In the process of all this, the interest and trust in the local forum has been damaged, and if the apparent love for the local forum is really what drives the admin, he will do something to let things recover. Step away? People fear this is not possible from a technical standpoint. But how can trust return with someone lacking in integrity at the helm?

As I say, we will all have to wait and see, but all I can take away from this is, the whole thing was caused by himself, dragging mods into the whole situation by asking them to manage the forum in favour of his side of the story. So if anything should become of it, the whole admin and mod team will be in the line of fire for action and inaction.

PS, I should add, the irony value of any sock-puppet account being used to comment on this will be priceless.