Monday, 26 March 2012

Like a prayer

In the last week there have been many calls to prayer from the family and friends of Fabrice Muamba, the football player who collapsed during a match last weekend and - despite stopping breathing for a very long time - survived. His family pleaded for people to pray for him and fellow players wore shirts asking us to pray for him too. This has caused a range of reactions in the media, from cynicism at the possibility that footballers could be so religiously inclined to sincere explanations of the power of prayer.

I realise not everyone prays and some people only have a conversation approximating prayer when they are at the racecourse or the plane is a bit wobbly at 30,000 feet. In one of the early episodes of Homeland we see the lead character Brody in his garage praying Namaz having returned home from being held captive for eight years by Muslim captors. The suggestion is that he has been turned into a traitor and seeing him pray as a Muslim offers further proof that this may be the case. I, however, thought it was a profound comment on how he took solace in prayer as comfort while in captivity. The act of submission to a higher power is a personal one and that he chose to do it in private was (for me) more about not letting his Christian family know that he had converted.

It's often the case that as people get older they become more interested in faith and certainly in the Asian community you see older people attend temples with great frequency. When I was at university I used to travel on two buses to a Sikh temple the other side of Coventry. Partly it was to see other Asian faces and to spend time with people who had something in common with me in a space that felt familiar. Partly, I went to pray. Even now prayer is something that is a part of my life and when I find things are difficult I pray. It's not to ask for a higher power to intervene, more to share the burden that is on my mind.

It has become a cliche to hold a minute's silence when a tragedy occurs, isn't this moment of reflection or meditation an act of prayer ? In the same way singers and actors thank God when accepting an award as a public declaration of religious belief whether devout or not. I've always been surprised to meet people who express heartfelt atheism with a fervour that most religious people would struggle to muster. I attended a school where the Lord's Prayer was recited at assembly every morning and at no point did my parents object or ask for me or my siblings to be removed from the room. In fact very few kids from families of faith were removed, maybe as praying in one faith is pretty much the same as another.

Prayer is not at all cool and it's profoundly strange to talk to someone who isn't there. In days gone by we used to lock people up for that sort of thing. For the time being I'm going to just sit quietly where no one can see me and keep it to myself.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Pills, (NHS) Bills and Bellyaches.

I've been pondering the events of this week which have become increasingly horrific since the Queen decided to rededicate herself to DOING HER JOB and proceeded to the sell-off of the NHS and today we've had what has widely been derided as a budget for toffs.

Now, I did Economics O level and Geography to A level so I feel more than qualified to comment on a Tory policy to resolve the economic crisis which is so cruel it makes Thatcher look soft. In fact I think the movie Iron Lady and all Govt decisions are designed to make her look like a slightly eccentric old battleaxe who deserves a state funeral, but I digress.

This is what I've noticed:

We are living in an ageing society which has caused a high dependency ratio (see I told you I did Geography A level !) so there are fewer people earning than necessary to pay for public services. The reason we have an ageing population is because people live longer thanks to medicine keeping people alive who would have died years ago.

So here is what is going on folks:

Dismantling the NHS will mean fewer people live into old age as they will be unable to afford the private health packages on offer. With the normal population balance returned we won't have these old folks wheezing on into old age draining the economy dry. We can also expect a return to the "Miss Polly had a dolly" chequebook school of medicine of Dickens' time.

Making retirement wholly unaffordable will mean people will have to stay on to work in old age - hence HRH holding firm to the armrests of her throne and putting two fingers up to Charles as she just knows he's going to pack her off into a home first chance he gets. My own mother still works full time despite being past retirement age as she cannot afford to live on the state pension. Both my parents also have long term health conditions which - if they have to pay to be treated - will be financially crippling.

What can we look forward to next ?

-  discounts on parachuting lessons for the over 70s ?

- compulsory firing squads for not paying your council tax ?

- taxing the rich who use tax avoidance schemes to not pay their share ?

Of course not, who'd think such ridiculous ideas could be taken seriously ?

Monday, 19 March 2012

Happy Sister's Day

In a year of celebrations from the Olympics to the Queen's diamond jubilee we've just had Mother's Day and in June it'll be Father's Day. We also now have grandparents day, nurses day and all manner of celebratory days to mark the special relationships we have with people. There are some glaring omissions though and one that I feel especially aggrieved by is the lack of a day to celebrate siblings.

As the oldest of four children I have a few of them and have been blessed with some great kindness that I think is worth a mention. In particular I have one sister who has been through some hardship in recent years and has still remained a kind and loving person.

When she was a young child she was always looking out for everyone. If I went out for the evening (I didn't have a wild social life, despite what my Mother thinks) no matter how late it was I'd get home to see her sitting on the top stair usually fast asleep waiting for me to get home safe before she would go to bed herself.

When I returned home having left my first husband none of my family questioned why or what happened. On the first night my sister came into the room I was staying in and asked if I wanted her to stay with me. She sat by the bed in the dark, quietly, just keeping me company until I fell asleep. I had no idea what I needed, but it was the kindest and most selfless gesture.

When I was in labour and had to go into hospital because our son was having trouble being born my sister was the go-between with my family checking on how we were doing and helping hubbie keep calm. She was the first to visit her nephew and offered to help me have a wash as I felt so skanky in the hospital.

Since then she has been invaluable in caring for my son and by association me. She would tell me to go and lie down and even took my son out in his pram without me for the first time. Last week she took him for his first happy meal and I expect she will be his favourite auntie all his life for that alone !

Just writing this has made me tearful, so I'm going to stop, but not before I say thank you to my sister. There isn't enough cake or chocolate in the world to thank you for being such a kind and loving person, but you will always get both whenever you are here.

Oh and I'm working on getting you Jessie Pavelka dipped in chocolate :o)

Friday, 16 March 2012

Clooney in cuffs causes chaos

This afternoon the news wires almost melted at the overexcited news that George Clooney had been arrested during a protest. Even Krishnan Gurumurthy - an otherwise respectable news journo type - delivered a breathy promo for Channel 4 news exclaiming that we should all contain our excitement at Clooney in handcuffs. This evening he's been released having posted bail of around £63 ($100) and has notched up a few more cool points which he kind of lost having appeared in the Kony video without his knowledge. 

At the same time the director of the Kony film (Jason Russell) has allegedly been arrested for public disorder of the drunken and masturbatory kind. Not really what we expect of an evangelical Christian and father of two young children who likes to make manipulative videos with dubious factual content. We completely expect Clooney to get arrested at a protest, just like we expect Sean Penn to offer an opinion on international politics without irony or reference to the country he calls home. Just like we expect Angelina Jolie to pitch up after a humanitarian crisis with her shopping list of criteria for the next addition to the Jolie-Pitt brood. 

I'm not cynical about movie stars getting involved in politics, but I am disinterested in them wandering in to foreign countries to research a supposed answer and reporting back to the rest of us. It's not as if America doesn't have poverty, natural disasters or racially motivated conflicts. It just isn't quite as easy to fix if it's on home turf. 

A dual approach has to be the way to go as far as I'm concerned. Get involved locally and take an interest internationally and at least you've got your bases covered. If you are very concerned about the poor children in Africa, but are sniffy about someone who sleeps in a doorway and begs for some change from you I'd say you've got a perspective issue to deal with. 

Fame does add kudos to a good cause though and if you don't have a celebrity endorsement you can kiss farewell to any donations until you get a minor soap actress or reality star to tell Hello magazine how great you are. I only mention this as I've gone back into fundraising and it is terrifying and lonely all at once. 

I have an office all by myself, a cause I've never fundraised for before and I work in a school which I pretty much swore I'd never do again once I completed my teaching degree. Add to this the fact that I miss being with my son and I have to admit it's not looking like a triumphant return to work for me. More like an elaborate attempt to get out of running around after the toddler from the Weetabix commercial every day.

Well at least it's the weekend tomorrow and I have a long yoga class on Saturday afternoon and hopefully a lovely relaxing Mothering Sunday. In the meantime I can consider my days of actually doing something worthwhile and ponder whether I would have gotten arrested for any of the causes I worked for. If there was a chance of being cuffed to Gorgeous George… probably. Otherwise… probably not. 

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Suffer the little children

I'm not the most prolific tweeter, but I do look in on it regularly and sometimes I even open links. Yesterday I saw a few people had tweeted a link to a movie called Kony2012 and decided to watch it. It's been retweeted by many celebrities advocating that we should support the apparent campaign to make Kony a household name in order to …

well I'm not sure what happens exactly when we put up posters about a known murderer and a man who recruits child soldiers to kill people and to protect him.

The movie has been produced on behalf of an organisation called Invisible Children which appears to advocate military intervention to assist the capture of this man, but I am not clear what they then do to assist the children who he has used as soldiers.

If you've been sent the Kony 2012 film and asked to pass it on - have a think about this:

1. Do you really support sending in armies to deal with vulnerable children who are being drugged and abused into being soldiers in order to capture their leader ?

2. Is making a 30 minute movie to post on the internet the best use of resources to help vulnerable children ?

3. If it's as easy as making Kony a household name why didn't that work for Pinochet or Gadaffi, or Saddam or Mugabe ?

4. If the movie is really about child soldiers why do we see so much of the filmmaker's blonde son and so little of Jacob who is supposed to be inspiration for it ?

If you really want to help children I can name a few really honest to goodness charities that have proven to save the lives of children all over the world.

I've worked in Sierra Leone with children who have been child soldiers and seen the horrific machete wounds inflicted on one young man who survived seeing his own parents brutally murdered by child soldiers. In refugee camps I met children who had been soldiers and their first words were confessional in telling me what they had done. I cannot see how making this man famous does anything to help the children whose lives have been ruined or what the point of wearing a red wristband is.

If the filmmaker wanted to get his and his son's face on a youtube clip that went viral then well done mate you've done that. Jacob, the young Ugandan who appears a few times in the very slick movie, is the one with a story worth telling and yet we hear very little about him or what this movie will do to help young Ugandans like him.

I've worked for a few NGOs (non Government Organisations) in my time working with children whose lives have been devastated by war and conflict. At no point have I worked for any charity that advocated sending in military intervention to help children. I was livid when Bob Geldof claimed that in order to do good sometimes you have to work with bad people (to paraphrase his justification for some of the Band Aid funds going to corrupt regimes). It is possible to work with people who are altruistic - yes even in Africa before you ask. I know - I've met them.

Watch the movie - make up your own mind, but I do ask that you also read these please: