Monday 15 April 2024

Colleagues in Israel, Syria,

Jordan, Turkiye and Iraq all contacted me yesterday. They all wanted one thing - to know if I had heard from anyone else. Were they all right? Had anyone heard from our colleagues in Gaza? 

I answered all the queries as best I could and sat there thinking about it. I have not heard anything from anyone in Gaza for several weeks. My good friend and colleague Z... had been contacted by someone I did some work for, someone who has the almost impossible job of trying to distribute the aid which does get through. That was it. 

All the others who had contacted me were people who have worked as volunteers in those complex humanitarian emergencies which seem to plague the region. Some of them are professionals trying to help other professionals. Some of them are tradespeople trying to rebuild areas. Some of them are in roles that try to see the free flow of such assistance and much more. None of it is easy.

The interesting thing yesterday was their concern for each other. It was triggered by Iran's barrage of missiles and drones into Israel. When a neighbouring country starts to use your air-space it can have the exact opposite effect of garnering any support. The two Jordanian colleagues were clearly very upset by this and indicated that there was no support among those they know for Iran's actions. The picture I get is that the Iranian government is not popular in Jordan. I might be wrong but my colleagues are educated people. They have worked with Israelis for many years. Some regard each other as friends. 

In Israel itself there are Jews and Arabs working together. They seem to regard their colleagues as friends. Their children know one another, sometimes play together. It is all very different from the picture the news media portrays. Yesterday I wondered again at what the "average" person on both sides of the conflict really thinks. How many of them would do what two families I know have done and support the others through illness and the death of family members? How many of them teach their children to "love not hate", that Palestinians need to have (at very least) a place to call home but that what Hamas did in October last year is wrong?

I answered all the queries as best I could. I sent messages on where I could. I deleted information that might cause concern. I put things into careful words - the sort of unofficial code that everyone understands when even expressing concern can lead to trouble. I curled up on my sleeping mat last night and worried. Had I been careful enough?

This morning in my work email in box there were responses. All of them were positive. Everyone was relieved to know that their colleagues were still alive and still working even if communication is difficult right now. 

At the very end there was a message from Z... It didn't use any words at all. It was simply a "smiley". Yes, we can smile for a moment even amid the horror of it all.   

Sunday 14 April 2024

Six dead and more critical

is not the sort of news anyone wants to hear. 

I tried not to panic yesterday because a family member could easily have been in the shopping centre where the incident occurred. Having heard nothing I assumed that person was safe but I knew others had not been so fortunate. It was all a little "too close to home" as they say. It was not the sort of thing we expect to happen in this country either. This is "not that sort of country" - or is it?

Quite possibly the person who committed this act was mentally ill. We will never know for certain what he was thinking because he is dead. It may be that this is better for all concerned. It is still going to cost a great deal of time and resources to investigate. There is the cost of the emotional and physical trauma for those directly involved and the emotional trauma of those peripherally involved. The financial cost will be high too but it is the other costs that really matter.

Those costs will go on for years. If the nine month old baby survives she is going to grow up without a mother - and that is a life sentence. I wonder what makes someone attack a mother and child, people they do not know...and I think of this happening in other places because there are people who are fighting for supremacy and control without any care for the individuals who stand in their way.

I am wondering too how the policewoman who shot and killed the perpetrator feels this morning. Yes, it is something she was trained to do but it would never have been something she really expected to do. She now has to live with the fact she has taken the life of another human being in an ordinary suburban shopping centre. Her action was to shoot and her reaction was to start CPR on the same person. The latter says a great deal about what sort of person she is likely to be. I hope she gets a lot of support from now on. She is going to need it...and telling her she is a "hero" is not the sort of support she needs.

No, we don't expect anything "like that" to occur here and it is wrong. It is also wrong it is happening in other places. I want people to think before they act - and they won't. 

Saturday 13 April 2024

Some of you are going to disagree

with this but I am going to say it anyway. We do need some special schools.

This morning's paper has a story about a child who was given "time out" for an entire day because he fought with another child in the classroom. His mother is up in arms about it. The school principal has been "counselled". The media is suggesting it was "inappropriate". I could go on. 

I do not know the circumstances so I cannot comment. However I have just been having one of those quick conversations with a local dog walker. He had read the article before I had and wanted my opinion. I was cautious about responding but he was not cautious about his own views. His grandson is in the same class as another very disruptive child. 

"My daughter says the kid is autistic. If he is then he needs to be somewhere else. It's not fair on the other kids."

I know this man's daughter and I have heard about the problem from her. I have seen the child in question, although not in the classroom. I have seen him more than once in the shopping centre with his mother. Yes, he is a problem. His behaviour is bizarre. In a classroom it would be very, very distracting for everyone. His teacher is doing an amazing job coping with it for short periods each day. The rest of the time it seems he is "wandering" around the room interfering with what the other children are doing or he is "one-on-one" with a teacher aide who is really there for three classes, two of which have children with other very special needs. 

There is no other school placement available for this child. There is no "special" class, unit or school available. It is all too easy to say he is "better off" in a regular mainstream classroom surrounded by children who behave "normally", that he needs to be there for his own benefit. The question surely has to be "what about everyone else?"

Even if this child is given one-on-one attention all day what if he is still shouting and lashing out? Is a mainstream classroom really the right place for him? Does he find the situation as confronting as others find it having him there? Is this what it is like for the child who was given "time out" all day?

School is a very different place from the schools I attended and even the schools I worked in. Education methods have changed dramatically since then. I am not sure they have necessarily changed for the best. Countries where methods are more "traditional" do seem to have higher levels of achievement - and I am not referring just to places like China. It might just be that the way schools are functioning now simply does not suit all children, that there are children who find the situation simply overwhelming and that those who would once have found it hard to function in a regular classroom now find it impossible. I know I could not work in classrooms I have seen in recent years. They seem noisy and chaotic to me. If what is going on inside your head is noisy and chaotic too this must make it worse.

Would providing a small, well regulated and quiet learning space actually be a better thing for some of these children? Would it be better even if it isolated them from the mainstream and treated them as "special"?


Friday 12 April 2024

Talking to strangers

is something we are taught not to do as children - and rightly so. It is also something most of us do not do as adults. 

I am prompted to write this because someone I know has just written she has been "breaking all the rules" and talking to people on London transport. The encounters were apparently good ones too. 

It reminded me of an incident several days ago. I was in the Post Office. It was the first really cool day for a very long time. I was actually wearing a heavy cotton jacket. The girl behind the counter said something about the fact that it was "so cold" and that she "might put the heating on tonight". Someone else joined in. I know the staff in the post office quite well - well enough for us to know each other's names - so I said, "Softies!" They laughed and a complete stranger joined in with, "Well I live in the hills and it is colder up there so I turned my heating on last night."

We all looked at him. He gave a cheerful grin and said, "Well, that's my story and I am sticking to it."  

All this was simply cheerful, friendly chat but I left the Post Office thinking that there is not a lot of that sort of thing any more. People don't talk to one another as much as they did. I wondered yet again whether it has something to do with the fact that many people get in their cars to go somewhere. They don't walk. They don't catch public transport. Now they also have the added distraction of their mobile phone screen. It is all a perfect excuse not to talk to other people.

I am going to get my 'flu vaccination this morning and I am almost certain that I will go into a silent waiting area. That might be understandable in a medical setting but it seems to be the same in the wider community. What happened in the Post Office seems to be rare and I think we all felt better for it.

Middle Cat seems to be able to talk to anyone anywhere. My friend G... is much the same. They can get a life history from anyone in no time at all. Much as I like listening to other people I cannot bring myself to start a conversation in that way - or ask the questions which will keep it going. 

I will respond to other people though. I am not going to stand and stare straight ahead. My phone screen holds no attractions for me.  I am never going to drive a car. I should have more conversations than I do. What is going on? Are we losing the art of conversation?

Thursday 11 April 2024

The Tickle v Giggle case

is one which all women need to be aware of and I am concerned that it is not being given the coverage it should be given. It is a case which will be pivotal in determining whether those born female have the right to female only spaces or whether those born male have the right to use them if they are transgender. In short the court is being asked the question "what is a woman?"

It is a big question. It is a very important question. It is a question of whether biological identity or gender identity should prevail. 

It is well known that the author of the Harry Potter books, JK Rowling, has been criticised for saying that traditionally women's only spaces should remain that way. It may be that she is right.  I have had a little to do with one of the women's shelters here in this state and I would say that allowing any biological male in there as a client would be extremely distressing to the biological females seeking shelter there. The Senior Cat did maintenance work there on a voluntary basis for over a decade. Before his death he was aware of the way Rowling was being criticised and he was upset, indeed very upset, by it. "Don't people realise how vulnerable these women are? Don't they realise how hard it has been for them to get there? The last thing they need is their safe space being invaded."  

When accused of "invading their space" himself he would just shrug and smile. After the first few weeks word got around that he was a "safe" person. The message was handed on to new arrivals. He never had any trouble. He was there simply to do small maintenance tasks. The women accepted that. It is quite different from going into a group expecting to be accepted as a female whatever the reality.

The problem here is that, in 2013, the government amended the "sex discrimination act". They removed the biological definitions of "man" and "woman" and allowed discrimination to be based on the gender identity of a person instead. The end result has meant that women actually have less protection than they had before 2013. Ten years later this has finally come to court. It should never have come to court. There were others who were aware of the problem but did nothing about it. They put their heads in the gender sand and hoped it would go away. It is legislation which could have and should have been written differently. 

The decision in this case will have far reaching implications - not just here but perhaps elsewhere as well. We need to be aware of what is going on.

Wednesday 10 April 2024

Are we being too sensitive?

Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis will know that I had a slight altercation with a car the other day. The driver called me a "f...spastic bitch" and drove on before anyone managed to get his number. I was shaken but not injured. 

I have also recovered although I am perhaps being even more cautious than normal but now I am wondering what would have happened if he had stopped, if I had been injured, if... there are a number of possible scenarios. What would I have done if he had stopped and checked? Would I simply have said, "Could you please be more careful?" Would I perhaps have shouted at him? 

People can do unexpected things when they have been frightened. The reaction is sometimes anger. I can understand that. 

It is not the same as the sort of behaviour currently being reported in the press. This is not the same as the apparent "anger" of the mother who removed her children from a school because one of the children was given detention for refusing to stand for the national anthem. It is not the same as being angry because a local council decides to consult the community about an issue.  It is not the same as being angry about being denied entry to a women's group because the group does not consider you to be a woman. All those things have appeared in the media over the past twenty four hours, along with some other issues. 

I am a person who waits to be invited to visit, to join in a conversation, to participate in something. I am sure there are other people like me. We look on those people who seem so confident about their welcome with envy. 

I know why I am like this too. My parents never went visiting without an invitation. They rarely invited people into our home. It was seen as something you did not do. As children we never stayed for "sleepovers". They were much less common than they are now but we would likely not have been permitted to go because it would have meant returning the invitation. There were also the added difficulties of my physical limitations - not to be talked about or even mentioned and brushed off by my mother if anyone dared to mention them. I had to leave home and go to the other side of the world for a time to get away from that.

All this was not about being "too sensitive" it was about the way I was being brought up. I think this is what worries me now. We are being led to believe we should be "sensitive" about all sorts of things, that we should not "offend" other people by behaviour which was once considered simply impolite or insensitive or even normal. We are being asked to accept that a young child is now offended by a national anthem. The anthem is not offensive in itself. They even changed the words to make it more "inclusive". That child has been taught to be offended.The person who does not want public consultation about an issue is afraid of being "offended" if others do not agree with the stance she has taken. 

So what does it really mean to be "offended" or "denied" or "hurt" or "traumatised"? Are we really teaching children they need to be "sensitive" about such things or are we teaching them something else?  It will be interesting to see which way the Tickle v Giggle case goes.


Tuesday 9 April 2024

No, social media is not to blame

even though it may be convenient to blame it.

An acquaintance of mine was complaining about social media yesterday. She was blaming her son's broken ankle on social media.

"If he hadn't seen that damn video he wouldn't have thought of trying something so stupid!" she fumed, "Now I'm going to have to cart him everywhere for months."

T.... has broken his ankle in multiple places. He has had surgery. It is pinned and screwed together. The surgeon has warned them there is a very long road ahead to recovery and that he "won't be playing football again". 

He was on his skateboard fooling with friends. He was doing what all teenage boys do in such situations. They had all watched something on a video clip that one of them had found...and they had all tried the manouvre.  They had all failed. It was T.... who came off worst. His mates had dealt with the situation sensibly and efficiently. They are not a bad bunch of kids. I know them slightly. They will acknowledge me as they skate past at speeds that scare me even while I recognise their need for speed, their need to take risks.

T...'s mother actually seems more worried about her own inconvenience than the potential problems for her own son. I can understand that having to take him to and from school when, at fifteen, he has been going alone is an inconvenience for her - except that his grandfather will probably do the job. I suspect T... has mates who will see to it that he gets there and back in other ways as well. She will no doubt equally resent his need for physiotherapy later and the trips to and from the surgeon and others. According to her it is all the fault of social media, of that video clip.

It is easy to blame social media for the accident. Perhaps she is right and the boys would not have tried doing what they were doing if they had not seen it there. It seems to me though that they might just as easily have seen it on television or during a film. They might have heard about it from others or seen someone they did not know do whatever it was they were trying to do. 

If it is there on a screen they are likely to watch it but simply suggesting that everything dangerous, harmful or hateful be taken down is not going to solve the problem. It is rather like suggesting that the graffiti at the railway station be taken down. It is removed frequently...and just as frequently it reappears. The young (and not so young) graffiti artists consider it a game. They spend hours refining their "tags". The idea they might be caught just adds to the "thrill" of doing it.  Making it an offence to sell spray cans of paint to the young just added a layer of challenge to the offenders. I suspect trying to remove anything and everything that could be deemed harmful, dangerous, offensive and hateful from social media would be the same. We can try but it won't work.

Yes of course there are limits but social media in itself is not to blame. It is the people who put that sort of material there who are to blame...perhaps we should be doing more about removing their access to social media?