Thursday, 10 April 2014

Living a life without feeling the need to 'get' one.

There are many things about Facebook that give me varying degrees of rage. Poorly punctuated cat memes, updates every five minutes about how someones baby is feeding/sleeping/talking/making noises/having a poo.....However, I have recently experienced the oddest yet; the friend request from someone who made my school life a bloody nightmare. Not only a request but also a message, just saying hi and hoping all is well, I probably don't remember them but they saw my profile and thought they would catch up and it looks like I've had a very interesting life.
I am now a [fairly] well adjusted; 34 year old wife and mother; and yes I have had a fairly interesting life but just seeing that picture of her sitting grinning just made something rise up inside me; something I cannot explain.
I have always alluded to the fact that I was bullied as a youngster (just saying that makes me feel old), but I have never really expanded on that; to be honest I try and block it out and pretend it never happened; but here it is looking at me uninvited in my own home.

It is quite fortuitous really that I got this request as I am about to write a book. As I am approaching my mid life crisis; it occurs to me that all I may be remembered for is being a fairly nondescript suburbanite. However; during my 20's I finally managed to step out of the shadow of my former self and live my life. Grow up, travel, get some experience. Now in a bid to show there is more to my life than work, cupcakes and playdates I am putting pen to paper....well, keyboard to kindle and getting it all down.

As I look at my first draft then look at my former classmate it hits me. As much as this book is about funny/interesting travel experiences; I can't shake the fact that it is, in its own way, a big two fingered salute. A giant "up yours" to the people who called me fat, called me ugly, made fun of me because my reading choices were different to 'Sweet Valley High', that I listened to Green Day and not Boyzone and went to the newsagents for comic books and not Smash Hits. All the people who made my life a bloody nightmare; whose favourite put-down was 'get a life'.

Well, I may still be the comic book reading nerd I was when I was 12 but I have made peace with that. I am happy and confident and have had an amazing and interesting life without feeling the need to conform to the boy-band loving stepford Barbie that defined my generation (who are all now strangely a bit like the 12 year old me; wearing 'NERD' t shirts and thinking they are cool because they have watched 'Thor' - but that's a whole other blog post).

Have to go and start proofreading now, but before I do, I must adjust the privacy settings on my Facebook page.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Why we cannot redirect Foreign Aid to UK flood hit areas

Firstly, I wanted to say I feel for the South of England, I really do. I also have family who live in the some of the flood hit areas and seeing how this is disrupting their lives is awful.

However, what I have also noticed, since the flooding began, are calls to have UK Foreign Aid re-directed to the flood hit people in the South of England. Now, whilst I can understand the frustration at being taken totally unawares by the weather, and the massive effect that this is having on our lives, I cannot, for the life of me understand why anyone would think this is a good idea (let alone a national newspaper start a campaign).

Before we take this argument any further, let me please set out a few statistics, basic facts about our Foreign Aid budget that might help underpin my point.

UK Aid budget: £8.6 bn
Total spend on cigarettes in the UK: £15-18bn
UK Defence spending:£45.6bn
Tax avoidance in the UK c £70bn
Combined wealth of the richest 1000 people in the UK (2012) £414bn
You can look at any spending in isolation and feel it is totally out of proportion, but, before we cut back on helping those in absolute need, remember, that we spend twice as much on smoking, 5 times as much on the military, allow 9 times as much in tax avoidance and our current level of aid could be paid for the next 48 years by just 1000 people.

Also, the 0.07% (really yes, its that small) of GNI that is allocated to Foreign Aid has a caveat, that the ‘aid’ is to be determined by the OECD, this makes it impossible to redirect the money back into a UK ‘pot’ as, we would not be classified as needing aid.

There is then the ‘charity begins at home’ mantra that is trotted out again and again and again. This is a point I do agree wholeheartedly in, however, we do not live in a small isolated commune; we live in a global community. Our neighbours are no longer the Smiths or Jones’ next door who are struggling to keep the water out of their home or the fence panels up in their garden; they are the people in Syria who are having their own governments use chemical weapons on them; They are the families in Africa whose children are dying of completely preventable diseases; who are dying of water borne illness because they lack the basic human necessity of clean water; the girls in the middle east who are being married at ridiculously early, risking their lives; suffering a lifetime of abuse and being denied an education; the people in the far east who have lost everything in massive floods.

We were all born into this country by luck (apparently good or bad, depending which newspaper you read). How can we justify to ourselves, attempting to stop any of the help that goes towards solving any of these problems, just because we have been let down and left very ill prepared for the storms that have ravaged the UK this winter.

There is also the argument that there are people here who are having to stay overnight in community centres and don’t know when they will be able to return home, this is really not comparable with people having to flee their homes with nothing, and not knowing if they will ever even get a tent/something to keep them out of the elements and how long they will have it for; knowing they will never get to return home. Missing the point spectacularly that our gov’t is doing something, you are sheltered, you are fed and you are warm and you will get to go home at some point.

So I guess what I am trying to say is, I understand your frustration and I understand your angst. I know that everyone is feeling the pinch and so giving money to ‘furriners’ whilst we are struggling, may grate at some people, I cannot see how anyone would think  that we are even in a comparable situation. We spend less in a year on fizzy pop than we do on Foreign Aid, and yet we think it will be ok take that away. Yes; your homes are flooded; yes its hard, but for gods sake people are dying; children are dying in completely preventable circumstances every day and if we have now become a nation that values our [insured] property over the lives of other humans, then; for the first time in my life; I truly despair.


Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Just be lucky you have a job

As many of you who know me know, I work in the public sector.

Things are very tricky in this particular sector at the moment with the almost constant onslaught of budget cuts. Though apparently the government say we are in economic recovery, yay! All hail ‘call me’ Dave.
However, I can’t help but take issue with this.

As my cost of living goes up and up and up, my salary is going down, almost constantly, year on year. We are told every year that “these measures are only temporary”, yet, year after year they increase. Our salaries drop/freeze, our pension contributions go up, whilst what we will get at the end is going down (gold plated my arse). It is becoming harder and harder to save.

Of course the PR machine of the organisation I work for goes into overdrive, telling us that yes, we will be fucked over again this year, but it will save a HUNDRED jobs.
Why oh why is there this obsession with saving jobs rather than looking at actually making changes, changes that will make a difference to everyone. Everywhere you look from within the system you can see changes that can be made. Positions that really aren’t necessary, but we hang on to them like Kate Winslet hanging on to a wardrobe door, because they have always been there so we feel we need to keep them.

Yet every year, the same line is trotted out...”just be thankful you have a job”. Strangely always said by the people who are sitting there in huge salaries, telling us (the general workplace population, who struggle to budget month on month), that we are lucky.

We are lucky to have had our departments cut to almost half while being given twice as much work, we are lucky, that there is no room for progression or professional development but most of all we are lucky that soon it will cost us more to come to work than we will actually make.


To be honest, the only reason I feel lucky, is because I like my job. The rest is just bobbins.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The true cost of an All Inclusive holiday

A number of years ago I lived and worked on a small Greek Island called Kos. I had, without a doubt, some of the best times of my life there.

The island is small, but beautiful, the people were so friendly and the air was thick with people having a great time. Tavernas were bustling with locals and tourists alike, beaches were packed with families showing their children how to build sandcastles or paddling in the sea as further out speedboats zoomed around giving the more adventurous tourist an adrenaline fuelled watersport adventure.
You could see in some of the quieter areas, there was construction going on, huge sprawling hotels that looked about the size of small villages.

Fast forward a few years, I (now all grown up), decide to take my family back to the place we all loved so much for a holiday.

We arrive at the airport and get a cab to the hotel, on the journey we all excitedly look out of the car window of the view that is whizzing by and I get the strangest feeling. The place is almost empty. There are almost no people browsing in the shops or sitting in the little bars/restaurants/tavernas, quite a lot of the shops are closed. Something seems very wrong. After all its only 7pm.

The following day, as we set out to explore the island and try to recapture some memories, I feel almost a sadness come over me. We set out to Tigaki for the day to enjoy the glorious beach and relax in one of the many tavernas and I can honestly say, there was not a soul in the 'high street' and the beach was almost empty...In August. A few places were closed and looking pretty desolate.

However, when you drove/cycled/walked past any of the huge All Inclusive hotels that had sprung up you could hear the sound of loud music and lots of people. So many people all hiding away, holidaying overseas but seeing none of the country they are in.

It followed pretty much the same pattern for the rest of our holiday, and, even though I really enjoyed my holiday (the place is still beautiful and the people are still amazingly friendly), I left with a heavy heart. I felt like I had gone to visit a beloved aunt only to discover she was seriously ill.

Now, I have been on All Inclusive holidays, and they are pretty dire. Maybe I just don't understand the concept. I just don't understand why you would choose a beautiful place to visit and then sit inside the same four walls with someone else telling you when you can eat, what you can eat, what you can do and when you can do it? Why go somewhere with stunning scenery and beautiful beaches and old squares and harbour towns and not see any of it? Why go somewhere with some of the most delicious and freshly prepared food served by friendly, hospitable people and choose to eat mass catered cliche's of local food served up in a glorified school canteen? Why go somewhere with a diverse and vibrant nightlife offer and sit playing bingo and drinking wine that tastes like turps all night? Most All Inclusive hotels run to a spend of 3.5 euros per night, so what on earth are they actually giving you!

The truth is, as we see that times are hard All Inclusive holidays seem like a better option, after all you can "leave your wallet at home". But at what cost? You go away and experience nothing, and to be completely honest, eating out and drinking in most countries is not really that expensive so realistically you are not saving much (if any). The only REAL cost of an All Inclusive holiday is to the many towns all over Europe that are being turned into ghost towns by the increasing number of sprawling AI hotels. Where local businesses are having to reduce staff, reduce wages and eventually close. All Inclusive fans could argue that they contribute to the economy with employment and using local suppliers, what they seem to miss out, is that their staff are often paid 500-750 euros a month for extraordinarily long hours, most supppliers are paid in six month blocks, meaning they dont get paid for up to 6 months at a time which leaves the rent unpaid, the children un-fed and the stress level's high.

All you have to do is do a bit of research before you go. There are so many things to see and do that do not cost the earth and you would still be able to go away, eat, drink, explore, have a great time, make some great friends and help the local economy. After all the destiny of local communities shouldn't be left to profit-driven companies.

So go on, get out there and explore. Show the world that Europe is still open for business!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

My family, the internet

My family, the internet.

Eight years ago I made the decision to move “up north” with my now husband, 150 miles (give or take), from my family. Now, I suppose that I haven’t really lived with my family for a few years before this, after spending a few years getting drunk working around Greece and Cyprus. This move just felt more permanent, there would be no more coming home for the winter with a new tan a few kilos lost and a hundred and one stories to tell, just me, my man and my house.

Now that we are a family, people often ask me what it is like raising a family so far away from my own.

I do sometimes regret that my son will never have the close relationship with his cousins that I had with mine, however I suppose there is no guarantee that would happen even if we all lived in the same street. Although I suppose it will spare him the trauma of being hit in the face with a cricket bat by a cruel relative who was less than helpful in assisting me where to stand now that I was “wicketkeeper”.
To be completely honest, sometimes it does feel a little isolating, but then, I realise, actually, I may be geographically far from everyone, but, they are never really far from me.

My mum is always on the end of the phone if I need her, and then you have the medium of social media. There is nothing to put a smile on my face quite like seeing what my family are up to, seeing smiling pictures of their children after school plays, dance rehearsals, footie games.....Feeling like you are reconnecting with your family and friends again, realising that you have the same sense of humour as a cousin in Australia you have not seen since you were 16, being able to show support instantly to the people you care about or joking around with someone you haven’t seen, in person since you were drunk, in the back of their car, singing along to Lady Marmalade whilst waiting for them to finish work.

Now, since the advent of smartphones, it’s so much easier to keep in touch, whether it’s a long phone call or a 140 character snippet. So, I suppose now, when people ask if I miss my family I can always smile and say not really, we are always in each others pockets.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Today I have made a decision

Today I have decided I am going to lose weight.

I took the day off yesterday as my son had his 2 year development check yesterday morning (he’s a genius, but that’s a whole other blog entry.......). Once he had been dropped off at the childminder, I decided to set about doing all the little tasks that I have never really got round to, such as cleaning the house (I am sure next doors missing cat in there somewhere), clearing my pile of laundry (or maybe the cat is in there) and cleaning the windows, after all we are due to get some sun soon, would be nice to see some of it.

Little did I know of the horror that laid out in front of me........

Once I had finished swirling through the house like a whirlwind, I looked around at my handywork and felt a sudden rush of pride (or maybe exhaustion), at what I had accomplished, and a thought crossed my mind. I had done a lot of work, and felt knackered. I suddenly felt inspired to try and shift some of my excess lard weight and made plans now the weather is better to try and cycle to work more, do more exercise.

Now, I am nothing if not scientific, and I knew, that if I were to measure the success of exercising more/eating better, I would need a starting point. So, I dug out my digital weight watchers scales, wiped the dust from them and checked the battery still worked. I slowly stepped on them (sounds dramatic, but to be fair, I do everything quite slowly), and then it happened. The numbers flashed up and I saw how much I weighed. Not how much I thought I weighed or my dress size, my actual weight.

I almost fell through the floor. Which considering how much I weigh is now an actual real danger.

I may not have found next door’s cat in all the piles of house stuff that needed sorting, but I am expecting old moggy to fall, out of a fold on my gut somewhere, gasping for breath onto the floor in front of me.

I will let you know if we find him.

Monday, 22 April 2013

So, here I am......

So here it is, my first blog....nervous much? Bit of an introduction.......
Now, when I decide whether or not to buy a book or read a magazine article I always read the first few sentences first to get a flavour for whether or not I am going to like it.
So, here is hoping that the readers of this blog dont apply the same method.

So I am a (cough) 33 (cough) year old married woman with a two year old son and an arse the size of a small African country.

I will be using this blog to share my random thoughts and opinions and hopefully reach out to others and help them raise a smile.

Still with me?