Tag Archive | respect

The suffering of children

Imagine if you will that you are a child living in a beautiful location, rolling hills, lush greenery, ancient trees that have been around for many centuries. The hills and valleys are scattered with all manner of wild flower and animals both wild and farm.

Because your government hasn’t invented welfare and support for young families yet and also hasn’t regulated wages, your parents can’t earn enough to keep you all in food and clothing let alone lodgings. The only answer is for you to work as well.

On a hot summer’s day, the fourth of July, the sun shining across that playground of nature all around you, instead of running out into the fields with your dog, your outdoor toys, your sporting goods, whatever you would prefer to be playing with, you head for the mine down in the valley.

You’re working away, shovelling the coal dug out by the menfolk into trestles hooked to a small, steam-driven transport engine to carry the coal back to the surface. You don’t hear the rumble of thunder above the surface, you’re so far under the ground and the work is noisy.

Around 3pm the alarm is sounded. The engine has ceased to work because water is leaking into it from somewhere above. Everyone is told to head back down to the tunnel away from the shaft. You’re a child. You’ve already worked since sunrise and you’re confused. You know it’s a long way to walk so you decide to wait until the engine is restored.

The engine does not seem to be getting fixed and you know that work has ceased in the mine. There are 40 of you together down there. You look to one another to figure out what to do. There is another way out that doesn’t rely on the engine. It will bring you out in the woods not far from the mine. That seems like the best idea.

Together you make your way along the tunnel towards that exit. You don’t know that the water coming in near the engine is the first hint that the stream flowing through the woods near the exit you’re heading for has burst its banks under the torrential rain that came with the storm clouds.

You’re making your way as quickly and carefully as you can because you know you’ll have to give account for yourself and quickly. You open a trap-door that serves to regulate air flow and go through. You get closer to daylight when the weight of water becomes too much for the structure at the surface to hold. It rushes through in a raging torrent and you’re knocked from your feet by a wall of surging water, washed back all the way to the trap-door where the water just keeps coming and gathering where it can’t get through the door, which opens upwards.

26 of you bear the brunt of it. It takes the breath from your lungs, it’s dark, you can’t see what’s happening but you can feel the force of water crushing the air from you and refusing to let you keep your head above it. Your small form cannot physically fight it. When the water clears and the adults return to the mine, they find the tragic remains of all 26 of you, drowned in darkness when you were so close to regaining the daylight.

The exit never reached by 26 children.

These events occurred at Huskar’s Mine, Silkstone, Barnsley, 4th July 1838.

I learned of this recently thanks to information made available by Daz Beattie on the Durham Mining Museum website.

So moved by the story and the spirit of those 26 children, I was compelled to go to the site of the memorial erected to them in the grounds of the parish church of Silkstone. I wanted to visit the place where there memory is strongest and bring them flowers to let them know I wish them love and brightness now they no longer have to face the darkness of the pit; Red, yellow and bright pink sweetheart roses tied by my own hand into a bouquet.

I would urge you to read the page on the DMM website. View the photographs of the memorial and on-going remembrance of the children who paid the ultimate sacrifice. A sacrifice that moved Queen Victoria herself to become involved in ensuring the welfare of women and children and that they no longer were forced by poverty to work in the mines. A silver lining to the darkest of clouds.

The inquest that followed showed some prejudice, almost placing blame upon the children for what was simply a terrible and utterly tragic natural event. It causes me to question why the mine wasn’t better protected against such an incident when the stream was known to be there.

Survivors told their tale as best they could. James Garnett, father of George aged 9 and Catherine aged 8 returned to the mine once the water had subsided and found his children but could not return them to the surface until all of them could be brought above ground.

Benjamin Mellow, a superintendent of the mine, stated at the inquest that the water could not have been more than six inches deep by the marks left. When I close my eyes and feel for those children, I can see a lot more than six inches of water. I can imagine only part of the terror they must have felt however brief it might have been.

On the monument in the cemetery is the following inscription:

“This monument was erected to perpetuate the remembrance of an awful visitation of the Almighty, which took place in this Parish on the 4th July 1838.

On that eventful day, the Lord sent forth his thunder, lightning, hail and rain, carrying devastation before them, and by a sudden eruption of water into the coal pits of R.C. Clarke Esq., twenty six beings whose names are recorded here were suddenly summoned to appear before their maker.

Reader remember:-

Every neglected call of God will appear against thee at the day of Judgement. Let this solemn warning then sink deep into thy heart and so prepare thee that the Lord when he cometh may find thee watching.”

Most importantly, here are the names and ages of the children as inscribed:

George Burkinshaw aged 10 years.
James Burkinshaw aged 7 years. (brothers).
Isaac Wright aged 12 years.

Abraham Wright aged 8 years. (brothers).
James Clarkson aged 16 years.
Francis Hoyland aged 13 years.
William Alick aged 12 years.
Samuel Horne aged 10 years.
Eli Hutchinson aged 9 years.
George Garnett aged 9 years.
John Simpson aged 9 years.
George Lamb aged 8 years.
William Womerfley aged 8 years.
James Turton aged 10 years.
John Gothard aged 8 years.

Catherine Garnett aged 8 years.
Hannah Webster aged 13 years.
Elizabeth Carr aged 13 years.
Anne Moss aged 9 years.
Elizabeth Hollin aged 15 years.
Ellen Parker aged 15 years.
Hannah Taylor aged 17 years.
Mary Sellars aged 10 years.
Elizabeth Clarkson aged 11 years. Who was buried at the feet of her brother.
Sarah Jukes aged 8 years.
Sarah Newton aged 8 years.

Heartbreaking memorial created more recently for the children of Huskar’s Mine.

We couldn’t find any marked graves for these children in the churchyard. But the monument refers to grave one and grave two. Mass pauper’s graves and nothing to mark them that we could find. Poor parents could not have afforded individual grave or headstone no doubt. Had I been the mine owner, I know for certain I would have paid for a respectful burial for each and every one of them.  Poor parents, this time in the sense that I feel their heartache both for their loss and how their beloved children’s remains were treated.

Unable to identify any other definite location to pay my respect, I lay the roses on the steps of the monument itself instead. As I walked back towards it to do that, I could barely make my feet take each step. I ran the tips of my fingers over each inscribed name and offered my heartfelt sorrow and genuine pain at their suffering under their seniors’ direction for the sake of money. It pains me now to think that it was a preventable tragedy had someone taken the time and paid the small costs of reinforcing the banks of the stream. Walking back towards the car the tears streamed down my face and I ached to my core for the merry band of bairns who were washed away from us.

I cannot help but feel for every single one of those little souls, toiling in the darkness only to be swept away from this mortal coil by a summer’s afternoon storm. When I think how children are so excited by the thunder, lightning and unusually heavy rain from such storms, the sadness only grows more poignant. Had I been alone there, I would have sunk to the ground and wept.

What upsets me too is the inscription telling that it was an almighty act of God and very nearly if not actually implying that those children were judged and smote from the earth as a result. That written by a religious leader. What comes to my mind is “suffer the little children to come unto me”. (Matthew 19:16, Luke 18:16).

So I still pray for their spirits that they continue to have a new life filled with light and complete absence of darkened tunnels, toil and hardship. We can never let society regress to the point where children live in such poverty again. And yet we seem to be doing just that.

Because I didn’t have the opportunity to meet them in the physical life, I suggested a carvery dinner and ate so much I could barely move, offering each taste and the enjoyment of a hearty meal to the children, just letting them know how grateful I am for the privilege of living in 2014 England, all the time knowing there are still many children the world over that don’t ever get a meal like that. We must steer towards change. Without the children, what future do we have?

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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!

Fresh Eyes & Introductions

Nearly October. How did that happen? You get distracted by one thing and another then by the time you look round a whole month and more is gone. High time I dusted off this blog before it becomes a haven for spiders, wood lice and death watch beetle taking advantage of my neglect!

First of all I’d like to thank and introduce you to William Martin, a talented writer and educator whom I’ve come to know during my nocturnal forays into discussions among fellow writers and creative minds. You can find some of his short stories and his blog on his website at authorwilliammartin.com and might come across a blog entry by yours truly based on my activities of the last week or two especially.

William recently read one of my short stories that I haven’t yet released. It failed to be noticed in a competition for which it was entered and I wish I’d had his feedback before I submitted it. There’s alway been a niggling doubt about it in the back of my mind but I could not see what it was that I needed to address. William hit the nail(s) on the head. It doesn’t need any massive changes, but in a few places needs some refining.

Now what this story suffered from was a combination of two factors: slavish adherence to word count and good old writer too close to the work to see. So this is a very writerly blog. That’s still not a word and still definitely should be. if you can be motherly or fatherly, why can’t you be writerly? It’s a very similar thing when it comes down to it. Anyway, yes, the issues with the story:

Slavish adherence to word count. I had a maximum of 5,000 words that I absolutely had to stick to. 5,001 and it would have been rejected without reading. What I’d cut was not completely necessary to the story, but did make it very much subject to reader knowledge and reader assumption. Not good things. While I like to credit my readers with the ability to know, use Google and make assumptions, not all of them will and this doubtless made it a rejection pile candidate. Something to bear in mind for anyone writing to a strict limit.

Writer too close to the work. This is the bane of so many writers, especially with regard to short fiction and poetry. For me, those happen in the moment, usually come from a strong and sudden urge to write and have a strong emotional attachment because they came from such a surge of passion. Because I know what I was thinking or feeling in the moment and haven’t forgotten does not mean I’ve captured things perfectly so that anyone can understand. It’s almost like looking at your child and seeing only the good. You just can’t see the bad no matter how you try, especially when they’re young. Always helps to get some input from someone who has no bias.

These things have been picked up by a fresh pair of eyes that was new to my work, new to me and had no reason to be anything less than completely frank. I’m taking a break from fixing the story to write this post then I’m going to set about revisiting the stories that have been listed to the right for some time now because I know I can do better for them. I’m un-feasibly tired though, so I’ll not re-release without pause!

Thanks again to William. Don’t forget to check out his work at authorwilliammartin.com and I’ll be back soon to keep those spiders at bay!

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.