UNEQUAL?

Pounds Sterling
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So Stephen Hester, chief executive of RBS will not receive his £1m pound bonus. Really? I’m gobsmacked.  How on earth will he survive? After all, his salary is only about £1m a year…

And what does Mr. Hester do to earn so little? I mean, does he get up at five every morning, buy a train ticket that costs a fortune, travel across a dirty and crowded city to his place of work, where he cleans out lavatories or fries chips, or washes up, or wipes bottoms or empties bins, or washes windows, or deals with thugs, or delivers babies, or makes sure old people with dementia are loved and cared for properly…?

And will he possibly be made redundant and then have to get himself to the job centre and stand in a line for hours and fill in forms and be told he’s not eligible for this benefit or that benefit and go home to tell his wife that he doesn’t know how they will be able to eat that week, and then will he try for months on end to get another job and know that at any minute his house might be repossessed because he cannot pay the mortgage; a mortgage granted by an irresponsible bank like the one Mr. Hester runs? Well, I guess that’s worth a million pound bonus….? I would really like to see a minute by minute time-table of Mr. Hestor’s working day. I want to know exactly what he does to get such a salary and then an enormous bonus. I want to see behind the green curtain and find out what the wizard’s job is all about.

So now we have two cultures developing. We have people in dire straights who are labeled scroungers and have their benefits capped at £26K and chief executives who are deemed to be super-humans, worth millions of pounds. Why are we obliged to have this strange value system? We have a Prime Minister who talks about ‘hard-working families,’ the Big Society, freedom for everyone, but somehow manages to promote an economic system that encourages such enormous divisions in society. Why?

Of course there are bad apples in every sector. Yes, benefit fraud does exist and should be challenged and punished according to our laws. But what about the bad apples in that other sector? Why has it taken public outrage to persuade Mr. Hester to say no to his bonus? Is there no internal burglar alarm? There are proposals being put forward that workers should have places on the boards of all large companies, because it appears that board members happily subscribe to a ridiculous system that enables them to award huge bonuses, as a matter of course. In theory, it might work. But how vocal would those workers be? Would they be listened to? Would they have any real influence?

Inequality is something we should always strive to defeat. It is wrong that we have such enormous differences in how people are rewarded for their work. It makes a nonsense of democracy. It is, to my mind, obscene that one man can claim so high a salary and then receive an enormous bonus on top, when another cannot keep a roof over his family’s head or buy food and that IS WHAT IS HAPPENING IN 21st century Britain. How shameful.

The idea of a living wage for all has been suggested. This would mean a wage that you can live on. A wage that will enable you to have a dignified and civilised lifestyle. This living wage would apply to everyone, including people like Mr. Hester. It that just a Utopian dream? Probably. But something has to change. It is not envy that makes people angry about such bonuses, it is the inequality of it all and I suspect, the hypocrisy.

TEACHING YOUR KIDS ABOUT LIFE

Matti
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Our children are affected by the way we talk to them. How many of us really take that on board? We all want to do the best for our kids, but we all make mistakes. We follow bad advice or don’t bother to get any advice. We presume we know exactly how to raise a child and need no help from anyone else.  Sometimes we make bad assumptions about our children, but the thing that worries me most, is that many of us are just not aware of the full impact our words and actions have on our children.

For me, being a parent when my children were small,  was marked by moments of panic, joy, and sometimes real insight. Those moments of revelation gave me the chance to make amends quickly when I realised I had made a mistake and could see the effect it was having on my kids. I knew I had to change tack fast. But sometimes, it was too late and the repercussion lasted for a long time. A child’s self-image is directly based on the way we parents treat them.

Each child is unique and therefore requires a different approach. Children and their parents interact in many different ways and, because of this, there is no clear prediction of what outcomes the messages we give to our kids, will have. We give our kids hidden messages all the time. We say one thing and mean something else. We often project our own unhappiness on to our children – not intentionally, but because we are so fraught and hurt by what life has thrown at us that we simply can’t see what we are doing. This often happens when couples are going through divorce or separation. One type of parents will think that the kids should know nothing, while another may feel they should know everything down to the last sordid detail of why mummy left daddy or why daddy ran off. Neither way, to my mind, is right. To try and see situations through the eyes of your child, is far better.

When I was eight, my father died suddenly of an unexpected heart attack. I was kept uniformed. I knew something dreadful had happened but no-one discussed it with me or gave me any sort of explanation about why he had died. He just had. End of story. In those days, the grief a child experiences in a bereavement was misunderstood. We know now that kids need a great deal of support when they lose a parent. It is the same with divorce. But the messages we give to kids in such situations need to be child friendly and show enormous empathy and understanding, otherwise the wounds stay open for years.

Raising children is about teaching them. As parents, we are loving teachers, who have hopefully learned about life and can pass on that knowledge to our kids. I think we often forget that, because maybe our own parents forgot to teach us. Teaching doesn’t just happen in school. For kids it’s a moment by moment thing. Lessons are happening 24/7.  For instance, when your children fight, how do you react? Do you yell and shout and bark out instructions like an army officer? Don’t fight!! Perhaps a positive interaction such as: be kind to each other; it works better, would be more effective? Preempting every sentence with the word DON’T would drive anybody nuts! No one likes to be ordered to do things constantly. I wouldn’t like it, would you?

Then there is the parent who never makes a decision and is constantly asking small children what they want: ‘Do you want orange juice, grape juice, lemonade or water?’ I heard this said to a two-year old. Kids need to know that parents are people who know how to make the world work. To constantly make a child responsible for making decisions so early on, is setting the stage for conflict. At two years old, a child wants clarity and to feel safe. So making a decision about what is a safe and healthy drink is the parent’s responsibility, not the child’s.

How we deal with stress and unhappiness shows our kids how they should deal with such events. If we are constantly miserable in the face of adversity, if we look distracted all the time and are never there, if we sulk or yell or constantly argue, that is what we are teaching our kids to do in the same situation, when they reach adulthood. That is what they will have learned from us. Negative instructions and behaviour by parents turn children into negative adults, with all that implies for their future.

So telling children the truth in a way that shows them you are on their side, you love them and you will always support them, takes a lot of hard work, when you yourself are distraught and unhappy with your life. But kids are innocent. They are a whiteboard that you are constantly writing on. They read what you have written and they believe it because you are the most important people in their life. Who else are they to believe?

Children may seem too wrapped up in their games – rushing here and there, not appearing to notice you. But they do. They are always listening, taking everything in, watching for clues on how the world works, how they should be in the world. They can only rely on what we show and tell them, how we cope. Even more so when their fears are illogical. But if we seem confident and handle their fears with sensitivity, all will be well. It’s not just about saying that everything is okay, no matter what. You have to act as though everything is okay. The reason they are afraid may not be real, but the fears are. For instance, when one partner leaves the marital home and a divorce is on the horizon, a child may be scared that the other parent will disappear and they will be left alone. This is a terrifying thought for a small child.  So, don’t shove your child into the fear head first by forcing him/her to confront the reality by exhibiting all your own anxiety and fear, and then say there is nothing to be afraid of. A more diplomatic and aware approach is needed. Your child needs a strong and caring advocate, who will allay any fears with love and attention and the right amount of information that neither belittles his/her fears nor exacerbates them.

Small children are constantly confronted with new experiences and they will often feel afraid. Telling your child that he is not alone, that other children also feel frightened about similar things, will be comforting. Stories about your own childhood can help, too. Grandparents came make a huge difference in such situations, taking the child out for treats and giving them another source of love and affection. Helping children to overcome anxiety and fear is one of the best things you can do.

Responding to your child’s mood and understanding the subtle nuances of their day to day emotions, is difficult. But it is rewarding and the payback as they grow older will be worth it. You teach ‘yourself’ when you raise your children. They are watching you every minute, to see how to handle the world. Teach them well.

OLDER PEOPLE AND HONESTY

English: Planning Application, Alvington Plann...
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On the radio this morning, Professor Paul Whiteley from Essex University and Director of Britain’s first Centre for The Study of Integrity, was talking about the research project he is involved in. The project looked at how integrity and honesty among younger people has deteriorated. The research implies that young people tolerate dishonesty and adultery and have a marked lack of integrity.

Research projects like this always fascinate me. This one will hit the headlines today, and will be reported differently in each newspaper. The tabloids will have a field day, where as the broad sheets will be more circumspect in their use of descriptive language about the research. I am sure that the good professor and his research team will have substantial proof of their findings, but my generation know that there is also a great deal of dishonesty and missing integrity among our lot, too.

Here’s an example. In a society where old people are devalued and for the most part, ignored except when they have money, developers try to round them up with offers of houses on estates created specifically to meet their needs. These half way estates – I call them that because they are half way between house and nursing home – offer all sorts of perks when you buy into the scheme. Like all such developments, there is a service charge for the facilities that buyers seem happy to pay. However, I know of one such development where the houses are marketed with a whole list of promised facilities that have never materialised. This estate, promoted with a glossy brochure describing all that is on offer in detail, including an on-site 24 hour warden, a clubhouse providing a shop and social space, a bistro cafe, a pretty walk along a nearby stream to the town, is very convincing for prospective retirees and those looking for a home  on a development that offers a sense of security for their later years.

The development was started five years ago and is still only a quarter completed. The roads are still unmade and none of the facilities promised have been put in place, even though they were clearly listed in the legal documents that the buyers signed when completing their house purchases.  Because the developer has not demanded the monthly maintenance charge (there is nothing to pay for anyway) the people living in these new houses feel obliged to say nothing. It is hard for older people to complain. Maybe, this is a generation where least said, soonest mended is the norm?  To use another cliché, sticking your head in the sand is preferable to making a fuss. So this developer, a man in his sixties, could be guilty of misrepresentation and breach of contract. This is clearly dishonest and shows a total lack of integrity, but it appears to be accepted by the residents and the local council who probably know there has been a breach of the planning application, but appear to be very slow in enforcing the law. What is particularly annoying for these residents is that the developer would probably never have been allowed to build on the land, had he not agreed to comply with the planning conditions and develop a site of homes with detailed facilities for older residents, which are all clearly listed in the planning application.

As far as I am aware, none of these residents can afford to take this man to court. They are caught in a situation where they feel grateful that they are not paying charges, yet worried and disillusioned that the facilities they thought they bought into have failed to materialise. These facilities were the very reason they chose to live on such a development in the first place. This development continues to be marketed by estate agents using the same glossy brochure. Those now trapped on the estate cannot sell their homes, because prospective buyers always ask difficult questions, like: Where are the facilities promised in the brochure and legal documents?  While an estate agent may be good at being vague and suggest that the developer is simply late in putting in the facilities, residents find it hard to answer such questions without feeling they are telling half-truths. And there is now another issue. If someone dies and the house is bequeathed to a relative, it will be difficult for them to sell. Not something that anyone would wish upon a loved one chosen to inherit.

I have no idea how this situation will be resolved, but I know that this is the sort of dishonesty that is all around us and it is not just young people behaving without integrity.  You just have to do some research to see that there is an increase in a lack of morals, ethics and honesty across the board. This applies to young and old and it is on the increase. Most of the people involves in the debacle I have written about here, are well over fifty years of age.

THOSE WERE THE DAYS!

The Best of The Lovin' Spoonful
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I grew up in the sixties and I can remember them!  Thinking they were doing the best for me, the parents sent me to a Catholic convent full of white middle class girls and I stood out like a sore toenail. I was force fed eleven plus exam questions and answers from specially written books that my Mum purchased, on top of the fees she had to pay, so that I could pass and move up to the bigger version of the school.

At eleven I found myself in a grammar school populated by the same sort of girls only older and a netball of nuns who appeared to be obsessed by Latin, Gilbert and Sullivan and Religious Instruction…and netball. They were strong women, those nuns and no amount of wailing about painful periods would get you off sports. They told me I was the spitting image of the Wild Woman of Borneo – to this day I still don’t know who she was – because my hair was thick and bushy and very un-English. We had underwear inspection once a week to check that we were wearing regulation long blue bloomers.

But it was the sixties and as we reached our dangerous teens, we sneaked into school wearing acres of pink and white net petticoats under our school skirts, making them spray out around our legs like candy floss. We turned our navy cardigans back to front and wore them without our white shirts, exposing spotty backs in the V. We wore black stocking – well, Mary Quant wore them, didn’t she? – and black patent heels. We were trouble.

All this anarchy led to serious talks by Father Mularchy (not his real name, of course – I want to go to heaven!)  emphasising purity  and modesty and warning us that when we eventually went out into the world, we may be asked to wear nothing but two beads and a leaf…  We had to know how to say NO. This did nothing to persuade us and we continued to buck the uniform regulations until our new headmistress, a very savvy nun who had been in the WRAF before receiving her vocation, called our little group out of assembly one morning and threatened to expel us. It worked, but we simply replaced our teenage uniform rebellion with boys.

It was easy. The school was losing its status as a grammar  and was about to become a comprehensive, with two grammar streams. That meant a new extension in steel and glass was about to be built, attached incongruously to the lovely old Victorian convent; built by fit young men. You would think we had never seen the species before. We had brothers and fathers, didn’t we? We weren’t in a boarding school. But oh, they looked so delicious in their low slung jeans and bare chests that we couldn’t take our eyes off them. It was all innocent at first. We loved the wolf whistles and shouts as we ran onto the netball pitch in our skirt-shorts and waved at them. The pitch happened to be right next door to the building site. I don’t think we ever thought about the implications of all that flirting. We were just thrilled and teased. We didn’t know very much about sex.

And so came the long years of heartbreak.  Between fourteen and sixteen, I think my heart was broken at least twenty times. At fifteen, I was passionately in love with Elvis, so frustrating loving a boy who was just a photo and a voice, but now I had the chance to be close to gorgeous young blokes every day, half dressed and up for it.  That long hot summer when I was fifteen, sex was everywhere. It was the sport of the nation. Politicians were doing it, getting caught while their mistresses told the world – in detail.  Sixties clothes oozed with it. Our skirts were just long enough to cover our bits, while our long white leather boots made us all feel like Jean Shrimpton. The pill was available to those of us bold enough to confront the family GP and ask for it. Nirvana – King’s Road and Carnaby Street were just a mile or so from suburban North West London, where most of us lived. Every Saturday morning, my friend Margaret and I would dress up in our sixties stuff to hop on the number 52 bus into Kensington to spend the day in Biba. We had very little money to spend, but it didn’t matter. We were where it was at!  We felt we were really living. Okay, we had to return to Nunsville on Monday, but on Saturday we could be sixties children. There was music everywhere, too. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and The Lovin’ Spoonful, all gorgeous. The Beach Boys were my favourite. I would have died for them!

Then it all got a bit serious. On my sixteenth birthday, one of my school friends was caught in the music room, snogging the only male teacher under seventy-five who had ever been employed. The Head had wanted to seem progressive, what with the new build and all. So she broke the unspoken rule and got a man in to teach music. This was far worse than builders. There was no ten foot metal fence between us and poor Mr Turner (Name changed to protect the innocent!).  The man was so available.  He was near enough to smell and we were sixteen, after all. It all ended in tears. He left under a cloud of disgrace and my mate was expelled and ended up moving half way across the world; her parents decided to emigrate. There was no alternative.

You see, underneath all this freedom, girls were still called unmarried mothers if they got pregnant without a husband and there were places to deal with these fallen young women. Babies were whipped away from their sixteen year old mothers six weeks after birth – just long enough for the girls to feel their hearts being torn out – and handed to adoption agencies. STI’s did not exist in the public consciousness. You could never, and I mean never ask your mother about contraception. The extent of my sex education was given to me on the first day of my first period – which came as a shock, although I had an elder sister. My mother hurriedly thrust a huge sanitary towel into my hand and said in a voice suitable for disclosing secrets to the Russians: Don’t go with boys! I had no idea what she meant. Just that being around boys made me feel a strange happiness that was quite new to me…

So for me, the sixties were full of mixed messages. Women were still under the thumb of domesticity, yet they were emerging as sex objects in the media. Divorce was rare and needed a co-respondent.  Domestic violence was acceptable and child abuse was everywhere and nowhere. Satire was coming into its own with shows like ‘That Was The Week That Was’ and how could we survive without the radio and those wonderful Sunday lunch shows like ‘Round The Horne’ and ‘Hancock’s Half Hour‘?

Now, I am glad that things have changed for women. Until the other day, when I woke up and turned on the TV news. The clever young presenter, all shiny blonde hair and sharp questions, was asking a politician about a new set of laws about to be passed in Afghanistan. I listened while she read them out and my jaw hit the floor. Could I really be hearing that in the 21st century, a nation war torn for decades, now desperately trying to become a Democracy, wanted to implement a law that said women needed the permission of their husbands before they could leave the house? That they must agree to sex in marriage once every four days? There was more, but I turned the TV off at that point to deal with my anger and disappointment. So much has changed in the past forty years – and so little.

HAPPY KIDS

Young children at a ballet class. They will le...
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My little grand-daughter has just started ballet lessons. Watching her walk into the ballet studio, so confident in her pale purple leotard and pink ballet shoes, it was very hard not to start blubbing. I stood outside, peering through the windows in the door, watching twenty little girls being taken through their paces by their teacher.  My grand-daughter looked happy, quite unlike her grandmother on my first day at school.  I didn’t start school until I was seven and the memories are not good. I can see myself now, sitting on a long bench, that the teachers insisted on calling a ‘form’ sobbing my eyes out. Mum skittered back and forth like a demented dragon-fly, not knowing whether to leave me or to stay. Eventually, she was told in no uncertain terms, to leave. She obeyed, eyes full of tears.

At the start of each new term, thousands of little people start that long journey through the education system. The last week of the holidays always has that ‘school’ feeling for me, even though my children are all adults now. The hours I spent buying and altering school uniforms, rushing round Woolworth‘s gathering up pencil cases, rulers, coloured pencils, writing pads; the nights I lost worrying about packed lunches – were they nutritious enough, was the bread cut properly, had I remembered the right flavoured crisps? My son, a single parent, is now going through his own journey through that mine field of concerns and it will be a long one as he has three children.

I remember my youngest daughter‘s first term escapades at school with poignant humour. I’d deposited her safely in the class-room and having returned home to start work, I was sitting at my computer sipping my first cup of get-me-going coffee when there was a loud banging on the front door. I rushed downstairs, only to find my five year old standing on the front step, fists clenched, face scarlet and quite obviously fuming. (The school was just a stone’s throw from the house, with no roads to cross, thank heavens!) She announced that she’d had enough of school and wasn’t ever going back. At that moment, her teacher appeared, running up the path, with an even redder face and a lot of sweat on her brow. Teacher explained that my little darling had simply walked out of school. Once it was noted that she wasn’t sitting sweetly at the table, doing her cutting and sticking shapes lesson, teacher had put emergency procedures into action. These included three of her colleagues searching the school, while she, poor woman, rushed up the road to my house. My little daughter remained adamant while this explanation was being given; she WAS NOT going back to school. It took a few weeks for her to calm down and realise she WAS GOING to school and that she would be in school for several years. I am pleased to say, she sailed through it all and ended up with a university degree.

Unlike my daughter and my grand-daughter, I never really took to school. The uniform was itchy and I hated the beany hats we were compelled to wear on pain of excommunication. I hated the rules and regulations – uniform inspection every term, including knickers – they had to be regulation navy blue serge bloomers. I loathed some of the teachers, especially Miss O’Malley, all tweed suits and strange Roman sandals. It was Miss O’Malley who hauled me out of assembly and made me stand and face the whole school while she announced that I had ‘been hanging a cup on my lip‘ during lunch. (This was a highly technical term for sucking out the air in a plastic beaker to make it stick to my mouth and thereby amuse all my class mates. It hadn’t amused Miss O’Malley)  I received the necessary punishment to fit the crime; two half hour detentions.

There were some teachers who made a huge impression on me. One was my English teacher, Miss Smith. She loved literature and fired my imagination with a flame thrower. She was brilliant. Then there was Miss Martock, who came from New Zealand to teach us Latin. She spent every lesson telling us stories about Greek gods and goddesses. I didn’t learn much Latin in that first term but I was enthralled and engaged and ended up loving the language. Thank you Miss Martock and Miss Smith. I suffered the slings and arrows of education and emerged from the Catholic convent sausage machine reasonable well educated and with a very intense desire to become Jewish. Rebellion was instilled in me from an early age. My one regret is that I never found out whether or not those nuns had any hair under their wimples.

My grand-daughter is deciding whether she likes her teachers or not; she will have to survive the battle field of the playground and will criticize her father’s hand crafted packed lunch. She will develop opinions and become argumentative; she will no longer be the sweet bidable baby in the photo I have on my dresser, (albeit with one hell of a cry) She will gather to herself a serious set of rules and insist her Dad knows nothing. She will forge new and passionate friendships and force her Dad to let her have sleep-overs where other people’s kids will vomit on her clean duvet and get bitten by the hens or the pigs, for which injuries, long and involved explanations to their parents will be needed. She will learn to sing school songs and act in school plays and someone may have to stay up all night trying to make the angel costume just right for the Nativity play. She will reach her teens and play truant and take her first puff behind the bike-sheds. She will fall in love with a spotty faced idiot (her Dad’s opinion) and take her first kiss to heart and have her heart broken and cry with her head buried in her pillow and be comforted with hot chocolate and cake. Eventually, I pray she will emerge, a thoughtful, inspired and educated young woman, and it will all have been worth it.

Like so many children today, my grand-daughter will see her parents go through the trauma of divorce and hopefully, not be too damaged by it. She will always know that her grand-parents love her and her siblings very much and will do everything they can to help them and their Dad get through a difficult time. For in the end, when they reach adult-hood, it will be the happy memories they remember; the days spent at museums, on the beach, in cafes eating ice-cream. It will be the hugs and the talks and listening to them; the stories read at bedtime, the birthday treats, the smiles, the love they receive from the people who love them. These are the things that will help to cancel out any unhappiness they may feel, seeing their parents split up. This is the insurance policy we can set in place to protect their future mental health.

I sincerely pray that this government won’t decimate our education system by cutting back to the bone. Children, starting school with such hopes and fears, are our future. Many children have difficult home lives and school is often the only constant thing, the only security they have. That’s why teachers are so important. They can make the difference between a child giving up on learning when times at home are tough, or seeing education as a way to progress and forge a successful life for themselves. The flame of curiosity burns bright in my grand-children’s eyes. The adults caring for them must make sure that flame never goes out.

IS MODERN LIFE KILLING US?

Frank Lipman, a doctor practising in America has identified a new illness affecting millions. No, it’s not another ‘flu virus or a flesh eating bug from some far flung jungle. It’s a condition that you or someone you know, could be suffering from. He’s called it SPENT. Because we live in cities, are addicted to mobile phones, computers, credit cards and shopping all day and night, the clever doctor has put forward the theory that this kind of life style might have some serious implication for our health, both mental and physical.

So what are the symptoms of Spent? Constant lack of ruddy good health, an immune system that is not functioning as it should, feelings of panic, nausea, exhaustion, aches, pains, fever, feeling bunged up in your brain, inability to stay centred and feel in control…. Sounds familiar? In my youth, they called this condition by a variety of names and it was often connected to soldiers coming back from battle, mothers who had more kids than they could cope with or living in abject poverty. We called it being burnt out, nervous exhaustion, a breakdown.

English: Mobile phone scrap, old decomissioned...
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When Spent really takes hold, you can’t get off your bed. You simply can’t function. You may go to your GP and have a whole load of tests. But they will show that your organs are working, you may not even have high blood pressure. But the tiredness will be so acute that you will have to take time off work and it may run into months. You may improve. You may go back to work, to the same hectic 24 hour life style that we accept as normal. But it may happen again and before you know it, you will have the same symptoms

This time, your GP suspects you are mentally ill and prescribes a long course of antidepressants. It has to be long because these pills take months to kick in properly. They may or may not work. You may or may not get horrible side effects and all the time you will be struggling to cope with the notion that YOU CAN”T COPE.

As your blackberry continues to bleep, your computer to ping and you continue to wake in the night after a dose of night terrors, your personal life starts to fall apart. Maybe a bell might ring in your head, and you might begin to notice that the reason for your disintegration is the velocity of life, as we know it. You might start to question the unspoken rule that if you do not live your life at the speed of light you are somehow not hacking it; that you will be left behind and descend into the pit of homeless, weak, poor and unsuccessful plebeians. Not so.

Your immune system is telling you to reject this notion. Your heart is telling you to change gear and slow up, but the world of ‘stuff’ that we are all curmudgeoned into buying – the stuff that is speeding up our lives and making us ill, the stuff we feel obliged to spend our hard earned cash on, could perhaps be slowly killing us.

If you go into any shop, any supermarket, the choice is enormous. Wonderful, you say. Deregulate and give the people choice. So much choice that we are now unable to make decisions! We become depressed because we can’t decide which is the best washing machine or the best TV to purchase. So we look on the Internet – at those comparison websites that are springing up like weeds. Then we have to choose which comparison website to trust… ? And everything costs a lot of money and we are terrified of losing our money. Even the once trusted  banks have taken us for a ride and cash we thought was safe has been plundered and has vanished like a puff of magician’s smoke.

There is one way to feel better. We eat. Food feels lovely. It calms us. Fat food calms us and makes us feel comforted. (Think Nigella?) The weight piles on and our clothes don’t fit, we find it increasingly difficult to run up stairs, we start feeling depressed, we go to the doctor and she says have some pills… Back to square one.

So how to make changes that will improve the toxic situation most of us live in? Easy. Take all time-eaters out of the bedroom. No clock, no TV, no mobile, no Blackberry. Go to bed at nine or ten o’clock every night, religiously. Cut out tea, coffee, sugar, booze, cigarettes and arguments. Don’t make any, I mean any choices. Stick to what you know works. Don’t buy anything new. Don’t take shit from anyone, but don’t get into fights. Walk away. Find a place to lie down and have a ten minute kip.  Eat lots and lots and lots of vegetables. In fact, give up red meat except for one good piece of roast beef once a month, but remember how much damage producing meat does to the earth.  So become vegetarian and then eat beans. Lots of them. To hell with the gas!  Don’t worry about eating organic, if you can’t afford it.  If you can spend time in a garden or allotment, well and good – eat your own produce, grow vegetables in pots, bags, old tin cans!  Walk. Everywhere. Re-use and recycle everything. It’s makes you feel good! Okay, I know it might not look like party fun, but believe me, it is! When you are fit, happy and doing the right thing by your heart, your libido goes up and you get more and much better sex – without the need to resort to porn.

Above all, rebel. Rebel against consumerism. Rebel against too much choice – most of the stuff out there is crap anyway. And don’t just worry about the poor in underdeveloped countries. Do something about it. Lobby your MP. Write to the stores that stock all the rubbish from poor countries and say you won’t buy it until it’s better quality and the people forced to make it for a pittance are paid proper wages.

Rebel against reading rubbish newspapers, watching prurient news, listening to prejudiced news. Give up gossip, ignore celebrity, close your ears to loud voices in TV ads – put two fingers up to them. It feels good, believe me.  Just try it for a month and see how you feel. To make this life style permanent you will need lots of will power and maybe, a private income, but you can test run it and see if your mental and physical health improves.

I hate to say it, but I am beginning to think that our current version of capitalism creates mania. You feel compelled to work harder and longer. To compete, compete, compete. Rebel against that, too. We can all manage on a lot less ‘stuff’.  Of course, this view would be shot down in flames by most governments. I can hear the outraged voices:  what is she advocating? Communism? Of course not. I’m saying we have to look at what capitalism is doing to the world and find alternatives. That’s all. And never forget that more than half the people living on this earth are so impoverished, they exist on a bowl of rice a day.

Strangely enough, the recession may be a way out. We have to adopt  a whole new way of thinking about how life works, how we live, clothe and feed ourselves. And this applies to everyone, right across the our precious world, not just an enlightened few. And finally – Global warming is here.  If we don’t change soon, we won’t have time to think about it , because we won’t just be spent, we’ll be extinct.

DEMENTIA WARNINGS?

So now they tell us that our brains start to degenerate from the age of 40; at least that is what was on the BBC News, this morning. Great to wake up to the news that I may have started on the downward spiral to Alzheimer’s disease as I was hitting my mid-life crisis

I’m lucky because I am a woman. Men, apparently have brains that deteriorate faster than women. – hang on, most women knew that already didn’t they? Perhaps that’s what is wrong with our male politicians?

We can, we are told, mitigate our descent into dementia by eating properly and exercising regularly. My mum did The Times crossword.  She was very fond of vegetables, hated red meat and she walked to the shops every day, a distance of a mile or so. She also liked a good conversation. She was always independent. Did that have anything to do with keeping her brain healthy? She lived to the age of 96.

Do I want to live that long? I guess we all do, if we can stay fit and well, physically and mentally. There are too many people with dementia. Not enough money is put into researching why this horrible disease has almost reached epidemic proportions. It’s no good telling you to eat well and exercise when you may have lost your job and are struggling to make ends meet on benefits that are cut to the bone.

We are told that if you look after yourself before you reach 40, your chances of getting some form of dementia in old age is probably lessened. But many of our young people are currently out of work.  Many of them have degrees and huge debts they acquired by going to university, in the hope that they would get a decent job, which would then enable them to eat well and have a life that would no doubt, include exercising and an interest in their own well-being and health. But when you are jobless and possibly homeless, when you are trying to support yourself and your family on a pittance, things like  healthy eating and subscriptions to a gym, or even the cost of going to the local swimming pool, might be beyond your budget.

The way we are currently living is setting up terrible problems for the future. That may sound like doom and gloom, but the boom/bust economy of the past thirty years has been the catalyst for the disastrous financial situation we are in now and are likely stay in for many years to come.

So what can we do to lessen our chances of getting dementia in old age or even in middle age? Well, cut out these foods or eat them in careful moderation: chips, pizzas, kebabs, bacon, pies, in fact anything that is processed. Avoid supermarkets, except those that you trust!  Buy local. Buy less. Drink less alcohol and more water. Walk to the shops. Read. Talk more. Turn off the TV. Listen to music – Mozart is good but any music feeds the soul. Love the ones you love with all your heart. Hate less. Don’t fight. Be compassionate. Stand up for your rights. Be peacefully assertive. Believe yourself to be a good human being. Thank your lucky stars you are still alive! Ah, if only I could do all of this every day. Some hopes. But I can think about it and that’s a start…-

DO WE CARE ABOUT ANYTHING?

Every appliance you buy has a five year life. That is what a salesman told me when I bought a fridge. Once you’ve had the damn thing for five years, wake up each morning and check it. It’s days are numbered. White goods appear to be manufactured with built-in obsolescence. After all, they want you to buy them and if they lasted forever, you wouldn’t.

Yesterday, our heating boiler died. It’s four years old. The rain flooded it because a pipe had been put into the wrong hole – or something… There is a reason why the heap of metal we rely on for heat and hot water has given up the ghost, but I wonder if, in another 12 months, it might have expired anyway?  So much of what we think is permanent, is not. I was thinking about my house during the gales we have been experiencing in our region. Winds of 60 mph have battered us and as I lay in bed, kept warm by an electric blanket, I was sure the house shook – just a little bit.  No, said my partner, you are dreaming. It’s just made of ‘stuff’ – I insisted, it could blow over like the house of the three little pigs, if the wind speed went up another 50 Notts. Well, that’s not going to happen, he said. No, not today, but it might – one day. Your glass is certainly half full, he said.

And what about the electricity? When one appliance stops working, maybe they will all follow suit? Maybe the malady is catching? The electricity does what it’s told to do when you press a switch, but it could rebel, couldn’t it? It could refuse to respond to my eager finger and run down the wire in the opposite direction, keeping me in darkness? Suddenly all these inanimate objects and services in my house are taking on human characteristics. The walls are bearing down on me. If they have a bad day, they could decide to collapse. We all have days when we want to collapse, don’t we? And why do things go missing? We’ve lost so many objects over the Christmas holiday. Why? Who’s hiding them?

My house is no longer just a house. It’s a living thing, full of angry technology. What’s next? If my computer catches a virus, I will go into heavy mourning, like Queen Victoria. I will wear black for years. The thought of battling my way through all the other mourners in the computer shop to eventually consult a flat-faced juvenile who gives me no confidence in his ability to heal my poor PC, is just too much.

Nothing lasts any more. Was this the case in years gone by? In the UK we manufactured things to last. Our cars, our houses, our appliances. Today, spare parts on your loo are made of plastic, not brass. When they fail after a few years, there is no mending them. Just rip ’em out and put a new on in. The plastic will never corrode, just pollute. It’s a throw-away society!

So, if we live with the expectation that everything can be replaced cheaply and quickly, what is the point of looking after anything? And does this attitude spill over into how we care for each other? We have more elderly people needing care than ever before. Yet care for the elderly in the UK is not good. It costs a great deal, except in Scotland, where it is currently free, and just because you pay, does not mean you will get good care. How can a care worker visiting a 90 year old, do anything productive in the 15 minutes allocated to her. That is the sort of time many care-workers have to assist frail, elderly people who are living alone. It makes a mockery of the word ‘care’.

When I wrote my play Carers, back in 1990, the tickets for the first performance came back from the printers with the word CAREERS printed on them. I rang the printer, who promptly told me that there was no such word as CARER and I must have made a spelling mistake. In 2012, do we still think there is no such word as Carer? The word means someone who cares. And what does that mean? To care for someone is to value them, to make sure they are okay. Carers are not valued by our politicians, no matter how much they protest and swear that they understand ‘the plight of the carers’… Where is the funding? Where are the adequate services for our ageing population?

Does the attitude we have towards our possessions – that we can immediately replace them when they fail, also apply to our elderly, our frail, our disabled – indeed, anyone who doesn’t conform to the rules set  down by that universal salesman called capitalism? If it’s broken get rid of it? You can always replace it with something better? Get rid of granny, you can replace her with a new house, car, holiday. Leave her to be looked after by inadequate service providers and hope she doesn’t linger too long, because you won’t get your inheritance if she does. Wait a minute, haven’t you forgotten something – the government already have their hands on her money –  to pay for that inadequate care that will cost her every penny she has, including whatever she might get for the sale of her house?

It’s a strange society that is obsessed with getting new stuff. Perhaps looking after ourselves, our loved ones and our possessions isn’t what those in power want? After all, isn’t buying new all the time how we keep the the economy alive? How soon before euthanasia becomes common place? Get rid of the old stock, they are worth nothing and everything has to have a monetary value, doesn’t it?

My central heating boiler will be replaced tomorrow. I am grateful. Living without hot water and heat is tough. But millions of people, in this country are doing just that, because they cannot afford to buy heat on a regular basis. Mr Cameron, no BIG SOCIETY should tolerate that.

 

 

 

 

A THINKING LIFE

Morals-ethics150
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The new year makes us want to be better – at least that’s how it impacts on me. I have a list. Top of that list is to read more, to be kinder to people I dislike, to listen to more music and to try to understand my fellow man/woman – the last one will be the toughest. I want to try to understand why people kill each other in all sorts of conflict, and why they kill themselves. I want to know why there is greed and materialism; why it is so important to define yourself by the ‘stuff’ you own, and why we appear to be so discontented all the time.

There was a time in my life where I felt so sure of everything. I felt the world was secure and would never tip on its precarious axis. Was that just the inexperience of youth? Or have values, ethics and morals changed so radically that the feeling of security I once had has gone forever? To think this way is not an optimistic start to 2012, but it’s how I feel at the moment.

This year, I do not want to pretend that everything is fine, when it is not. When someone asks ‘How are you’ I would like to be able to tell the truth. But of course, I won’t.  I, like everyone else, will apply that thin layer of happiness that will reassure anyone who inquires about my well being that I am okay, even it I am not. If I spilled the beans to everyone I met, I would soon be pronounced insane. No-one really want to know the truth, do they? But in the past, did we have had an inbuilt compassion button that would allow us to see past the I’m okay response? We used to be able to read the sub-text. Now, there is no time and it’s not fashionable to be too caring.  We can be shown any amount of blood, death and abuse on TV and film and while we may shed a quick tear at the time of viewing, we can switch everything off and go the the fridge for a piece of cake. After all, we are okay so why should we concern ourselves with anyone else?

Pretending to be something we are not makes us feel isolated and alone. Yet, so many of us do it. We feel we are simply not good enough. We do not live up to the advertised image of what the media say we should be. That is why we switch off from the awfulness of the TV news. We have other things to be concerned about; we are too fat, too thin, need more money, not pretty enough, need a boob job, don’t have the right number of shags per month – and on and on and on…

Unless we are careful, we become consumed by desire. We are in a kind of consumer coma that makes us shut down to real values, in fact, to reality itself. We forget who we really are – vulnerable human beings, animals living on a planet that unless we do something about it, will die. I can hear you thinking as you read this, she’s putting a real downer on the new year!  No, I’m not. I’m simply stating that this year, I want to see things with brighter eyes. I want to read what is not there to see at first glance. I want to be more sensitive to the colour of life and not let life slip by me like a passing cloud. I want to watch those clouds and imagine what it would be like to sit on one. I want to give myself time to be human, to dream and think and to really see the value of life.

Is there a difference between the words ‘moral’ and ‘ethical‘?  We often hear our politicians use these words in the same sentence, accompanied by a sanctimonious expression. But what do these two well-used words really mean? They were obviously not understood by the young people who rioted and looted last August in London. Both morals and ethics seem to be missing from our innate understanding of how we should relate to each other; how we should behave. We used to know what morals and ethics were; we used to understand the words, didn’t we? Or am I fooling myself? Having morals means that you have good intentions and will put those intentions into action. Ethics, on the other hand, is about an ethos, about what we are,  or the kind of organisations we subscribe to. Ethics includes morality and both should be as much a part of how we behave as the way we blink – involuntary, but impossible to see clearly, if it doesn’t happen. So, trying to blend morals and ethics in this new year, will be for me a challenging resolution. If I think about it on a daily basis, it may well influence how I see the world and that’s exciting.

Reading back over what I have written here makes me think that maybe I am coming across as a goodie-two-shoes. That’s definitely not my intention. I have written before about how little we indulge ourselves in that wonderful and totally free action – thinking. To give yourself time to think, like giving yourself time to eat slowly and savour every mouthful, is one of things that being alive is all about and it’s wonderful! When you are dead, you cannot think. Acting in a mindless way is like being ‘dead’ when you are alive – ticking over but not moving. So I want to think more this year. I want to learn more and most of all, I want to embrace being alive by looking at how I live during what’s left of my short life.