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Blogging about things that matter to me. Photographing things I love - Instagram @debcyork. Writing about both. Only wine and chocolate can save us… You can also find me on Twitter (@debcyork) and Facebook. If you like four-legged views, try @missbonniedog on Twitter

Monday, 27 June 2016

The Understanding Divide

I have tried really hard to thing of how to write a post this morning.  The obvious topic for a UK blogger is, of course, the vote for the UK to leave the EU.  However, since Friday morning, all anyone has talked about, all anyone has reported, has been the consequences of this vote and I am not sure I can add anything to such a massive debate.  I have felt heartsick since four in the morning on Friday.
So, inspired by an Irish friend who wrote very eloquently on Facebook about how she, as a UK resident of twenty years, feels after the vote, I decided to try to give some more personal perspectives rather than historical ones.
On Saturday night, I held a party in aid of the Macmillan cancer charity.  Night of Lights, a nationwide effort.  It had been a while in the planning and it brought together a group of people whom I have known for over ten years.  They include a judge, research scientists, a public art consultant, a planning officer, housewives, an employee of a multinational manufacturer, a railway engineer, a financial services director, civil servants.  You get the idea.  A group of well educated people.  All with children.  All voted Remain.  Even those who usually disagree politically did agree on this one issue.
I did tell them I would be charging for every mention of the referendum, on behalf of the charity pot.  But as you can imagine, especially after alcohol, that was impossible.  The most fascinating - and disturbing thing - though was the stories from everyone of how this decision is likely to affect their professions and their lives.  Legislative changes and rights now at risk.  Research projects wholly funded by the EU - in the environment, health, etc.  Changes to anti-flood funding and insurance rights.  The multinational employee, about to leave on an international job placement, saying their family may just not return to the UK.  Transport funding.  Pension concerns.  Work in Scotland maybe needing a passport in the future.  Waiting on a mortgage application.
Much has been said about the North/South and young/old vote divides, amongst other statistics.  Part of me wanted to write today about an education divide.  Then you remember that most of the Leave campaign's most prominent people were public school-educated!  But there is a huge divide in understanding.  If all you read is the Daily Mail or The Sun, for example, and if those papers are all your peer group quotes or writes about on Facebook or wherever, how could you possibly understand what you were voting for?  You thought you were voting to stop immigration and to get more money for the NHS.  You have been consistently told that all your woes are caused by unelected faceless people in Europe.
Setting aside, but not by any means ignoring, the fact that so many people have revealed themselves to be racist, both sides of the campaign must take responsibility for such a nasty negative approach.  No-one explained to the mass of voters about what the EU actually does for them.  No-one tried to reach the sink estates and say 'we know it is bad for you but please understand that the EU is not the cause of your problems.  Look at all the things it funds and protects.'
As for educated people who believe they made a considered decision to vote Leave, I have fought for democracy and transparency all my life.  I respect your right to your opinion.  But I do strongly believe that you are in a minority and that without the votes of desperate, usually disenfranchised people, you would not have won.  I hope you can live with yourselves when you see your children and grandchildren taking the consequences of your actions on 23 June 2016.

Monday, 20 June 2016

The Space Future

In the face of the almost overwhelmingly hideous news from the last week - hate crimes, murders,  football violence, the list goes on - it seems to me that one amazing piece of news has been overlooked.  Well, not overlooked.  Just hasn't received the coverage it deserved.  The return of Tim Peake to Earth after six months on the International Space Station.  It was reported, of course.  But some of the articles were pretty derogatory.  Along the lines of 'what has he been doing up there anyway because he seems always to have been on TV award shows' and so on.
What these type of comments fail to recognise is the need for visibility for space exploration.  Think of the hours and hours of media coverage for fake space travel - Star Wars, Star Trek, etc etc.  But kids need to be inspired by the real thing.  If future generations are ever going to get beyond our conflict-ridden planet, they need to believe it might be possible and to aspire to 'make it so' (one for the Trekkies there).
Tim Peake and his team have brilliantly used social media and popular TV and radio programmes to extend awareness of the mission.  The aerial photographs on Facebook and Instagram every day have been beyond beautiful (see the UK above).  I am actually going to miss them.  But I don't think they were really aimed at people like me.  I hope they were aimed at younger people, specifically children.  Because if we are going to make progress, children need to believe it is possible.  They need to want nothing more than to be astronauts, like Tim Peake.  He got the job out of 10,000 applicants.  That alone is a fact worth repeating to children, regardless of the profession they want to enter.  It is worth aiming high.  Even into space.
To comedians it may seem funny that Tim Peake has popped up on all sorts of programmes.  To columnists, it might seem like a giant waste of time and money.  But to children in their classrooms, able to talk to someone in space?  Not so much.  It has been brilliant.  And they are the ones who will push our families' stories forward.
In these times of terrible hatred and awful crimes, Tim Peake has, with a bit of luck, caused a good proportion of the children who have followed his journey to want to push Earth's boundaries themselves.  While we adults are arguing over Earthbound, self imposed borders, hopefully the next generation are thinking about 'boldly going where no one has gone before' (sorry, sorry, another Trek reference but I couldn't resist it... probably shows my age too...)

Monday, 13 June 2016

Live Long and Prosper - wherever you are

Today I did consider the Orlando mass shooting as a blog subject but whichever way I attempted to approach this awful event, I felt unqualified to write about it.  Suffice to say, it was, and is, horrible seeing the details unfold and I send condolences to all.
Instead then, this weekend I finished reading The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell.  I am very late to this book - it won the Costa prize in 2010 - but since Maggie O'Farrell's seventh novel, This Must Be The Place, has just been released to very good reviews, I thought I should read some of her earlier work, in an attempt to look at her progression as a novelist (now doesn't that sounds grown up?!) when I read the new book.
I was not prepared for the effect The Hand That First Held Mine had on me.  I gather from a recent profile in Writing magazine that Ms O'Farrell does have young children but her writing about the immediate aftermath of bringing a baby home touched me very deeply.  One of the main characters has had an emergency caesarean section and is completely disorientated once at home alone with the baby.  I found it very very poignant.  In fact, as I was reading some passages, I felt as if I was once again standing in the dark hallway of the house to which we brought our eldest home.  So sleepless I was basically hallucinating.  No idea what I was doing but very aware of having to keep another human being alive (my only previous 'live responsibility' having been a hamster).  It was like the author had delved into my head and taken my deepest, darkest thoughts.  I remember, for example, being obsessed with hearing one of the emergency surgeons referring to it being the end of their shift while they were sewing me up.  I became convinced I had been 'deprived' of a natural birth because they were in a hurry.  Not because they were saving my child's life obviously.
What kept me going through those confusing months was friends, a plethora of 'what to do with babies' books and the then fledgling internet resources like Mumsnet.  I am still close to some of the friends I made as I dragged my hugely pregnant and then just completely knackered self around our new home city.  Looking back, Eldest was actually not that difficult a baby either...
And how on earth did women manage before NCT groups, playgroups, self-help books, Mumsnet, etc.  As children, my brother and I used to laugh at my mother's reliance on her Dr Spock for diagnosing illnesses.  Now I can see that there was very little else available.  She did not live round the corner from either of our grandmothers and frankly, I am not sure what use they would have been anyway.  We had a neighbour who actually saved my brother' life when he had convulsions.  She also had older children so had been there, done that.  But it was not exactly a meeting of minds for my mother, to say the least.
Parenting is the hardest job I have ever, without question, done.  I have worked with politicians, TV people, investment bankers, all sorts.  But I am into my thirteenth year of parenting now and although it changes constantly, it does not get easier.  Yes, I am now one of those who looks at a new baby and hands it back saying 'just you wait, this is the easy part'.
However, in countries like the UK, when we look back over our family history, we can see, mostly, the progressions in ante- and post-natal health.  In contraception.  In life expectancy.  There are still far too many countries in the world, though, where parenting of the type I have attempted to describe is a complete luxury.  Daily survival, hand-to-mouth, is the priority in these places.  If your child is lucky enough to survive to its teens, you will have been expecting them to have been paying their own way for a long time.
Of course, poverty, neglect etc can be found everywhere in the world.  But as I read The Hand That First Held Mine and was transported back to my own personal battles - which still continue as far as depression is concerned - I wondered how so many parents but women especially manage to keep mind and body together in physical circumstances far beyond our imagining.  From war zones and refugees to drug addictions and slavery to 'just' lack of what we consider basic resources.  They are all amazing.  And they deserve our help.
[If you would like to help with such issues, my suggested charity would be http://www.oxfam.org.uk/what-we-do/issues-we-work-on but there are many others if you google.]

Tuesday, 7 June 2016


Very little, other than loss, focuses the mind on the passing of time like a birthday.  Especially your child's birthday.  Youngest was ten this week  and ten years seem to have flashed by like the click of my fingers.  I have written previously about how easy it is to gloss over decades when doing family history.  Because you only have snapshot resources for most ancestors.

However, the passing of a decade is immense, if the following are anything to go by.  For example...

2006 was the year of:
  • Daniel Craig's first Bond film, Casino Royale (a rare post baby outing for this);
  • Take That's return (I was over seven months pregnant at their first gig and my friend announced I was on my own if I had an emergency - she would not be leaving the venue...);
  • Top Gear's Clarkson/Hammond/May line-up on its eighth series.  But it was the year that Richard Hammond nearly died in a crash, pushing up viewing figures (don't try this at home, Chris Evans/Matt LeBlanc);
  • Donald Trump's mortgage company.  He said it was a great time to do so as the housing market looked firm for some time to come.  The markets crashed in 2008 along with Trump's company (no comment or I will be here for a while);
  • Victoria Beckham at the Germany World Cup with the other WAGs, wearing very small shorts and t-shirts.  She now makes a fortune from persuading us all into massive culottes and polo neck tops;
  • Defector Alexander Litvinenko dying of polonium poisoning in London, apparently at the hands of the Russians.  The public enquiry only concluded in 2016.  Really?  Ten years?
  • Tony Blair and George W.Bush still in situ.  Not long to go though.  Blair went in June 2007 and Bush at the end of 2008;
  • The last regular Top of the Pops.  Meaning I would never fulfil my childhood ambition of dancing in its studio.
(I looked at books for 2006 but it was all a bit of a mystery.  I was only capable of picking up gossip magazines for most of it, clearly.  And television passed me by too, although I have since caught up on Life On Mars and The IT Crowd amongst other 2006 hits!)

Some things we did not have in 2006:
  • iPhones (launched January 2007)
  • ISIS (proclaimed 2014)
  • iPlayer, TV streaming in general
  • Wi-Fi, although it seems to have existed - the article I read was very technical!
  • The Kardashians - at least thankfully not really famous then
  • Arab Spring - began 2011
  • Twitter - introduced 2006
  • sleep - well, that was just me
Of course, these have and have not lists are endless.  The people lost, the babies born.  The technology used, the stuff not yet invented.  But I think these examples do show how we take so much for granted very quickly.  In the same way that you can't imagine how you will fit a child into your life.  Or how you will fit a second child in once you can just about cope with the first.  We should all take the time to stop and look around us once in a while.  In another ten years, I will be an empty nester with, fingers crossed, two kids rampaging (quite literally for Youngest, we fear) around universities somewhere.  I really hope the coming decade will slow down a bit.