Olympic hopes in a day trip

There are 2 sides to every coin, heads and tails, this can be likened to the places where we live – some places are on the up and make you feel good while others are on a downward spiral and make you feel rather depressed. But what is heartening for our future society is a third type of place to live – a place that is aspirational and open to all to join the ride. This is a place that used to be down and out but that didn’t stop the people living there from taking pride in where they lived, they just needed some help. I am talking about urban regeneration, where people from all sections of society are given the opportunity to enjoy where they live thanks to a better landscape, town planning, business, education, jobs and services. The right to have opportunities, to be respected for your differences and for those to be celebrated. Unlike the areas reserved for the upper middle class and upper class, these are areas that are socially inclusive and offer an insight to what lies ahead for future generations.

The best example of this is East London and the legacy of the 2012 Olympic Park. I had the pleasure of taking my children to this park today and we walked from the velodrome, to the Olympic stadium and swimming pool. Along the route both children had acres of beautiful landscaped grounds to cycle and run around in, insightful and dynamic play areas that made use of nature to entertain the children (such as pumps of water, a movable dam play system, climbing walls and running tracks). The opportunity to have a go n the velodrome or the swimming pool and take part in activities and events. For adults and OAPs, the chance to relax in beautiful surroundings and enjoy green space and sky while sipping tea, coffee at one of the many cafés housed in wooden contemporary architecture built in sympathy of the surrounding environment.

As you walked around you got a sense of optimism for the future and could see how the area will continue to flourish as the newly planted borders, shrubs and trees have done in the year or so since the Olympics. There was also a trust respected by the visiting public and upheld by the local community that the area would be safeguarded from anything that would threaten to devalue it. I saw no evidence of vandalism , littering or mindless damage. I also saw no signs saying ‘don’t touch’ or ‘keep off the grass’ or ‘no dogs’ or ‘no ball games’. Its as if in giving people freedom to enjoy such a space they in turn are doing their best to look after it. I just hope that in 10 years time it will continue to have the feel good factor and show promising progress for the future and that all sections of society continue to take pleasure from it.

Because it is a blueprint for what is possible when society works together and wouldn’t it be great if this could be replicated in other cities too?

I am blogging every day to raise money for UNICEF – support the campaign here.

Thanks for reading.

Making a difference in 2013 – lets start with the Bhopal disaster

Hi all, hope you had good christmasses/ holidays and enjoyed seeing in/ sleeping through the new year. My mission with this blog is to raise money for Unicef. I hope to raise at least £100 this year through my blog if not more. I am seeking fellow bloggers to give a donation, no matter how small, to Unicef after reading my blog. If one blogger donated £1 each day Unicef would be able to buy a vaccination for one child – so if I achieve my target of £100 – then lots of children get immunised. Unicef also work hard to protect children in war torn and poverty stricken situations and this money will help their eneavours world-wide. I pay a fee to Unicef for my downtime. This year I will start with £11 as I have not blogged for 11 days over the Christmas period.

Over the past few days I have been thinking about what I can do to help the world be a better place for 2013. What happens to children in care or in families who are unable to buy christmas presents? Are there charities out there that bring Christmas to these children? Either way I would like to know if stores such as John Lewis have some budget in their corporate social responsibility expenditure to donate a few of their toys to children in need in the UK? I am going to look into this and keep you posted.

I am once again going to swim for Marie Curie Cancer care this Spring – but this time an even longer distance in a relay with my daughter and friends affected by cancer. Last year I did 64 lengths so would like to aim for closer to 100. My daughter has recently got her level 3 swimming badge so hopefully she will be able to do a couple of lengths with me along with her friends and my friends – between us we should be able to cover a few miles. I  must invest in a new costume though because the one I have was designed for when I was better endowed (they have shrunk to nothing since breast-feeding ceased) I am still mourning the loss of boob now :(.

I love powerhoop – an exercise craze that tones the midriff through hoola hoping with a weighted hoop. I am hoping to convince my instructor and fellow hoopers to do a rountine to music for Unicef on London’s embankment next to the EDF London Eye (will keep you posted on this too).

Finally I read a gripping book about the industrial chemcal leak tragedy in the eighties that left hundreds of thousands of people dead or maimed. The effects of which are still present today in the form of cancers, infertility and psychological disorders. It happened when I was only four years old yet I didn’t hear about it until now. It should be on the history timeline as one of the world’s greatest tragedies but sadly it isn’t (it should be on the same awareness level as the Titanic and September 11th 2001). I am referring to Bhopal and the American owned Union Carbide chemical leak that suffocated and blinded thousands of indian infants, children, women, men and livestock. What’s worse, Union Carbide paid out a miniscule amount in damages. Carbide’s managing Director, at that time, is still in hiding after the Indian government found him guilty of homicide. The company completely disregarded safety procedures, then tried to lay the blame on Indian workers. What’s worse, the factory is still rotting and contaminating India today. The company that now owns Union Carbide, the Dow Chemical Company, have not made any effort to clear up the mess of the Bhopal legacy and a US court, in all its infinite wisdom, ruled that the Indian Government is responsible for the clean-up – sounds fair doesn’t it?  In the article online there is a picture of Indian people calling for the hunt for Osama,  a few years ago, to be re-directed to the hunt for the Union Carbide president of the eighties – Warren Anderson. Their voice has gone un-heard – why? Because lives of people in the West are more important than Indian lives (of course this is not my belief but the belief of senior American officials and corporate executives who have to date done nothing to help India out of a humanitarian disaster caused by the actions of American industry). To make matters worse, the organisers of London 2012, in all thier infinite wisdom, allowed Dow to be a sponsor – nice touch. Just as nice was letting BP sponsor the event too not long after completely fucking up part of America’s coastline and environment. The consequences for companies who mess with people’s lives, livelyhoods and surrounding environment needs to be severe – allowing them to sponsor is just as bad as letting cigarette companies sponsor events – they aren’t allowed to do it so why should Dow and BP – they contaminate health too. Read more about the Bhopal Disaster on Wikipedia. Read more about the Dow sponsorship of the olympics here.

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year.

The vulnerable Brave

I have been inspired today by the brave acts of those who tried to protect the school children in Connecticut using their bodies to take the blows. I watched a father talk about how wonderful his daughter was just days after her death at the school and admired his bravery to get in front of the cameras so that he could share his grief and communicate the message that something needs to be done about guns.

In watching a review of the London Olympics, the story of Martine Wright who survived the July bombings in London and went on to perform in the Paralympics is incredible. When she recovered from the explosion on the tube a police officer found her with both legs blown apart and she saved her life. I find it humbling to observe such strength of character. Martine managed to piece her life together and strive to achieve new goals by embracing what had happened to her and doing something good with it.

The Connecticut shootings highlight how vulnerable we are regardless of where we live and what laws are in place to protect us. I cannot comprehend the unbearable pain the families must be enduring. Too much senseless violence occurs world-wide and children are too often the innocent victims. Some have more protection than others. You would expect a school in the US to have more protection than children in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, purely because we presume the US is a less volatile area and it is a Western Society where, sadly, a greater value is placed on Western lives than in a developing world – harsh but true.

That’s why it is important that we do what we can to protect the next generation worldwide. We observe those who are in the bottomless depth of sorrow with sadness and sympathy…..and relief we are not there with them – but we are  standing on the precipice of this sorrow as vulnerable as the next person to falling in. Politics is where changes can make a difference but charities such as Unicef are vital to fill the gap between the current reality and the political ideal that can only be realised through changes in policy.

That is why I am blogging every day for Unicef.

Thanks for reading.

 

London calling….

First day of half-term and…..deep breath…..embarked on an expedition to the Museum of London with baby and buggy in tow and 2 of my daughter’s ‘boyfriends’ aged 6 and 4 (not on my own I hasten to add – their Mum was with me). It would be best summarised as a crash course in crowd control and how to assemble and disassemble a child’s buggy in seconds while being elbowed at all angles by commuters trying to get on the escalator and on the tube. At times I wished (for ease) that my baby would just collapse down with the buggy too and then just spring back again once the narrow passageway/ stairs or escalator had been successfully negotiated….’flatpack baby’.

I also got a tiny glimpse into what it is like to be in a wheelchair. Everyone else takes the quick and easy route but you are the one ‘token’ person that uses the ramp or lift that takes an age to get to, no doubt cost a fortune to install and made a lot of builders grumble when constructing it. You then re-enter non-wheeled society at a meeting point that took them seconds to get to whereas it took you at least 5 minutes. The most ridiculous excursion was the lift to get from the platform to the footbridge and then back down again. My baby boy found it fun though. I lost count of the number of times I heard a female robotic voice today saying ‘going up’…..’going down’….’going up’….’going down’. I wouldn’t mind if you got an orgasm somewhere in the middle of this pattern to break the monotony.

Baby changing tends to be combined with disabled toilets, which is another interesting combination. It attempts to be all things to all people but of course the design of it fails. The baby change unit was miles away from the nappy bin, which was located next to the disabled toilet. I couldn’t leave my baby’s side while he was on the change unit so lobbed the used nappy over to the bin at the other end of the room by the loo and was pleased when I hit goal. As I reached to get something from the buggy I set the hand dryer off, all the while keeping one hand on my baby’s tummy to stop him rolling off.

The big kids were fun too. Oblivious to the traffic streaking through the city they cavorted around on the busy pavements tripping up grumpy London commuters and making myself and my friend holler like a pair of old fishwives. We finally breathed a sigh of relief when we got onto embankment, away from the roads and then we could let them run free like a pack of dogs safe in the knowledge that they wouldn’t get squashed. The youngest (aged 4) was interesting in an entertaining way. If he didn’t like where you were heading he just froze to the spot so that my friend had to do some serious negotiating to get him moving again. When we were at St Paul’s he then refused to walk over the cracks in the pavement so all hopes of getting to Waterloo station before night-fall evaporated.

London never fails to entertain and the best observations dont cost a penny. A police boat zooming at break-neck speed along the Thames followed by the RNLI captured the kids attention as they walked along the river. They danced to the eclectic tune of an Eastern European busking band as we walked along an underpass and discovered MC Hammer after watching some seriously cool break-dancing near the London Eye.

The Museum of London, like all museums in the city, is free to enter. It was brilliant and displays the amazing history from the capital’s Roman origins under the guise of ‘Londinium’ through to the bubonic plague, the great fire (the current project theme at my daughter’s school) and of course, the WW 2 blitz with very moving accounts of people who lost loved ones. As you watch the films of the devastation, suspended above your head is a replica of the dreaded doodlebug bomb. The city’s heritage is rich.

As night fell on London, it felt like the Olympic games had never happened because, regardless of what cultural event moves in and out of the city, there will always be buskers, beggars, skateboarders, break dancers, traffic, grumpy commuters and cracks in the pavement. Its a city for everyone.

I am blogging every day for Unicef. If you can support the campaign please visit my site.

Thanks for reading.

Are the Paralympics better than the Olympics?

Sorry for my blackout yesterday – another pound in the pot. But, unlike the American media, I was present at the Paralympics.

I bought the tickets after failing to get tickets to the Olympics. But I am glad I failed. The experience in the stadium was mind-blowing.

As many others have reported the transport, signage, support from volunteers and efficiency in getting you in and out of the park was all faultless. As we snaked our way through the park to the outer ring of the stadium and started to ascend the steps to our seats, the view as we mounted the final step into the stadium itself was spectacular. Made all the more special after seeing it so many times on telly during the Olympics. I was trying to transpose the images in my mind from the opening ceremony and the athletes victory parades on TV and place it in the stadium before my eyes. I couldn’t. It was both familiar and surreal all at the same time.

Once we had settled into our seats, nothing had prepared us for the awesome display of achievement by professional athletes who stretched their physical abilities to the max and then gave even more because the crowd wanted them too. Tears were in our eyes as Houssein Omar Hassan, the only competitor from African country Djibouti, fought against the pain in his achilles tendon to continue jogging his 1500 metre race long after the race had finished for the other competitors. We willed the lone man on the track as he completed each lap and every one in the stadium gave him a standing ovation as he crossed the finish line. The roar of the crowd was deafening – so was the raw of emotion as we could all see what a challenge the race was for Hassan but his determination to finish was awe-inspiring.Houssein Omar Hassan

 

As the first of the women athletes lined up for the start of the 100metre heat we were stunned to realise that they each had a guide because they were blind. As the starting gun went each athlete sprang from the starting blocks hand-in hand with their guides who had to keep up with the stunningly quick pace but be careful to cross the line after, not before, their athlete. In the 200 metres the women just gently leaned into their guides as they rounded the bend before the straight and it struck as all at the courage these athletes had to run as fast as they could possibly go with only the noise of the crowd to will them on and the reassuring feel of their guide’s presence. We couldn’t begin to imagine what that must feel like. If the guides weren’t there they would have no looked no different to the female 100 metre and 200 metre olympic athletes.

Finally there was Richard Whitehead who came from nowhere out of the bend in the track to cross the line like an intercity train and claim gold. His blades aren’t designed to bend round corners. So, at first, there was a slightly disappointed hush as the race started and Richard was way behind going round the bend. But as the track straightened Richard’s speed rocketed as his marathon-like stamina and athletic power came into force. As he went from 0-60 in lightning quick time so did the noise from the crowd as they realised he was blitzing the competition for Team GB. The noise reached such a cacophony that my ears began to ring as if I was standing too close to a giant speaker. It was spine-tingling, hair standing on end stuff.

Why do I believe the Paralympics is better than the Olympics? The athletes are no different in their approach to their careers, their determination to succeed and their level of competitiveness. They are not there because of their disabilities they are there because of their talent and their ability. But to pursue your talent regardless of the fact that you can’t see the track you are running on, or that you can only use one leg, or only your upper body because your lower body just does not function or that your muscles spasm randomly or that you can’t hear the world around you ……….that can only come from strength of mind and something else that isn’t tangible or understood but can be best described as superhuman.

Yesterday we watched superhumans in action in the glorious setting of the Olympic Stadium at London 2012.

I’m so glad that my 6 year old saw that there are no limits to human ambition and determination – I think she realised that anything really can be achieved if you want it bad enough. My 9 month old was there too and I was also very proud of him as he was waving the union jack flag all by himself.

I hope you enjoyed my review of the Paralympic experience. If so please could you donate £1 to Unicef – the whole reason why I am blogging daily for the rest of my life.