Well Meaning Buffoon Next Door

Gaming diceI seem to have created a nightmare. Not a dripping-fanged, snarly-throated, blazing-eyed, scaly-tailed nightmare, at least not on this occasion. That other time was just a mistake and won’t happen again. Oh no, this is just one of those nightmares that gets into your mind like an ear-worm from the radio playing a catchy jingle that buzzes about for days. You play your loudest music or your saddest songs but as soon as they end, there it is again, gently tum-te-tum-ing in your head.

I suspect this is just what happens when you are a bit of a dreamer like me. I spend half my life living in a fantasy world, like Walter Mitty. I visualise. I imagine. And it’s all so real.

Recently I wrote a post having a dig at people who think they know all about IT. It wasn’t kind but that’s life in EBL Towers. Nature red in tooth and claw, and all that. However I was then prompted to consider how the poor Well Meaning Buffoon from Next Door might feel as they confronted my Nerd Army.

To validate my prejudices I checked with the local WMBFND and this is what she told me.

“Well, EBL, I have to be honest. I was a bit anxious about bringing the draughts board in but it was something I felt quite strongly about. I mean, why do your games have to be so complicated? It all seems so unnecessary.

When I mentioned to my husband that I was coming over he was really cynical. He said people like you think you’re so clever, what with calculating your credit card interest in hexadecimal, whatever that is, and talking in another language to make yourself look smart. I don’t think that’s fair. I mean, I really enjoyed learning Spanish at school.

You see, I just know you are deep down OK, and I thought perhaps we could all play a different game together, one that I understand and could join in. My grandmother taught me to play draughts and we had such lovely times on Sunday afternoons playing. I thought you might like to give it a go.

But then that chap with hairy knuckles and a bandana, Kevin was it? Anyway, he said his old Mum played draughts and he preferred something more challenging. Mind you, the other lad, the one in the torn denim and studs, he said he thought draughts was as complex as you made it so perhaps Kevin was just a bit simple. Well, I didn’t want to start an argument, so I just set the board out on that funny cloth with pentagons on it…sorry, were they hexagons? I don’t know the difference, I’m sure. Does it matter?

So I set the board up and the girl with the piercings asked me to show her how it worked and we soon had a good game going. Although Kevin and the other lad went and sat in the kitchen rather than watching.

I would find that A&D game too complicated, and isn’t it all about worshipping Satan anyway? I’m not sure I want to get into all that. Is it a requirement?

I do realise only two people can play draughts at a time though, I admit I hadn’t thought that through. Perhaps next week I could bring Monopoly instead?”

Honestly, being smartarse about knowing more than your neighbour is like kicking a puppy before you throw it into the well. The deep, dark, cold well.

So thank you to all my Buffoon Neighbours who, as it turns out, are wiser than this foolish EBL.

How do you deal with people wanting to play Monopoly – either literally or metaphorically?

Namaste.

 

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Peeve

One of the things I try hard to stop myself doing, and fail miserably to achieve, is getting wound up over silly little things. Life is really to short to worry about the fact that the books in Waterstones are not shelved alphabetically, or that some nincompoop newsreader doesn’t know the difference between a mountain and a molehill, or that the well-meaning buffoon next door (WMBND) has never actually played Dungeons and Dragons but thinks they are an expert on it because their younger cousin’s best friend’s boyfriend once borrowed a copy of the Dungeon Master’s Guide from his next door neighbour.

I have played Dungeons and Dragons.

I’ll have you know my Illusionist was quite exceptional.

And don’t let me get me started on my amazing Ranger.

Although the incident with the wolf cubs eating our Paladin was a little embarrassing….

Anyway, picture the scene. There you are trying to coordinate a day of sparkling entertainment, and you have been asked specifically to set up and run a game of Dungeons and Dragons for old times’ sake. You dust off the DM’s Guide, break out the Monster Manual and unearth the Deities and Demigods. You spend a nostalgic weekend prepping a dungeon, supplying back-stories for all the orcs and goblins, setting intricate traps and hiding treasure. You plan out complex tricks and puzzles to stimulate your players. You order in snacks and drinks. You sharpen pencils, dust the dice and produce copies of character sheets.

The team gathers and cracks their collective knuckles in anticipation of a great session. The air is electric with anticipation.

Then the WMBND arrives with a draughts board and disrupts the party.

How does that make you feel?

That’s how I feel when someone utters the dreaded phrase “Oh, I know how to fix that database error! It’s simple. ”

Just saying.

Namaste.

 

When you know it’s time to go.

My dears, I was pointed to this blog recently and wanted to share it with you. I had to give up as School Governor last year, and my experience was not dissimilar to this writer’s – although obviously I was only involved for a shorter time (9 years in fact), and not as a classroom practitioner.
I cannot say how the current national approach to teaching hurts. I prefer not to get very political usually, beyond my bleeding liberal tendencies, but today I am in the mood.
Namaste.

Love Learning....

I’m leaving my job. Not right away – I’d never leave children half way through an academic year – but I’ll be off in July. I think back to the post I wrote on teaching forever and I blush with the charge of hypocrisy, though, to be fair, after 22 years I think I’ve probably earned the right to say I did my bit. And hopefully I will continue to do more bits, but not again, I don’t think as a full time teacher in a school. So why? Well, it’s complicated.

It’s not because of the kids…

But they’re not easy. Last week one pushed me pretty hard and told me to fuck off. He’s vulnerable and floundering. We used restorative justice to talk through the situation and I got one of the most heartfelt apologies I’ve ever had. He beams at me in the corridor now. I’m not…

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D is for Difficult, Distress and Diplomacy

Well, this wasn’t the post I was going to write for the letter D in our Alphabet Soup of Quaker blogs. As a result I may yet complete the other one I was considering. Double D-licious postings!

This post though is a more difficult one, so I ask you to bear with me. Indeed, for those not familiar with British Quakers it may not make a huge amount of sense. It talks about Concern, and that is a bit of jargon that needs a lot of explanation. If you do care to read more, you can do so at the on-line version of Quaker Faith & Practice.

As Quakers we like to think we do our bit. We serve on committees, both Quaker ones and for other good causes; we campaign; we write letters; we hold vigils and prayer meetings; we try to practise what we preach as far as we are able. Some of us are very active physically in the community, others spiritually. Some of us just try to hold the daily grind together and support the rest with tea, sympathy, a chat or call, a hug or smile. We each do the best we can.

I have posted before in this series about the demands on meetings and their members.

Meanwhile, picture a Friend with a Concern. It’s obviously an important one. Friends don’t take these things up lightly. A Quaker Concern is a fearful burden. It means that we have been led to see that we must act, and this leading is directly from God. “No” is not an option. Quakers distinguish between a Concern in this sense, and being “concerned about” ie things that are important and necessary but lack the dynamic spiritual directive of a personal Concern.

There are Quaker Testimonies to some of these Concerns, formed early in the life of the organisation, such as Simplicity and Peace. More recently British Quakers have picked up at a national level a commitment to sustainable living, and not so long ago were challenging the payment of that part of tax which funded military endeavours as a breach of our right to conscientious objection.

They are not absolute rules, but in general if they don’t fit broadly with your view of the right ordering of the world, it is likely British Quakerism is not for you.

But back to the Ds of Difficulty, Distress and Diplomacy.

How do we present an issue about which we are passionate, driven, almost out of control in the fervour of our leading, in such a way that the rest of the meeting is not frightened, humiliated, or intimidated? When we start to speak we are emotional, feverish, excitable. We are unlikely to be in control of our language or aware of the reactions around us. Ministry is hard enough in the normal course of events. Under the force of a nascent Concern it is likely to be wild and dangerous.

Meanwhile the peaceful meeting for worship has been ruminating on various issues. Ministry of Concern may come like a bolt of lightning, out of the blue, and strike with emphatic force. We didn’t expect this when we had breakfast this morning. We didn’t know that our lovely, quiet, meditative hour was going to be shattered.

It’s unlikely the individual quite knew either, but they will probably have been thinking around the subject already, and of course they now have the direct and personal experience of the message. Unfortunately the rest of the meeting may not. The individual has to convince their disrupted audience of the validity of what they have felt.

But when you are not thinking quite straight, when you have had the kind of kick this leading can give you, you might not be entirely aware of the impact of your words. As a result you can cause real and prolonged distress to anyone vulnerable to the particular message you have to give. Are you talking about mental health? Don’t forget the Friend whose child killed herself. Is the leading about abuse in care for the elderly? Remember the Friend who cares for a challenging and disabled parent. Are you called to act on some injustice of the penal system? Consider the Friend whose son was convicted of X or Y. Is it racism? Beware white privilege (if you are white), or similar distortions.

In other words, in presenting our dramatic new message how can we speak in words that can be heard without inflaming resentment or guilt or genuine anger because we blunder in? The point is that acting under this kind of imperative may rob us sometimes of our empathy. Yet in some cases hard truths need to be acknowledged and we cannot shy away from facing up to unpleasant facts just to avoid hurt feelings.

I don’t have answers of course. But there are times when going to meeting for worship can feel like sitting on a keg of dynamite with a fuse fizzing away for an hour as we seek to know how we can make the world a better place. Most of the time those routine and recognised activities of committees, kindnesses and small deeds are enough. But for those other times, the rarer, wilder, over-whelming times, then small deeds have to expand and kindness has to amplify exponentially and committees may have to reconsider or be forgotten, because the meeting is there to handle the powder keg as best it can.

That is the strength of a Quaker meeting.

Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.

Isaac Penington, 1667

Namaste

 

B is for Busy

The Quaker Alphabet Blog Project in 2014 aims to encourage a post a fortnight about some aspect of Quakerism in alphabetical order. No doubt I will eventually rebel and start posting out of order, but as it happens this time I want to write about Busy-ness and that happens to fit in nicely with needing to do a B post. Lucky me. Meanwhile, sit back and prepare for an incoherent babble about how unfair life is. I may inadvertently be channelling a teenager.

It seems appropriate to talk about being Busy because it is the beginning of another artificially induced time segment, known as a year, at which point there is enormous upheaval in Quaker meetings up and down the country. This upheaval is caused not by shifting tides or phases of the moon, nor by reaction to New Year’s Honours or the publication of secret papers. It is instead caused by the fact that almost the entire Society of Friends changes roles and responsibilities, and does a kind of sideways shuffle. December is a frantic blur of last minute nominations for jobs:

“EBL – we really need an Assistant Treasurer! It won’t mean much more work.”

“Well, alright, I’ll do what I can…I am taking on clerking too so…”

“Great! The Treasurer is going to New Zealand for 3 months. You’ll manage won’t you? Thanks again!”

“…urk…”

Then January sees the traditional floundering of people trying to pick up their new roles (probably the same role they did 3 years ago and to which they have now returned on what I like to call the Quaker Merry-Go-Round of Jobs). So as I have also agreed to work on the clerking team I found myself yesterday planning an agenda for our first business meeting of the year.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am happy to do my bit. I am happy to clerk because I have done it before and it was OK most of the time (see the pretty Merry-Go-Round). Everyone helps out with wording things and another Friend will be handling the correspondence and notices, which is the bit I find hardest. But, and there had to be one, I am painfully aware I have just spent a couple of hours pulling everything together and being thankful I booked an extra day’s leave after all.

Along with many other church and community groups up and down the country, the Society of Friends is a dwindling population with a fast-growing list of Jobs That Must Be Done. There are increasing regulations and costs around insurance, risk assessments, CRB checks, financial probity and goodness only knows what else. At the same time I find other members of the meeting saying things like “I’m really sorry I have to give up doing X Job, but now I’m in my nineties I do find it a little difficult.”

I’m quite serious. I have replaced someone in her nineties because she felt it was getting a bit much. And she feels terrible at letting people down.

Sometimes I think Quakers live to such ripe old ages not because they are (broadly speaking) affluent and middle class, but because they simply don’t have time to die or don’t wish to inconvenience other people by doing so before their agreed term of office ends.

I find myself asking “is it all, when you get right down to it – actually necessary?” I am not comfortable about putting such expectations on older Friends or on younger ones, like me, who feel unable to use long work hours as an excuse when the alternative is that dear old Prue, who was 93 last week, will feel obligated to carry on if I say no.

Sometimes at meeting we talk about SQUIFs. What can I say, it’s a Quaker thing. It means Single Quaker in the Family. There are particular pressures on those who participate in a meeting but whose family do not. We have a debate about whether we get more or less of their time as a result.

One camp thinks we get less, because they need to find time to spend with the family apart from meeting, and have to balance the demands of meeting with competing demands of partner, children, siblings, parents etc who don’t quite understand what this strange “meeting” is all about.

On the other hand, some feel we get more, because being a Quaker Couple, for example, means that both partners can’t devote all their attention to meeting as they still have to do other, more worldly activities, such as working, childcare, shopping etc. In addition having a Quaker couple means the meeting is more constrained in the permutations and combinations of roles it can work with. For example, Sigoth and I would not both be asked to serve on the clerking team at the same time to prevent us appearing to have “taken over”. chuckle brosI suspect we will cox and box through roles as a result in a Chuckle Brothers fashion (“to me, to you, to me!”) as we take It in turns to carry out various jobs and possibly get jammed in doorways with hilarious consequences as a result.

Either way I feel quite bleak about the future of these roles. Not only do we now have the situation where it is unlikely that a couple can afford to have one partner at home full time, or even part-time, by choice; also we are faced with people working for longer as pensions contract. Whereas I once thought I would retire at 60, still vigorous and able to volunteer whole-heartedly, now I will have to work for longer and be less fit when I do retire. And that’s assuming I ever get that far, given that my father died in his sixties while still working to support the family.

In fact, “bleak” barely scratches the surface. Perhaps I chose the wrong B word for this post.

So let’s Brighten up and count some Blessings!

  • It is likely I will live longer and be healthier than previous generations.
  • I should be able to retire by 70, leaving me a good 20 years of voluntary happiness ahead (based on Prue).
  • If the worst problem I have to face is how much time I can give to meeting, then I am pretty fortunate.
  • If no one clerks the meeting, I suspect no one will die. Or even be maimed. Or possibly, whisper it, even notice.

While none of this addresses the underlying problem facing our and other societies and groups, I think today I’ll let the world manage without me. It will sort itself out or it will not; I will do what I can and not what I can’t, and hope for the wisdom to know which is which.

Looks like I may have to move on to C for Catastrophising (and why I really should stop) in the next post.

Saying “No” – how do you do it? Or don’t you? If the latter, please join your local Quaker meeting!

Namaste

Which side of the fence are you on?

Rarasaur posts her Prompts for the Promptless on a weekly basis, but as I operate in a different space-time continuum I may appear to be out of step. It’s a challenge for those of us who choose to interact with you Earthlings.

Anyway, the other week the prompt was about the Litmus test.

The Litmus Test is a test in which a single factor (as an attitude, event, or fact) is decisive.  In other words, it’s a single question test, not necessarily related to the information that is gleaned from the test.

I knew what I wanted to write for this but then life got all inconvenient and it didn’t seem right. This morning the sun is shining and the birds are shouting and I have a spare hour, so I am throwing caution to the wind and writing what I wanted to write regardless of consequences.

The reason for the hesitation, my dears, is that my Litmus Test is Margaret Thatcher.

I left university in 1983 to unemployment, riots, IRA bombings, the miners’ strike and all kinds of social ugliness which I blamed on the government’s policies.  Indeed, they must take responsibility for much of it, although ugliness can only come from within. The provocation was extreme and we were all pretty ugly back then, whichever side of the fence we were on. I don’t think anyone was on the fence. It was a very polarised time.

I had a friend who was suffering from extremely serious depression and was suicidal. She had a few attempts to kill herself, which were clearly of the kind where she was asking for help. Her friends did their best, but the health services were in such disarray that they basically put plasters over here wrists and sent her home again. Three times. Finally she went around visiting each ofus to tell us how she appreciated us and we hoped she was turning a corner. Then she jumped off a multi-story car park and died.

I blamed Margaret Thatcher.

For years I planned to celebrate when she died in turn. I judged people by whether their view of her was that she was a decisive leader who made difficult decisions, or whether she was a divisive figure who split society in two when we needed to pull together, took us into war and taught a generation to worship money and consumerism over love and hope. You will have worked out, I am sure, which I think.

Then the inconvenient woman died, just as my post was starting to coalesce in my brain. Honestly, Maggie, give me a break!

I was surprised how uninterested I felt. The woman herself has been irrelevant for some years, and I feel a little sorry for her having seen her being manipulated in her turn by wolfish politicians trying to boost their own public approval ratings.

What I have realised is that it’s the Idea of Margaret that lives on, regardless of her particular tenure in this world. She left a legacy: and so she remains my personal litmus test, slightly amended, to how a person’s view of her and her ideology.

She remains my litmus test because she was divisive. You couldn’t be ambivalent about her policies or attitudes or achievements. You have to come down one side or the other. Whatever the subject, if unsure of how to respond, you can ask yourself “what would that bloody woman say?” and it will tell you which way to go.

Her behaviour, attitudes and actions made me sad, they made me angry and they made me choose.

Namaste.

The cost of painting a hallway

Time for the next edition of Prompts for the Promptless courtesy of Rarasaur.

True Cost is a term for the often-overlooked, comprehensive expense of something, including the time-related and emotional costs.

Example:  You can purchase a cat for money.  Let’s say $100.  That’s the basic cost.  The True Cost of the cat, though, is in the litter box, food bowl, cat carrier, food, vet bills, litter, the time spent on the cat, shirts that are torn by tiny kitten claws, the worry you experience when the cat is ill, and the grieving if the cat passes away before you.

Back in the closing decade of the last century, when running their campaign for an election, the Labour party accused Margaret Thatcher of knowing “the cost of everything and value of nothing”. The quote originated with Oscar Wilde as his definition of a cynic.  It was unsuccessful as a campaign but it is often still quoted when old fogies such as myself gather around the fire to reminisce about the Eighties and how terrible they were.

They were hard times, and we felt like we were living in a Dickens novel. Indeed, Victorian values were being explicitly quoted as superior to modern ones, to which those of us somewhat to the left of fascism retorted sniffily “What? Like children up chimneys and syphilis?”

I can tell you now, my dears, there is not much forgiveness for that woman and her policies in my shrivelled heart. They hurt me directly and painfully, and now “Dave” is trying to rehabilitate the party and appear cuddly, while underneath we see the sharks circling as the media campaigns rabidly against skivers and scroungers and people who don’t fit a mythical norm.

You will have gathered my tendency is to the left wing. I am a vegetarian, pacifist, feminist, non-profit-employed, hippy wannabee. What do you expect? It’s in the person spec.

So, moving on…

I am intrigued as to whether, for the purposes of this post, we can equate “true cost” with “value”. I think I know about true cost. I deal with it daily for my job. “It looks like the development of that functionality costs X,” I tell my bemused colleagues, “but in fact the true cost is Y once you factor in the implementation team, the support, maintenance, and staffing costs.”

At first I thought cost and value were the same. Then that old demon, the other hand, stirred, twitched and finally said, through mixed metaphorese, “Wait a minute, isn’t true cost just cost with everything included – gross, not nett? Quantitative. Value is all the touchy-feely stuff you tree-huggers go on about – the so-called qualitative stuff that’s a waste of time!” (My other hand is very much on the right.)

I hate to admit it, but on this occasion my right hand may have a point.

I am aware that given my busy life-style and fortunate financial position, I will sometimes pay someone else to do a job I could do myself but don’t choose to do because my time is more valuably spent eg blogging or writing village quizzes or visiting with friends or family. I might pay a decorator to paint the hallway so I am free to spend the weekend with a friend. Somewhere in my head I have calculated that (a) the cost (true and / or quoted) is acceptable and (b) the value is favourably weighted. To my right hand, I would say something like “The cost of paying someone to do this is less than the cost of paying me to do this because, while paint is paint, my time is more expensive.”

Well, how very dare I? As if I could paint the hall as well as someone who decorates for a living! Perhaps I also recognise, but do not admit (least of all to that snarky right hand!) that he paints better than I do so I get a higher quality result.

How do I put a cost to the pleasure I feel in a well=painted hall against the pride in a hall painted with blood, sweat, emulsion and tears? That’s where value, and personal priorities, both enter the equation. I might paint badly but feel the integrity of a self-painted hallway is higher. Or I might decide that if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well, and so get a professional in to do it.

Yes, the cost of my hallway went up with paying Gary to do it. My satisfaction with the end product is the value, and for me that was greater by getting Gary in.

Thanks, Gary. It looks great!

Namaste.