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Writer’s Rust

When you think about it, the end of the year is a peculiar thing, isn’t it?

On the one hand it’s all fairly easy-to-understand (but no means simple). The planet Earth is about to complete another orbit of its star – easy, right? Same thing that happens every year, and will happen for billions of years to come… That’s unless we blow it up or create an extinction event for ourselves, of course.

On the other hand, it evokes all manner of feelings amongst our species and is deeply complex. Even the paragraph above will be no exception. To those who believe that climate change will reach an endgame by 2030 there are around 10 more cycles until we reach a point of no return for humanity.

For others, the turning of the year is a reflective time for different reasons. It’s an opportunity to look back at the calendar for the year just gone and think about what we achieved in those 365 days so neatly defined by Pope Gregory XIII in his system. I love the history of it all and how it has shaped our humanity, by the way, but that’s probably a topic for another time. I need to keep on point.

As I sit here in my kitchen, in my humble home in Redditch, Worcestershire, looking over to the blank space on the wall where our calendar was until recently (we’re waiting for the new one to arrive) I find myself hovering over the keys and wondering whether to even continue writing this post. It’s been a while since I’ve written anything like this.

I’ve done posts about local issues, but nowhere near as many as I wanted to do. Nowhere near to the depth that I wanted to go into. Nowhere near the way I used to write back when blogging was a thing – way before Facebook kids. I’m old school.

It’s not writer’s block as such, it’s more anxiety to be frank with you. But as part of my reflection on the years gone by and the relative few years I have left on this planet, I decided that I love writing too much, and I profoundly regret not doing more of it (even if nobody reads it and nobody cares). I simply enjoy doing it, and whilst I’m not seeking attention here, I do think it makes sense to write stuff in a place where other people can see it if they choose to.

But there’s another source of my writer’s anxiety too.

Misinterpretation. In this age it seems to be wilful misinterpretation too. Spin, to give it the name that we use in the political industry that I now find myself (albeit at a local level). It’s nerve-wracking, and the fear of being misinterpreted has paralysed my writing.

At the Borough Council where I am a local Councillor I am responsible for a department. Another guy looks after another area that provides concessionary rents (that is to say a hefty discount on rents for groups who do good things in the town). The whole town needs to save money – big time. So, a proposal has been put on the table to remove this concession scheme, which has proven to be quite the controversial topic locally.

So, where’s the binary thinking? Here it comes.

Someone has noticed that the Borough Council also spends over £40,000 of taxpayers’ money on two events – a fireworks display around the 5th November every year, and an annual music festival. It has been suggested that we can cut one or both of these events in order to avoid having to remove concessionary rents from good cause operators in the town.

Doesn’t seem like such a bad thing, right? Why send money up in smoke when you could be using it to support good causes, right?

Well… the thing is, we could do both. But I’m struggling in my role to get people to see this, and thanks to social media the binary thinking problem is amplified quite quickly. Maybe it’s because the option of simply turning these events ‘off’ and funding a concessionary rents scheme for good causes ‘on’ is also a simple notion that lets us just move on from the problem and get on with our lives.

Binary thinking of this nature is also not helped by a deep funding crisis in local government that forces people to look at services provided by a council in financial terms only and plays one service off against another.

However, we are missing a trick. Over the past year or so the team in my department have been looking at how we can make those events turn from costing the taxpayer money every year to actually making money for the taxpayers instead.

They’ve come up with some promising results. For example, voluntary gate charges is one thing that could generate revenue. We trialled it by asking people to make donations into a bucket, but the takings were too low to make any impact, so instead we are looking at how we can make ‘the ask’ a bit more overt without the need to install gates, fencing and payment processing infrastructure to get into the event. If we do that the whole operation ends up costing more money.

The team are also working with vendors and providers of services that can be operated under licence or contract to bring in more money at the events too. Again, promising results so far.

The end results, if we get this right, will be more money coming into the council to pay for more things that people want – like funding for the voluntary and community sector.

However, the public pressure to simply cut the events and give up is immense, and every move I try to make to ensure we do both seems to result in misinterpretation, wilful or not.

For example as I write this blog post I have in the back of my mind that someone from the opposing political party (or someone who supports it) will read my remarks above and will try to seize on them in some manner. Not to help the topic evolve, not to offer some other angles to think about, not even to make representations for people – none of that. They’ll be looking for something to ‘get him’ with.

It’s been happening a lot in 2019, and on this topic too. They tried to ‘get me’ over a decision I made to give money raised from the voluntary collections at the events over to the good causes sector. Yes, you read that right – there were people actively trying to undermine fundraising efforts because they placed more value on causing me and my party potential political embarrassment. They tried to claim that voluntary collections at these events was illegal for some reason – except it is not – and in doing so reduced the overall amount raised for voluntary and community groups in the town.

Therein lies the second reason why I’ve been reluctant to write – the ever-present danger that as soon as I say or do anything there is someone there ready and waiting to pounce, sometimes within minutes of the material being written. Sometimes they’re on my own side too as there are those locally who appear to be hell-bent on internal factionalism.

Whereas what I would dearly love is actual genuine engagement in the topic at hand. A debate on how to solve the problems. Ideas on others things to look at and try. The reason I haven’t been writing about what’s going on and where my thinking is going with problems is, in part, because the world currently seems incapable of having rational debates that provide an ideas race to the top. Instead, we seem to be engaged in a depressing race to the bottom, and every single time I saw one of my blog or Facebook posts be torpedoed to those depths of despair and division I became reluctant to venture into the water again.

But I have decided to publish and be damned. To write anyway. To see my words twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, as Kipling wrote, and to simply pick myself up and keep going if that happens.

Therefore, whilst this is a blog post that is lacking in so many areas it essentially only has one purpose – to knock the rust off my fingers, to blow the dust out of my mind, and to announce to the world – whether friend or foe – that in the year ahead, at the start of the glorious 2020’s, I will start writing again.

That is my resolution. That is my 2020 challenge. To think, and distill those thoughts into the written word. To dare to share.

Get ready, 2020. I’m back.

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