We amble back home through the tall stems of prickly grass, Trudy is usually munching weeds or thrusting her snout into the hedgerows. Before I put her back on harness we often stand for a few more minutes savouring our freedom. I turn my face towards the wind and feel it tussle my hair. I inhale its freshness and allow all my anxieties to melt into the air. They disperse like paper petals. Trudy has a final nose-dive and then drums her tail against my legs ready for the four-minute stroll home. I never leave the park with an ounce of stress or fear lingering. This magical place renews and invigorates me. It makes life seem even more precious, and I arrive home eager to make the most of everything I have.
“A man cannot be politically correct and chauvinist too”. Toni Cade’s “A Black Woman” (1970) is the first printed reference to Political Correctness in this sense. In fact, Political Correctness was deliberately developed as a political tool by the US political parties in the 1970’s. So how has it changed our society, and is it time for Political Correctness to be modified or put back into context?
Unfortunately Political Correctness has been interpreted so rigidly by some Corporate and Management organisations that it has often led to resentment and ridicule. An example of this is the infamous case in 2002 when the Home Office Minister of the time, John Denham, was criticised by the police for using the term “nitty-gritty” because it apparently alluded to the slave era. This was during a debate in Bournemouth at the Police Federation conference. Apparently police could face disciplinary charges for using this term, and some rank-and-file officers stated that the rules around language were a “minefield” and at times inhibited them from speaking. This type of high-profile incident always sparks off heated debates about free speech and censorship. Ordinary people often feel annoyed that corporate regulations and government mandates inhibit free speech. The Big Brother State is repellent to most minds, and the majority of people have strong opinions about what we should and should not be allowed to do and say.
Political Correctness has led to laws which uphold the rights of those with diverse needs. But the down side of this is that many people from minority groups are more alienated because people are afraid to ask questions or make conversation. Now that there are anti-discrimination laws in place, is it time to challenge the rigidity of Political Correctness and put it back into context? Political Correctness is no justification for the human race morphing into ostriches with our heads permanently buried in sand.
It’s Guide Dogs Week 2011 (1st – 9th October). This has got to be one of my most active weeks this year! My volunteering for Guide dogs has taken on a slightly manic aspect. I find myself skipping breakfast and flying towards the bus stop with a grumbling Trudy who, like me, is not wired up to deal with early morning starts. As we sit panting on the bus Trudy’s noises of discontent gain her the sympathy of our fellow passengers. I smile haplessly and hope we won’t miss the stop, which is a frequent occurrence.
Luckily this week has been good so far as regards buses. No memorable food crimes have been committed by the hoovering hound, and nothing untoward has happened.
It’s a difficult time for fundraising. Spare cash is almost non-existent, so standing in a supermarket or Town centre with a collecting bucket is not as profitable as it was this time last year. Charities are all competing with each other for scraps from the master’s table. Some will inevitably not survive this barren period. But this does not make fundraising any less rewarding. For one thing, I am extremely fortunate having Trudy to help me.
When we are doing street collections we are not allowed to shake our buckets or ask people to donate money, so it can be quite disheartening watching a stream of people pass by seemingly oblivious to the fact that we are there. Trudy however, does not have to abide by any such rules. She locks onto the eye of a passer-by and draws that person towards me, begging him or her to donate to the cause. She rolls onto her back and folds her limbs in half just asking for her tummy to be tickled. Many people cannot walk by a prostrate Labrador who appears to be in the grip of sublime rapture. When Trudy does her fundraising roll (as I’ve dubbed it this week) my bucket sings with coins! Of course I explain to people that I have never trained Trudy to do this, but it is a fantastic fundraiser! Trudy laps up the compliments like a cabaret artist.
So although the totals are down, the rewards have not diminished. Bucket collections have always been characterised by fits and starts. Just as my legs start to go numb and my back aches to distraction I become immersed in conversation with a friendly person, and the coins clink into the bucket which is extremely invigorating. From somewhere, a new wave of energy emerges and I can finish my two-hour stint. (As I’m with Trudy, I’m only allowed to do two hours at a time – which is just as well, as Trudy’s head would become bald from all the patting and stroking).
As charities are being hit hard at the moment, it’s even more important to keep up a high public profile. It means working harder, but getting noticed increases your chances of raising funds. This is one of the many reasons I love being a Speaker for Guide dogs. Word of mouth is a very powerful fundraiser. I think it helps people to relate to Guide dogs the charity if they can see an actual Guide dog and listen to the personal experience of a Guide dog owner. Trudy loves being the centre of attention and as she’s such a vocal dog she usually makes the audience laugh at some point, which helps me no end!
For instance when I tell people that it costs approximately £49,000 to train and maintain each working Guide dog – Trudy often agrees with an expressive groan, as if to say “Because I’m worth it”. I’m so lucky to have such an ally. Trudy makes my talks real, and interrupts me which keeps them “live”. I never lose sight of the fact that if it wasn’t for Trudy, I would never have become a volunteer and a whole chunk of life would have been missed.
My quest is to raise funds for more Muttleys to be trained as Guide dogs, and as the charity receives no government funding I think I’m in for an awful lot of bucket collecting….