Monday, 15 January 2018

Opinion: By the measure of homelessness in the UK, we are a poor nation

Our streets of people in need
Daily, I find myself wondering what kind of society I am in, what has broken in our society and communities to see such poverty, destitution and hopelessness amongst us?
There is nothing first world on our streets, despite being one of the largest economies in the world, with all sorts of prospects for the United Kingdom, we cannot judge our progress on the prosperity of the rich getting richer, companies declaring vast profits, the stock exchange hitting new records and anyone else with the opportunity and good fortune laughing all the way to the bank.
As a consultant, I work around the UK, literally living in hotels and walking the streets therein. Living in Manchester, then working or temporarily staying in Edinburgh, Norwich, Great Yarmouth and now Reading, I cannot ignore the obvious.
I see hungry people
I see hungry people, I see homeless people, I see people approaching strangers begging for some spare change for a meal or to get a place to lay their heads for the night. Then some billboards tell me not to give money to street beggars because the said charities are there to help them back to a different life.
I am pained by my own helplessness, I cannot think of what I can really do to help anyone who has been caught in this situation apart from offer a handout. If I stopped to listen to their stories, it is very likely their story will be no different from mine.
Why? I was self-employed and independent, then I fell ill with a sickness and disease that could easily have killed me off, but thankfully I am still here. As I took on my treatment, I had no money coming in, I used up all my savings, I could not pay the mortgage and because of my seemingly independent life, I did not know I was entitled to any welfare.
A precipitous decline
I soon found out about my entitlements six months after I fell ill, my creditors were very understanding, in fact, they probably had more faith in my recovery than I did, they had a good idea of what I earned before and my possible earning potential if I did recover. Yet, there were days I went hungry, my eyes almost popping out in the agonising pain of cancer, but for the succour and friendship of neighbours and friends, I could have despaired and expired.
I still had a roof over my head for another 30 months after my cancer diagnosis, but I could not sustain my situation, things were not looking as rosy as I had hope that I decided to sell up. The day before I moved out of my apartment of 126 months, I did not know where I would spend the next night, and then a free offer to occupy a vacated house come up which I occupied for two months.
After that, a young family put me up in their apartment caring for me for another 6 weeks before I decided to return to the UK after 12 and a half years in the Netherlands, with nothing but the hope that things will turn around, my cousin putting me up in a room as I returned.
As things looked up
Within 6 days of arrival, I had a job to travel around Europe for the next six months, however, some internal issues in the company meant the opportunity only lasted 5 weeks, it was another few months before I got a job in Wales where I was living out of hotels for the next 6 months.
Being in and out of work with no permanent residence could have taken its toll, I had many brushes on the brink of homelessness only to have people give me a place to recoup, reassess, rejig and reapply myself to getting back into useful employment and independence.
None of this would have been possible without a helping hand and there were many for which I am full of gratitude and appreciation that the best of humanity is still out there overflowing with the milk of kindness to help and to redeem.
Where is the help for all?
However, not everyone has that resource, not everyone has an angel, the angels to me were people like you and me. Many are homeless because of so many reasons too many to enumerate, from illness to unemployment, broken homes, divorce, a death in the family and even maybe substance abuse.
It is here that we must ask ourselves, what encourages substance abuse and is that not a symptom of some other underlying issue? I cannot sanctimoniously pontificate on these issues as if in my supposed saintliness I am beyond reproach, neither am I ready to accept as default that all beggars are beggars by choice, any money given them goes on drink and drugs or that they know where to get help and never use it.
I knew where to get help, as articulate and well-dressed as I was, I was both humiliated and turned away with the undertone of how dare I visit the homeless charity seeking help. I submit that if the charities were really doing their charitable duties, there would probably be fewer homeless people on our streets. I am doubtful they are doing anything that would encourage me to donate to the charities when I can open my hand to a person begging in front of me.
They are human beings first
It is a cancer within our midst that we have that many homeless people around us and from my experience, the very likelihood why the homeless would not visit homeless charities is because first, they are not treated as human beings, they are not treated with respect, they are looked down on as the dregs of society that there is nothing in place as the kind of helping hands I had to give me the opportunity and space to come out of the quagmire I was in.
Nobody wants to return to a workhouse environment redolent of the Victorian times and these places that portend to tackle homelessness must be more welcoming than they appear to be.
I see instances when someone begging needs £16 to stay in a hostel, it is unlikely if they make the £16, they would immediately spend it on one night’s shelter when there is food to think about.
The pall of homelessness
It is not without consideration that I think of a man I loved, Chris was ejected from his home by his mother at the age of 15 because he was gay and though he made something of his life to the extent that his parents relied on him to bury them well, Chris died 21 years after that ejection and it cannot be unrelated to the homelessness he suffered as a teenager before someone helped him.
I could see signs of that experience in everything that Chris did because these things are markedly significant, yet, he was amazingly loving and wonderful company to be with. Whilst he rests, I still miss him, 36 was too young an age to die and he’s been gone over 8 years.
I walk to the gym in my shorts on typical winter days seeing people in the dead of the night still hungry, homeless, cold and anything uncomfortable, I do not see anything happening to help them, I have not amazing solutions and sadly, we seem to be at the peak of government indolence and societal heartlessness.
This cannot continue, our society is the poorer for the hungry and homeless that roam around us in the vaunted prosperity of this great land. No, we are not prosperous, we are poor.


Thursday, 11 January 2018

Caught skipping with the girls again

Between Jim and the gym
Just after my birthday, I thought about it again, the need to keep fit and trim, knowing that the passing of time leaves changes one must have in control before it is too difficult to rein it in.
Having been away from home for weeks, I first had to update my swipe card access to the village gym which has everything including a swimming pool, a sauna and games room. The swimming I have to get to eventually, I have been too much of a log or a stone in water, there is no fun in that.
Knowing me, knowing shoes
Then, I needed to get the best shoes to cushion the effect of running because of lifelong shin splints. My research online yielded lots of information which boiled down to the best shoes that had fitting, quality or durability issues, not one stood out as the best and I was in information overload already.
A visit to the shopping mall with sports shops belonging to chains did not seem to offer much encouragement, I did not see anyone who appeared to have any useful knowledge about running shoes or trainers apart from their projecting the necessity to make a sale to the most gullible customer who dared to believe anything they said.
A size for a length
I took a walk down the main street and happened upon a small family shop that had one customer inside who had tried nothing less than seven pairs of shoes, the attendant, patient, understanding, explaining and serving. He seemed to know what he was talking about as I pulled up my references to guide me in decision making.
It became clear that my shoe size for normal shoes was probably two sizes smaller when trying on trainers, but when I slid my feet into Size 19 shoes, I could only presume something was wrong with quality control or the sweatshop makers of the shoes were making skis rather than shoes.
Eventually, I settled for a pair of the most comfortable and well-cushioned shoes, the fitting was so good, knowing how my feet have suffered through spurts of growth that shoes did not expand to, this is like shoe heaven.
Altogether, with Christmas approaching, I got discount on everything and probably paid 30% less along with free merchandise to boot. I was ready for the gym.
Skipping with the girls again
I then revived my gym membership with The Gym Group with the bundle that allows me the countrywide use of any gym in the group and we were on to an exercise program for the first four weeks and then the next four.
Down in Reading, I registered for an induction that went well before opting for a boot camp class. No gym equipment, just running, jumping and stretching over the course of 30 minutes. The setting reviving a childhood experience as I was the only male apart from the trainer in a group of 10.
My childhood fragility meant I was left skipping with the girls rather than playing football with the boys, it appeared I was back doing things with the girls again. Such is life at the gym.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Essential Snobbery 101: Devoid of Perception

He walked away from danger
This is a blog I started almost two months ago but never got to finish because like some blogs that I have posted before, the ideas might be pertinent though the time and occasion is not ripe for publication.
A tweet I read this morning allows me the opportunity to finish this blog and hopefully get to post it. The tweet concerns a man who suggests he nearly just got killed by a cop. He was returning from the gym and he entered a shop to buy some things before he was accosted by the police with guns drawn shouting at him to respond to some commands.

He did not hear the commotion surrounding and directed at him because he had noise-cancelling headphones on, it was a matter of luck and fortitude, if not some restraint from the cops that meant that he walked away from that encounter unharmed.
Shutting out the world
It transpired that the shop assistant had called the police about some criminal activity going on in the shop and somehow that was read to be an armed robbery with this man the supposed perpetrator. There is much to comment on about this, but that is of no particular concern to me.
My issue is with the headphones and noise-cancelling ones at that. The man says in a tweet, “Sometimes I like to shut the world out and listen to music.” That is the problem, you are in a public place and you shut the world out, just imagine if he had walked into the shop and without that isolation bubble of his headphones blocking out the world, he might have seen and acknowledged the shopkeeper who then with that interaction would not have suspected him of being up to no good.

For all the commentary that followed his narrative, no one picked on the fact that the situation is as much his own fault in the first place and it could then be that of others. When you shut off any of your working senses to external stimuli in the world around you, you place the responsibility on others either to look out for you or the anxiety on others to consider you a threat.
Devoid of perception of others
The same goes for people who ride their bicycles in the streets with headphones on so that they are unaware of sounds and movements necessary for them to anticipate and avoid danger. It is just irresponsible at best and without doubt selfish and reckless.
The other day I got on the train the but could not get to a free seat because a lady was standing in the way. Thrice, I said 'Excuse me, please', and she neither heard me nor budged, she was too engrossed in her mobile phone to be bothered or aware of her surroundings, it took I poking her with a finger for her to respond and reluctantly step out of the way for me to pass.
This is becoming the norm, a lack of awareness and the absence of perception that reduces our humanity from that of being social beings to the exemplar of being wild animals, uncivilised, inconsiderate, unconcerned and apathetic.
Just selfish and inconsiderate
Then, on a Sunday night, in a hotel full of business guests, the fire alarm went off at 4:20 AM, because some restless and noisy young men decided to smoke in non-smoking rooms. To cover the evidence, they broke the window and lied to the night concierge about the deed. I doubt they suffered any other consequence for waking everyone up in the hotel.
For them, nothing and no one else mattered in their selfish quest for self-satisfaction at the expense of everyone else. Sitting in a railway station waiting room, a passenger thinks it is socially responsible to play their music loud to the hearing of others, unafraid of being asked to behave. In many cases, you cannot ask them to be considerate because that infuriates them, and it could lead to violent acts committed against you as such a challenge to their antisocial behaviour is taken as an act of disrespect.
Why does it happen?
Meanwhile, another brings a can of alcoholic beverage onto the tram platform as we await the next one, he finishes the drink and drops the can to the floor and walks away as if it had nothing to do with him, this is despite the fact there is a wastebasket 10 yards away. Then you imagine if everyone dropped their litter without any consideration whether we would have anywhere to walk without running the gauntlet of refuse heaps.
Too many episodes and events I observe of carefree and careless people lacking in consideration or social skill, devoid of spatial awareness and the useful utility of their senses to do the right thing. Unschooled, uncouth, untamed, uncultured to the point of stupid existence, upsetting everyone without any sense of offence caused or bad behaviour, you do wonder if it is a deliberate act of self-expression or just the absence of social graces, breeding, tutelage and much else.