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Close Quarters: Part 2

By Belinda
Continued from yesterday:

When we arrived in Tanyard Close for our vacation, Rob mentioned something about rocks having been placed by workmen from the local housing trust, right in front of the bench where the residents of the close sit in warmer weather. I didn't really pay much attention to what he said about the rocks. They weren't there anymore when we arrived because Rob had moved them to the back of the flats where the lawns go down to the little brook. One of his neighbours said they could always make a rockery out of them.

Apparently they had been placed there to prevent people parking on the grass, but the rocks actually created a tripping hazard, especially in the dark, not to mention the fact that where they had been placed, right in front of the park bench, was at odds with people actually using the bench to sit on. But all of this we were oblivious to when we came back to the close onThursday evening after 7.00, when the Slimming World club was in session in the community hall, and found the parking space outside Mum's flat, as well as every other parking space, taken. So we did what Rob had told us to and parked on the grass at the side of the road temporarily. Paul didn't remember until he was in bed that he had to move the car, but when he did, he got up and went back out into the night and moved it.

A few days before we were to leave for home, Rob came downstairs to Mum's flat in a hurry. The workmen from the housing trust had come back, retrieved the rocks from beneath the trees behind the flats, and apologetically put them back where they had been when Rob moved them. It seemed that one of the neighbours had called the trust to put them back, probably because our car had left tire marks on the grass, which we did feel badly about. Rob was pretty sure he knew which neighbour had called.

Rob explained what had happened and then said, "Belinda, I've called the housing trust and they are sending someone to meet with me. Before they get here I want you to come with me and write down what the parking signs say."

I grabbed a pen and paper and took note of the wording on the two big signs. The intent was clear; the parking in the close was for residents and their visitors.

One sign is right outside the community hall, while at the entrance to the close is another sign, again very clear, ironically with the Slimming World sign right beneath it.

Rob asked me to sit in on the meeting. "I always lose my train of thought under pressure," he said.
I was happy to do anything he asked of me that would be a support.

In addition to both signs, there is a sign on the community hall that specifically directs that parking access to the hall must be kept clear for emergency services and also states that there is free parking just around the corner in a car park which is just behind the Red Lion Pub.

I was sure that if we pointed  this out to the person coming to meet with Rob, they would see the underlying problem and that it had an easy solution.

A few minutes later the door bell rang and a short stocky woman with blond hair stood at the door, and she was accompanied by a Community Service Office, a sort of community policeman.

I welcomed them and invited them into the sitting room, where Mum and Rob were and after the woman and the man who looked like a body guard sat down on the sofa, she asked if Rob knew who had moved the stones.

"Yes," said Rob, "I moved them. They were a tripping hazard."

The woman said, "Thank  you for admitting that; I respect your honesty."

I focused on the underlying issue, which didn't seem to me to be the rocks. I pointed out that the reason people had no choice but to park on the grass was the fact that the people using the hall were not respecting the parking signs. I said that an easy solution would be to make it clear at the outset when bookings were made, that there was no parking in the close, and to send a polite reminder if it still was a problem. I truly believed that most people, with a gentle reminder, would say, "Oh, of course, we're sorry!" And it seemed to me that the small amount of exercise, walking a few meters to a car park, would help the slimmers.

At this point things became surreal. The woman said, "Well, if that's what the signs say, then they say the wrong thing, and I'm going to have to take them down." The twilight zone could not have been more bizarre.

I explained that the parking spaces were needed by carers who come to support the residents of the close, such as Mum's Helping Hands ladies who run to many homes in succession. The woman said, "If they are able bodied they can walk to the car park." Not the slimmers--the carers for the people who live in the close!

I could not believe my ears. I was incredulous, but Rob was getting angry, so I tried to unobtrusively tap him on the knee to signal him to stay calm, but unfortunately Rob misread my signal and thought I meant he should ramp it up a notch!

I was a bit worried that all of this might be upsetting for Mum, but she sat through all of it with no more flicker of emotion than if she was watching a television show. We were probably more entertaining than The Price is Right.

The clincher came when the woman said, "Well, I will write a letter to the slimming club, but if you would like to go around your neighbours and take up a petition, I might be able to do a little bit more."

I thought, "Is it just me or is this getting stranger by the minute? Surely a petition should not be needed to uphold an existing rule."

Rob pointed out to her that he was aware of a law suit by someone from nearby similar housing who had tripped over a tree stump placed for a similar purpose.

But it felt like that the woman's mind was made up, so when she said that this was her opinion, but that her supervisor might say something different, I asked for her supervisor's name and said that I would be contacting her.

Meanwhile, a few moments after the woman and the Community Service Officer left, the poor workmen came back and took the rocks away again.

I went to the website of the housing trust, where there is an impressive list of service standards, including one that says, "Customer care means putting customers first and respecting their rights, needs and views."

Then I wrote an email outlining our concerns and said that it didn't feel like that principle had been in effect when we met that day but that I hoped that it had not been a true reflection of their customer service.

Meanwhile word of the visit spread around the close. I was doing the dishes at the kitchen sink that night when there was a rap at the window. It was Rob's neighbour John, from across the road, on his scooter. His sister is a town counsellor. She had been called by another neighbour and told of the issue. And she was already working on it. "Those rocks will not be coming back," she said.

Meanwhile John told Rob he was wrong about whom he thought had called the housing trust in the first place. In fact, according to John, it was one of the ladies Rob had been chatting with. He had told her he thought he knew who had called, and she didn't tell him that it was her. Of course this is according to John and if it is true, who can blame her for not admitting to it?! :)

In spite of the counsellor's word on the rocks, they did come back. The long suffering workmen brought them back the next morning,  placed them on newspaper outside the community hall, and set about painting them white. This is so that they will show up and be less of a tripping hazard. Unless it snows;  in which case they will be camouflaged.

There is a funny side to all of this, which I have tried to focus on, but today I received an email from the housing trust to say that unbelievably, the signs are to be changed. The email says, in part:
 "In some places we have signs up that have been there many years and would act as a polite notice request only. In this case we believe the sign is misleading." 
Really?? This feels as though the rules are being made up as we go. It's interesting to work in social services here in Canada and be on the other side, trying to work with a system in this case. It feels as though a wall went up and ranks have been closed, and the respect you would hope for is not there. Maybe I am fixated and have tunnel vision and there is something I am not seeing clearly; that has been known to happen! I would love to know what others think. I have tried to be as fair as possible in describing the situation. 

I have replied to the email asking how to go about appealing the conclusion they have come to. It may not make any difference, but at least we will have done our best.


It is interesting to be on the other side of the table, isn't it. I found that, after becoming disabled, that being the one waiting for evaluation was very different that being the one keeping someone waiting. Very. In my heart of hearts, I'm guessing that the basis of this issue is money. They don't want to do anything to upset the club because they want that rent money. If that means changing policies that respect the residents, so be it. From what I've read about the crisis in services in Britian it seems that every decision will be made based on costs not on values. I think there is, as you pointed out, something farcical about people who want to slim not being people willing to park a block away! But none of that is what you asked us to comment on ... forgive me the liberties I've taken ... you are right, it's bizzare! A simple solution wrapped up in red tape to become the wrong solution.
Belinda, may I ask a big favour. Would you mind increasing the font size of your posts just a tad. I'm getting older by the minute, as we all are, and I'm finding your posts increasingly difficult to read. It's easy to do, I've done it on my blog, at the request of a reader, and it makes it so much more accessible.
Marilyn said…
Anne of Green Gables could not have done better. (No intention of poking fun.) I'm totally sympathetic to the heart of one trying her best to clarify, communicate and be a force for resolution, only to be frustrated at every turn.

Your mother's response seemed dear to me.
Belinda said…
Dave thank you for your support in the spirit of this. Because sometimes you think, "Is it just me or is this really going the wrong way?"

And I will be happy to increase the font on the blog. It will help me too!
patriciapaddey said…
As I read your post of this exceedingly situation, I thought of these words: "Grace under pressure!" Well done, Belinda.
patriciapaddey said…
Sorry - I meant to say "exceedingly silly" situation!
Oh, Belinda, thank you. Your blog is so much easier for me to read. I really appreciate it. I don't know why I didn't mention it earlier. Sometimes I came to read and my eyes were too tired to read the smallish print. Now, I can read no matter the state of my eyes!! Thanks!
Belinda said…
Thank you Patricia. I didn't feel graceful--more like a dog with a bone! :) But I've put the bone down now.
Belinda said…
Dave, I am so glad it is better now.
Lynda said…
Hi Belinda;

Please pick up that bone again! "No" is not an acceptable "solution".

In my experience, putting faces to an issue frequently garners better understanding and respect for another's perspective.

May I suggest that perhaps your Mum and neighbours pay a friendly visit to the Slimmers club folks? Conversational rather than confrontational, visible with their mobility aids & carers.

Sometimes going right to the source to work out options, leaving out the middle layer of bureaucrats is more effective ;-)

Best to all,
Belinda said…
Lynda, I left out of the story the fact that in our meeting with the woman and the community service officer/body guard, she said, "We cannot police the parking issue."

Rob said, "Then maybe I can go over to the club and point out the parking rules."

This was when he was quite angry, mind you.

Immediately the CSO jumped in and said, "I advice you against that as you could find yourself getting hurt."

I think he was responding to Rob's anger, but he didn't want the neighbours taking it into their own hands, that was clear.

Since then, the woman at the meeting has written to the slimming club. All along my point was that the people at this group would very likely respond with a thanks for the reminder, or apology, if they hadn't realized the impact of taking away the parking spaces. It was when the woman then said that the signs were wrong that I felt the meeting was going downhill completely.

I have had a couple of very nice emails from the local housing trust since I climbed down a little from the high horse I had got onto. I can't make them change their mind about what they do with the signs unless I get into a bigger campaign--which I would, if Rob wanted me to--but he doesn't.
Belinda said…
P.S. I hadn't finished when I accidentally pressed, "publish" on my last comment. Lynda, I thank you for your encouragement to continue. I do believe that the issue was addressed wrongly by the housing trust and is disrespectful of those who live in the close (the churned up grass seems more important than the real issue) but I respect Rob's wishes. My continuing in spite of them wouldn't feel right.

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