It isn't always easy but you'll love the results
This month has been a slow lesson in letting go, giving in and enjoying. It’s not been great and to be quite honest June can’t come quickly enough. Yesterday I was walking through a London park, replete with refreshments for the extended family and MrsAB pointed out this banner. I’d already spotted it on the way to the cafe but on the way back it was worth a picture. Be it my views on professional cycling, a growing alienation from politics or just listening to the messages my body is giving me, I’m learning it’s easier to let go than to keep fighting. Some of you might think this is weak but I actually think that takes some strength.
Anyway, heed to advice. And as it’s Bank Holiday I think I’m going to go and give in to the urge to read my new book.
In September last year I posted a comment on a piece that appeared in the Guardian by Sarfraz Manzoor about his impending isolation from the rest of his family over his forthcoming marriage. I remember blogging it at the time and focussing on the questions it and he were raising about identity in the modern world with mixed emotions. That article ended with the wedding and I, probably like others, wondered what next.
So I was really pleased to read today’s article by Manzoor about his new wife’s decision to change her name to his. This is a subject which in itself is fraught with difficulty, the topic for many a gender studies scholar and one I have my own experiences of. No, it’s not the classic Guardian article of why ‘she’ has or hasn’t kept her maiden name (apologies but this kind of middle-class drivel misses the point these days), it is a joyful article of two people’s desire to make their own changes for the benefit of each other. It is about two people continuing to make discoveries about themselves and their own identities change through a process of choice. It is a story of compromise as an act of giving within a mutually respectful relationship. Most of all it is about how (unexpected) change can lead to happiness. These are all pretty important lessons in life and often overlooked in our busy, ‘success’ pursuing lives. We often fear change, focussing on the negative, feeling we lack choice, that it is done unto us and will make us unhappy. But often it brings relief, can help to empower and overall leaves us feeling happier. If a change is as good as a rest, maybe this is what it means.
I realise that at times this blog can appear slightly negative. It is not my intention but I do hope you enjoy this happy interlude.
This morning has been spent in the strange world of car purchase. Those who have followed my tweets or Facebook profile in the last couple of days will realise how daunting a prospect for me. However, quite to my surprise, the experience was less painful than I imagined. I put my wallet on the dealers desk and he refused to even look in it – that’s how good it went. As MrsAB has just said to me, it was tiring, but we’ve come away with a car.
Next thing is the insurance. Currently we have our insurance with the Co-operative. Many of you know how I’ve been a supporter of co-ops and mutuals. Unfortunately our experience today has confirmed my worst fears about the growing giant which is the Co-operative Group. As this group has grown it has subsumed smaller co-operative societies in the name of efficiency and economy. In doing so it has grown to proportions which make member engagement increasingly detached if not nigh on impossible. That is something that most people can live. They do their business with the Co-operative as an ethical company rather than a member based institution. But as part of this, customer care is an important component. Sadly, our experience this morning shows this is somewhat lacking. MrsAB has spent the best part of an hour on the phone to the Co-operative Financial Services to be told our premium has increased by over 40%, to not be offered any deal as continued customers and, following a second phone call, to find the first operator has gone ahead and adjusted the policy instead of cancelling it. With slight regret we have cancelled the policy. Luckily for the Co-op we still have other business with them but the AB household is putting this under review.
I’ve felt for sometime that mutual organisations offer a way forward against the business-as-usual approach that got us in the current economic mess. It looks like the Co-operative likes to trade on that image but in reality try to be more like the others they compete against. It’s a real shame. Not that I’m giving up hope but it reinforces to me that size and origins matter. For mutualism to be effective it needs to build from the bottom-up, recognise that people make the business and recognising them (owner, customer and employee) in their trading. Somewhere the Co-operative Group went wrong. Maybe the Co-op would like to speak with me about that mutual vision and prove me wrong?
I live in Wolverhampton. It’s a city which is often written off as “part of Birmingham” by those who’ve not been here and run down by those who have. Even those of us who live and work here will often moan about the place. Just take a walk around the city centre and its depressing. Wolverhampton is a real victim of the recession but equally it is a victim of over inflated ideas and the promises of false promises. I wouldn’t normally blog about these type of issues as its too close to “day job” for my own good. But I think there’s something that we an all learn from what has emerged today.
Today’s Express & Star has announced a £13m scheme to spruce up parts of the city centre left derelict after the collapse of the City’s Summer Row shopping centre. Now Summer Row was a developer led attempt to bring a string of national chains and more flats to the city centre badged under the banner of regeneration. As the recession began to bite the fading white elephant keeled over and died. It left behind empty and decaying shop units, open space and isolated businesses fighting against a continuing decay. Speaking as someone with some knowledge of planning and regeneration and a resident who tries to use the city’s businesses and facilities where possible, Summer Row can be seen as another poorly considered plan in an opportunist regeneration strategy for the City. There are plenty of examples. The Market Square is isolated from the remainder of the city, an unattractive space which discourages most except the die-hard shopper. The new “transport interchange” looks like it will be merely an expensive bus station (with poor bus service using it) with a fancy pedestrian bridge because neither the finance nor the will of important partners (e.g. Virgin Trains) appears to be lacking. So the Summer Row rescue plan looks more like a sticking plaster than a long-term solution.
By now some of you might be thinking that if this has all been brought about by the recession and government cuts, what else is on the cards. If you read the article it refers to “run-down shops [being] demolished or spruced up, and traders given grants to help boost business“. Again it is scatter gun, it is expenditure rather than investment, it lacks a heart or purpose and it seems much more a gesture than genuine strategy. Instead of a knee-jerk approach the answer lies first and fore-most in looking at what the city does have. It has a long, broad and diverse cultural heritage on which to draw. It gets better gigs (I don’t mean footballers here) than Birmingham and they are more intimate. Its culinary offerings are diverse and interesting. But when it comes to shops we are sadly lagging behind. The solution is not to attract or merely relocate the main chains but to create a diverse shopping experience. The City could start with the market. Whenever I go to another town or city, especailly aborad I always check out the local markets. The are the life of these places. So why not for Wolverhampton. And for those who think we don’t have the resources to support an independent revolution just look to the west of the City and the surrounding villages of Staffordshire and Shropshire. Indeed, there are plenty of suppliers, growers and producers in this area who could supply that change. So why not develop that critical element of the strategy, investing in the City and guaranteeing a future in which we can all share and be proud.
Regeneration of urban areas is like recovering from illness – you face pressure to conform to the “ideal” but finding yourself is the route to positive and lasting change. I really hope someone listens to this plea for my City.
This afternoon I read Cyclismespandelles’ blog on cycling and depression. I think the blog speaks eloquently for itself and I’d encourage you all to read it – cyclists because our love can be a dangerous obsession, non-cyclists because…well, because you read my blog so must have some interest in this (and it still could happen to you!). I’ve also commented on the blog itself so you can read my additional thoughts there. And if you found it helpful please pass it on to others.