Sunday, 30 November 2014

Black Friday - what was that all about?

Black Friday, we were told, is a tradition.

No it's not. A tradition, according to my trusty dictionary, is a transmission of customs or beliefs passed from generation to generation. I know they all have to begin somewhere, but I still don't see something that has happened for a couple of years warrants the title 'tradition.'

On top of that, it has no relevance in the UK. Just because Americans have enjoyed their Thanksgiving feasts and feel a need to go shopping doesn't mean it must be mirrored over here. We can shop when (and if) we want to shop.

But the marketeers have got hold of the idea and convinced millions of people believe that this is the one day they must go shopping. A hint of a discount and there they all are, fighting for this and that, for fear they might be missing out.

I recognise that our economic system depends on people becoming so dissatisfied with their old stuff that they have to go out and buy new stuff. Then the people that make and sell the new stuff have an income and pay taxes that fund our schools and hospitals (and pay our politicians). I struggle with the implication that the system must be underpinned by greed, but so far no one has come up with anything better. (I know, we could all downsize. But the money for health care has to come from somewhere.)

So you could argue that Black Friday was a good thing. All those people rushing out to spend money with no insight into the fact that their 'need' was manufactured by the marketing men and women.

But let's cut the twaddle. It is not a tradition. It has no relevance in the UK. It is simply the ad-people manipulating the buying public into believing something that has no basis in our reality.

What depresses me most is the millions that believed the hype and went shopping. Do they really keep their brains in their wallets?

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Triumph from Adversity? Or just bonkers?

You don't know Sam and Andy, so let me introduce you:

They look happy enough, don't they? And that logo on their t-shirts - hiding behind the medals - I can tell you that it reads 'Madness 4 Mike'.

Here's what Sam writes about the project: Since losing my Dad to Bowel Cancer on 28th March 2012, I've been thinking of ways to raise money for the charity that helped my Dad. I can see you like them already, turning a family tragedy into something positive.

And then one of them suggested they set out to complete (walking, running, but always in a recognised event) 2014Km in 2014. Do you have any idea how far that is? It's like running all the way from London to Reykjavik (that's assuming you can run on water - given what they've achieved I've sometimes wondered if they've done just that).

They've had to work, of course. Not easy-peasy jobs that give them time for training. They are both vets, so they spend much of their time with their hands in sundry animal orifices. They sit up with sick creatures and will them to keep breathing. They rejoice in the pooch that trots away with her well-being restored; they comfort grieving owners. Not work for the faint-hearted.

But, once they'd started this project, nothing would stop them. And friends and family joined in. Anyone with legs and energy was welcome to contribute. Andy's mother trekked across Vietnam for them. Even my grandson ran 5Km (and had green paint thrown at him), his mother puffing alongside him, as a contribution.

Between them and their supporters they finished a total of 43 events - and Sam and Andy did most of them. The total distance: 3279Km. So far they have raised over £14,300.

So next time you're weeping into your pillow and everything feels like the end of the world, it's worth remembering what can be done. It's your party and you cry if you want to. But maybe, when you've dried your tears, you can transform that energy into something worthwhile. Though you don't have to do something quite as bonkers as this.

If you want to know more, have a look at their website here.

And, in the hope it doesn't put you off, here's what they looked like at the end of the New York Marathon:

Sunday, 16 November 2014

The unkindness of burglary.

Our local independent toyshop was burgled last week.

The owners arrived to find the police stand by the remains of the door. Inside, toys were scattered all over the floor - all except the lego and playmobile. These burglars knew what they wanted - toys that were popular, and easy to sell for a reasonable price in a car boot sale on a Sunday afternoon, and difficult to trace.

The town has rallied round. We love this shop. It's all nooks and crannies, small spaces that are fine for children but adults have to squeeze through. It's owned by a family - and they love children almost as much as they love selling toys. There's a small train set just inside the door. Even a table outside with toys for children to play with as they pass. My granddaughter can spend half an hour playing with the toy food, leave the shop in disarray and depart with nothing more than a bottle of bubbles; and still she's welcomed back.

It took a few hours to clear up the mess. Meanwhile children came to the door and cried. But by early afternoon the front door was open and they were trading again.

Oh how heartless those burglars! Have they not been children?

Burglary is burglary - right? There's no defending it, just the urgency of punishment, retribution.

But is this burglary better or worse than breaking into a house and stealing personal treasures? Cameras? Laptops? Passports?

Is it better or worse than holding up a jewellers, terrifying staff and making off with rings and necklaces that will sell to the rich and careless?

Is it better or worse than bankers stealing millions of pounds of public money, then sitting back and insisting they still deserve bonuses?

It's all theft, and nobody is physically hurt. Does the motivation of poverty make one burglary more acceptable than one driven by greed?

I don't have any answers. I'm hugely proud of the way my town has responded to this one - the shop owners can have no doubt as to our affection for them. There is a cry for our burglars to by hung, drawn and quartered. But maybe, in the depths of our Wiltshire countryside, spitting feathers about those who steal lego, is a banker or two who cannot see that they, too, might have done more than their share of stealing.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Operation Kindness Worldwide.

Sounds a bit wacky, doesn't it. A bit hippy-dippy, 1960s, make love not war, all that stuff.

But hang on a minute.

Last week I pointed out that the government in the UK is fostering a climate of fear. (The link is here, if you missed it.) They would like us to creep into corners while they drop bombs on the 'bad guys'. While I suggested that there are millions of kind, wonderful, fascinating people in the world and we will only make progress if we get out there, understand and celebrate our differences.

There is, I think, a parallel in this Kindness Initiative. We can either pull up our metaphorical drawbridges, look after ourselves and those closest to us, let the rest of the world sink or swim. Or we can open our doors and our thinking and do our bit - however small - to oil the global wheels. (I know, too many metaphors.)

So the Mandala Trust (I'll come back to them in a minute) have defined November 13th as World Kindness Day. Just one day to make a point of thinking of someone else - from the half-forgotten man down the road with just his dog for company to the women walking miles in crippling heat to collect water - and doing something small. Take the old man to the library. Buy your neighbour a cake. Help the mother in the supermarket with two small children and a week's worth of shopping to pack.

Kindness can be infectious. I help the woman up the road. She offers her neighbour a lift to the station. The neighbour gives up his seat on the train for the woman with more shopping bags than hands ... and so it goes on. There's no reason for the wave to end. And if it should peter out because someone is having a bad day, then start another.

Does that seem so wacky now? So hippy-dippy? So 1960s? So here's the link for Operation Kindness Worldwide. Drop by and like them. And spend a minute or two thinking - what can you do on the 13th?

(And the Mandala Trust? The man behind it happened to be there when I was taken, suddenly and dramatically, ill on a beach in Cambodia. He held my world together when I was unable to do it for myself. He is a good, decent, honest man. And he runs the Mandala Trust - a small organisation that helps fund projects across the world that are set up and run by local people. For instance, I met a man in Cambodia who has a project to enable the children of parents who work on the dumpsite go to school - he has set it up himself, in response to a local need. All the Mandala Trust does is help pay rent, wages for a cook etc, just to keep the show in the road. They don't wade in with Western ideas about right and wrong, but prop up tiny projects run by local people that might collapse without them. So if all you can manage on the 13th is to put your hand in your pocket for a penny or two, here is their website: The Mandala Trust.)

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The politics of fear.

The UK Foreign Office has warned Brits living or travelling abroad to be vigilant. We are, we are told, targets for terrorists all over the world.

I have two huge problems with this. Firstly, it is evidence of our government's hubris to suggest that we stand out in a western crowd. Whatever the wrongs and rights of military action against the Islamic State we are not acting alone. Our media might suggests that we are planting the democratic seeds of Westminster unaided, but that is rubbish. We are a little cog in an international wheel, and are no more at risk than Americans, French, Germans, Canadians, Australians ...

Secondly, the Foreign Office is promoting a climate of fear. Look over your shoulder, they are saying. Everyone is out to get you. You are only safe if you retreat into the sanctuary of your British castle.

How dare they?

Yes, there is a world-wide rise in terrorism. But there are millions and millions of kind, generous, curious, ambitious people all over the world, in every country, of every skin colour. By suggesting that we should look first for terrorists and only once people have proved themselves innocent can we engage in discourse can only promote suspicion. We will all end up clinging to the wreckage of mistrust unless we bypass such instructions and engage with the wonderful, exciting, liberating exchange of differences.

I want to live in peace as much as you do. And I want to do it by fostering an understanding of the miraculous diversity of the world. Of all its colours and mysteries and beliefs. I want to share all our multiple wonderfulnesses. I refuse to believe that terrorists lurk around every corner.