Friday, 5 October 2012

TV Bites: The Great British Tears

I have a terrible, shameful secret I must divulge. It is a secret that brings great shame upon me as a British citizen. I fear MI6-types and snipers are about to storm my crappy little flat and demand that I return my passport, my Oyster card, and my umbrella, such is the un-Britishness that I am about to reveal. You see, I don’t like Victoria Pendleton. There. I said it.

Victoria “Vicky” Pendelton. Britain’s Golden Girl. The great Olympic pain in the backside who can’t even contemplate mounting a bike without regaling us, once again, with the tales of how she mounted a member of the training team and was, like, so totally shunned by the other Team GB cyclists. Then we must prepare ourselves for the onslaught of tears that, quite frankly, are most likely the sole cause of any floods this country experiences.

Because if there’s one thing Little Vicky does exceptionally well – other than her blooming amazing ability to ride a bike really, really fast around a circular cycle track, which she does really well – it is crying. Oh, the tears are endless. I've been studying good old Vicky for a few months now, and have discovered at least three different types of tears.
  1. The "OMG I SLEPT WITH SOMEONE WHO WAS TRAINING US AND EVERYONE HATES ME" tears. Dragged out every single time Vicky recounts the story of how she fell for a Very Important Man who was partially in charge of instructing the British cyclists the best way to sit on their specially made bicycles without falling off of them. The British cyclists that weren't Vicky were absolutely livid, she tells us through the waterfall of tear drops cascading from her pretty little wet eyes, whereas she - being the British cyclist who was Victoria Pendleton - was pretty damn smug that she'd snagged her VIM. This story appears even without journalists asking for it. It's like her go-to introduction, instead of handing out a soggy business card. "Hi, I'm Victoria Pendleton *sob* and I *sob* slept with my *sob* VIM *sob sob sob*
  2.  The “OMG I'M A WOMAN AND I'M JUST SO EMOTIONAL, DAMMIT” tears. Our lovely Vicky cries a lot. And she tells us she cries a lot because she’s an emotional woman. An emotional woman? As opposed to what, Myra Hindley? Dear Vicky seems to have overlooked the fact that pretty much every woman is emotional. Don’t believe me? Ask any childless woman over the age of 25 if she’s met The One and has a kid yet. Chances are even the most hardcore, heartless bitch will be reduced to tears and the mere thought of her biological clock running out of batteries. But, oh not our Vicky. She will cry and insist that she’s just so much more emotional than anyone you will ever know. Because she’s a very emotional woman.
  3.  The “OMG I SIGNED UP TO STRICTLY COME DANCING FOR MORE PUBLICITY BECAUSE THE OLYMPICS ARE OVER BUT I CAN’T DANCE!!!!” tears. Fearing her Golden Olympic Girl crown slipping off of her glossy shampoo-advert-endorsed head, lovely Vicky signed up for this year’s Strictly Come Dancing. Never mind the fact that she has the grace of a wooden broomstick, she’s determined to win because a) she slept with her VIM and became victimised by four entire people for approximately eight minutes and b) because she’s so emotional and must win at all times. Halfway through her first routine, Vicky burst into tears. It was a bit like watching your dearest friend suffer from Bridget Jones syndrome and start crying at the mention of Colin Firth. The tears didn't really work, though, because she got the lowest scores of the night. She then tried to insist to Tess Daly that she didn't mean for the tears to come out, “They just happened.” Oh, Vicky. You fool no one.

There is no doubting Victoria Pendleton’s ridiculous talent for riding a bike very, very fast, or for advertising shampoo. Hey, she could have very likely made a career out of it. Instead, dear old Vicky has insisted on making a career out of crying and well, it just makes me ever so sad.

It makes me so sad that one of our greatest female athletes will not have the legacy of a great female athlete. No. The legacy Victoria Pendleton has carved for herself is that of a woman who has the most gruesome case of PMS for 52 weeks a year. And every person who's come across any woman in the midst of even one week's worth of PMS will know that it's just about the worst kind of legacy to have. *Sob*

Friday, 21 September 2012

A rant

When it comes to religion, I'm never quite sure where I fit in. I identify as a Catholic/Jew, as that best reflects my upbringing and feels like the most comfortable fit. I have no problem explaining the somewhat confusing upbringing to people when they ask. I flit between the two and have major respect for both religions and their customs.

But there's a dark side to Judaism. It became apparent to me at a very young age - eight, to be precise. "Jew Girl" became a nickname at school for me. It didn't really feel like an insult at that age and I brushed it off with my childhood naivety. But then I got older, and the true extent of how difficult it is to identify as Jewish became glaringly obvious to me.

Secondary school presented me with a whole host of problems. Most notably, the disgust I would be greeted with whenever my Jewish side became knowledge. It's followed me around ever since - people stating that they wouldn't trust me (because of my Jewish heritage), being told I should have a nose job (it's not that big) and generally being  blamed for every crisis going on in the world right now.

I'm a member of a student forum - The Student Room - and I'm sickened by how often there is a thread created that rapidly degenerates into something along the lines of "OMG THE JEWZ DID IT!!!!!1" whenever a tragedy is mentioned. Not to mention the fact that supposedly educated university students cannot differentiate between Judaism and Zionism (but let's save that for another time)

Enough is enough.

I don't care if you think that Jews are the root of all evil. I don't care if you think that "Jewish noses" are an abomination. I couldn't care less if you believe us all to be Shylock-esque characters with shady ulterior motives. When I care is when you make your disgusting views public and spout them as if they were fact.

People insist that anti-Semitism is a thing of the past. I can assure you it is not. I have many Jewish friends and, like myself, they encounter it on an almost daily basis. A friend's rabbi was spat at in the street. Spat at. In the street. In 21st Century London. Feel disgusted yet? No? The man is 67. So not only was he a man of faith, he was also an older gentleman. Whenever I recount this story, I'm greeted with comments along the line of "oh but it makes no difference how old he is or anything." I'm sorry, but has the world lost it's damn mind? Is it now completely acceptable to treat someone in that manner, regardless of their age or religion? Shoot, guess I missed the memo.

I'm not really sure why I'm posting this. I'm angry, sure, but it's something that's bugged me for a while. Maybe I'm just using this blog as a platform to get it all off of my chest. I'm rambling. I apologise.

I don't live in some fantasy world where no harm ever comes to anyone and where discrimination isn't present. I live in the real world. A world where, if you're a frequent visitor to the internet, it is now completely acceptable to be anti-Semitic. Regular, normal, everyday Jews are attacked and provoked over the Israel/Palestine situation. We are told that the Holocaust never happened (it did. Members of  my extended family perished in concentration camps. Deny it and I won't hesitate to give you a verbal beating). We're told we're shady, deceitful, arrogant creatures who should hide our religion and be ashamed of ourselves.

You know what I say to that?

Fuck you.

Why should I have to hide who I am in case it upsets or offends anyone? Why should my friends at university have to keep their religious status a secret for three years because they're terrified of the retributions? Why should a rabbi develop a fear of leaving his home?

Maybe I'm overreacting. Maybe I'll be shouted down by militant anti-Semites. But maybe, just maybe, it might cause you think for a second before you tell that oh-so-hilarious Jew joke.

I'm sick of it. They're not funny. They're offensive and they cause genuine harm to people.

As your mother said: If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Amy Meets... A Teenage Mum

Most teenagers spend their days working hard for exams and making time for friends. Lucy* does all this and more.

When the 18 year old does manage to find the time to go shopping with her friends or head to the park, she has a permanent sidekick with her.

“It can be draining at times,” she says, lifting her incredibly heavy bag onto the table. “But I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Although she looks like a normal teenager, with her H&M skirt and New Look jumper, Lucy doesn’t act like a normal teenager. Instead, she has to focus her energy on caring for her son, Harvey*.

It was two years ago that Lucy found her life changing, when she joined her friends at a celebratory barbeque after receiving their GCSE results. “That was when I met him.”

The ‘him’ is Luke*, the then-18 year old who swept her off of her feet. “I'd never had a boyfriend or anything like that, and neither had my friends,” she explains. “We were all totally clueless. But he was older and I trusted him and I believed him.”

Lucy trusted Luke to the extent that she believed him when he told her she could take the morning after pill for up to a week. “I was such a silly, silly girl,” she sighs. “I didn’t realise that it was only effective for 72 hours. I felt so stupid when I found out.”

Just four months into their fledgling relationship, Lucy received the news she had always dreaded receiving. “I was never maternal, at all,” she laughs. “I had never mentally prepared myself to see those two little blue lines.”

Although she feared telling her parents, a dentist and a teacher, she was overwhelmed when they announced their support. Tears forming in her bright blue eyes, she says “they were so disappointed when I told them. But they promised to support any decision I made. It meant so much to me.”

Discovering she was pregnant at just sixteen changed Lucy’s life in more ways than she expected. “I lost nearly all of my friends. They just didn’t know how to accommodate a baby into their plans, which is fine. I miss their company, though.”

Despite being heavily pregnant, Lucy, who had dreams of studying politics and economics at university, managed to sit her AS Level exams last year, obtaining two As and two Bs. “My teachers thought I was insane,” she laughs. “They were probably right, to be honest.”

Today, Lucy’s life plans have changed. “I don’t want to work in politics anymore. They wouldn’t have me anyway,” she laughs. “I'm going to go back to school this autumn and continue my A Levels. After that, I'm hoping to get a place on a midwifery course.”

It’s a drastic change of career choice for the teenager, who admits that she has ulterior motives for the change of heart. “I had one health visitor who was incredibly horrible to me,” she explains. “I don’t know if it was the pressures of the job or a dislike for me, but she was so mean.

“I was having a rough time with postnatal depression and that was the last thing I needed. I'd like to train as a midwife and hopefully offer some vital support to other expectant mothers.”

It was, she stresses, a unique incident. “Every other midwife and health visitor I've seen has been nothing but lovely and supportive.”

Support was something Lucy was desperate for during the first six months of motherhood, when she found herself suffering from postnatal depression. “I just felt so empty and useless. I didn’t know what to do.”

Her condition was not made any easier by the breakdown of her relationship with Luke. Taking a deep breath, she says “he just walked into my house one day and said he didn’t want that life. No reasons, no excuses, just a simple ‘this isn’t for me.’

“I was absolutely heartbroken. Completely devastated. But mainly angry. So, so angry that he could just turn his back on his son, especially when I was having such a difficult time.”

Feeding Harvey a banana, she explains that Luke hasn’t been heard from since. “He left when Harvey was four months old and I haven’t seen or heard from him,” she explains. “He’s missed all of the best bits and it’s his loss.”

Lucy insists she has no regrets, stating that Harvey has given her life a new focus and direction that wouldn’t have been possible without him.

“I just want to work hard and give him the best possible life. After all, he gave me the most amazing life.”

*Names have been changed.

Monday, 13 August 2012

A Great British Send Off

Us Brits love a good moan. We complain about everything. People don't queue up properly, you'll get eyes rolled at you and hear a series of tuts along the line. If people are indeed queuing up properly by the line is too damn long, well shop assistants, expect eyes rolled at you and tuts from down the line. (We spend a hell of a lot of our time queuing over here. It's an art form). We complain about the weather: on sunny days, we moan it's too hot and uncomfortable and on rainy days we moan about it always being cold, rainy and miserable. There's never anything us Brits can't complain about. I've often wondered several times whether we should consider taking away the crown of 'national sport' from football and handing it to a bunch of Brits waiting at a train station. We'd win every prize going (you know, unlike with the football)

But something truly bizarre happened this month. For two whole weeks, barely a single person complained about anything (well, not in London at least). You see, for seven long years, Brits have been complaining non stop about the Olympics. "It's gonna cost us a bloody fortune", "won't be able to move for tourists", "great, yet more delays to the District Line", and my personal favourite "just give it to the French!" (NO! We give nothing to the French!). When the plans were announced for Danny Boyle's opening ceremony, the complaints rose and rose until they eventually reached a fever pitch and I'm pretty certain the majority of those complainers just complained so much that they spontaneously combusted because they were nowhere to be seen after July 27th.

The Opening Ceremony was truly magical. We had everything that made Britain so truly amazing. Yes, some of the things went completely over the heads of the foreign viewers (the NHS tribute, for example) but we had Voldemort, and sheep, and cricket, and Mr Bean and the Queen turning Bond Girl for a few minutes. It was almost as if a collective sigh of relief occurred on that night. Either that or Danny Boyle used a few tricks he learnt whilst making Trainspotting and just plain doped the entire country. Because for the first time in my living memory, everyone just shut up, got on with it and had a jolly good time of it.

We cheered our athletes home. We all felt like hugging Rebecca Adlington when she couldn't match her double gold from Beijing. We felt a huge bursting of pride when our male gymnasts accomplished the first British men's team gymnastics medal in 100 years. We screamed until we lost our voices when Mo Farrah ran his 10,000m race and we tears started forming when Jessica Ennis took the podium. We were amazed when Andy Murray actually sang the National Anthem (kudos to you, Mr Murray) and we were finally able to breathe on the tube because we weren't stuck underneath someone's sweaty armpit. Although, I did get squashed underneath one of our soldiers on a Central Line train heading to Bank. I didn't mind, I thanked him for doing the job G4S were too feckless to undertake.

They think it's all over...

I don't know a single person who didn't sit down to watch the Closing Ceremony. Rumours were flying everywhere - would The Who be there? Or perhaps Take That? One thing we knew for certain was that it would be the "greatest after party of all time" and that the SPICE GIRLS would be there. Seriously, I was a little girl in the 90s, the Spice Girls are my Gods (especially you, Victoria!). Twitter was buzzing, Facebook was buzzing, and I ended the night teary and without a voice.

The Closing Ceremony did have it's faults. One Direction mimed their way through a dismal set, and George Michael turned his originally-promising slot into an advert (would it have killed him to have done Club Tropicana or Careless Whisper?!). There was also the over-saturation of Jessie J who appeared to have lost the keys to her wardrobe as she proceeded to butcher We Will Rock You. But, never mind, it was still bloody amazing.

We had Timothy Spall (Battersea boy done good!) and the best of our British supermodels coming out to David Bowie's 'Fashion'. Take That came out to sing 'Rule The World' and I don't think there was a dry eye anywhere in the country; we all had so much respect and admiration for Gary Barlow who sadly had a stillborn daughter last week. Yes, we got bored when Seb Coe rambled on a bit like I do, but it was still a great night. Pele made an appearance for the Rio de Janeiro handover bit, and the wonderful Boris Johnson got down to Spice Up Your Life.

I commented on both Twitter and Facebook that it's not a British party until Wonderwall and Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life are played. Both came on, both were amazing. Although, my heart broke a little that Liam Gallagher insisted on being called Beady Eye whilst singing one of Oasis' two best songs (so wanted Noel to come out and trounce his brother with Don't Look Back In Anger, alas it was not to be). 

I felt myself swelling up with British pride at the end of our amazing send off. We've looked after the Olympics and they've been so good to us. London has been a magical place to live in over the past two weeks and I'm so glad I got to witness this spectacle in my home town. I'm so very sad to see it leave.

...It is now

The extinguishing of the flame was a sad sight to see. I'm sure everybody remembers the world's sympathies after the Beijing ceremonies, snidely remarking that London would never in a million years be able to top it. I'd like to think that they were incredibly wrong. I think London did an amazing job at creating two beautifully diverse ceremonies and I now feel some sympathy for Brazil, who now have to beat us. If last night reminded the world of anything it's this: there is no music on earth that matches the excellence this little island has to offer. From Lennon, to Mercury, via Madness, Pet Shop Boys, George Michael and Bowie, we've had it all. Thank you for sharing in a most special night with us.

As I sign off, I can't help but wonder if things could be done a little differently in future. The main Olympics is all done and dusted now and we have a few weeks to go until the Paralympics. Could the two not be run concurrently in future? Think of how epic the closing ceremonies would be then! Just a thought...

Friday, 10 August 2012

A Heartbreaking Moment of Reflection

It happens every so often. An impassioned Facebook posting, or a heartbreaking plea in the national newspapers that tells us every parent’s worst nightmare: a child has gone missing.

This past week has been a bizarre week for the UK. We’ve been flying dizzily high on the coattails of the Olympics, basking in the glory of our wonderful athletes and merrily sticking two fingers up to the rest of the world (but mostly the French) at how well we’ve done.

As I logged onto Facebook last week, I was confronted with not one, but two missing children. Two beautiful young girls who had seemingly vanished into thin air. The first, 14 year old Molly O’Donovan from Banbury, Oxfordshire, disappeared on her way home from school. I forwarded on an email to everyone I knew and struggled with my desire to head up to Banbury to help search for her.

In the midst of the search for Molly another plea launched onto the Facebook timeline. This one was much closer to home. Just a few miles from my home, 12 year old Tia Sharp had gone missing. The appeal stated that she had left her grandmother's house in New Addington to make the short journey to Croydon to buy a pair of shoes.

Devastatingly, the news came on Tuesday (7th August) that Molly’s body had been found in woodlands on the outskirts of Banbury. Such a beautiful young life extinguished for reasons that haven’t been made clear. Her heartbroken family have requested no public contact and we must respect their wishes. What they are going through is unimaginable.

Following the heartbreaking discovery of Molly’s body, fears began to grow for Tia. Just twelve years old, the reports surrounding her disappearance were conflicting at best, confusing at worst. Nobody really seemed able to confirm who was the last to see her, except the unanimous confirmation that Stuart Hazell, the partner of Tia's grandmother, was the last to see her. He stated during a television interview that he walked her to the local tram station, yet no CCTV footage of Tia on any trams or buses could be found. Eventually, he stated that he was not the last person to see her. Everyone who commented on the situation shared the same opinion: something doesn’t add up.

Police forces from Yorkshire were drafted in to assist the Metropolitan Police in their search for Tia. The Yorkshire police force have unfortunate experience in searching for a missing young girl in unusual circumstances, following the bizarre and sickening events surrounding the disappearance of Shannon Matthews.

At around 5pm today (10th August, I sat back to enjoy a relaxing evening following a long day of writing when my phone buzzed. A message from a friend of mine telling me to brace myself and switch on one of the news channels.

The announcement was made that a body was found in the house of Tia’s grandmother, confirming everyone’s worst fears. The police also announced that they were launching a manhunt for Stuart Hazell, the partner of Tia’s grandmother. The same man who sat on national television and delivered a heartfelt plea for Tia’s return that convinced just about nobody.

My first thoughts at hearing both pieces of devastating news was identical in each case. Those poor, poor, beautiful little girls. They will never experience the joys and awkwardness of teenage life that we all take for granted. They will never be able to giddily recount the first time they were asked for ID and could merrily produce it. They will never experience life. It is almost too difficult to think about.

At the time of publishing this post, the Metropolitan Police have requested that anyone who sees Stuart Hazell should not approach him and should instead call 999. Everyone I know – parents in particular – are united in their shock over the events of the past week. Even one missing child is too many, but for the world to lose two beautiful young girls before they had even begun to live their lives? It's just too cruel for words.

Twitter: @AmyWhitear

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Writer's Block

It was all going so well. Halfway through one novel, a quarter of the way through another, and planning finished for a third. Feelers put out there, envelopes and paper bought for the submissions. And then boom. Writer's block. I sat down this morning to continue another writing session and nothing happened. Fingers were poised, tea was brewing, but not a single word came out.

I've decided to stop for the rest of the week. I'll come back on Saturday (or Monday) hopefully with a fresh mind, hopefully with new ideas. Hopefully these damn novels will be finished soon. I certainly hope so.

In the meantime, I've started Cupcakes & Calamity which will eventually grow into a lifestyle blog of sorts, detailing bits and pieces and hopefully growing into a happy and healthy hobby. Take a look and let me know. New posts will be updated every Sunday.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Great Depression Shield

It's the taboo subject that isn't really a taboo subject yet still has an enormous stigma attached to it. I am, of course, talking about mental illness. 

As children, we're never really told about depression, or schizophrenia, or psychosis in the same way that we're told about asthma, eczema, or the common cold. So when we grow up to be faced with these issues, we simply don't know how to handle them. There is no education about mental illness, yet it's something we're all expected to know about. We should know how to assist a friend suffering from depression and we should know how to handle a schizophrenic individual but we just don't. And it's incredibly terrifying.

In the UK, 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year. I know that it's affected me, and plenty of people in my life. I've suffered with depression on and off for seven years now. I don't mean that I feel a little sad from time to time and get a bit teary. When I'm struck with an episode, it is catastrophic. I go from being quite an outgoing individual to a shielded introvert who suffers from chronic panic attacks and can't sleep for days on end. 

Luckily - or unluckily, depending on how you view it - I have a mother who has also suffered from extenuous mental health issues over the years so I grew up knowing that you don't have to suffer in silence and there is no shame in seeking help for it. But how many others are out there blighted by depression who just don't have the information or support system to seek help? I would wager that the number is dangerously high.

My anxiety and related panic attacks have been a burden for an extremely long time. At my previous job, my employers didn't want to handle my rare panic attacks which would leave me needing just ten or fifteen minutes breathing space. It got to a stage where I felt like the best possible solution would be for me to leave. I wasn't expecting to receive special treatment, but a bit of understanding wouldn't go amiss.

Unfortunately, during my research for this article, I discovered that I'm not the only person who has been made to feel like a burden on their employer. One girl I spoke to - who has asked to not be identified - returned to work after a month off, due to a breakdown. Upon her return, she was subjected to colleagues making jokes about her being a 'nutjob' or 'special case' and an employer who was reluctant to allow her to leave early one day to make it to an appointment with a psychiatrist. 

After just three weeks back at work, she found herself facing a dilemma. Should she stay at work, knowing it's the best thing for her, and be subjected to cruel comments, or should she leave her job and begin freelancing? Sadly, she left her job and is now struggling to find anything in her field.

Another individual I spoke to made a bold move that not many others would make when he started a new job: He informed his employers from the very beginning that he was a sufferer of a variety of mental illnesses, hoping that the clarity would make things easier. He had been diagnosed as schizophrenic whilst at university, and was also on medication for anxiety.

Instead of finding himself with compassionate employers who offered their sympathy, he found himself in an office full of reluctant colleagues, each one afraid to communicate with him because he was a 'psycho.' Eventually, his employer asked him to leave as he had created an 'unwelcome atmosphere' within the working environment.

Hearing those stories made me absolutely furious. Can you imagine an employer asking a physically disabled employee to leave because them being in a wheelchair made everyone else uncomfortable? Can you imagine the outrage if a pregnant woman found herself subjected to insults whilst in the workplace? It would just simply not be acceptable. So why is mental illness any different?

Legally, employers are required to make any necessary adaptations when they hire a person who is physically disabled. There are currently no laws protecting those who have mental illnesses. An employer doesn't have to make provisions to allow someone time off to see their psychiatrist, yet they have to for a pregnant employee.

I know there are some wonderful employers out there who bend over backwards for their employees and try their utmost to provide them with a safe, welcoming work environment. However, there are far too many who do little to nothing to assist their employees who suffer from a form of mental illness. Insulting the physically disabled used to be the norm and is now, rightly, incredibly prohibited. Why can't the same be said for those who have a hidden disability?

Twitter: @AmyWhitear