Dredd in the South-east

I have she-flu but managed to muster enough energy for ballet boot camp but not enough for a vaguely interesting blog post. I figured it had been a while since I had put a pound in the pot to Unicef for a missed post so I took the opportunity yesterday.

I have lived in the South-east all my life, the only slight movements between four counties, but recently have found the walls of the region closing in. I am starting to build up a resentment to passing landmarks that illustrate my younger years (schools, nurseries, friend’s houses etc) and would like to ‘get out’ and live in an area where there are no memories. I’m sure a psychiatrist would have a field day with this admission.

The South-east is also over-crowded and full mostly of people who ant to commute to the ever growing riches of London. I wonder if this trend continues into the next few decades whether England will be closer to resembling the geographic make-up of Judge Dredd. I mentioned to a colleague of mine my concern that the rest of the country, particularly the north, was being left-behind. She said that she didnt care, as far as she was concerned, she had done ‘her time’ up north while living in Nottingham for 10 years, it was abysmal and has never looked back since moving o London.

Being someone who likes to do the opposite of the majority, i am getting more and more inquisitive as to what it would belike to live ump North and become, as the characters in the film ‘lock stock and two smoking barrels’ put it ‘northern monkeys’ as opposed to ‘southern fairies’.

A friend of my husband’s said, ‘you don’t want to move up there, they are all fat’. I believe obesity is a nationwide problem, a trip to any local supermarket proves that point (although the supermarkets themselves are assisting this trend with the increasing price of fruit and vegetables and the decreasing price of crappy processed food). In fact it is not until you step into the rest of Europe (or if you voted Ukip omit ‘the rest’ from that sentence) that you see just how fat a nation we have become. In France, for example, you would be hard -pushed to find an overweight person on a trip to the shops let alone and the same goes for Spain and the Netherlands.

I wonder if part of the reason can be attributed to the cost of food and what is offered to buy. The Spanish and French like to cook most of their food from scratch, this cutting out nasties such as added sugar, which is so prevalent n ready-made food. It is this belief in a return to home cooking that underpins the philosophy of Sarah Wilson’s quit sugar approach – cook like our grandparents used to, with ingredients rather than a fork and a microwave.

I feel the north/south divide has become so defined that contemplating a move upcountry is not dissimilar to emigrating, hence its appeal on the ‘grass is greener front’.

This blog is for Unicef.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

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.

Wowed by War Horse

My Dad treated me to belated birthday present today, we went to see War Horse – the stage production using advanced puppetry techniques and artistic stagecraft to recreate the terrors of the first world war for both man and beast.

I was wowed by the performance. We had fantastic seats right by the stage. At several points in the show, the horses (for you very quickly forget that they are puppets, so effortless is their movement) appear to leap over your head, birds fly above you, machine gun fire comes at you from around the theatre. It was enjoyable but very emotional.

It highlighted to me how defenceless the animals were when sent to war and how vulnerable the young soldiers were. There is one scene where a father despairs when he learns his son is fighting in a war with machine guns and all he has to defend himself is a bayonet, a very slow loading rifle and a knife inherited from his grandfather.

It thanked my lucky stars that my generation and (hopefully) my children live in a different time when the West is at peace. I hopep my children never turn round to me later with ideas of entering the services.

I had read the book already and had seen the first 30 minutes of the Spielberg film (didnt bother watching the rest because it was crap). The stage play was so good it showed how much potential the movie could have had but Spielberg chose to turn it into some heavily filtered, tame, unrealistic, schmaltzy pap – its a shame it could have been so much better.

I thoroughly recommend War Horse and I hope it remains on stage for years to come to remind generations of the extreme sacrifices made by animals and people during the First World War.

I am blogging every day for Unicef. If you are able to support the campaign, please visit my site.

Thanks for reading.

The diet starts tomorrow

I am sat flanked by kettle crisps to my left and sausage rolls, honey glazed cocktail sausages, potato wedges, bacon twizzlers and other finger food delights to my right. In various tupperware boxes in the kitchen are homemeade cupcakes and cookies. The fridge has a few cream filled and chocolate iced treats. Yes we had a kids party today – can you tell? It feels like an early Christmas, lots of family, lots of food. It was my baby son’s birthday party (although his birthday isn’t for another few days yet) he is a bit like the Queen – an official and unofficial birthday (the next party is specially for his baby mates).

I did attempt to mimic Mary Berry in the cake making category but my oven had other ideas. I followed the recipe on the back of the good old Betty Crocker pack perfect but it still ended up a bit lopsided. One side rose very well the other barely rose at all. The oven company who comes up with the ‘auto correct’ button will do very well indeed. It was a very tense process when I had to go through what seemed like a ritual to get the picture off the rice paper backing. On the instructions it said – “rub the backing paper vigorously on the edge of a table or cupboard until the picture starts to lift off”. If anyone had been walking past my house during this moment they would have seen me bent double rubbing a piece of A4 paper up and down on the edge of a table – like I was giving it a massage. Anyway, to my astonishment it worked. But to my horror it fell off quite quickly and landed face down on the floor (think I was a bit too vigorous) I will move away from this innuendo bingo to say that thankfully it stayed intact and with the carefulness and precision used to handle uranium, I succesfully planted it on top of my lop-sided cake. The picture was a photograph of my son’s favourite toy. “Right, now to tidy up the edges”, I said as I reached for my spray on icing complete with pipework attachments. Despite my best efforts it looked like something my daughter did when she was 2. I withheld from attempting any further work on it for fear of adding insult to injury. I decided my cake was a birdseye cake (it looked good from a birdseye view). Thankfully this was good when taking pictures of it. It went down well with my son who inhaled it.

Pound in the pot for yesterday I know. We didn’t get back til after midnight thanks to stuffing our face in a restaurant (the platter to share for starters would have been sufficient) followd by a screening of Skyfall – which was good but cheesy. I wasn’t entirely clear why Bond took that disc thingy to a a gambling house in Shanghai to get a case full of money, do nothing with it, meet up with a woman have a chat, beat up her bodyguards and then join her in the shower? It felt a bit like the director had a checklist of film ‘must haves’: car chase “check”, computer, car and watch product placements “check”, casino scene “check”, steamy scenes “check”, a moment of doubt about the world and its purpose “check”. One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the overdose on patriotism – for one moment I thought it was directed by Michael Mann – actually if they had filmed the union jack in slo mo I would have been convinced it was the work of Mann. I’m sure he suggested a few shots (M by the line of Union-Jack festooned coffins, Bond gazing over the cityscape with the flags dotted here and there, Land Rover, Aston Martin and Jaguar, the prime minister etc etc). But it wasn’t a bad way to spend a couple of hours – I particularly enjoyd the trailer “Seven Psychpaths” – more my strada.

Right, I have now eaten all the crisps – will endeavour to swim lots this week and do a bit of Zumba and cut the calorie intake in half – parties do not help the butt reduction campaign…..

I am blogging every day for Unicef. If you are able to support please visit the Unicef fundraising site.

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.

Planning and Poetry

Last night I promised an update on our little village’s planning saga following my husband’s return from the meeting in the Church. All sounds a little bit ‘Vicar of Dibley’ with a packed church of NIMBYs wanting a say in where 100 houses should be located. Everyone was given a pair of dots (green for yes and ….. yes you guessed it…..red for no). They then placed these dots on a map of the village.

We are self confessed NIMBYs. We back onto a field with uninterrupted views of the countryside and lots of sky – we are very lucky considering our heavily populated island. Forgive us, therefore, for wanting to preserve the bit of green out back. We also live on a council estate, one of three estates in a small area (hard to imagine isn’t it?) One the one side there are lots of fairly ugly post-war houses built to accomodate families bombed out of London. On the other rolling fields, trees, a bit of a wasteland/ hunting ground for owls and buzzards and the odd pylon. This field, like many others surrounding our village, is owned by developers keen to cash in on the local authority target to build 100 houses in the area over the next 5 years.

At the meeting a lot of red dots were placed on the field near us. However, there were a few red dots on the other option. I don’t envy the people trying to put together this ‘neighbourhood plan’ as you can’t keep everyone happy. What I resent is the short-termist thinking of our successive governments. For example, two schools in neighbouring villages were closed down in the past decade. Yet within the past few years, more and more families have moved into the area following an increase in housing. What a surprise, the schools are now oversubscribed and class sizes are bloated as a result. Doh! They seem to think its OK to dump housing down like they are playing The Sims with no thought on infrastrcuture.

Anyway it looks likely that the conclusion will work in our favour. The council don’t like putting social housing amongst existing social housing developments for fear of creating a ‘ghetto’ (“Too many low income people in one area is bound to cause trouble darling”). Snobs in the village, however, prefer it that way – “at least we can keep an eye on them when they are all together, God forbid we have a mixed population across the village”. Yes the class divide is still as strong as it ever was in Great Britain – particularly in the rural South-East. I will let you know the result…

Changing the subject completely, I aim to get my daughter in bed by 7pm. I could count on one hand how many times I have managed to achieve this during the Autumn term, in fact, the whole year. Tonight she was a ball of enthusiasm and did  everything she was asked without any protest (thanks to some harsh words about her behaviour last week). After completing some work on maths and English (we bought those books that ‘support’ the curriculum at home) she started talking about poetry writing, as her class is currently learning about poetry. The subject is the great fire of London and they are learning about adjectives to use in their poems. Lots of sparking and igniting going on. My daughter said she was struggling a bit and I wanted to help her out before school the following day (although it was 7.30pm already so bang goes the rule on bed by 7pm). I dug out one of my old poetry books in the hope that she would be inspired by poems such as The Jabberwocky by CS Lewis and The Listeners by Walter de la Mare (I think!). She was engrossed and then started writing a couple of lines herself about fire. I was amazed how it quickly went off on a tangent about poos and loos but she was enjoying herself so if toilet humour gets her inspired so be it.

It made me wish I had appreciated my school days more, because in my case, once you have analysed and assessed the text for an exam, it is rare that you pick it up again for pleasure. If I returned to the classroom now I would have enjoyed the experience so much more. But Im glad my daughter is enjoying school….I think it has come along way since the state system in the 80s and 90s. I just hope Michael Gove doesn’t cock things up again – I don’t believe the Torys have a good track record when it comes to education.

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

Thanks for reading