Yesterday I did something awesome, and I hope you did it too. There were at least 5-600 people gathered up on Barr Beacon at 8.30am for the Solar Eclipse, and it was one of the most successful astronomy events yet on Barr Beacon. I want to start by saying what an amazing atmosphere it was, and how happy everyone seemed to be taking part in something so special. We had an 89% eclipse here in the Midlands, and some spectacularly clear skies and stunning views! The Walsall Astronomical Society were coordinating the event’s telescopes, and even brought a generator and TV so we could watch the totality (viewable only in the Faroe Islands and in Svalbard) from the Astrosoc van! Photos are below, but please read on…
So I was stopped in my tracks in the middle of an otherwise wonderful event when someone said to me:
“You’d have thought the council would have provided sun watching glasses for everyone – typical! I can’t get one – they are 20 quid!”
I (politely, I promise) explained that the event was organised by the Walsall Astronomical Society, supported by Countryside Services, and that neither organisation have £12,000 to spend on a two hour event when there are perfectly good ways to enjoy the event for free, not to mention an armada of telescopes for visitors to look through. I took the member of the public to a telescope they could look through and they seemed to be sated. My colleague had received similar ‘typical council’ complaints.
This sort of thing is really disheartening, and makes me sad, because the event took place because of the selfless giving of hours and hours of volunteer time, generous people allowing total strangers to use their expensive equipment for free, council staff getting up at the crack of dawn to make the event happen JUST BECAUSE WE THINK IT IS IMPORTANT. You know what? If that’s ‘Typical Council’ then I’m glad to be a council worker.
Strange that this happened on a week when my good friend Dan from comms2point0 blogged about this very subject. He’s not wrong. He talks about the vulnerability and thin-skinned nature we have. Its true that I must have had 200 compliments and ‘Thank You’s from attendees – so why does this one entitled person stick in my throat so badly? Perhaps it is because this happens all the time…
The last really large-scale astronomy event in Walsall was in January 2012 when the BBC took over the New Art Gallery to bring a FREE Stargazing Live event to the public of our area, complete with rooftop telescopes, talks, demonstrations and even an inflatable planetarium. I was part of the team supporting the BBC in their delivery of the event, and I don’t mind telling you that it was a lot of hard work.
No one could have predicted that 5,000 people would show up at the event. On a school night. In January. We (staff and many volunteers) tried our best to make sure that everyone got to see through the telescopes and exhibits, have a go at activities and see the planetarium, but as you can imagine, there was a lot of queueing.
Here’s what I came home to at 3am on 17/1/12 after an 18 hour day trying to promote science and astronomy. For free.
Needless to say, I was in tears. Now, I am not saying that people don’t have a right to complain, and if they had paid for the event and booked I would certainly feel more inclined to sympathise, but this was FREE, people!
I also understand that it is easy for members of the public to see ‘The Council’ as a machine that is fair game for insult – but I simply wish that there was a bit more awareness in the general public that it is front line staff which are trying their best and CARE about the public having access to science, the countryside and green spaces. If people realised that we are Decent Human Beings, perhaps the whining and this unexplained sense of entitlement could be reined in somewhat.
So the next time you hear someone whinge about ‘The Council’, especially in a public forum, please give a thought to exactly who they are insulting, and if the target of their frustration is misplaced.