What I’ve learned in life is that I usually regret the things I’ve said rather than the things I haven’t said. I shall probably regret writing this blog entry for instance.
But there are two times I really regret not speaking up when I should have done.
Date: Four years ago
Place: Birmingham Council House
Regret details: I had been reading the notices on the council house and was lingering by the pillars at the entrance there. The only person nearby was a young homeless woman. She came up to me and asked for money (I attract beggars all the time). I can’t remember if I gave her any or not and that wasn’t the regret. What I remember is that she went off to light up a cigarette, as homeless people often do.
Suddenly one of the council house workers came out of the building. The building, in some ways, is like a fort – there is even a gateway which looks a little like a portcullis through which the councillors drive their plush cars. It is as if they are holed up in their garrison, safe from the people on the streets.
The council woman was dressed smartly in a power dress. I didn’t recognise her and wasn’t sure if she was a councillor or not. But I watched as the homeless woman went up to the council worker and asked for money too.
“Do you have any spare change please?”
The council worker’s face contorted into a sneer and she pointed to the cigarette.
“If you didn’t smoke you would have money!” she shouted (many council workers can often be seen smoking undisturbed near the pillars there).
The homeless woman just stood there.
But the council worker was unrelenting:
“Why don’t you get a job? You’re just a lazy scrounger!”
The irony, of course, was that Birmingham City Council had it in their power to help her get accommodation, and from there a job.
“You’re not getting anything from me! Don’t smoke!”
I should have said something and defended the homeless woman. But I didn’t.
Date: Six years ago
Place: A midlands job centre
Regret details: I was looking for work and used to go to a certain job centre. At the job centre worked a man with a ponytail. He used to guard the reception area and walk around the job centre and stare at the job seekers making sure they were all looking for work. I often felt like a slave chained to an oar being forced to row a boat when the man was watching us on the job points. One day a man turned up to sign-on but he was a few minutes late. Ponytail man/slave driver said:
“You’re too late to sign on.”
“I’m only a few minutes late” pleaded the man, “how will I live for the next two weeks without any money?”
If he wasn’t allowed to sign on he would have no income at all.
Ponytail man grinned and said: “You should have thought of that before you turned up late!”
Even though the man continued to plead, ponytail man wouldn’t show any mercy.
I should have said something then too.
These, weirdly, are the only two times I actually regret not speaking out at the time. Usually, I just regret things I have said.