Why we need Wandsworth’s services here too…

You know that expression “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone“?
It’s beginning to feel a bit like that since moving out of Wandsworth.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad we don’t live in London any more. Yes I miss my lovely church, the playgroup friends my son and I had both made, the common on which we walked through the seasons, the proximity to gastronome’s delight Northcote Road and the copious and regular buses that eased the morning commute.
But we barely used facilities after 8pm (you don’t when you have to be home with a baby) so access to the West End, concerts, restaurant deals etc. had started not to matter.  And everything’s so expensive in London! 
I like the feeling of cleaner air in my lungs, having a garden, being nearer to my family, neighbours that say “hello” even if they’ve not met you before, a much bigger selection of shops nearby, proximity to the sea etc. etc.
Life is not all fab in the provinces. Much will be improved when we’re not renting but living in our own house – I didn’t believe I’d have got as used to owning as I have. Needing a car offends my greener sensibilities, And even with the new trains, the trebling of my commute is a bit of a bugger. But I’ve great hopes for the new bus system that’s proposed and fully intend to get involved in the consultation on that and anything else to help this town handling taking on another 29,000 houses in the next 20 years.

But the big thing I miss is the efficiency of Wandsworth Council.
I know it sounds daft. 
There may be readers in London falling off their chairs in disbelief.  May be it’s just that we’d got used to how they do things there.  May be it seems better in retrospect – but may be it really is good? 

We’ve moved into a beacon council area and I’m finding contact to let the local district council know we’ve done so incredibly frustrating. Phonelines that allegedly open at 8.30 but are still not open at 9.30, very long response periods following email contact (having tried by phone, I emailed – got an autoreply but who knows when I’ll get a proper response).

And just don’t get me started on the rubbish – we’ve got the weirdest recycling policy here: Wandsworth gets you to bung everything in one bag (delivering endless rolls of orange bags to your door) and collecting weekly, with a very extensive range of things that are accepted for recycling. My town gives you a medium-sized blue crate and a very restrictive policy (newspaper but not paper, no envelopes, no plastics, no tetrapaks, no shredding…), only collects every other Friday (and even then it’s only if you’re actually in the town centre) telling you that the rest can be handled at supermarkets and the local dump (sorry, recycling centre).  And the dump is tiny – the queues there at the weekend are unbelievable, the parking access is crazy and it barely seems to be able to handle the waste from the town the size it is.  Somewhere else is definitely going to be needed when the town expands.

I’m not at all bothered about the political complexion of the Councils – actually I think they’re broadly similar. 
But we’re paying about twice as much in Council tax for a property in the same band. 
I’m sure the Council does try to keep costs down and to soend money wisely.  It’s just that I really don’t think the services are twice as good here as they are in Wandsworth. (Yes, I know that services that I benefit from directly are not everything that the council tax charge covers but even so that’s one hell of a difference!)

I guess this bothers me because I want to feel confident as a resident that the decisions around the huge expansion of the town will take into account everything I would want them to.
I’m not sure quite sure what that would be yet but off the top of my head (and my husband’s, in between watching the X Factor) decent, affordable, regular public transport; communities with soul meaning things like light, spacious common gathering places not just shops and roundabouts; decent primary schools with enough places in communities and within walking distance; high quality childcare that enables rail commuters to get back to do the child pick-up without having to leave the office before 5pm; more department store being tempted into town; serious waste recycling with weekly collections of both normal waste and recycling (which should be allowed to be as much as a household produces not just one box-full); compulsory eco features in any new building developments (solar panels, rainwater harvesting etc.); green spaces… and achieving some of that will need to be about judicious spending of public money.
At some point I’ll put a bit more thought into that list.  

I think the main point for me is that the local government initiatives that are getting the headlines are the ones in Hammersmith and Fulham, or in Barnet.  Some seem so obvious you wonder why they’re not a normal part of planning deals, like the linking of provision of transport services and local facilities such as a library to the building of a massive new shopping centre – others I must need to read more about because what I’ve seen so far sounded like a policy of allowing people to pay more to shift themselves up the planning queue?
But while Wandsworth hasn’t really got huge shiny initatives like that, what it does have is the lowest concil tax in the country.  How?
I guess it might have is stonkingly good procurement contracts that mean that the services get delivered, and low levels of corruption (which a former councillor friend tells me can be an issue in local politics).  Of the two, the contracts seem to be key.

It’s never going to be a winning electoral slogan (“vote for me and I’ll revolutionise council procurement policy”) but if it could mean lower taxes people could be won over, I reckon.  Or leave more money available for doing all the good things you want done locally.  Or both.
And for a town with a big future ahead of it, doing what you do well, and using decent contracting to keep a handle on the things you get others to do for you – hmmm. 
I wonder if the Council here’s considered a trip to Wandsworth to see how it can be done?

Robbie’s Bodies obsession

Image c/o www.bandwallpapers.net

I’m beginning to think I care more about pop music now than I did as a teenager.

Back then it was about deciding that Bros were unattractive, Chesney Hawkes had a preposterous mole, New Kids on the Block were probably the band which- if I was a fan – would stop the huge amount of bullying I was subject to (ironically it made let me be part of the crowd that was cool enough for just long enough to escape that school), and that I was too old for Take That, first time round.

Now, it’s what they sing that touches me.  I love the retrospective irony of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab”, both “Violet Hill” and “When I ruled the world” from Coldplay, Bill Bailey’s “Tinselworm” take on the mock profundity of The Killers’ “I got soul but I’m not a Soldier” (how much do you want to sing “I got ham but I’m not a hamster” now?) and the new incarnation of Take That.  Just to name a few that have been on the radio this morning.

But Robbie Williams.  Don’t you just want to give him a really big hug? 

He was on the X Factor last weekend and he looked hollow eyed, hyper from the applause and the love of the audience, still not quite right despite the time out and the rehab.  The GQ interview this month (November 2009) shows that he’s found love but that he’s still searching for something that the fame, the money and the UFOs just don’t give him.

There’s been some interesting discussion online of his latest single “Bodies”, with some Christian groups taking offence at his direct references to Jesus (“Jesus really died for me, Jesus really tried for me” ok, the chrous at the end “Jesus didn’t die for you” not so fine, altohugh we’ll come back to whether that’s what he actually says later). 

The song itself is a hodgepodge of religious symbolism – the Bhuddist Bhodi tree, the concept of eating life and becoming a god, plus the Jesus references.  But these references are so direct, so clear that it’s not a case of searching for meaning in a song where its not supposed to be.

References to religion are not new to Robbie’s music.  They are there in earlier stuff but are referencing other things, or ironic, or sometimes its hard to tell- alongside the obvious “Angels” and “Better Man” check out “Feel” which looks like a cry from the soul but is actually Woody Allen : “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” But then, perhaps Woody Allen himself quoting something he knew of old?  It’s also been pointed out that this is pretty much what Psalms 33:10 says in the bible: מאן טראַוך, גאָט לאַוך.
This translates as Mann traoch, Gott läuch, or Man plans, God laughs (and plays merry hell with the direction of your browser text, but never mind).

Religion’s a tricky one in pop music. 
Music has a way of making you respond – that why we’ve always had hymns in the church and why there’s such an explosion of worship music (for non-church goers that’s the happy clappy or slow and repetitive stuff that often does seem to have such stonking tunes to belt out as the older stuff). 
The film Sister Act actually shows what close proximity there is between the love expressed in the words of 1960s Motown music and the language we use to talk about our relatonship with God. 
But I generally think of pop music as secular and about human relationship with each other more than about our relationship with God. 
References to God, Jesus or indeed other faiths that pop up when you’re listening to pop music can jar a bit and leave you wondering about the purpose of the music rather than just being a fab song to dance to etc. I guess The Script’s song “Break even” is a good example for me, with its line “just prayed to a God that I don’t believe in” a key component of the rhyme of its chorus.  Or any of Madonna’s stuff post both before and after finding her own faith, Kabbalah. 
But then Madonna – whether confusing sexual highs and religious ecstacy in “Like a Prayer” or strapped to a giant mirrored cross on her Confessions tour to sing “Live to Tell” – is no stranger to the power of the publicity that you can get by getting Christian groups angry.

So what is Robbie getting at?
It’s the end of the song in particular that intrigues me.  Here it is courtesy of www.wannabepriest.com (yes really):

Praying for the rapture,
‘Cause it’s stranger getting stranger
And everything’s contagious
It’s the modern middle ages
All day every day
And if Jesus really died for me
Then Jesus really tried for me
Jesus didn’t die for you, what do you want?
(I want perfection)
Jesus didn’t die for you, what are you on?
Oh Lord
(Jesus really died for you) Ohh
(Jesus really died for you)
(Jesus really died for you) Ohh

I think there’s three possibilities here.
1) Robbie is confused about what he believes is out there – he thinks it is possible that there’s something in Christianity’s message, but can’t get passed the one, ultimate truth point (if Christianity is the only way to God then what about all the other religions?  What happens to their believers?)  As he can’t get beyond that, or the attractiveness of there being more truths out there (for example, aliens), he is trying to lump together as many accessible phrases as he can in one song whilst pointing out that the majority are only obsessed with what they look like (something they need to be saved from) and that’s pointless as bodies just end up in the cemetery. 
What about the Jesus didn’t die for you? Robbie himself has intimated that he stuffed this in at the end to generate contraversy and headlines, but it doesn’t half sound like this is an insight into a debate round and round in his head.  Somewhere else it’s been said that it was a comment towards President Bush and his war policy.  Hmm.  Nice theory, but I just can’t see it that way in the context of the rest of the song;

2) Robbie is cynical and nihilistic about faith- it’s all just words, and all we ever really wanted was to look good naked.  Pointless, all of it, as we’re just bodies that end up in the cemetery.  And as for Jesus didn’t die for you, if that didn’t happen then what do you want life to be about and what are you – Christians- on to think so? Or what are you non-Christians on to cope with the fact that there is no meaning?
Seriously, how could you even get out of bed in the morning if this was your outlook?

3) Robbie as found faith in Christian America as a way of getting of the prescription drugs.  Realising the UK and worldwide mainstream record markets outside the US don’t go a bundle on evangelical tracks, he’s tucked this into something more mixed to ensure airplay…

I could go on about the reference to the rapture (best tweet I’ve seen on this “atheists to look after Christians pets after the rapture”…) or the constant references to perfection, but I’m not going to.  You get my point about the imagery.

Realistically, I think that if Robbie had actually become a Christian he’d be uncompromising.  As I tried to explain when commenting on the website tagline that said “Jesus died for someone’s sins but not mine” (which I’m now told is not just a punk slogan as I said – having seen it in “The Rotters Club” – but the first line of Patti Smith’s seminal album “Horses”), no Christian, knowing themself to be a sinner, but forgiven, could really honestly say to someone else that Jesus didn’t die for their sins – to give judgement in that way, to declare the other person to be without hope when we’re not in the position to see as God sees… to me it’s unthinkable.
But nor do I see in Robbie a hardline atheist.  He may say that he’s read Dawkins, but so what?  So have I and if anything it strengthened my faith because I saw that a strawman, a parody of what I believe, could easily be knocked down.  But not the resurrection.  And if that’s historical fact, then everyone needs to take a position on it.

So I rather suspect that Robbie’s still muddling on, trying to think it all through while getting on with the trappings of a popstar’s life and the baggage of everyday life.
As are the majority of people in the western world.  Well, maybe not the popstar bit (though look at the number of X Factor auditionees and guess how many want to…) 

It would be a shame, would it not, if life did turn out to be about bleaching our hair, getting a St Tropez and partying til we puke?

But as I say, don’t you just want to give him a hug and tell him it’ll all be ok?

Shared sleeping – scare stories and scary stuff

There’s been a lot on the news today about how parents are “ignoring the warnings” about co-sleeping with babies, and that co-sleeping has found to be a factor in almost half of cot deaths. 

I should at this point declare an interest – there’s been a cot death in my family and I’ve seen the impact it’s had on everyone, even one decade on.

There’s a lot of conflicting advice on this – physical closeness to the baby when it’s happy and relaxed is thought to help stimulate a mother’s milk production and being able to breastfeed is thought to be clearly best (although perhaps why is not quite as clear cut as had been made out by some of the more militant campaigners).

But the argument put forward by those that co-sleep – that parents and children have co-slept successfully for millions of years – doesn’t quite carry the weight they think it does.  It was once pointed out that there is no word, no equivalent of widow/widower or orphan, for parents that lose a child becoause none of us can contemplate something so awful.  This is true – and false.  Until the late 20th century, losing a child was a common experience, heartrending, awful, but common.  My own grandmother was one of ten, but only six made it to adulthood.  We have absolutely no proof that co-sleeping was or was not a factor as records of that sort of thing were not kept.  But it is reasonable to assume that if it’s a factor now, it may well have been then.

I cannot say that we have never co-slept with my son.  He’s a toddler now, and often ended up in our bed.  Sometimes it’s the only way to get any of you a night’s sleep.
But mindful of the loss our family had experienced, we were so careful throughout the first six months of his life.  Despite his colic, despite the evidence from the hospital that he would only sleep if in physical contact with me, we perservered and he slept in a crib then a cot, feet to foot-of-the-bed, with a dummy.  I fought to stay awake in nightfeeds, always going downstairs to sit upright then returning him to his cot, me to my bed.  It appears the co-sleeping death figures include falling asleep on sofas.

And in the first six months we never co-slept.  It’s just not worth the risk.
We also never let him in if we’d had a drink, and kept him in a grobag on top of our covers – we’re very lucky to have a wide bed.

Would we co-sleep if there’s a next one?  Again, certainly not in the first 6 months and ideally not in the first year.  But sometimes it’s the only way to get some rest.

So making it illegal would be too much of an overreaction.  And the police investigations after a cot death are harrowing. But parents need to know about the risks, and make responsible choices.  Even if they are tired.