A boy killed by society’s neglect

On the BBC News at Ten this evening the headline news story featured a picture of a beautiful blonde boy smiling happily at the camera looking very smart in his school uniform. Staring at this picture, it was very hard to believe that the boy had been tortured and beaten to death by his mother and stepfather. Details of the catalogue of offences leading up to his death must have made parents the nation and world over sick to the stomach. Drownings, beatings, poisoning, starvation, the list of torture this 4 year old boy suffered was endless. Social workers and teachers were all aware of these separate incidents but had not pieced the puzzle of neglect together. How they must shoulder the responsibility of his fate now must be anybody’s guess but I am glad I am not in their shoes. Apparently the mother was very good at keeping the authorities at arms length and giving them what they needed to hear. The outcome of the enquiry into the Baby P case recommended that social workers adopt a compassion combined with scepticism approach to enquiries. Read the full story on the death of Daniel Pelka here.

Having also watched tonight’s ‘Neighbourhood Force’, a programme following the staff of Birmingham City Council as they deal with the day-to-day issues of council tenants, it is clear that the system is still not right. The most memorable incident in tonight’s programme was the housing officer who was called to a flat after receiving a message about an abandoned dog. It turned out to be a serious child protection issue as the flat had a mother and newborn baby living with a boyfriend and his staffie dog in an environment where dog poo and wee littered the floor, even in the kitchen where they were preparing food and the baby’s bottles. I know from having children myself that within a day or two of giving birth a midwife visits your home followed a few days later by the health visitor. The baby in the programme looked at least a couple of months old so why had it taken an enquiry from the public about a totally unrelated incident to raise the alarm?

It is easy to point fingers at the social workers and individuals working for the authorities but it is the system as a whole that needs to be seriously examined. I suspect the root of all the problems can be found at Government cuts and an understaffed and overstretched care system. 

A finger also needs to be pointed at society as a whole. Going back to Daniel Pelka who was killed by his parents, he lived in a terraced house with neighbours either side. Did they not hear his screams night after night? The teachers reported several occasions when he was raiding the school bins for scraps of food to eat and the mother explained it away with the excuse of an ‘eating disorder’. Too often we believe what we want to hear because the truth is too difficult and disturbing to comprehend. But when the truth concerns the safety and wellbeing of a child, there isn’t one adult that does not have a duty of care towards a child,  whether they are a neighbour, teacher, social worker or passer by. 

The housing officer in ‘Neighbourhood Force’ questioned whether she should still be doing that job as she approached 65 because society wasn’t getting any better, in fact she thought it was getting worse and found it depressing to witness. 

It is a depressing conclusion to another awful day in British Society’s history. In remembrance of the little boy who died at the hands of someone who should have loved him the most, this blog is dedicated today to the NSPCC. So if you feel able to support their campaign to put an end to cases such as these please donate now.

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A burger of a day

It rained today and felt like we had time travelled from a hot summer’s day to a wet winter one, complete with the onset of cold symptoms. Tiredness and my raspy throat didn’t do much for my stamina as we went to visit our second cousins (cousins plus children 2 and 4). Baby boy played nicely with his 2nd cousin despite receiving a bite from her a few weeks back (hence the nick-name ‘shark-bite’) although I was a bit anxious when they had the occasional issue sharing a toy in readiness for whipping him away from ‘jaws’. Meanwhile my daughter spent most of the time in arguments with the four year old (a severe clash of ages, one who likes to play by the rules and one who doesn’t).

On the whole it was a good day but I was hoping that things would improve by the time we got to pottery painting in the afternoon. Things were promising when we first arrived as both babies were asleep and remained asleep as we transferred them from the car to the buggy. However we were asked to wait 30 minutes before pottery painting could commence so, typically, by the time painting was well underway (with the four year old spilling water and paint everywhere and my daughter crying out in frustration every time she made a mistake) our babies decided to wake up. We then attempted to keep them entertained using a combination of paintbrushes, sticker books, juice and chocolate chip cookies. This was made harder by my choice to attempt painting a baby’s mug while supervising…in the end my friend had to do most of the running around, sponging off my daughter’s mistakes, mopping up the four year old’s spillages and keeping her baby entertained. In my complete absence of mind I rushed off to get biscuits and juice from the restaurant and left my baby boy who then started to scream in his high-chair…what was I thinking? I did a complete about turn swooped him out of the seat and then spent 6 pounds on unhealthy snacks to buy 5 minutes peace. I felt so bad for having not done enough to help out my friend and worried about my lack of brain power in such situations, I lack the initiative to think “Wouldn’t it be helpful if I did this…”. This is all the more embarrassing as my friend (and husband’s cousin) is 10 years older than me.

I then raced home to meet the estate agent to sign all the paperwork, fed the kids and then as I was tucking up my daughter she said “What about swimming Mummy?” …..I realised I had totally forgotten about her regular swimming lesson. “Oh bugger”….Mummy don’t swear….whoops sorry I meant “burger”. Turns out I say bugger too often so have to replace the utterance to burger to lessen its severity.

Lets hope I am like a wine and improve with age….

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Why are UK Mums obsessed with over-feeding milk to babies

Supernanny’s advice isn’t rocket science but clearly to some mothers it is. I heard today the sentence, “my baby girl is hardly eating anything in the day and she refuses to drop her milk from a bottle and is waking up in the night asking for it”. So what do you do? I ask “Well I give her a bottle and she drinks about 7 oz so clearly needs it”. I ask what happens if she gives the milk to her in a cup and I get the response, “Well she won’t drink it in a cup”. So that means that she doesn’t actually want the milk she just wants to comfort suck on the bottle – get rids of all the bottles and she will either embrace drinking from a cup more readily or drop a milk feed altogether and will then start to have more of an appetite in the day.

My sister-in-law also had the same problem with my niece and this is a woman that has a high-powered job in the city. I just don’t understand why they can’t see that reducing back milk in the night in a bottle will help the child’s appetite in the day and will also wean them off comfort sucking.

Also, what is the obsession with milk in this country? I am convinced that half the eating problems that children develop in this country with fussy eating is because we wean them too late in the UK and seem to think they still need a full bottle of milk a day after they have turned one. My friends who are nannys have observed children as old as 2 and 3 still receiving bottles of milk at bedtime. There is nothing wrong with a bit of warm milk in a cup, but guzzling 7 oz at bedtime in toddlerhood is just asking for trouble. I think this obsession with milk stems from the NHS advising a pure milk diet until the baby is 6 months old. I recall a nurse advising myself and other Mums at a post-natal group meeting “to wean between 4 months and 5 months as, between you me, we are starting to notice problems delaying it until 6 months”. So I did this with my daughter and started weaning her at 4 months and by 6 months she was on solids completely. By the time she turned one, the only milk she had was the occasional drink at the morning with breakfast.  My daughter absolutely loves her food and can’t understand why so many of her friends are so fussy, particularly with hot meals. I did the same approach with my son and, although still only 21 months, he enjoys eating most foods including chilli con carne. I was told by the health visitor that a child needs to see a food they haven’t experienced yet 17 times on their plate before they accept it and then they have to eat it another 17 times before they are happy to have it as part of their diet. Well I haven’t been counting the number of times I have been putting veg and salad on his plate, sometimes he eats it sometimes he doesn’t, but overall he likes his food and doesn’t crave milk in a bloody bottle!

I have advised my friend to just chuck all the bottles away so that the only option is to use the cup and then that removes the temptation to give milk in a bottle. I will have to do the same when it is time for my boy to say goodbye to dummy at bedtime. The rule of thumb of parenting to avoid encouragomg bad habits, is to make a decision and stick to it and be consistent in the message you are communicating to the child. Too often parents default to alternatives, such as offering children other food if they refuse what is in front of them. The parents then wonder why their child is fussy. Of course the child will refuse what is in front of them if they know they are likely to get an option that they prefer because the parent is worried the child will starve to death…crazy! If they are hungry they will eat, if not then not to worry, remove the plate and don’t stress about it but DON’T offer alternatives. They will soon make up for it at their next mealtime when they are bound to have a bigger appetite. 

A few episodes of supernanny demonstrate what I mean by a consistent message – this also applies to bed-time too. I think in many ways parents are their own worse enemies and if they took a step back and assessed the situation logically the solution is clear.

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A Very civilised Festival

The best things in life are often unplanned. Such as my children (both mistakes), my husband ( I was meant to dump him after 6 months so that I could start uni a single girl) and often the best days are those that feature unscheduled events. You can’t plan for feelings. So, when we received a text message via our landline (very weird BT woman reading a text message out in a robotic voice) from my husband’s cousin to ask if we fancied popping down to a folk festival at the weekend, we just thought…Yes. 

By the time we had got ourselves organised to leave (dogs at my Mum’s, travel cot nabbed from my in-laws), it was 8pm and we had a 2 hour drive ahead of us. OK if you are a single couple, but more of a challenge with kids in tow. We got to the campsite in darkness at 10.30 and located our friends and family who had kindly pitched up the tent for us. Baby boy had fallen asleep in the car so was completely bemused to find himself in his buggy staring at lots of funny faces cooing at him in the half-light of a Milletts eco lamp suspended from a gazebo. He must have thought it was a nightmare. So I quickly whisked him away in to the tent in the vain hope that lying him in a travel cot in a tent with his pillow would return him to slumber. But it did!

My husband then proceeded to let his hair down in the Festival bars drinking ‘Cheddar Cider’, yes I awoke when he returned to the tent but pretended I hadn’t…very quickly the tent started to smell of a brewery. Thankfully baby boy carried on sleeping regardless. Once woken, I tried to return to sleep but it wasn’t easy as drunken hubby proceeded to snore very loudly. Needless to say the following morning required plenty of caffeine. 

I then took my daughter, baby boy and my cousin’s son round the festival while the men nursed hangovers but they soon joined us at lunch-time when the bands hit the stage. It was a very civilised festival because everyone was sat in front of the stage in their own picnic chairs with plenty of space to spread their legs and munch on their picnics. 

We found a nice little spot for our picnic blanket between the stage and the food stalls and I had a little doze to make up for the bad night in the tent while baby boy slept in his buggy to the melody of guitar riffs. 

There was no queue for the toilets, there was plenty of space to mill around, buy food and hippy products, there was even a fast food healthy veg van. The children’s area had performances all day long as well as face painting and ample area to play in, all set against the most stunning backdrop of the British countryside. 

In addition to the music, my favourite music moment was a ‘sessions’ tent, where anyone with an instrument was welcome to sit down in the tent and play with fellow musicians and jam together. Given many of these people were strangers, I was stunned by the harmony of the music and how a wide variety of instruments, from the mandolin to the piccolo were played with excellent effect. My baby boy loved it and was bobbing up and down on my knee. My daughter, who starts guitar in September, was enthralled by the musicians and their various tuning gadgets plugged onto their guitars in between songs. Most of the musicians playing were OAPs, and they played bare feet tapping the grass to the beat not letting their swollen ankles, varicose veins and poor eye sight get in the way of good music making. These were the guys who were around when the music was much more authentic than it is today, when people were motivated to make music not to make money and better their lifestyles, but to use music to protest at the wrongs in the world. We were lucky to get a glimpse of this return to the ‘good old days’ and the effects of music played in a way that is timeless and appeals to all.

I am blogging every day to raise money for Unicef. I am seeking donations from bloggers who feel they want to support the campaign for Unicef. In return, I pay a pound fee for every day of blog down-time. I missed 2 days while at the Festival so already that’s 2 pounds to Unicef – feel free to add to this total by visiting my page on Unicef’s site.

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Scent of a loved one

Today I am going to talk about people’s smells. Not the most exciting of topics (and maybe considered slightly disturbing and disgusting) but these are positive smells, the smells of people close to us. It would probably be more romantic to call them ‘scents’. These scents are so unique to the individual, that if you were blindfolded and wearing ear muffs when a loved one came to greet you, you would know by their smell alone who it was.

Today I embraced my Dad as I met him at a village fete and fairground and as my nose rested next to his hair with my chin over his shoulder, I realised that he had a scent that took me back to my childhood. With a slight hint of Kourous and minty chewing gum, and the special hair shampoo he uses for his fluffy hair and dry scalp, added to the scent of his cottage (my babyhood home), an emotion stirred in me that I felt literally in my heart that I was home. I am sure it is nature’s way of linking family genetics together, just like in the same way that a lamb releases a unique scent as it suckles from it’s mother, to let her know that she is feeding her own. 

The same can be said of my Mum, her house, scent, washing powder and Anais Anais. Most of us are creatures of habit and don’t tend to change the brand of our shampoo, perfume, body wash etc. Not forgetting domestic cleaning products that contribute to the overall scent of our homes. All of this fuses to make a heady cocktail of that unique person. The same feeling stirs in my heart when I smell the hair of my husband (maybe more enjoyable before he has gone to work and at weekends!) and my daughter and son. My daughter makes me laugh when she deeply inhales the smell of her baby brother’s favourite toy “I just love the smell of him” she exclaims and this is because of the emotion the smell evokes. 

Can a smell/ scent be captured for eternity though? I was thinking about when my parents pass away, will I have the chance to save something that smells of them and if I do will that scent remain on that article of clothing? How long can it last? To what extent do memories perpetuate a loved one’s scent?

In motherhood, scent stakes a claim on offspring. The cavewoman in me doesn’t like it when I collect my son from nursery and find he smells of the women who have been looking after him, as nice as the perfume may be, it is not the smell of my son. This harks to the farmers who use the technique of mounting the hide from a dead lamb onto the body of an orphaned lamb so that a Mummy sheep will adopt the lamb and allow it to suckle. I think this also links to the meaning behind the common utterance ‘something doesn’t smell right with this’. It is amazing how important scent is in our lives and the value placed on it by Mother Nature herself.

I am blogging every day to raise money for Unicef. To donate to the campaign, please visit my page on Unicef’s site.

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Pedal power

I admire cyclists. I took 2 trips out on the bicycle today. One to our local farm in the next village and then later a short trip up the road to a stables. 

En route to the farm, two hills stood between us and our destination and I found myself making it extra challenging by delaying the gear changes until my leg muscles started to scream. Added to the challenge was the weight of my baby boy on the back of the bike plus a rucksack on my back full of picnic. However I was still disappointed with my lack of progress and fitness and my admiration for Tour de France cyclists increased. 

Our village lies in quite a flat area, not quite the level of Norfolk (as there is the occasional hill) but it still makes cycling both challenging and pleasurable at the same time (if that’s possible). As a result there isn’t a weekend that goes by, winter or summer, that doesn’t have a cycle race taking place through our village. To such an extent that it can be tricky to drive or ride through our village as the cyclists dominate the road, with their calf muscles pumping up and down like hydraulic machines. As a result, our local shop does very well refreshing the tour de france aspirators and I’m sure if someone decided to set up a bike shop in the village, it would do very well.

I bet the pro cyclists aren’t so experienced at counter-balancing a baby boy when he has drifted off to sleep all hunched up on one side though. He was slumped to the right and I had to lean to the left so that the bike was upright. Maybe I should offer baby boy up as a training device for aspiring Victoria Pendletons.

My daughter accompanied me on the trip to the stables and did very well despite having only one set of gears, like most of us her favourite bit is free-wheeling down the hills, baby boy enjoys it too squealing in joy as the wind whips past us. Cycling is good for health and fitness if the Dutch are anything to go by. A few years ago we stayed at a camp-site popular with the Dutch and you couldn’t move for bikes, entire families cycling along the tracks criss-crossing the camp-site four across. I didn’t see one overweight person their, they all seemed so fit and healthy. You would think that all our success in the Olympics would inspire our nation to get cycling but all the time we have dangerous roads and motorists who consider cyclists to be a nuisance then I can’t see things progressing. I was shocked when I was cycling with baby boy earlier, how many motorists appeared to only give inches of space as they overtook – one wobble and that would have been that.

I am blogging every day to raise money for Unicef. To donate, please visit my page on Unicef’s site.

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Justice for victims of Dow Chemical’s negligence

Just spent an age sorting out my Just Giving page for the Bhopal Medical Appeal – and uncovered this breakthrough news on the Bhopal tragedy from Amnesty…lets hope they finally pin Dow Chemical and get justice for the people of Bhopal….


US chemical giant The Dow Chemical Company (Dow) must acknowledge its responsibility towards survivors of the devastating Bhopal industrial disaster, Amnesty International said after the company was summonsed to appear before a court in Bhopal, India.

The company has been ordered to explain why its wholly owned subsidiary, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), has repeatedly ignored court summons in the ongoing criminal case concerning the 1984 Bhopal disaster, where UCC is accused of “culpable homicide not amounting to murder”.

“Today’s court decision is an important step in ensuring corporate accountability for the devastating consequences of the Bhopal gas leak,” said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International.

“Dow has always tried to claim it has nothing to do with UCC’s liability for Bhopal, but the court has today made it clear that Dow itself has a responsibility to ensure that UCC faces the outstanding charges against it. Dow can no longer turn its back on the tens of thousands still suffering in Bhopal.”

Almost three decades after the Bhopal disaster, victims and their families have yet to receive adequate compensation from UCC or the Indian government. 

“The summoning of Dow is potentially a giant step towards establishing the criminal liability of Union Carbide Corporation for one of the worst corporate disasters in world history,” Satinath Sarangi, a member of Bhopal Group for Information and Action, a local campaign group, said.

“As 100 per cent ownerof Union Carbide, Dow will now have to find a way to explain Union Carbide’s absconding from serious criminal charges for the last 21 years to the Bhopal Court,” said Hazra Bee, a survivor-activist who lives right across from the former Union Carbide plant in Jaiprakash Nagar.

The impacts of Bhopal continue to be felt today. Some 100,000 people continue to suffer from health problems. Ongoing pollution from toxic waste at the former factory site has never been addressed.

Research conducted by Amnesty International in December 2012 found that, since the gas leak, women in Bhopal have reported ongoing serious health issues including gynaecological and reproductive health disorders.

UCC held a majority share in Union Carbide India Limited, the Indian company that operated the pesticide plant responsible for the 1984 Bhopal gas leak, which it is estimated has killed more than 22,000 people.   

In 1987, the Indian government brought criminal charges of “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” against UCC and its former chairman Warren Anderson. Since then, UCC has repeatedly ignored court summons in India and has yet to face justice for its role in the Bhopal disaster. Anderson escaped trial by simply living abroad. A request by the Indian government for his extradition is still pending with the US government.

Dowhas owned UCC since 2001 but has consistently denied responsibility for any UCC liability in relation to Bhopal, ignoring calls by survivors and human rights groups to address the ongoing environmental and health impacts of the disaster. 

Dowhas always maintained that it did not own UCC at the time of the disaster and that the two are separate companies. But today’s court ruling means Dow must explain to the Bhopal chief judicial magistrate why it has failed to ensure its subsidiary appears in court.

“Dow’sattempt to distance itself from its wholly owned subsidiary UCC has always ignored the reality of the relationship between the two companies. Today’s court summons has confirmed that Dow itself must ensure that UCC faces up to its responsibilities,” said Gaughran.

“Dow should publicly recognise this responsibility and address the ongoing human rights impacts in Bhopal. Dow also needs to explain why UCC has failed to show up in court, and to release publicly all information about the gas leak that UCC has withheld previously.”

(Amnesty, 23 July)

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Hooping and Rallying

Wow it was hot today. I power-hooped up a real sweat this morning with the ladies in the village hall. Those who came prepared dowsed themselves in wet flannel while others, like me, just used the back of our hands. It felt good, as I have now started the ball rolling (or the hoop spinning) for the Hoopathon to raise money for Bhopal. This was one of my New Year’s resolutions so I am glad to be finally fulfilling it. I have agreed a date with the power-hoop instructors so just need to drum up the support now. It will be held in late September in a very public location in my nearest city. Hopefully we will not only help to raise money but also awareness of the charity and the continued traumatic plight of the residents of Bhopal, India’s equivalent of Chernobyl. Children are being born with deformities nearly 30 years after the accident and the corporation responsible for the accident has never adequately compensated the victims neither taken responsibility for the environmental clean-up that is still intoxicating the local water supply today. Find out more about Bhopal.

Today I discovered another biker in the form of a very friendly female estate agent. She was clearly very experienced and able to advise us on the best bike track days to go to. It got me to thinking about how many ‘undercover’ bikers there are around and also how many undercover female petrol heads there are. I have decided in the future to plan and organise an annual gathering of female petrolheads for a rally ride and drive in aid of a charity and in support of a grant to promote women in Motorsport. I am getting excited just thinking about it as I type. The first event would be modest and then we would build on it over the years, in the hope of setting up a new grant for women in motorsport of supporting existing grants such as the funding provided by the FIA. I still believe there is too much untapped female talent out there across motorsport and more could be done to support talent and get rides and drives for female competitors without relying purely on securing corporate sponsorship, which is male dominated……Watch this space.

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Phantom pregancy

I am trying to work out whether one of my dogs is having a phantom pregnancy or is genuinely pregnant. She had a litter about 5 years ago (planned) and was an excellent Mum. Since then she has had seasons that have gone by without issue but then she has had the occasional phantom. The phantoms normally consist of generally ‘down in the mouth’ behaviour (just like us girls when Aunt Irma is visiting) and an illogical desire to be in one area and to refuse to move from that area (in other words nesting). Her teats become gorged and sensitive as if they are filling with milk. She also looks a bit like a swan or duck tucking its bill under a wing in her bed as she tucks her nose under her back leg to protect her ‘puppies’. In short she is not a very happy bunny during phantoms.

Normally she rides through the phantoms and comes out the other side but as I stroked her earlier, I noticed she was starting to look a bit plump. Apparently this can all be part of the symptoms but, she has been known to ‘elope’ with dogs in the field behind our garden (we have a spaniel who lives 2 doors down who has been ‘done’but is no less amorous). He is big compared to my Jack Russell but when she is on heat there is not a breed in existence that she won’t consider. Although not sure what would happen if she encountered a Great Dane, probably assume he is all show and no go. In fact she seems to go for the hairier men..!

If your dog or cat is experiencing similar symptoms check out this link for more help and advice, although it does state that detecting the difference between a phantom and real pregnancy is difficult…..aaaaaah! As I was feeling her abdomen earlier, I was imagining the scenario of explaining a real pregnancy to the vet. Vet asks “When did she have her last season”…I dunno a couple of months ago (eek) “Have you seen her with any dogs” …yes a spaniel who has had the snip….if it turns out to be a real pregnancy I would have no idea who the daddy is – tricky if it turns out to be one of the more ambitious breeds! Anyway all will become clear in a couple of weeks…..I will keep you posted.

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East London – the best part?

A day trip to my sister-in-law’s in Leyton, Stratford, London turned out to be the ‘best day ever’ according to my daughter. The victorian terrace house they live in is straight out of the Ahlberg’s ‘Peepo Baby’ illustrations with kitchen lay-out, courtyard garden and sash windows teeming with pots of all sorts of shapes and sizes with herbs and flowers sprouting green, purple and pink flowers (including purple carrots, much to my daughter’s delight).

As we drove to the cable car by the O2 there was no end of people watching entertainments from the busy high streets of food and veg sellers and asian boutique shops, to the tree lined avenues and Victorian terraces all painted different colours adorned with geranium window boxes. My Sister-in-Law joked that you could tell who owned the houses by the railings, lion statues and paving laid outside. 

The cable car provided an amazing view of the City and the River Thames. My son had his nose pressed against the window the entirety of the trip, enjoying the copious chances to see diggers, cement mixers, lorries, boats, cranes, bin lorries and all other manner of big noisy vehicles busy around the capital.

I love the East End of London. The highlight for my daughter was a visit to a play park in Barking. It dates back to the Victorian era, in the days of the ‘promenade’ with beautiful tree lined walks and landscaped grounds. The best feature was the play park with the wooden playground equipment made set in sand for a beach with bonuses experience. It was a truly cosmopolitan play park with black, asian, white and eastern european children playing in harmony with each other and enjoying one another’s company with the willingness to share the see saw the only pre-requisite to getting along and turning from strangers to friends. My daughter lives in the countryside and goes to a village school where only 2 children are black, so it was great for her to enjoy the company of children from other ethnicities – all British but with a slightly different cultural influence. This is the London that was celebrated during the Olympics and this is the London that I am proud to be a part of. If only this cosmopolitan society was reflected across the country….it would make all our communities a better and more interesting place to live and work. 

I am blogging every day to raise money for Unicef. Check out my page on Unicef’s website.

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