Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Edgware local News - Larches Community Market - launch details

Larches Community Market

Every Friday-11am to 3pm.

Opening date : Friday 1st March 2013

Larches House, No 1 Rectory Lane, Edgware, Middlesex, HA8 7LF

“Larches Community for people with learning disabilities and autism are passionate about building Inclusive Communities.  We are continually looking for people with ideas to create and develop exciting opportunities that will encourage everyone to learn skills, make new friends and have fun together!   We are especially keen to help develop all this and more, in Our London Borough of Barnet.”
Linda Edwards 

Everyone Welcome!

If you would like to be a stallholder, please email:

Larches Community Market is a locally organised and managed market aiming to include quality, ethically produced food and original crafts to our community. Stallholders are chosen for their proximity to the market, their sustainable food production methods, and interest in quality produce and products.

We will be steered by the wishes of the local community, and encourage local people, producers and community groups to participate.  Larches Community is particularly keen to encourage craft makers and other unusual items.  We will be selling our own Social Enterprise crafts made by people with learning disabilities and autism.

Stalls will include:
  • Smoothies - made from a bicycle driven smoothie maker.
  • Woods bakery - breads and scones and pastry
  • Local honey and beeswax products
  • Ballentye farm bio dynamic soft fruits, vegetables and eggs
  • Blackwater - a coffee cart to die for!
  • Cheese and cakes
  • Craft Stalls
  • Vintage clothes and handbags
  • Cookery Demonstration
Please let us know what other stalls would you like to see?

 Our Aims
  • We want to give budding entrepreneurs a chance to try out their retail ideas and to help bring communities more opportunities.
·         We are keen to encourage local people to come together with mutually beneficial aims.
·         We want to encourage the West side of Barnet Borough to be more of a hub of the community.
·         We want to support community cohesion and provide a living model of an alternative, more sustainable way to feed ourselves.

Additional Support

We would like to offer to support your craft and to provide a chance for the people you support to see how a market place works and maybe to get involved.

Do you or someone you know have a craft product that you are looking to promote and develop? We would like to support you in your exciting venture.

We have a business entrepreneur who has offered his business support to local budding entrepreneurs.  Book yourself a stall & see where your business goes!

Our Future
We believe there are endless possibilities depending on what people can do, and that most people can do more than they think they can!

We hope Larches Community Market will help to inspire people to think ‘outside the box’, to learn more about where our food comes from, gain experience of how to develop business ideas, and enjoy a sense of community and belonging. 

With support of local people, we hope that the market will thrive and grow. Many traders have expressed an interest in having a stall and we are planning to encourage more local traders to get involved. If you are one of these people, please do get in touch.

 The Barnet Eye is always pleased to support local groups and events. Send us the details and we'll share it with the tens of thousands of people who look at our blog every month. 

Age Concern UK - training for the 10K run - Day 2

For those of you who are interested, I am running 10K for Age Concern UK at Crystal Palace on March 10th - full details here  -

Wanna join the team? Sign up and get in touch. The justgiving page will follow. 

I'm tracking my training and preparation here. At the weigh in on Monday I was 95 kilos (just under 15 stone). I plan to run four days a week Mon -Weds & Fri,  Sat is a rest day and Thurs & Sun I play five a side football. I will post all of my training details here as well as my progress.

Here is todays run -

Here is my progress -

Today was a hard session, but actually physically easier than my session on Monday when I ran the same time and did less distance & cals (not logged). Early days, but a good start to the training. We've started recruiting other members for the team as well!

For anyone planning a run, it is good to use a tool like Mapmyrun. It helps set goals and monitor progress (maybe I'm just a nerd about such things, but it motivates me!).

If you want to join the team, email me via the link in the top right hand corner of the blog.

Barnet Council document exposes shambles in parking

Documents on the Barnet Council website expose the total destruction of the parking revenues caused by disgraced former parking supremos Brian Coleman and his massive hike in parking charges. The document details the changes to charges in Edgware, to try and bring shoppers back. The cat is let out of the bag in section three of this report
3.2 The proposed measures and reductions in tariff have been designed to cater for local trading demands and to encourage a higher patronage and turnover of spaces in the Edgware area. There is a theoretical risk that the reduced parking tariffs may not improve turnover and patronage to achieve the increase in parking income. This has been assessed against existing generated income, which is currently significantly below the level predicted for the current financial year. Should income not match currently achieved parking revenue, then a recovery plan will be developed by the Environment, Planning and Regeneration directorate to mitigate
the loss in revenue.
What will cause much consternation amongst shop owners in other parts of the Borough is the fact charges in Edgware have been massively lowered. This will give traders in Edgware a significant competetive advantage over traders in other High Streets. The new charges are as follows:-

8.24 It is therefore considered that the following changes be introduced:
Reduce the parking tariffs in certain short stay (existing 1 hour 30 minutes
maximum stay) pay by phone parking places on Station Road, Hale Lane, Manor
Park Crescent, Penshurst Gardens, Edgwarebury Lane, The Drive, and High Street
(Edgware Road) to:

Up to 15 mins: £0.35
Up to 30 mins: £0.65
Up to 1 hour: £1.30
Up to 1.5 hours: £1.95

Here is the document. Check the table in appendix C to see just how badly Colemans parking hike hit revenues. It completely supports traders Leader Helen Michael's assertion that the crackpot scheme has been completely botched and has damaged the council revenue as much as it damaged traders business.

I can only wonder what Helen will have to say when she sees that despite all her conversations with Coleman and his replacement Dean Cohen, people will be able to park in Edgware for half an hour for 65p. I would love to be a fly on the wall when she finds out .

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Age Concern 10K challenge

When I was 25 years old (half a lifetime ago), I could run 10K in approx 30 minutes. I decided to run in the London Marathon and undertook a gruelling 40 week training schedule (based on a program designed by Seb Coe). Mill Hill is an ideal place to live if you want to train for a marathon. It has lots of hills! Five days a week, I would get up at 6am and do the necessary running. I was determined to complete the course in under three hours. Whilst not every aspect of my lifestyle was conducive to such a performance, I was on a mission. I changed my eating habits and to some degree moderated my drinking. My typical run was around 7 miles and involved fartlek running (sprinting up hills and lazily jogging down them) for Milespit Hill, Wills Grove, Hammers Lane and Highwood Hill in Mill Hill. It was a punishing course, but I was focussed and very serious about it. The previous year, I'd had a major health scare and nearly died.

What shocked me was how well my body adapted to the regime. At the height of my illness (I'd had a severe stomach bleed and couldn't eat for 4 weeks and was in hospital for six), my weight had dipped to 8 1/2 stone. Unbeknown to me, some of my friends had decided that I had AIDS and was dying (I only found this out a couple of years ago). I'd lost all body muscle and most of my fat reserves. I'd been careful and had eaten a vegetarian diet. I wasn't drinking and I was also practising guitar for three hours a day to fill the gaps. On top of that, I was putting a new band line up together.

I had found out that I had a natural aptitude for distance running. I'd never been any good at sprints, so I'd just assumed I was not sporty. The running was a revelation. What was more I really enjoyed it. I had set a punishing target for the Marathon of 2hrs 45mins. I knew if I really trained hard, it may be attainable. I chose not to tell anyone - I just got on with it. I went in for a couple of shorter runs and did exceptionally well.

You may wonder how I got on with the Marathon, what time did I do? The answer? I didn't, three months before the set date, I got run over. That was the end of my running. By the time I'd recovered from the obvious damage (I still get back pain from the fracture to L2 vertebrae), it was done and dusted and I'd given up. After that, I just couldn't be bothered. I have not run seriously since.

Anyway 25 years later and five stone heavier than I was then, I was in Cafe Buzz, having a chat with Helen Michael and she said that Age Concern UK were looking for people to take part in a 10K run. Julia Hines, chair of Age UK Barnet was looking to put a Barnet team in. One of my goals for the year is to get my weight below 14 stone. To facilitate this, I gave up boozing for January, but here we are at the end of January and the weight is stubbornly stuck at 15 stone. So what better way to get the weight off than do a 10K run.

Having given the matter some serious thought, I decided I wouldn't do the challenge, if I didn't feel I could physically complete the course in less than 1 hour. So how could I tell. I haven't run for more than 25 minutes for years. Could I manage an hour. So I decided I'd set myself a challenge to see. Yesterday I  ran for 1 hour at the gym at a fairly easy pace. Today I did a 5k run on the hill circuit, again at a steady easy jog. If I could do both without too much trouble, I'd sign up. My main concern was that my back injury would kick in. It was fine.

Anyway, having just completed the two trial runs. I have taken the plunge. I have signed up. I know that no one else on the planet is the slightest bit interested in this, but I will be logging my daily training here so you can see how I get on. I will log the training regime, my weight and how I get on as I go. I don't know if this link will work for you, I'll try it later, but here is todays workout. I will also put up a just giving page as soon as I've set it up - - this is a great little app if you are training. It lets you see how far you've run and how many calories you've used.

If anyone else fancies doing the run for Age UK Barnet, get in touch. We'll get a team together. If  a fat git who is a  physical wreck like me can have a go, anyone can

One Barnet - The billion pound gamble exposed

There is an interesting DPR on the council website. It details how the council calculates how much revenue it will raise from Council tax. You can see this here  -

As regular readers will know, Barnet Council is handing "revs and bens" over to Capita as part of the mega "One Barnet" outsourcing project. Every Barnet Council document has a Risk Management Issues section. In this document it says

3.1 Over estimation of the council tax base would result in a deficit in the tax collected, which would need to be made good in full from the council tax in subsequent years.
Under estimation would result in a council tax higher than necessary.
3.2 As a number of assumptions have been made when setting the scheme with regards to collection rate and take up for council tax support, there is a risk on the collection fund. The risk will be borne by both London Borough of Barnet and Greater London Assembly (GLA).
What is of major concern to me is the fact that Barnet Council have deliberately chosen to ignore the biggest risk of all in relation to Council tax revenues. This risk is that the handing over of "revs and bens" (the bit of the council that collects Council Tax) to Capita as part of the One Barnet program will disrupt the income stream. The document estimates that the collection rate will be 98.5%. This is a figure Barnet Council have not managed in the past. They assume that in a period of change, they will perform far better than they have previously. By outsourcing the department all of the experienced staff, who know the local area will be replaced with staff scattered across the country. Will the new regime perform better than the existing team? Who knows, but surely it's a risk.  As such I sent the email below to the Leader, Deputy Leader and One Barnet project sponsor. I've also copied in the head of legal and the opposition group leaders. As the issue affects the GLA, I've alsp copied GLA rep Andrew Dismore.

From: Roger Tichborne
Sent: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 9:27 AM
Subject: Possible negligence by Barnet Council in relation to collection of Council Tax

Dear Councillors Cornelius, Thomas and Rams,
I have just been reading the document on the council website "Council Tax Base 2013/14" -
This document states in the risks section
3.1 Over estimation of the council tax base would result in a deficit in the tax collected, which would need to be made good in full from the council tax in subsequent years. Under estimation would result in a council tax higher than necessary.
3.2 As a number of assumptions have been made when setting the scheme with regards to collection rate and take up for council tax support, there is a risk on the collection fund. The risk will be borne by both London Borough of Barnet and Greater London Assembly (GLA).
This section should detail all of the possible risks to collection. As you are well aware, revs and bens are being outsourced to Capita. The document states that the collection rate will be 98.5%.
Should collection fall below this as a result of issues with the disruption to work caused by One Barnet, then clearly there is a risk to council finances. Surely this should be stated in the appropriate section and the relevant plans be in place to mitigate it.
I am aware that the council believes they have a  "guarantee", but should the cause of the issue be outside of the scope of what is allowed for in the contract, this guarantee will not apply. As this will also affect GLA revenues, it is clear that the matter must be flagged up.
Whatever the councils view of this risk, it is a statement of fact that one in four major public outsourcing exercises have failed to deliver. As such it is clearly negligent to ignore this as a risk to council finances. I would appreciate a response sooner rather than later as to why this risk hasn't been considered and what Barnet Council are doing to mitigate this.
In the event that there are problems with collection, which affects Council finances adversely, it can clearly be demonstrated that the Council has been negligent in not addressing this, now the issue  has been flagged.
Roger Tichborne

I would urge anyone with similar concerns to contact the Council immediately. If the cash isn't collected, then ultimately the taxpayer (us) will have to bale out the council for its incompetence.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Barnet wants us to tell them what we think of its Adult Social Care!

There is a press relase on the Council website, saying they want to hear peoples views about adult social care.

It says:
"Barnet Council wants to know what residents and service users would like to see in this year’s Local Account, an overview of the year from a social care perspective. Outlining the successes and challenges in adult social care in 2012, the Local Account gives residents a clear and easily accessible report on how well adult social care services are performing.The council has developed an online survey designed to find out what worked well in the last Local Account and what could be improved for next time around.Questions include asking residents if they found it easy to access and understand, as well as whether it provided balanced information about the performance of Barnet’s social care services.
         Councillor Sachin Rajput, Cabinet Member for Adults, said:
"We heard back from many residents about our first Local Account, saying it was informative and helped them know which services are available. Obviously, the more feedback we have the better, as it means we can focus on what is important to our residents. Social care is a vital area which influences all aspects of our lives. We want residents to tell us what they want to know about these essential services we provide, so we can improve on last year’s Local Account."
This year’s Local Account will cover achievements over the past year, including the awarding of Supporting Independence Fund money to several local organisations, now developing exciting new projects to support Barnet residents. 
Local community and voluntary organisations have been asked for their input, and the council is working with Barnet Link to get more residents involved in having their say on this year’s report."
Whilst on the face of it, one may think that it is a good thing that Barnet want to get feedback, they don't actually put a link to the survey or tell us how to find it. It isn't listed on the consultations hub. In the past when they have consulted residents about adult social care, when they haven't got the answer they liked, they simply ignored the survey. A prime example was sheltered housing, where they abolished the warden service, despite over 85% of residents saying they wanted to keep it.

Like many things Barnet, it is a cock up. If you want to particpate click here. If you or a relative has experience of Adult social care, it is the only way to get your point across, even if they completely ignore it as usual.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Saturday List #32 - Songs about Aeroplanes and Air Travel

On my studio twitter feed, I said I'd list our top ten songs about aircraft and flying when we got 747 followers. Here is that list

#1 - The Steve Miller Band - Jet Airliner
#2 - Country Joe and the Fish - Flying High
#3 - The Dambusters March
#4 - Frank Sinatra - Come fly with Me
#5 - Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) - Woodie Guthrie
#6 - The Byrds - Eight Miles High
#7 - 10CC - I'm Mandy Fly me
#8 - Enola Gay - Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
#9 - Twenty Flight Rock - Eddie Cochrane
#10 - Leaving on a Jet Plane - Peter, Paul and Mary
Hope there's something you like in the list

Friday, 25 January 2013


Councillor Robert Rams tweeted a link to Conservative Home calling for an end to Equality Impact Assessments. Instead, it suggests equality issues should be considered from the outset and form part of the planning. 

The difficulty with this is that equality issues are often not properly thought through at the outset of planning a new policy and recognising the effect a policy has on some groups requires some specialist input. So having a formal assessment focuses the mind. 

The difficulty is that politicians believe that equality impact assessments stop them introducing policies they want to and are a barrier rather than a positive thing. I don’t think this is true. I think they strengthen policies and ensure they will work in practice.

Let’s look at two local examples.
Cashless Parking
The Council controversially decided to introduce pay by phone parking because it would save them money on collecting cash from meters and repairing others which had been vandalised in order to steal the coins.
The only equality impact assessment performed was on the effect on staff, not residents or users. As a result, the Council failed to recognise that 40% of older people do not own a mobile phone and that those with hearing impairments have difficulty using them in noisy roads. They did not appreciate how vulnerable people, particularly women, would feel using mobile phones in the street.
As a result they ploughed ahead with the policy, which was an abject disaster. Footfall on local high streets fell by 35%, shops closed, and parking income fell dramatically.
If they had thought it through, they might have considered having an option to pay by card in a machine as well as pay by phone. I think all drivers have cards and can chip and pin. The savings could have been made without the devastating impact on the policy.

Channel Shift
Barnet council wants to put all its services online and encourage people to use their website. This is much cheaper for them. If it is cheaper for them, then there is more money for other things, so this is a good plan.
Figures I have seen quoted elsewhere say that an online interaction costs the councils 18p, telephone interactions cost £2.62 and a counter service costs £8.30.
But unless the Council takes into account that 60% of older people have never been online they will not achieve the savings they aspire to, and will foster resentment amongst residents. Disabled people are also more likely to be digitally excluded. Both these groups are big users of council services.
An equality impact assessment should highlight this. There is also a simple answer. Not abandoning the policy, but putting some investment, a tiny percentage of the cost of the channel shift project, into teaching older people to get online. 

This means that the policy will work and the cost can be easily covered by the savings which may well meet the projections. Which means, of course, that the funding for this should come from the IT/ Communications budget, not Social Services. This is another scary principle for our politicians, but in my view totally appropriate. Communication is about communicating with everyone and, despite the fact that there are other benefits to helping people become digitally included, Social Services’ budget should primarily be about care and support. 

Yes, Conservative Home is right to say that the tick box is not the most important thing. The important thing is to integrate equality impact assessments into the planning of a new policy and to view them as a vital and important part of that planning. EIAs don’t work if they are an add-on, tagged onto the end. But that does not mean that they have no value. As Conservative Home says, equalities impacts are important and until thinking them through is wholeheartedly embraced then an assessment is a useful process to go through. If you use the information you gain.
Julia Hines
Guest blogs are always welcome at the Barnet Eye

The Friday Joke - 25/1/2012

Well I had a lovely joke lined up for you today, but I couldn't post it because of a far bigger joke - BT Business Broadband. All day, I've had no service. I did all the things you are supposed to do, but no luck. Eventually I rang the BT Broadband help number. They informed me that there was a 20 - 30 minute wait for calls to be answered. So I waited 25 minutes, tying up our studio booking line and doubtless losing customer bookings as a result. After 25 minutes, I got through. "Ah yes sir, we have a fault on our system. Because we've sent you a reminded for your bill, we've stopped your service". What? Have I not piad on time? "Oh no, it's a problem on our system sir". So I've got nothing done all day and been kept on a phone for 25 minutes, because of an administrative error? "yes sir, but we've fixed it now, we've had lots of calls about this today, that is why you had to wait so long".

My response "I'm not going to say what I suppose everyone else has said".

I just wish it was the first of February. I need a beer. Or 17.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Great News - One Barnet winning bidder Capita are using lie detectors

Great news, it appears that Capita have developed a new innovation for improving the way local authorities conduct their business. They are introducing lie detecting software into call centres to cut down benefit fraud in Cornwall.

Whilst the usual suspects bleat about invasion of privacy and big brother society, but I for one am chuffed at the prospect of lie detectors in the Town Hall.

In the article, Deputy Leader of the Council Dan Thomas says
“It is part of our contract that Capita will look closely at groups of residents where there may be an element of fraud. The council offers several million pounds of discounts and over the duration of the contract Capita would be able to save the council a lot of money by tackling fraud.”
Well roll on the day they introduce it into the Council Chamber. That is one group of residents I'd be absolutely fascinated to see take lie detector tests. Maybe they could install a big flashing neon Pork Pie above the Mayors seat. If a member tells a whopper, the pork pie could flash and the Mayor could send him into the naughty corner.

There is one Councillor above all others who I think would literally set the council chamber alight if such software was installed. I'm not going to name him, but I caught him out tweeting that he was at Mill Hill Library when he wasn't. That is one of the more minor "illuminations" that he's given the people of Barnet over the years.  I've sat through countless Council meetings where Councillors have mislead the public (and each other). I've often wondered if they are doing it deliberately or whether they are actually too thick to realise and have simply swallowed a line that the Officers have fed them. The flashing pork pie would settle the debate for once and for all time.

And what about using the software to catch hapless fraudsters diddling the taxpayer out of millions of pounds. Well I ask you this. Were you affected by the RBS computer glitch where millions of people did not receive wages and didn't pay bills. That was caused by a supposedly robust bit of software not working properly. Have you ever received a bill or invoice that a computer incorrectly calculated? Have you ever tried to pay a bill electronicallly only for it to go wrong and not pay it or pay it three times.

Well if any of these things have happened to you, just imagine that your reputation and your liberty was being threatened by a piece of software, prone to such failures. How would you feel if you were flagged up as fraudster. I did some research on this. It appears that the best in class software is about 80% accurate. So every fifth person who rings up will get a dodgy result. The council says that "other checks will be performed to ensure that fraud has actually taken place". What they don't say is that the unlucky 20% will be flagged up as potential fraudsters. I have five siblings. If they all had to claim benefits and all were honest and decent, one would be flagged up for "investigation" by Capita's system, for no other reason than their software is crap. How would you feel if that was you? And you know what "Mud sticks". Some people will always think that because a computer said "You may be dodgy" you may be dodgy.

Now all of my reservations will be washed away if they install the flashing pork pie in the Council chamber. If Barnet Council want to prove such as system works, they can do it on themselves first. If they decide that was a success, I'd have no objection to a wider trial.

Dyslexia blog - Power, control, hiding and the art of running away

For those of you who haven't read my dyslexia blogs before, here is a little preamble and introduction, so you know who I am and what I do and why I write this stuff. For those of you who know the story, skip to the end of the paragraph for todays installment. Let me give you a bit of Background so you know who I am and what I do. I was born in 1962. I didn't start talking until I was 4 years old (at all, not a single word). My parents thought I was deaf. My reading age at eleven was 5. When I was fifteen I started a rock and roll band called the False Dots, the band is still going strong. When I was 16 I started a business called Mill Hill Music Complex (although then it was simply called the studio), a rehearsal studio, as we had nowhere to rehearse. The business has grown into a very successful enterprise, one of Londons biggest and most well respected independent studios. We now have 16 studios and a music shop and also have a photography/video studio and a dance studio. I also have done IT work, mostly on a freelance basis since 1983. In 2012 I also moved into film production, producing two highly acclaimed documentary films, both of which had screenings at the House of Commons. When I was 31, a friend suggested I had a dyslexia test. To my surprise I was told I was moderately dyslexic. This made me interested in the subject. To my amazement, what I have learned over the years is that my lack of educational aptitude, my feelings of anger and injustice and the core of my personality have been formed by the fact I cannot read words in a linear fashion. In 2013, I have set one of my objectives to use this blog to let dyslexics know they are not alone, to suggest that people who think they may be dyslexic to get an assessment and toget people who have dyslexic children or siblings to understand the issues that they face.

I witnessed an incident today which put in sharp focus something which has been nibbling away at me for years. If you hear the word, teacher what do you immediately think? Is the image positive or negative? What about if I said Police officer? What if I said charity worker? The view society holds of teachers is generally a positive one. It is a profession which you study and receive qualifications to join. Similarly the police force. There is a training regime and and a process of assessment. What do both professions have in common? They both exercise a degree of control over people. A good teacher and a good police officer will make a massive difference in the community. Sadly bad ones cause huge problems and issues. The question is, who do they create problems for? The answer is perhaps not as obvious as you may think. The answer is that they create problems for us all. So you may ask, how does a teacher who fails little Johnny who lives in Grahame Park with his mum, when you are in your gated mansion in Totteridge? Well there are several ways. If little Johnny doesn't get on at school, he won't get a good job. Just suppose little Johnny is dyslexic and highly intelligent. Just suppose his under achievement is the result of lazy teachers not recognising his dyslexia and giving him the help he needs to achieve his potential? Little Johnny might just get angry, mightn't he? Little Johnny might just get excluded from school, because his anger and frustrations get the better of him. Now maybe, just maybe, one could argue that if a child at school is behaving in a way that seems rather irrational, a bit of time could be spent trying to get to the bottom of why he is violent, abusive or disruptive? Sadly however, it is far easier just to kick him out. So for arguments sake, little Johnny is fourteen years old, with time on his hands. Mum is out at work. Little Johnny starts hanging around with some older kids.

Now this is the good bit. All of a sudden, little Johnny finds a way to feel a little less different from his peers, a little less angry. He finds that all of a sudden he's not rejected and laughed at? Sounds good doesn't it? Little Johnny for the first time in a long time feels a sense of belonging. Would you begrudge Little Johnny those feelings. He's been miserable and angry for so long now, are you so cruel as to snatch the feeling of happiness away? Well if you are Mr Police Officer and you catch little Johnny hanging around with a bunch of older kids who are smoking weed, yes you probably will. You will probably surmise that little Johnny, who has been excluded from school and is now shoplifting to get money to buy some weed is a bit of a naughty boy. So Johnny ends up with a criminal record. That makes it hard for little Johnny to get a job, as if things weren't bad enough already. And how does little Johnny feel about teachers, how does he feel about the police? The lines are drawn. So little Johnny, ten years later is Big John. Now Big John doesn't take any shit off anyone. Big John is hard. Big John has been inside a couple of times. Big John is not a man you mess with. Big John is a bit of a psycho, but he's alright if you want to score a bit of puff, just don't get on the wrong side of him. If you are lucky and you catch big John in the right mode, he might open up. You might find that he's got a piercing intelligence. Then all of a sudden, he goes into one. Why? You were sitting in the pub, having a pint. Your mate comes over and shows you the front page of the Sun. It is hilarious. You show Big John and for no reason at all he goes mental.

And so yet again the Police are called. Big John has gone beserk in the pub. He's arrested and goes back inside. Why did he flip? He was sitting there having a nice drink? Was it all of the drugs in his blood stream? No one said anything? He disappears and you don't think about it. Big John comes out of prison after six months and finds himself homeless. It is a harsh world and merely to survive takes its toll. He's big, bad, dangerous and unpredictable. He is your worst nightmare. He'll rob you given a chance. He'll rob your house. He doesn't care about you. You are rich, you are comfortable. Your teacher didn't victimise you. The Police don't hassle you. People don't look at the floor when you walk into your local pub.

Big John sleeps on the streets. He feels safer there. It is a life of sorts. He's met the teacher, they have failed him. He's met the Police Officer, they hate him. Now he meets the charity worker. He despises them. There they are, holier than though. They give him breakfast, with a patronising grin. Like the teacher and the policeman, if he upsets them, he's out on his ear. But then he needs a bit of warmth, a bit of breakfast and there is nowhere left to go. The teacher couldn't break little Johnnys spirit. The Police Officer couldn't tame Big Johns anger, but now, twenty years down the line, he's old John. He's only forty six but he looks twenty years older. A life of rough sleeping, drugs, drink and violence have left its scars.

And one day old John, will die. No one will mourn his passing. He will not be missed. His friends on the street are casual aquaintences, with relationships forged through necessity. And then one day, a bizarre thing happens. That patronising git with the phoney smile, who serves him breakfast says something. He mentions he's dyslexic and has trouble reading to another smug charity worker. The smug bastard. Old John wants to punch him. What right has he got to say something like that? Him, who sleeps in a nice house and helps out of a sense of "charity". Old John thinks to himself "C*nt, I'll tell him what it's really like". He waits until none of the other charity workers are around. "I heard you say you were dyslexic and had trouble reading". The smug bastard replied "yeah, I had a lot of problems when I was a kid, I couldn't read properly until I was twelve". Old John delivers his tour de force "Yeah, I can't read. I once glassed someone and took there eye out because they put a newspaper in front of me". The smug bastard doesn't look as shocked as old John expected "Yeah, I used to get really angry. I would hide or make trouble to get out of having to read". All of a sudden old John isn't old John any more. He isn't big John anymore. He isn't a threat anymore. He isn't trying to impress anyone or intimidate anyone anymore. He is little Johnny and for the first time in along time , someone has actually said something he can relate to. He says "Yeah, you really used to feel like that?" And the smug bastard says "I still do occasionally. If I get cornered in a situation, I sometimes find it hard to suppress my anger. Especially if I see authority being abused". Little Johnny responds "I hate the Police, they have it in for me". The smug bastard says "have you ever been assessed for dyslexia?". Little Johnny responds "What is the point, I can't read or write?" Smug bastard says "I didn't realise I was dyslexic until I was thirty one. When I found out about it, a lot of things became clear. I realised why when I was at school, I always did worse than kids I was cleverer than in tests". Little Johnny said "I never realised anyone else ever felt like that". With that Little Johnny walked off.

In case you hadn't guessed, I am the smug bastard. It may not surprise you to know that Little Johnny has had his name and details changed for the purpose of this blog. The conversation happened about six months ago. Little Johnny, having thought about it for a few months still isn't ready to address the issues. He has sworn me to secrecy about it, which I respect. He tells me he'll do something when he's ready. He seems a bit less angry and a bit more approachable. He will pass the time of day a bit more. For all I know, he may not be dyslexic. What I do know is that a) he's been in prison b) he can't read or write c) he's angry d) he's intelligent e) he's used crime as a means to support his lifestyle for a long time f) he has substance abuse issues. On a bad day he'll say nothing. On a good day he'll say four or five sentences. He won't say anything if anyone else is in earshot. He is one of many people who use the day centre who have problems. Of the 80-90 people I served breakfast to this morning, he is just one of a sea of faces, who'd lives haven't worked out how they had hoped. He is not the worst person there. He has never caused trouble. He is quite anonymous really and I'd not have guessed any of the story unless he'd told me the odd snippet. Much of it I've made up or embellished. I don't know when he was expelled or when he started taking drugs, I don't even know if it really did give him a sense of belonging. He isn't one for discussing his inner feelings. I can only guess. Maybe it just dulled the horror of the situation. The faded prison tats tell some of the story, the one liners tell a bit more. Perhaps one day, we'll have the whole story? I doubt it.

And what was the incident? After little John said his cursory two sentences, he sat down. Someone else showed him a copy of the Metro. Eden Hazard kicked a ball boy. The other guy said "Did you see what Hazard did?" Big John replied "Sorry I can't read, what does it say?" The other guy said "Oh, sorry, it says Hazard kicked the ball boy at the Swansea game because he wouldn't give the ball back". Big John said "thats out of order". As he said that, he caught my eye, for a millionth of a second. Recognition? Progress? who knows.

I have noticed something about dyslexics. We are very good at hiding and running away. We are in a constant state of denial. We are also extremely good at reading other peoples body language. I assume it is something we learned at school, as we desperately sought to avoid humiliation and punishment. The residual anger is perhaps the worst aspect (for me). I think it is a defence mechanism. Unlike little Johnny, I try and avoid violence as a solution, but I am not in his situation. How angry do you have to be to glass someone, rather than to confess that you can't read the headline on the Sun? How bad must you feel about yourself?

I am hoping that the incident today was a sign that things maybe are changing for old John. At the start of this blog, I asked what you may think when you heard teacher, police officer, charity worker? Old John told me a while back that "When I first saw you in here I thought you were a c*nt, but you are alright". If I have changed his perception a bit of charity workers, that is progress. 

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Guest Blog Mill Hill Residents Association meeting - by Richard Logue

By Richard Logue,
The Mill Hill Residents Association  (MHRA) has been in existence since 1909 however we hadn't had the number of volunteers we needed to really run the Association properly in the last few years. Several members have kept the association alive in recent years and have been making their presence felt at local committees and contact with the council. we do now however have a committee comprised of old and new members up and running again.

We know that once a local facility is taken away it won't come back, so we believe we are going to need to fight for our community, especially since the council is becoming less accountable to residents through the restricted Residents Forums, the One Barnet project and council decisions made like the imposition of the expensive cashless parking system. Our fire station, police service and our libraries are also under threat means that unless the community stands up to be counted our voice simply won't be heard. Having said that, we aren't political - we don't endorse any political party - we just want to ensure local facilities are preserved for the benefit of all.

We will be holding a public meeting on Tuesday 29th January at 8pm in St Paul's school hall on the Ridgeway. Please come along and let us know what you consider to be the key issues in our community. More information is available on our website
Guest blogs publicising community events are always welcome at The Barnet Eye