DVLA DATA SELLING SCANDAL: Motorists’ details sold to car parks for fine chasing

Scottish newspaper The Daily Record reports today that the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) is under fire for allegedly selling on motorists‘ personal details, such as names and registered addresses to private car parking firms to chase unpaid fines. The DVLA’s selling of the data has controversially been said to have cost the British taxpayer £1 million to date. Drivers have expressed outrage after the DVLA processed 2.6 million requests from owners of car parks in order to put pressure on motorists who have failed to pay outstanding parking charges and fines.

The DVLA, which holds data on all registered drivers in the United Kingdom at its central offices in Swansea, Wales, has been said to have made an income of £6.7 million from the secretive data deal.

Ironically the agency was forced to pay a total of £7.6 million to furnish driver’s details to the parking firms, which caused it to have a shortfall of £900,000, all of which was made up from taxpayers’ contributions. The DVLA is believed to charge a fee of £2.50 for administrative costs to parking companies acquiring its licence data, but then each final request ended up costing £2.84 after processing.

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation – which own the RAC motoring club and driver assistance network, commented on the scandal: “Essentially you have got taxpayers bankrolling private companies.

“It is absurd that hardworking men and women are effectively subsidising private parking firms.

 

Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency

Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rival motorist assistance company The AA (Automobile Association) also spoke out against the DVLA’s selling of people’s private details in the name of revenue making. Its spokesperson Luke Bosdet said: “It’s a double whammy of these parking enforcers chasing up every fine that they can possibly pin on the drivers to maximise their profit while costing the taxpayer for the privilege.

Hugh Bladon from the Alliance of British Drivers said: “First of all, our details should be held within the DVLA and not allowed to go anywhere except perhaps to the police.

“I’m surprised at the figures as my understanding was the DVLA were making a profit out of this. If they are making a loss they should stop.

The DVLA’s selling of its registration only came to light recently when several motorists reported receiving letters from a debt collection company and private parking ‘enforcer’ called ParkingEye. One driver in Scotland claimed to have found a ‘Parking Charge Notice’ at their home from the company. Gavin Bell opened the notice only to find he had been hit with a £85 fee after the firm claimed he overrun a pre-agreed thirty-minute stay while parked at a piece of private land in the town of Airdrie. Angered at the steep charge, Bell refused to settle the charge and made a Freedom of Information request to the DVLA after discovering they had sold his name and postal address to ParkingEye. 

Gavin, 35, from Cambuslang, near Glasgow, said: “The DVLA handed over my details with seemingly no questions asked. You would think they would have to show some kind of just cause.

“When I found out the fee for getting driver details is so low it effectively just encourages these private firms to ask for the information whether there’s any merit to the case at all, I thought it was crazy.

 “It costs more than it brings in to administer.

 

English: A car park from above.

English: A car park from above. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The letters sent from the parking firms, which are often printed on thick, officially headed paper to people’s home addresses are made to resemble ‘statutory penalty charge notices’ in a bid to confuse and scare drivers into assuming they have broken the law and must pay up immediately. In reality, the notices hold no ground legally at all. Firms use the letters to demand immediate payment of fines and charges and threaten car owners with increases and penalty charges which can double or triple the debt, if not worse. However, these are considered as ‘civil contracts’ legally, which means that the police will not bring non-paying motorists to court and that the parking operator cannot force a driver to pay the outstanding demand unless the claim is taken to a civil court first and a summons is issued. Nevertheless the letters have proved a lucrative ‘money-spinner’ for dubious parking firms eager to claw back what they feel they are owed, and they will still send out letters even for small amounts. In fact many parking firms have been said to have struck up deals with private landowners to collect parking fees from their lands at no additional cost to the landowner.

In response to the Daily Record’s uncovering of the secret handshake of data between the DVLA and parking companies, the agency replied and acknowledged there was a shortfall in the cost. They said: “DVLA sets fees to recover costs – we do not aim to make a profit.” The scandal over the selling of private data to companies solely out to make a profit is sure to anger many drivers and the general public already shocked by governmental ineptitude over the data of citizens, including losing thousands of names and addresses on USB memory sticks and patients’ records going missing from NHS clinics and laptops. Many private companies in the UK, such as banks and retail stores will sell the debts of customers to private debt collection firms for a pittance, who then threaten debtors with legal measures and bailiffs if money owing is not cleared. Councils and other local government bodies have also sold on the contact details of people owing rent arrears to private firms for many years, legally. This is however the first time that a national-level government agency has been implicated in doing the same.

 

SOURCES:
Half-Eaten Mind, Twitter https://twitter.com/halfeatenmind
The Daily Record, Twitter https://twitter.com/Daily_Record
“Revealed: Government sell motorists’ details to private car park bosses chasing fines.. and it costs taxpayers £1million” –  Lynn McPherson, The Daily Record and Sunday Mail (27 July 2014) www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/revealed-government-sell-motorists-details-3920642?utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitterfeed
IMAGE CREDITS:
“File:DVLA.svg” – Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency/Kashmiri (via www.dft.gov.uk), Wikimedia Commons (28 January 2013) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DVLA.svg
“File:Car park -8.jpg” – heartbeaz, Flickr via Wikimedia Commons (13 July 2008) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Car_park_-8.jpg

 

PHOTO MOMENT: Cute kitten hug

(c) @CRrrr_7

#غرد_بصورة حنان الأم

(” The tenderness of a mother <3 “)

A mother tabby cat embraces her kitten while another waits its turn in this affectionate picture shared by a tweeter with the handle @CRrrr_7, also known as ‘Syria Hurah’.

Mother cats (the female of the species is called a ‘queen’) have a very nurturing and caring relationship towards their kittens. Kittens are born blind and solely reliant on the mother’s care. As soon as the babies are born, the mummy cat will lick and clean their fur and gently guide them towards her nipples to take their first feed. She will even use this method to help the kittens go to the bathroom. As the kittens get older and more steady on their feet, mother will teach them the rudiments of cat life, such as hunting. I have personally observed the elaborate cleaning rituals of mothers with their kittens, as much as human mothers (and fathers) will take time in bathing their babies. The mummy will use her velcro-like tongue to manage the baby’s fur and maintain close contact with the kitten, even cleaning behind its ears. Mother will fall asleep with their kittens by their side and will watch them play, although sometimes the little ones become a bit too boisterous, causing Mum to disappear onto a nearby windowsill for some much-needed peace and quiet.

IMAGE CREDIT:
سـوريـا حُــرّهـ , Twitter https://twitter.com/CRrrr_7
SOURCES:
Vijay Shah { विजय } , Twitter https://twitter.com/VShah1984
اپۈ ڣىڝڵ ÂŁHÀRBĮ,  , Twitter https://twitter.com/BCc1978
“How Mother Cats Take Care of Kittens” – Kitty Angell, PetPlace.com, Embrace Pet Insurance www.petplace.com/cats/how-mother-cats-take-care-of-kittens/page1.aspx

VERSATILE BLOGGER: This weekend’s gift from Inese

Today, the Half-Eaten Mind receives its fifth badge of the Versatile Blogger Award from accomplished and passionate photographer Inese, who lives in County Tipperary, Ireland. Inese runs her own blog and natural photography portfolio, “inesemjphotography” (Inese MJ Photography).  Her photograph blog is a heart-warming collection of natural places, plants and animals around her home in southern Ireland, as well as street scenes in the Irish capital, Dublin (Baile Atha Cliath – Irish). She also does a side run in portraiture for babies, older children and families, and has used her camera skill to sweeten the special moments of many families. Inese is also a family history (genealogy) enthusiast and doting grandmother to two little girls, which has helped inspire her passion for creating lifetime memories of children.

Photographs mean memories. It is lovely to have a studio shot now and then, but after many years your loyal pet,  your toy horse, or your favorite tree will matter as much as your sweet little face. I am not only taking your portrait; I am making memories for you.

- Inese

(c) Inese MJ Photography

(c) original designer via Inese

Inese herself picked up this award from Aquileana, a friend of the HEM who writes on historic topics in English and Spanish. She was very honoured and grateful to receive this award and likewise, I am very happy and honoured that Inese has chosen to pass on this award to me. :)

Inese’s award article:

FOX NEWS

Here are the Award Rules:

1) The nominee shall display the Versatile blogger Award logo on her/his blog.

2) The nominee shall nominate ten (10)  bloggers she/he admires, by linking to their blogs and informing them about it.

Here are the bloggers I nominate for this award. Please visit their blogs!

1. http://asterisk15.wordpress.com/

2. http://sachemspeaks.wordpress.com/

3. http://seansmithson.com/

4. http://mstranquility.com/

5. http://rabirius.me/

6. http://taylorgraceauthor.wordpress.com/

7. http://ashiakira.wordpress.com/

8. http://africolonialstories.wordpress.com/

9. http://marinakanavaki.com/

10. http://detectingblackpool.wordpress.com/

Congrats to all the lucky nominees. Acceptance isn’t compulsory, but my love and respect for you all and your work is always there!

 

SOURCES/IMAGE CREDITS:
“FOX NEWS” – Inese, inesemjphotography (26 July 2014) http://inesemjphotography.com/2014/07/26/fox-news/
Homepage – Inese, inesemjphotography http://inesemjphotography.com/

PHOTO MOMENT: Khalsa Aid – a selfie against war

with Vipul Bhundia (contributor)

(c) Khalsa Aid

“ALL SIDES IN ALL WARS NEED TO STOP KILLING/ TARGETING CHILDREN.

God bless the children in war zones …”

Today’s photo was shared on Facebook by my cousin. A devout Sikh man silently protests against the killing of children in wars across the globe. His placard, written in thick black marker pen on a piece of paper, reads: “Please STOP killing children in wars created by grown men!! – @Khalsa_Aid

Khalsa Aid is an international non-profit organisation and humanitarian charity founded in 1999 according to the Sikh principle of ‘seva‘ or selfless service onto others. Drawing inspiration from one of the original ten holy gurus of Sikhism, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, Khalsa Aid follows his teaching that Sikhs should “recognise the entire human race as one”. The charity first saw action during the Kosovo war of 1999, when a call was answered to send volunteers to the stricken ethnic Albanian population there who were being persecuted by the Yugoslav army under then president Slobodan Milosevic. Two trucks and a van with aid donated by the Sikh community in the UK were driven all the way to Kosovo.

Since then, Khalsa Aid have helped the victims of wars and disasters in places as diverse as Syria, Haiti, Libya, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition to war and disaster, the charity’s volunteers, who often offer their assistance with immediate short notice, also take part in anti-drug programmes, art therapy and helping on water purifications projects.

Currently the conflicts in Syria and in Palestine has seen children suffer inexorably. In Syria, where numerous rebel factions are fighting a protracted war against the government, it has been estimated by the Oxford Research Group think tank that 11,000 young Syrians have perished in the three years since hostilities began. The situation has seen thousands of families flee into neighbouring countries where children are crammed into makeshift refugee camps with little food or educational facilities. Many have been traumatised by the horrors they witnessed, seeing family members slaughtered in front of them or the relentless sounds of bombing and gunfire. The deliberate targeting and summary of Syrian children, especially young boys, has become so perverse in its frequency, that one BBC journalist described the targeted torturing and killing as “a war on childhood”.

Meanwhile the recent flare-up of tension between Israel and Palestine has already seen whole families wiped out by missiles, while the latest phase of the decades-long tension began when three Israeli seminary students were abducted by an unknown militant group and murdered. In a retaliatory attack, a Palestinian teenager was abducted and then set on fire alive. As Israel mounts operations against Hamas rocket launching sites with the Gaza Strip, their disproportionate approach has seen children in Gaza bear the brunt. A recent incident that saw widespread condemnation was the shelling of four boys from the same family who were playing a cops-and-robbers style game on a beach.While enjoying a moment of peace from the sounds of falling bombs, a warship positioned in the Mediterranean sea caught sight of them and began firing.  All four died, while in the aftermath the Israel military claimed that it thought the boys were militants launching an attack on them.

There are hundred of armed conflicts still going on, where children pay the ultimate price. Raped, murdered, abused, and even enlisted as soldiers themselves, war becomes a very horrible and soul-destroying place. For tens of thousands of children across the world, childhood isn’t fun and games. What should have beeen an idyllic time of happiness and smiles instead becomes one of tears and pain. No war ever begun because of a child, but it is they who suffer the most.

KHALSA AID

http://www.khalsaaid.org/

Office 7-8, 111 Whitby Road, Slough, Berkshire, SL1 3DR, United Kingdom.

Phone: +44 (0)1753 567457

E-mail: info@khalsaaid.org

IMAGE CREDIT:
Khalsa Aid, Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Khalsa-Aid/163220440824
SOURCES:
Facebook, Facebook Inc. https://www.facebook.com/
“About” – Khalsa Aid, Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Khalsa-Aid/163220440824?sk=info
“Khalsa Aid – How it started” – Khalsa Aid http://www.khalsaaid.org/whoarewe.html
“Syria conflict: Children ‘targeted by snipers'” – BBC News Middle East, BBC (24 November 2013) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-25055956

PRUDENTIAL RIDELONDON: An East London travel guide

Cyclist enthusiasts still buoyed up by the highlights and camaderie generated by the great Tour de France‘s passage through the streets of Britain and which culminated in London, will now have another reason to celebrate, as the Prudential RideLondon cycling extravaganza makes its presence felt this August.

Billed by its organisers as a “world-class festival of cycling”, RideLondon will see hundreds of Lycra-clad and two-wheeled athletes travel through the capital in aid of charity. The event, which is supported by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, Surrey Council and Transport for London (with publicity handled by PR agency London & Partners), is scheduled to take place on the 10th August 2014.

(c) V. Shah/Pudential RideLondon/Half-Eaten Mind via Flickr.

While this day will see the mountain bike become the king of the road, other road users are being advised to plan ahead as many roads and bridges on the RideLondon route will be affected. Many will be closed off in order to provide clear passage for the participants, in much the same way that roads in east and central London were temporarily closed for the last leg of the Tour three weeks ago.

The Prudential RideLondon event is a multiple award-winning festival of cycling which was developed by London’s overall elected Mayor alongside London & Partners, and Transport for London, the government agency in charge of running and funding the city’s transportation networks, including its Underground lines and distinctive red buses. Alongside the London-based partners, the event will also see the involvement of Surrey County Council, the local government body for the county of Surrey which lies south of London. The event is managed by the London & Surrey Cycling Partnership, and is part of the London Marathon event family which aims to promote uptake of physical activities.

Last year’s RideLondon was described as a ‘huge success’. It rode into the record books as the world’s largest inaugural mass participation sports event and cyclists and organisers managed to raise an astonishing £7 million in aid of various charities. On the Sunday 10th August, an estimated 24,000 riders of varying abilities will take on this challenging 100 mile run through deserted streets across London and Surrey in the first part of the rally, named the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100. Then after this is complete, 150 professional cyclists from across the globe will be pitted against each other in the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic, which is a longer, 200 kilometre variation of the amateur route. This will be broadcast live on the BBC, public service broadcaster to the British nation. The starting line for both rallies will be at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, east London. From there, riders will work their way through London’s eastern flanks, taking in Hackney and Tower Hamlets boroughs before heading south for the county border where they will encounter acres of scenic countryside as they ride through Surrey. They will then retrace their route back to an iconic finish in the centre of town at The Mall.

On this August weekend, other road users will need to be aware that many roads will be blocked off to vehicles meaning that there will be a significant impact on traffic flows in the local area and also possibly major roads leading out from the affected area. As the roads will be closed for the day, motorists will need to either replan their routes or alternatively utilise public transport. Most road closures on the RideLondon route in the eastern parts of the capital will begin at 5:00 in the early morning and end at either 9:30 or 10:30 in the morning.

This route will be closed from 5:00 am to 10:30 am:

  • Waterden Road, Stratford – a road leading from the Olympic Park.

These following routes will be closed from 5:00 am to 9:30 am:

  • The A12 main road between Redbridge borough and Blackwall Lane, including A102 Blackwall Tunnel and Northern Approach.
  • The A12 main road also leading from the Blackwall Tunnel to Redbridge borough.
  • East India Dock Road (A13), in the Poplar area and possibly through all of Tower Hamlets borough.
  • Aspen Way, between Poplar and Blackwall.
  • Limehouse Link – tunnel in the Limehouse area of Tower Hamlets.
  • The Highway (A1203) in Shadwell.
  • East Smithfield (part of A1203 road) also in the Tower Hamlets area.
  • Minories – a road in Aldgate near central London.
  • Tower Hill – the road leading south-west of Minories.

The above times are for the first race (mass-participation event). The listed roads and tunnels will then shut again for a rolling temporary closure between the hours of 12:30 pm and 1:30 pm for the professional segment of the Prudential RideLondon. The only exception to the above will be the A12 from the A102 Blackwall Tunnel to Redbridge which will remain open during the time of the professional rally. The ‘rolling temporary closure’ is when special motorcycle-based escort teams will hold back normal road traffic to allow the racers to pass the route and minimise the likelihood of any accidents. This will cause some inconvenience to drivers on these roads so it is recommended to avoid them as much as possible during the hour the professional race will be passing though in.

The routes for the cycling events will need to be made secure and will therefore be cleared of all vehicles to ensure the safety of cyclists, spectators and local residents living along the routes and side streets. The A12 main road, A102 Blackwall Tunnel and A13 will reopen to traffic after the last amateur cyclist has vacated them. If you have your car, van or other vehicle parked on one of the above listed routes, you are advised to move your vehicle to a different location the night before at the latest. Parking will be temporarily prohibited for safety reasons from 12:00 midnight on the Sunday 10th August. Any vehicles not relocated or parked up in a suspended parking bay will be removed from the route. Roads coming off the route will have access only to local people and business owners/staff during the race. The usual Sunday parking restrictions will be in place unless otherwise notified.

For those looking to get about via public transport, the good news is that there are no pre-planned or event-related Tube line or station closures for the Prudential RideLondon. However, trains in certain areas may be more packed than usual as spectators will be travelling to and from the event in the East London. This overspill may also affect buses, trains and DLR routes as well. As the weather may be warm, please bring a bottle of water or drink with you to avoid dehydration, dizziness or fainting and do not leave your manners at home. Some buses may be diverted temporarily, suspended or will terminate earlier than their usual final stop as buses will also be banned from using the affected roads when the race is in progress. Check online before you travel. Many bus stops on the cycle route will also be out of service for the race’s duration, along with some Barclays Cycle Hire (‘Boris bikes‘) docking stations nearby the routes affected.

As far as central London bridges are concerned, most will be shut until the evening. The exceptions are Waterloo, Blackfriars and London Bridges which will remain open all day. However expect there to be a lot of traffic as drivers using the closed bridges will be concentrated on the three open crossovers. For London’s emergency services, 999 emergencies will remain a priority for the police, ambulance and fire services. Emergency vehicle access around the route area is prioritised and remains as normal. These services will also been on standby for participants and spectators of the events, in co-operation with local hospitals and police stations.

Pedestrians crossing over roads that are part of the route will notice that all zebra and pelican crossing points will have uniformed event marshals who are there to help supervise the use of these crossings. Many of the usual crossings will be out of service but alternative and safe crossing points will be set up where it is easier to get across the road. Please be patient during the event and pay close attention to instruction given out by the marshals and stewards safeguarding the routes.

If you need assistance with access queries regarding using the affected area for matters such as social care or medical visits, weddings or other planning needs, then a special helpdesk will be on call during the RideLondon weekend. Call 0345 894 9773 during the hours of 05:00-1900 on Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th August. Alternatively, email them at helpdesk@ridelondon.co.uk.

USEFUL WEBSITES:

www.tfl.gov.uk/prudentialridelondon

 – Transport for London travel check website to plan journeys nearer the event time.

www.prudentialridelondon.co.uk/routes

- Complete details of all cycling routes for RideLondon, from the event organisers.

www.prudentialridelondon.co.uk/roadclosures

 – Information on road closures in central, west, south-west London and Surrey from the event organisers.

www.prudentialridelondon.co.uk

 – General information on the Prudential RideLondon cycling races.

www.prudentialridelondon.co.uk/charitabletrust

 – Details on the London Marathon Charitable Trust.

SOCIAL MEDIA:

Facebook: /RideLondon

Twitter: @RideLondon

 

SOURCES:
“Prudential RideLondon 10 August – Event information for east London” – Prudential RideLondon (leaflet)
IMAGE CREDITS:
“2014-07-17 20.35.11″ – Vijay Shah, The Half-Eaten Mind/Flickr (17 July 2014) https://www.flickr.com/photos/110818734@N02/14492142479/
Getty Images via Zemanta.
 

 

 

 

LEE VALLEY: School’s out, have fun

The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, which manages tourist attractions and sports centres along a 26-mile stretch of the River Lee (usually spelt ‘Lea’) in Essex and Hertfordshire, is offering special activities to families in the east London area. Children starting their summer holidays can now take part in a variety of fun and exciting activities such as BMX bike riding, tennis and hockey at special summer holiday prices.

(c) LVRPA via V. Shah/Half-Eaten Mind/Flickr

The LVRPA are offering a huge choice of affordable sports programmes to keep children occupied during the long six-week break. You can choose from hour-long taster sessions in four types of cycling, one-day sports activity camps and training sessions for cycling, hockey and tennis, as part of the Olympic legacy events being hosted at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, Newham, east London – to encourage children and adults to make sports an important part of their lives. The Authority also has other events running in Hertfordshire, Essex and Leyton – all within easy driving distance. Visitors to the Home Counties sites, near the leafy park that straddles the River Lee, can also experience water rafting, kayaking, rambling, boating, pony treks, farms and ice-skating rinks in a friendly and natural setting, perfect during these long summer days. Interested parents are encouraged to book places early as spots are limited.

At the Lee Valley VeloPark at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, would-be Bradley Wiggins, Laura Trotts and bike-mad kids generally can try out different styles of cycling at the specially designed park and courses. You can choose from holiday clubs specialising in BMX, mountain biking, road or track cycling. Children will learn to build their confidence on two wheels and also learn how to safely handle their bikes with adult supervision. They will be pumping their pedals and tackling berms on the BMX track, developing the control of a road bike on the flat and how to execute safe climbs and descents on mountain bikes. They can even discover the secrets of velodrome racing, just like the UK cycling team. Prices start from £4.00.

If you are looking to keep your kids occupied the whole day, both the VeloPark and the nearby Lee Valley Hockey & Tennis Centre are organising sports activities day camps at £30 per child per day. Inspire your child to be the next Olympian by enrolling them on the camp where they will get to enjoy a fun-filled day trying their hands at three Olympic sports - BMX, tennis and hockey – in the former home of London 2012. With the help of experienced coaches, kids can learn the basics of these sports and help them pick up the skills that could make them into future Olympic champions. The Day Camps are open to children of all ages.

The Hockey & Tennis Centre are also offering tennis-only sessions to inspire kids in the spirit of that greatest tennis tournament of all, Wimbledon. The centre has both outdoor as well as indoor courts so you do not have to worry about the unpredictable British weather. The centre has four indoor courts, which can be hired from £15 per session. If you want to feel the wind in your hair, you can book one of the six outdoor courts from only £8 per session, whether it is for a gentle knockabout or competitive matches that would make Nadal or Sharapova sweat. The courts are available for use seven days a week. Kids can also join up on a special five-day ‘mini tennis camp’ for indoor tennis. With experienced coaches from the sport and a different focus in every session, the camps are an easy introduction to this masterful sport for young ones aged from five to eight years. The mini tennis camps run from Monday to Friday, 10.00 am to 12.00 noon and cost £55 per participating child.

After a healthy session at the tennis courts, you can visit local attractions in Stratford and the Olympic Park. Highlights include the ‘Tumbling Bay’ playground, picturesque open spaces perfect for picnics and leisurely walks, the London Aquatics Centre, the Arcelor-Mittal Orbit - which resembles a hookah pipe and is Britain’s tallest sculpture – and the Copper Box Arena. Shoppers can visit the nearby brand-new Westfield Stratford City E20 and Stratford Shopping Centre, while culture vultures can travel out a bit to visit the kid-friendly Discovery Centre and see performances at the Theatre Royal. Stratford DLR, Tube and bus stations are close by, enabling links to all parts of London and beyond.

If you love horse-riding, have a go at the leisurely pony treks at the Lee Valley Riding Centre in Leyton, a short bus ride away from Stratford. Enjoy the great outdoors and meet like-minded pony enthusiasts while trekking through the meadows alongside the River Lee. The event is open to all families with children, regardless of any riding experience. The friendly and relaxing sessions are also a chance to learn about horse-riding, including handling the reins, to learning how to halt, steer and walk alongside your noble steed. The sessions cost £25 per person.

If this summer is proving a bit on the hot side for you, why not cool down with some ice-skating at the Lee Valley Ice Centre, also in Leyton. There are daily public skating sessions or for the newcomer, the Ice Centre has special classes to learn the basics from skating experts. Ice-skating costs £8.90 per child, which includes the price for hiring a pair of skates.

English: Lee Valley Ice Centre An Ice Rink on ...

English: Lee Valley Ice Centre An Ice Rink on Lea Bridge Road. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For families able to travel beyond the M25, the neighbouring counties of Essex and Hertfordshire have some exciting events being staged by LVRPA over the summer. The Lee Valley Park Farms in Waltham Abbey are offering full days of fun where children can get up close and personal with farmyard animals such as ducklings, sheep and even exotic wildlife like tamarin monkeys and meerkats. After bonding with animals, children can also let off some pent-up excitement at the nearby Hilltop Adventure Zone, where they can have tonnes of fun “aiming for the sky on the giant jumping pillow, whizzing down the slope of the toboggan run in a squidgy donut” before riding a tractor to the site’s operational dairy farm where they can learn where our milk and cheese come from. Parents of Peppa Pig fans have a special treat on the 30th July 2014. Tickets to the farm cost £8 per child, but you can get a 10% discount if you book online.

Waltham Cross’s Lee Valley White Water Centre is recommended for those who want a soaking wet adrenaline rush. This venue played host to the canoe slalom events at the London Olympics of two years ago and is now the permanent home of the Team GB Canoe Slalom team. Children on the summer break can have a go at basic canoeing on the centre’s manmade lake for only a fiver, in one of their special ‘Go Canoeing’ courses. The braver children can take part in a hot dog session, rafting or hydrospeeding the onsite rapids, for that ultimate foamy thrill chase. If they don’t fancy getting wet, that’s no problem. The less aquatically-inclined are treated to seeing paddlers in action and daredevil rafters tearing up the waterways at the Olympic-grade course. The white water events cost from £30 per person and there are age restrictions for some of the more demanding water sports.

If you want to feel a splash without going at full speed, there are calmer water events at the Lee Valley Boat Centre in Broxbourne, a sleepy commuter town deep within Hertfordshire. Only ten minutes’ drive from the valley’s White Water Centre, it is the perfect place to enjoy some gentle boating and a relaxing day out for tired parents and children. There are a choice of rowing boats, motorised vessels and pedalos all available for hire. Both centres are situated in the 1,000 acre Lee Valley Park, where there are opportunities for chilled-out picnics, nature walks or just some peaceful ‘me time’.

English: River Lea, River Lee Country Park, pa...

English: River Lea, River Lee Country Park, part of the 10,000 acre Lee Valley Regional Park (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you wish to find out more, ask about courses or available places, or to make bookings/reservations, the following are addresses and the official Lee Valley tourism website. All information made available in this article was provided by publicity from the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority.

Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre

Eton Manor, Leadmill Lane, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford, London E20 3AD.

Tel: 08456 770 604

Lee Valley VeloPark

Abercrombie Road, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford, London E20 3AB.

Tel: 08456 770 603

Lee Valley Riding Centre

Lea Bridge Road, Leyton, London E10 7QL.

Tel: +44 (0)20 8556 2629

Lee Valley Ice Centre

Lea Bridge Road, Leyton, London E10 7QL.

Tel: +44 (0)20 8533 3154

Lee Valley Park Farms

Stubbins Hall Lane, Waltham Abbey, Essex EN9 2EF.

Tel: +44 (0)1992 892 781

Lee Valley White Water Centre

Station Road, Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, EN9 1AB.

Tel: 08456 770 606

Lee Valley Boat Centre

Old Nazeing Road, Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, EN10 6LX.

Tel: +44 (0)1992 462 085

Website: visitleevalley.org.uk

 

SOURCE:
“School’s out, have fun in the Lee Valley” – Lee Valley, Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (leaflet)
IMAGE CREDITS:
“2014-07-12 16.57.39″ – Vijay Shah, Half-Eaten Mind, Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/110818734@N02/
“File:Lee Valley Ice Centre.JPG” –  Danny Robinson, Wikimedia Commons [via geograph.org.uk] (15 April 2007) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lee_Valley_Ice_Centre.JPG
“File:River lee Country Park.jpg” – LeeValleyRegionalPark, Wikimedia Commons (16 December 2009) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:River_lee_Country_Park.jpg

 

VERY INSPIRING MIND: An award from Gene the Sourcerer

Hot on the heels of the awesome Versatile Blogger Award picked up on Monday from Kim Gosselin, I then discovered that I have also gone and got myself a coveted Very Inspiring Blogger Award from good blogging pal Gene Gordon of the “Sourcerer” blog.

(c) original designer via G. Gordon

(c) G. Gordon

(c) G. Gordon

Sourcerer is a blog about music, comics, photos and opinions. It is a multi-contributor outfit posting the latest happenings in the world of pop culture, humour, social commentary and geekery. If you need to learn the hard and fast facts about the state of this world, but want to get your side fill of special-edition Marvel comics and Star Trek features, let the Sourcerer work his magic on you.

In addition to Gene, the blog also showcases the works of four other bloggers, Gene’s sister Diana, who blogs under ‘Part Time Monster’ (a previous award sender of the Half-Eaten Mind), Comp Geek David, Quaint Jeremy and Marissa Bergen. An operation of family and friends, the Sourcerer is all about blogging for enjoyment, sharing the contributors’ individual and varied talents and reaching out to people with similar interests. They like to keep things loose and funny, but occasionally venture into the territory of political and social issues.

Gene himself was nominated for the VIBA by Nerd in the Brain on the 6th of July 2014 (Sunday) which he was very happy about and commented that it had come at a perfect time. All of the nominees Gene chose have been those who have inspired him in one way or another. I have inspired Gene on his Twitter journey and we have given each other a lot of support. I admire and am inspired by his writing skill, his grasp of multitudinous topics and the fact that he is an awesome guy to have known. Thanks very much!!

The Two Rules:

1) The nominee shall display the Very Inspiring Blogger Award logo on her/his blog, and link to the blog they got nominated from.

This award nomination was from Gene Gordon of ‘Sourcerer’. His nomination article can be found here.

2) The nominee shall nominate fifteen (15) bloggers she/he admires, by linking to their blogs and informing them about it.

My inspiring nominees are:

1. Mother Nature

2. Inese MJ Photography

3. AJAYTAO BOTANICAL PHOTOGRAPHY

4. The Science Era blog

5. Dear Kitty

6. sachemspeaks

7. Aquamosh’s Blog

8. iiThinks

9. ALIEN AURA’S BLOG

10. Alaturi de Tine…

11. Jo Robinson

12. FREE BIRD

13. Keem Prestige Global Success Network

14. AshiAkira’s Blog

15. It Is What It Is

SOURCES/IMAGE CREDITS:
“I am a Very Inspiring Blogger, apparently :-)” – Gene Gordon, Sourcerer (7 July 2014) http://sourcererblog.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/i-am-a-very-inspiring-blogger-apparently/
“About Our Blogs” – Gene Gordon, Sourcerer http://sourcererblog.wordpress.com/about/

GIFT OF GRATEFULNESS: Versatile Blogger Award from Kim

On the 7th of July, 2014 (this past Monday) the Half-Eaten Mind has been kindly blessed with its first peer-offered blogging award since May. The Versatile Blogger Award, complete with a special trophy badge, was awarded by a good friend, Kim Gosselin, who writes on the blog “Chronic Conditions & Life Lessons“. We would like to humbly thank Kim for considering this blog to be adorned with a very fine and shining gold accolade.

(c) original designer via K. Gosselin

Kim’s blog consists of a series of articles revolving around her family, parenthood, life issues and general observations. Born in the northern American state of Michigan, home to big lakes and big cars, Kim is the eldest of five children. Deeply family-oriented, she lives her life without prejudice and celebrates the diversity of the world around her. Her hobbies are many and wide-ranging, running the gamut from films, travelling, nature,and spending time with her family and friends, to morning coffees, reading, writing, mentoring, music and the theatre.

She married in her twenties and is blessed with two sons. While her children have always brought her joy and happiness, she has also had to be a strong mother in that her boys both were diagnosed with chronic conditions, namely Type A diabetes and asthma. She has used her writing talents to produce books for other mothers in her social circle to help them better understand raising and understanding children with such impacting health issues. She is also a grandmother to a baby girl and boy. Her life experiences and writing skills, honed as a self-employed business owner/children’s author of 16 titles and 26 other published works, were brought into the online world in October 2013, when she began acquainting herself with the blogging platform WordPress, and “Chronic Conditions & Life Lessons” eventually took shape.

To my surprise the words came spewing out. Not like the books I used to write for children years ago. Instead, a whole new voice burst forth from inside my head. I couldn’t sleep at night or wait to get up before the sun would rise. With coffee by my side, I’d hunt for letters on my keyboard in the moon of the morning. Passion hooked me once again!

- Kim Gosselin

(c) K. Gosselin

(c) K. Gosselin

Kim received her award from Susanne Leist at http://susanneleist.wordpress.com/. Kim described this award as “beautiful in gold, tall and true, it is a symbol of support and admiration for my work”. Unlike other versions of the Versatile Blogger award badge, which feature old-fashioned print graphics, Kim’s version from her friend Susanne depicts a golden trophy engraved with the name of the award. It is quite like the little trophies you might get for winning a class football tournament at school.

Here is Kim’s nomination article:

Gratefulness

Rules of Acceptance

List 7 Fun Facts about Yourself

1. I must be the luckiest man in the world when it comes to buying lunch at work, as my office sits directly above a Sainsbury’s supermarket. I therefore do not have to walk very far to get snacked up on sandwiches, chocolates, fruits or whatever I feel like, within Sainsbury’s remit.

2. I’m normally a quiet person, but I can talk for ages and ages until my mouth gives up on me.

3. I’ve recently got the hang of cooking rice. A very useful skill if you’re half South Asian.

4. I am very fascinated by the ins and outs of journalism, especially the latest developments in it. It is the career I studied for at university and why I have this blog.

5. I am very fussy about cleanliness and personal hygiene, but will leave stuff all over my room’s floor.

6. I was recently stung by a wasp on my way to work. It somehow found itself between my vest and stomach and discharged its sting as my clothing rubbed on it while I was walking. It stung like hell, before the insect, which was probably at the end of its lifespan anyway, fell to the pavement. Talk about going out with a bang!

7. At my workplace, there are two ladies who seem to have crushes on me. Both are redheads (one is more ginger). I also had a stalker who pretty much obsessed over me for four years. I gave her short shrift.

Nominate 15 Deserving Bloggers for This Prestigious Award  

1. Foxy-O

2. Casual Blogger

3. Vera Komnig 

4. LFFL 

5. Mirror of your Health

6. Smorgasbord

7. purpleraysblog

8. Doru 

9. jorobinson176 

10. TheCrazyBagLady

11. Conrad

12. rabirius 

13. MsTranquility 

14. Ileana 

15. AshiAkira 

Congratulations to all the lucky recipients of the Versatile Blogger Award. It is not incumbent upon you to accept, but it is my way of showing gratitude for your support and just for being cool people really.

All nominees were chosen from recent likes on my blog around 6th to 7th June.

CORRECTION:

Kim Gosselin would like to state for the record, that she sold her children’s publishing company back in 2000. Although she retained author’s copyrights, she does not receive royalty fees, etc.

- Amended 19/07/2014 V.S.

SOURCES:
“Gratefulness” – Kim Gosselin, Chronic Conditions & Life Lessons (7 July 2014) http://kimgosselinblog.com/2014/07/07/gratefulness/
“About Me” – Kim Gosselin, Chronic Conditions & Life Lessons http://kimgosselinblog.com/about-me/
“Directories & Awards” – Vijay Shah, The Half-Eaten Mind http://halfeatenmind.wordpress.com/links-awards/
IMAGE CREDITS:
“Gratefulness” – Kim Gosselin, Chronic Conditions & Life Lessons (7 July 2014) http://kimgosselinblog.com/2014/07/07/gratefulness/

BLASPHEMOUS QUILT: Clothes retail chain blasted for selling Lord Ganesh duvet cover

The international Hindu community has expressed outrage against the fashion retail outlet Urban Outfitters after they began selling a quilt with the image of Lord Ganesh superimposed on it, in a direct contravention against Hinduism‘ beliefs regarding the portrayal of deities and yet another example of Western fetishism of the beliefs and imagery of one of the world’s oldest religions.

Urban Outfitters is a high-street clothing and home furnishings chain which operates in both America and the United Kingdom. Headquartered in Philadelphia, the company specialises in selling clothing, housewares and shoes with a vintage, retro and funky hipster feel. Together with its subsidiary brands, the retailer operates around 400 shops worldwide.

Ganeshotsav in Maharashtra

Ganeshotsav in Maharashtra (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The company recently began selling the ‘Valentina Ramos For DENY Lord Ganesha’ duvet cover on its American website for a retail price of between $129 and $169. According to the product description listed next to the offensive item, the quilt was designed by Venezuelan-born graphic artist Valentina Ramos, a member of the DENY Designs artists’ colective. This collective specialise in “fresh, statement-making pieces” and is only being shipped in the United States. Observant devout Hindus who chanced upon the quilt cover on the website began writing complaints to Urban Outfitters. Images of Hindu deities are accorded the uttermost respect and are used by worshippers to focus their minds on God when praying. Usage of deities’ images for commercial purposes is considered blasphemous and disrespectful. In the case of Urban Outfitters, the usage of Lord Ganesh’s image, shown on the site in thick line drawing format and printed with stereotypically bright ‘Indian’ colours, is particularly onerous as customers who purchase the Valentina Ramos cover will be using it to sleep under and engage in intimate activities.

Urban Outfitters were previously slammed by the American Hindu community after selling socks imprinted with the image of Lord Ganesh, which were quickly withdrawn from sale after the backlash. The red and blue socks which has a Tamil-style image of Lord Ganesh sewn into the fabric around the part of the item above the ankle, were being sold for $8 a pair and were dropped from sales in December 2013. The retail chain has in previous years also insulted Navajo people, African- and Irish-Americans, and the obese. Its branding of t-shirts and scarves has also drawn criticism from groups with the US Christian and Jewish communities.

Rajan Zed, the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism said in a statement about the duvet yesterday: “[Lord Ganesh is] highly revered in Hinduism and was meant to be worshipped in temples or home shrines and not to be slept … upon. Inappropriate usage of Hindu deities or concepts for commercial or other agenda was not okay as it hurt the devotee.” Zed’s comment and this original story were published by the international Hindu rights and education organisation Forum for Hindu Awakening. He has also asked Urban Outfitter’s president Richard Hayne and chief executive officer Tedford Marlow to tender an apology to the group and the wider Hindu community.

Mr. Zed also made statements on Urban Outfitter’s previous transgression with the socks depicting Lord Ganesh. At that time, Urban Outfitters released a statement in response, saying: “We sincerely apologize [sic] if we offended the Hindu community and our customers.

“We appreciate Rajan Zed and the Universal Society of Hinduism for bringing this matter to our attention and for helping us understand the cultural and religious sensitivities this product carries. We will remove the Ganesh Socks immediately from our website and stores.”

Urban Outfitters have not yet responded to Zed’s comments on this current and repeat slander against the Hindu faith and the offending duvet cover is still available for sale on the retailer’s website, as noted today by the Half-Eaten Mind.

Lord Ganesh, also known as Ganpati Dada and Vinayak, is the son of Lords Shiva and Parvati in Hinduism. He is the remover of obstacles in a person’s life and symbolises all beginnings and ends. He is also the patron deity of the arts and sciences and blesses humanity with intellect and wisdom. Many yoga centres in both India and the West place an image of Lord Ganesh on the walls of their premises to bless the quest for learning among yoga students. Some smaller companies producing clothes for yoga fans in the US have included small images of Lord Ganesh on their clothing for decoration but have not attracted controversy due to their more devoted intentions surrounding the use of the holy image.

Many Westerners have long being attracted to both Indian culture and religion, with bindis, Asian fabrics, ethnic jewellery and arts long making trends in Europe and North America. While many commentators have lauded this cultural crossover, others have claimed that the obsession with trends and fashion, the ‘next big thing’ have reduced both cultural and religious symbols of non-white cultures to mere playthings and statements. Artistic depiction of deities is commonplace among Hindu artisans but is always done in a respectful manner and not using media or materials that are blasphemous or offensive to the religion.

 

 

SOURCES:
Facebook, Facebook Inc. https://www.facebook.com/
Forum for Hindu Awakening, Facebook, Facebook Inc. https://www.facebook.com/Hinduawakening?fref=nf
“Urban Outfitters causes outrage in the Hindu community AGAIN with $169 duvet cover featuring a religious deity ‘not meant to be slept upon’ ” Daily Mail via Forum for Hindu Awakening/Forum for Hindu Awakening Inc. (2 July 2014) http://forumforhinduawakening.org/dharma/news/2014/07/03/urban-outfitters-causes-outrage-hindu-community-169-duvet-cover-featuring-religious-deity-meant-slept-upon/
Urban Outfitters (UK) http://www.urbanoutfitters.com/uk/index.jsp
“Urban Outfitters” – Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons Inc. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_Outfitters
“Valentina Ramos For DENY Lord Ganesha Duvet Cover” – Urban Outfitters http://www.urbanoutfitters.com/urban/catalog/productdetail.jsp?id=30816441#
“Hindus urge Urban Outfitters to pull Lord Ganesha duvet cover” – Christina Paciolla, Metro New York/Metro (1 July 2014) http://www.metro.us/newyork/news/national/2014/07/01/hindus-urge-urban-outfitters-pull-lord-ganesha-duvet-cover/
IMAGE CREDIT:
“File:Ganesh maharashtra.jpg” – Jonoikobangali, Wikimedia Commons (5 September 2008) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ganesh_maharashtra.jpg

THE CRISIS: Half-Eaten Mind silenced by weekend shutdown

Recently the Half-Eaten Mind suffered what could well be described as the biggest crisis in its two-year existence. For more than two days, over the course of last weekend (28-29 June 2014), the blog was taken offline after allegedly violating the terms and conditions of usage concerning its hosting blog platform, WordPress.

The blog did not finally rejoin the Internet until the following Monday, when this article was begun in draft form. This is the story of how the partially digested brain was almost silenced for good, as told by blog owner and editor Vijay Shah. He produced this article to celebrate the blog returning but also as an educational article and a bit of hopefully helpful reassurance for any other blogger out there who ever experiences the same issue. While researching the problem, the author found several articles by other bloggers who had their sites suspended and he thought to write this post as a way of passing on the good deed they did in giving him a sliver of hope.

Friday 27/6/14: I had done my usual thing of perusing news sources on Twitter looking for that next big scoop. I was nearing the end of a two-week hiatus from work. A badly needed break from the usual stress of customer service checks, tonnes of data in little virtual yellow folders and general office politics, and a chance to work full-time on the Half-Eaten Mind. Originally I was planning not to post anything that day, as I was going to get ready and visit my mother’s place later on, but changed my mind after I was told that the visit may have had to be cancelled. So I switched on my laptop and began typing up the news story for that day, which concerned a west African government signing a contract with a PR company to fix up its reputation in the wake of a huge scandal that rocked that region. I then got the all-clear to go to my Mum’s after all. I stopped typing the article and put the laptop on standby. I then left the house around 5:00 pm and got on the 241 bus at Balaam Street, Plaistow, to travel onwards to Stratford station.

(c) f1uffster (Jeanie) via Flickr, Compfight

I returned home about 11:15 pm after being dropped off by a family friend and resumed working on the story. Once done, I did my other usual thing of formatting the article’s layout and putting in related articles from the Zemanta plugin. It seemed to be yet another event-free publishing session at the Half-Eaten Mind office. Nothing out of the usual. Not even a picture overflowing the page or a irrelevant link that needed pruning. I hit that little orange ‘Publish‘ button and waited for the article to go online. It published as always, but instead of seeing the article as normal. I was confronted with a grey screen and a message…

“halfeatenmind.wordpress.com is no longer available.
This blog has been archived or suspended for a violation of our Terms of Service.
For more information and to contact us please read the message in your dashboard.”

A facial expression blended fifty-fifty between confusion and fear immediately took up position on the front of my head. I just sat there in my knackered old swivel chair thinking what on earth I could have done. I tried a few things to bring my blog onto the screen but it was not happening. Reading the message made me think. Did I do something that bad that my blog was simply shuttered….shut down?. Violation? Terms of Service?. I felt like I had been labelled a criminal. The really annoying thing was that I had no idea what crime it was I had committed. Still somewhat shocked and panicky, I immediately began frantically searching on Google for an answer to the situation. Unfortunately I was so out of it that I could not think straight. Frustration and annoyance blew like cyclone wind over my huddled frame as the weekend closed in and my eyelids got heavier. In two years of blogging, I never had an issue as profound as this. Had I pissed someone off? Was my humble news site a victim of bored spotty hackers looking for kicks. I didn’t have a Scooby!.

About an hour later, my blogging friend and regular site visitor Alex, sent me a tweet asking me what had happened to my blog.

Before long, Alex’s tweet was in turn picked up by my youngest sister Anjali who also inquired as to what happened to the Half-Eaten One. Clearly people I knew and loved were seeing this was something out of the ordinary. I had a lot of explaining to do.

I was certainly annoyed that my blog was shut down without any prior notice and with no warning given, and that the filler page that now occupied the space where my blog had been was going to be visible to everyone. I had seen that page before on other obsolete blogs and when I saw that online version of a boarded-up shop window, I immediately assumed that they had done something ‘real bad’ to get their blog binned like that. So understandably I was ‘bricking it’ with concern. It was now coming to one o’clock in the morning and I was just too tired and aggrieved to do any more research on the matter. After sending two emails to the WordPress Terms of Service team via the link in the red-box warning notice slapped on my dashboard, whereby I copied and pasted the text now condemning me to blogging oblivion from my now defunct site, I decided to get some sleep. I felt as miserable as the drab shade of grey splashed all over the ‘out of service’ page where my blog used to be. I didn’t get very much sleep that night. That’s what worrying does to me.

————

Saturday 28/6/14: I got up at around 9.45 am and still half-asleep, switched on my mobile phone which I had tucked into bed with me close to the pillow the night before, as per usual. I waited for that stupid Samsung welcome graphic to get lost and opened up the Firefox browser. I looked at my website and disappointingly,  it hadn’t changed one bit from last night, just it was now on a smaller screen. Teeth-gritting time. I got showered, got ready and headed to the local Iceland supermarket to perform the ritual of the weekly food shopping. In this distressing time, I needed to keep a semblance of normality. When I got back from the trip, I powered the laptop on as well and began doing some extensive research into the reason HEM got put on ice.

I was already well aware that my blog was apparently taken down and archived as I was in violation of some rules, so I began reading said rules to try and find an answer. The WordPress terms of service (linked to at the bottom of this article) are essentially the do’s and don’t’s of using the blogging platform that everyone compulsorily signs up on when they begin blogging with WordPress. They are designed to not only protect WordPress from any likely harm brought on by tricksters and other odious types, but to also make the blogging experience better for everyone. I won’t go into too much detail here but briefly summarising, the TOS covers aspects such as the usage of the software provided for the blog, and the responsibility of contributors; including avoiding extremely controversial material, viruses and naming blogs in impersonation of another company. The Terms then go on to list regulations on payments and renewals, VIP blogging services and issues surrounding things like advertising, domain names, intellectual property and copyrights. Thankfully it is not written in a hodge-podge of gobby legalese and is fairly accessible to your average English-speaking person with a brain. Even one with a half-eaten one, it seems.

I also had a look at the page on types of blogs normally hosted by WP to give me a flavour of what’s not good for their system and to see where I went wrong. From what I gathered, WP hate the following kinds of blogs:

  • Scraper blogs that simply swipe content from other blogs and mainstream sites and reproduce them wholesale. That really annoys them… “If a blog contains stolen content, it’s gone!“.
  • SEO blogs which are designed to cheat search engines and propel themselves to the top of search results without carrying a smidgen of meaningful human-written content. You can also apply keyword stuffing and blogs that simply are a jumbled directory of links – usually to crappy things like illicit pills, enhancers and associated bull.
  • Warez blogs which carry illegally copied or downloaded content – music, films, football matches etc. or offer links to sites carrying such content. That can get WP into serious legal problems from those trying to fight piracy and protect copyrights.
  • Automated blogs that are cooked up by bots/computers and are packed with mass-produced or generic content and not much else.

So I had a good idea of what stuff was definitely fit for the virtual bin as far as my blog provider was concerned. The problem was, none of these things applied to my blog. It’s a news magazine, with a bit of personal blog on the side. No dodgy stuff. I was not out to defraud anyone. I did not feel like I did anything wrong. It was rather like I had been put in trouble for something I may or may not have done, yet I had no idea what it was. You could be anecdotal and say this was the equivalent of a police officer arresting someone, handcuffing them and then placing them in a cell for breaking the law. But in this case, the arrested has no idea what crime they committed and when they ask the cop what exactly they had been brought in for, the officer simply proffers a handbook of criminal law and tells them to read it and figure it out for themselves. I even felt the suspension notice had in a way, presumed me guilty before innocent. It did feel that way a lot.

(c) San Diego Shooter via Flickr, Compfight

Luckily, unlike the officer who wouldn’t even bother fetching you a cup of tea but just sit there jabbing his finger into your chest all day (proverbially), WP did offer one concessionary olive branch. The option of downloading your blog as a ‘XML Export file’ and saving it onto your computer. With this file, you can open up another blog, either on another free blogging service or a self-hosted blog via the WordPress.org blog software package. You would however have to buy your own domain name (URL) and that would involve paying for it directly, plus monthly hosting fees. By now I was quite desperate, and therefore readily stomached the pain of having to now part with cold hard dutty cash for my blog’s upkeep. A small sacrifice I thought and many bloggers do it without compulsion as it gives them more leeway and freedom with their blogs, including widgets and advertising. I saved the export file in three different places to be on the safe side, one on my USB drive alongside my blog images, one on my computer and one which I emailled to myself. Better safe than sorry.

In the course of my research online, I learnt a few things, which gave me significant hope and positive thoughts, but also opened my eyes to people’s despair, anger and frustration. Firstly I came to realise from reading other accounts of blog suspension that every day, WP uses a filtering bot that looks out for a certain something that rhymes with ‘ham’. It seemed that this filter was quite overzealous as I soon learnt. One man, a homeless person from Vancouver in Canada, had blogged about a Russian group that was launching attacks using the electronic messaging whose name rhymes with ‘ham’. He mentioned the group by their name and his blog got suspended, taken him by utter surprise. Another writer had mentioned a new dieting pill. They fell victim to the bot too. Of course not everyone was so innocent. Several bloggers got into small amounts of trouble over hosting ads or banners on their sites, which contravenes WP rules. The WP equivalent of a small tap on the wrist and a “don’t do that again!!”. Nevertheless some people were not getting away so lightly. One blogger was told in no certain terms that he did not deserve his blog being reinstated because he had hosted links to illegal streams of cricket matches. I also discovered that bloggers could also be suspended for copyright violations and plagiarism. I was concerned that that might have been a cause, though I rewrite dramatically all news articles cited here and studiously only make use of copyright waived images to spice up the articles. The more I read, the more I realised I might have been tripped up by the anti-‘ham’ filter. The same generic message from the TOS team kept appearing, as bloggers celebrated the liberation of their babies from binary code-ringed purgatory and henceforth pardoned from death by deletion from WP servers.

I was still quite scared. WP state without ambiguity that any blogs that broke the rules would be terminated. They had the right to seize your content and not return it to you. Your URL would be confiscated and would also be dealt with as well. But on the reprieving side, if there was a mistake, your blog would be restored with full honours and everything intact. For a small minority, they would simply be asked to remove the offending content and as long as they played ball and followed instructions properly, everything would be okay. Only in extreme cases were blogs destroyed with no hope of return.

I spent a lot of time reading the WP support forums, although I could not post on them for help myself. My forum posting privileges were also revoked. I never really posted anything on those forums and very occasionally read them, but at one point I really wanted to get some help from the support people. I saw a lot of other bloggers with the same problem. Alas, the support staff, who are unpaid volunteers, were strictly forbidden to discuss TOS violations and simply told everyone to send the emails to TOS crew via the big red suspension notice. Fat lot of good that was going to be for me, I thought. However while it was not nice to read other bloggers gripes at their blogs getting mothballed – indeed it was the WP equivalent of listening to sick people cough and groan in a hospital accident and emergency ward, but with better tasting cappucinos – I found some diamonds of hope amid the dirt of despair. I saw the comments of one forum contributor, a mysterious fellow named ‘raincoaster’ whose sole calling card was a blue symbol of an Egyptian hieroglyph, an eye. He was a journalist who blogged on issues concerning ‘ham’ and ‘packing’ (as in words that rhyme with certain virtual abuses) in technology. Apparently due to their subject matter ‘raincoaster’ had been suspended ‘numerous’ times. He or she did not say how many exactly or what exactly for, but it gave credence to my theory that I had been caught up by a bot. I kept thinking that perhaps the several Facebook links I had cited as image credits for a recent article I wrote on Luis Suarez biting memes might have been the culprit…or the article I posted just before bloggy went bye-bye. It did mention a west African country synonymous with the notorious ‘419’ ham, there were verbal depictions of governments and ministers and sums of money were also included. To an unthinking filtration bot, devoid of any awareness of context in an article, this piece would have sounded just like those stupid ham emails everyone gets from some relative of a rich prince who needs their bank details to send them a juicy payment by Western Union or something. Anti-ham bot got shifty, flagged the Mind and it was closing time. The End. Or was it really?. As I read on, I became more confident that I w0uld be back.

I also discovered:

  • That based on other bloggers’ accounts, a reply back from WP TOS staff could take anywhere between a few hours to one week, in one unlucky writer’s case. From that I deduced that the average waiting time was one to two days, depending on the workload of the TOS team. They do have meetings like many people in the tech geek industry and do not operate on weekends, so if you get pulled over on a Friday night, as I did, you’re in for a bit of a wait. Please take a numbered ticket and choose a seat. Thank you. Also as WordPress HQ is in California, USA they may respond to your help request at unsociable hours. I was until then hoping that they had an office in the UK, India or somewhere closer to my timezone, but nope, unfortunately not.
  • That you have to be patient when expecting a response to your suspension email. They will get back to you. Once you fill out the form on the link in the suspension notice, they will receive it. Do not keep sending emails though, as it will drop you down the queue, which is not great if they are busy. Older tickets get dealt with first.
  • Most bloggers seemed to have fallen foul of the bot.
  • Volunteers on the support forums cannot help you beyond the basics and are heavily reliant on copy-and-paste answers. Some do occasionally offer pearls of wisdom and advice and sometimes staff such as CSS experts and ‘happiness engineers’ will make appearances. However, this is rare as an intoxicated dragon high off crystal meth while breakdancing in the Ministry of Sound nightclub. The volunteers generally seem equally useless and helpless, their hands of course being bound by the state. I especially felt sorry for one college student who posted on the forums and who had made a project using a blog, only to see it suspended and inaccessible a day before she was meant to hand it in to the lecturer. No word on her fate…or grades.
  • People who have imported their blogs from other platforms or just opened new blogs have found themselves locked out of them, before even applying their first new article.
  • Some bloggers were so annoyed at their suspensions that they decided to ditch the free WordPress altogether and go paid mode or shift allegiance to Blogger or website hosts.
  • That in addition to enabling the suspended to download their blogs in XML format, WP do also kindly offer a handful of recommended hosting services at low, low prices – such as GoDaddy and Hostgator, so if you don’t get your blog back you at least have somewhere else to start afresh.
  • That WP do not send out warning emails before suspension, partly as many bloggers have not updated the emails they use for site registration when they change address, but also that there’s no guarantee that the warning will be read. It might end up in a junk folder or be willfully ignored. Arguably though, they are a bit steep to then assume that that they should not have to send out these emails because bloggers don’t warn them that they are about to infringe the TOS. But what if the blogger didn’t even realise the infringement?
  • If you are suspended, you can still peruse the forums but CANNOT post on them, unless you create a backup account or have spare one lying around for logging in to.
  • WP prefer to be contacted by email through the appropriate channels. The owner of the platform, Automattic Inc, make it explicit on their site not to be telephoned about complaints and subscriptions. The same applies for postal enquiries.

(c) benchilada via Flickr, Compfight

As WP was shut for the weekend, I could do nothing but sit and wait. Granted at least without any posting to do, I had time for other things. I even had a spare hour to read a novel, but it felt unnatural not having a blog to update. It was like losing a body part. You can still carry on with life, but you know something is missing and you sense it. Okay, so I am a tad exaggerating here, but if you’re a serious blogger like I am, doing it for the love and not the money, you might be able to understand where I’m coming from. Still I was worried my blog would not see the light of the laptop screen for good. I was thinking of all the accounts and sites belonging to me that mentioned the blog, such as the HEM Twitter feed, Flickr Page etc. The blog was on my LinkedIn profile and even mentioned on the CV I use to apply for journalism vacancies. If the blog closed down, then the associated accounts would be like broken anchors stuck out at sea, with no ship to reel them in. I would have to close them all down, and I solemnly and sadly vowed that if I could not get HEM back, I would never blog again. There was no way I could start all over after two years of effort, hard work and memories. I thought of the collaborators I worked with and all the followers. They would see their contributions and favourite articles vanish, probably forever. I needed this blog for my future. Without it, reaching that dream and having that focus in life would be a bit harder.

———–

Monday 30/6/14: It was my first day back at work. While I was happy to see my friends and colleagues again, the pronounced and heartfelt absence of my dearly beloved was still sitting like a pile of bricks at the back of my head. I was hoping that once the WP team started work at 9 am Pacific time (US); which is around 4 pm (UK) time over here, then they would sort out the suspension. I wasn’t expecting a quick reply though and thought how funny it would be to get a reply in the middle of the night or something.

In between spare bits of time, I checked my blog email account to see if by any chance it had come through. Nope, nothing. I decided to stop harassing the Hotmail…sorry, Outlook, and wait till 4:00 to check again. I did then check at exactly four. The sacred email had failed to bless my inbox with its presence. Disappointed was an understatement. Okay so I assume this email will be arriving on a late-night delivery service then?….but then, just as I was about to finish work for the day, I made one last checkup on the HEM inbox until I packed up the desk to travel homewards, and there it was. An email from WordPress. For ticket number 1878220, received at 5.24 pm. Happy days!!. Indeed I was so exuberantly animated I felt like spontaneously cheering, but that would have only subjected me to strange looks from the office. I quietly punched the air in delight as I read the email, which was an automatic generic email sent by ‘Community Guardian’ Cat, who I am very grateful to for bailing out my blog. Thanks a million, Cat. You’re our Half-Eaten Mind Heroine. I checked on my blog, and aside from having to clear the browser cookies and cache, and some initial slowness with the blog’s components loading up (although this could be because of my woefully crap home wi-fi connection), everything was looking great.

Hi there,

Thank you for getting in touch. Your site was flagged by our automated anti-s**m controls. We have reviewed your site and have removed the suspension notice.

Please be sure to clear your browser’s cache and, if necessary, restart the browser.
http://en.support.wordpress.com/browser-issues/#clear-your-cache-and-cookies

We greatly apologize for this error and any inconvenience it may have caused.
Cat | Community Guardian | WordPress.com

So indeed I was rather right after all. Just a rowdy bot with an over-eager attitude. The TOS Reports staff had a look at the Mind, decided the coast was clear, and set me free.

To be honest, there were times when I wanted to curse WP in a fiery apocalyptic storm of choice expletives for their brutal application of the suspension, but at the same time I now feel that you cannot really take out your frustrations on a mindless bot that just cannot figure out a bit of context. Without that bot, WordPress would be a minefield of dodgy sites and spurious troublemakers, which fellow blog platform Blogger is said to be constantly afflicted by. It is good that WP are looking out for bloggers and ensuring everyone’s online safety, for them, their blogs and possibly their wallets/purses too. I just think it would be a better idea if WP could at least inform the blogger in advance that their site is under suspicion or scrutiny and maybe instead of suspending the whole thing, it would more advisable and appear less dictatorial to simply just continue giving the suspect access to their site, but for example, stopping them from placing up new posts.

(c) Lara Cores via Flickr, Compfight

If you have just had your blog suspended and are looking online for a solution or some answers, I hope that this article will have helped you. If not, or if you were like me and desperate to find more information, I am also enclosing these links to various WP pages and accounts of the stresses and strains of dealing with blog suspension. These are all from other unconnected bloggers, who eventually made it back from the brink, and lived to tell the blogging story of how they weathered their shutdowns.

WP Links:

Suspended Blogs – http://en.support.wordpress.com/suspended-blogs/

Types of Blogs – http://wordpress.com/types-of-blogs/

Home — Support — WordPress.com – http://en.support.wordpress.com/

WordPress.com Forums – http://en.forums.wordpress.com/

Automattic – http://automattic.com/

Suspended bloggers’ accounts – reassuring reading:

WordPress have suspended my blog! – Channel 9 – MSDN

Why WordPress suspended my blog – Just Thoughts

WordPress Blog Gets Suspended – NewspaperGirl

About My blog’s Suspension – Nice Deb – WordPress.com

WordPress.com Blog Suspended – ArcticLlama

Homeless in Vancouver: The “S” word and I don’t mean …

WordPress Blog Deleted/Archived for TOS Violation …

WordPress Sucks Big Time!… Removes Suspension on Our…

What To Do If Your WordPress.com Account or Blog Is …

An Open Letter to Matt Mullenweg – A blog suspended …

blog suspended – The Mad Reviewer – WordPress.com

 

 

ADDITIONAL SOURCES:
“Terms of Service” – WordPress.com, WordPress/Automattic http://en.wordpress.com/tos/
“Types of Blogs” – WordPress.com, WordPress/Automattic http://wordpress.com/types-of-blogs/
IMAGE CREDITS:
Alex Smithson, Twitter https://twitter.com/AlexSmithson98
Compfight http://compfight.com/
 

 

 

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