Paris, Terror, and the Year when Humanity was Lost


During my day job, I have often found myself in a class of students discussing what makes us ‘human’. The concept of being human is in itself mind-boggling. How are we so very different to animals? Are we so very different to animals? What differentiates us, and do we have a soul?

If you ask children to point to their ‘self’, they will point at their heart or their head, but these are simply physical body parts that we can name. Brain, heart, lungs; all have names. But none of these is our ‘self’. There is a part of us, perhaps our very consciousness, that we cannot point a finger at, something more than just the physical.

You don’t have to believe in a higher power in order to believe that there is something incredible about the way in which we are able to think, to reason, and to converse. Humans do more than communicate, and we do it with thousands of languages, gestures, behaviours, and technologies.

Given the recent sharp rise in terrorist attacks at the hands of IS, the fact that we are all human, seems to get lost. It is obviously crackers to suggest that ‘all Muslims are terrorists’, but it also seems to be becoming a socially acceptable form of prejudice, perhaps because there is suddenly an outlet for some people’s innate racism. But I believe it goes further than this, and deeper than racism, and that, subsequently, something deeper needs to be done in order to conquer it.

Human beings, from whichever background or ethnicity they hail, need to join as human beings. Not as categorized bodies according to belief, but as one race – and there is only one race. It is, of course, the human one.

Turning human beings against one another is easily done, especially by the media, but joining human beings together is not. Nobody holds up the KKK as a shining example of Christianity, and we don’t see all Roman Catholics being branded terrorists because of the IRA.

We need to see beyond people’s personal religious beliefs, and look at them for what they really are. The veil of ‘religion’ is blocking our view. People can commit murder under the guise of any religious belief they like – it doesn’t change the fact that what they are, is murderers. We need to look past the religious label, and at the behaviour instead – and then tackle those behaviours, not discriminate against others with the same religious name.

The Islam that IS speak of is not the Islam of 99.9% of the Muslim population, so perhaps people need to look at the decent humanity in that 99.9%, and offer kindness, not abuse.

(Image courtesy of wallpapers

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 24th November 2015


We All Do Poos.


Poo. Everybody does it. Though few people wish to hear about anyone else’s, nor experience it in any sensory form whatsoever.

Luckily, being female, mine resemble roses, and toilet habits in general are one of the many things that are, hopefully, private to you and your family.

From the very beginnings of family, such as the time that you and your partner first meet, the toilet is a very personal place. Nobody wants their partner to realise that they ‘do poos’, generally for fear of putting them off. Yet, of course, we all do ‘do poos’. Even writing about it seems faintly ridiculous, yet my column is about family matters, and poo, plus its liquid cousin, wee, are family matters.

Even once we have passed the initial stages of a relationship, toilet habits don’t necessarily become any easier. Think of people who have particular illnesses such as Crohns or IBS. That’s a whole different ball game of toilet habit, one that can even influence what sort of holiday you are able to go on.

I have myriad female friends who were terrified when pregnant that they would, during labour, produce a huge poo prior to producing a bouncing baby. I have other friends who refuse to acknowledge to their partners of many years that either of them partake in anything resembling bowel-clearage, and others still who, conversely, revel in anything linked to bottoms and wees.

If you do have children together, then comes the joyous task of peering into nappies and, occasionally, getting smothered in the contents. Or, that special moment when your baby produces a poo that escapes not only the nappy, but manages also to creep up and under the vest, all the way to the nape of the neck. Many an hour can be spent discussing the logistics of removing said clothing from the poo-enrobed infant, without subsequently dousing its entire head, face and hair in faeces.

I know people who have gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal from their partners any inkling that a poo is afoot (for clarification, I do not mean 12 inches long), and we’ve all experienced the moment when we’ve walked into a public loo for a mere wee, only to be hit by the olfactory realization that something grim has happened before. Never quite as bad though as the knowledge that you’ll have to exit the loo only to be confronted by a huge queue, and a desperate urge to shout “IT WASN’T ME”.


First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 17th November 2015

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Listening to music with your kids: Frozen versus The Doors

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Ever since my girls were born they’ve listened to music in either our home or our car. Generally, I have stuck with an eclectic mix. The CDs in our car range from The Killers, to Kate Bush, the Frozen soundtrack, and The Doors. My girls know the lyrics to music from The Stranglers, Lana Del Rey, Chuck Berry, and U2. They sing Wuthering Heights (we all do, thank whichever higher power you do or don’t believe in that you’re not in there with us), in their best spooky voices, and they warble along to Emeli Sande, who happens to be one of my youngest’s favourites.

I love that they have such a range of musical tastes, because music is such a powerful thing. If I play particular tracks, they calm down and become quite contemplative, and if I play Bonfire Heart, they’re suddenly full of beans again.

We associate music with special events in our lives and particular times. My girls know that The Blower’s Daughter by Damien Rice is our wedding song, and they also know that autumn is coming if Golden Brown is played. This is the song that reminds me of when I gave birth to Amelie, and the girls love these little factoids.

My father was a musician and I have all of his old LPs from the 1960s and 70s. Amongst them is War of the Worlds, which he loved, and so I’ve introduced the kids to this recently. They also enjoy listening to my dad’s own music, because I’m lucky enough to have quite a collection of his songs.

Last year, I wrote a column about my father when it was the 25th anniversary of his death, and local DJ, Pete Crew, happened to read it. He had been a friend of my dad’s and they had recorded together, but it wasn’t until he saw my column that he realized my father had passed away. Pete sent me a CD of tracks and demos that I had never heard before – one of which has a toddler-me chattering in the background. To be able to hear my father, after all those years, talking and singing songs I’d never heard, was incredibly emotional. And such a fantastic gift for Pete to pass on to me.

I’m hoping that my girls will grow up to also hold strong associations with music, so that they too can feel that familiar and comforting wave of nostalgia that sometimes floods us with memory, in a way like little else ever manages.

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 10th November 2015

The Rise of the Pity Party

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I am noticing a new social trend at the moment, the trend of ‘My Situation Is Worse Than Yours’. It’s a strange new level of competitive behaviour, where instead of wanting to be in the best situation possible, some people appear to be yearning to win the misery prize for worst place, not first place.

This is bred from comparison. The same comparison that used to lead to keeping up with the Joneses, now leads to the metaphorical printing of invitations for a Pity Party. These are then passed around to acquaintances, or, better yet, people who have been in a similar situation. Only it won’t matter what has happened in life to those that are invited, because nothing will be as bad as the person who is at the epicentre of Pity Party Central.

Personally, I cannot begin to comprehend how people can compare their situations to those of others in this manner. Surely life is subjective and relative, whatever has happened to one person will always affect them differently to someone else, and for different reasons? Different emotions will be involved, different family circumstances, and different prior life experiences – some of which, we may know nothing about. There is no Miseryometer. It’s a bit like when women try to out-pain each other with their birth stories; who gives a rat’s backside how much pain relief you didn’t have, as long as your baby’s out safe and well?

A friend said to me recently that she has taken to not offering up information about herself when she bumps into someone that she knows, preferring instead to wait and see whether or not her own current welfare is asked after. It struck me as incredibly sad, and a tad mind-boggling, when she told me that actually, nobody turned around and said, “And how are you?”

It’s dangerous really, because this leads to a dismissive attitude to the plight of others, and it must take a particular kind of selfishness to point out to a person that whatever they’ve been through or are going through, isn’t a touch on the kind of horrors you’re currently suffering, or have suffered in the past. It certainly isn’t a way to garner sympathy. But I wonder if these people are more intent on garnering pity? For most of us, pity is a word with patronising and belittling connotations, whereas sympathy or compassion are born of true human feeling and emotion.

Perhaps it’s old-fashioned these days to simply listen to a friend, empathise if you’ve been through a similar time, and sympathise with how downright horrible it must be for them. Maybe it’s not de rigueur to offer advice or help or simply a listening ear, or to let that person know that they are loved, and this will pass. But, old-fashioned or not, I’ll be sticking with it. And if you’re currently having an horrendous time of things, yet find yourself surrounded by people who are intent on continually pointing out that their experiences of unemployment, or bereavement, or umpteen other awful life situations that occur for millions each and every day, are somehow worse than yours, then pity them more than they pity themselves.

For my friends and readers who are, have been, or will be, going through tough times, with much sympathy and care x (courtesy of digital

For my friends and readers who are, have been, or will be, going through tough times, with much sympathy and care x
(courtesy of digital

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 3rd November 2015