|On Friday I spent an enjoyable couple of hours with a man who was dressed in normal clothes but wearing a black beanie-type hat on his head, a lady who was wearing the kind of clothes I would wear (nothing revealing), and a lady in a pretty dress with a blue scarf wrapped around her head and shoulders. (Remember the colour of the scarf. The reason why will be obvious a bit later.)|
All three people had one thing in common - they are all Muslim. They are all very kind people as well.
I am not going to tell you their names (because I don't want one of them to get into trouble) nor am I going to quote them directly (for the same reason).
As we were talking the subject got round to various aspects of Islam and other people's opinions and ignorance of it. One of the three was a bit upset because they had apparently been informed that they should not be their normal outgoing, bubbly, self, due to their attire. Now - even though I am not a Muslim - even I know that Muslims are allowed to have a laugh and a joke regardless of what they happen to be wearing. Well, with one possible exception. Muslim ladies who dress head to foot in black complete with black niqab don't exactly give the impression they have a sense of humour anyway.
As I pointed out - I could have understood my friend being told off for being their bubbly self if they were dressed all in black complete with black niqab as Muslim ladies who dress like that attempt to merge with the scenery as much as possible (if it was an invisibility cloak I am sure they would be much happier). Let's just say that the first time I saw my scarf (hijab) wearing friend I liked them immediately because they were wearing a bright pink hijab. Extremely easy on my eyes. A tip - if you insist on wearing a hijab the more brightly coloured the better. Remember I said that my friend was wearing a blue scarf (hijab) on Friday??? I immediately pointed out that I could have understood the comment if they had been dressed head to foot in black complete with niqab but not when my friend was dressed as she was. All three friends agreed. One of them even said your beliefs are not worn on the outside. It is what is on the inside that counts.
On Sunday morning I heard a sermon which was roughly along the same lines (at least that is how it came over to me. This was almost repeated by two very close friends of mine but not in as many words - in fact - one of my friends repeated it in how she acted around me. She is one of those people who I only have to be in their presence and I feel my batteries recharging (her hugs and smiles are like express recharges).
You may have seen the term "Performing Seal" either on this blog or on the Simple Solutions blog???
This is the term I use to describe when I feel like I am "on show" and I have to act a certain way (this usually means I feel like I have to be like everyone else - even when I know it is virtually impossible).
Yes - I have got a sight problem (or visual impairment). I have been "socially trained" to hide it much as possible when I can. And - if you want proof - I could name at least two very close friends of mine who told me they hadn't realised exactly how bad my sight is until they read my blog.
However, sometimes I just want to be able to be me. Even if it actually involves me taking my glasses off when I am sitting down with my friends. (Don't worry - I wouldn't dream of walking around in public without my glasses!!! I know my limits!!!). I think I have stated before that my glasses actually place boundaries on me which don't exist if I haven't got them on.
Allow me to attempt to explain what I mean.
When I am wearing my glasses I feel like I have to act like everyone else because I am obviously different to most people I know (a large proportion of my friends either do not wear glasses at all or only wear them part time). Whereas, if I don't wear my glasses I look like most of my friends. The fact that I can only see clearly approximately 3 centimetres from the end of my nose - therefore rendering me both functionally useless and a danger to myself and others if I attempt to wander around in places I don't know - is beside the point. I can read (if I hold whatever I am reading close to my face), I can successfully drink a cup of tea and much a sandwich, etc. Just don't ask me to walk around very far. I have tricks to help me do what I need to in the event of me either losing or breaking my glasses. (Why do you think I wear glasses with metal frames which are either blue, silvery-grey or - as in the ones I am currently wearing - brown??? They are easy for me to pick out from most colours of background).
It is to stressful to hide who we are all the time.
|It may shock you to learn that I am the most dangerous person you know. (I am guessing that if you have ever met me in real life you are now looking at that sentence and thinking "but you are kind, gentle, you care for and about your friends??? Thank worst thing you do is argue people into the ground when you don't agree with them. Oh - and you can be extremely stubborn". This is true. But I am still dangerous.)|
Have you ever asked yourself why I am so kind and caring??? No - it isn't because I am trying to get on your good side and gain your trust before I commit some terrible crime against you. In fact - the exact opposite is genuinely the case. I am extremely protective of my friends. Anyone upsets any of my friends they also end up with an upset Ineke. An upset Ineke is not very friendly - especially when dealing with someone who has upset her friends.
Don't worry - I am not physically violent (although I think I could give some of my friends who are into Martial Arts a run for their money if I put my mind to it) nor am I verbally abusive. The Lifeform who has upset my friend will be made aware of their error as they are spoken to in a calm manner. Failure to heed the warning will result in them being ignored completely.
So - why did I say I am dangerous??? Well, if I treated people who I don't like or agree with in the same way I have been treated by people at school and in my last job I would be looking at a potential prison sentence.
I am not going to tell you exactly what form the physical bullying I was subjected to at school took (let's just say - if it had happened anywhere else I think the bullies in question would have been looking at a charge of Attempted Murder in one instance). What I want to talk about is the effects bullying still has on me today.
Well, you already know about one of them. If I consider you a friend you are cared for and about (including worried about).
Another (not so nice) effect is the time it takes me to trust someone. I am not joking when I say it has been known to take literally years for me to trust people
A slightly odd effect is - the more threatening you look when I first meet you the more chance you have of me talking to you uninvited. However, the more friendly you look (unless we are in the same room as an existing friend of mine) the less chance you have of me speaking to you uninvited. (Of course, if I know you from Social Media before we meet in real life your ears may be talked off anyway.)
Bullying can happen directly and intentionally (as my experience at school testify) as well as indirectly and unintentionally (as some of my experiences at my last job testify).
Allow me to attempt to explain what I mean by "indirectly and unintentionally". On several occasions in my last job I was actually what could euphemistically be called "Collateral Damage" - as in - I wasn't the intended target of the bullying but I was still hit by the resulting "shrapnel" when the actual target couldn't get hold of my boss. In a couple of instances I was actually in the same position as the intended target but I couldn't say anything to them because that would have meant me losing my job.
(By the way - the "unintentional indirect bullying" doled out to me by my last boss was concurrent with the direct intentional bullying.)
Two extremely vivid examples of the "unintentional indirect bullying" were as follows (and they put me off the idea of ever working in an office again);
The less serious of the two was being informed that "if you work for a liar and a thief that makes you one as well". What the person who said that to me didn't know was he and I were both waiting to be paid (similar timescale vastly different sums of money).
The second (and much more serious) one was when a very serious allegation was made about my then employer which had the incident occured in this country - would have resulted in me going to the nearest Police station to report my employer.
Bullying comes in many forms and has long lasting consequences for the survivors. These consequences can range from death (either as a result of being killed by someone else or suicide), to hating yourself, to not trusting anyone, to (and - yes - I have done this) making someone you met years after you left the situation where you were bullied pay for something one of the bullies did to you as a result of the "new" person triggering the same feelings without realising what they did.
Well-meaning people give all sorts of advise on what to do when you are being bullied. Some of it works - some of it is actually downright dangerous. (Unfortunately for me - telling a teacher wasn't exactly an option for me. Partly because I felt that some of my teachers were also bullying me in one way or another - also partly because the one teacher who I can categorically state was never involved in the bullying was not only the form tutor of one of the "attempted murder" bullies but he was also friends (and - as far as I know - still is) with the teacher who I considered to be my second biggest tormentor on the staff of that school - after the Maths Teacher from Hell.
I did end up with a rather strange (and a certain Clinical Psychologist friend of mine might also call it "unhealthy") coping mechanism to deal with the bullying. I ended up pretending it wasn't happening to me. That took me quite some time to master (both at school and in my last job). However, the ironic thing is - that is exactly what is helping me cope with the chemo. Of course I know it is happening to me - having a cannula almost drilled into a vein in your hand every week isn't exactly painless after all. But convincing myself that I am actually at a concert involving some of my favourite singers and musicians whilst the chemo is going in actually helps me to enjoy the experience. All I need is my mobile phone and my earphones. (The only thing which would be better is if my favourite female singer was in the Chemo Suite with me giving me a personal concert!!! Oh well - I can daydream, can't I???)
Ironically, the one piece of advice which nobody gave me but actually works for me is - get creative. In my case, Creative Writing has helped me a lot. I can daydream about different scenarios. One from my schooldays involves a Science Lab full of Bunsen Burners on full blast and a window-opening pole used as a skewer (I will leave it to your imagination as to what I would use the skewer to cook. A clue - a couple of them have already been mentioned.). Please note - I did not live out that particular daydream.
Bullying and other forms of abuse and terrorism are serious crimes with longlasting consequences for the victims. We need to look at making the laws on such crimes much tougher. I am not usually in favour of Capital Punishment but if you make someone's life so miserable they no longer think it is in their interest to continue living - you should be subjected to the exact same treatment. And if you kill someone as a direct result of bullying them you should be given the same treatment.
I know that is in direct contradiction to my Christian beliefs but - when your life has been made as miserable as mine has (to the point where I seriously considered suicide on at least two occasions) the idea of "turn the other cheek" just sounds like an invitation for the bullies to finish the job off for you once and for all.
|If you know me you will know that there are three words which I cannot stand when they are applied to me - "Special", "Inspirational", and "Brave". (I have blogged on here about my reasons for hating "Special" when applied to me). I have blogged on my "Work" blog about why I hate the word "Brave" when applied to me.|
That leaves "Inspirational".
Well, I must admit I don't hate it as much as I do the other two words. It is more that I don't feel I deserve it at all. I know too many people who I would say are far more inspirational than I am. I have introduced some of them to you via this blog and there are others who I would love to introduce you to but I do not have their permission to share their story with you.
I was with one such person today. This lady has shared some of her story with me - and she calls me inspirational??? I am honestly amazed by her caring nature and her emotional strength which has got her to the place she is at now. One of these days I am going to ask her if I can share some of her story with you because - all I am going to say is this lady is a true survivor.
The funniest thing is she told me that she actively looks for anything I post on Facebook and is relieved to find I have posted something. The reason I said that was funny is because I do exactly the same when it comes to looking for her replies. If I see a reply from her it is one which I know is filled with caring and love.
I will give you an example of something which she surprised me by agreeing with me about.
If you have read this blog before you will know that I am not a fan of those Muslim ladies who dress head to foot in black complete with niqab - purely because I have difficulty seeing them in most lighting conditions.
Then Boris Johnson made his extremely ill-advised comments about Muslim ladies, burkas, letterboxes, and domestic abuse/terrorism. The resulting furore left me feeling angry because I already have a major problem with the "Top Trumps" game between the Religious Discrimination Act and the Equalities Act (and the preceding "Disability Discrimination Act).
Allow me to explain - I cannot see a Muslim lady dressed head to foot in black complete with niqab. I have no problems with the lady wishing to cover herself from head to toe if she so desires for whatever reason - she is free to practice her religious beliefs in whatever way she chooses (up to and including wearing a burka if she so desires). My problem is not with the clothing itself (better minds than mine can argue about whether or not it is oppresive to women to dress that way). My problem is with the fact that most Muslim ladies I have seen wandering around Leicester in the niqab are dressed head to foot in black. Let's just say that - not only does wearing all black prevent men from seeing the shape of your body - it also ensures that someone with my sight doesn't process you as a human being at all until I am almost standing on your toes.
Apparently, according to the furore caused by Mr Johnson's ill-advised article, my sight problem puts me in the classification of "Islamophobe". Hmm - if I was an Islamophobe I would not have friends who are Muslim would I???
The lady I was with today was one of three Muslims (one of whom I had not previously known is a Muslim) who actually reassured me that my sight problem didn't make me an Islamophobe - just someone with a sight problem who doesn't find it easy to see people who are dressed head to foot in black.
My friend also said that it is not important what someone wears to practice their religious beliefs - what is important is how they behave. My friend dresses what I would call modestly but doesn't wear a hijab or any other form of "Muslim" clothing. We have a mutual friend who - the first time I saw her - got complimented on her bright pink hijab. And when I say "bright pink" I mean it was a good job my glasses are reactolites (transition lenses) otherwise I might have had a headache as a result of seeing it. I prefer bright colours to darker ones.
If someone is prepared to take the time to explain the language they use (especially if it is a foreign language) and some of the more confusing aspects of their religion without making me feblike I am being judged for my ignorance, they are the truly inspiring people.
The term "Inspirational" can sometimes be in danger of losing its meaning due to overuse but there are times when it is the only word in the dictionary which can be used to describe someone. Just please don't use it to describe me as that is a waste of a powerful word.
|Here is something which might shock you - I am legally classed as "Disabled" - I have a Disabled Bus Pass to prove it but I have disabled friends who have more legal rights than me when it comes to travelling on buses. Why??? Because they are in a wheelchair whilst I can walk.|
You might have read the above paragraph and wondered what my problem is with that??? After all, someone in a wheelchair is obviously more disabled than someone who can walk.
Not necessarily. I have friends who use wheelchairs but can walk short distances. I would also suggest that someone with a visual impairment is actually more disabled than the person in the wheelchair - even if they might not appear that way most of the time. (I am typing as someone with a visual impairment myself.). Me walking down the aisle of a moving bus attempting to find a seat can be a very dangerous proposition indeed. In fact, I have - on one occasion - injured my back as a result of falling backwards when a bus slammed its brakes on hard as I was walking to the back of the bus. My scream as I hit the floor was almost enough to wake the dead. It certainly shook the driver up.
The strange thing is - while a wheelchair now has legal priority over a pushchair or pram when it comes to parking spaces on buses - I, as a "Walking Disabled"person cannot force anybody to eject themself from a seat which is designated for the use of Disabled and Elderly people (or those who are less able to stand) - even when there are signs near the seats to that effect.
One of my wheelchair using friends - Michael Gilhooley - surprised me by agreeing with me when I put a comment on Facebook stating that I think the "Walking Disabled" should have the same legal rights when it comes to buses as the "Wheeled Disabled".
As it stands now - the only way I am guaranteed to get a seat on a crowded bus is to hope it is too hot for me to walk around without my Walking Tank. If I appear on a bus attached to that I can guarantee I will get a seat no problem.
It should not matter whether or not I appear to be "obviously" disabled. The fact that I have a Disabled Bus Pass should be enough for me to get a seat in the designated seats. After all, a few months ago another passenger thought I had no right to sit in the Disabled seats until I showed them my bus pass - which they accepted - so why doesn't the same bus pass give me the legal right to sit in the designated seats???
We really need a proper debate as to what exactly "Disabled" means legally.
|A few months ago I decided to take myself to Solihull for a trip out. I very nearly didn't come back from there due to losing the railway station through no fault of my own. I got to the last signpost for it which pointed in a vague direction from one side of a roundabout. I walked in the direction I thought the signpost was telling me to go in - only to find that if I desired to get to a hospital with an Accident & Emergency Department I was indeed heading the right way. It turned out that I was actually heading in almost the exact opposite direction to the railway station. Both the sign for a hospital with an A&E Department and a railway station are red and white - which means I have to almost be nose to board with the signpost to tell the difference between the two (especially if the background to the sign itself is white or cream - as in a large board for directing traffic).|
I know my sight is pretty useless at times but I can usually see and read a handily placed sign directing pedestrians to different places. I cannot, however, read invisible signposts.
The same goes for signs in hospitals which are supposed to show you the way to different departments or rooms. It took me two weeks to remember that the Chemotherapy Suite at L eicester Royal Infirmary is a left turn out of the lift and go straight on. The only indication of where it is is a small (to me) sign on the door itself.
I am one of those people who can easily start to panic if I know I am supposed to be somewhere but I haven't got a clue how to get there. This is why I prefer to have clear signposts or signs which are not like some Belgian roads which my Dad has driven on - as in - start off looking like something it might be useful to follow then disappear into thin air (or - in the case of the roads - a dirt track) without warning.
If you know the place you are visiting, or you are familiar with the layout of a particular building, signposts will probably be something you regard as more of a distraction than anything. However, for a stranger (or someone like me) signposts - or rather the lack of them - could mean the difference between them making a return visit (and recommending it to their friends and family) and never wishing to visit the place unaccompanied ever again. (And - as someone who prefers to travel independently - I am not likely to put my friends out if I can get to a place and back again on my own.)
Some shops are the same. Very little in the way of usefully placed signs showing where things are. I lost count of the amount of times I circled a floor of John Lewis, near the Highcross Shopping Centre in Leicester, looking for the bedding Department.
If people could spare a thought for those of us who can get confused if we are forced to make a lot of turns in different directions to get somewhere (and remember the same turns so we can get back to where we started) - we might find ourselves being able to guide ourselves just by looking at usefully placed signs which we can actually read.
|If you have read this blog before you will not be surprised when I tell you that my all-time favourite song is "Someone" by Kristyna Myles. If you know me personally you might not be surprised to learn that the book which has had the most influence on me is "Spellbinder" by Stephen Bowkett.|
There are two slightly odd connections between those two items. In fact, the second one kind of pre-dates the first one - even though it was written at least 20 years after the first one.
Now I have got you scratching your head in total confusion I will attempt to explain it in a way that you might be able to understand.
How can a song which was written approximately 20 years after a book was published pre-date the book??? When the song lyrics read like your life story it does. You need to listen to the song to find out what I mean. I haven't asked her if it is about me (I don't really want to find out).
The other link between the two is the fact that both authors either are or have been teachers (as in fully qualified, stand in front of a classroom and teach, teachers). I should know about Mr Bowkett being a teacher - after all, he was my English teacher in my first year at secondary school.
Knowing there is an age difference of approximately 31 years between Mr Bowkett and Kristyna (I am approximately 11 years older than Kristyna), I have found some interesting similarities between them. They have both educated me (and continue to educate me) and they both inspire me to do my best writing.
If you think education only takes place in a classroom you couldn't be more wrong if you tried. And if you think education is about stuffing the heads of students with so much information that they are likely to explode you couldn't be more wrong.
To me - the biggest part of teaching and education in general is about inspiring your students and showing them that following their dreams will take hard work, blood, sweat, and tears, and - in some instances, only the very lucky ones will hit the big time but as long as you enjoy what you do it won't matter if you become world famous.
You could say I have had a "behind the scenes" look at both of their writing careers.
I still remember sitting in Mr Bowkett's classroom having been told to write in silence whilst hearing "bang, bang, bang, bang bang, bang, bang, bang bang bang bang, ding" on repeat as he typed what I now presume to be part of a book out on a manual typewriter.
My initiation into the world of singer/songwriters was a lot less deafening but no less educational. I have been lucky enough to be taken to gigs and see an amazing talent perform - as well as seeing some of the other work that goes on behind the scenes.
There is - however - another connection between the two teacher/author combinations. You are reading it. If there is one thing I have learned from the pair of them it is this - the bed eay to write is to write from the heart. Write about what you are passionate about. Don't try to change the world through your writing - instead try to inspire others to help you change the world by changing their own bit of it.
"Spellbinder" was published just before I started in Mr Bowkett's English class. For a bookworm who was having serious problems at school both that book and the author were literally lifesavers. That book showed me that daydreaming (when usefully harnessed and directed) could actually be an asset instead of a negative (it only took me over 30 years to get a job where I can write for a living myself - except most people would call it blogging. Me??? I call it getting paid to play with words and educate people about the challenges I face due to my sight at the same time. (I blog for a company called Simple Solutions.)
The other way "Spellbinder" influenced this blog is the way in which it is written. I have read more of Steve Bowkett's books - and they all have one thing in common. I can hear his voice as I read them. I have got one of his books on teaching English upstairs and (I did tell him this when I saw him a few days ago) I could hear him utter what I consider to be his catchphrase of "We'll write a short note about that" at the end of every chapter.
I know that both Steve and Kristyna are fans of my writing but - honestly - if my writing is even a quarter as good as either of theirs I will be a very happy writer/blogger indeed.
|I have a question for you - what qualities do you look for in a friend?|
The worst question I was ever asked in a job interview (and it completely put me off the idea of working for the company who was interviewing me) was "what sort of friend would your friends say you are?" (or words to that effect).
Seeing as I value loyalty, respect, and trust, very highly indeed when it comes to my friends - all I could say is "you would have to ask them". And - no - I didn't hand the interviewer my mobile so they could ring one of them!!!
There are certain qualities you will definitely need (as well as the three mentioned above) if you want to be friends with me which may be a little different to what most people look for in a friend.
Anybody who has spent any longer than five minutes in my company (either in real life or on Social Media) will definitely agree with this one - you need a sense of humour which can handle quirkiness. To say I am not the most conventional person on Planet Earth is something of an understatement. I can just about guarantee that I will either say or do something which you will find strange.
Another quality which I look for in my friends is something else which may make people (usually English people) feel seriously uncomfortable is - straight-talking to the point of bluntness. I have an extremely low threshold for people who "dress things up" or go around the houses, or try to put things in such a way as not to offend people. "Let your 'yes' be yes and your "no" be no is something I live by. I have been hurt too many times by people who have not said exactly what they meant. I don't deal very well with having to work out the intentions of other people.
But - I hear you ask - what do I get in return???
According to some of my friends you get the services of a non-judgemental Sounding Board. Unless you say or do something to upset me, my friends, or family, you can say what you want to me and it won't go any further (unless, of course you are planning on breaking the law).
You will get help - if you are prepared to attempt to help yourself at the same time.
A free comedy service can also be arranged. Especially if I think you need cheering up. This is usually performed with me as the subject as well as the comedian. I don't mind taking the Mickey out of myself (but I wouldn't advise anybody else to take the Mickey out of me if they have just met me).
You also get loyalty, honesty, respect, and caring fitted as standard.
So, what are the signs that I consider you to be a close friend???
You get the real me to start with. The more comfortable I feel with you the more quirky I can get. You might even find me saying exactly what I think when I think it (without feeling like I have to filter my words to protect you). And - if I feel really comfortable around you I might gently tease you about some aspect of yourself which I find interesting. For example, have you got an interesting accent??? One of my very longstanding friends has found themself being called "Pocket-Size" (and - trust me - I wouldn't dare say it if I hadn't known them for over 30 years).
You also get trust, loyalty, respect, and honesty. And when I say "honesty" I definitely mean that. You will soon learn that I mean exactly what I say.
Another thing you will get is my support in whatever you do (as long as it is legal and not likely to harm anyone in anyway). My close friends have accidentally ended up with free advertising on this very blog. I love showcasing my friends and their talents. Singers, writers, photographers, etc. If you are a close friend of mine and you have a talent and/or a project I support the aims of you are guaranteed a bit of free publicity.
I hope this gives you a bit of a taster of what it can be like to be classed as my friend. If you want to know more about the kind of friend I am you could always find out if you know any of my friends personally and ask them.