50 Christmasses

Christmas 2018 was my 50th Christmas (screaming emoji face), and it didn’t disappoint. Admittedly I don’t remember the first few, and many of the ones I do remember merge in to one, it seems a good time to hone my thoughts on our Northern hemisphere winter festival in to a list.

  1. Spending time with the people I love is the better than any present.
  2. No-one believes me when I say that, and I don’t want a present. It’s true, I particularly don’t want a present because you think you have to buy me one – also…
  3. I have enough STUFF
  4. Giving someone a present, that I can afford and that I have spent time and thought on, with absolutely no expectation of reciprocity is fun. (My youngest has also experienced this this year)
  5. Shopping is hellish – plan, think ahead.
  6. Online supermarket shopping, or some other way of getting your shopping delivered, is the absolute future, even if you have to pay for the delivery, think about how much your time is worth, delivery always costs less than your worth x the number of hours you spend in a shop.
  7. Buy local/ direct from the artist/ second hand – restrict Amazon!
  8. People find it very hard to believe that I do not expect reciprocal favours.
  9. Ritual and tradition (whilst not holding to them slavishly) are comforting and rewarding* see item 13
  10. I love singing and with other people.
  11. December is really dark and cold, whatever winter festival you identify with, it should be done to the max, to welcome back the light.
  12. Lists are the bomb
  13. Fuck Christmas cards, unless they are written with love and news. I love receiving news. Christmas cards, but because you *have* to – fuck that! Also charity cards only.
  14. You don’t *have* to do anything you don’t want to…
  15. Dinner is just a roast with crackers, all the other meals are just normal meals. Plan, eat well, don’t waste food, but sharing meals with your loved ones, sat at a table, is brilliant.
  16. Memories not stuff.
  17. Life not debt.
  18. Boxing day sales are not worth getting out of the hot tub for! Unless you absolutely NEED a new sofa then it’s best not to bother.
  19. You do not need to buy tubs of chocolates – there will be plenty of chocolate! #boycottnestle
  20. There is nothing wrong with second hand sometimes this represents absolute perfection.

 

*My winter festival rituals and traditions:

 

  1. Bring green stuff inside and create beauty
  2. Candles
  3. Harvey Wallbangers on Christmas Eve
  4. “Curry Hurling” with my Mum and family at some time in the run up
  5. Coronation Chicken on Boxing Day – my nan’s recipe
  6. Feasting with my loved ones.
  7. Hot tub
  8. A proper carol concert  – currently my kids’ school one in a lovely church.
  9. Looking at the moon when it’s full (although tbf I do this every full moon)
  10. Writing the cards I do write with my grandad’s fountain pen

 

I wonder what the next 50 Christmasses will bring?

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11 years of loyal service

I’ve been thinking about time,

In 1995 as a single parent of a nearly 3 year old, I started working for Thames Valley Police as a civilian Performance Manager. Two years later, a promotion and a house move, took me to TVP’s training centre, just outside Reading in Berkshire, as the Marketing and Estate Manager – and there I stayed. Another house move happened, this time in to my first bought and mortgaged home. Over the years adjustments to my job added more responsibility and remuneration and I still managed to find the time and energy to meet my husband and have a baby together. We got married and moved to Crewe in one crazy week in 2005 and then I went back to the Training Centre on a weekly commuting basis. Nine months later the universe shifted again in our favour so I was able to resign, without another “job” to move on to. That was in the summer of 2006. A few months after I left, and re-introduced myself to my husband and 2 children I received an unexpected but quite welcome certificate in the post.

Recognition of Eleven years of loyal service to Thames Valley Police. Eleven years in the flash of an eye.

Well now it’s 2017 – another eleven years on. Eleven years of “loyal service”* to my family. Seems worthy of recognition. So I made my own certificate! I’ve displayed them both in the kitchen, my centre of operations, when I’m not at the computer!

Eleven years – We had another baby together He’s 10 now – that makes 4 between us. I did the infant raising and family management thing, and enjoyed it, more than that, I think I’m good at it. Everyone’s alive and well, and we are, on the whole, solvent! My step-daughter moved from Spain to live with us and do her A levels in the UK, and then went to University. My son did High School, College, uni and leaving home. My daughter had a brain tumour which left her with permanent physical limitations, but intellectually unscathed, as far as we can tell; and our 10 year old brings up the rear, making us laugh and astounding us with his curiosity and empathy. My husband has been promoted twice and is 11 haircuts away from retirement. I have worked as a childminder, volunteered as a governor at the primary school, joined the Green Party and stood for council vacancies twice. I have been “trained” as a Doula, and volunteered for a local charity called Motherwell Cheshire. We have had a loft conversion and other house alterations. Our household has gone from 4 up to 6 and back down to 4 again. We’ve kept chickens and 2 cats.

I have been a shoulder to cry on, or arms to embrace, a bank, a chef, a housekeeper, a project operations director, an interior designer, a gardener, a financial manager, a coach, a counsellor, a motivational speaker, a proof reader and editor, a nurturer, a lover, a partner, a careers advisor, and a pursuer of dreams.**

It is a massive privilege that we, as a family unit, chose and were able to live like this. This was particularly apparent when our daughter was in hospital for nearly 4 months recuperating after her brain tumour excision. We were aware that outside of our little stress bubble other parents with chronically ill children were losing their jobs because of the amount of time parents were spending at hospital! I remain horrified that capitalism and the workplace can be so cruel to families in such desperate times.

I know that there are mothers out there who do all of this AND hold down a salaried job, and more who do it all without the advantage of a well paid partner, but even so, it is still worthy of celebration, of reward even. This isn’t just for me, and this isn’t a competition. I’m a feminist and this post is to honour my own life choices, not to denegrate yours. Your life, however you live it, wherever you find your validation, is worthy of recognition. Being a stay at home parent, is no less worthy than parenting and earning a salary***. I’m amazing; you’re amazing. We’ve got this**** – and here’s to the next 11 years and the enlightenment that they might bring…

 

 

*I don’t consider myself an actual servant to my family, I’m no martyr, this is just for the benefit of continuing the employment simile.

**that’s just off the top of my head – there are more, but I think I’ve made my point!

***for more on this, I highly recommend the book “Liberating Motherhood

****and by “this” I mean the future of the human race – yes really!

People are Brilliant – a true short story

There’s a Co-op near my kids’ school, it has a cash machine and useful things. It’s also near the car-park that most parents use when dropping kids off, it’s very handy.

Today after dropping the children off I needed to get some cash, so I made for the cash machine. As I was preparing to cross a short access road, I witnessed a small grey car reverse into an old man, who fell down. It was a really slow impact, the driver stopped immediately and there were plenty of witnesses to confirm that it was an accident.

The driver (a young woman) got out of the car and went straight to the old man, to see if he was OK, she was obviously shocked herself and apart from establishing that he wasn’t unconsious or anything, she was at a bit of a loss. A couple of nearby builders (they were doing some work to the shop sign ) stepped in to take care of the old man, and established what his name was. Another lady heard him say that he was just going in to buy his papers so offered to go in and get them for him.

I’m pretty sure that the old fella was as embarassed as he was bruised, but he accepted all the offers of help graciously. Then there was a lady with an NHS ID badge on – of course there was – and she took over assessing the old guy.

The driver had taken a step back by now, and was visibly shaking and trying not to cry, she kept saying that she was reversing really slowly and she just didn’t see him. It’s true, she was, and I and several other people confirmed to her that this was the case. I’d stepped up to her at this point and took her shaking hand and my other arm partly around her shoulder, she seemed to calm a little. One of the builders said “it was just an accident, these things happen”.

The old fella didn’t appear to be badly injured at all, apart from maybe his pride, but the NHS lady and the builders got him up off the floor and in to the driver’s car, because she was going to give him a lift to his home, apparently he only lived around the corner. The builders even said they would follow her in their van, so that they could help the guy out at his destination, and that’s what they did, and I went and got my cash.

People are brilliant. When you see people about their business; builders, mums, childminders, shop assistants, that’s just one face you see, you don’t know what else they know or what other experiences they’ve had. One of the builders said at one point, that he worked for years in Mental Health, for example.

A bunch of strangers worked together to help other strangers in a crisis, and then went back to their separate lives and tasks. A first aid flash mob. A story of co-ordinated compassion and empathy developed from small disparate interventions, and kindness drove us all.

A hopeful start to a Wednesday morning.

 

What do you know?

Just over a week ago, I was at a funeral. The deceased was in her early 50’s and died too young, her widower and her young but adult daughters were the epitome of grace and dignity and did her proud. It was a very emotional day, and as is the way, often with these things, I learnt that I didn’t know her very well at all. I knew her as a good, welcoming, friendly, open neighbour and I hope a friend. We had some shared experience, children of a similar age, and her work and my husband’s often overlapped. The sort of friend who you know you could ask a favour of and she would help if she could. She invited me and my younger children over to hold their puppies when they were big enough, because she knew that would be quite brilliant for them. It turns out that she was quite religious, if we’d met more often socially, maybe I would have known that, but I didn’t.

At the same time Donald Trump had been in office for a matter of days, and no-body quite knew what was going on or was going to happen, but there was a lot of concern, in the media, and in my own head, that the vitriolic, aggressive and rascist rhetoric he espoused during his election campaign, was coming home to roost. Fear and dissemblance seemed to be the order of the moment.

Skip to the wake. I chatted to her immediate family for a short while and then because I was otherwise on my own, I found myself a quiet corner to stand and drink my tea and observe quietly. The room was packed. After a short time, I was joined by another lady with the same intention I think. Dressed in long black or purple velvet, with long dyed black hair with bleached bits underneath (does that have a name?) – her appearance suggested in a completely prejudicial kind of way, that she might be a kindred spirit*. We chatted. Starting with the obligatory opening gambit that strangers employ at weddings and funerals – “how do you know the family?” – Her story was that she knew the deceased’s father from her youth and from her time in his church. (Ah not so like me as I thought then) He was a pastor and obviously had a massive impact on her life. She talked to me about her faith as a born again Christian, which in itself was interesting. She was full of love and peace. Then she asked me if I had a faith, and I told her I was pagan.

She seemed genuinely interested, and although she did say that I should look for Jesus**, she didn’t tell me that I was wrong. She asked me specifically about what I believed happens after we die. I explained, that for me it’s all about life and death, decomposition and release. If we live a good life, our love and spirit lives on in the people we’ve loved and our energy returns to the land. Dust to dust I suppose. She smiled at me and said “Yes, isn’t that amazing” and then something about being 1 bucket of water and several buckets of dust, it sounded like a repeated refrain from her world. I told her that I believed also in the power of women, to birth, to teach and to renew. She smiled again and said “Jesus loves women”.

She did go off on one a bit, about me avoiding Hell (she couldn’t say the word) and not taking a chance on eternity, but as I don’t believe in Hell, that meant very little to me. She was open and honest, and she’s the first stranger I’ve spoken to at length about anything for a very long time.

As I drove home, I recalled the quote from Jo Cox’s maiden House of Commons speech, which became so popular in the weeks of her brutal murder.

“…we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” Jo Cox, June 2015

It was true then, it’s true now, it was true about the Born Again Christian and the Pagan who met briefly at a wake, and it will be true in the future.

Do not engage with the fearmongers and the name callers, do what you can to break through the dissemblance, learn, speak and live your truth, be kind, be generous, be compassionate. These are the things that will win the day and change the world.

 

*what does a pagan look like anyway? – this is what one pagan looks like…

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**please don’t ask me to look for Jesus, I respect your faith, and I don’t reject the concept out of hand, but He is not on my path.

 

 

It’s not about you, or me…

Loving someone with depression is hard. It can be painful and it can be intense.

At this point I need to put on the table that I have not suffered with any form of mental illness, so far in my life. This does not make me better or “stronger” than those who have, but is a privilege granted to me by fortune alone. It does make understanding what those people are going through a little bit harder. As a person who has not been through childbirth cannot fully understand what childbirth is like, a person who has not suffered from any mental illness cannot fully understand what mental illness is like. It is possible to empathise though. I’ve never broken a bone, but I can support someone who has.

I have been sad, very sad, on occasion. But it was always for an identifiable reason and I was lucky enough to come out of the other side of those occasions still me, still ‘normal’. And in any case “being sad” is not the same as depression, not the same at all.

what depression feels like

 

Source:  http://differenceofthinking.tumblr.com/post/125055430162

I’m trying really hard, not to make this post about me. Amongst the people I love there are some with depression. I expect there are others who simply haven’t told me they have depression. The stigma of mental ill health is another subject entirely. Those people may well read this post, but I’m not writing it to explain myself to them or to illicit their sympathy towards me. I’m writing it because I know there are other people who find it hard to know what to do, or how to be around someone they care about who is depressed. Everyone is unique, of course, and their needs are equally unique. I certainly do not have all the answers. I have made mistakes, I know I have, and I’m sure I’ll make more but I have two things to offer, that might help you as they help me.

Firstly understand and apply this theory, I’m not an expert, but this really works, and not just for mental illness.

silk ring theory

 

 

Source:  http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407

The person who is unwell is the dot in the centre. You as the person who loves them are in the ring around the dot. People who care about you both are in the circle around you, and so on. The basic principle is that comfort goes in to the circles and stress/debriefing comes out.

However hard it is for you to accept or understand what is happening to the person you love, whether you agree with their decision to take medication or not, whether you are personally affected by their illness, whether their illness makes you feel anxious, worried, stressed, or all of the above, you DO NOT share that with them. You support them and you comfort them. You help them, if they want you to, and you are there for them when they need a hand to hold (whether figuratively or literally). Then when you can, you find someone close to you, in the circle outside of you to help you process what’s happening. It is not the ill person’s job to make you feel better – they have enough on their plates. If you need medical information, consider asking your own GP – it’s probably best not to Google!

This leads me nicely on to my second offering to you…find your own support network, talk to people who care about you, who may understand depression more than you, take their comfort so you can provide your own, to the person who needs you.

I can’t tell you exactly what your loved one needs, but I can tell you that they need YOU. They need you to accept them as they are. As my very dear loved one said to me “I’m still me!”

They need you to support them in their decision making and discuss the options by all means, but decisions are theirs and theirs alone.

As someone in my own circle of support said to me:

“… love involves work and courage. You’ll need both. Being there, consistent, unchanging, not panicking, not over reacting, not crying(!) is probably all they need from you”

And finally, the following links are two excellent sources of professional information and support for everyone affected by mental ill health.

http://www.sane.org.uk/home

http://www.mind.org.uk/

 

With love

Mel x

 

The Human Rights Act – don’t forget it

A week or so ago I wrote a letter to my MP, Edward Timpson, asking him to vote against a repeal of the HRA. I sent it before the state opening of parliament so I was, at the time, not aware of the delay that has been introduced nor indeed the Queen’s apparent dislike of the suggestion. I think it’s important to not forget about though, and keep letting them know that we don’t want it gone. So I’m copying my words here, and when I get a reply, I’ll add them here too.  I don’t claim all the credit for these words, I used a framework provided by another member of a political facebook group I’m in, but the childminding considerations are mine…

Re: the Human Rights Act

I write to express my concern at the new government’s threat to repeal the Human Rights Act.

I am worried that this government’s proposed changes will tamper with rights that hundreds of millions of people recognise as their last defence against state power. Although I am led to believe that existing European rights will be incorporated into a new British bill of rights. Why is there a need to change? And why do we not yet know the contents of the proposed Bill?

I am concerned that no mention has been made of existing rights to privacy, freedom of the press and freedom of speech, family life and religious freedom. Maybe the gaps will be filled in when the bill is proposed?

I am a childminder, and am continuously attempting to work out how to demonstrate to Ofsted, when my inspection comes, how I am incorporating British Values in to my “syllabus” as required by the EYFS. I believe passionately that British values are Human values, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs are fundamental.

I do not understand how the removal of the Human Rights Act as it exists, will either support those values or improve them. What benefit to us, to our children, to our society and to the world, will a British Bill of rights add that the HRA does not already infer? I similarly do not understand how a government can insist on “teaching” British values to children of all ages, to ensure their safety and to protect against extremism, and then to also suggest removing the very Act that protects those values in law. Albeit that these two actions have been promoted by different Governments, they both remain Conservative at their core.

In a speech in 2009 Lord Bingham listed the liberties the European convention protects.

“The right to life. The right not to be tortured or subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The right not to be enslaved. The right to liberty and security of the person. The right to a fair trial. The right not to be retrospectively penalised. The right to respect for private and family life. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Freedom of expression. Freedom of assembly and association. The right to marry. The right not to be discriminated against in the enjoyment of those rights. The right not to have our property taken away except in the public interest and with compensation. The right of fair access to the country’s educational system. The right to free elections. Which of these rights, I ask, would we wish to discard? Are any of them trivial, superfluous, unnecessary? Are any them un-British?”[1]

The criminal and civil law in this country are full of responsibilities that are enforced by the State and have to be obeyed by ordinary people. The HRA is one of the few laws that allows ordinary people to hold the State to account for abuse, mistreatment, negligence etc. Most of the rights in the HRA are already limited and qualified to take account of the rights of others and the wider interests of society.[2] The potential removal of this act, removes the protection that we, ordinary people have, against abuses of power and position, public service negligence. I do not want to see it go.

If and when the time comes to vote, I would urge you to vote against the repeal of the HRA and against the introduction of a British Bill of Rights, and in the mean time to promote and ensure openness and clarity about what is being proposed. This is not an act to be debated behind closed doors.

Yours sincerely

 

[1] https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/sites/default/files/lord-bingham-speech-final.pdf

[2] https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/news/blog/legally-illiterate

To the future…

A Conservative majority then, with big UKIP gains in vote share (thankfully not seats). This is not what I voted for, nor what I believe will be good for our country or even the planet. I’m frightened frankly, of this move to the right.

What I really, really don’t understand is, why, when people are personally doing well, they vote for a party that increases their wealth and puts pressure on the small man. No that’s not true – I do understand that, it’s a presentation of animal survival instinct, because modern survival/success is apparently measured in £’s and $’s, big houses and big cars. What I don’t understand is Why are we not, as a thinking and developed species above that now? Survival, success or indeed happiness isn’t actually measured by money in the bank, or possession of stuff. It is in fact measured by connection, by community, by compassion, by choice.

So if you’re not happy with the result, what can you do? It’s simple, be the person you want everyone else to be. Lead by example. You might be a loan voice, but you are a voice, someone will hear you, and things can change.

 “…the actions of single individuals, even multiplied a million fold, are wholly insignificant. But in acting as examples to others, and showing companies and governments the support for genuine changes in lifestyle, your actions can be powerful. The great movements in social improvement in Western society, such as the end of slavery, the universal franchise, control over child labour and universal primary education, all came after sustained action by small groups of committed individuals.”[1]

 So stand up, be the change you want to see. Join the political party that most represents your views, and get involved in their activities.

Campaign, Complain, Demonstrate.

Be heard

[1] Chris Goodall “How to live a low-carbon life” 2007