Tag Archive | current affairs

Remembrance

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Remembrance Sunday is upon us and like many the world over, I shall observe a moment’s silence to pay my respects to all those who fought and died or fought and were forever changed to preserve a way of life.

But I see an argument springing up over the colour of the poppy we should take as our symbol on this day. Some say we should abandon the red and instead wear white as a sign of peace. I think that misses the point entirely.

On Remembrance Sunday and every day of the year besides, we should take care to remember the horror of war, the death and pointless waste of life it brings. The red poppy was chosen because it grew in the face and in the place of such tragic bloodshed. If we do not take the time to remember the violence, what meaning has observing peace on this day?

I will not abandon this symbol of hope born out of hatred, of life born out of so much heinous bloodshed. Remembrance Sunday is about finding that place in our hearts where all those fallen ancestors and contemporaries now reside. It is about carrying that forward and seeing that we still have not learned the lesson that Flanders’ fields tried to give – that in the face of horror great beauty can emerge.

The beauty of courage, of sacrifice, of sheer humanity at its most fragile and vulnerable point should never be forgotten. The red poppy is not a symbol of war or of violence. It is a symbol of the utmost, laid-bare reality of being human and it needs to stand out, to be worn with pride and honour. We owe that to the fallen, past, present and future. We owe it to them to show as much of that courage and humanity in life as they did in death.

While there is still a fight of any sort, anywhere, we need that symbol to remind us of what we must never allow to happen again. We must never allow fields be so ploughed by bombs and so nourished with blood that they flourish with aptly blood-red blooms again. When there is nothing left in this world that places a single thing under threat, then we can wear a white poppy alongside the red. The sacrifice made to bring about peace must always take equal if not greater precedence to the result in the minds of all humanity.

It’s red for a reason. Remember that whilst remembering how lucky we are that so many laid down their lives in the hope of a better world to come. Bow your head at 11am today and again tomorrow and whisper your gratitude for that lasting memory of hope against hope.

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Is it too crazy?

You know, I have never been so scared for my country in my life (and I’m not as young as I look!). The government has turned on the sick and disabled and the media have got right behind that, demonising people who are by no fault of their own unable to comply with the rigors of the traditional working life.

I had a run in with a taxi driver – those well-known armchair politicians – who was driving me to the hospital for the latest in a long list of appointments. He said I could work if I wanted to. I said live a few months in my life and see whether you could keep working to the pattern set out by someone else while your body is demanding rest. I asked him if he thought I’d walked away from a very good salary because it seemed like a good idea to live on the breadline instead. He couldn’t answer me on that but stopped judging me.

And it occurs to me that there must be many sick and disabled persons in the same situation as me; still sharp of mind, quick of wit, able to live a useful and contributory life if only the flexibility were available. I didn’t want to stop earning and I’m sure they didn’t either. I tried returning and within four months was destroyed because I had to stick to a rigid and inflexible pattern. That could have so easily been different.

With the technology available and the kind of jobs that can be done any time during the day, why is it that those who can prove a genuine need are not able to work as their situation allows? The hours in the day when I am at my best vary from day to day. On this reasonably bright Saturday, I was awake and about early and could be completing a seven hour day of useful work at this moment. Tomorrow I might not be fully functional until afternoon, but I’d be able to do another seven hours then.

Show me the employer who will allow that sort of pattern. Show me the employer who will let me shuffle down the stairs when my situation allows, sit down at my laptop and just work, resting when I need to, but getting the job done. They don’t exist or if they do they are few and far between.

And why is that? Is it because a manager needs to be looking over your shoulder regardless of whether the work is getting done? That’s a little paranoid of the employer. Is it because they’re afraid that people will see that it can work and start asking for greater flexibility? I said if a genuine need is proven. Or is it because there is a tradition that says you must be incapable of doing your job, even under circumstances that empower you to do so? Now we’re getting closer to the mark.

There are many kinds of work where it doesn’t matter which hours in the day you work as long as you do work. You’re hardly likely to see a person with a disability scaling a ladder to mend a roof or rescue people from a burning building I grant you. But crunching data, writing articles, designing all manner of things from websites to automobiles – that can be done at any time within a 24 hour period. Why is that still not recognised?

So many talented people are lost to the working world because there simply isn’t scope to incorporate them. How closed-minded does that make the world? How rigid and thereby brittle? One day, business might realise that people with disadvantages are all the more driven to be the best they can be and give their all to everything they do. So they might not be able to attend meetings. Ever heard of video conferencing? The telephone?

And what I say to governments making it impossible for the disadvantaged to do anything with their lives, if you address employers and maybe even incentivise trying a new flexible approach as described above, you might find a lot fewer people are forced to walk away from a full time working life before it kills them. You might even find a massive boost to the nation’s productivity because of the talent and determination injected back into business.

If you agree, whether partially or fully, share this blog. Give people some food for thought on what could really be done to alleviate both the suffering being endured by the sick and disabled right now and the burden the government are so sure is to blame for everything that’s wrong with this country. Open some eyes and some minds and we might just start to see improvement.

Attitudes need to change. The traditional methods are not working and therefore nor are many people who could be. But we need to talk about it, theorise, explore and pioneer or nothing will get better.

This is just the very tip of an idea. A dream. And if enough people dream that dream, there just might be a chance of making it real. Is that too crazy?

Taking literacy to a whole new level

It’s not often a project comes along that captures my imagination quite so much as the one I’m about to describe. I’ve recently had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of Steve Monosson, Creative Director at Borne Digital, based in New York. Now, Steve’s a nice guy, very talented, makes me laugh and then I asked about the project he’d mentioned in another context.

Stylus screeches across the vinyl, my eyes grow wide and I think “whoah”.

This is not some little creative venture. This is ground breaking stuff taking literacy education to a whole new level. Borne Digital produce books for reading on a tablet. eBooks. But these eBooks are created with multiple layers of content and the level of difficulty adapts to individual learning ability. Kind of like a level-up when you reach a certain stage in the game.

Read MSNBC’s article about this and vote for Borne to get a very important chance to be heard.

We all know how kids thrive in an interactive environment. We all know they’d rather be on the iPad than reading a dowdy old paperback. And quite importantly it is now known that many people with dyslexia are better able to read from eBooks. What Borne have done, are doing, combines all of these factors and more.

Imagine if, when you were learning to read, your books had adapted to meet your ability. Imagine how much less pressured that would have made reading aloud to the teacher. Imagine how rewarding it would have been to see how far you had come in the space of just one book.

Now put yourself in the place of the teacher who, with Borne’s technology, is able to focus more on what matters and less on how to make reading fun and engaging no matter what level individual children are at. Have you breathed a sympathetic sigh of relief yet?

Key quotes from founder Daniel Fountenberry carried in the MSNBC article:

“We want to use technology in ways that empower teachers and that allow all children to reach their full potential.”

“Reading is fundamental to learning, and learning is fundamental to human development. Reading is the basis of all learning, and we all know the impact of not being able to read–what it does to a person’s self-esteem.”

I urge you to read the article if you haven’t already and see what this is all about. And check out the Borne website too.

There are so many benefits to Borne’s work. Most importantly, it changes reading from something children feel they ought to do into something they love to do. That has lifelong positive repercussions. And as if that wasn’t enough, Borne Digital seek to bring reading to the most impoverished areas where it can be of most benefit.

But there are so many potential applications beyond the classroom too, which I’ve no doubt Borne have already anticipated. This is brilliant, potentially world-changing stuff. I can’t help but be 100% behind it and so much hope it finds its way to the UK.

Please vote for Borne to have that all important opportunity and spread the word. Share this blog, share the article, do what you can to make this project the enormous success it deserves to be. If you are, or have contacts that could be, of influence in education, in literacy organisations, in government, in big business that might like to support the project, please let me know and I will pass details on immediately. This is huge. Let’s make it huger!

Mad Dogs & Englishmen

Britain has a heat-wave. To me, sunshine is fantastic news. I fill up a massive jug with water, apply lots of sun-screen and go outside to get the benefit of the glorious, health-giving rays. Eventually the sun moves round and no longer falls on my property so I move indoors. This evening, unlike most other evenings, I decided to put BBC News 24 on as background noise while I read, write, do my usual quiet activities.

This is not the hottest summer we’ve ever had. I was born at the peak of one hotter than this. That was in 1977 and people were rather warm but quite appreciative of a long, hot summer. I grew up through many (many) more of them. Every year I sat exams in blistering heat where we couldn’t open the windows because half of the pupils would collapse with dreaded hayfever and the other half would run out screaming because a wasp had flown in.

Summers didn’t really change, but once you get into the working world, you tend not to get as much time to notice. Sometimes, we’d have a year where we had a week of sun around Easter and then a fairly cool and rainy season to follow. The hot summers always returned.

For three years, we’ve had only cool, rainy summers and I’ve kept saying the sun will be back. Now that it is, though, it seems people have forgotten how to get on and enjoy a real summer. News 24 is telling me every half hour or so that a warning has been issued about the dangers of the hot weather. There have been, according to one health care worry-ward, high numbers of lost toes through people gardening in flip-flops.

This frightens me. Not because I may succumb to the heat. No. It frightens me because it has taken only three years for almost an entire nation to forget the sun exists and can get quite hot in this country. Has the nanny state really made people so reliant on the media to know what to do that they can’t remember to drink water, dress appropriately and maybe, I don’t know, open a window? Have people really become that stupid?

The news is creating a panic out of it just as they do with heavy (more than an inch) snowfall. Yes, it’s very warm. Nobody needs to cool down that desperately though that they need leap into rivers despite warning signs about undertow. Is it just that they really are too stupid to know any better? I wish I could believe the contrary.

In decades, centuries, millennia past, when the news reported news and didn’t dish out advice, people got on and dealt with the heat by means of drinking water, staying out of the sun, wearing wide-brimmed hats to keep the sun from making hard-boiled brain for breakfast and at the same time shielding eyes reducing, among other things, the risk of removing one’s own toes because one could bloody well see what one was doing.

I’d like to think that one day while I slept particularly deeply, aliens came and attacked Britain with a lobotomising beam leaving my fellow countrymen with the ability to do only what they were expressly told to do by the voices from the BBC. But what I’d like to think is seldom the case and once again that is true. People have just lost what little common sense they once had, it would seem.

Me? I’m enjoying it while it lasts, just like I’ve always done. This year I’ve discovered a sun-screen that actually works for me and my milk-white skin is now a healthy golden brown. My vitamin D levels are at an all time high because I’m not burning to a crisp when I step outside. But I’m also waiting to hear reports, after the hot weather has passed, of people suffering dehydration because no-one told them they had to drink water even when the skies are cloudy and grey. Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun? Well, so do I, an Englishwoman, but I take a bag of common sense with me, just to be on the safe side.

The big bang theory

Nothing at all to with TV shows of the same name or indeed astrophysics, fascinating though it is. I need to make a big bang (on paper) and know nothing of the theory.

For some time I’ve had an idea for a story largely inspired by my Granddad. I wrote a quick thought down when it first came to me, intending to come back to it when other projects were complete. It’s one of those ideas though that won’t be quiet and since late yesterday has been taking shape.

Initially I’m writing it as a short story but can see that I’ll come back to it and take it much further. It has the scope to cross decades and continents and it would be a shame to leave it at just a handful of pages. There is one small problem possibly leading to a far bigger problem if I don’t watch what I say and where. I need my main character to blow up a building.

Not so easy for one man who, although he possesses the know how, is travelling from England to Antwerp in 1953. I assume he knows how to make a bomb because I don’t. Perhaps foolishly, I typed it into Google before I even thought about what such Internet activity might trigger. My sane and rational side says at the most my other searches might be looked at by some poor sod somewhere. My highly imaginative side envisages black helicopters, snipers at the neighbour’s attic windows and masked men abseiling down the chimney to arrest me at gunpoint. Please let it be coincidence that my Internet connection slowed right down after the fact. Please let it be that the entire North East only just logged on after the sun went down and volume of traffic is to blame.

What kind of world do we live in now where I find these things occurring to me whether by dint of imagination or not? I mean when my Facebook account browses my cookies and tries to sell me more of the things I already bought (surely self-defeating, Facebook if you think about it), should I not be slightly paranoid that everything I do is scrutinised if not by the authorities by marketeers? Will someone now try to sell me a bomb making kit via social media? I wouldn’t be surprised!

I’ve enlisted the help of a friend who knows about these things (in a licensed and responsible way) because I really am that irrationally concerned about who might get their hands on my search data and although it would all be a terrible misunderstanding, what would happen in the meantime? While it might in itself provide a plot of topical interest, I don’t especially want to be the main protagonist! And if they took a search to be indicative, what of the writing? Would they dig up my yard in case I really did kill Phil? Would they make sure my gas meter had never gone missing?

As far as I’m aware my Granddad, God rest him, never (intentionally) blew anything up. That is not how he came to inspire this story. It touches upon certain aspects of his life and I think he would really like where I’m taking it. That is if he were watching me as well. I wouldn’t be so nervy about that though!

Call me crazy, call me paranoid. My big bang theory is sometimes they really are watching you and there’s no telling what you might spark in the most innocent of circumstances these days. Now I’m about to make a phone call and if there’s a crackle on the line, I’m grabbing the cat and running!

Why I won’t smile that Thatcher died

I’m no fan of Tory politics or beliefs, but when I hear that an 87-year-old lady has died suffering from dementia, I can’t celebrate that. It’s a complex situation and yet utterly simplistic.

I can see why so many are waving little flags of triumph as though they went out and killed her themselves. Particularly in the North of England a lot of bitterness toward her still exists. She did a lot of harm here once upon a time, some of which still hasn’t recovered. Once upon a time, a long time ago.

But. And this is a very big but. Margaret Thatcher was the strongest leader Britain had seen since Churchill. She was not only the first woman Prime Minister but she changed the face of British politics on both the national and international stages. Mrs Thatcher truly believed that Britain was still Great Britain and did not need to rely on its former glory for respect. She went out there and she took on the world, standing tall next to leaders that have dwarfed each one of ours since.

Few people can claim to have the courage of their convictions to the extent that Thatcher did and she stuck to her principles no matter what. One does not have to agree with her beliefs or actions to recognise the sheer strength of the lady and for that alone she is to be admired.

Her eleven year tenure of Number 10 made its mark in so many ways that people are quick to forget about. I read in the Guardian the words of President Obama that echo my own sentiments:

Here in America, many of us will never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply carried along by the currents of history—we can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will.”

He added that her premiership was “an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered”.
The Guardian

Women of Britain, whatever their political beliefs, should be celebrating the life of someone who opened so many doors for us by her very existence.

At the end of her life, what I saw was a lady shattered by the loss of her husband. Without him she rapidly declined and that tells me that whatever else she might have been, she was a human being who in her own way knew great love. There can be no celebrating the loss of such a person. Today, 8th April 2013, she was a frail old lady suffering dementia and having had numerous strokes finally succumbed to one. She was a wife, mother and grandmother.

I can’t celebrate that someone passed, no matter what they did in life. I definitely can’t celebrate the passing of a frail old lady who once held the world in her thrall. No, I will gladly say that to me this is a sad day because such a remarkable woman has gone from our midst. It makes nothing better that she has gone, repairs none of the hurt that she did, augments none of the good.

I will not smile that Thatcher died.