Friday 29 August 2014

Why the frosty reception for a cool idea? Ice bucket critics challenged

Oh my!! The world has gone ice crazy.

I have been watching videos on facebook of my old school friends, new friends, young people, old people and celebrities tipping icy water over their heads and laughing with glee at their discomfort. I have also donated to MND. I have, therefore, had the pleasure of both schadenfreude and giving – the awesome musical Avenue Q has songs about both of these which can be accessed by clicking on the links.

I have also read with bafflement the proliferation of anti-ice bucket challenge stuff that has been posted and so I feel the need stick my two penn’orth in to the debate.

There seem to be two main arguments against the ALS ice bucket challenge
It is an obscene waste of water

Yes. It is appalling that while we pour bucket loads of the stuff over our heads there are many parts of the world where water is a precious commodity and clean, fresh water almost unheard of. However, we waste water every day in the first world – showering, bathing and flushing toilets, watering gardens, washing cars, doing laundry.

When I was at school we had two dinner ladies (playground supervisors) who could have been the inspiration for Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker in Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. These power crazed hags took it in turn to supervise the pig bin and on Mondays (salad days but not in the good way) I would spend my entire lunch hour presenting my plate in a twisted parody of Oliver Twist 

“Please, miss I DON’T want any more”

I would be sent back to the table, where I would hide the pickled beetroot and coleslaw under the lumpy mash in the hope that this would fool Aunt Sponge or Spiker into thinking I’d eaten something else. 

It didn’t.

Inevitably I would be told that there were children in Africa who would be grateful for this food and as I forced down another couple of mouthfuls, trying not to gag, I wished I could stick the whole vile plate in the post.

I couldn’t do that then any more than we can send our buckets of iced water to those who need it so desperately. What we can do is use that water to raise money and awareness.

It is an unnecessarily showy way of raising money  

Yes, it is a showy way of raising money but why is that a bad thing. Someone who doesn’t appear to have a name, has blogged about this saying

We live in a real ‘look at me’ culture with anyone able to post on Facebook, YouTube or Twitter, hash tagging for followers, soliciting for likes and comments.

Absolutely, (and blogging is part of that look at me culture, by the way, anonymous blogger) but isn’t it good that instead of endless posts of cute cats and what’s for dinner social media is actually doing some good?

This Australian news anchor makes some good points. Yes we should all give to charity regularly and there are many out there to choose from but I strongly suspect that many of the folk I’ve watched getting iced don’t have an account with the Charities Aid Foundation or even put money in street collection tins. They are, however, making their £3 donations through their mobiles.

He also informs us that “more than $30million has been raised for ALS (which is what the Americans call Motor Neuron Disease MND) I for one can say with a fair degree of certainty that this is the first time I have donated to MND and yet I have given to cancer charities, the British Heart Foundation, Alzheimers, HIV, animal charities, both domestic and wild, children, Africa many times each.

This infographic is meant to make us rethink where we should be focusing our giving, but heart disease and respiratory illness are largely the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices ALS/MND is not. 

Please watch this video all the way through. I know he gets a bit tedious acting the fool in the first part but the second part is worth waiting for.

So to the people who have been pouring cold water on a brilliantly conceived fundraising initiative I challenge you to give something to any charity you like. You have 24 hours.

To donate £5 to MNDA text ICED55 to 70070. See full details at

Friday 15 August 2014

The Little Things Part 2

In Part 1 I mused about our jigsaw pieces and to what extent we could, or should, legislate to protect children from media that may adversely influence them. In Part 2 I want to ramble on about taking  responsibility for ourselves and our children, although Ben Elton does this so brilliantly in Popcorn that I could just leave you to follow the link…

…No. Sorry, Ben, can’t do it. So here goes…

Yes, we are made up from random instances that for some reason profoundly affect our psyche but to what extent can we blame our adult shortcomings on childhood experiences? I believe the answer is quite a lot. That doesn’t mean, however, that we can abjugate responsibility for our adult actions or spend our time pointing the finger and seeking retribution. We need to take responsibility for the person we have become, look at those jigsaw pieces that we don’t like or that are hampering our happiness and try to reshape them. 

Easier said than done?
Of course.

And just to make it more difficult we need to take responsibility for the things we say and do that might shape a dodgy bit of jigsaw for someone else. Especially if we are in positions of influence. Like celebrities (yes, Rolf Harris, I’m talking about you again.)

And teachers…

I heard about two instances from the last few weeks of teachers who have treated students unfairly. Their actions may have cut a jigsaw piece for the youngsters concerned. I could also relate several more cases of pedagogical injustice from my peers who have, indeed, been shaped by their experiences – “I don’t think I’ve given 100% to anything since” is not the kind of legacy for which most educators are aiming.

Injustice seems to be quite universal in its ability to carve jigsaw pieces. The phrase “Life’s not fair, get used to it” makes me want to scream and pull my hair out, so often is it used to justify an unnecessary act of unfairness. Life is often unfair because of the actions of people and if we all tried a bit harder then maybe life wouldn’t be so unfair. I certainly have no intention of getting used to it.

This is werewolf on the wane.
It's way too cute for full werewolf!
Don’t get me wrong, I am very capable of saying outrageously unfair things (usually at the time of the month when the werewolf is lurking) Beardy Man takes a deep breath, removes himself to safety waits for the rational me to return, realise my unreasonableness and apologise.

Let's be clear, apologising doesn’t give us license to behave as badly as we like and then say sorry, but I’m sure many a jigsaw piece could have disappeared under a metaphorical settee if a few more apologies had been forthcoming.
The trouble is if we don’t take responsibility for our impact on the world around us, then injustice is almost inevitable. Because if we don’t take responsibility then the government and the courts have no choice but to legislate for every aspect of our lives. And rules that are made to control the few but apply to the many will inevitably be unfair. They will also stop those who were taking responsibility from doing so in the future.

It’s happening already.

And the more it does, the less we need to think, to consider consequences, to make choices.

Really? Who knew?
And the easier it is to blame someone else…

“Hey MacDonalds! I burnt myself on that coffee. You shoulda told me it was hot. Pay up.”

Maybe if we all tried not to say or do things that have a good chance of cutting a duff bit of jigsaw for someone else, maybe if we took the time and effort to make sure the children in our charge are not watching Saw or reading James Herbert, maybe if we said sorry when we know we’re in the wrong, maybe, just maybe, we could stop blame-culture from running rampant.

(Here endeth today’s lesson)

Wednesday 13 August 2014

The Little Things

Isn’t it scary how the pieces of the jigsaw that make us who we are cannot be predicted?

From the young people whose adult lives have been affected by badly behaved celebrities to the children whose adult personalities may be adversely affected by reading The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks (winner of the 2014 Carnegie Award,) society is constantly striving to regulate what our children are exposed to, trying to mould the jigsaw pieces.

It can’t be done.

Random instances lodge in us like splinters when we’re young and no-one can foresee which of the thousands of interactions, sights and sounds that comprise a child’s daily life will resonate and which will pass by barely noticed.

The thing is, as adults, we don’t know which words spoken thoughtlessly in anger or, indeed, which moments of high praise will be the ones that shape a child forever.

That's scary.

Let’s consider Rolf Harris for a moment...OK that’s long enough…there are those who have dismissed his acts as trivial and, yes, some people would have shrugged off such unwanted attention and never given it another thought but, for others, his actions seriously impacted on their attitudes to men, relationships, sex. However, he should have known the damage he might have been doing and kept his hands to himself. Quite rightly, then, we have laws protecting us all against any kind of abuse of the body.

We also have laws protecting the minds of children from potentially damaging visual imagery. We call this certification and its purpose is to make bad films with violent or sexually explicit scenes more attractive to kids who are too young to realise that they’re watching rubbish. (Cynical? Moi?) It is ridiculous, for example, that a nine-year-old can happily devour every word of the seven Harry Potter books but can only watch the first three films.

So to The Bunker Diary and the idea that words can be harmful. Its content, allegedly (I haven’t read it yet,) makes The Hunger Games and Divergent look as benign as Winnie-the-Pooh. It has, therefore, fuelled a debate about whether YA books should be included under the umbrella of children’s fiction. I don’t want to express an opinion about this (unusual, I know) instead I want draw attention to the fact that we seem to be edging dangerously close to the idea of certificating books.

“NO!” I cry in anguish.

And I repeat, “NO!”

Please let there remain one bastion of freedom in our already overly-proscribed lives. 

There is no doubt that books can be enormously powerful. Reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and D H Lawrence’s poem Tortoise Shout in the 6th form had profound influences on my virginal and confused sexuality: The majority of that same class probably don’t remember anything about either text. Likewise, James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man* (apart from causing severe psychological damage to innocent 17 and 18 year-olds by boring them senseless for weeks on end) left me with a deeply embedded unease about hell. I don’t believe in hell in any rational way but…what if…

There is no reasoned argument that can unpick the impact of Joyce’s words. They have become an entrenched part of my being. Although I was Christened C of E and am agnostic, I carry Catholic guilt by proxy. Who knew an A level set text could have such power?


Should Joyce/Plath/Lawrence et al have a 19 certificate, rendering them unfit for A level students? Or perhaps I should I throw myself into our increasingly pervasive blame-culture and sue my English teacher? Or the school? Or the government? Or the publishers? Or the estates of the authors? Or all of the above?

“NO!” I cry again, this time in frustration.

Because if those writers hadn’t shaped me, others would have (and did in very positive ways.) 

Yes, words and moving pictures can and do harm us, but, unlike physical harm, we can make choices about what children in our care can cope with watching or reading. We cannot protect children from all the bad things in the world, no matter how much we may want to, no matter how hard we try. Scraped knees and banged heads, scary villains and bad dreams, they are all part of growing up. A child who never falls over, never has a nightmare, is only exposed to happy stories, will still have their share of dark jigsaw pieces cut by a harsh word, a small injustice, the loss of something cherished or Disney's Snow White. Ultimately, we cannot shape our children’s jigsaw pieces but we can take responsibility for the way we behave and the things that we say. (See Part 2

* I have a German copy if anyone wants to borrow it. My fellow students gave it to me on my 18th birthday as we happened to be in Germany at the time. Bless them!! Grrrr!

Friday 1 August 2014

I couldn’t eat a whole one

I have never had the urge to be a mother. Occasionally I have had a few seconds of broodiness when around a small baby but then it cries or needs its nappy changing or its mother tells the horror story of its birth and the moment of madness runs screaming from the reality as the small human is returned to its parent.

I am quite good at being an aunt. In fact I’m a great aunt. I have three Great Nieces and a Great Nephew courtesy of my Big Sis’s stepson and stepdaughter – I hasten to point out that I am very young to be a Great Aunt, my sister is MUCH older than me.

Daddy-Bear, Janie-Bear and the Cubs
Beardy Man has children. They are truly amazing and I really love the time we spend with them but I still have no urge to be a mother. I think mothers are incredible. When we have the children we are Daddy-Bear, Janie-Bear and the Bear Cubs (who I will call He-Cub and She-Cub) I will never regard myself as a stepmother because to be a mother/mum/mummy is so much more than being a father’s female partner who periodically acts in loco parentis. The cubs have a fantastic mum, who I respect and admire enormously, and they have a Janie-Bear.

Today marks the end of Week One with the Bear Cubs. On Monday the four of us were joined by Crazy Old Cat Lady (COCL) who brought my nephew, his 8 year old daughter (to be known as Aries,) his girlfriend (to be known as Juliet) and her daughter (to be known as Goldilocks) up to Lowestoft. They left at lunchtime today (Friday) and I have the darkened room booked for later. I am utterly exhausted but extremely pleased with myself – five adults and four children have all had a brilliant time: Pleasurewood Hills Theme Park, the beach, Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Oulton Broad and more ice-cream than an ice-creamy thing from ice-creamville (and that was just the adults) He-Cub (7) and She-Cub (10-teen) have been flaked out in front of the TV this afternoon. 

Pleasurewood Hills
Tomorrow we begin Week Two, The Sequel, which will star Nephew’s sister (Sneeze) and her two girls (Pisces, aged 8 and Taurus, 10-teen) as well as Beardy Man’s mum (Mummy B) and his twin sister (Taz) Locations used include Lowestoft, Abingdon, London and Worthing, with the emotional finale - returning the cubs to their mum - in Bedford.

I am very excited. Fingers crossed it works as well as Week One.

I still regard myself very much as an outsider in the realms of dealing with children and as such I would like to share with you some of the amazing things I have learnt:

1      Children are like seagulls – when there are tasty morsels to be had the noise and clamour is deafening.
2      Children are like cats – they hear and understand and then decide whether or not to take any notice.
3      Children are like dogs – before a long car journey you must exercise them and get them to have a wee.
4      Children are like cats AND dogs – one minute they are driving you nuts and the next they are so   disarmingly adorable they can get away with anything.

I love children, but…