The Best Article You Will Read About JLS Splitting Up *gavel*

Ooh, look at me, gavelling right there in the title! Well, dear Discussers, that’s because I feel so darn confident about my title reflecting the article. You see, the band who came second on the X Factor in 2008 have announced that they are splitting up. It’s a sad day for the fans, for music, heck, it’s a sad day for everyone. And I feel for loyal JLS fans. Your favourite band splitting up is like a rite of passage for teenagers. It’s like the first time you get dumped; you have that sense of rejection and loss for the first time. They said they’d always be there and you believed them, but they lied!

Usually bands split up in order to persue seperate projects or solo careers. So no doubt we’ll see Aston and Marvin and…the other one and…are there four of them? Yeah, I know next to nothing about the band, besides that their condom affiliation and I want to say that one of them is dating a Saturday. I don’t know and I can’t be bothered to look it up. It’s a hot day. Google it yourselves.

I don’t want to talk about JLS. I’ve used up my reserves of knowledge on them already. I don’t care that they are splitting up, but I do know what it feels like to love a band and have them break up. So that’s what I’m going to talk about. We’re going to delve into the nineties and the first decade of the noughties, so leave your dignity at the door folks and lets begin.

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 Westlife

Look at that picture. Heartthrobs all of them. I remember being fiercely loyal to Mark, lower right in case you didn’t know. I had an argument with a friend at school where I maintained that Mark was the dishiest, whereas she favoured Shane, the other brown haired lead singer. These arguments took place over sheets of letters we wrote to each other in class and it got ugly. Really ugly.

The bands first single “Swear It Again” came out in 1999 and I was in lurve. They were Irish, they sung lovey-dovey ballads and they stood up for key changes. What wasn’t to like? The group suffered a break in 2004 when Brian McFadden, then married to ex-Atomic Kitten Kerry Katona, left the band. Things weren’t the same after and although they had a sort of come back as a foursome in 2011 they officially split in 2012.

imagesCA3Q2OH1Steps

There are boybands, there are girlbands and sometimes there are bands with boys and girls in them. Steps were formed in 1997 and quickly became famous for their catchy pop tunes and easy to follow dance routines. To this day it is not unusual to see someone throw their hands up either side of their head if they hear Tragedy, even if they hear the original Bee Gees version. Don’t fight it.

Their first song was “5, 6, 7, 8” and involved line dancing. Line dancing. Kids today have no idea.

The band also became famous for one of the most dramatic break ups in history when hours before their final night of their Gold Tour Claire and H both presented their bandmates with letters of resignation, allegedly completely independantly of the other.

big-reunion-bwitched-then-590x350 B*Witched

This band got me through the Spice Girls break up. They were an Irish four piece band who sang songs with twinkly tunes and they wore denim with more denim and they each had a logo of sorts. My favourite was Lindsay who had black curly hair and had a little black cat as her logo. They were magical to me and I would listen to their albums while playing Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and so the two have become fused in my memory.

They were active between 1997–2002 when they went their seperate ways due to the usual case of one person getting most of the lead vocals.

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These guys were part of my bad boy phase. Shut up.

They sang the same old pop songs, but cultivated a very kid-friendly “lad” image. They were essentially a British version of the Backstreet Boys or N*Sync.

They formed in 1997 and released “Slam Dunk (Da Funk)” as their debut single which reached number 10 in the charts. According to Wikipedia they split up in 2001, which is news to me as I thought they had disappeared way before that. I guess my bad boy phase was pretty short.

pa-1044982The Spice Girls

I don’t care who knows it, I LOVED the Spice Girls so, so much. They were The Band Of My Youth. I wanted to be Geri Halliwell and she made me feel good about my boobs, which developed before many of my peers and as a result of which I was bullied for having them. Looking back now I know they aren’t the feminist icons they allegedly were at the time and Girl Power was just an excuse to be a bit “crazy” and “wacky”. But whatever. I loved them.

They formed in 1994 after each one answered ads in The Stage. Each one cultivated a personality by which we came to know them. Ginger, Sporty, Baby, Posh and Scary Spice. They had a movie out in 1998 entitled Spiceworld and the VHS I owned was lime green. Awesome.

In 1998 Geri Halliwell decided to leave the Spice Girls and I, well, I cried. Only a bit, I didn’t need to ring a helpline like some Take That fans before me, but I was sad. It was the end of an era. The rest of the Spice Girls carried on for another two years until they officially split up and all of them went on to have moderately successful solo careers. They re-formed for a bit in 2007–2008 and currently a musical entitled Viva Forever is playing at the West End using the songs of the band. I will always love them for the musical place they had in my life when I was a teenager and for being the reason I wore platform shoes to school throughout ’97.

And there you have it Discussers. 5 bands I enjoyed in my youth who all split up and broke my teenage heart a little bit. And now I put it to you, because I’m sure we’ve all been there. Who are the bands that you loved? Do you remember what it was like when you heard them for the first time and how it felt when they broke up? Please add your thoughts in the comments; lets revel in teenage nostaligia. And if you are a current fan of JLS and are distraught by the announcement, take heart from this article. Yeah, it’s sad, but one day you’ll be able to write a blog post all about it and it’ll all be ok.

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Jesse James vs Robert Ford

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 On todays date in 1882 the outlaw Jesse James was shot and killed by a member of his own gang, Robert “Bob” Ford.  This action would haunt Robert for his cowardice throughout history and Jesse would be elevated to a Robin Hood like status. So, lets have a little history journey, shall we?

 Jesse was born Jesse Woodson James in 1847, the middle brother of three siblings. His father was a commercial hemp farmer and a Baptist minister who travelled to California during the Gold Rush and died when Jesse was 3 years old. Jesses mother, Zerelda, outlived her son and it was she who commisioned his remarkably ostentatious grave stone, making her feelings about both her son and his former gang mate very clear.

Jesses early life was overshadowed by the American Civil war which broke out in 1861. Jesse lived in Clay Country, Missouri, which had the unfortunate placing of being a border state, with 75% of its population being from the South. Indeed Jesses family chose to side with the Confederates at the outset of war. Jesses older brother, Frank, joined in with the fighting and when Jesse reached 16 so did he, following his brother. Their time at war was spent joining up with Guerilla troops and they were both reported to have taken part in a notorious massacre of Unionists, during which the guerillas scalped and dismembered some of their victims. They were then forced to leave Clay County, ordered by the Union millitary officials to head South. They defied this and went into a sideways state, Nebraska.

Robert Ford was born in 1860, so was too young to join in the fighting like his future gang leader. He was also born in Missouri, but never knew Jesse personally until much later in his life. He idolised the older man both for his Civil War exploits and the stories of his criminal activities.

From l to r: Zee above Jesse, Annie above Frank and Susan, sister of Jesse and Frank, above her husband Allen

From l to r: Zee above Jesse, Annie above Frank and Susan, sister of Jesse and Frank, above her husband Allen

Speaking of criminal activities, Jesse spent some time after the war recovering from the two near-fatal chest wounds he had received (though not at the same time!) and courting his cousin, Zee (short for Zerelda…I guess it was a family name!), who tended to his wounds while he recooperated at his uncles house. After 9 years of courting, they married.

But wait, these aren’t criminal activities! How about this: Jesse and Frank were probably part of the first daylight armed robbery in peacetime, during 1866 a year after the end of the war. We know that the robbery was lead by their former commander Archie Clement and one bystander was killed as the gang made their escape. Some argue that in fact Jesse and Frank were in charge of this robbery, while others protest that Jesse was still bedridden following his chest wounds. What we do know is that this time was troubled and filled with robberies and harrassment against Republican authorities and that many of the robberies and trouble were lead by the friends and former gang mates, and after the brothers became notorious there were those who claimed they had seen them, but whether that is a fabrication on the part of the eye witnesses remains to be seen.

Jesse James shot to fame in December 1869 when during a robbery he mistakenly shot and killed the cashier John W. Sheets believing him to be the shooter of “Bloody Bill” Anderson, a guerilla Jesse knew from the war. This was the firstime Jesse James would be proclaimed as an outlaw with a bounty on him and from then on Jesse joined up with some former Confederates to form the James-Younger Gang. Jesse also forged an alliance with the editort of the Kansas City Times, John Newman Edwards, who went on to publish letters from the outlaw in his paper, cementing his notority and keeping his name in the public eye.

During this time Robert had been following Jesses rise to infamy, helped in no small way by the fact that the James-Younger gang enjoyed staging their robberies in broad daylight, often in front of vast crowds of people as if it were mere entertainment. It worked on Bob, as he was desperate to join the gang. His older brother, Charles, is believed to have taken part in the Blue Cut train robbery in September 1881 in Jackson County, which no doubt you’ll recognise from Johnny Cash.

So Robert had his chance to meet Jesse, through his brother and make all his dreams come true. But before long Jesse was growing tired of his life of crime. By this time he had two children and had moved back to Missouri. The gang had been thinned out for various reasons–death, incarceration or having left the gang–and Frank had decided to retire. Jesses infamy was becoming more of a hindrance to his life now, hence the move back to Missouri where he felt more secure. Thanks to his paranoia and decimation of his group, Jesse came to trust only the Ford brothers; Charles having been on raids with him before and Bob being a young and eager new boy. He even asked the brothers to come and live with him. But this turned out to be a very foolish move.

A bounty was placed on Jesse James by Governor Thomas Crittenden of $10,000 and Bob intended to claim it. He had surrended to the law in January 1882 and been offered a full pardon if he could bring in Jesse James, who at the time was the most wanted criminal in the USA. So on this day in 1882, 3 months after Bob had negotiated with the Governor, he was having breakfast with Jesse. Afterwards Jesse stood on a chair to dust a picture and Robert, ever a man of honour, drew his gun and shot Jesse in the back of the head. Zee burst in and ran to her husband, shouting that he had been killed and Robert went for the excuse best reserved for the under-5s: “I didn’t do it.” Nevertheless he and Charles were arrested and charged with first degree murder, much to their shock. However the Governor kept to his word and after less than two hours the pardon arrived. However they were dismayed to receive only $500 each for the kill.

The man and the gun that shot Jesse James

The man and the gun that shot Jesse James

Robert made a career out of his betrayal, posing for photographs with the gun he used to kill Jesse James. Meanwhile Jesse’s heroism only grew in the wake of his death; the cowardly way he was disposed of by one of his own overshadowing the heinous deeds he himself had done in the past. He became an almost mythical figure, with comparisons to Robin Hood, in spite of their being no evidence to suggest he was ever “robbing from the rich to give to the poor”. Rather his motivations appeared to be the very run of the mill greed and a desire to cause trouble to those in charge after the war. He became a figure in literature, appearing in dime novels and books throughout the years. He has been the subject of 26 films, the earliest in 1921, the latest in 2007, with Brad Pitt starring as the titular figure and Casey Affleck playing the “coward Robert Ford”. He has appeared in a plethora of songs (I first heard the name as a teenager listening to Cher and hearing the lyrics “Now you’re gonna go down in flames/Just like Jesse James”)

On the other hand Robert Ford has gone down in history as a coward due to the way he took on Jesse James, firing on him while he was unarmed and had his back turned to him. Had he been a member of the law shooting at an armed robber, such as the killers of Bonnie and Clyde for example, he would have faced no such ire in my view. It was the incredibly backhanded way he approached the killing.

Jesse James, shot in the head by own gang member: receives hero status.

Jesse James, shot in the head by own gang member: receives hero status.

At this point it should be noted that Robert Fords own death was less than glamourous. On June 8th 1892 he was in his tent saloon when Edward O’Kelley entered with a shotgun. Witnesses reported that Roberts back was turned to the shooter, but O’Kelley was ever-so-slightly more honourable than his target as he said “Hello Bob”, to which Robert turned only to receive a shotgun blast to the chest (so only marginally more honourable).

So, what have we learned from this little wander into history? Don’t be an outlaw, but if you do find yourself on that path, be charismatic and dashing while courting the press so that people will give you sympathy and pretend you have a “cause” to rob for. And if you choose to betray your gang leader for $10k at least have the balls to do it face on or you’ll be known as a coward forever.

How to Give The Housing Market a Boost in 3 Easy Steps (without risking another global catastophe))

So, the Budget 2013 was announced recently and although I don’t want to go into the whole thing as I’m a busy woman and I don’t have time to list all the reasons I can’t stand George Osbourne I do want to address the house buying stuff it detailed. That being said I do want to subtly get across my feelings on dear old George, so to save time I will use one or two pictures like the one below. im-with-stupid-300x251Anyway, onto house buying. Buying a house is a daunting and difficult thing to do if you want to be considered a Proper Grown-Up. I rent currently and have been renting for 7 years come the 1st of April. I have been eager to buy my own place, but it’s not been possible. Part of the reason house buying, especially for first time buyers, is such a challenge is because we have to drum up the funds for a deposit worth a certain percentage of the house’ value. Before my daughter was born there was the option of saving, but then there was time out of work for redundancies and so forth, plus all those other things that eat your money like vehicles. Ideally my then boyfriend and I should have stayed at home and saved our incomes to pool our resources for a deposit, but hey, we were 20 and 21 and I had already lived away at university and we were adults and we wanted to make our own home and basically we were, like, totally over living at home, know what I mean?

This brings me to point the first on my threefold list: Deposits. Hey, George? Want to stimulate the housing market and encourage folks to buy their own homes? Great! The Budget has announced two new schemes to help. One of them sort of already exists, but don’t tell George.

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This is the Help To Buy scheme and is pretty similar to the First Buy  and New Buy schemes already in place for first time buyers for new build homes. You raise a smaller deposit (from 4%) than most mortgage companies require, then the Goverment assists you buy loaning you another percentage (up to 20%) and then boom! That New Build house is yours.

My alternative: Why not do away with deposits in the first place? Deposits, no matter the percentage, in no way prove whether or not you can afford monthly mortgage payments. Purely and simply they exist to make the banks feel better about handing over vast sums of money to Joe Bloggs. I suppose I see the logic in it, but these aren’t loans given so that Joe Bloggs can buy a jet pack or hire a tent and have Circe de Soleil perform for his kids every Saturday for a month. This is so people can buy houses. Homes, if you will. And you know what? I know that the Tories and certain newspapers who shall remain nameless would LOVE to convince us all that all our money problems were the fault of those feckless scroungers on benefits who are probably also immigrants, it was kind of more to do with banks. Who we, the tax payers, “bailed out”. So maybe, just maybe, those banks could grant us some trust and relax a little bit on mortgages. I’m not saying they should just hand out mortgages without doing any checks. I would be very happy to show the mortgage lender my last few years bank statements that show how much I’ve been paying for my rent and equally happy to sit down with them and work out what I can afford to pay each month based on my income and current bank of England rates and perfectly willing to tell them my age so that we can project how long I’m likely to be in employment and therefore how long a length of time I could realistically pay off a mortgage loan. I can meet them half way, but please don’t expect me to save a deposit, because I work part time and have two children in childcare so I got stuff to pay for.

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Onto point number 2: the second part of Georges plan to get folks a’buying is more worrying. A lot more worrying. Remember how I was all “I’m not saying they should just hand out mortgages without doing any checks”? Well it’s not quite that bad, but there is a scheme announced in the Budget that will essentially force the hand of the mortgage providers buy offering to guarantee mortgages for those who would otherwise be denied such a loan. It will run for three years and cannot possibly be a bad idea.

My alternative: I briefly mentioned the global crisis earlier in this article and I’d like to talk a little bit more about it because history may well be about to repeat itself. My husband and I very nearly bought a house once before. It was before we were married and before kids and we had a deposit of 5% graciously loaned to us by my paternal grandparents. We had a mortgage agreed and found a house. And then…it went a bit wrong. The bank started to get shifty and suddenly went incommunicado with us. The estate agents got arsey with us as the sellers were probably getting arsey with them and eventually we heard the truth: our deposit amount was no good any more. It wasn’t just us: it was happening everywhere. The Great Recession had begun. Oh, did I mention this all happend in the first few months of 2008?

The issue then was that mortgage providers were merrily doling out mortgages to anyone who asked nicely and house prices were rising sharply. And what do they say? What goes up…

Basically everything crashed a little bit. It sucked. We’re still very much feeling the effects now. And dear old George thinks that doing the exact same thing as occured before the housing bubble burst will save the economy.

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“I have every confidence in this ship”

The Final Point: Ok, so his fool proof plan was actually two fold, but there’s one more thing I’d like to address. The schemes that already exist to help folks buying currently only help first time buyers buying new builds. The new schemes have expanded on that to help buyers who are stuck where they are to move and also applies to existing houses (I don’t want to call them Old Builds, but basically houses that haven’t been newly built). This is good. So far I have no issues. What has been glossed over for the time being is how the scheme applies to second home buyers or property developers.

My alternative: It’s controversial, but stick with me a moment. I have grown up in villages where residents grow up and have to move away from their community into cheaper towns as they cannot afford to live in their home village. I have seen property prices rise because houses on a street have suddenly gotten particularly expensive. You know why this is? It’s because some people can afford to buy more than one home, so they either buy a big family home in the country and commute to the city to stay Monday to Friday in a crash pad or they have the family home in the city, but spend Friday evening to Sunday and various holiday weeks in second homes in the country. Do you know what some people do for a living? They buy cheap houses, sometimes falling down houses, that they do up and make all fancy for as little as possible so that it gets valued much higher than they bought it and then they sell it for a profit.

Both of these types of people helped to cause the housing bubble, pushing prices up. It wasn’t just them; the banks helped. But they were complicit. Georges schemes have said nothing about these people, so it stands to reason that they are as yet included in these schemes and thus will benefit from the cuts. Yay them, sad for the rest of us.

...except the rich

…except the rich

My conclusion and proposal: George has said that his scheme should run for 3 years, so I shall stick to that template. How about for 3 years, as a test, we get rid of deposits, offer help and support to get everyone and anyone who wants to on the housing ladder in new and older buildings (although not with risky loans as it would be nice to avoid another recession) and we put a stop on buying a second home or house to let/do up and sell for profit? We focus on getting those who want to own their own property or who want to move out of their current home where they want to be. Those who have their own homes and don’t want to move will be unaffected. Those who want to buy a second or third home won’t be able to and property developers will just have to make do with playing with dolls houses instead. Just for 3 years. Just to see what happens.

Gavel!

Discuss…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bias in the Media; a Study of 3 Stories and the Issues I Found with Each One

As the title suggests I have taken issue with 3 seperate news stories from the UK and North America and want to explore this here.

Let’s start with Steubenville.

For those of you who don’t know, two young men aged 16 and 17 were recently convicted of raping a girl of 16 in Steubenville, Ohio. Not content with raping her, they carried her unconcious body around in a car and dragged her to parties, at which they also sexually assaulted her (in addition to the rapes), photographed her and even urinated on her. The two boys, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, have been found deliquent, which is essentially Ohio’s version of guilty for under-18s and they have been sentenced to a year in prison, although I am lead to believe that they could remain in prison beyond that year. It is a triumph for this poor girl who was abused so horribly and a wider triumph for rape victims everywhere: the boys are big-shot football heroes for their school in Steubenville and it can be notoriously difficult to obtain convictions for sports stars, even those who have yet to achieve nationwide fame. When the verdict was delivered the boys broke down in tears. And this was what CNN chose to focus on when they reported on the trial:

“a 16 year old, sobbing in court…what is the lasting effect of two young [men] being guilty in juvenile court of rape essentially?”

“incredibly difficult to watch as these two young men who had such promising futures, star football players, very good students literally watched as they believed their life fell apart”

“lives are destroyed…the most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as registered sex offenders…will haunt them for the rest of their lives”

Not one word about the victim. Not one word about how her life was destroyed or even affected by what had happened to her. What about her future? What about the fact that this attack will potentially haunt her for the rest of her life? What about the tears she cried?

The focus was entirely on these poor young men who had such high hopes for the future, and their lives had been ruined. Not once did any of their reporters comment on the fact that they had brought this upon themselves and perhaps other young men would think twice about ruining their futures in seeing these “star football players” and “very good students” get the judgement they deserved when they were found delinquent.

There is a petition here calling for CNN to apologise on air to the victim for their dreadful reporting of the situation and focus on the two boys, or the two rapists and registered sex offenders, if you want to be blunt.

 

My next gripe is one with our very own BBC, or rather with their hip and trendy branch of news aimed at teenagers and 18-24 year olds, Newsbeat. A study has been published by the DPP detailing the fact that false rape allegations are in fact quite rare, certainly much rarer than actual rapes. This is great news as one of the biggest setbacks for campaigns against violence against women and girls is the myths surrounding rape, of which the myth that most rape accusations are lies and falsehoods plays a huge role. This myth is so ingrained into our collective societal psyche that women are sometimes advised by the police to rethink their accusations when they pluck up the courage to report them. And one of the most common reasons for women not reporting the crime is a fear of not being believed. And let’s not forget that there is a very real threat that asking to retract a rape accusation can lead to the victims imprisonment, but hey, maybe she was just unlucky enough to have been raped first, then treated so badly by the people who were supposed to help her.

Back to Newsbeat. Rather than report on the study without bias, they chose to mention it under a headline screaming “False rape claims ‘devastating’ say wrongly accused”. They went on to describe the occurance as common, although after pressure they did change the word to unusual. I’m not entirely sure how they managed to confuse the word rare, as used by Keir Starmer, QC, who headed the study, with common, but at least they did change it. I personally complained about the article, citing bias and mis-reporting as my reasoning and I did receive a reply (the same on anyone who complained received I later learned) from Rod McKenzie, editor of Newsbeat. In the reply he wrote that the story had been commissioned to focus on the facts of being falsely accused as their target audience claimed to have a great fear of this happening to them, and that “to help contextualise the story we reported on a 17-month study carried out by the Crown Prosecution Service which set out to establish how common such false rape allegations were.” The fact that the study proved that false accusations are incredibly rare compared with accusations and even convictions of rape seemed to pass them by. Rather than using the study to say “hey teenagers and 18-24 year old guys who are scared that they will be accused of rape, worry not! It turns out women and girls aren’t going around lying about it constantly, like we once believed. Look, these figures show its really rare and in fact in those figures there are further breakdowns in terms of the gender of the accuser and the mental health of the accuser and hey, included in these findings are even accusations where the victim couldn’t identify her attacker, so rather than lying, she just couldn’t accuse accurately. Isn’t it great? Oh, and women and girls in the same age bracket who are afraid that if they are raped or sexually assaulted they won’t be believed if they go to the police, don’t sweat it. Chances are you’ll be telling the truth so we’ll believe you after all. Isn’t it a wonderful study and can’t we now move past this now broken down rape myth and focus on stopping this hideous crime from happening at all?” they chose to focus entirely on the very few men who are falsely accused every year and how awful it was for them.

Don’t get me wrong; being falsely accused of any crime is a crime in itself if done deliberately and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It must indeed be devastating and I’m sorry for anyone who has had it happen to them. But the timing of Newsbeats apparently long-comissioned story was very bad indeed and their manipulation of the facts was an insult to everyone who worked on the 17 month long study to make this report. For once we had some great news with regards to rape. I will keep harping on about it, but rape myths are a huge barrier to overcome and this one is a big one. Mumsnet have started a campaign simply entitled We Believe You to raise awareness about the truth about rape. Isn’t the name telling? We Believe You. I cannot say for sure if I would report a rape if it happened to me and I have the greatest respect for anyone who does. Certainly I have never reported a sexual assault, not even when the assault occured on school premises did I even tell a teacher. The BBC had a chance, as did every media outlet around, to report some good news about rape statistics. To reassure both sexes that false accusations are rarer than the myth would have us believe. And the BBC chose to stick their fingers in their ears and shut their eyes to ignore the findings in order to scaremonger.

 

Finally, we have the tragic tale of Lucy Meadows and I have another petition for your interest. This one calls for the Daily Mail to fire Richard Littlejohn after he wrote a hate-filled, biased article in the paper, against Nathan Upton, a transgender teacher. This was a total non-news worthy story. Nathan Upton made the courageous decision to alter his lifestyle and gender and this was seen as fair game to Richard Littlejohn. I have a link to the story in the DM, although you will see that it was edited on the 12th of March 2013 after being published on the 19th of December last year. The facts are that the C of E school in Lancashire announced via a newsletter that “Mr Upton has recently made a significant change in  his life and will be transitioning to live as a woman. After the Christmas break, she will return  to work as Miss Meadows.” Let me now just point out how fantastically supportive the school appeared to be and how lucky Lucy Meadows was to be working in such a tolerant place. I would be thrilled to send my children to such a school.

The DM latched onto the minority of parents who were bigoted concerned about the impact of this on their children and clearly didn’t see this as a fantastic oppotunity to teach about acceptance and everyone’s right to choose for their own lives. Naturally that would be too much to ask for the Daily Mail. Sadly however, this story prompted a media invasion into Lucys life and ultimately Lucy took her own life earlier this week. She had only been officially living as a woman for 3 months.

Now, it’s not the DMs fault that this story was picked up and became such an invasive beast…but then again…was it any of their business to pry into Lucys life like they did? How exactly was the story important enough to publish in a national newspaper? Lucy Meadows made a choice for her life and that was that. No one was harmed by her choice. She wasn’t trying to attract media attention. She was trying to live her life as she felt it needed to be lived. The school was supportive. A few parents weren’t happy, but there will always be small minded fools who cannot see past their own issues. Yet Richard Littlejohn chose to write a horrible piece about her, practically crying out “won’t somebody please think of the children?!” Children, the most universally tolerant beings in the human race until they get their parents views rubbing off on them. Richard Littlejohn could learn a lot from them.

 

My point this week (and I’m sorry its taken me so long to get to it) is that the media is a powerful tool. It does so much more than report on events, it directs us how to feel, which is why it is so important to read around in my opinion. I’ve tried to cram as many news outlets into this article as possible to try to be as fair as possible. In the case of CNN and Steubenville, this was rape apologising at its most dire. The BBC was a case of bias due to the angle they were driving at and a refusal to admit to a rape myth being just that. And the Daily Mail case was pure bigotry dressed up as concerned reporting and lead, directly or indirectly, to a womans suicide. I’m all for freedom of the press, but would the press please remember that they have an obligation to the public to report as fairly and without bias or personal views as possible. Here I have presented three cases of seriously bad reporting, due to the aforementioned obligations. Gavel!

Discuss…

 

 

*Please note that I do not believe in evil as a concept, so my tongue is firmly in my cheek when I use this turn of phrase.

Wednesday’s Cause: Organ Donation

What’s that saying people use about money after you die? You can’t take it with you. How true that is! Do you know what else you can’t take with you after you die? Your organs.

This cause is very close to my heart. Very, very close. To put it very bluntly, my mum would be dead if it weren’t for the fact that someone, some kind soul somewhere was willing to have his organs used by another after his death. I never knew than man and I never will, but he is a hero to my family. I’m so grateful to him.

I’m going to give you a brief overview now of why my mum needing some of her vital organs replacing. When she was 35 and we were all living in Germany, she was diagnosed with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic disorder only discovered in 1963. There are degrees of severity within this disorder and my mum’s case was severe. So severe that she developed emphysema as a result and ended up requiring oxygen throughout the day and needed a wheelchair to get around. Her lungs degenerated, made worse after a December spent in hospital with pneumothoraces and various other problems. This rapid decline lead to her shooting up the donar register. She was on the register for barely two months before the fifty-six year old gentleman sadly died and she received a phonecall to say that some potential organs were heading to her hospital and she should make her way there.

This was 4 years ago on the 23rd of March 2009. On the 21st Ireland claimed their first Grand Slam since 1948. On the 22nd Jade Goody died from her cancer. On the 23rd my mum got a second chance at life. These are things I remember from that time.

Every year we celebrate what my sister coined Happy Lung Day. We raise a glass to my mum still being around and fitter than ever. We raise a glass of gratitued to the gentleman who died and who gave the ultimate gift. We are joyful and tearful as we remember those difficult, long months of recovery as my mum faced setbacks and almost died more than once. My mum is mournful as she thinks of the fact that my daughter, her first grandchild was 6 weeks old the first time she met my mum and older still when my mum was finally discharged from hospital. She is thankful she got to meet her, and my son born last year, at all. My sister remembers caring for our mum throughout her 21st year and how tough it was, yet she would do it again in a heartbeat, I know.

So here comes my sales pitch and its very simple: give your organs after your death. You won’t need them, I promise, and someone left behind alive may need them desperately. They may be a woman in fifieth year who can’t breathe. They may be a blind man who needs a new pair of corneas to see his loved ones. They may be a young person, not yet twenty who was born with cystic fibrosis and is only expected to live a few more years. They may be someone you know and love and who you are not remotely ready to say goodbye to.

I am on the register and so is my husband. We have also registered our two children, on the basis that we sure as heck would take an offered organ for them, so it’s only right we offer in kind. I am currently investigating how to go about leaving my remains to medical science so that more can be learned from my body after my death. Because I can’t take it with me, but what I leave behind might do some good to someone else.

Please sign up to the Donar Register. It could save someone’s life.

Thank you.

Sticky Toffee Pudding and Unshakable Reputations

 My plan for tonight was to make an Irish Stew, it being St Patricks Day and all, but I’ve had a weekend of being ill so something had to give. Instead I went for something I recently discovered to make: Sticky Toffee Pudding, without any dates (because seriously, what’s the deal with dates?)

 

The first time I made this was only last Sunday, which was Mother’s Day here in the UK. Apparently I only make Sticky Toffee Pudding on special occasions! My mum invited my sister and I, plus her boyfriend and my husband and kids over to her house for a meal. She likes to cook so there was no chance of getting her to relinquish the meal making duties to us daughters, so instead I offered to make a pudding, something I often do on Christmasses, Easters and other special meal times. What I didn’t expect was that my offer would start of a hilarious joke at my expense that would inevitably make me feel pretty shitty. When my mum invited me I didn’t think twice before saying “I’ll make the pudding.” Her reaction? “Oh God!”

 

It was easy to chalk that one up to a joke. I rolled my eyes and said I’d make a chocolate mousse and that was the end of it. Until the next time the pudding was mentioned and again I got the same reaction. On the day I rang to confirm what time we’d be there and was told that a pudding had been purchased. I didn’t mind; there were going to be seven of us eating so chances would be that two puddings would feed us better than one. I explained that I’d made a Sticky Toffee Pudding instead of a mousse and again got an “oh God!” reaction. I did question this one and it turned out mum thought this would be hard to make, as did I, but I assured her it was easy.

 

Finally the event: mum had made impressed noises at the pudding and sauce I has brought over to be reheated before serving. When my sister arrived things were different. There has long been a running joke in my family that I have a penchant for making green cakes. I cannot figure out where this has come from, besides the fact that I did like to add mint extract to icing as a teenager so I guess I added green colouring, too, but honestly this has not stayed in my memory. Certainly since moving out I have made very few “green cakes” and yeah, it kinda pushes my buttons so I rankled at the jokes my mum and sister made about the pudding: was it green? Was it safe to eat? You know that feeling when three people are together and two are laughing at the expense of the third? Yeah, that was what it was. So I retreated from the kitchen and had a little sulk in the living room, which is not something a 27 year old should readily admit to.

 

My point, which may have gotten lost among the woe-is-me angst above, is this: if you get a reputation, whether it be for making green cakes or for something more serious, can you ever shift it? Especially when the reputation is foisted upon you by family. I’m considered lazy and messy by my mum and sister. They are both tidy people. They’re houses are immaculate. Mine…not so much. I’m not naturally tidy and I can always find something more interesting to do than clean. But I am not lazy and I resent the fact that nothing I do can ever, ever stop some of the people I am closest to in my life from believing. So that day I decided to try and find some peace with living my life how I want to live it. I make different choices to my mum and sister. But I don’t hurt anyone with these choices so what does it matter. Later that week we were talking about houses, my mum and I, as my husband and I are hopefully going to start looking to buy this year, and she quipped “let’s hope it’ll be a tidy house.” I shot back “It’s never going to be tidy enough for you or [my sister] so you might as well give that dream up now.” All said with a smile, but firmly and she didn’t push the issue. My mum and I had already sorted the pudding issue, I hasten to add. We talked it out the day after Mother’s Day. It’s families, eh? I am lucky to come from a very nuturing and close extended family, but sometimes stuff still gets said and nothing is thought of it, yet dwelling ensues and feelings happen and that’s just life. That’s families.

 

So, finally onto the pudding. It’s so easy and quick that once you know how to do it you’ll be knocking them out every Sunday, like I appear to be doing! Plus you can get brownie points from anyone you make it for as it seems to be something people think is hard to make (and it so is not!!!)

The recipe:

190g plain flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

120g soft brown sugar

1 pinch salt

120ml milk

2 eggs

6 tablespoons melted butter or margarine

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Toffee sauce:

120g butter or margarine

200g soft brown sugar

250ml double cream

This is an amalgamation of a bunch of recipes and as I’ve already said I’ve omitted to add any dates. I thought about adding hazelnuts, because I love hazelnuts, but I left those out too. Its a pretty standard starting point though, so feel free to add whatever takes your fancy. I’ve personally considered adding cinnamon to the pudding, or even adding some cocoa powder or chocolate chips, although that might be a little too sweet! If you have any suggestions or alternatives I’d love to see them in the comments!

First things first, preheat the oven. Then mix together the flour, the baking powder and the salt. Then chuck in the sugar and mix it all up.

Child labour...

Child labour…

 

 

 

 

In a seperate bowl (or jug as I used) mix the milk, the eggs and the melted butter. You may have noticed in the ingredients list that the quantity of butter is listed as 6 tablespoons. This makes me so irrationally annoyed–this is not a proper unit of measurement for butter! Still, I’ve made it work.

Cracking the eggs, with her tongue out for concentration!

Cracking the eggs, with her tongue out for concentration!

Mix the dry and wet ingredients together.013

And then you pour the mixed mixture into a greased baking tin and stick it in the oven for 20-30 minutes until it looks like this:

022

The toffee sauce is very simple to make, too. For a start, the recipe asks for 120 grams of butter, which is a unit I can handle! Melt it down in a pan and then add the sugar and then the cream. Stir it over a low heat until it changes to a dark brown colour:

Swirly, swirly

Swirly, swirly

Toffee sauce

Toffee sauce

Leave the sauce to stand for about 5-10 minutes after making it so it cools from “It’s burning my mouth!” to “mmm warm and gooey”.

Enjoy!

051

 

Wednesday Profile: Professor Dame Sally Davies

Ok, confession time: the first ever Wednesday profile was supposed to appear last Wednesday on the 6th of March, but real life got in the way a bit! My 11 month old son’s face swelled up on the right side and so we ended up taking him to hospital where he and I stayed overnight and the next day until he was discharged at 8pm on Thursday. He’s fine now; they diagnosed an infection and prescribed antibiotics, the course of which he has just finished, but needless to say that week was a bit of a write-off!

The Profile:

So, this is the first Wednesday profile, delayed thanks to a bout of ill health and so I think its apt to begin with Professor Dame Sally Davies, the first woman to ever fill the post of Britains Chief Medical Officer. She recently came 6th on BBC Radio 4s Power List of woman 2013, after such woman as Theresa May and Ana Botín, and not forgetting the Queen. This is a woman who seemingly likes to keep herself busy: she works primarily as a haematologist who specialises in sickle cell disease, but as the Chief MO she advises the government on important health issues of the day. She was born 24th November 1949, three years after the end of World War II and one year after the formation of the National Health Service for which she would later work. She received her medical degree from the University of Manchester (one of the universities I applied for and was accepted by, fact fans!) and went on to obtain and M.Sc from the University of London. She has also received honourary degrees from the Universities of Keele and Lincoln. This is a woman with plenty of letters after her name, not to mention her titles preceeding it!

She has been married 3 times, the second marriage leaving her sadly widowed, and she has two daughters with her third husband.

Why this person is relevent today:

Her most recent news worthy announcement is particularly relevent to my family at the moment as it pertained to the use of antibiotics. The issue Sally Davies brought up referred to the fact that bacteria is pretty darn smart and can adapt to the drugs we use to combat them. This is not actual news; how many of us have seen the posters in our doctors surgeries reminding us that colds are viral infections and therefore cannot be treated with antibiotics? This is just one of many ways of trying to educate the public about bacteria and antibiotics. But Sally Davies warning was that little bit different, partly due to her use of the word “apocolyptic”. It’s a scary word and while we should always take eye-catching headlines with a pinch of salt (or more, depending on what newspaper uses the scare-mongering phrases!) we should take notice of this one. Bacteria will always evolve to combat the drugs we fight them with, but if we overuse our antibiotics, whether for direct human use or in the case of farming, we will lose our edge and it is very likely that bacteria will overtake our race to create new antibiotics for new strains of disease. It wasn’t very long ago that illnesses and conditions like TB or dental abcesses could cause death, but now we have antibiotics to combat them, plus a vaccine in the case of TB, and so they are still horrible, but ultimately they are treatable. In Downton Abbey’s last series ***spoilers*** Sybil tragically developed pre-eclampsia and died following childbirth, the decision to take her to hospital and perfom an emergency C-Section deemed to dangerous due to the risk of infection. This was only the 1920s, less than 100 years ago, yet infection was a very real danger to women in labour, and many died from this.

Final thought:

Apocolyptic may seem like hyperbole, but I think Dame Professor Sally Davies knows her stuff and we should definitely take heed. This woman is not just an expert on medicine, she is the expert on medicine. I just hope the government listens to her and imposes strict rules on the farming industry to curtail their use of antibiotics. I’d also love for the goverment to fund more research into new, more specific antibiotics to prevent the use of generic ones for all manner of infections…yeah, I know. A girl can dream, right?

 

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