Thursday, 11 June 2015

Who's afraid of the dark?

Children are great about being brave aren’t they? They often seem to have no fear and rush into life and through life with a wanton abandon; living in then moment, without a care in the world. And really a happy childhood should be like that shouldn’t it?

But often at some point in our childhood, we all develop a fear. Something scares us and freaks us out and whenever that thing is viewed, talked of, experienced, it puts a fear in us which is so very irrational but so very real. Spiders, snakes, “monsters” (I love Monsters Inc. don’t you?)….

For me it was clowns. I was two years old, we were on holiday on the Isle of Wight and I remember clown faces clinging to the outer perimeter fence of a funfair. My earliest memory is climbing into my parents bed in a caravan on the Isle of Wight because I was having nightmares over those freaky clowns.

Oh and the Diddy Men…. 

True - I was scared of Ken Dodd’s Diddy Men…..for me, Room 101 would contain Dickie Mint and his Jam Buttie Mines and every clown in town!

But for many children, and on into adulthood, it’s something else, something sinister, something which invades our lives every single day, silently approaching, encroaching with every minute which goes by, keeping us awake when we want to sleep……


Who’s afraid of the dark?

Well, now I mention it, who is afraid of the dark? Really? Are you sure? Darkness is really just the absence of light isn’t it? I seek permission to suggest that actually those who claim to be afraid of the dark are not afraid of the dark at all.

Don’t argue back just yet, let me finish my theorising…

No, let’s go back to Sully & Mike – our favourite monsters in the film Monsters Inc. They used the cover of darkness to slip into a child’s bedroom to scare them and thus obtain the highly prized “scream” to help power their city.

Seriously if you haven’t seen it just where have you been?

Nobody is really scared of the dark; they’re scared of what is lurking under the cover of darkness, that which can't be seen. When we can't see something our imagination replaces the void with what we think it might look like. And the imagination is a powerful, powerful thing. A tool of extreme value and purpose to the writer, the poet, the artist, the musician. It can conjure up the most beautiful of images - the Seychelles - most of you reading this will never have been to The Seychelles but I'd like to suggest that approximately 10 seconds ago you saw something in your imagination which pictured what you think The Seychelles looks like. It's a powerful thing.

But that power can also be destructive. We can imagine people are out to get us just because there was a knock at the door, we can drift off into dark thoughts and moods brought on by a conversation which we've taken out of context and we imagine things are a lot worse than they really are.

So we lie in bed, it’s quiet, it’s still, it’s dark, very dark.

“What was that bang? That creak? Why has the room gone cold? Did you hear that?”

Before we know what’s what we’ve got a mad axe murderer coming up the stairs but we’re frozen to our spot, we let the irrational fear go on. It’s no coincidence that so many panic attacks happen at night. Eventually we either fall asleep or shout for help and someone comes to turn the light on.

So who’s afraid of the dark?

Who’s afraid of Down’s syndrome?

Really? Are you sure? Or is it just that you’re afraid of what’s lurking under the Down’s syndrome covers. Are you afraid of what you don’t know? The darkness? Afraid of what you can’t see? Afraid of the future?

What is your imagination doing? In the darkness, it's conjured up a picture painted by words of negativity, cold, clinical words which you never expected to hear and can't quite comprehend but you know it suddenly feels difficult to breath, you're feeling light-headed and the walls are closing in.

You want to shout for help. You open your mouth but no sound can escape.

It's a powerful thing, the imagination. 

You know what, if there’s going to be pre-natal testing, it’s better that there’s a non-invasive test. Better for mum; better for baby. So hurrah for the new non-invasive pre-natal test.

But (there's always a but and mine's a particularly big one!) we have to be so careful about where a positive diagnosis of Trisomy 21 takes us. Any screening, testing and detecting for Down’s syndrome, or other genetic conditions, must go hand in hand with accurate, balanced, information and education which doesn’t leave parents afraid of the dark.

I skipped over to the NHS website earlier to see what they say about Down’s syndrome. Here’s what I found:

Down's syndrome, also known as Down syndrome, is a genetic condition that typically causes some level of learning disability and characteristic physical features.
Around 775 babies are born with the condition each year in England and Wales.
Many babies born with Down's syndrome are diagnosed with the condition after birth and are likely to have:
·           reduced muscle tone leading to floppiness (hypotonia)
·           eyes that slant upwards and outwards
·           a small mouth with a protruding tongue
·           a flat back of the head
·           a below average weight and length at birth
Although children with Down's syndrome share some common physical characteristics, they do not all look the same. A child with Down's syndrome will look more like their mother, father or other family members than other children with the syndrome.
People with Down's syndrome also vary in personality and ability. Everyone born with Down's syndrome will have a degree of learning disability, but the level of disability will be different for each individual.

Bearing in mind this is an introduction and meant for patients, it’s all a but cold don’t you think? Science wins out over humanity. So what’s the next heading:

Screening for Down’s syndrome (science again)

What causes Down’s syndrome (more science)

Life with Down’s syndrome – oh look boys and girls a little bit of humanity; a snapshot of real life and positivity. A bit late though if you never got this far because the first three sections of cold facts scared you silly (scream gathered, more power for the scientists).

(Yes NHS I’m more than happy to re-write it if you want me to!)

A midwife recently asked me on twitter “but surely in the UK in 2015 we welcome and defend women’s autonomy over their own body?” 

My response would be that in the UK in 2015 we should welcome and defend the rights of everyone to receive balanced, accurate information and education about what having a child with Down’s syndrome really means before being asked to come to any conclusion about whether a pregnancy will continue or not.

Right now, these decisions are being made in the dark, where it’s lonely and scary and horrible and it’s all a bit of a nightmare. Not even any time to shout for help.

The clowns are coming to get you...

The mad axe murderer is near the top of the stairs...

What you going to do?


Monday, 18 May 2015

Never Mind the Politics

Thursday 7th May 2015.

Now that’s a date that many people will remember for a variety of different reasons and yet others will screw their eyes up really tight, count to ten, wish upon a star and hope that it didn’t really happen. However, upon peeping through the cracks between your fingers you realise that yes it really did happen and the Tories have been re-elected.
However, this is no party political blog…..well, not this time.

No, this is about why Thursday 7th May 2015 was a memorable day for Emily. Will she remember the date? No, she’s forgotten it already I’m sure. Will she remember why it’s so memorable for us? No, it was just another day for her.

So why was it a memorable day?

Well, it was the day that Emily got to exercise her democratic right to vote.

Oh that!

Yes, that!

Don’t know why she bothered, what a waste of a vote.

Well, no actually. You see there are very few things which people with a learning disability get to do in absolute equal measure to the rest of us. I must admit I’m half surprised that people with disabilities are allowed a full vote all to themselves and don’t have it watered down somehow. Oh wait, that will probably come in with the various reforms over the next five years….

But actually, when you think about it, there really are not that many things that people with Down’s syndrome and other learning disabilities get to do with the same measure as anyone else. There is so much made of equal rights etc. but in reality we play at equal rights much of the time.

Yes, of course you can have an education (we just reserve the right to only give you the support we think you need and not the support you actually need).

Yes, of course you can have free health care (as long as we are in control of what we deem to be in your best interests, taking into account cost of treatment and perception of how it might benefit you and society as a whole).

Yes, of course you can get a job (but we won’t make it easy for you and we’ll make sure that you lose any benefits you might have been entitled to so you will be no better off).

Yes, of course you can vote.

Yes, of course you can vote. What? Where’s the catch? Where’s the hidden agenda with a whisper behind the back of your hand?

Well actually yes, people with learning disabilities can vote. So we thought why the heck not! So we downloaded the simplified manifestos from the Mencap website and told Emily what we were going to do.

Now when I say simplified manifestos, they were still too detailed to hold Emily’s interest (or mine) for more than a few minutes, so we played headlines. We looked at the headlines for Labour, Conservative, Lib Dems and UKIP. Yes I know, but UKIP have a very strong presence in Rotherham due to the very badly managed Labour dominated council making a right old mess of things, giving UKIP more than a foothold on the council. The lunatics have taken over the asylum. Hard to tell. The lunatics were always there in my opinion. Thank God for our fab local Labour MP’s especially Sarah Champion. Champion by name. Champion by nature. No, it’s not a political blog post….

Anyway, thank the Lord….I mean, anyway, Emily, in her infinite wisdom got rid of the Lib Dems and UKIP straight away. For Emily the hot topic was the NHS and, particularly, care for those with cancer.

(She is THE most compassionate soul on the planet in my opinion.)

So it was red or blue. Labour vs. The Tories. Which would she choose? (Oh, and before you say anything The Green Party were not contending in our constituency. The English Democrats were but even the looneys think that they’re a bit too far off the scale!

She chose. And off we went to Emily’s old primary school to cast our votes.

I must confess I went expecting a fight when we got there. I expected someone to say Emily couldn’t vote or she’d need some help or something else ridiculous. I went first, got my voting form and waited for Emily who handed in her polling card, confirmed her name and was given her voting form. I went in one booth, Emily in another. She took her time and I just finished mine in time to see Emily carefully put her X in the box she said she was going to vote for (we practiced that bit at home). And then she went over and posted it in the box just like it was a letter going to Santa when she was seven.

And there it is. A vote cast in the General Election on Thursday 7th May 2015 by Emily on exactly the same terms as anyone else voting. Result! Never mind the politics!

Sorry? Who did she vote for?

I told you….this is not a party political blog post!

Emily, on her way in at the Polling Station

The vote is cast

Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Best of Times

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.”

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

Looking back over the past 25 years, this could be how I would sum up being a parent, with seasons of joy and hope mixed with seasons of challenge and despair. I’m not just talking from the perspective of having a child, however old that child may be, with special needs, but let me tell you dear reader, that being a parent is hard work, no matter how many chromosomes your child may have, no matter how well they communicate, no matter what their academic capacity or the value attributed to them by others.

With each of my children I can point to some time in their life and say it was the best of times. These are times when you can climb any mountain, you walk on air, you smell the sweet scent of every flower you brush past on your walk to school without having to bend down. Life just has an indescribable aroma of joy which lifts you, warms you, hugs you and enables you to overcome anything at all that gets in your way. We had everything before us.

But then there are the worst of times. Dark seasons of the soul. Disappointment. Discouragement. Challenge after challenge and every time you think you’ve negotiated your way along this rocky path, you stumble or you’re tripped or the path just seems to disappear in front of you and your feet slip as the scree gives way leaving you clinging to a rocky outcrop on a cliff edge. We had nothing before us.

When you have a child with special needs it can often seem like the best of times and the worst of times all at the same time. We’ve recently had Emily’s annual review at college. If you read my previous post you’ll have gleaned a small amount of the frustration that I feel about that. There will need to be more work done by college, by us and by Emily to find appropriate solutions to some of the challenges here. Spilling my frustration over these pages will do nothing to change the situation and saves you from having to mop up after me. Suffice to say, it feels like the worst of times.

Then on Thursday evening Emily was invited to take part in S-Factor by the special school she used to attend. S-Factor is a talent show for the school’s pupils. Every year it has me laughing, crying, applauding; it really is the best show you could ever see. This year is the 10th anniversary so the school held a reunion concert for former pupils, a fantastic idea and so inclusive of the staff, who consider former pupils still as their own.

When I arrived in the hall to take my seat I saw so many of Emily’s friends. I went across to say hi and got hugs, high fives, handshakes, fist bumps, it was brilliant. There were 27 acts all eagerly anticipating their moment on stage, their time in the spotlight, their chance to shine.

When you’re going through a difficult time or you’ve had a rubbish day at work; when you’re feeling a little bit sorry for yourself and inclined towards inviting yourself to a one-person pity party there is nothing better than going to an event like this. These young people all have learning disabilities of some sort but have a zest for life which is immeasurable. They have a way of encouraging one another which is entirely natural, not forced, not said in the hope of getting a compliment in return but just being nice to one another. It really is most humbling.

Nat, a young man with Down’s syndrome, took his turn to recreate a magical performance from a few years ago. He played the drums, with no accompaniment and was absolutely fantastic. The joy on his face was tangible. He played a drum solo like you’ve never seen and got a huge ovation.

Andy, dressed in a wonderful red and white striped blazer and matching boater, had us mesmerised with Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious from Mary Poppins, remembering every word with perfect timing.

Simon *swallows hard to remove lump from throat* Simon sang Sting’s  Fields of Gold. I watched through tears, in the same way I am typing now, as Simon serenaded the audience with this beautiful song, his broad smile never leaving his face from the first note til last. I will never forget that performance.

There was a group who were their own version of the Ting Tings, singing That’s not my Name. With Stephen, now aged 25 and pushing seven feet tall, on lead vocals, they were all dressed in psychedelic outfits which were as colourful as their personalities. They had the audience clapping and laughing, especially at the end of the song as Stephen sang out repeatedly That’s Not My Name he turned around, bent over and stitched onto his bright pink shorts were the words “My Name is Stephen” – just wonderful comedy.

The evening finished with everyone in tears again as Laura sang I dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables. This was followed by everyone invited on stage to sing Proud – the school theme song. Rapturous applause followed.


Oh yes, Emily. What can I say? Emily loves performing. She is completely at home on a stage and so we are looking at how we can incorporate this into her future life. 

Versatile as ever she went from being a raucous, brash, punk rocking, hip thrusting Pink singing So What! to a demure, pretty dress wearing Christina Perri singing A Thousand Years. She makes me so proud.

So when it feels like the worst of times it can also feel like the best of times. I wouldn’t have missed this evening for anything. I actually feel sorry for those who never get chance to attend anything like this - it really does put life into perspective. The age of incredulity blinds so many to the rich depth, joy, colour and beauty that people with learning disabilities bring to our selfish world. 

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Bold assumption

I’ve not written for a while, it’s been a busy time in many ways, not least of which is thinking about Emily’s future. What happens after college? What does she want to do? Where does her future lie? Where is the support for whatever she wants to do? I’ve got to say that after Emily’s recent annual review at college I have many more questions than I had before and many more than I can list here. 

As we’re still in a process of discernment I don’t think it appropriate to divulge too much here and now but I will say this:

Forgive my bold assumption as we met around the table
I had this strange idea that the people there were able
To meet the needs of Emily, or at least you’d catch the vision
Of life when schoolings ended; her hopes and dreams; ambition

Forgive my disappointment when the dawn of truth awoke me
From my state of false-hope dreaming when your crass ignorance poked me
As a wounded bear defends her cub I had to bear my teeth
Through my blood-thirsty anger I hid the pain beneath

Forgive my crazy thinking that you cared about your students
I see your job is just a paycheck, but don’t you think it prudent
To have some self-respect; to dignify your position
Yet you wonder why parents around the world are preaching sedition

Forgive me as I take the reigns, you’ve really lost control
You’re in the world of special needs but you’ve lost sight of the goal
To allow each person the opportunity to reach their full potential
You squeeze square pegs into round holes, have you heard of differential?

Forgive my expectation that you’d heard of person-centred
Annual reviews are just your way of leaving me tormented
You’ve got no plan, no notes, no clue – just going through the motions
This is her life, her hopes, her dreams – don’t mess with her emotions

Forgive my bold assumption as we met around the table
I had this strange idea that the people there were able
To meet the needs of Emily, or at least you’d catch the vision
Of life when schoolings ended; her hopes and dreams; ambition


Tuesday, 7 April 2015

A Convenient Lie

I loved Down’s Syndrome Awareness Week this year and in particular World Down Syndrome Day on 21st March. It was fantastic to see so much positive awareness about Down’s syndrome across so many social media channels, in print and on television. The Empire State Building in New York City was illuminated in honour of World Down Syndrome Day, as was the Millennium Bridge in Gateshead, Blackpool Tower, CN Tower, Toronto, Canada as well as the homes of the Governors of New Jersey and North Carolina, USA, to name but a few.

There were amazing stories of what people with Down’s syndrome can do, wonderful videos we all watched and cried over probably, we read blogs and nodded and agreed and showed our support. And wasn’t it fantastic to see Prince Harry and some of the England Rugby Union Squad showing their support by joining thousands of people all over the world rocking their “lots of socks”!

What a buzz – we’re making progress at last right?

Yet all through that wonderful week something was bothering me. I sensed an elephant in the room. It was an elephant which didn’t crop up during that week, not that I saw anyway, yet it was the one thing which I really wanted to shout and scream about; the “abortion” elephant.

Over the last week or so there has been media coverage regarding a new non-invasive test for Down’s syndrome which is particularly accurate. It is being hailed as a huge step forward and will no doubt see a reduction in the number of live births of a baby with Down’s syndrome to such an extent that it could be all but eradicated.

Switch off the lights at the Empire State Building, those illuminations are not needed anymore. Prince Harry please remove those socks, never to wear them again. Science has found a way to eradicate Down’s syndrome so society can breathe a huge sigh of relief, the scourge of Down’s syndrome has finally been defeated and everyone can go about their business, we’ll consign Trisomy 21 to the history books along with smallpox, dinosaurs and Hitler!

Yet thousands of us, tens of thousands, parents, families, carers, know that people with Down’s syndrome are people first; not a label, not a condition, not a genetic mutation – people. If we were to let nature run its course without intervention there would, no doubt, be many thousands of people born in the future with an additional copy of chromosome 21 and they would get as much from life as the people we know and the people we celebrated during Down’s Syndrome Awareness Week. People. Like you. Like me.

Oh but the scientists tell us they’re not people until they’re born. Until then they’re just a foetus and that means we can do anything we like with them. They have no rights. It is better to rid the earth of people with disabilities. Well excuse me, if this were to be tried in court, I could call thousands of people who would testify otherwise. People who, if they had known, may well have considered a termination rather than proceed with their pregnancy. But people who now shudder at that thought. People who say they are better people because of what they have been through. People who have given more to society because of having a child with Down’s syndrome. Oh, and of course, let us not forget all the people with Down’s syndrome themselves. Yes those people who one day took a breath of air and sucked in their human rights.

Yet even now 90% of unborn babies (yes babies) detected in the womb to have Down’s syndrome never draw that first breath. Why?

The answer is not as simple as the parents, or the mother, decided to terminate the pregnancy, though obviously they did. But the decision is based upon pressure and bullying and an unbalanced and biased argument. In fact, often not even an argument, but an assumption that a termination is the only option. I don’t blame any parent for making the decisions they do. I respect their decision but it HAS to be based on the truth and not a lie and right now I do not believe that is the case. By not educating the general public, and scared parents, about just how amazing people with Down’s syndrome are somebody somewhere retains the power to eradicate Down’s syndrome.

So the elephant in the room for me, or perhaps the (extinct) woolly mammoth in the room would be more appropriate in the circumstances, is where is this pressure to eradicate Down’s syndrome coming from?

Is it coming from the scientists? Are they pressurising the medical profession somehow to use this knowledge in such a way that it sates their desire to push the boundaries of the known world?

Is it coming from government? Is it a desire to reduce the financial burden to the welfare state of people with disabilities?

Is it from within the medical profession itself? Doctors, consultants, nurses, midwives? Is there an inherent desire to play God, not just healing the sick but deciding who should live and who should die? I love the NHS and have friends who work there. I don’t want to alienate anyone but I do want to understand how this all works. Who is pulling the strings? Whose tune are we all dancing to? Whose agenda are we following? Talk to me. Let me know.

Or is it something else? Is it coming from somewhere else? If so, where? Who? Why?

I confess I do not know the answer. But somebody does. Whoever you are I say to you, if you’re going to play God with our lives then make yourself known to us. Make yourself or yourselves known to ME! I want to meet you. I want to understand your motives; to understand just what drives your sick, indulgent, deluded fantasy. It seems to me that what you are doing is similar to what the Nazis were doing during the Second World War.

Come out, come out wherever you are!

You see friends, science will not stop at Down’s syndrome. Oh you can bet right now that somewhere in some laboratory there are people working hard at decoding other “disabilities”. They are not there yet but when they find a way of detecting blindness, deafness, autistic spectrum disorder (yes, these may not be caused by the presence or otherwise of a chromosome but that won’t stop them) or any other disability, there will be the same pressure exerted to terminate. Unfortunately for people with Down’s syndrome, the decoding of the syndrome has given scientists something to play with.

However, just because someone invented a gun, doesn’t mean we have to use it to kill people. Likewise, having the science to detect Down’s syndrome does not mean that we should use it to kill unborn babies, just because we can. As with all aspects of our lives we must balance our understanding and our knowledge with our actions.

People with Down’s syndrome have had a raw deal. They were not legally obliged to an education until the early 1970s and having had a daughter with Down’s syndrome in the education system since 1996 I can categorically confirm that our society continues to fail people with Down’s syndrome by not meeting their needs adequately. All of this means that we have not seen the best of people with Down’s syndrome yet! But over the past 20 years we have seen people with Down’s syndrome make huge strides in qualifications, jobs, independence, relationships – pretty much everything the rest of us do. So why have they been demonised? Because there are too many people who still relate to people with Down’s syndrome as they were before they were allowed an education.

I have friends with a child with Down’s syndrome who will say until their very last breath leaves their body, that having that child, yes that child with Down’s syndrome, has made them a better person and they would not choose an alternative way of living even if they could. And I stand alongside them in this.

When will these people who have set themselves up as a god realise that people with Down’s syndrome make a huge contribution to society? When will they realise that every life is valuable and worth far more than any of us see from the limited perspective of a man-made label?

So whoever you are, show yourself. Stop hiding, you coward.

But you won’t. You can’t. You dare not admit that you might, just might, be wrong. So instead of taking an opportunity to change the world and face up to an uncomfortable truth you will continue to sacrifice the innocent and hide behind a convenient lie.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Easter Lambs

It was a rare weekend away but where to go? Everything inside me wanted to head for the coast; for the sound of the waves crashing on the shore, for the wind to blow through my hair (well, ok, for the wind to blow by my head, about the place where my hair used to be, if you want to be pedantic about such things) - it's invigorating all the same! I love the coast, being there really does restore my soul, although I am a bit of a snob and it has to be rugged coastline, somewhere like North Cornwall, South-West Wales or the West coast of Scotland (other coastlines are available, please see your nearest tourist information centre for details).

However, with driving rain and possible snow forecast we decided that we would stay inland. Shropshire. We’ve never really explored Shropshire so we booked onto a farm for two nights B&B. I was working on the premise that if it was really boring Emily would at least enjoy saying hello to some animals every morning!

Well the weather was atrocious for most of our time away, a strong wind and horizontal rain for the most part. However, being on the farm worked a treat. It was more a smallholding than a farm; sheep, goats, horses, donkeys, pigs, dogs, geese, chickens – all that was missing was Old Macdonald!

We were given a tour of the livestock and Emily even got to give a backrub to Harriet, a very expectant ewe. Nick, our host, told us that Harriet really liked a good back rub and so Emily set about giving her the best back rub a Yorkshire girl could offer. We then said hello to Victor the horse, Charlie the goat and several other new friends before making our way to the pub where Emily downed two halves of shandy without coming up for air. 

We discovered that the pub had been at risk of closure so the villagers got together and formed a co-operative as it was a real hub of the local community. Everybody knew everyone – it was a bit like sitting on someone else’s settee but not at all strange – it was a lovely friendly atmosphere – as far away from Wetherspoons as you could possibly be. There was a genuine old-fashioned tap room where farmers were playing darts and when the fire alarm went off due to smoke from the kitchen all that happened was the kitchen door was slammed shut with someone's foot and the barmaid came running to waft the smoke away from the alarm with a bar towel and then opened the front door for a bit of ventilation. How refreshing! It was just like being at home! You got the feeling that Shropshire was a bit like going back in time to a time when people were civil to one another, cared for one another and created genuine community. I liked it. A lot!

After steak and chips we staggered back up the pitch-black lane with only a wind-up torch for navigation, stumbled into our lodgings and bedded down for the night. With no internet or TV, we were asleep by 10.30pm. Bliss.

As we arrived for breakfast the next morning we were informed that one of the sheep had given birth to two lambs that morning and that another was likely to deliver shortly and that we could go and look (after scoffing our full English obviously!).

We entered the barn as a lamb had just been born – the first for new mum Harriet! As we stopped we looked down and another was born, quickly followed by a third. Nick was giving us a running commentary through it all – it was like being on Countryfile! Just as I was looking round for John Craven, Harriet surprised us all with a fourth lamb! This was a first for Nick. He’d been doing this for 8 years and had never had four lambs from one ewe before. We all decided that it must have been Emily’s back rub the previous day that did the trick which Emily was absolutely delighted about.

The following day, just before we left, Nick asked Emily to think of four names for Harriet’s lambs – two boys and two girls. Without a second thought Emily declared, “Frank - you know Frank from church with the ginger beard, Thomas - Sir Thomas - the one who married Kate (we think this may be William but that's between you and I), Laura (after her big sister) and Noelle (one of Laura's friends from America and a fellow bridesmaid with Emily this time last year)”. We then went up to the barn to work out which was which before saying our goodbyes and heading on our way home.

So if you live or pass through Shropshire please do give a wave to Harriet, Frank, Thomas, Laura and Noelle - some of Emily's newest friends.

For this reason alone, we won’t be eating lamb this Easter!

Happy Easter! 

Thursday, 26 March 2015

A Pinch of Salt....

Remember that “song” Everybody’s Free (to wear sunscreen) by Baz Luhrmann? I only remembered it after I started to type something, a kind of advice to my younger self. Anyway, this is not me trying recreate something that’s been done before, it’s simply me giving myself a bit of a talking to, whether it’s to my younger self, my older self or me as I am now.

First things first, you need to understand that everyone’s got an opinion and advice. Some keep it to themselves, some carefully discharge it with wisdom and others blurt it out indiscriminately whether it’s any of their business or not. Take it all with a pinch (or a bucketful) of salt. Be careful who you share your opinion with and how you do it.

There are some things you should know.
There are some things you don’t need to know.
Learn to discern which is which and act accordingly.

As sure as the sun rises in the east, other people will let you down - don’t let them get you down but do get up to see the newness of the sunrise.
As sure as the sun sets in the west, you will let yourself down – learn to build yourself back up and remember to enjoy the beauty of the sunset.

Dare to wander barefoot into the meadow of your imagination. Tread softly, gently, sit awhile and discover the beauty that exists in endless possibility.

Be courageous
Be polite
Be courteous
Be brave

Be loyal - when all else is gone loyalty will mean you are not standing alone. Your credibility and integrity matter more than anything else. When IT is gone you are in trouble.
Stay out of trouble.

Don’t allow feelings to stop you doing the right thing. Feelings come and go. Your conscience will always be with you.

Understand that true friendship is more valuable than a huge house, a full bank account or any other material treasure. Your friends are precious; cherish them.

Life is precious; cherish it.
Forgiveness is vital; hold on to it.
Regret will eat you up – let it go.

Live a life which brings peace of mind. If you don’t have that you will forever be tormented by what if’s and maybe’s.

Spend time gazing at the stars. The universe is huge, you are tiny in comparison. Allow your breath to be taken away by a shooting star and the beauty of creation.

Allow your heart to be broken – you will retain a tenderness which allows you to love again.
Bitterness callouses the heart and poisons your thoughts.

Take risks.
Eat well.
Always have a dream big enough to grow into.

Allow your passion to show others what you believe and what you stand for.

Believe in yourself.
Stand up for others.

Colour outside the lines. Do not be constrained by the expectations of other people. Express yourself freely as only you can. You are unique.

Understand that there are many viewpoints. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean someone else can’t. A church tower has four sides; if there’s one person looking at it from each side you will all see a different clock face but you’re all looking at the same church and the same tower. Life is not always quite the way you see it.

Be an educator. The greatest threat to an inclusive society is ignorance. Educate the ignorant with words of love not condemnation. You will win others over to your side more quickly if you treat them with respect. Do not use words of hate. You are not judge, juror and executioner, even if sometimes it would feel better if you were.

Write. Poems, songs, prose. Just write.

Walking away is not a sign of weakness. Sometimes the bravest action is to walk away even if it appears to be in defeat. Living to fight another day when you are stronger is more important than fighting with no energy. Learn to pick which battles need fighting today.

You don’t need to explain yourself.
Don’t ask others to explain themselves.

Look after your teeth.
Look after your heart.

Forgive others
Forgive yourself.

Hold on to memories which make you smile.
Let go of memories which make you wince.

Travel to far off places and broaden your horizons.
Stay close to those who love you. Do not treat them with contempt or take them for granted. Invest your time in those who care about you and those you care about.

Smile. It encourages those who love you. It confuses those who dislike you.

Laugh. Every day. Laugh long and laugh loudly.

Sing. Sing the song of your heart. Sing in the shower. Sing in the bath. Sing in the kitchen and the lounge. Sing in church. Sing in the car. Sing in the street. Sing in the mountains. Sing in then valleys. Sing in the forests. Sing in the deserts. Even when there are no words; sing.

Cry. Allow your tears to bring healing to your wounds. Welcome them; do not despise them. You cannot make the past disappear but with every teardrop you get stronger and one day you will be glad for those tears.

There is beauty in brokenness. If you never hurt, you never truly love...

….and finally listen to the advice you give yourself. But remember…if you listen to this, take it all with a pinch of salt….