LOVE LOVE LOVE…

Love ? I love love love you.
Image by doug88888 via Flickr

Love is a funny thing. John Lennon told us it is all we need. The church tells us that God is ‘it’. We know we need it to survive. After all, if mums looked at their babes at birth, screwed up their faces in horror and chucked the squealing bundles into the bin, the human race would have vanished years ago. Even those stone-age mums must have felt love, even though they probably couldn’t say the word, except as a grunt. But grunt or not, those stone-age babies survived and because they did, so have we.

So what is this emotion that we all talk about so much? It’s a lucrative one, that’s for sure. It sells. Most advertising is based on pressing the love buttons. Copy writers know we are looking for it. Everyone has experienced it. It causes conflict and madness. It can make you bankrupt. It hurts. It give enormous, thrilling pleasure. It is painful. It f**** you up!

Not to sound too simplistic, love is what we all want and will go to great lengths to get. Then when we get it, we become unsure of it. It is nebulous and wavy, like the cartoon Rhubarb and Custard – you probably won’t know this delightful duo if you weren’t growing up in the 70’s, so here is a clip:

See? All wavy – just like love. And I loved Roobard and Custard. I love the pudding too. Love, love, love. It applies to everything. We love our homes – that makes us search for the dream house and lumber ourselves with huge mortgages that swing like iron yolks around our necks. We love food so we become obese. We love shopping and it makes us slaves to debt. We love the idea of being rich, being a celebrity, being important so that makes us discontented with our lot. Love has much to answer for.

Of course, real love is something else. We all think we know it when we feel it. Do we? Love is an emotion that can very easily be misconstrued. We think we are in love because we feel sick when he/she come near us – very contradictory, that one… We think we love someone because he/she is ‘nice’ to us – bullied as a kid? We think we love someone because we fancy them… sex maniac?  We say we love our lifestyle – do we, or are we always compromising, because there is so much choice! 

A simple life seems to clarify what love actually is. Love needs time and consideration. It needs nurturing. It is something that, by the fact that it cannot be clearly defined, needs very careful thought. Life is a rush. We feel left out if we don’t run with the pack. We feel we are missing something if we don’t live up to some nebulous list of of expectations that will make all our friends impressed and express how much they love us – until the next person in their line of people-I-want-to-have-as-my-mates, supersedes us and they move on. Social networking makes everyone vulnerable to to this sort of exploitation.

And if you feel unloved, you can also feel ostracized by your particular group. Worse than death? For some, it can be. The desire to be admired and ‘loved’ is strong. However, dear old Prince Charles stood next to Lady Diana on their engagement and in answer to the question: ‘Are you in love?’ said: ‘Yes, whatever love it…’ And there you have it. Our future king sat on the fence like all good leaders do and protected his wavy image for posterity.

I like to ‘think on’ when it comes to a definition of this strangest and most important of emotions. Love needs a steady hand on the helm – cliché’s here are acceptable as love knows all about them – and it can enter stormy seas while you blink, once. Your first face to face look at love is what you see in your mum’s eyes. Dad may get a look in, but it’s your mother who will give you your first taste of love – literally. If you are lucky, you will have huge amounts of the stuff thrown at you when you are a child. Every child should be on the receiving end of mountains of the stuff, in my view. But how do you know if it’s the right type of love? As I said, it’s a very wavy commodity and can take on many different forms. It can hide in the disguise of beguiling sweetness, sickly sentimentality, subtle control or confusing mixed messages. Finding the right love to give kids is such an art that millions of books, TV programmes, films are out there, telling you how to do it, not to mention Nanny 911!

Ah, would that Nanny Deb was on tap like water…  Um, not sure about that. But there are people out there who make a good living out of telling people how to love. You can pay them for their services, but would you actually know any more about this fascination emotion?  It gets curiouser and curiouser, doesn’t it?

There is one way to research the subject. You could just pour a glass of good wine and listen to a few love songs. You won’t learn much but you’ll feels loads better…

MONEY WORSHIP?

Without money
Image by Toban Black via Flickr

Are we finally sick of the rich and famous? I think we might be. When Richard Branson‘s island caught fire after a lightning strike, no one appeared to give a toss, even though Kate Winslet was staying there and saved Branson’s aged mum from the conflagration. That should have made all the front pages, but it didn’t and there was certainly no out-pourings of grief and sympathy. It was definitely not a Lady Diana moment for Branson et al.

Why are we losing the will to live by what we read in OK magazine? Could the governments preoccupation with cuts point the finger to a change in how we view those with over a squillion quid in the bank? Once, not so long ago, it was every kid’s aspiration to ‘get rich and famous’. I sense this desire is fading. The riots in London showed not only lawlessness but a contempt for our consumer culture. After all, all you do is hurl a brick through a window and you can have the latest TV without having to graft for it. Consumerism is what makes millionaires. If we can’t be arsed to legitimately buy stuff, then are we making a statement about the accumulation of their wealth?

Have we all been taken for one almighty and gigantic ride? The filthy rich have feet of clay like the rest of us and the fame they worked so hard to acquire is wispy, a bit like the smoke on Necker Island once the flames were out. And this government wants to cut us all down to size – strange from a coalition made up mainly of toffs. They’ve always been partial to a bit of upper/lower class game playing, haven’t they? Like the days when Tony Blair was called a Tory Tart, we are now seeing those two gilt-edged boys, Cameron and Clegg, talking about egalitarianism, albeit under the smoochy title of the Big Society; the one-size-fits-all cozy aspiration to make us pull together in a ‘nice’ homogeneous mass of committed do-gooders working for nothing?

Richard Branson is a billionaire who appears to offend nobody. Unlike Murdoch, who annoyed the world, the universe and undoubtedly heaven itself, Branson, for all his charitable works and ballooning is still in that category of rich celebrity, even if his PR is all soft and fuzzy. Perhaps we are sick and tired of hearing about his antics and those of all the other mega rich celebs? After all, it’s been remorselessly pushed down our throats for years. The only way to get noticed is to be rich and famous…

Could it be there will be a resurgence in the popularity of poverty? It looks as if our government is encouraging such a notion. Sadly, with the cuts in educations funding, it could be a poverty of mind, too. But I question if the many graduates churned out by the universities in the last twenty years have actually learned very much. I’m talking about an appreciation of decent values, not just the passing of exams.

We’ve all been chasing the wrong things for far too long, in my opinion. Maybe it’s time to slow down and smell what flowers are left in the diminishing world garden? Maybe it’s time to value money and celebrity a bit less? Let’s not resent those who have accumulated wealth through hard work, but please, don’t shove it into our faces by becoming a ‘celebrity’. This simply feeds our inherent jealousy.

Let the very rich pay more tax. Some of them have offered to, bless their cotton socks. It will help them regain a little of the respect that they are losing fast. This may all sound a bit mealy-mouthed, but I’m not the only person expressing a total melt-down when it comes to money and celebrity worship – the two go together like pimps and the Mafia. There has to be something more to aspire to.

EMPTY NEST

Jumbo Jet P1080139
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One of my daughters left the UK today. She has been living in Australia for five years and has been home on a visit. Her departure made me think hard about how tough it is to be a parent and especially a mum. You invest your love, your money, your time, your life in the little scrap of humanity that emerges from your body after hours of hellish pain and then, eighteen or so years later, they bugger off!  Well, you say cheerily to your friends, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Yes, they reply, you gave her enough confidence to strike out on her own. To Australia? Could she be any further away if she was on the b***** moon?

That’s the deal, I’m sorry to say. You either lose them to a man, to a job or to a another country. Thank God, someone said, that you haven’t lost her to drugs or alcohol. That’s the worst possible scenario and it doesn’t really register with me, because I know she’s too intelligent to do anything so stupid. What I sense I am losing is an evolving relationship. She is growing older and I’m not there to see it. I am growing older and she’s too far away to notice. The day-to-day chats, the meetings up for coffee, the shopping trips, the discussions, the rows, the ‘life’ is now 12,000 miles away. She’s sharing all that intimacy with other people, other families and she likes it that way. It’s quite an indictment to our interaction – or is it? I could see it that way. I could let it swallow me into months of pining and depression. I could, but I won’t because life, both hers and mine, has to go on.

However, life is short and the precious ‘together’ moments are what you will remember on your death-bed. I don’t think I’ll be visualising all those Skype moments when I’m  about to meet my maker!  It’s a tough one. You have to love them and let them go. You have to keep your mouth shut and your purse open. You have to stifle your own emotions – I want to cry like a drain every time my kids leave – but you have to stay calm and composed so the guilt fairy doesn’t raise her ugly head and make your child suffer. Guilt is a demoralising emotion, unless it makes you improve your behaviour. Does her desire to see the world, to grasp life by the throat and live it have to produce feelings of guilt? It sometimes does in me. Did I do something wrong? Was I a ‘not there enough’ mum because I went to work when she was small? Could I have raised her better? If I had, would she have stayed, living up the road and coming home every Sunday for roast and yorkshire pud?

The world has shrunk since my youth. Planes can take you anywhere at the click of a mouse and a credit card. In my day, it took months, maybe years to plan a trip to Australia and you had to be pretty committed to go there for ten quid. It was called emigration and you did it because you wanted a better life for your kids. I guess in some ways, her aspirations are similar. She doesn’t have kids yet, but she certainly wants a better life.

So now we come to what the UK is offering young people. I worry that the perception, despite the hype about the Olympic Games, is currently one of despair. This is not a country with good PR at the moment. Yet we have more people wanting to come and live here than ever before. Why? Perhaps our free health care is a major reason. People will put up with a lot to be able to go to a doctor for free. But while my daughter was with me, I watched TV with her and I wondered what she really felt about all the suffering portrayed in the daily news shows. Could it be that the sun and surf culture in Oz has blocked out everything? Could it be that she doesn’t want to become grown-up and have to accept that the world is not all fun and games? Is this culture of celebrity in the Western world a panacea for all the misery? Buy your copy of Hello magazine and forget the starving children in Africa?

My daughter is a wonderful young woman. She is brave and strong and full of life. I want to protect her but I have to realise that she isn’t three years old any more and she won’t run to me when she falls over and scrapes her knee. She has a man in her life and he is the one she will run to, now. She has a career and that is where her focus is. She has to make her own mistakes and learn from them. She knows I will always be there for her if she needs me. And that’s the secret. It has to be about her needing me not me needing her. That’s the deal. She still loves her parents, but she has to make her own life. I just wish it wasn’t so far away!

WEATHER

Sunday morning. Sun is out in my neck of the woods. Hurricane is rushing up the East coast of the USA. If a butterfly moves it’s wings here, it will affect someone or something on the other side of the word – someone once said.

There is no wind here. A circle of crows stand in the field behind my house. The farmer has cut the hay and it lies about; round tubes of food for the cattle through the long winter.

December 2011

The crows look like drama students, waiting to do their warm-up. They eye each other suspiciously, then start to peck at the stubble with a furious determination. There must be food in that there stubble!

Early summer 2011

You can feel Autumn in the air. The sky is full of dark clouds this morning, but there is enough blue to make a cat a pair of trousers, so there is occasional sunshine and it’s appreciated. Last year, the winter here was hard. The temperatures were the lowest I could remember and the snow fell and fell and fell.

This morning, I am thinking about all those people I know in the USA who are dealing with Irene and her fury. It makes me aware of how lucky we are in the UK. Our weather is usually temperate here. But we have noticed changes and it could be that in the next few years we too, will see dangerous, unpredictable weather.

DOWN TO SIZE

Hurricane Irene off the coast of South Carolin...
Image via Wikipedia

Hurricane Irene is drooling for a fight. Brave pilots and scientists are flying their tin tubes through her eye to gauge the anger temperature. From space, she can be seen sprawling across the world like a louche lady of leisure with ringlets, puffing away on a cigarette, the fronds of smoke curling around her edges. She is, as they say, awesome!

The power of mother nature is always awe inspiring. Irene makes Gaddafi look like a spit in the wind. She might be capable of killing thousands in a few hours. She cannot be controlled. She is apolitical. We can only sit and watch and wait and hope that we keep safe. And we know that these events will continue until the end of time. We cannot legislate against them. It’s all a bit terrifying, don’t you think? Or you can see it another way. It cuts us down to size.

In the face of such extraordinary unbridled power, my roses growing happily in my garden take on a new perspective. They sing at me. Their colours, scents, shape need looking at carefully. They have become more of a miracle since I saw those photos last night of Irene. And what about the ants? Going about their business with such enthusiasm, they put me to shame. They have such purpose, such focus. At the moment, as I write this, a woodpecker is working on a tree. Above him in the leaf canopy, several smaller birds are holding a gossiping session that can be heard through the double glazing. Under my garden soil, the worms turn and tunnel. I can’t see them but I know they are at it, making my soil fertile. It’s all going on out there and I am powerless to stop it or to control it. Okay, I concede that biologists can meddle and change things, but when humans are long gone, those tiny things, millions of them, will carry on like hurricane Irene – doing their own thing.

Something else happens when you stop and look at nature. The time you spend doing this puts other things into perspective, so that the London riots do not lose their seriousness, but they lose their power to affect your thoughts and drive you into depression. Just take a look at Irene again! Rupert Murdoch starts to look like a poor old chap who needs meals-on-wheels. Loud mouthed politicians start to resemble the caterpillar on the mushroom – what a great book Alice in Wonderland is…

I hope that when Irene decides to stop spinning and sit down for a bit, she doesn’t do too much damage and no lives are lost. But watching her progress and seeing how huge and unstoppable she is, has made me think about a great many other things. Nature should always do that.

 

STAND UP FOR YOUR RIGHTS

Stand Up For Your Rights!  Today, more and more people are having to stand up for their rights. TV programmes tell you how to do it. Organisations like the CAB give you advice. You can go to your MP and ask him how to stand up for your rights. You can write letters. You can make a fuss. In extreme circumstances, you might riot, although for me, this is stupid. Smashing up other people’s property is thuggery and has nothing to do with standing up for your rights.

So do any of the tactics you might employ to stand up for your rights actually work? And what are your rights? The law is so complicated that what you see as a clear case of injustice may be interpreted by a judge as too confused and complex to define so simply. So the boundaries have become blurred, it seems. We can no longer say that an injustice is clear and defined as such.

The journalists who hacked into phones to get stories for their newspapers were focused on those stories. Was it a bit like the thrill of the chase? The mutilated fox at the end was not in their thoughts. Presumably, their goal was the story and how they obtained it was irrelevant. The bit of their brain that said this is wrong, had switched off. They were not standing up for anyone’s rights, although they may well have convinced  themselves that they were. They were being manipulated by a code of practice that came from on high; from the men at the top whose only motive appears to have been profit. So the rights of the journalists were exploited, just like their victims, when they hacked into their phones.

Standing up for your rights, against others who do not or will not understand the concept of ‘rights’, let alone support you in your quest, takes determined courage. The stoic nature of people in the UK bred a culture of ‘put up and shut up’.  The don’t make a fuss attitude is still in evidence among people over a certain age. But others have become more vocal and are demanding to be heard. When you are standing up for your rights, it is imperative that you know what your rights are. You need in depth knowledge and that takes dedication and time. Chucking a brick through a window gets you nowhere. You need intelligence and wit. You need to understand your enemy.

Violence and mayhem works no better than passivity and appeasement, when you are standing up for your rights. Calm, knowledgeable persuasion is the route that always wins, in the end. Educate yourself. Understand what your rights are. Define right from wrong and if you don’t know how to do that, read, read, read. Search out people who have a track record in knowing right from wrong. Ask them for help. Listen. Learn. Get your facts straight. Ask questions. Never raise your voice. Be politely persistent. Be consistent. Complain clearly to the right people. Go to the top. Be sure of your goal. Protect others and support them if they cannot stand up for their own rights. Stand up straight and stand up for your rights with the confidence that knowledge will give you. Good luck.

WHAT IS THE FUTURE FOR THE YOUNG AND THE OLD?

Age and Ageing
Image via Wikipedia

My very first professional piece of writing was a play about growing old. It was commissioned way back in 1989 by the Centre for Policy on Ageing. The CPA asked us to present a performance at a conference in London during a short tour.

The play looked at what happened to people once they were considered to be old by society. At the time, ageism was rife in the UK. The play looked at a man just about to retire and how he saw himself as well as how others perceived him in his limbo state of pre-OAP. It looked at attitudes to ageing and how the world according to the media was always populated by the young. It sought to criticize the way people over 60 were consigned to the margins of society and were seen as a nuisance by the rest of the world.

It’s now 2011. Years have passed. Has anything changed? We’ve been told we all have to work longer before we can get a pension. We know that there are still few adverts that feature people with wrinkles and grey hair. We know that old age is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, with hospital beds, with loneliness, with problems. Little has changed in the way people over fifty are perceived, even with all the hype about ageism being a thing of the past. Is it?  But a lot has happened to the youth of this country, of the world. The young feel hopeless. Education has failed them; morals have disappeared – so we are told. But the parents of this generation of young people were bought up by this generation of oldies…

We voted and got the governments we voted for. We bought and sold houses to make money and not to make homes. We embraced divorce and encouraged a more free society. Was that wrong? No, I don’t think so. We expected that the lives we’d lived in the sixties and seventies when we were young, would continue to be the same for our kids. We didn’t bargain for the bankers, for the corruption in politics, for the way life would change in the following years. We didn’t see it coming. So maybe we are to blame, for being myopic and seeing only to the end of the next acquisition, the next lot of dosh we could rake in? Remember the nineties? ‘Loads a money’ was the catch phrase. It was the way we lived and kids born since then have reaped that consumerism legacy.

I want this generation of kids to be educated. They should be the doctors, the lawyers, the law makers of my future. I don’t want to think that when I am in my eighties and in need of help, the streets and hospitals will be full of uneducated yobs. Young people don’t want to feel marginalised by the old, by politicians out of touch with real life, by parents out of touch with the needs of their children. In the great scheme of things, this sounds like a doom-laden prophesy, but it could well be the case unless both sets of people, the old and the young start to be valued and rated as worth investing in.

Old people are vulnerable. Young people are vulnerable. Today, you have to be one of the majority – that means you have to have a good job, a house, a nice car.  You have to be the acceptable face of capitalism. If you stray outside the set order, you will be a bit of a pain; a nuisance. You will not be playing the game. And yet so many people are outside the set order. So many of our young people are disenfranchised; their talents wasted, their lives caught up in a cycle of drugs, unemployment and despair. And so many old people are unwanted; thought to be useless, bundled away in homes, away from the eyes of society unless they make the news by being battered by some under-payed care worker.

Something is very wrong with all this. Compassion and understanding have been replaced with greed and bitterness. Heads disappear into the sand and we ignore what is happening around us. But at out peril. TV has been putting out programmes recently that show communities helping themselves. Village SOS is one that is inspiring to watch. Our PM talks about The Big Society – in principle it sounds like a great idea. But somehow when such ideas come out of the mouths of politicians, who have, sad to say shown themselves to be untrustworthy in so many ways in the past, it has a hollow ring to it.

Change has to start small.  People have to help neighbours, help their neighbour’s kids, help old people, stand up on the bus so a pregnant woman can sit; open their eyes and see what can be done every day in a small way. The small ways lead to big changes. It also has something to do with the way we talk to each other. The way we talk about each other. The way the media talk about events. Big Brother returns to our screens soon. Why? It’s bad television. It’s boring television. Yet, it will influence millions of young people. I believe that the way we report some relationships in the media, influences the way we behave towards each other in real life. Suspended disbelief remains suspended in our real lives and we lose the ability to judge ourselves accurately; to judge our behaviour and know what is acceptable and what is not.

Holding out for what is right against all the odds takes courage and courage these days seems in short supply. The boundaries have blurred so perhaps we have to take the responsibility for the behaviour of those around us and connected to us a lot more seriously. If that behaviour can be clearly identified as bad, we have to find the courage to do something about it, on the behalf of everyone, not just ourselves.

Kindness and compassion, understanding, listening, learning to hear what someone else is really saying are all skills we seem to have lost. I hope we can find them again one day soon.

ALL FOR THE SAKE OF A TV?

Cartoon of the riots by Isaac Robert Cruikshan...
Image via Wikipedia

I have been out of the UK for three weeks. It was shattering to watch TV images on the BBC of London burning and kids looting during the recent riots. It looked as if the streets had been taken over by an extended cast from Lord of The Flies. I really couldn’t believe my eyes.

Kids rampaged through our major cities, intent on causing mayhem, and at first it looked to me, from the TV images, that our police were doing nothing. They appeared to be on the back foot, literally. Of course, now I know these events were unprecedented. How were the police to respond, when they could see the age of some of the rioters? If they had gone in with the tear-gas, the batons; used heavy-handed tactics, many of those children who should have been at home with their parents, might have been seriously hurt.

So they waited and it was only when they realised that the situation was escalating and was really serious, that those in command started to think again. Now we are seeing confusion in how the government and the police are relating to each other. Communications appear to have broken down, with each side insisting they know better. Why? Why do these two organisations – government and the police force –  not trust each other to do their jobs properly? What message is this sending out? All I can think about is those three young men who were killed in a hit and run as they tried in vain to protect their community and the brave and noble way their father talked to us.

Cameron and Miliband are both making noises about the loss of morals in our society. This is not new. There has been a general decline in morals since Thatcher was in power. Her statement that there was no such thing as society has been a bitter legacy. So what do we do now? How do we change things? It has to come from the top. While we see bankers with the morals of street hooligans, how can we expect our young people, who are after all our future, to change their ways? I know there is never an excuse for the sort of behaviour we have seen in recent weeks on our city streets, but where are the role models? What are we teaching this unhappy generation of children?

We live in a culture of greed. Everyone is persuaded that to be anyone, you must have masses of ‘stuff’. Watching young people smashing windows in order to get hold of this ‘stuff’ and seeing them carrying away TV’s, made me realise that this is the bench mark for them. This is how they evaluate their success in life. Like Frankenstein’s monster, our consumer-led society has created kids that see no further than the next technical gadget; the next piece of soft-ware. They have been tutored by the advertisements. They have to have this ‘stuff’ in order to feel part of their group; their gang – part of the main-stream. After all, they don’t have jobs to give them that sense of inclusion. Their sense of entitlement comes from rioting, unlike our political leaders, whose sense of entitlement comes from wealth and education.

Many young people, when interviewed about their reasons for rioting, said it was all about injustice. But they weren’t stealing food to feed their impoverished families. They weren’t dressed in rags. They didn’t go for the commodities that would improve their lives.  Is the life of a fifteen year old with no prospects and no future really improved by owning an i-phone or a TV?

The things that truly improve your life are education, community projects, youth projects, drugs prevention projects, affordable housing… the list could fill pages, yet these are the things that will be having their funds cut by our government.

Cameron speaks through tight lips. He is obviously trying to appear strong. He talks of taking council houses away from those whose children have committed crimes in the riots. Where will these families live?  He talks of bringing in Super Cops, antagonizing our already overburdened police force.  He talks of inadequate policing, yet the cuts to police funding will go ahead. To me, this PM appears confused and lacking in understanding.

One thing he has said is right, however. There is something seriously wrong with our country at the moment. That most precious of resources – our young people, are in trouble. Time, thought, money and compassion are needed to pull them out of this black hole of despair, for surely if you have smashed up your neighbourhood for the sake of a TV, you must be in a serious state of despair?