Monday, September 17, 2007

Information Please

The following article courtesy of Shem. You can read him in full by clicking on the link above or find him under the 'Alumni & Friends' section (right):

You can read my comments at the end of the article

When I was quite young, my father had one of the first telephones in our neighborhood. I remember well the polished old case fastened to the wall. The shiny receiver hung on the side of the box. I was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when my mother used to talk to it. Then I discovered that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person - her name was "Information Please" and there was nothing she did not know. "Information Please" could supply anybody's number and the correct time.

My first personal experience with this genie-in the-bottle came one day while my mother was visiting a neighbor. Amusing myself at the tool bench in the basement, I whacked my finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible, but there didn't seem to be any reason in crying because there was no one home to give sympathy. I walked around the house sucking my throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway.

The telephone! Quickly, I ran for the foot stool in the parlor and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up, I unhooked the receiver in the parlor and held it to my ear. "Information Please," I said into the mouthpiece just above my head. A click or two and a small clear voice spoke into my ear.


"I hurt my finger..." I wailed into the phone. The tears came readily enough now that I had an audience.

"Isn't your mother home?" came the question.

"Nobody's home but me." I blubbered.

"Are you bleeding?" the voice asked.

"No," I replied. "I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts."

"Can you open your icebox?" she asked. I said I could. "Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it to your finger," said the voice.

After that, I called "Information Please" for everything. I asked her for help with my geography and she told me where Philadelphia was. She helped me with my math. She told me my pet chipmunk, that I had caught in the park just he day before, would eat fruit and nuts.

Then, there was the time Petey, our pet canary died. I called "Information Please" and told her the sad story. She listened, then said the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child. But I was unconsoled. I asked her, "Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers on the bottom of a cage?"

She must have sensed my deep concern, for she said quietly, "Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in." Somehow I felt better.

Another day I was on the telephone. "Information Please."

"Information," said the now familiar voice.

"How do you spell fix?" I asked.

All this took place in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. When I was 9 years old, we moved across the country to Boston. I missed my friend very much.

"Information Please" belonged in that old wooden box back home, and I somehow never thought of trying the tall, shiny new phone that sat on the table in the hall.

As I grew into my teens, the memories of those childhood conversations never really left me. Often, in moments of doubt and perplexity I would recall the serene sense of security I had then. I appreciated now how patient, understanding, and kind she was to have spent her time on a little boy.

A few years later, on my way west to college, my plane put down in Seattle. I had about half an hour or so between planes. I spent 15 minutes or so on the phone with my sister, who lived there now. Then without thinking what I was doing, I dialed my hometown operator and said, "Information, Please." Miraculously, I heard the small, clear voice I knew so well, "Information."

I hadn't planned this but I heard myself saying, "Could you please tell me how to spell fix?"

There was a long pause. Then came the soft spoken answer, "I guess your finger must have healed by now."

I laughed. "So it's really still you," I said. "I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time."

"I wonder," she said, "if you know how much your calls meant to me. I never had any children, and I used to look forward to your calls."

I told her how often I had thought of her over the years and I asked if I could call her again when I came back to visit my sister.

"Please do," she said. "Just ask for Sally."

Three months later I was back in Seattle. A different voice answered "Information."

I asked for Sally.

"Are you a friend?" She said.

"Yes, a very old friend," I answered.

"I'm sorry to have to tell you this, she said. Sally had been working part-time the last few years because she was sick. She died five weeks ago."

Before I could hang up she said, "Wait a minute. Did you say your name was Paul?"


"Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down in case you called.

Let me read it to you." The note said, "Tell him I still say there are other worlds to sing in. He'll know what I mean."

I thanked her and hung up. I knew what Sally meant.


A corny story you may think, but 'no', I don't think so. I remember not so very long ago that the rail crossings in Southport were 'staffed' rather than automatic. Young Mum's and the like, waiting to cross over the line, would stand and chat to the man in the booth, who in turn would open the barrier, not exactly 2 minutes after the train went by, nor would he put the barrier down exactly 5 minutes before the train was due but, by using his far greater intelligence, greater than any technology I know, would control the barrier 'according to what was needed', not too much and not too little. There was care in that, there was a little bit of love.

We yearn after that feeling of community. We cry out in injustice at the 'automation' of our lives, of that dehuminization brought about by encroaching technology. While Tesco pays out hundreds of thousands of pounds to train staff to be like the man or woman in the corner shop, who themselves did it for free, and did it for the love of it. Don't they say that bad things happen when good people do nothing. Well, if you ask me, community is dying because we are letting it die. Pure and simple.

Volunteer Open Day at Sahir House

Increase in HIV requires increase in volunteers

As recently stated by the Northwest HIV/Aids Monitoring Unit in 2006 the Northwest has seen 4,761 cases of HIV and there are more new HIV cases infected through heterosexual sex than any other route of infection.

Sahir House, Merseyside’s HIV Charity, membership is also increasing and so is the need for volunteers.

Sahir House are recruiting volunteers to assist with supporting the HIV community and fundraising. Sahir House welcomes people from all sections of the community and especially welcome people from the Gay community, the Black community. People whose daytime availability is good and/or car owners are particularly welcome.

Free training, support and travel expenses given.

Open Day Saturday 29th September, volunteer training commences mid October.

For more information contact Sahir House on 0151 708 9080 or use the link in the title to find out more

Friday, September 14, 2007

What a Fantastic Idea

Oxfam have created an online shop for their donated goods and other things. For years now I have regularly shopped in Charity Shops and boot sales. At the latter, I love buying things from the charity stalls. It is one I think of the most meaningful ways to engage in business and yet know that your money not only buys something but then passes on to someone who really needs it, rather than financing the lavish lifestyles of the select few, directors, entrepeneur's etc.

If any of you out there know of any other non-profit (or should we say 'profit-for-good') enterprises out there then just let me know and I will paste links up to them inside the community and here on the BLOG.

Best Wishes


p.s. the link to the Oxfam Shop in behind the title of this article. I've also added a link under 'Interesting Links [right-hand menu]. So what you waiting for, get shopping!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Long Time No See

Do not be distressed. There is still a Graduate Association behind this page, beavering away at growing a vibrant community. This time of year our time and effort is devoted, not to you the alumni (and it's not of course because we don't care for you) but to our incoming student freshers, our future alumni you might say, who will as sure as rivers flow to the sea, become one with you one day ("poor things" I hear you say!)

While I'm on the subject of freshers, I sent out a Alumni Bulletin a short while ago asking if anyone would be interested in acting as a mentor to a current student(s); Work Shadowing is a way you can give back of your expertise and of your experience to the students of today, the workers of tomorrow. The cost to you is nothing more than your time. Besides it can be educational not only for the student but also for yourselves. I myself realised quite some time ago that there is no better way to find out how well you know what you are doing than in trying to teach what you do to someone else; I remember during a school placement a couple of years back, a History class it was, I learnt more about Oliver Cromwell in that single hour than I had learned in my entire life!

Give it a go. You won't regret it. Trust me. You know (or should know by now) how to contact us.

For all our new alumni from this year's graduate leavers, the Yearbook (our first) is taking longer than we thought to complete. I know it's worth waiting for but I suppose that excuse must be wearing a little thin by now. I really am sorry. It won't be long now. Honest! ...And next year's will be far quicker (oops, sorry!). Okay, if you want to have a real good moan about this then give me a ring and I will nurse you through it.

Bye for now