There was a time, years ago, when if the Friend who normally took the Quaker Children’s Class at our Sunday morning Meeting for Worship was absent, other members would step in and take the half dozen or so children we had at that time, under their wing. After the first fifteen minutes of based-on-silence worship, they would take them through to the Children’s room for their ‘lesson’ for the forty-five or so minutes remaining. Fifteen minutes were reckoned to be as long as normal kids could be expected to remain still and silent!
I took my turn, and so long as it happened only very occasionally, I quite enjoyed it. I doubt if I ever taught them anything very useful, but they got to know me, and at the very least, it made sure that their parents could relax in Meeting in the knowledge that their offspring were safe and out of mischief.
When I was a Public Health Inspector, and again when I was the Council’s Public Relations Officer, I would occasionally be invited to visit one or other of the local schools to chat to the children about subjects as varied as food hygiene, road safety, their future civic responsibilities, vandalism, litter dropping and so on.
As I grew older I rejoiced in seeing young children enjoying themselves at play and might occasionally pause for a few moments to watch them.
The first two of those activities I could now undertake only after my past had been searched for criminal activities and it had been certified, not only that I had never been convicted of any paedophilic activities, but that I had never been suspected of them. Were I nowadays to engage in the third one, watching children at play, I have little doubt that there would soon be a police officer on the scene, at the best ordering me to ‘move on’ at once, but more likely inviting me to accompany him or her to the Police Station for interrogation.
Child abuse is a detestable crime. It also seems to be the one crime in which the accused are not only deemed to be guilty until they have proved their innocence, but even when they have successfully done so, are likely to remain under suspicion for the rest of their lives. I feel particularly sorry for schoolteachers, youth leaders and members of the clergy. How easy it must be for a spiteful or revenge-seeking child to ruin forever a reputation and a career by claiming that the teacher, or the vicar, or the new curate, or the scout master, ‘behaved inappropriately’, one of those wonderful 21st century euphemisms that can mean anything from violent sexual assault to laying a friendly arm across the shoulders in sympathy or encouragement.
The latest idiocy in this connection has been the case of the two women police officers, both with young children and with different working shifts, who agreed to look after each-others’ children while the other was on duty. An eminently sensible arrangement that has resulted in their being accused of breaking the law! Very obviously someone whose path they had crossed during the course of their duties had made a complaint. It will, I suppose, have to be pursued. The final result is likely to be that they will both be compelled to pay a stranger to look after their children, rather than have a close friend and colleague look after them for nothing! If that is the law, then the law really is an ass!
Ironically, at almost the same time, a ‘children’s nurse’ in a day nursery who had presumably been thoroughly vetted, was pleading guilty to a series of charges of horrific child abuse! That of course, was a dreadful exception. In the overwhelming majority of day nurseries children are perfectly safe and secure.
Similarly, it can’t be stressed too strongly that most people aren’t paedophiles. Most men are neither rapists nor wife-beaters, most women don’t neglect or physically abuse their kids, and most kids aren’t malevolent little hooligans. There must surely be some way of protecting children without creating the fog of suspicion that nowadays hangs over us all!
Another Time Traveller?
Who, you may well ask, is this aristocratic lady who looks as though she has just stepped out of a tv costume drama set in the 18th Century.
No, she is neither an actor nor a time-travelling visitor from an earlier century. She is, in fact, my good friend Ingrid Zeibig, well-loved aunt of little Maja and Tom Friedrich, whom I mentioned last week. Born and brought up in Zittau, the little German town where I was once a POW, she now lives in historic Bayreuth in Bavaria, home of the Wagner festival and a Mecca for all lovers of Wagner’s music. From time to time she volunteers to transform herself into the Margravine Wilhelmine*. Bewigged and suitably gowned, she graciously agrees to accompany and inform visitors as they stroll round her domain.
Ingrid doesn’t always look quite as regal as that. On my recent trip to Germany with grandson Nick, she made the long journey from Bayreuth in Bavaria to Zittau in the most easterly part of Saxony, to meet Nick and myself again and to act as interpreter and ‘honorary daughter’ to me during my stay in her country.
The picture below was taken at the ceremony to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the restoration of the 500 years old Great Fastentuch or Lenten Veil (in the history of which I am believed to have played a tiny role!) and its establishment in the Museum/Church of the Holy Cross. I had just been presented with copies of the illustrated booklet ‘Rückkehr nach Zittau’, the German version of my article ‘Return to Zittau’ which I had written after my first visit to Zittau as a free man, in 2007. Ingrid and I are both clutching copies of the German translation of ‘Return to Zittau’.
The Great Fastentuch has, incidentally, recently had its 300,000th visitor since it was installed and exhibited in the Church of the Holy Cross ten years ago. He was an Englishman from Dorset!
*The Margravine Wilhelmine (1709 - 1758) was a daughter of the King of Prussia. Her grandfather, on her mother's side, was our King George I. She married Frederick, Margrave (Marquess) of Bayreuth in 1732. There, decades before the advent of Richard Wagner, she established and nurtured the town's musical and operatic traditions.
Speeding and Cutting the Cost of dealing with Vandals and Hooligans
Public officials’ expensive and time-wasting note taking, box ticking and report writing are a constant complaint both of the victims of anti-social behaviour and of the tax payers who have to pay for it to be tackled. Yet these activities have to be noted and recorded by those on the spot, and passed on to those who will deal with them.
A report in Inside Housing, the official journal of the Institute of Housing, reports the way that Scotland’s South Lanarkshire Council are using mobile technology to deal with this problem. The local authority has given wardens a piece of technology that lets them enter the details of an incident into a mobile phone which wirelessly transfers the details of the incident directly to a data base in the council’s offices.
Before this technology, developed by software consultants HUB Solutions, had been introduced, wardens had to log the details in a notebook, rewrite them as a report and pass them onto a data entry clerk who entered the details on the database. All of this took forty-eight hours, was prone to backlogs and occupied two staff members. Now, transmission is instant, and some of the warden’s time and all of the clerk’s time is saved.
Peter Hall, Managing Director of Hub Solutions says that his firm has also developed a system, to be tested by Portsmouth Council, that will enable members of the public to report incidents of anti-social behaviour via the internet. Their Gateway System will replace the old method of giving incident diaries to affected members of the public and from these collating a list of events that have to be keyed into a database.
Inside Housing reports Mr Hall as saying that Gateway will reduce the time staff spend recording anti-social incidents by twenty percent and that an added advantage of the system will be that staff will be immediately notified of any incidents, so that they will be able to nip problems in the bud. How valuable such a system might have been to that distraught woman who recently killed herself and her disabled daughter rather than face further persecution from a gang of youths! Pete and I on holiday in 2007. European travellers may recognise the backdrop, the skyline of Prague
Yes, as you may have guessed, I do have a personal interest in all of this. Peter Hall is my elder son. He rose through the ranks of the staff of Hackney’s Housing Department to the position of Assistant Director of Housing and was in fact, for several months Acting Director. Made redundant following one of the borough’s political and administrative upheavals, he launched HUB Solutions Ltd. a software consultancy specialising in finding solutions to the problems of public authorities. HUB Solutions now has clients throughout the United Kingdom (South Lanarkshire and Portsmouth are pretty distant from each other!) and, as well as an HQ in London, has a base in Glasgow from which to service the firm’s many Scottish clients. Viewers of Taggart on tv may be interested to know that among these is the Strathclyde Police Authority!