Tuesday, January 31, 2006


...M&S have announced that they are going to stock in some shops Fairtrade cotton t-shirts and socks. Am I just being cynical in thinking that they are just jumping on the bandwagon? BBC story here

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Sad lives

Was shocked today to see the front page of the Daily Mirror a picture of "Happy Slapper" Chelsea O'Mahoney with the headline: HAPPY SLAP KILLER AGED 14. Undoubtably, a young female killer is infinitely more news worthy than the gang of boys who accompanied Chelsea on their rampage. This blog isn't really about how awful that a man died and several were attacked that evening but more about the sad life of Chelsea O'Mahoney who is the daughter of herion addicts, was found wandering the streets of London alone at the age of three and had had a "particularly chaotic and fragmented life".
Daily Mirror report
BBC news report

Also in the news, the defendants in the murder of Damilola Taylor are a 17-year-old who was 12 at the time and lived in a local authority care home in south London and his brother who was 13 then and a day pupil at an assessment centre but had failed to attend on the day Damilola was killed.
BBC news story
More kids leading chaotic lives...and doing terrible things.


Diversity has always been a matter that has fascinated me.

When I was 11 I moved from predominately white Preston* to London (near Brixton) which was like stepping into another country where the population was black. I was a minority. It was wonderful, terrifying and exciting all rolled into one. Combined with the fast pace of the capital city, I was absolutely astounded. This was my first journey into an awareness that our country is full of diversity which perhaps I grappled with again when I moved to Norfolk in 1993. This time I was struck by the lack of diversity: no black faces in the city centre, no black children at playgroup and no celebrations of diverse festivals at school. It was again an alien place for me and felt really uncomfortable. I felt as though the vibrancy had been wiped away and although it was nice to relax into a slower pace of life I felt like something wasn't quite right.

Norwich and indeed Norfolk have changed rapidly over the 12/13 years I have been here and I have been on a voyage of discovery, seeing an increase in the number of Black and Asian people out and about and maybe even working with them too!

For my work, I have to ask the young people that I work with to fill in a registration form which gathers their details like name, address and contact details. It also includes their ethnic data. It's confusing for a start because it is laid out alphabetically, so they go from Asian through to White British and they always get confused because perhaps literacy isn't quite their strongest suit. Even if it is, it isn't clear.

I sometimes work with young people who are obviously mixed race and I base this assumption on their looks. If we are filling out the form, I may ask them and often they are quite keen to talk to me about it "Yes my father is from the Carribean and my mum is from Norfolk. I'll just tick "White British" on the form." Sometimes the conversation goes deeper: "Do people at school take the Mickey out of you because of your ethnicity?" In some respects I think they tick white British because they want to belong rather than to deny. They don't feel any different to anyone else but they are aware that being different is something that isn't tolerated too well.

At Acle High School, we built up quite a rapport with some girls who via the form revealed a previously unguessed ethnicity to us youth workers. One said because she has blue eyes no-one really knows but the other girl said she had been called a "Black bitch". Another girl there was involved in a Broadland District Council event she said she felt quite uncomfortable because she was the only mixed race person there. It was sad but I was also proud that she chose to confide in me.

Hidden diversity is rife in Norfolk: we have immigrant farm workers who come over do the unpredictable and often back breaking manual work that perhaps locals don't want to do. We seem to have a large proportion of these in East Anglia because of our coast line and our rural economies. There are also large concentrations of minorities in certain areas (Portuguese in Thetford and Chinese in and around Kings Lyn).

Denial isn't only found with the young people I work with; it's also with the staff. I work with a woman (and her sister) whose parentage is Moroccan and British. They both have dark complexions- they both will put White British on a form. For them it's just too complex to work out. They feel British. White British covers it in their eyes, which I guess is fair enough.

While talking about race and racism in youth clubs, I have been surprised at the belief expressed as "I'm not racist, I think black people are great. Can't stand [people from Pakistan]/ asylum seekers/ travellers." With attitudes like this, who can blame young people for a denial of their heritage?

I can thank some recent training run by the Norwich and Norfolk Racial Equality Council for enlightening me about the death of Stephen Lawrence. I thought it was a tragedy- like it is when anyone is murdered. I thought it was even more tragic that his death was based on his colour. I hadn't realised how public the area was where Stephen was killed. I hadn't realised how people had watched as Stephen died and had not wanted to get involved. If ever there was a time for collective responsibility, it seems that it was then at the death of Stephen Lawrence.

As an informal educator, I have a responsibility to not shy away from tackling these issues. As the woman from the NNRE said "The men responsible for killing Stephen were just as much victims as the boy they stabbed. Victims of a cruel lie." How many people had heard racist comments coming from the killers? How many challenged them? That is our collective remit.

And what price do we need to pay for fair representation of minorities in our universities and work places? Positive discrimination? I would think so. However fair minded we are, institutional prejudices are subtle and powerful.

Heather blogs here about the place of women in the church and their attendance at conferences and the like. The equal opportunities approach is to extend the invitation to men and women. That makes it fair! Or does it? If women are unable to afford childcare, or don't have use of the car, or are lacking in the confidence to attend a conference with 98% men, how does that make it fair? The anti-discrimination approach is to positively encourage women to attend. It could be that transport is laid on, conference fees waived, childcare cover arranged or special seminar times to meet the needs of women are put into place.

When applied to minorities in the work place, the equal ops approach is to say "Well we've indicated in the ad that we're an equal ops employer and that we welcome applications from the Afro-Carribean community". It's a good step but it doesn't go far enough. An anti discrimination approach would be to go a little deeper: why are none of the job applicants black? why do none of the black applicants have the correct qualifications or experience? The questions are easy, the answers are hard. It costs time and money to have an anti discrimation approach as opposed to an equal ops one. It unearths more problems than most companies are prepared to deal with and even then, society may not be playing by the same rules as you anyway. It's tough. I've also realised this is a very long blog. It must be an important subject for me. I will probably blog on it again...

*I realise that Preston now is very multicultural and even in the 70's we had a noticable mix of Asian and Chinese populations

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Last of the 7 lists...

7 Books I love (no particular order):
1. 1984 (George Orwell)
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (JK Rowling)
3. I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith)
4. Northern Lights (Philip Pullman)
5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (CS Lewis)
6. Espedair Street (I love Iain Banks as an author)
7. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austin)

7 Movies and TV shows I watch Over and Over:
1. Jumanji
2. Mrs. Doubtfire
3. The Shawshank Redemption
4. Mary Poppins
5. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
6. Friends
7. Malcolm in the Middle (only just discovering this show but it is complete genius!)

7 People I want to join in too (you've been tagged!):
1. Joolian
2. Stevie G
3. Harriet
4. Monty
5. Benvolio
6. Heather
7. Hmmm, anyone else?


At some point I signed up for mailshots from Delirious? and unusually, I read the latest one which is promoting their new album The Mission Bell. There were several reviews and I kept on thinking "Yeah, good review but it is from a Christian publication". I then came to the final one which reads:

“…fuelled by the unbridled passion of singer Martin Smith… without God they could be massive.” –Q Magazine

I think this is a huge statement! If they would "just tone their message down" they could achieve massive things in the UK chart. Well I think anyway... Good on them for not following that route.

Friday, January 20, 2006

School staff, Ruth Kelly and List 99 cont...

I continue to be amazed at the ongoing story that continues to have an impact on the young people I work with. If a boy of 17 has sex with his 15 year and 10 months old girlfriend, he can get a caution that will bar him from working in a school in later life. And with the knowledge that fellow pupils are more likely to sexually assault a young person at school than teaching staff, this story is set to run and run with complicated twists thrown in along the way.

I'm glad to hear that an independant panel headed by former chief executive of children's charity Barnardo's, Sir Roger Singleton will determine if there are to be exceptions to the ban. But there's no denying it will be hard. As the news report above states:

One secondary school teacher said one of her pupils was placed on the register at the age of nine for raping his cousin.

The teacher said: "As he had been sexually abused himself and exposed to pornography at a very young age, it was possible to feel some pity for him - until he carried out three sexual assaults on Year Seven girls that year."

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


I have been a fan of Neoghbours for many years. At first I was ashamed to admit it, but now several members of my family watch too, I'm quite proud to say I'm a fan. Today's episode was quite dramatic: many of the Ramsey Street characters were on a vintage plane flight to Tazmania, unaware that a bomb was ticking under the fuselage. It was in part corny but also quite sad and moving too. I think the reason why I like Neighbours is because of the characters and the humour (intentional and unintentional) I like the fact that some of the characters have been around for ages so you "know them" inside out and they have various things happen to them like Lou going to prison and Harold having a stroke. My favourite characters at the moment for conflict and comedy value are the Timminses. Janelle in particular (brash, in-yer-face "bogan") is a classic Neighbours character, meeting her male nemesis in Joe Mangal. Dylan Timmins is your classic bad boy trying to turn good (not an unusual theme for Neighbours) and the recent plot line of a criminal ex-friend setting him up to rob a store was a great one. The police are now onto him but as he's crashed in the Tazmanian sea, I doubt they'll get him, at least for a few more episodes!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Lists continued...

7 Things I can't do (yet):
1. Play an instrument to performance standard
2. Speak a foreign language to a basic conversation level
3. Make a commitment to playing a team sport regularly
4. Build a brick wall
5. Ballroom dance
6. Sail a boat reliably
7. Replace a flat tyre

7 Things that attract me to Blogging:
1. Being able to express my views in a (hopefully) logical way
2. Being able to see a progression of my views
3. Have other people comment on my views
4. Being able to express creative ideas either in writing, artwork or photography
5. Having an insight into the lives of other people
6. Building a community of people who may not be linked by a geographical area
7. Catching up with people in your own time which isn't the case with a telephone call

7 Things I say most often (not really sure about any of these but at least they're an answer!):
1. Crud
2. I can do this
3. What's the worst that can happen?
4. I'm off to get the dog- The good dog or the bad dog?- The bad dog!- Ah! Good!
5. Hello. Helen speaking
6. At the end of the day...
7. Indeed

Sunday, January 15, 2006

School staff, Ruth Kelly and List 99

There has been considerable and over the top news coverage about teaching staff who have been given ministerial clearance to work in schools even though they have a conviction (or in some cases no conviction) related to sex offences. This obviously has an impact on the sort of work that I do and is of very great interest but as the debate rages on, how much is a debate and how much is fanning the flames of the witch hunt?
The PE teacher who was working at the Hewett school gained his place on the sex offenders register for accessing paedophile websites is literally on my doorstep. It's the school that I have youth work responsibility for. What does this mean? The answer is unclear. Just as I do not want my own children at risk, I do not want the children at Hewett to be at risk too. But were they ever at risk? We will never know and yes, of course it is better to be safe than sorry. But the man was CAUTIONED, never charged and what did he do? I probably don't want to know but what if he accidentally wandered onto the wrong site? What if he has a problem that he has never acted on or has over come? What if stupid curiosity got the better of him and he genuinely regrets what happened?

The answer of course lies in a media induced moral panic which claims that there is no right and wrong UNLESS you have sexual feelings for a child and/or act aggressively towards them. Mud sticks and if you say the word "paedophile" there is a strong emotional reaction based around it and it doesn't wash off. Just ask the people who have been mistaken for paedophiles in an area and been hounded and abused. If you can get onto List 99 by stumbling across a horrible website, how easy will it be to just mention the word paedophile in the same sentence as someone's name and then they will be tarred for life?

I work with young people who may have done some stupid things in their short lives. They may well have punched someone under 18 or spat at them. For this they can get Schedule One Status, a criminal conviction that they can never get rid of and they will never be allowed to work with children or young people because of that conviction for the rest of their lives. Admittedly, fighting or however the offence is committed is not nice but we all make mistakes. Some of us have good reasons for making mistakes. Same applies to paedophiles. Some desperately want help, some will never commit an offence. They are poor mixed up people with troubled lives who need support and the opportunity to be forgiven.

I'm not offering answers because the answer will be different for every individual in different situations but a judgemental attitude and a climate of fear is never the best way to deal with people with issues. We need to sort out this witch hunt mentality first which in my mind is more sinister and dangerous than most of the sad individuals on List 99. We need to support people in a position of power who are able to give second chances to individuals who might *gasp* be able to change. I'm guessing that as Christians we need to love the unlovables, just as Jesus did. What do you think?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Hot drinks

I like hot drinks, some people don't. I don't really know why we have them, or how they were discovered. Maybe I could set that as a little homework task- to find out how hot drinks came into being. I was thinking today about tea. I was looking at the (very) many different varieties we have in our household and marvelling at the choice we get offered (although this is A Bad Thing too but in this case, I get to gloss over the evils of choice in our wanton consumerist society).

I cannot tolerate caffeine, even fairly minimal amounts as can be found in tea so my options have always had to include either decaffeinated teas or teas that are naturally low in caffeine. I have also tried to endorse Fairtrade products as far as possible and combining my principles and the need for no caffeine wasn't happening for a couple of years. Well now I need to thank The Evil God of Choice because I can get fairly traded decaffeinated tea bags. My initial compromise was Clipper decaff.
It had a pretty blue butterfly on the front and I knew that some of the Clipper range were fairtrade so they are a company with principles. That was my reasoning anyway.

But now I have discovered that Traidcraft do a decaff, and I can buy from church which means bypassing evil supermarkets!

But on our shelves we have allsorts of varieties including Birt and Tang, which to me smell like a mix of Bovril and sweaty socks. Needless to say, the pungent aroma hasn't enticed me to try them but they are popular with my husband.
We also have a VAST array of green teas: Tetley decaff, Clipper decaff, Twining with Jasmine, Clipper with Echinachea and another with Ginseng. We also have peppermint and chamomile tea bags.

I am not a fan of coffee. Looking at my selection of tea bags, that is probably a Good Thing. We do however have a jar of coffee for visitors.

Hot chocolate is another drink that I tend to have as a treat if I "go out for coffee" as I don't like coffee and I usually don't like tea purchased elsewhere. We do have a jar of Clipper instant hot chocolate at home. Not tried this yet. Because of the caffeine content, I can only really have it once in a while which is just as well as it doesn't really fit into the whole healthy eating programme!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Things to add to my list...

The trouble with these lists is that I always think of other things when I go to bed! I'm sorry if this is me being greedy but I'm going to have to add some more:
1. Spend the night at the Ice Hotel
2. Live with no possessions
3. Go scuba diving somewhere like the Great Barrier Reef
4. Be in a film
5. Own a vineyard
6. Dabble in beekeeping
7. Have an exhibition

I also reserve the right to keep on adding... :P

Thursday, January 12, 2006

7 things...part 1

7 Things I would like to do before I die (no particular order):
1. Be inspirational
2. Go to New York
3. Do a triathlon
4. Be over the top generous
5. Be a writer of some description
6. Study in my own time several different disciplines (art, music, carpentry, bricklaying, jewellery making etc)
7. Take a vow of silence and devote some time to contemplation

The list however changes: remind me to add to this some time.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Management and Leadership

One of my essays is about management which naturally has led me to thinking a lot about managing people at work. In some respects having my new job means I feel that I have to "raise my game" as far as dealing with people- but what does that mean in practice? One of my favourite Simpson episodes is when Homer gets head hunted by Globex Corp. and he works for Mr Scorpio getting his nuclear reactor online. In it, Homer discovers his talent for managing and motivating his staff "with doughnuts... and the possibility of more doughnuts!" and with business hammocks. Maybe Homer lands on his feet with highly motivated staff or maybe he really did hit upon something because he succeeds like he never has before.

Joolian has also been thinking about leadership in his blog. It's an important but under appreciated thing. This is an individualistic world that we live in: we don't want to think that anyone is in charge or has any right to tell us what to do. For this and many other reasons (like not wanting to accept the buck), the concept of leadership as a desirable quality, fell out of fashion. Which is why I think it's so hard to pinpoint people who display leadership qualities. The process of learning by example isn't to be had as people try to bumble their way through leading others.

Also the climate surrounding the people to be led is one of mistrust and cynicism. Be strong and you will be consider aggressive, be friendly and you will be considered weak. We have no conscious desire to be led, we have no conscious desire to lead ourselves, we have no conscious desire to support anyone who might take on the role. With no role model to base the leadership role on, leaders and managers try their best based on intuition, guesswork or the latest management manual.

I had a thought the other day: "What if my staff don't like me?!" I don't know what the answer is and in some respects I suppose it doesn't matter when leading people but I do want to discover what a manager is. What it is and what they do.

Even before today's sermon, I remembered what it is that sets Christians apart. It's seeing everyone as unique. And I know what I have to do now, not just to members of staff but everyone: I need to discover what it is about them that's so special and convince themselves of it.

I can now say that I don't care about whether I'm "good at my job" or "working to a higher grade". I care that I empower people that I come into contact with to be the best that they can, whether they are youth workers or young people. Sounds too cheesy...maybe I ought to find the hammock district...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Happiness vs satisfaction

After the programme Making Slough Happy (a three parter of which I only watched the first episode) I am going to make it a bit of a quest in 2006 to think about Happiness. What is it that makes people happy? The programme advocated a Happiness Manifesto and on today's BBC news we have this article.

I mentioned in passing to my tutor for my Brunel course about the programme and he said "It isn't actually happiness that people want". And I agree with him. But what is it that people want? I dither between whether this is satisfaction or contentment, although the BBC article confirms that having acheivable goals is also very satisfying. I believe that delayed gratification has its part to play in making us feel warm and fuzzy about the things we achieve too. Maybe the truth lies in a mish mash of everything!

The 10 steps to happiness
  • Plant something and nurture it
  • Count your blessings - at least five - at the end of each day
  • Take time to talk - have an hour-long conversation with a loved one each week
  • Phone a friend whom you have not spoken to for a while and arrange to meet up
  • Give yourself a treat every day and take the time to really enjoy it
  • Have a good laugh at least once a day
  • Get physical - exercise for half an hour three times a week
  • Smile at and/or say hello to a stranger at least once each day
  • Cut your TV viewing by half
  • Spread some kindness - do a good turn for someone every day

I do think that following the manifesto will keep you on an even keel but will we be satisfied with an even keel? If you don't have massive lows, then can you have massive highs? Is the a pay off a happy medium? Hmmm, now I know why I was told in my essays that I ask too many questions that I don't answer! It could be the secret of my contentment in never know!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Some facts from 2005

It takes 75kg of raw materials to make a mobile phone. Shocking.

Plenty more facts to keep you entertained here.