Monthly Archives: April 2013

This Time I’m Being Serious – I Need Your Help!

Unlike me what? Well trust me, this time what I am about to reveal is no laughing matter.

For the past four years or so I have been an avid campaigner and volunteer for the Motor Neurone Disease Association. For those of you who have never heard of MND as it’s commonly known, here are five key facts:-

1. It is a neurological condition which affects the brain and spinal chord
2. Approx 5,000 people have the disease in the UK
3. MND leaves people trapped in a failing body unable to walk, talk or feed themselves
4. Around half of those diagnosed die within 2-5 years
5. Five people die from MND every day in the UK

Not only does this cruel disease kill around 1,500 people in the UK every year , but there is currently no cure or effective treatment. While researchers have made some significant breakthroughs in recent years, we are still many years away from either treatment or a cure. Contrary to popular myth, it is not an old person’s disease, it is becoming increasingly common to see young and fit men and women succumb to the ravages that this disease inflicts.

A good friend of mine, Richard Dawson, lost his father to MND several years ago and has been on a mission to raise funds for and awareness of, a disease which many people remain ignorant of. As part of this mission he has a London Cab named MaNDy which he takes around the country helping him in his quest. See the pic below.

MaNDY

Last night he posted on his facebook page the following;-

Hi all ! The press is running hot on the topic of Motor Neurone Diesase currently as Mark Maddox is running the London Marathon which is simply simply stunning and I currently have one eye on the tele.. go go MARK !!!

I want to keep up the pressure on the press and I need your help. Many of you will know me as Richard “MND MaNDy Taxi” Dawson and over the last 8 weeks I have been putting pressure on the BBC One Show and other media to pick up the story of the BigMNDrace and what amazing work others are doing to raise awareness and funds for MND and MND Scotland. Cycling, Swimming the Solent, Climbing Everest, the list is endless
But alas – they are not responding to me and I am now calling you all to action – lets see if the power of over 243 friends I have on Facebook and help get the taxi, and some other high profile MND supporters and sufferers on The One Show.

So the plan:

1) Can you all e-mail “theoneshow@bbc.co.uk” tell them about MND who you knew with it, who you know with it currently – what it means to you and that we need the One Shows support to help run our story and raise national awareness.

2) Send them the press release link as well
http://bigmndrace.com/tag/press-release/

3) Do you have any other media contacts ? Press, TV, Media, how can they help ?

The power of many is key ! lets see what we can all do. This is not about me getting on TV – this is about smashing the awareness in June ! getting as much national coverage as possible.

In return – I will drive this old taxi to Fort William, climb Ben Nevis and Drive it back…and I will ensure we capitalise on as much PR as possible

Cheers

Richard

For those of you who were enthralled by the London Marathon yesterday, in his post Richard refers to Mark Maddox, a former professional footballer for Altrincham FC, who was diagnosed with MND in 2010. Despite this, Mark not only ran the Liverpool Marathon last year, but this year he completed the London race – defying medical opinion in the process – in a very respectable time of 6 hours and 40 minutes.

If you want to read more about this extraordinary man’s achievement click on this link http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-22213895

So come on you lot, please help Richard by emailing theoneshow@bbc.co.uk to help publicise this and other incredible things people are doing to raise funds and increase awareness of a disease you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. I have personally witnessed the affect MND has; not only on the person living with it; but also those who are left behind, and it’s not pleasant.

For Mark, Richard and everyone doing their bit over the coming months especially during MND Awareness Month in June, your help spreading the message to all and any media outlets would be much appreciated.

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Why Some Public Services Should Think About Their Use Of Social Media

This may seem a peculiar title for a blog, but I’m sure most of us who use social media have had occasion to tweet or post messages to providers of public services – more often in frustration than hope – when something goes awry.

I have as regular readers will know, had occasion to swap tweets with Royal Mail in the past about the performance of some of their operatives. Most recently this occurred when an item of post, that should have been delivered to the new owners of our former home, was instead re-directed to our new address by mistake. Human error is one thing and all of us make mistakes from time to time, it is inevitable; however the opposite of inevitable is evitable, meaning capable of being avoided, and provides an appropriate way with which to describe my recent experience with London Midland Trains. I suspect that the tale I am about to tell is not that unusual; but with the increase in use of social media use by public services (even privatised ones), there really ought to be a better degree of awareness when posting replies in the public domain to aggrieved customers.

On Wednesday April 17th, I went to the launch of the new Institute of Creative and Critical Writing at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. This exciting new initiative by Birmingham City University, included several readings of poetry and short stories by well-know writers such as Helen Cross, Patrick McGuiness and David Morley. Normally I try to buy my train tickets online given that my nearest station at Bloxwich is unmanned with no ticket machine, and I either collect them at a main station such as Walsall or have them sent by post if ordered several days in advance. On this occasion I caught the 17:08 local London Midland service into Birmingham New Street deciding to pay the Conductor on the train – I assume they are still called conductors – for a return from Bloxwich to New Street as is normal practice in such circumstances. When the train arrived and the doors opened the Conductor was standing in the carriage I entered, so having sat down I waited patiently with correct change in hand (£4.35) to purchase said return fare. I waited, and I waited, train stopped at Walsall, waited again, stopped at Tame Bridge Parkway where several passengers got on as they also did at Walsall, and still no sign of a conductor who by now one would have thought, had more than ample reason to move through the train checking tickets or collecting fares. Some ten minutes later we began the stop/start entry into New Street itself, and by this time it was clear, the Conductor wasn’t going to bother with such mundane matters as doing the job he was being paid to do. So at 17:36 I tweeted the following;-

BlackCountryLondoner‏@michaelcronogue17 Apr
@londonmidland conductor on train not bothering to collect fares so am hoping there’s someone at New St who can!!

Having alighted the train I found the excess fares area by the exit barrier and duly paid the fare telling the Collector that the Conductor had not bothered to collect the fares himself. He was not impressed. I did mention I had tweeted this but couldn’t be sure when/if I would get a response.

So at 17:44 I was surprised to receive this response from @LondonMidland;-

London MidlandVerified account‏@LondonMidland
@michaelcronogue which service are you on? Conductors are usually towards rear of service if you need to buy ticket

My response was to post the following;-

BlackCountryLondoner‏@michaelcronogue
@LondonMidland funny, thought it was their job to check tickets and allow passengers to buy where no ticket machine exists like at Bloxwich?

Which yielded the following from London Midland;-

London MidlandVerified account‏@LondonMidland17 Apr
@michaelcronogue Checking tickets is part of their role but main job is to open/close doors.

Firstly, the conductors on these trains usually sit in the rear cab so unless you catch them at a future stop if they don’t come through the train, going to be a bit difficult to buy a ticket. Secondly, the doors on the LM rolling stock all have buttons which allow passengers to open the doors themselves, all the conductors or drivers have to do is to close the doors afterwards before departure.

So having shaken my head in bewilderment at the ridiculous responses, I made my way to the Ikon returning in time to catch the 21:17 service home again. Upon arriving back at New Street I was astonished to find nobody manning the barrier to check I had a valid ticket before travelling. The whole place lacked any kind of uniformed official either from the railway companies or the Transport Police, which given its strategic importance as a main hub, I regarded as somewhat disturbing. On the return journey home nobody came through the carriages checking either for tickets or the state of the drunks, even though there’s usually only two coaches on this service. On getting off the train, lo and behold, the Conductor had a colleague sitting in the rear cab with him. Now he may have been going home for all I know, but clearly the person actually on duty was more interested in having a gossip than carrying out his duties.

I refrained from tweeting this as I was not confident of getting any sort of coherent response. According to figures released by ATOC, the Association of Train Operating Companies, some 110,000 passenger journeys are made each day by people evading the correct fare. In terms of lost revenue this costs some £200 million, enough to upgrade a quarter of the existing station stock each year making them more attractive and less fearful places, particularly for lone females or young people who have to use them at these times.

On other occasions I have used London Midland Services, there have times when there have been not only the conductors but several so-called Revenue Protection officers on the trains going up and down the carriages checking tickets and collecting fares, sometimes in a quite aggressive manner, thereby proving the old adage about putting a uniform on someone and they think they become God.

Do they do this because of safety in numbers? Or are they trying to show in as a dramatic way as possible, that they take a zero tolerance approach to fare evasion? In which case why do they only do this during daylight hours?

Judging by my experience of April 17th, if the railways are serious about improving services for all passengers, they should look at how their staff perform their duties for one, and then think a little more clearly how they respond to concerns raised by the travelling public.

While there are some things in life which are inevitable, most things in fact remain evitable; they are avoidable, even for those manning the social media feeds of public service providers.

Oh, and yes I know Birmingham New Street is owned by Network Rail: just in case someone at London Midland gets to read this, and decides to send in a “helpful” reply regarding the deserted station.

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Oasis Restored Thanks To Prompt Response

This may come as a surprise to those of you who have read some of my previous posts about our local council here in Walsall. However, today on one issue in particular, I am more than happy to provide praise where it is undoubtedly due. On Monday 08th last, I blogged that I had emailed to the countryside service team at Walsall Council complaining about the state of Wallington Heath Pond, especially the traffic cone which had been there since well before Easter. I included some photos to illustrate my point and re-produced the email in the blog.

You may recall I did promise to post any response I received. On Wednesday last (10th) I received the following email from Jayna Mistry from the Walsall Street Pride team;-

Good morning

Thank you for your email below.

I have raised a litter pick/cleansing job for the area, job ref: 695283. This will be carried out as soon as possible.

Having been away from home for a couple of nights I wasn’t able to see the results until this morning, and as the picture below will show, it has indeed been acted on and looks absolutely splendid particularly when the sun makes a welcome appearance.

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Doubtless there will be lazy litter bugs or other thoughtless morons who will continue to use the pond as a convenient dumping ground, despite there being some three litter bins situated in the vicinity. But it is gratifying to know, that there is at least one council department that will act promptly and efficiently to concerns raised by local residents.

So on this occasion, I am happy to raise a glass to the Street Pride team at Walsall Council.

Now, if only we can get the same council to desist with their madcap idea regarding Brownhills Common!!

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An Oasis Fast Becoming An Eyesore

Well it took a while for me to start blogging again. Various reasons abound for not posting on a regular basis since my last posting in May last year. That blog was a bit personal given it was written not long after the deaths of some close family members including my own father.

However with our move from Clayhanger to Bloxwich last December finally settled and having also been concentrating on my poetry outputs of late, I finally have had cause to take up the metaphorical pen and launch yet another diatribe against my old nemesis, Walsall Council.

Below is an extract of the email I sent today to countrysideservices@walsall.gov.uk regarding the state of Wallington Heath pond including photos.

If / when I get a response I’ll post that too!!

Dear Sirs

I am writing to draw your attention to the deplorable condition of this local amenity and what seems to be the lack of action being taken by your department over it. Approx two weeks ago, somebody decided to lob a traffic cone into the pond – how or where they got it from is a mystery – however in that period, I have twice observed some of your operatives emptying the waste bins and replacing the plastic bags yet not one of them has even bothered to cast as much as a glance at it, never mind seeing if it can be retrieved! I have pasted in some pictures I took this morning to illustrate my point.

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At the time of writing this (14:55hrs today) three of your operatives are busy mowing the grass verges around the heath and along Stafford Road in general, and laudable though it may be, given the grass has only just been exposed again following the snow, surely it needs time to recover and grow some before running these machines over it? Or is it a case of well we’ve always done it like this so…..?

This particular area is home to ducks and other wildlife, as well as a popular spot for dog walkers and people who wish to take advantage of the relative peace and quiet despite its proximity to the main A34.

In recent days a football, several cans and other litter has appeared and yet nobody from Walsall Council has, as far as I know, even bothered to inspect the condition and see if it needs cleaning. The closeness to the main road, public footpaths and nearness to several houses, means that the current blight caused by the cone and the litter can be seen clearly whether one is walking, on the bus or driving a car. Leaving it in this state is a poor reflection on the area of Bloxwich generally, and also undermines the work of those who are trying to improve the image of our town through civic partnerships and by attracting new businesses to the area.

Would it be too much to ask that someone from your department venture from the comfort of your depot on the Pelsall Road and arrange for the eyesore of a cone and the rest of the litter be removed, thus restoring the idyllic appearance we all so much enjoy viewing, especially now that the good weather appears to be making a long overdue re-appearance?

Yours Faithfully

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