how to give a community its voice (and how not to)

I’ve posted twice on this recently, here and here.

It’s a bit of a struggle, signing up to altruism again.

My father-in-law died early last year.  He died, to my wife’s huge surprise, a rich man; but not really beloved.  No one who lived with him, who we presume knew how rich he was, ever suggested he use his resource for the palliative care he deserved – nor even the surgery that might have helped.

Instead, he hung grimly on as the Spanish public health system permanently postponed this action or that.

Any inheritance out of that could hardly be described as anything but blood money.

My wife had to take out a loan for the legal fees and death taxes.  She’s still paying it; still finding it challenging.

We all are, as a family: my kids lives are on slo-mo, in fact … they were looking forward to start learning paths you only get the change to achieve once in a lifetime.

But, on the other hand, if that “once in a lifetime” is based on blood money … well, how on earth do you think that might make anyone feel?

We were assured some of the money would reach us by November.

It’s awful – though no more awful than for much of the austerity-hit world – not to know if you can pay your next bills.

Anyhow.  The bank in question, a truly dreadful bank, recently froze all the resource that my wife supposedly had coming to her: it said it needed a document.  We sent the document via Royal Mail international tracking, at the cost of seven quid – instead of the assured two or three days, it took a whole week to arrive.

The bank rejected the signed document because my wife hadn’t known to put a tick in a box.  It was obvious from their initial request, once explained the four alternatives, which was needed.

It was the giving of a new address.

Even so, they refused to authorise the tick via security questions or registered email – or even from within my wife’s online access.

They blamed the Spanish authorities.

They asked for a repeat document; they refused to allow a fax.

The repeat document was sent on Monday 26th January.  It sat with Royal Mail for two days, somewhere in Britain.

Then it sat for two days with the Spanish postal service.

It still hadn’t been delivered last night.

It cost seven quid to send; less than 20g in weight; a standard-size envelope.

Meanwhile, once received the properly completed document, the bank’s representative added a little suspiciously, maybe even a little darkly, its legal department would then take a decision as to whether the funds could be released.  After having the week before assured my wife it was the only document needed.

Prior to all the above, they’d had her waiting fifteen days for a cheque book they at first suggested was all she needed to transfer funds, only then not to contact her when the legal department stepped in and decided no go.

It’s one of the worst banks in the world.  I won’t say which, but if you’re a grammar fiend, it’s definitely not the infinitive!


Why am I telling you this in a post titled as this one is?

Because, in an austerity world, the lizards are still playing the game of “Us vs Them”.  At least, that’s what I suspect.  You can only be allowed to easily access the kind of funds which do indeed change lives, hopes and futures, if you are prepared to become far more like “Us”; if you are prepared to stop being the “Them” you’ve always been.

That’s how I feel it, anyway; at least in my fragile and vulnerable present.

I may be wrong: it may be utter incompetence.  But Spain is different: they use the cloak of incompetence to get stuff done at the expense of the deserving.

Perhaps, actually it’s not that different: isn’t that what the British Coalition has spent its time doing for five long years?

The real mental suffering my wife has been exposed to by her family is only compounded by the bureaucratic wheels neither of us have any understanding of.

At least one member of her family is probably certifiably psychotic; the other, about as passive-aggressive as they come.

And if we look at what’s happened to my sad, little, suffering family, writ so small and insignificantly as it is, and as it has been over the past year, so we can make a wider comparison to what has been writ large across the global austerity stage.

Austerity is not a tool but a weapon.  It’s designed to prevent people having the comfort, security, incentive and motivation to explain sensibly, rationally, thoughtfully and constructively enough why things just must be done in a completely different way.

We are all, all of us, all of us who still belong to the “Them”, running terrified of what’s going to happen next.

In that, the comparison with the continuous ratcheting game of Hitler’s Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union is perfectly reasonable.  In that, for the moment, anyhow.


So how does all the above, all of that, relate to my latest project?

The local wiki,, is an altruistic act on my part.  Altruism maintains humanity, life, hope and the futures which should belong to everyone.

That’s why I do it, why I’ve done it in the past, why I’m doing it now.  In order to remain strong enough to defend my wife and children; in order to keep a hold of the good part of life; in order to continue to reject its underbelly.

Austerity erodes people’s soapboxes: their desires to communicate; their confidence in being able to do so, in being valued for doing so, in even having a right to do so.

So if the big things are no longer within our reach, if the big things are being used to prevent us from speaking up, if we must jettison democracy’s right to speak out on major issues, if we must give up on our “one shot at happiness”, then at least let us, with the simplest of process, create spaces where kindness, solidarity and local neighbourliness can allow us to continue that appreciation of the good the world still holds.

For it is considerable, this good I mention; and wise, where it is to be found.

why can “no” mean “maybe” – or even “yes” – in the relationships we have with our politicos?

A short post this afternoon; it could’ve been a tweet, even.

A man called Leon Brittan died last night.  He had been suffering from cancer for quite a while, it is reported.

No one’s death should ever bring joy to anyone.

It doesn’t to me.

This is how the Guardian has reported the situation today.

A complex situation, and a lot of loose ends he could have helped to tie up, given time.

But he didn’t have the time.  Life is like that, sometimes.

In part, of course, because the current Coalition government has made such a meal of the child sex abuse inquiry.  Not his fault; it is, however, clearly theirs.

I do wonder one thing though, tangentially and entirely off the pitch: if the principle of “no meaning no” is clear in crimes of sexual abuse, why isn’t the same principle properly established in our wider relationships with politicians?

Why do they reserve the right to let us believe they’re listening to our “no” – only to turn round several months later with a cool and collected “Ah but …”?

There’s an element of this going on here right now.  In many parts of the world, but in particular in the United Kingdom where I live.

If it’s wrong, quite rightly, in the context of crimes of rape – no more nor less than abuses of power in sexual contexts – why is it OK for crimes where power is latently, where not blatantly, imposed by professional representatives over those they supposedly represent?

Why are gross examples of bullying and abuse seen to be so OK in the relationship between state and people?

Why the difference?  And why do we tolerate the difference’s existence?

“immigration makes us stronger, richer and more powerful as a nation”

I’ve been an immigrant abroad and in my country of birth.

I was born in Oxford, England.  I spent my first twenty-five years in England, though speckled and dotted with holiday visits to my mother’s birthplace, Croatia (for much of that time part of the now ex-Yugoslavia, with all the paranoia and casual terror that 20th century Communism implied).

I was therefore, even in my childhood, fully aware I was only half-inside the culture of my father.

That I was between cultures.

That, in fact, the culture I felt a greater affinity to on many occasions was neither one I spent much time in nor one I was allowed to luxuriate in.

People who lived there saw me, I think (later on anyway), as a free-loading touristy type who had a chocolate-box view of life in the Balkans.

Everyone, anyone, can love a place when that place is the location of glorious summers.

Then I went to work, live and love in Spain; brought up a family; gradually felt quite Spanish in many respects.

Things happened which weren’t very nice; even as recently as last year.

But you can’t stop loving the countries you’ve worked, lived and loved in, can you?  That’s just against human nature, and I’m not planning to go against that.

One Christmas, the Spanish king gave a beautiful Christmas message.  It praised the historical contribution and importance of immigration in Spain.

I felt immediately embraced.

I felt touched and so happy.

Life continued on its merry – or less than merry – ways.

My wife and I both lost our jobs.

Dreadful illness hit the family.

Eventually, we returned to England to find work.  And that was when I discovered it was possible to be an immigrant in the country of one’s birth.

We were in the fullness of Blair’s New Labour.  Five-a-day health exhortations; overarching learning targets; even parental fines for new parents (in fact, the very first letter we received from the local council was one which warned of fifty quid punishments if children weren’t taken to primary school!  No welcoming message; no “lovely to have you here”; just woe betide the fifty quid!  Because we’re watching you, we don’t trust you, and don’t doubt that it’s the case …).

This was culture shock.  This wasn’t the England I’d left sixteen years before.

I was just as much an immigrant in my own land as my Spanish wife and children.


When Ed Miliband tells us today

Immigration makes us stronger, richer and more powerful as a nation.

… I remember all those years before and what the Spanish king said in his time, and how those words made me feel.

And so today, tears also came to my eyes – still – of hope.

Not all good news, mind.

Ed’s next paragraph was a typical piece of wonkish triangulating politics:

But making immigration work for everyone and not just a few, means people should contribute before they claim and we should never, ever allow companies to undercut wages and conditions of workers here by paying slave wages to those brought in from overseas.

But the rest of the speech shows he’s working his socks off to provide a ravaged and battered country like mine with the tears of hope the whole nation needs.

And for doing just that, even if imperfectly, you have my vote already.