Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The difference between English jumble sales and French 'vide geniers'.....

The following piece is a bit of fun submitted by Scheenagh Harrington.  My thanks to Scheenagh.

'Bridget Jones' fans will recognise that "vg" stands for "very good"...unless they lived in our French neck of the woods.  Here, any handwritten sign stuck up by the road with the letters "VG" followed by a date and locations means only one thing:  it's bargain-hunting time!

'Yes, in south-west France, spring means a return of warm, dry weather and the start of the 'vide grenier' season.  It literally means 'empty attic', and it offers a chance to get your hands on some serious bargains, from clothes and shoes, to toys, small electricals and heaven knows what else.

'As an Englishwoman and a long-time fan of charity shops and jumble sales, I thought I had the French variation all worked out.  I'd been to plenty of table-top sales in my time and immersed myself in memories of stuffy church halls, crammed with plastic-topped tables all groaning under the weight of assorted clothes.

'For some reason and I'm not sure why - maybe it's because I was born in the Seventies - for clothes piled high in my memory are always woolly and a particular shade of brown.

'That oddity aside, I remember with alarming clarity the people who would flock to these events:  little old women who might look like a stiff wind would blow them over, but god help you if you went up against them in a fight for a floral-print curtain.

'I swear they sharpened their elbows, so that when they really got stuck in, they could break a rib or two in the melee.  Rugby scrums had nothing on this.

'There was no namby-pambying about either.  If you spotted a flash of fabric or a pattern that took your fancy, there was no point in trying to be polite about it.

'Pleas of "excuse-me" went unbidden as the redoubtable army of pensioners on the buying side dug through to the items they wanted.  Meanwhile, sellers confused matters by giving everything a good turn every five minutes.

'And I adored them.

'I loved the smells - that faintly unwashed, slightly dodgy whiff of stale sweat and unidentifiable body odour that is unmistakably jumble-saley.

'I relished the challenge of getting a fingertip on something that promised much, but would turn out to be something you wouldn't wear even if you had a gun to your head.

'Then, there was the profound thrill of finally finding something that didn't look as though someone had died in it, was the right size and cost only a few pence - oh the joy, the unmitigated pleasure of clutching it tightly in one hand while handing over a few shaken-out coins.

'Maybe this is how those New Year sales in posh cities feel.

'So, you can imagine how much excitement I felt approaching a similar events in my adopted home country.

'There were warning signs that things here - as always - are very different.

'As a parent, I'm automatically entered into that wonderful, strangely random circile of people who hand-on clothes for the children (those which, of course, aren't saved for a vide grenier).

'While our cast-offs are most definitely clean and presentable, they are usually shovelled into a bin liner and hurled somewhere in the general direction of the attic.

'However, when French friends were generous enough to pass on clothes, they were immaculate.  Ironed to perfection, folded without a seam out of place.  Not a stain or tear to be seen (and believe me, I looked).  I began to wonder why I hadn't seen any of our friends' children wearing any of the clothes we had passed on, eventually embarrassedly asking myself if they had rejected them for, well, having looked like they had been worn.

'I learned my harshest lesson last summer, when a friend asked me if I was interested in going to a vide grenier with her - not to buy, but to sell.

'I had plenty of bags full of stuff in the attic that weren't going anywhere, so I agreed.  "There's not much time to prepare", she advised me, before I looked at the calendar and frowned, thinking:  "She's mad, I've got two months."

'Spool forward to six weeks or so later and there I was, ironing until the wee small hours and pinning size labels on babygros, trousers, tops and skirts - and feeling quite pleased with myself for being so organised.

'The morning of the vide grenier dawned bright and clear and I set off to my friend's house, before we all dutifully trooped off to a small town 40 or so kilometres away.

'To this day, I'm staggered by what I experienced.

'Much was the same:  tables were laid out and preparations were well underway - some people had bent the rules and brought items other than clothes for sale (I was told children's clothes only), but as I laid out my carefully ironed and labelled clothes, my friend set up what looked like an outdoor boutique, with racks and rails, saving the tables for shoes, toys and baby equipment.

'What followed was a lesson in how to approach a vide grenier.

'I was welcoming and let the customers browse unmolested.  My friend was there with helpful advice and comments about how her daughter had loved such-and-such pair of shoes and could she dhow the outfit that matched them perfectly?  That'll be 60 euros please...

'During a hectic morning, my friend's stall was by far and away the busiest of them all - and I'm not surprised.

'She had spent literally months mending and sewing, putting on new buttons and polishing shoes.  She had kept the original boxes for all her kids' shoes, so she could show her customers the price she had paid and prove why six euros really wasn't all that much to ask.

'My friend had sweated blood over her stall, laying it out clearly and easily, with everything on hangers so people could look through them comfortably, rather than sorting through piles and piles of things.  She even had a box of items that were a bit roughed-up, selling for 50 cents each.  She refilled it three times, to my knowledge.

'While I watched in admiration, I also quickly learned that the average French buyer is nothing like those feisty old English women of my memory.  They are far, far worse.

'It doesn't matter that the clothes they are looking through are second hand, maybe even third.  They expect perfection and if they don't find it, then they expect the price to come tumbling down.

'I did my best to be confident but every time I heard muttered comments such as "there's a small stain there", or "that's got a hole in", even though I knew both stain and hole to by tiny, I would be covered in shame.  No, this was a very different world.  But my consolation was that other stallholders were getting the same rough justice.

'A woman on my left, who had seven times as much stuff as me to sell, cast a tired eye over her small mountain of greying baby clothes and I felt a moment's solidarity.

'I ended up wishing I'd made a lot more of an effort to present my wares better and filter out the bits and pieces that weren't up to snuff.  That said, I came away with a decent profit of about 75 euros - which I really wasn't expecting.  As for my friend?  She made enough to cover most of the cost of her family's summer holiday.

'I don't begrudge my friend the money she made, nor did I walk away from the vide grenier experience with a heavy heart.  It was still a thrill - though this time it was the slightly different frisson of possibility and hope:  that someone might come over and take away armfuls of clothes and leave my cash tin bulging.

'I went with my family to a vide grenier last weekend at a local community centre.  There was no stale smell and it was midi (better known as lunchtime), so all was calm and quiet, but the racks and racks of clothes laid out with almost military precision made me smile.  It was almost as I remembered English jumble sales to be, just with added French flair.'

My thanks again to Scheenagh Harrington for this fun piece.

Website:  Black Mountain Editorial
Email Address:  Email

Saturday, April 20, 2013

This is the best time for Pakistan

My thanks to journalist Tahir Malik for the following piece on Pakistan.

'A discussion is going on almost in each nook and corner of the country that Pakistan is a hopeless cause, going through the most terrible time since its creation.  Today, politicians are corrupt, selfish and inefficient.  They have failed to deliver.  State institutions are on the verge of collapse.  We are witnessing an historic rise in unemployment, price hike and burgeoning intolerance and extremism.  In short, Pakistan is a mess!  The army ruled the country directly for 33 years and added to the mess.  The courts might have helped the media achieve high ratings and produce more headlines, but they have failed to bring justice to the land.

'Despite all that, I believe that Pakistan has reached a turning point.  It may look gloomy and deplorable, but hope is visibly emerging behind this veil of chaos, callousness and hopelessness.  The biggest element of this hope arises out of the utter failure of governance.  Because of this, people have lost faith in state and statecraft.  Bad governance has raised the demand of democracy based on performance and high-quality leadership.  In the recent past, political ideology used to be the major spotlight of elections.  However, the low caliber of leadership and the resulting poor governance has helped to change this mindset.  For the first time in the history of Pakistan in general and Punjab (65% of Pakistan) in particular, there is almost no discussion on political ideology: left-right, liberal-conservative, secular-religious, pro-anti Bhutto, pro-anti Zia, etc.  Issues of performance and public welfare have dominated over ideological dogmas of past times.  That is the most brilliant ray of hope.  One may say that the rise of Imran Khan's PTI is mostly because of the fact that the PPP and PML-N have disappointed people in general.

'The contemporary Pakistani politics was born with the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's PPP in November 1967.  From 1970 elections till 2008, Pakistani politics revolved around Bhutto's political ideology.  To me, he is the father of Pakistani politics.  His services to common man and democracy are beyond any doubt.  He is the pioneer of populist polices and people's rule in Pakistan.  Bhutto's biggest gift to the nation was the sense of dignity and pride he inspired in a common man.  That's why Bhutto remained the centrifugal force during his times.

'Generally speaking, pro-Bhutto meant:  good governance, religious tolerance, enlightenment, favoring the poor, promoting local culture and traditions, rebelling against the oligarcy, supporting the underdog, anti-imperialism and regional cooperation, having a soft corner for socialism, women empowerment and, last but not least, a delightful life full of pleasure.  This mindset was pretty unpopular from 1970 to 1977.

'The establishment did not like the democratic thinking of ZAB.  This had brought the state machinery to work in favor of the people.  But the establishment felt threatened and the anti-Bhutto conspiracy was engineered during the 1977 general elections.  Nine opposition political parties under the umbrella of PNA and led by the father of Maulana Fazalur Rehman, Mufti Mahmood, contested elections against the ruling PPP in March 1977.  Bhutto won with a big margin but the PNA claimed that the elections were rigged.  The PNA launched a movement against Bhutto's regime, and it gave birth to more anti-Bhutto voters.  Soon, the anti-Bhutto campaign turned into a movement for the implementation of an Islamic system.  On 5 July 1977, General Ziaul Haq took over as a result of the movement and exploited anti-Bhutto sentiments to remain a power for eleven long years.  He started Islamizing Pakistan, whenever, wherever possible.

'Anti-Bhutto political beliefs were defined by the Zia's establishment:  love Islam on the surface, be a chauvanist, respect Islamic rituals, funding for the religious causes, support Jihad, do not see Indian and western media, believe that Muslims are the most superior, film and music industry promote promiscuity, the best place for women is home, be fond of Saudi culture, confine the labor class to certain limits, youth should be obedient, and above all, keep worrying for the life after death.

'General Ziaul Haq tried to create anti-Bhutto feeling and succeeded doing that to some extent.  Jamaat-a-Islami was also part of that project.  Even making of Nawaz sharif from a middle class trader of Lahore to a national political fiture by Zia's military dictatorship was a part of the anti-Bhutto project.  Zia knew that Bhutto was hanged to death but he wanted to kill his ideology as well.  Zia, with his political progenies, created the front against that ideology which was reflected during 1985 non-party based elections, and then during 1988, 1990, 1993, 1997, 2002 and 2008 general elections as well.

'This way the establishment succeeded to take way the real issues and quality leadership from Pakistani politics.  The rulers knew from the very first day what the real issues are:  unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, low quality of education, poor health facilities to the people and a lack of economic opportunities for the common man.  But they have always lacked the courage to seriously deal with these overwhelming issues.  The establishment used Pakistan's highly valuable geographic location in the international and regional politics in their interest, very effectively.  They served the west, America and CIA but not the people of Pakistan.  In return, they were given enough money and funds to rule Pakistan.  This bifurcated Pakistan into the country of rulers where life is heaven and common man's Pakistan where life is in chaos and disorder.

'Now, it seems that the time is on people's side.  This new world order is not letting our establishment behave like they had in the past.  The old culture of "avoid and rule" is collapsing.  For the first time in the history of this country, General Musharraf would be in court facing charges of treason.  The serving (now former) Prime Minister Gillani was dismissed for contempt of court.  Former Prime Minister Pervaiz Ashraf's papers to context next elections were rejected.  PPP's co-chairman and the sitting President is unable to favour his party in the coming elections.

'Pakistan seems to be healing from the wounds of the past.  Times have changed and so is the political mindset of Pakistanis.  They are suffering from a record price hike, unemployment and despair.  But they have reached their path; they have moved on from pro and anti Bhutto political ideologies to political demands based on performance and good governance.  This is political development; a political response taking Pakistan to new heights and standards.

'If things work rightfully and demands of the people are met through a democratic process, I am sure after only two or three elections, Pakistan will be liberated from unreal and anti-people rulers and their statecraft.

The writer of this article, Tahir Malik, is an independent journalist and teachers journalism at the University of South Asia.

Links:  LinkedIn

Again my thanks to Tahir for this.


Concern for bullying - the latest 'outrage' to pretend we care about children?

This next article, about bullying, is courtesy of Peter Kearney.  My thanks to Peter for submitting this piece.

'I have been bullied several times in my life and on occasion I have been the bully.  This may be common.

'The Amanda Todd case has embarrassed us all into showing concern.  And the truth is we should be embarrassed.

'We all have seen the early stages of bullying and we chose to do absolutely nothing about it. we design and live in a society that encourages bullying and fails to react until it is too late.  Why do we wait for a tragic event before acting?

'In debates like these we typically hear terms like 'cyber' bullying brandied about.  It's almost like an aha moment for some.  "Aha cyber bullying...that's it..ok, let's ban facebook and YouTube for all under 16 and that'll solve it...but that didn't solve it...ok, let's hold a referendum to declare kids are the most important asset in our society and it will at least look like we are doing something...".  The words 'deck chairs' and 'titanic' come to mind.

'In some ways it's the same as the term 'road' rage.  Rage is rage is rage - it makes no difference if you are driving a car, drunk outside the chipper or ****** off with a work colleague or loved one.  Similarly, bullying is bullying is bullying.  Some would rather blame social media than face the possibility that the current model society is messed up!

'Throughout this article I will use the word bullying although I cannot say it is the same definition others hold.  It's my definition, open to interpretation, disagreement and feedback.

My school experience

'While the bullying I experienced at primary school would not make newspaper headlines it was bullying nonetheless.  It took the form of name calling.  Kids in my primary school had a special name for me and my family.  It was more a name they used to poke fun at us and in particular our father.  It also took the form of touching, pushing and shoving.  I was filled with dread when I saw the bully approach.

'It involved being shouted at, beaten and humiliated by one teacher at the grand old age of 5.  The beatings I received from her came from the side of a ruler on an outstretched hand, a red stoned Claddagh ring buried into the top of my head as punishment for scoring 3 out of ten in our weekly spelling tests, cigarette smoke blown into my face, degrading comments such as " granny was a cowboy..." in response to my having the audacity to attempt to answer a question I did not get right, being relegated to first class, when I was in second class, for not being able to answer another question.

'The truth was, I knew the answer.  I just froze.  I was afraid of similar humiliation being foist upon me should I be incorrect.  I was afraid of the laughing sneers of my classmates, which really said "...thank God that's not me being laughed at...".  I was afraid of the thoughts of that Claddagh ring being buried into my head again whilst smelling cheap and nasty perfume.

'I was never sure what exactly led to my headaches.  Was it the impact of her pointed ring, the rancid smell of the stale smoke on her clothes of the cheap perfume emanating from her every pore?

'Shame.  The Cloddagh ring is such a beautiful ring with such a beautiful story and meaning yet its meaning for me is abuse, hate and violence.

'I was a quiet child at school.  Not brilliant academically but not awful either.  In any case it doesn't matter because regardless of your performance nothing deserved the treatment I received.  Maybe it was my quiet nature that invited the bullying.  The idea that the bully could see that this guy wasn't going to retaliate or he came from such a nice and pleasant family that they would never cause a fuss.  Don't worry - I am not blaming myself for any of this - I was 5 after all - I am just trying to get to the bottom of it.

'The other form of bullying I experienced was from a girl in my 6th class.  Repeatedly she would cover over to my desk, situated beside the book case, and as she would pick up a book she would mockingly rub her hand up and down my thigh saying "Oh Peter you're so...". I can't even remember what the last words were.  I think I blocked them out.  We were both 10 years old at the time.  What on earth was going on in her home?  What on earth was going on in mind that I couldn't stand up for myself?

'Once primary school finished so too did most of the bullying.  There was, however, one final incident of bullying in secondary school from a kid a year younger than me.  At 13 years of age that one year is so important.  Occasionally he would deliberately run into me and hit me in the chest provided there was an audience.  Again I can only wonder what was going on in his household.  It didn't last long.  All of a sudden it stopped.  Not sure why.  I never reacted to him and that was somewhat motivated by my own fear of a physical confrontation and somewhat tactical as in 'if you ignore them they go away' and go away he did.  Or maybe it was my older brother who had a word with him.  A word from my older brother was more than enough to frighten anybody in our school.

'Some years later I saw the bully and what had become of his life.  I wondered what he did now to get his pleasures.  It seemed he was still searching.

'There was also the time in College - this time aged eighteen, where I allowed myself to be bullied by my housemates.  Ending in my being picked up my 7 or 8 of them and dropped into a bath full of hot water and kitchen spices.  Yes it does sound weird and somewhat perverted.  I mean why didn't they just give me a good kicking.  A bath full of hot water and kitchen spices seemed a bit kinky.  Again I will ask - what on earth was going on in their home lives?

'Later I learned that all of these bullies, students and teachers alike, were very insecure people.  But why did they have to take their insecurities out on me?  Of course I have learned now to stand up for myself but when you are 5 or 10 you don't have such thoughts.  I even went through a period of standing up for myself too much and taking things too far and ultimately becoming a bully myself.  Did I know I was a bully at the time?  Not at all.

Me as a bully

'I didn't believe I was a bully when in secondary school - me and some friends chased after a classmate to call him hurtful names and sling hurtful insults at him about his family.  We went out of our way to do it and to the point where it was clearly not a joke.  He was clearly upset by what we had said.  Which made it all the funnier for us bullies.

'In later years when I became a manager I was incredibly insecure.  I had no confidence in my abilities so I silenced any form of opposition.  It made for a very uncomfortable work atmosphere and I apologise to those who worked with me.  I was performing a role I felt others expected of me.  I felt it would give me great standing in the company and the HR community in Dublin I wanted to be part of - even though I hated it and didn't understand it.

'More than that I cannot say.  I was not on the receiving end of it so I don't fully know its impact.  I often reflect upon it and wonder what it was like for those guys.  Of course until I hear from them I will never fully know or understand it.  I would love to hear from them.

'These acts, however, do not go unpunished.  What goes around comes around.  It is for this reason I feel I got my comeuppance.  I got my comeuppance at one workplace in particular.  I deserved it and ultimately it served me. well.

My work experience - bullied again

'In July 2007 I landed my dream job - Training Officer in the HR office at a well respected charity organisation.  A charity organisation that claimed to live by '7 primary values'.  I believe today there are 8.  No 1 on this list of values in 'Respect'.

'Now that I look back, the warning signs were there from the start.  One month into the job I realised I was the fourth person to hold that job in that same year.  Of the three previous job holders, the longest to hold that position had left in January 2007.  She had held the position for about 3-4 years.  She was allegedly bullied out of it by the HR manager.  The same HR manager I had the pleasure of serving under.  It came as a total shock to me.  Bullying in a charity?  And one so respected and full of respect?  Surely not?

'The job started well, I got on with people and started doing my work.  Yet for some reason I seemed to get on the wrong side of a key person in the organisation.  And then I got on the wrong side of another key person and eventually this got back to my HR manager.  From here it began.  Now, not for one minute am I claiming I am a model employee.  Not for one minute am I claiming my performance was exemplary.  There were faults in my performance, that is for sure.  My performance is not the point - the behaviour of my manager and one other key employee in the HR office is.  We'll call her 'the bulldog'.

'Once I got on the wrong side of these key personnel I got called more frequently to what they call 'supervision'.  Supervision is a farcical attempt by the organisations in the voluntary sector to manage performance and give and receive feedback from employees.  It's some kind of three pronged triangular approach.  You know the kind of thing HR folk and clueless managers love?  I know this because I have been that HR and clueless manager.

'The reality, at least the reality I saw, was they, like many other work organisations, admired and rewarded compliance.  So it is exactly this they expect in supervision.

'How did I manage to get on the wrong side of so many?  Well maybe that's where the answer lies.  As far as I know it started out as a result of an e-mail I sent out requesting people attend fire safety training.  I was having trouble getting people to sign up for training and this training was n absolute must for a particular group of employees.  So I sent out an e-mail stating if they did not sign up for training a date would be assigned to them.  Apparently the word was that this was a heavily worded e-mail.  I couldn't see how it was.  In the private sector it would have been totally acceptable.

'But who knows how the bullying really began.  Maybe they were reacting to something they saw in me that they did not like about themselves.  Who knows?

'So you could say I got what I deserved.  In retaliation for this e-mail they decided to make my life misery by checking everything that I did, feeding me incomplete information, criticising me for incomplete tasks, belittling me at meeting in front of colleagues, interviewing candidates for HR positions in the office without my knowledge, having other members of staff check on my performance in their absence.

'At one of these famous supervision meetings, held in a room next to the director's office where there was no sound proofing, I was eventually handed our probation policy (3 and a half months into the job) informing me I could be fired if my performance did not improve.  I had never seen any such policy before and I worked in the policy writing office that is HR.  Although in fairness to them they did write many inaccurate and inconsistent policies so it is entirely possible that it did exist but was called something completely different!

'The feedback I received on my performance was shoddy and never once gave me any direction for assistance.  I was told I needed to '...improve my performance...'.  When I asked for clarification on this I was told  ' have to do better...' - this went on and I received no further clarification.

'Every single aspect of my performance came under the spotlight from that point on.  The most basic of tasks become a nightmare for me as I knew it was all being scrutinised - quite possibly to the detriment of their own work - so I inevitably messed up and I can only imagine their work did not get done - but that wouldn't be unusual.  I will never forget the time I forgot to book sandwiches for a training'd swear I had embezzled funds.

'Of course, none of this was helped by the fact that I, as Training Officer, had the audacity to question what we spent on training.  You would imagine a charity organisation would try to make as many savings as it could?  Right?  Wrong.  When I noticed we were paying way above the odds for a beginners IT course I shopped around.  I rang one of my old workplaces, who ran IT courses, and they offered the same course for 1/3 the price.  When I informed my HR manager of this great saving she replied, "What's your cut"!

'We stayed with the over-priced provider.

'I mistakenly learned that next time I should just act and not bother to consult.  So when I discovered we were also paying above the odds for an interview skills training course I shopped around the booked  a much cheaper and equally as good provider.  This did not go down well at all and the pressure upon me increased.

'And so it went.  And it got worse.  Relations soured and I was effectively on a clock to my dismissal.  Eventually I gave them my verbal notice to leave which they followed up with a letter along the lines of  "...well we were just about to fire you anyway...".  My last week consisted of making preparations for a handover - which I cooperated with completely.  However, this was not enough for the bull dog second in command in HR.  She insisted upon hounding me on the second last day, even after we had just been out for a goodbye dinner, to ensure the handover was complete.  My final day was greeted with a sense of great relief on my side and also great fear.

'I had no job lined up, had just committed to buying a new car and my then wife had just started a new low paid job with no security.

'Oh, did I mention this was a charity working with very vulnerable people - the homeless!  I often joked, in which there was a grain of truth, I could be soon using their services.

'However, every cloud has a silver lining.  It was a blessing in disguise and the start of a great wake up call for me.  It was a wake up call saying the office 9-5 routing procedures bound nonsense was not for me.  And it wasn't.  Although it would take redundancy and 6 months on the dole before that penny would finally drop.  It was also a wake up call to learning the true meaning of 'respect'.  I would like to think that this organisation has begun a similar journey to understanding the true meaning of their No 1 value.

'And just like the secondary school bully, I saw that workplace bully, one year ago, in her home town.  I was working for the local newspaper and doing my real dream job.  I saw her looking the worse for wear, presumably after a few pints, arguing with, who I assume from the gist of the argument, was her partner.  Initially it felt good to see her looking so miserable and having such a rotten time.  Yet afterwards I felt for her.  It was only a five second snapshot yet it gave me the impression that it happened quite a lot in her life.  It made sense why she was so miserable in work, just as I had been.  Was this the reason she took it out on me and allegedly on others?

'So what do we do about bullying in society?  Having experienced it I can safely say that I don't know - I haven't a clue!  Maybe there is nothing we can do.  Maybe the best we can do is to encourage our society to become reflective.  To consider our actions each day.  Ask ourselves were our actions helpful, respectful and loving?  If we begin like this then maybe we can pass it on to our children and we can create something beautiful.  A society where, at the very least, kids won't take their lives or parents won't have to involve Gardai or threaten the school with legal action before they do something about bullies at school.  One thing I learned from working in HR is even when the 'guilty' party is proven to be 'guilty' and is punished accordingly rarely do they or the victim feel real justice has been done.  So you can be assured that a vengeful response is on its way and further retaliation.

'Mediation is along the right lines.  Mediation can mean everybody wins.  Why?  Because everybody's concerns are addressed and hopefully resolved.  Everybody has their say, gets to tell their story and have their concerns aired.  Even the 'bully'.  Because even the 'bully' has his reasons.  We may not like it but unless we are prepared to listen and engage with people who behave like this we will have many more cases of 'cyber bullying' and God knows what the next term will be.

'Bullying is not the problem.  Encouraging kids to live aggressively just might be.  Unless we listen and engage at an early age we will continue to have an aggressive society and unless we listen and engage at an early stage we will have many more teen suicides.'

My thanks to Peter Kearney, radio presenter/producer, for this.

Twitter:  peterspolitics
Website:   Blog

Monday, April 15, 2013

Twitter And Me

Here we have an article about the wonders and uses of the fascinating Twitter.  My thanks to Vincent Shaw for writing and submitting this one.

'There is a song that my wife likes to sing to our daughter that contains the line 'Let's start at the very beginning, that's a very good place to start."  So I will do.  Please allow me to introduce myself, my name is Vincent Shaw.  By day I work for a motor insurance company in the United Kingdom, by night I am a freelance writer working my way through the under paid minefield of the writing industry.  Twenty four hours a day though I am on Twitter.

In my mind Twitter is a wonderful website, a gloriously simple idea that is as addictive as it is easy to use.  Simply log yourself in, give yourself a short biography and away you go.  type almost anything you want within 140 characters.  Of course there are the hashtag subjects, @-people (is @ing a word?  Give Twitter a year or two and I am sure it will be), but the general idea of typing out a short message and allowing the whole world to see it is a beautiful concept.

It is the idea of limiting the message to just 140 characters that appeals most to me.  It allows me to develop ideas over a course of three or four separate Tweets.  Maybe for other people the limited capacity of a Tweet is appealing for other reasons, perhaps for young people it is brilliant because they will struggle to concentrate on anything longer than three paragraphs without complaining that it is just not fair to read something quite so long.  For our long haired hippy friends the 140 character limited is 'groovy man' (sorry, couldn't resist) because you do not need too many words to proclaim one's love for absolutely everything.  For me, it is because I get to have a constant flow of ideas.  A sort of stream of consciousness as I move from one Tweet to another.

I log onto the site mainly during the early morning and evening rush hours to and from work.  I start work at 9am and finish at 5pm, it takes me at least fifty minutes to complete each journey so I need something to pass the time.  There is only so much staring out of a window that one can do.

'Why not try reading?" I can hear you all asking.

Well, I have tried to, still do, but when you are on the packed commuter bus from Manchester and struggling to turn the pages on the bus because the person sat next to you just has to have their elbow carefully positioned near your chin there are occasions when reading that tome you have in your satchel is not really practical.

I am not a massive music fan so listening to the same six or seven albums over and over and over again while my bus trundles along the same road doing the same journey day in, day out.  It would be like Groundhog Day with a rock and roll soundtrack.

So what can pass the time?   Facebook?  Not really.  Talking to people who I have spent all day talking to does not really appeal to me.  I could phone people up and speak to them but have you ever been on a bus when someone close by is talking on the phone?  If you have then I do not need to expand on why it is a big no-no.  So what does one do?

Step up Twitter.

I can gaze out the window, spot something and post it on Twitter straight away.  From there I can post another Tweet that relates to the previous one, a further Tweet expands upon that and so on.  I can let my mind wander, give my imagination completely free reign and there is nothing more relaxing than that.  

It is like a computerized jotter.  A notepad for the 21st century.  A place to exercise my imagination and let it travel freely without any constraints other than the number of characters contained within the Tweet but it is that limit that helps me most.  Within 140 characters I cannot spoil an idea by over-thinking.  I have an idea, I Tweet it, expand upon it and move on.  If I find that idea is a good one it may well find its way into a full article.  If it isn't then I still had fun initially.

If you have not tried Twitter, please do, it is so much fun and friendlier than Facebook that just seems to be a haven for bullying and outright nastiness.  Try out your ideas on there; you will discover that the character limit is no such thing.  It is the site's great strength and allows a flow like no other.  While you are at it you could follow me, my twitter ID is @TheShaw2009 and I apologise in advance for the surreal nature of my Tweets but if they seem a little bizarre please bear with me.  I will be making the commute to or from work and thinking happy thoughts.'

Friday, April 12, 2013

My Bullying Experience

My thanks to Leigh Anne Stewart for contributing the following piece detailing her experience with bullying.

'It started when I was 12 years of age.  That year, the school board decided to make everything equal, they integrated every school.  That meant that there were to be equal numbers of children from each race in every school, I didn't understand it then.  I just knew I was getting bussed 8 miles away from my home into an unfamiliar school.  I was more than frightened about going, but I had no choice.  Here I am, a small little white girl who was very shy, and barely said a word to anyone at school.  The first couple of months all the new students were becoming acclimatised to the new school, the teachers, and trying to figure out what was expected of us.

Eventually the day came when I experienced bullying for the first time in my life.  My mother always gave me lunch money, and I would put it in my pocket for safe keeping.  Two African American girls came up to me one day and asked if I had any money.  I responded no, I don't have a job yet.  The didn't believe me and actually frisked me, much like the police do when they catch a criminal.  They found my lunch money and stole it.  I didn't say or do anything about it, I thought if I did that those girls would really come after me.  I went without lunch that day, and many more days and weeks after that.

I decided that since they knew where I kept my lunch money, that I would put it somewhere else.  I taped the coins to the inside of my notebook.  It took the girls about three days to find and steal it again.  This continued for a few months, but still I remained silent.  Each time the girls came back the bullying would get worse.  They began to punch me, slap me, trip me, and one girl would hold me down and the other would literally kick me.  I was an easy mark because I didn't put up a fight.

The girls did this when the teacher wasn't in the room.  One day, the teacher came into the classroom, saw that the girls were doing to me, and didn't do anything about it.  He just sat there and did nothing.  I thought teachers were supposed to help children, and he did nothing.  I was so confused, angry and sad all at the same time.

About 2 months later, I finally broke down and told my parents what was going on, they immediately went to the school and spoke with the principal.  I was put in another classroom, and my mother started giving the school a check each month for my lunch instead of cash.  The rest of my year was seemingly normal.

This is something that I have often thought about through the years.  The experience changed me into someone who now stands up for herself, and will never let anyone walk all over me like that again.  Today I am 52 years of age, I am a strong woman who believes that there needs to be a bullying education program in every school in the USA and abroad.

Leigh Anne Stewart

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Losing Their Religion

My thanks to Jacob Doyle for submitting the following piece.

"Buddhists who kill Muslims cease to be Buddhists

"The so-called religious conflicts experienced by the people of the Earth are far less conflicts of religion than they are conflicts of economic and tribal interests," I said to a colleague from Syria yesterday evening.  I gave as an example the recent killings and burnings of homes in Burma/Myanmar perpetrated against people identifying themselves as Muslims by others identifying themselves as Buddhists.  Reports in 'The Economist' state that Buddhist monks, the same monks whose "Saffron Revolution" protests pressured the military government to soften its long campaign of repression and introduce democratic reforms, were actually urging the attackers on.

'They call themselves Buddhists?' I asked rhetorically.  I practice Buddhist meditation and have studied the Pali Canon of Buddha.  Avoid killing, or harming any living thing, is the first of five precepts at the heart of the Buddha's teachings.  'The Economist' magazine's examination of the issues surrounding the attacks reveals that the Buddhists compose a majority of the population in Burma and live somewhat separately from the Muslims and maintain different cultural traditions.  Many Buddhists purportedly feel threatened by the Muslim's "otherness" and what they perceive to be their higher birthrate.  They also reportedly covet the Muslim's land holdings.  They resent what they reckon to be the Islamification of Burma.  But even if the Muslims were conspiring to take over Burma, violence against them goes directly against the teachings of Buddha.  In this sense, it is the 'Buddhists' themselves that are robbing the country of Buddhism."

Again, my thanks to Jacob Doyle for this thought-provoking piece.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Fight for Your Right to be Who You Are!

The following article is courtesy of Peter McQueeny.  It is actually about bullying and hisMy thanks to Peter for contributing this.

'Growing up, I was a tender, sensitive child.  Like many sensitive children, I was a target for bullies from an early age.  It began when I joined a local soccer team and quickly found out that I wasn't very good at sports.  The entire team used to gang up on me, including the middle-aged coach, who led the charge by responding to my inadequacy not with advice or encouragement, but with ridicule.  Pushed by my parents (who had only the best of intentions) to continue playing sports, I had similar experiences in tee-ball and basketball.  By the time all the school children in my town were starting to get to know one another, I had a reputation.

Middle school was the worse.  I had a handful of friends, and we were all outcasts, bullied to some extent by overlapping groups.  There was one person in particular, who shall of course remain nameless, who singled me out from the very moment our eyes first met.  We had apparently attended the same kindergarten class, although I didn't recall that at the time, and we had remembered me all through grade school, even though we went to different schools.  I recall the event as clearly as if it was yesterday, which begs the question if it really happened this way, or if this is a dramatized/traumatized memory: -         I walked into a 6th grade English class, and this person was already sitting at a table.  As I looked around for a seat, he said to me, in the most threatening tone he could manage:  "Hey Pete.  You don't remember me, but I remember you."  I made a face at him, and he immediately mocked me to his gaggle of goons.

From there until 8th grade he made my life a living hell; trotting out may of the classic bullying moves in the process: kicking me into my locker, upsetting my lunch tray, mocking me in front of the whole school etc.

When I went to high school I was still reeling from those experiences, and I was elated when I found out that the person in question had opted to attend a private high school, and I would never see him again.  But high school held it's own challenges, less physical and immediate, perhaps, but no less condemning.

My response was to draw further inward.  I got interested in Punk Rock and Heavy Metal, and through music found an identity that gave me enough confidence to get by until graduation.  I learned to own my outsider status, to act is if it was my decision, not theirs.  In the end, I became enough of a curiosity that by the time senior year came, I was friendly and conversational with everyone in my graduating class.

And when I went to college and I had the same experience so many of us have.  All that class-warfare, the freaks and geeks vs. jocks and cheerleaders, that all melted away and suddenly we were just people.  I never heard from most of my fellow graduates again, but the ones I have, even those that were bullies to me at one time or another, have met me as equals.

But sadly, my experience left a lasting mark on me.  By becoming so wrapped up in my outsider status, I found it difficult to become fully engaged with people who didn't share it.  I may have owned it this time, but the feeling of standing outside looking in persisted.  Years of being told I was insufficient had caused me to lack confidence at a deep level, and this showed up in the way I failed to apply myself to constructive activities, and I spent most of college in a marijuana-induced sleepwalk, wearing a girl-proof shell of fat and poor hygiene.  I squeaked out of college in just under seven years with a degree in Philosophy, boasting a 2.1 GPA.

I moved into adult life, and immediately drowned in a sea of mediocrity.  I was Salieri, constantly taunted by the ease with which Mozart outdid my most solemn efforts.

It wasn't until I met my now-wife that things really started to change for me.  We met on E-Harmony; the perfect meat-market for those lacking confidence.  Now that I am embarrassed about the way we met (quite the opposite), we were both at a point where we were looking for something serious, and we didn't want to waste precious years messing around with anything less.  Through the process of our courtship, I taught myself the most important lesson I've ever learned:  'Fake It 'Til You Make It'.  Confidence is a behavior pattern, a habit like any other.  It can be adopted artificially, but quickly becomes natural with practice.  And this is what all those bullies knew that I didn't.

The common wisdom is that bullies act the way they do because they are protecting themselves from their own lack of confidence by projecting their weakness onto others.  I generally agree with this, and I think most sane, reasonable adults more or less agree as well.  Bullies are, in a  childish way, faking confidence, and eventually it becomes natural.  By then though, the habit has become hard to break; they know no other way of demonstrating confidence, so they keep on putting others down, sometimes well into adulthood.  But I'd be willing to bet that nine out of ten bullies started out as a child that was hurting in some way.

All this brings me to several conclusions:
We, as adults, should not punish bullies for their activities in any extreme way.  Who are we to  punish a child for mistakenly acting out on their own pain?  Not only that, but punishment of the top-down sort has never been shown to be an effective means of modifying behavior,  It may force compliance in the short term, but it breeds discontent with authority in the long term.  I learned, as so many victims do, that "telling" only makes the bullying worse.  I've had bullies be forced to say they were sorry to me before.  Their false apologies hurt more than their sincere blows.  And no matter how hard parents and teachers work to make it safe for victims to come forward, the act of "telling" will always be bad, even in the absence of retribution.  Running for help is a habit, and its one we'd do well to discourage in our children.

All adults know there is no shame in asking for help when we really need it, but in the adult world that help is most often in a collaborative setting.  It's right for me to ask for help if I have a difficult and important work project that I won't be able to finish on my own.  But asking to be rescued is something different entirely.  Encouraging children to do that is the same as saying "If you fall off the horse, don't get back on, just wait for mommy to come and pick you up."  Encouraging kids to beg for rescue will breed weakness in adults, and like it or not, there are always, always bullies in life, even when we're grown up.  They may not be trying to hurt our feelings, they may not even have been bullies as children, but there are always those who seek to take what we have, or to take credit for our good deeds, or who believe they are in some way better than us and deserve more.  Nations bully each other.  And running to the UN doesn't seem to prevent much conflict, does it?

As an adult there is often no one to turn to, so to teach that habit - even if it's effective at the child level - is to do a disservice to future generations.  The appropriate way to meet strength is with strength, and not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up.  If we want to put an end to bullying, we have to educate victims on the nature of confidence at an early age.  We should be teaching them to find their power any way they can; be it the intellectual route of nerds who eventually employ their bullies, the independence of freaks who go on to live fascinating lives, or sheer power in numbers.  Kids could support each other by forming an anti-bullying club, so if a bully wanted to take on one of them, he'd have to take on all of them.  the only way to stop a bully is to tell them you won't stand for it.  There's no reward for the bully if you refuse to take their taunts lying down.  If you take a few knocks in the process, I think it's worth it.  Taking punches builds character.  Chances are a childhood bully won't murder you.  I know there are some who encourage victims to kill themselves, but if the victims learn early to stand up to this kind of treatment, to find their strength and fight for their right to be who they are, to say to that bully's face:  "Screw you, I have a right to be whoever I want, and I'm not going to let you take your self-hatred out on me!" I think we could actually see change.

I don't have any children, so perhaps I am speaking in ignorance.  Maybe I will one day be so consumed by protective instincts that I will change my mind.  But the sad truth is that in a better world where people and nations compete for limited resources, strength is the only survival strategy.  Birds don't learn to fly by being coddled in the nest, they learn to fly by being rudely shoved out, sometimes hitting the ground.  Fish don't learn to swim by holding close to their mother, they learn to swim by being abandoned and hatching to find a hungry eel waiting for them.  And humans don't learn to stand up by themselves by asking their parents and teachers to do it for them.  I dearly hope that when my child comes to me saying they've been shoved around by some bully, I still have the wisdom to tell them, "Next time, you shove back."

For more rants and ravings about anything and everything, head over to

My thanks to Peter McQueeny  for this article.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

An opinion on the death of Margaret Thatcher - Scheenagh Harrison reacts to the news of a political icon.


Recently I decided to invite others to contribute to my blog - becoming 'guest bloggers'.  Initially the response was very slow but after a few days I became swamped.  I had come to thinking that everyone the world over has had event/s occur in their lives and that, perhaps, some just might like to share.  I know many others already do this - I have contributed to many other blogs and hope to continue.  So I decided to make the offer.  As is widely known, my blog began life as a platform for my fight against bullying but has evolved to include pretty well anything and everything else in my life.  Quite a few of the people who have responded to my invite have been victims of bullying too and appear to be relieved to have somewhere to write about it - get it out of their systems.  Some have also decided to share personal stories with me, but not publicly, which is also fine - it is still therapeutic for them.  

Before I continue, please note that the views expressed by the contributors to this blog are not necessarily shared by the owner.

One of the first pieces that has been submitted arrived less than five minutes after I heard about the passing of former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.  Well done for being so quick off the mark, Scheenagh and James Harrington and I do thank the Harringtons ofor the following:

"Scheenagh Harrington reacts to the news of a political icon.

It's been on the cards for some time, but when news broke today that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had died aged 87, following a stroke, it took me a moment to decide how it made me feel.

I am a child of the Thatcherite era, when the TV was filled with images of bemulleted blokes in bad jeans doing battle with police during the miners' strike, and the Falklands War opened my eyes to the fact that conflict can break out anywhere over what seemed (to an 11-year-old-me) to be absolutely nothing.

As I grew older, Thatcher and the Tories hit a lot closer to home - politicising me for the first time with their loathed Poll Tax.  I had me and some of my student friends so furious that we all piled into a coach and headed to London for the day, bellowing 'Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, out, out out' at the tops of our voices (while at the same time, a headline-grabbing riot broke out in Trafalgar Square).

She was, I always believed, someone who could have done so much for women in politics, furthered the cause for gender equality in what had been, and still was, even at the height of her premiership, very much a man's world.

Instead, I believed she put us back generations, with her iron-clad hairdo and even harder stance on bread-and-butter politics.

I never saw a lady, whether she was for turning or not.  I saw someone who refused to give even the tiniest concession to the working classes (of which I'm still firmly a member, even if I have middle-class aspirations).

But after she fell from grace, booted out by ambitious and rapacious colleagues - I remember smiling and thinking at the same time 'good riddance' - Margaret Thatcher never really entered my thoughts, save for the odd mental argument with my other half, or if she popped up, looking increasingly frail on occasional news bulletins.

My opinion of her softened a little thanks to Meryl Streep's Oscar-winning turn in the 2011 Hollywoodised examination of her life 'The Iron Lady', but that was mostly because Streep turned her from the stern, unlikeable carping figure I was used to hearing and seeing, to a flesh-and-blood person, with thoughts and feelings, hopes and fears.

It didn't change my opinion of what I perceived as her damaging policies or her party's practices, but it did make me realise there was a real woman behind the office of Prime Minister.

As the obituary writers get to work today, I won't be mourning Margaret Thatcher.  And yet, while I'm neither heartbroken nor delighted that she has died, I know for certain that the anger and hatred she once sparked in me is no longer there.

Perhaps, for such a devisive politician, that's the best we can hope for?"

By Scheenagh Harrison of Black Mountain Editorial.

Again my sincere thanks to Scheenagh for writing this piece and to both James and Scheenagh for contributing and authorising me to use it in my blog.

I hope that, perhaps, the Harrisons might like to make further submissions as time progresses.