Saturday, 13 June 2015

Haves and have nots

The pressure is building. Apparently "most girls in my class have a phone", "everyone's on Instagram", "it's going to be even worse in year 6 when everyone has a phone except me".

Our answer has been pretty consistent: "not until secondary school" and then, thinking about social media in particular, "those sites are meant to be for 13 plus".

I find it hard to believe that everyone does  have a phone at age ten (and actually these conversations started best part of a year ago). But, an unscientific straw poll of mums makes it clear that it is surprisingly common in this particular year 5 group, although less so in a nearby school in Wolverton. However, having a phone, ipod or tablet doesn't automatically mean access to social networking. Incidentally, for those that do have an Instagram account, I'm not sure if they have had to lie about their age when setting the account up and whether this has been endorsed by their parents or not.

I suspect that there are some children keeping very quiet when phones and social media are discussed. These kids probably face the harsh reality of parents struggling to get food on the table every day or to replace outgrown shoes, never mind having a spare phone to hand down. They have to make do with what they have in so many ways, a phone is one part of a much bigger aspirational dream not a sole item to focus on. Possibly. I haven't spoken to them to know how it feels, so perhaps a phone or access to Instagram is a massive deal to them too.

But, what I do know is that if you are being told by your peers that you have to get on Instagram to join in the class gossip, then you end up with a longing to be part of the crowd. It is yet one more situation where there is a divide between the haves and the have nots.

As a parent this puts you in a tough place.

Many of the kids on Instagram think they are protecting themselves by having private accounts, and certainly this cuts down some of the risks they are exposed to. However, there is no protection from what I see as problems with social media for adults, let alone inexperienced pre-teens.

For example, everyone is having a fantastic time at a party. Except you. You had been feeling a little flat about not having an invitation, but seeing who was there, including people you didn't even really think the host was friends with, and then fun photos they took, feeling a little flat turns into feeling absolutely gutted. Not a biggie? An emotional roller coaster for a sensitive child.

There are many other reasons why social media should be treated with caution: comparing how many followers you have with someone else; how much you expose yourself to negativity of the very worst kind (sickening comments lacking in any ounce of humanity from people hiding behind anonymity); exposure to sexualised content; addiction to being constantly stimulated and connected, forgetting to appreciate what else life has to offer.

Of course there are wonderful things about social media too: creativity, humour, connecting with friends across a distance, finding people with common interests.  You prevent access to all of that while you act in what you believe are the best interests of your child, because the dark side of social media is dark indeed. At the same time you know you are creating a different problem: preventing them from being in the 'in' crowd, turning them into a 'have not'. I do get that, I really do.

On the positive side, we've had lots of discussion about it and our parent-child relationship continues to develop as there is awareness of problems with either approach. While we are a 'have not' family when it comes to children with phones (and things like TVs in bedrooms), we are a 'have' family when it comes to books, dancing, pens and paper, and after school activities, not to mention cuddles and love.

For when push comes to shove, surely a loving home environment is the most important thing to provide for everyone in your household?

Whether your child is networked or not, I'm sure you will continue to want the best for them. We need to keep setting examples of the behaviour we hope them to follow. We need to make sure we are not constantly on devices ourselves, and above all teach them kindness and sensitivity to deal with difference - whether that is being denied access to social media by an interfering parent, responding to someone who isn't allowed the same freedoms, or being a have or have not in some other sphere of life.

The irony is that if you are reading this, you probably chanced upon a link I posted on Facebook or Twitter! I can now assure you that I am now about to go out with my daughter for some real life experience - probably getting wet as we walk into town, buying some new jazz shoes for her, a newspaper for me, and talking to each other. We may laugh, we may bicker, but we'll rub along together without needing to share pictures of it with the world.

A final word for any parents who haven't had to give social media much thought yet, there is an excellent review of some networking sites you may be personally unfamiliar with produced by the NSPCC:

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Don't despair, do something

What a depressing night. I stayed up long enough to sense that the exit polls were right, but it was only in the morning that the full horror was apparent.

It would appear that the British  English electorate fear economic instability more than they fear the dismantling of the welfare state and the ruining of individual lives. They've put corporate before people.

How could they?

I feel a bit sick when I think about how much worse things could get now that the Tories are in with the kind of endorsement they've had in this election. It seems to me, that those of us who are strongly opposed to the cuts, the devastation of lives, and the threat to the environment by our current practices are going to have to work harder than ever.

I have not so far lived the life of an activist. My first peace protest was earlier this year. I sign on-line petitions, and I've been an active fundraiser for charity, but until relatively recently I've been fairly benign in a political sense. Anyway, family life keeps me busy enough...

Well, yesterday after seeing what had happened I was convinced that more and more people are going to need to be engaged in stitching together the holes in the safety net for society's most vulnerable. Food banks - which should be unnecessary in a country as wealthy as ours - are going to be relied upon more than ever. Charity will have to provide where the government fails to.

So, yesterday I became a woman on a mission. I decided that I would take my first action to make a difference. A small action, but a symbolic one.

I went to the local supermarket and shopped for the food bank. As I'd decided to cycle the goods over to our local food bank (at a guess 3 miles away), I didn't want to overload the basket with heavy items, but I bought everything highlighted in red on their proposed shopping list which for Milton Keynes can be found on-line here.

I hadn't reckoned on having to change a bike tyre along the way, but this made my determination even greater - frustration and disappointment turned into focus and action.

I was happy that this also became a sociable activity as Hannah joined me for the bike ride and also brought some items raided from her cupboard at home. 

And you know what? I felt so much better about having done something with my morning: doing something that will help someone in need, getting out on the bike, meeting up with a friend and having a sense of purpose.

So, my friends, please don't forget that the re-election of a Tory government is not the end, but a continuation. We need to find something, anything, to counteract the negativity, to protect what we believe in and to make a positive difference. I hope this doesn't sound trite or preachy, but I think even small actions can make a difference. Even something as simple as a smile.

So, let's not despair, let's do something. Let's get out there and smile again. x

Monday, 4 May 2015

Please vote for change (thank you Scots)

I started getting more politically engaged with the whole Scottish referendum thing last year. I was impressed by the passion of those debating. For the first time in a long time, it felt as though politicians were talking from the heart, putting their values first. The impact of voting one way or the other was real - votes counted and hearts and minds had to be won. Of course there was a bit of propaganda thrown in, but mostly the politicians were standing up for what they believed in because they truly believed it was in the best interests of their electorate.

It is hard to believe that all of our UK general election candidates have their electorate's best interests at heart.

The Conservatives said that with the scale of the deficit cuts were necessary and we were all in it together. In what way are the top 1% of earners in it together with the poorest in our society? They were given a tax cut on their earning, while vicious benefit cuts have been inflicted on the poorest on our society. The lowest earners, doing their best to make a decent living, have lost any safety net that was available to them.

You may not think that your vote will make a difference, but really, would any other party (save, perhaps UKIP) allowed such an expansion of the wealth of the elite at the same time dependency on Foodbanks has rocketed?

As for the promises they made about the NHS (no top-down reorganisation) and what happened subsequently... well, it beggars belief.

If you are asking the question 'who has the best policies for introducing the scale of change necessary to make a fairer, more equal society' I don't think the answer is Labour. If your question is simply how do we makes things a bit better and prevent another Tory government, then in this constituency, Labour is the answer.

In my opinion, Labour aren't taking a strong enough stance on TTIP, fracking and trident. They aren't radical enough about environmental, transport and welfare issues, and too recently they took us to war in Iraq. It won't surprise you that I think the Green Party most closely matches my values.

Some will say that a vote for the Green Party is wasted, but it will not be wasted to me because I know I will be voting for what I most closely believe in. Hopefully, there will be enough people in my constituency voting Labour as they are best placed to give the Tories a run for their money, but if they are unsuccessful I hope they will look more closely at some of their policies and campaign tactics. In particular, I disagree with the £bns proposed for Trident renewal, which could be so much better spent on things this country needs now.

Also, I was impressed with the women in the leaders' debates: strong, constructive, and supporting each other where their policies overlap. 
 In Scotland, the referendum engaged hearts and minds. It was a moment in history. I was excited about the prospect of a 'yes' because of the values the independent Scotland would have been trying to build its society on. I was fearful of a 'yes' because of the major upheaval and disruption to the whole UK, and the rift it could cause in communities on either side of the border. But I don't like the politics of fear.

Make a choice, make a choice for reasons you believe in and keep working towards a better society whatever the outcome. If you don't vote, you have no influence. Reducing the majority in a safe seat is still better than not turning out and allowing an even greater majority for someone you don't believe in. If you don't believe in any of them, keep voting for change until you get an MP who is voting the way you want on the issues that matter to you. Please.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Stuck in the biscuit aisle

There are many reasons to get stuck in the biscuit aisle: looking for a special treat, plummeting for a favourite that happens to be on special offer, perhaps checking ingredients to make sure you are not going to present a veggie friend with animal fat. On the other hand, there are good reasons to avoid it altogether. Who needs those empty calories and that extra fat anyway?

I am a relatively thoughtful shopper - sometimes this means I have habits that I stick with so it doesn't take long, but more often I'm annoyingly slow. I pore over the labels, maintaining a mental dialogue. Where has this fruit come from? ("Peru! I can't justify the air miles, let's move over to the in-season Coxes", "Israel? Put it back, I don't want to support a country which bullies its neighbour with military might"). Was this now dead animal free range when it was alive? ("Yes? Organic? Even better"). Look at this ridiculous amount of packaging. Oh, and what's the expiry, we may not eat that until Tuesday...

At the weekend, though, I'm afraid there was yet another reason for getting stuck in the biscuit aisle: palm oil.

I had already picked up some bargain Rocky bars - a handy, cheap packed lunch box treat even cheaper at half price - and I was now looking for something else to share with some friends. I thought chocolate digestives might be the answer, or perhaps a packet of Fox's Golden Crunch.

Why, oh why did I take it upon myself to look at the ingredients? Palm oil. And also vegetable fat (palm). Can you believe it? When did palm oil become so widely used? Biscuits were perfectly delicious in my childhood without the need for this exotic ingredient.

I managed to find some shortbread biscuits that relied almost exclusively on butter for their fat content so they became the choice for the day. Sadly, it turned out that the much loved Rocky bars also contained palm oil so back onto the shelf they went. 

For the uninitiated, having palm oil in everything is bad news for the environment. Having started this blog post I decided to look for an article to link to about it and came across this article from the Independent a few years ago:

Basically, you are talking about the devastation of rainforests.

Although some retailers/brands are now claiming to use sustainable palm oil, I still question why it is even necessary to use it in the first place? We have other locally produced vegetable oils. Can these not be used?

You could say what difference does one individual shopper make when faced with ethical versus cheap. But it is not as simple as that. A company, Nestle for example, will not know that I have boycotted their products for about 20 years because of distrust about their marketing policies and tactics in the developing world unless I tell them; as one lone shopper in the millions they target they won't care much. However, it is not all about them. It is about me and my wish to live in a harmonious way. To knowingly support companies and practices I disagree with disrupts my own integrity. I don't want to contribute to the destruction of wildlife on the other side of the world (not to mention the impact on the indigenous population and their dependency on the forests being destroyed). It is better for my spiritual well being to carry on with my picky ways.

Now I know how many biscuits contain palm oil, I'll be more selective than ever (and if I buy fewer that's going to be good for the waistline too, right?). I'll try reminding myself to bake from scratch - at least I'll have control over what goes in - and enjoy a weekend treat from the local bakers even more.

I suspect this may sound sanctimonious. It isn't meant to be like that - I am just trying to navigate the best way for me to live my life well, in the best way I can for me.

By the way, the company making dorritos have come under fire too. They say that they are adopting sustainable policies which will protect against deforestation, but I'm afraid that I don't trust them to have the planet's best interests at heart. For now I'll be making different choices in the crisp aisle too!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The No Make Up Selfie

A phenomenon has gripped social media and comments have ranged from the touching and thoughtful to the downright rude. It's the no make-up selfie for breast cancer awareness.

For me, I wear a smattering of make up for work and rarely bother the rest of the time. It's mainly a going out, Sunday best (but actually hardly ever on Sunday) thing, not a day-to-day thing. A no make up selfie for me would be pretty much just any old selfie. It used to be that I would wear make up for work about one day in five. After cancer, and probably ageing a bit I started to wear make up more often. It has become part of being well and looking well, but probably not really necessary. 

I am moved by the people who have dropped their usual mascara mask to join in and donate to a breast cancer charity on the way. Even better if a few tips about checking your boobs are thrown in. But why on earth are we in this crazy position where it is such a big deal. It saddens me that so many women feel that they need to wear make up to feel as though they are looking even half respectable.

I offer a poem:

Young people you don't know how beautiful you are
Have the confidence to glow
Your youth and vitality are your strength,
There's no need for make up, you know

Old people you don't know how beautiful you are
Have the confidence to shine
Your age and wisdom may mark your skin
But your smiles will still be divine

Middle aged people you don't know how beautiful you are
You may miss the youth you had
But you still have life, you still have love,
These things should make you glad

All women you don't know how beautiful you are
Don't feel pressure to conform
Be yourself, be strong, be true,
Let all natural become your norm


And here is a picture I took after ballet today:

Monday, 17 February 2014

The Ballet Show

Wow! What a wonderful show it was: Swan Lake performed by students of the Rosemary Lane School of Ballet and Theatre Dance with guests from Elmhurst Ballet School.

I have both seen and performed in a number of ballet school shows (spanning decades and the land - from Edinburgh in the 70s/80s to Durham in the 90s/00s and most recently in Milton Keynes), but this was well and truly the stand out show. This time, I hasten to add, I was not performing, but instead busy behind the scenes supporting our two budding ballerinas and their peers.

The production was very professional, and the dancers beautifully turned out (in attire if not always from the hip - actually often from the hip; their technique is good). The classical story was cleverly adapted to allow for all the classes to take part from the very young ducklings, goslings and ducklings looking adorable in their feathery tutus, to the most accomplished dancers taking on several roles including the iconic white swans. The acts with the swan Corps de Ballet were stunning. Not that the other acts weren't stunning too - they were also a pleasure to watch, colourful and entertaining, but the swans just really were amazing.

I loved the contemporary and jazz pieces which sandwiched the ballet, and although I'm no West End critic, I think Nicola Daniels who put these pieces together is a very talented choreographer. She managed to get the best out of a mixed group of dancers in terms of age and ability. Pippa was proud to take part as the youngest member of the Jazz class and it was great to see her gain confidence with the older girls.

Actually, I was blown away by the whole thing. There are so many lovely dancers in the school. I have a great fondness for the girls I took classes with when I took my exam, and they were certainly a joy to watch, but every class seemed to have a number of great performers in it, and everyone seemed to do so well, dancing to their best ability. Of course I couldn't take my eyes off Pippa and Susannah when they were on stage! I am delighted that since the show they have been inspired to dance more and more, and it is quite a relief that Susannah has decided not to give up after all. They miss the show and want to do it all over again. And again.

With a blog named 'Diary of a Ballet Mum' it would have been rather remiss of me not to comment on the show, although a couple of weeks have now passed. So, a belated congratulations to all who were involved: each and every dancer, Owen Lane for his gravity defying leaps (and for turning Susannah's mouth into a giant 'O' when she watched those leaps, not to mention the pirouettes), Nicola for moving, inspirational original pieces of jazz and contemporary, the army of behind the scenes helpers, and last but by absolutely no means least, Rosemary who pulled it all together, believed in the strengths of her students and helped them shine with expert choreography and tuition. A success to be proud of for years to come.

This last photo I pinched from the facebook page, so thank you to whoever took it!

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Some thoughts on New Year

I love New Year. A fresh start, new possibilities. I don't exactly make resolutions but I do think about what I'd like to to do more of, or do better, or indeed, do less of.

Do more exercise. Eat more healthily. Be in touch with friends more. Get more fresh air. Help people. Laugh more. Be more creative.

Waste food less. Don't waste hours on social media (fortunately I've already stopped the wasting of time on Candy Crush). Use the car less. Don't be grumpy.

Actually, the lists could get really long if I spend too much time thinking about it. And then I would need to add 'don't spend so long thinking about things' to the list and it would become a vicious cycle.

I know many people who say 2013 was a bad year so good riddance - welcome 2014. It is good if we can mark the passing of a year in such a way that it gives us that opportunity to leave its baggage behind.

For me, 2013 was a mixture of course. I still spend enough of the time generally being glad to be alive, so in that way it was definitely a good year. I achieved something I will always be chuffed about (a good distinction in my ballet exam). But, for various other reasons it has not been easy, and we've not known whether we would even be living in the same place this time next year which is an unsettling prospect.

When it comes to New Year, perhaps we only really need one thing on our list of resolutions: treat each new day as a new beginning. That way we can leave behind things we might beat ourselves up about without waiting for a major event in the calendar. Similarly, we don't need to wait for some future date to start being that better person we'd like to morph into.

A challenge does work for me though - as long as it is not too ambitious, and I'd like to do some more fundraising. Perhaps a cycle challenge for Bowel Cancer UK? Anyone want to join me? Other ideas?

Treating each new day as a new beginning appeals to the optimist in me, but I'm a realist too so I know it is more easily said than done. Sleep deprivation or illness make it particularly hard. However, I like the idea of trying to keep a fresh perspective.

Someone recently shared an image on facebook that really appealed to me, but when I looked for it again today I couldn't find it. So I searched google images and found the following version. If this belongs to someone and shouldn't be posted, please let me know and I'll happily swap it for another version. Otherwise, thank you to the anonymous illustrator.

Anyway, what appealed to me was that actually a glass isn't half full nor half empty. Technically, it is always full. What I like about this is that it is a fresh, and even more optimistic way of looking at things. We just need to learn to see and appreciate the air. 

So, here I am, raising my metaphorically full glass to wish you all the best for 2014. May it be full of new beginnings, fresh starts, and novel ways of looking at things.