November is the new December

I feel like I am late to a party this week. I was taking pictures of a nativity play, finalising stocking fillers, hearing about other friends nativity plays, turning up to my daughter’s friend’s house to find christmas lights all round the windows……and its still November?

I think comedian Michael Mcintyre is right when he says that women start thinking about Christmas as soon as the last sparkler fizzles out on the 5th November. Attending the nativity play yesterday was the worst ‘I’m not quite there yet but why is everyone else?’ feeling. Its almost like I have time travelled from July into a Christmas scene and everyone else is feeling christmassy but not me – am I the only one who doesn’t start thinking about christmas until at least the 20 something of December?

Okay I’ve bought the presents for the kids because its less to think about nearer the time (particularly as we are going away this Christmas) but everything else can wait until December surely? For those who are privately educated in Britain, nativity season is in November as the term ends next week (its right that the more you pay the less they are at school). I think its a bit sad though because it doesnt feel christmassy. My daughter’s nativity isn’t until the 20th December – by then decorations are everywhere, turkeys are on delivery and people are thoroughly in the festive mood (or if not they shortly will be once on holiday) but doing a nativity in November just doesn’t feel right.

I am in a quandary as to what to do with decorations this year. We will be spending Christmas away from home so it is pointless buying a tree for our house BUT we need to make the place we are staying in christmassy – but how do you define christmassy? I will ponder on that one for a while and maybe talk about again in DECEMBER!

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Much a do about nothing – Another joke Government policy

So after spending three years (and quite a lot of money) on developing a neighbourhood plan for our village led by our local councillor, with consultation from the Prince’s Foundation, we have discovered it was all a big government joke.

We might as well have drawn up the plan on the back of a fag packet with crayons for all the good it has done in shaping the council’s approach to development in the area. We had meetings to finalise the plan with all interested villagers having their say. The councillor even arranged for an exhibition in the village hall to showcase the agreed plans.

Then today we, and many others in the village, receive a letter from the council to say that a planning application had been made to build houses on land that we, as a village, had agreed would be used for a new village hall and recreation ground.

The Coalition Government’s Localism Act 2011 created the Neighburhood Plan concept to give local people the power to shape development and planning in their area. It clearly hasn’t worked. In fact it appears it was an empty promise. Is this some City joke that country gits don’t get – coz it ain’t funny…..

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Another fear conquered

All of us at some stage have days when we quite like our jobs. Some have more days like this than others. I have days like this when something extraordinary happens. This normally happens when I am out and about and not at my desk. If something extraordinary happens at my desk its normally because the shit has hit the fan.

Today was an extraordinary day for me because I was offered the chance to scale a ladder and tread precariously on scaffolding surrounding a timber framed structure to take some good photography. So what? Well, I am not mad about heights. I am also never one to refuse a challenge, particularly issued by a bloke. So ten rungs up I am fighting nausea and when I get to the top it takes all the strength I can muster to be in complete denial of my surroundings and focus on the task at hand – photography.

“I’ll just clear some of the planks away so you can get a good shot” says the builder. “Really?” I nervously reply, “aren’t they a bit crucial to the whole walking around a not-quite-built building?” He laughs and reassures me. I then get stuck in on some good shots. So keen am I on one particular shot that I am edging and eging ever further backwards til I am aginst the rails. I turn and I go completely dizzy and a wave of nausea hits me again. The whole situation isn’t helped by constant and regular reminders of how far up you are in-between virtually every scaffolding plank. Its all a bit precarious and make-shift – then the fierce wind from Siberia adds to the mix and I realise that the building trade is not for me. I have a bit of  chat with the guys, thank them for their time and then ask if i can stay up their with them for the rest of the day as I cannot possibly face going back down. Going down is always worse than going up (hence why so many cats get stuck up trees).

They laugh again and then show me the gate that is put on the scaffoding to prevent anyone from unwittingly stepping off the platform, missing the ladder and plunging to their death (or a few broken bones at least). It is on a spring close system – quite a violent one, which, if you don’t hold it back all the way through and then as you alight the ladder it could easily act as a catapult and fire you to the ground. Thankfully the builders were being rather gentlemanly and held the gate open for me while I went back into complete denial again as I tentatively found the top rung of the ladder (gulp). As I started my descent one guy remarked on why the scaffoding company insisted on such a steep lean for the ladder as it “can’t be that safe”. I tried not to react knowing full well that was the very intention of his remark.

It made my day though. I was being pathetic in comparison to people (my husband for one) who work tens of feet above the ground every day but, for me, it was a little fear conquered – I overcame my need for terra firma and got on and did it. The only thing is when I got back to my office it was 10.30 so waaaay too early for a stiff drink (which is really what I fancied rather than coffee).

I later realised that I went up the ladder after I set up the film camera for the purposes of a time lapse video so I have got my whole pathetic climb on camera – doh!

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Is it possible to have too much empathy? I’m sure it must hamper people in roles where you cannot please everyone. These roles are normally those in leadership. Sorry to keep banging on about her, but Mo Mowlam had to make difficult choices when she had to choose the importance of the N. Ireland peace process over honouring the wishes of of victims of terror. There had been atrocities on both sides, but, in order to negotiate de-comissioning she had to agree to the release from prison of so called ‘freedom fighters’. Paramilitaries who had harmed and masscared people for the sake of what they believed in. It was very hard for her to justify to the victims of those families why their loved ones killers were being freed. Of course it upset her to see their pain but she had to believe in the bigger picture. To move forward they could not wallow in the past – they had to forgive and move on. Too much empathy would have overcome this decision – what decision is right?

A new work colleague started this week. She has taken on a big role with lots of pressure and responsibility. It didn’t take long for us to discover common ground and in discussing where our paths may have crossed in the past a painful memory arose in her mind. She explained that her Mum had died a few months ago and she started to well up in tears. She was looking at the clock as she tried to pull herself together as she had two back-to-back meetings with VIPs. Seeing her grief, still so raw, instantly brought tears to my eyes as she recalled how her Mother had cried all the way back home after dropping her off at university on her first day.

Later I thought about the idea of losing my mother and I instantly felt a pang of loss deep loss at the thought of it. I was opening a door at the time and i thought “imagine opening this door without the person you love most in the world?” I know its a weird thing to say – something so trivial as opening a door but the person you form an attachment and deep and lasting bond is crucial to everday perspective. Take that away and your lost. That is why its so tragic for children who don’t get the chance to form that bond in the first place. Life is intolerable for them and it takes an amazing strength of character to pursue a life without the support of someone who gives unconditional love and support.

I felt bad that my empathy led to her opening up emotions that she was trying to keep a lid on , particularly before an important meeting. That’s the hardest thing – life stops for you but no-one else – I think WH Auden’s poem sums up the feelings of most people grieving  – perhaps the last of the verse in particular:

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good

Sorry for the sombre mood….:(

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A national destiny dictated by fate?

I am reading the final pages of Mo Mowlam’s book and it exposes what was wrong with Blair’s Government and his leadership style. It was written in the early noughties and, amazingly, Mo’s concerns on global affairs that could impact upon the Northern Ireland Peace Process were correct. The impending recession, the introduction of the Euro, Gordon Brown taking over as leader of the Labour party and the events of September 11 all had an effect on progress.

Two points in particular struck a chord with me. First Mo believed that September 11 had an effect on the views of US citizens. Post 9/11 there was less US sympathy for Sinn Fein and the IRA’s militant approach to politics.

Second, she knew that Tony Blair was very politically close to Gordon Brown and feared for the future of the party. Her fears were realised when Brown later took over the leadership and promptly lost the majority support of the British public.

I did not know that Mo could have had a go at the Labour leadership herself. If she had I’m sure there would have been a different result in the last general election – At best Labout would have won, at worst the Lib Dems would have approached Mo first before Cameron. For me that would have been a potentially brilliant combination. Maybe too good as I would have not been able to cope with any failures. Mo, however, had observed that, as prime minister, Tony had less quality time with his family and had aged beyond his years because of the burden of leading the country and she was not willing to subject her life to that. To do that role she knew she would have to sacrifice her life’s happiness for what she believed in. As I read this I imagined what would have happened if Mo had gone for leadership. The fact that she had already predicted Gordon’s rise to leader (like many of her contemporaries) has led me to believe that fate dictates our political landscape to a large extent with the end result that, as voters, we have to decide on the best of a bad bunch served up by the political in-fighting of the parties. I think the public should choose the party leaders then we might stand a chance of getting closer to the better PM.

Just a thought….

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Charity call centres – do they work

I am not a fundraiser but I understand that in a recession even charities have to adopt the hard sell approach. I have been a long-term supporter of charities like Save the Children and I donate when I am able. However, charities prefer to receive a consistent monthly donation, which I am not able to commit to.

Because of my support, I sometimes receive calls from charities asking if I can sign up to monthly payments. After I explain why I am unable, they are very understanding. I once discussed my concerns that the money I donated was going to pay the call centre staff. They tried to avoid the question by saying the vast majority of donations go to the causes and that only a small percentage go towards administration and marketing.

A few months ago I was receiving missed calls almost daily for one week from Save the Children, even though I had asked them to no longer use my number and they assured me that this had been entered onto their system. They started calling me again last week during office hours and I had to answer the call while I was at work to tell them that they should not be using my number. It was bordering on harrassment.

This evening I saw a very good advert by Save the Children aired on primetime television – God knows how much it cost them. Although the advert moved me, I would think twice about donating to them for two main reasons: 1) I am sceptical as to how donations are spent and 2) I do not like their approach of using call centre staff to target their supporters like they are cold calling to sell double glazed windows.

I will continue to support the work of Save the Children and other good charities but only if they can prove that they are genuinely ‘saving children’ and not merely raising awareness of their brand name. Their new advertising campaign, while excellently communicating their main messag,e is tainted by their shoddy approach to how they use supporters’ contact information.

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This week I will be mostly having a go at…

Underwater hockey courtesy of the ‘Octopush’ association. Has anyone heard of it? Apparently we have a Team GB (although since the Olympics there seems to be a ‘Team GB’ for everything including tractor pulling and maybe even tea drinking).

It looks like a combination of water polo and ice hockey. The hockey sticks are very very short – more like the length of Captain Hook’s Hook. They use pucks like in ice hockey that spin along the surface of the pool and special gloves are worn to protect you from shaving your skin off every time you push the puck along the abrasive bottom of the pool.

I am always game to give anything a try once (amazingly that has yet to have got me into any trouble, with the exception of shacking up with my husband). Kids can do it too and my soon to  be 7 year old daughter wants to have a go. The matches last about 20 minutes and you wear snorkel equipment so that you don’t have to attempt to hold your breath for the entirety of the match. It’s quite a workout too, as you obviously work against the resistance of the water all the time. I can’t see it catching on as a spectator sport….unless you have one of those pools they have in zoos so that visitors can watch penguins and dolphins swim underwater. Assuming this was arranged it would be pointless if the crowd were singing songs of support and whooping and hollering. So they would probably resort to sign language – come to think of it there are quite a few ‘signs’ used in football, particularly directed towards the referee.

My nearest partipating pool is about a 30 minute drive away so I may not get round to having a go this side of Christmas, but as soon as I do, you guys will be the first to know.

For more info check out

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