Monthly Archives: November 2014

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas..and a time to appreciate family

So it’s nearly Christmas. I’ve managed to avoid it for a long time but on Saturday I broke. I purchased a Christmas present. I actually purchased two.

I love Christmas. It’s always been a time when I look forward to spending time with my loved ones and just relaxing. I’m lucky enough in that that I have never felt stressed in the lead up to Christmas, I spend what I can and I figure I treat those I love around me all year round so I never feel the need to splurge. My husband also doesn’t celebrate Christmas (although he likes the presents!).

This year though is a bit different. It’s the first year that my nan won’t be here.  I know that the first Christmas is always hard after losing somebody, the first any occasion for that matter. It will be tempered by the fact that my cousin is expecting her first baby, my auntie will be over from Switzerland and I will be spending some time in Yorkshire with my family but it still won’t completely distract me from the fact my nan won’t be here for once.

I get nostalgic this time of year remembering Christmases gone past. When my mum was around we used to spend the morning with her mum and dad followed by the afternoon with my dad’s mum and dad. There was lots of travelling involved! After my mum passed away we carried on the tradition for a few years but eventually we spent Christmas at home followed by Boxing Day visiting relatives. It meant my dad was not constantly driving. I never thought about it at the time but my dad must have been so tired driving the whole day, packing up the barrage of toys that we accumulated during the visits. It’s funny the things you realise and appreciate as you get older.

I’ve definitely developed a massive appreciation for my dad. He effectively raised me from the age of 9 until the age of 15. He had a lot of help from my aunties and grandparents but ultimately he was the one who raised me. He made mistakes of course but I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t when they were faced with a complete change in lifestyle. He went from an environment where my mum took care of home life whilst working part time whilst he worked long full time hours to having to juggle hours at work and at home. We had a great childminder called Jean who was brilliant but she was only there for 3 hours a day until my dad came home.

My dad had to talk me through what to do during ‘my monthlies’, talked to me about boyfriends and also had to cope with hormones. My stepmum came along when I was 15 and we became really close. I don’t have any doubt though that my dad could have carried on doing the job, it would have just been harder. So it makes me mad when I see people who look at single parents and automatically think they have come from a broken home or look down on them as if they can’t do a good job. I’m relatively ‘normal’ whatever that means. I have formed good relationships and friendships. Yes, if I look really hard I can see the effect of my mum’s passing. I hate not knowing where my husband is and get anxious if he is not home at a particular time (because my mum never came home and I didn’t know until the police came), I have an aversion to motorbikes (mum killed whilst crossing a road and hit by a motorbike) and I still have anxiety and tearful moments during August (anniversary). I’m also of the view that bad things happen. But that’s life and my life has enough positive moments to make it worthwhile.

So this Christmas, I will have thoughts about those who can’t be here but I’ll also be focused on those who are.

Should charity always begin at home?

I have been thinking about this blog post for the past few days. The title was really difficult as it’s about more than charity beginning at home but I’ve gone with the title for now.. I don’t expect a lot of people to agree with all of this blog post but I have tried to balance my views as best I can and to be honest it’s solely my opinion, I accept there are differing arguments but here goes!

So over the past few days my timeline on Twitter and Facebook seems to be a little focused on the Band Aid 30 single. I have conflicting views about the single.

The positive side of the single is that it is raising awareness and raising money. Some people don’t have an awareness about ebola. Some think it is affecting the whole of Africa. Some don’t know the effects and impacts of ebola. I don’t blame those people but the single is raising that awareness and I definitely had a lump in my throat when I saw the video on the X Factor for the first time. Not the video showing the singers but the 7 seconds of a young person being escorted from their home. The sight of their stained bed and weak body is something that has stuck in my head and although I have already donated to the DEC, it has made me want to buy the single.

The single is raising money. A lot of money. Some people have mentioned that if all singers parted with some of their earnings then they wouldn’t need to expect members of the public to part with their hard earned cash. I see the point but I have a bit of a problem with this argument. How do we know that the singers haven’t parted with some of their money to donate to charities already? We know how much they have earned but I’m not personally privy to their expenditure accounts and doubt people who are judging them do as well. Adele made a private donation in response to the ebola crisis, why do we not think the same about other celebs? It’s also their money to spend how they wish.

I have charities that I donate to and others that I wouldn’t for various reasons. Why should celebs be dictated to about where they spend their money? In reality a pop singer’s career nowadays is relatively short lived. Can you see One Direction being around in their sixties? Fifties?  A singer’s life is not private. I go home after work and it’s my time. Before I hear the sound of violins, don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel sorry for them because they get paid. They get paid for being in the public eye. Would I swop the relative privacy of my own life to be worth £35 million living with the constant fear that one single, one album will flop or another girlband will appear on the scene and my career will end? No thanks, I’ll carry on with my own job. Not that I would say no to winning the lottery and gaining £35 million. I wouldn’t dream of saying to a friend not to buy an expensive iphone as she could get a standard phone and give the £200 to charity.

Another criticism is about the single’s lyrics. Do I think the lyrics could be worded differently? Yes. Do I think that there should be a better way to highlight the fact that the whole of Africa is not affected? Definitely. Could the single be deemed to be slightly patronising by saying that the proceeds of the single will eradicate ebola? Absolutely. Is there an alternative to raise as much money in as short as space as possible, highlighting what is going on around the world and providing money to help those who are affected? I would love there to be but I’m struggling to see another option to be honest.

Another comment is about the artists. By the way I think it was wrong of Bob Geldof to highlight Adele wasn’t involved. I hadn’t even clicked she had been on the initial announcement. It was her choice and she has done plenty of charitable events in the past. There probably is an element that it is good to be seen to doing things for charity. Are people always altruistic when supporting charities? I’m sure there are some people who are. There are plenty who aren’t. A comment was made that nobody knows the artist unless they are under 30. I’m 32 and knew all of the artists. My dad who is 60 knew most of them. Are we not ‘normal’?

Another comment is that charity should begin at home. I agree…I’d love to live in a country where everybody is living well above the poverty line, there is no homelessness, no hunger, no unemployment. However the reality is that if you compare the poverty line with a third world country poverty line along with the sheer numbers involved, who is to say that we shouldn’t have an obligation to help both those in our country and those abroad? They didn’t choose to be born in that country. I didn’t choose to be born in this one. In another world I could be that child on television aid appeals. I went to Egypt which is a relatively poor country. The overwhelming feeling I had is that people were poor, they were asking for money, they didn’t want to ask for money but they took it because they needed to feed their family. Yes, we should be looking at our country, campaigning for change but I don’t think we should use the state of our economy as a reason to just stop international aid. I also wonder at how many of those commenting have ever gone on a march to stop the cuts, written to their MP or donated themselves? I suspect a few but not all of them.

Some else commented about the fact that we have been pouring money into international aid for years and have seen no real change. The same person also commented that it is similar to pouring money into cancer research. Just because the news and media is full of negative stories rather than highlighting positives doesn’t mean that things haven’t changed over the years. It’s slow admittedly and it would be great if things could change faster. I’d love to see news have a charity section where we see positive stories about where the money from the appeals is going and the impact from the money. It is important to remember that there is a constant fight to combat those who should be protecting people and distributing the money who are not doing their job. Is this a reason to stop international aid whilst the issues are being ‘sorted’?

I used to go to a few charity balls where big corporates were invited. Chief execs were in attendance and willing to splash their cash on one night. I said to someone that it upset me as they probably only thought about splashing their cash on one night of the year and weren’t bothered what happened to that money. The response which stuck in my head was, did it matter when the cash still came in? Do the people who are supported by the money care where the money comes from? If the aim of the event ie to raise money to help those in need is achieved, shouldn’t that be what matters?

It also put a bad taste in my mouth when I saw one comment saying that if Bob Geldof had spent more time on the drug problems within his own family then he wouldn’t have lost his daughter. Would people say the same to working parents in the street who had recently lost their son/daughter to drugs? I doubt it.

Love it or hate it, the single is raising money for charity. I agree that you all have a choice to buy it. I agree that the words and delivery could have been improved. I sadly don’t see another option but then I’m not a humanitarian expert. I wish I was. As some one recently posted on Twitter, if you want to support those in Africa, support African exports, African artists. I’d prefer to do both but that’s just me. My husband is from Africa, his country is rich but his country is being split into two at the moment. My proudest moment was when the UK voted for a no flight zone in Libya. I cried buckets mainly because in a time when people are struggling, people can still band together and recognise that others may need more help at a particular moment in time. I love Twitter still. It has opened my eyes and I have tried to be balanced. I may not have succeeded.

Twitter: Open all hours

For those who have caught my moaning tweets on Twitter, I haven’t been feeling my best recently. My immune system seems to be really low at the moment and I seem to be getting any bugs floating around. It is probably my body telling me I needed to fully rest and recover and that’s what I have been doing. Fingers crossed I can already feel a difference and hopefully I will be back to fitness in the next day or so.

This post isn’t about my illness though (despite the first paragraph being about my illness!). It’s about Twitter and my feelings about Twitter.

I volunteer for a charity counselling young children. It’s no surprise that Twitter and Facebook along with some other social media sites can be the medium for bullying. In my day (I sound so old when I say that), whilst bullying did go on, the reality was that bullying happened between 9-3:30pm at school and then you had a reprieve (not that I’m saying any bullying is right!). Nowadays there is no reprieve. Young people are subjected to bullying 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Young people can use the internet as a threatening weapon by posting photos that should be kept private. Once a tweet or post is out there it can be retweeted and shared to thousands of people within a few minutes. Little wonder perhaps that a recent report by the NSPCC (http://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/research-and-resources/on-the-edge-childline-spotlight/) showed that there has been a 116% increase in counselling sessions about suicide over the last 3 years. I appreciate not all of those feelings can be linked to online bullying, it can be linked to a whole raft of other things as well. It’s scary reading and it is happening.

Yet despite this I can see the value in Twitter. There has already been a raft of conversation and blog posts about the Samaritans Radar app and I have written about it myself. Although I think the app was poorly executed, I can understand the reasoning behind the app. There are people on the internet who reach out for help and their tweets can get missed. I think the Samaritans do an amazing job and it’s great to hear they have responded to the criticism, pulled the app and are looking at alternative ways. The problem may not be the app, it’s about the fact the app may have opened up access to vulnerable people by those who would not want to help.

I can personally see the value of Twitter. I have some lovely ‘real life’ friends. One in particular is on Twitter as well and it is thanks to her that I became so involved with what I feel is the true meaning behind Twitter. Twitter is the only place which I feel is ‘open all hours’. My sleep pattern has been all over the place recently and however lovely my friends are, there are only a couple of friends I feel able to ring no matter what the time. Instead I can go on Twitter and there is a whole world of people out there ready to talk.

Twitter has introduced me to music I would never have listened to, people who I may never have come into contact with, viewpoints that have challenged my own perceptions and news that I would never have access to. It’s kept me in the loop with what is happening in my husband’s country of Libya and what is happening in Palestine. It’s made me laugh and cry, sometimes both at the same time. I have had some of the weirdest wonderful conversations in the world stemming from a conversation about a John Lewis advert (love Monty and Mabel) to talking about guinea pigs to talking about silliness. The acceptance from people is overwhelming sometimes.

It’s made me sad when I heard about a Twitter friend having an accident whilst out climbing. I have never even met the guy but the Twitter world seems a little emptier without his comments. It’s made me happy and proud of humanity when a couple of people have got together to raise money for the mountain rescue team who saved him (for more info from someone who can explain better than I can please go to the Justgiving page http://t.co/MUiumuqrbp and this website http://t.co/0rdmCfeXsR). I hope he gets well soon.

I’ve spoken to comedians after seeing their shows and more recently received an offer for a prize for a charity auction I am organising as part of a Prince’s Trust Million Makers (if you want to help as well please let me know!). I’ve witnessed inspirational trending moments particularly the #thankyouteacher hashtag.

Some people may accuse me of relying on people who I don’t ‘really know’. I don’t rely on them. I’m grateful for them being there at all hours when I need them to be silly and make me smile. I hope I do the same for my Twitter friends, I really do.

Thank you Twitter friends, you’ve opened my eyes to a whole world I never knew existed and, even though it can be manipulated and used in the wrong way, it can also be used in the right way.

Laughter really can be the best medicine

The past few weeks have been testing and difficult. Perhaps I became a little complacent as I had some really good weeks with lots of positive feelings and a sense of calm.

I can’t even pinpoint what was going on in my life and it’s difficult to explain my feelings, even now when my mood has lifted. I was extremely unsettled, shaky and very lethargic. It was really difficult for me to tell whether I was simply under the weather or whether it was my mood. Either way it was a challenging few weeks.

The difference is I talked about it. I spoke about things at work where luckily I have some extremely supportive work colleagues who gave me some advice and gave me the space I needed. I reached out to a couple of friends who were there singing along and cracking jokes when I needed them the most.

Thursday evening was great and my mood had started to lift made all the better by catching up with a friend from school. I came home feeling content and then my husband dropped a bombshell by explaining he would be going away (which I knew) until Thursday (rather than Tuesday). Those who know me know how much my husband means to me even though I avoid gushing about him too much. He is one of the most calm people I know and, since the passing of my nan, has been the person I lean on. Immediately I panicked and there were lots of tears but in the back of my head I knew he needed to go. i felt so bad for my husband as he felt awful about going and I felt like the weakest person in the world that night needing him to be at home.

Friday I went to work and again work colleagues were very supportive without even realising how I was feeling. I was resigned to going home and crying into my takeaway. Then I was saved! A friend rang asking me if I wanted to meet after work for a chat and I then decided to go to a comedy night with a few work friends. I was so relieved I took the plunge and went as it was exactly what I needed, lots of laughter and good company.

The first comedian was good. The second one was absolutely amazing. His name is Lee Ridley (aka Lost Voice Guy). He has cerebral palsy and he has no voice with mobility problems. The reason I mention he has cerebral palsy is that it is part of his act. He uses an ipad to communicate and I came out still laughing.

I loved his act so much because he is a genuinely funny comedian and didn’t allow his disability to stop him following his dreams, and after all why should it? He addresses any thoughts people may have by pointing them out himself with great comedic timing. He was completely genuine and open and clearly thought the world about his family and the support network he has. One of the things that made me giggle was his story about taking his time in the taxi on the way here as he pretended to be the sat nav. You had to be there.

He inspired me. Not because he has a disability but because he is achieving his dream.He chose to put himself out there just like every other comedian and say ‘This is me, accept me or don’t but this is me’. I can safely say that the audience last night accepted him.Hewas incredibly polite and lovely when I approached him to thank him for the show. He regularly interacts with people on his twitter account and I’d love to see him again.

So as I headed home I realised my mood had gone. Not completely, it’s still bubbling under but I think it’s about recognising not only when you have a mood but sometimes pushing yourself to do something that will help your mood to lift.

Plug time, please check out Lost Voice Guy, he’s touring at the moment, he’s brilliant.

The truth about immigration

On Thursday I watched a tv programme. Nothing out of the ordinary about that but it was on Channel 5 and I knew before I watched it that Channel 5 does not show the most truthful and revealing documentaries but I thought I would give it the benefit of the doubt.

Big mistake, massive, huge mistake! The name of the programme? Sham Wedding Crashers. Synopsis? An investigative journalist posed as a best man together with an actress acting as the bride to expose a sham wedding.

I ended up shouting at the television most of the time. I understand there are people who set out to exploit the system and I get that. What I don’t get is that they seemed to demonstrate that a) getting married automatically equals a visa and b) it is easy and quick to get married.

It’s not. I speak from experience. Admittedly things may have changed since 2006/7 but I want to share my experience in the hope that people won’t be fooled by the media into thinking sham weddings are the norm. I wouldn’t have minded if Channel 5 had showed two sides to the story but they didn’t.

So I met my husband back in November 2004. He’s from Libya and was in the UK on a student visa. We met, fell in love and in October 2006 he proposed to me. At the time he had submitted his application for his student visa to be extended to complete his course. He had submitted it in July and had not received a response by October. We decided on a venue and booked a wedding for November 2007 as we looked into the guidelines to obtain a certificate of approval to get married and the guidelines said 90% of the applications would be decided in 3 months. We were still waiting for the student visa decision but on advice from the Home Office we submitted the application anyway.

On or around February 2007 we received news that his student visa would be declined. They returned his passport and we launched an unsuccessful appeal. We rang the Home Office and they said we could either a) send his passport in on the basis that we had an outstanding application or b) he should go home on the basis of being an overstayer but we would forfeit our application and the application fee (£400). We decided to continue with the application as £400 was a lot of money but it meant that he was unable to work on the basis that he had no right to remain.

As it started to approach August we began to feel worried as we had heard nothing from the Home Office. We rang every other day asking about progress and all we were told was that it was in progress. We resorted to contacting our MP but even she had no luck.

It meant that in November 2007 (11 months after the application was submitted) we ended up having the marriage ceremony without the legal marriage. It could have been horrendous but it wasn’t, it was lovely.

Over the next few months we persisted contacting the Home Office. Each time we emphasised the need to get the application sorted. We were in constant fear that they would withdraw the application and were also struggling with money relying on friends and family.

Eventually we received correspondence! A questionnaire for each of us asking us to divulge details about where we met, our first date, when we talked about marriage, what we wanted out of life, where we wanted to live…the list was endless and we had to provide copies of proof like photos, cards, letters, bills. Just imagine sharing bits of your life to a complete stranger and having to write it all down.

Finally in October 2008 we received the certificate of approval. We quickly arranged a visit to the registrar and on 5 November 2008 (1 year 2 days after our intended marriage date) we were legally married!

Was that it? Well no. We then spent about two months trying to track down and locate his passport and working out our next steps. In January 2009 my husband left to go to Libya to apply for leave to remain as a spouse (£500 cost). He couldn’t apply in the UK as he was classed as an overstayer (despite the fact the Home Office caused him to overstay!). He left and I was not sure whether I would ever see him in the UK again as there was no guarantee that he would be granted the application. Five weeks later (thank heavens the British Embassy was quicker at deciding applications than the Home Office) he landed at the airport and, after a call to me, he was allowed through.

Two years passed by and we had to apply for indefinite leave for him to remain. £700 later for that application, a test to check he knew when penicillin was invented and a visit to the Liverpool office for an instant decision (we were taking no chances this time) he was allowed to remain in the UK. Did this mean he was a British citizen? No, that was another application and another 3 months of waiting. Finally he could apply for a British Passport and he is now self employed and works in addition. He works pretty much 7 days a week and contributes taxes. He speaks better English than me and he is a ‘functioning member of British society’.

As well as the monetary impact, words cannot describe the strain on our relationship during the four years. There were tears that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Even writing this blog post is making me cry remembering all the feelings we had during that time but through it all I had friends and family rooting for us both and through it all I knew that my husband was worth the fight. On Monday we will be celebrating our seventh wedding anniversary. Everyday I am thankful that he came into my life and more thankful that the Home Office did not make us part. I get the need for immigration rules. I studied law and took immigration as an option during my Legal Practice Course. I even applied for a job at the UK Border Agency after university! But please bear in mind that the Channel 5 programme shows a sliver of society and it isn’t the norm. I am angry at people who take part in sham marriages. I am angry at the Home Office for focusing all their energy on that small section of society and leaving the rest of us to literally go through hell.