Shades of corruption

Night-time travel

Rain has been on the lips of virtually anything or anyone moving here in the UK over the past recent weeks.  Ironically it has come on a backdrop where a hosepipe ban had just been reinstated for the low water levels in some eastern parts of the British Isles.  Even while the ban was being read out over local news channels, the rains appeared to be mocking the forecasters. My one and only concern as always is how much sunshine are we going to have for this summer period.  By looks of it, recession hasn’t been limited to the financial world alone.  However it is not only recession crippling the Eurozone, nor the never-ending rain causing Britain to become incontinent that captured my interest last week. It was something I’d overheard taking place on a public transport system.

In the haze of dripping rain over the window panes of the bus carrying a mix of night passengers with varying takes on life, the bus driver appeared to exercise something that is slowly diminishing these days. He must have spotted two young ladies running to catch his bus as it prepared to pull away from the stop and decided to stop and wait for them to board.  Perhaps it was because the bus driver was moved because of their gender and the time of night  or maybe his patience levels had not yet been tested on customer care – I really don’t know.  The two passengers proceeded to offer to pay their fare with a £10 note between them.  Now, there is a flat fare throughout the bus network of £1.30 with a pre-pay Oyster card and £2.20 if you are paying by cash. I am pretty sure that these two ladies knew this but seemed unhappy to part with their money towards the cost of their travel – more so when the driver told them he didn’t have any change and they’d be short-changed by 10p until such a time when he got some change. 

The carry-on of passengers boarding the bus without the correct fare or pre-paid tickets did not stop with these two ladies – it seemed to be norm.  Still the bus driver kept repeating the well worn statement “I am not supposed to issue you with tickets – you should get a pre-paid ticket before boarding the bus. But I will accept the exact fare if you have it as I don’t have any change.”  I started to think this ought to be a slogan for Transport for London on their publicity campaigns in varying languages if not signs.

We got to our last destination for the bus and all made to get off the bus.  The two ladies walked down to the bus driver’s cabin and asked him why he had made them pay for their travel.  The driver told them because transport is not free unless a person is carrying the appropriate identification that exempts them.  This reasoning didn’t quite seem to connect with the two ladies, so they pressed on asking him why he felt it necessary to collect money which didn’t go in to his personal pocket but instead went to his company bosses.  Furthermore, they reasoned, he was of “their kind” – meaning he was a black African like they were and as such, this should be reason enough for the driver not to charge them anything but allow them free travel.  Why should he have any affinity towards this company’s collections of travel fares? I left the conversation at the point where the bus driver appeared to have concluded that this was a no-goner of a discussion eating in to his short break before resuming his next run.  To the two ladies – the fact that they were black Africans and the bus driver was also a black African, this alone should entail them to cheat the system in solidarity.

 

The cleaning lady

It is 5:15 in the morning. In the side mirror of the bus you see her approach, heavy weight yet agile in sustained jogging as she joins the group of others already waiting at the bus stop. She makes to board the bus, gasping as she pleads with the driver to let her on. She is one of six ladies returning from a cleaning job. This being one of many odd jobs she no doubt is returning or going from. The area she boards the bus from requires her to have a pre-paid pass (oyster card) or ticket. Only in her rush or perhaps in the hope of saving some coins from the meagre earnings she has just pocketed on this job, she had bargained on the sympathy of the bus driver to let her travel free. It was not to be.

This time, the driver albeit is making the last run of his shift, acquiescent in reproach affirms that she must purchase the ticket from the outside booths before he lets her proceed any further. In solidarity, the others that had been waiting ahead of her at the bus stop all make an effort to assist her in purchasing the ticket. Yet, at the same time praying silently; that the bus driver does not drive off without any of them on board.

It has happened before and the women are all very much aware of this. Drivers short on time, in their allocated shifts will not wait for you to purchase a ticket that should’ve been done before boarding in some parts of central London. This has been the rule for some good 5yrs but it is not well publicised by the transport authority for reasons only known to them. Worse still – if these women miss this bus, it means loss of earnings at their next job. Clock-work is what this country has taught them. Everything has to start and finish on its allocated time. It is a far cry from the lands they’ve flown away from. The dreams they held of a land like “heaven”.

This “heaven” money does not grow on trees – this they have come to understand and accept. It is earned by making sure you work at all odd jobs going at whatever time, night or day, rain or shine, snow or wind. Jobs you do under constant fear of being picked up by immigration officers, or worse, coming across wicked persons whose aim is to cut short your life. They have learnt that not all white persons are kind, generous or eager to help freely as was the initial take.

Yes. Some have died trying to get this “heaven” money. One of the sisters’s bodies was found floating in the river…At first, no one dared come to identify her. For in doing so, it would reveal their own true identities.

The other sister had died out of sheer exhaustion they thought. She’d returned from work, took a bath and went to bed. Only she never woke up. They all said in hindsight she hadn’t seemed well, some even went as far as guessed she was sick with the dreaded disease. Still. It was no use.The medication required her to rest and eat properly. Only the doctors giving her the medication were not aware of her immigration status. Her irregular attendance to clinic an incovenience at worst. Her sole purpose in coming to this “heaven” had been out of trying to earn some money to put her children to school back home. She couldn’t not afford the luxury of prescribed rest nor the proper food. Instead, she had scraped and saved, surviving on KFC’s mainly and the discounted sandwiches at the closing hours in supermarkets. Now she was on confined rest and diet – eternally.

Money or any known assets to send back to help those left behind soon to be divided up between those that know where she kept them…otherwise to disappear in “heaven’s” system.

Budget consultation 2011 – London Borough of Hounslow

Following the actions of the coalition government on the budget and the sacrifices which were to be made by all of us fronted as a necessity to get the economy in the UK back on track, my local council leader sent out a consultative questionnaire to residents gauge our thoughts. I do applaud my council on this exercise I have to say – thank you Mr Jagdish Sharma.

Basically, the Government announced it was substantially reducing the amount of money the council receives to provide services to local people. The local council receives around three quarters of the money from government; the rest comes from council tax and other fees and charges. Those who have had to pay penalty charges for parking/ traffic offenses, residents permits – you name it; will have some idea of these other fees.

One thing I’d not been aware of however that is encompassed in council tax is – bus fares. There I was ranting on about London Transport service and exorbitant fares, and now recent fare rise – unbeknown to me that my council tax also takes a fee for public transport costs for the area I reside in, only the local bus and tube for that matter not reflective of the services rendered. We spot the highest commuter belt in West London with high fees in fares, yet constantly get crammed into over-filled tube carriages which have to make way for luggage and persons travelling to and fro the busiest international airports. The buses – are something else altogether, but bless them for trying. If and when they do operate, the road works have a habit of regulating traffic in addition to the emotions of road users. Since various private firms bought in to the bus transport network, it’s anybody’s guess how employment regulations fare to their workers who mostly now appear to be held in a strangle-hold by the CEO’s or executives whose main objective is acquisition of many routes as possible. Low priority is given to their drivers as to how much pressure delivery of service is placed on them as long as they hit targets of rounds appointed to their duty of call. So if you wonder (putting it mildly here…) as to why that bus driver didn’t stop to pick you up even in broad day light leaving you waving your arms like a lunatic, or if he pulls off without waiting for grand-ma or grand-dad to sit securely in her/his seat amongst all other “lost” driver etiquettes of the past; remember, targets are the aim of this driver’s job and you the customer are surplus to requirement. This is not to excuse some drivers’ actions though who plainly are just rude – but then again – we are all humans and prone to odd behaviour now and then and vice versa, same applies to some of us passengers who are just out to rile anyone for any given opportunity.

Returning to this consultative questionnaire which I’m about to attempt to address at this owl hour, I’m left wondering. The area I reside has a flavour of nationals or individuals. About 7yrs back when I first moved to it, my first parents evening at my daughter’s primary school gave me some insight of the impacts of this. In the year group that had 60 children to a set, albeit streamed, only 4 parents turned up to this parents evening. To say I was concerned is putting it very mildly. I checked my letter to ensure I had the date and time correct – but was put to rest by the Head that all was in order. I hadn’t mixed up my diary. This was quite a normal occurrence I was reassured. Reason in short: most parents couldn’t read and their kids grasped on this fact to keep them in the dark about their progress or lack of it with their school work; those parents who could read were working and in any case saw school as a much needed respite for child-care. Basically this school was written off by most as a “bad” school and Ofsted had certified this not long gone. Yet a fair number of the residents’ offspring attended it and these are some of the persons this questionnaire is targeting to give feedback. Persons that mostly cannot read or even understand the language the questionnaire is written in let alone those who still are struggling to make ends meet by doing more than two jobs. However, I am glad and relieved to say that the situation at this school has since greatly improved.

How can one comment on proposed savings in a sector of service delivery they have not even been educated about in the first instance? Most people struggled to even understand the principles of recycling let alone adhering to planning regulations on over-crowding in a given house that is intended to house 5 persons. Instead, they will insist on tripling this and where possible will convert the back garden shed to take in more with little thought as to how this will impact on other communal services like drainage etc…

The way I see it, those of us who can read and analyse what’s being proposed will mostly favour what we personally benefit from – leaving those who can’t to later find out services they’d been getting are no longer there and getting angry as to why. No reasoning sometimes can get through to some persons when they’ve been fired up I’m afraid and it’s at this point where social unrest might kick in. I do the best I can at community mobilisation awareness, but even I have limits and the voluntary hype which this government is keen to ride on at times grates on my nerves when the reality is far from practical. Hounslow is a borough that appears to be a melting point of a mini global village.

So go figure what the feedback is going to be…
Those that can offer feedback on the consultative exercise, you are most welcome (short of begging!), so visit: http://www.hounslow.gov.uk/consultations