Jaynehowarth’s Weblog

Journalist and writer

Archive for November 2008

School Christmas Fair heralds beginning of festive cheer

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There was great cheer in our house this weekend for the Christmas countdown has begun.

No, the decorations aren’t up (they will be staying firmly in the attic until about 10 days before the big day). Call me a Scrooge, if you like, but I tire very easily a dust-laden tree and shedding needles.

And the cards are still in the carrier bag in a drawer in the spare bedroom. They’ve been there since I bought them in the January sales. This year, like every year, I am determined the write them and send them with second class stamps on, thus precluding the need for a panic first class postage for UK-based family and friends and sending cards to Bermuda, Germany and Australia on Christmas Eve.

No. The reason for such simmerings of festive cheer is this: the school Christmas has taken place!

This year, for the first time in six years, I didn’t help the parents’ association. I was chair for one year and vice chair for two and committee member for three. I felt guilty, but circumstances have been different this year.

I didn’t relish the idea of going through redundancy and finding a new job while writing letters to organisations to ask for prizes for the grand draw or sitting through committee meetings, organising hampers and stalls and drawing up a schedule.  Don’t know why, but I imagine even a super woman like Nicola Horlick would struggle to keep the stress levels down when organising an event like this.

It takes up a stack of time and the meetings become bogged down with the same topics of conversation crop up. Every year the same problems occur: the queue for Santa is too long and people become fractious. One year, some poor frazzled parents stood in a line for nearly an hour. Thank goodness, therefore, for a parent who is a magician. He managed to keep some of the increasingly frenzied youngsters (and adults) in good humour for a little longer.

Every year, the committee agonises about what to do about it, then nothing really happens. Except for this year and a colour coded ticket system, which meant visitors went to see the strange spectre who looked more like the Grim Reaper (but in red, naturally) than Santa at allotted times.

So this year, I decided to go to the fair and walk around with the children (giving husband a well-deserved break from it. The thought of attending sends him into a cold sweat).

The choir sang beautifully and there was some festive tunes over the loud speakers in the hall while we jostled to get some tickets for the tombola. Isn’t it funny how the same things seem to crop up every year at the tombola? I usually win something and stash it away to donate to the next fair. It’s the ultimate in recycling. I do wonder how old some of those toiletries are that crop up, though. Maybe we should install a discreet device on these items to see how often they make the journey to school…

This year, I went one better and put the ticket back in the drum when I realised I’d won a bottle of something that was called buck’s fizz but was about as genuine as Jordan’s boobs. It looked a bit dog-eared, too. Bet it was won at the summer fair and returned for the festive event …

In the hall, there were tables decked with red table cloths where we weary parents could sit and drink a polystyrene cup of wine (always get a licence … this is crucial). Perhaps I should have written “wine” rather then wine. It was quite simply the most revolting stuff I’ve ever had the misfortune to drink – and believe me I’ve tried some stuff in my time (including Mad Dog).

The children won a bunch of tat and tons of cheap and nasty sweets; I won a jigsaw (being donated to a friend’s mum) and some Tesco secateurs (ideal gift for the summer fair tombola, I think) and – shock – two prizes in the grand draw. Not the £100, sadly, but a photography voucher and a mobile phone. Woo!

But, I’m already looking to next year’s fair. Why?

Well, as I wasn’t manning a stall I walked around and spent an ABSOLUTE BLINKING FORTUNE. I know the money goes to a good cause (the school parents’ association), but looking into the empty purse, I felt as if I’d inherited the Treasury’s national debt.

So, next year I’ll be back and helping out. I’ll be doing a good turn and saving myself some dosh. Fantastic.


Babies affected by your choice of pushchair

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So, babies who face away from their parent/carer could find that their development is impeded.


Research published today by Dundee University, which worked with the National Literacy Trust (NLT) charity, found that babies who faced the person pushing them laughed more and were far likelier to chat and interact than those who faced the opposite direction.


According to Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, a researcher at the university, 2,722 parent-child pairs were observed in 54 areas across the UK, with a further 20 babies examined during a one-mile walk in Dundee.


She found that:


Ø      Only one baby laughed while sitting in the “away facing” pram, while half of the babies laughed when facing the carer.

Ø      The children’s average heart rate fell slightly when they were facing the carers and were twice as likely to fall asleep.

Ø      Parents who faced their infants while walking them in a pram were more than twice as likely to talk to their child/

Ø      But only 22 per cent of adults who were observed for the study were seen chatting to the babies.


Dr Zeedyk said that the babies who faced away from the carer were more likely to feel stressed and “emotionally impoverished”.


“If babies are spending significant amounts of time in a baby buggy that undermines their ability to communicate easily with their parent, at an age when the brain is developing more than it will ever again in life, then this has to impact negatively on their development,” she told the BBC.


“Our experimental study showed that, simply by turning the buggy around, parents’ rate of talking to their baby doubled.


“Our data suggests that for many babies today, life in a buggy is emotionally impoverished and possibly stressful. Stressed babies grow into anxious adults.”


The surprising thing about this study us that anyone should be surprised.


Surely it stands to reason that if your child is looking away from the main carer (who can also looked detached from the whole parenting situation or who are too busy on their mobile phones) then there will be no interaction.


Buggies are low down and children aren’t able to see what’s going on properly anyway. It must be incredibly daunting for them to see a sea of legs, bags and occasional cigarette flying around the place.


Whether the statistics are meaningful or not, it might serve as a notice to parents of infants when they choose their prams and buggies.


Do you want to look at your child? Talk about your surroundings when you are out and about? Just babble inanely together? Even if they are only a day or two old, you can still – and must – chat to your child. Which mother-to-be didn’t talk to their bump? Why should it stop when the child is born? Your voice is comforting. It makes the baby feel safe.


You cannot talk properly when you are a few feet higher and behind them, just pushing them around. (Anyway, it hurts your back to keep bending down to chat.)


Communication is vital. Enjoy long walks, facing each other, and enjoy chatting to your baby. Heck, they soon grow up and the time with them as babies is incredibly  precious!



Written by CommonPeople

November 21, 2008 at 2:52 pm

World Toilet Day

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It’s World Toilet Day today. Happy World Toilet Day!


But before we start groaning about “yet another day for this and that” or stifle a sniggering comment about such days being “at your convenience” or it being a “flush in the pan” there is a serious message.


The day has been launched by the World Toilet Organisation to remind we westerners that some 2.6 billion people across the world have no sanitisation: no access to a loo at home or in their community.


This lack of facilities has appalling consequences: five million children die every year from diarrhoea and other diseases for the want of basic hygiene. It is startling to realise that if children’s faeces were disposed of safely, we could reduces the incidences of childhood diarrhoea by 40 per cent.


There are environmental concerns, too: while more than one billion people are served by sewerage systems, but much of it is discharged into rivers, lakes and the sea with little or no treatment.


Every year, 200 million tons of human waste remains uncollected and untreated around the world, which not only fouls waterways and the land, but exposes millions of people to diseases.


The WTO, a global non-profit organisation, was founded in 2001 and focuses solely on improving sanitation and toilets. There are now 151 member organisations in 53 countries which are committed to ensuring clean facilities are available for all.


But it isn’t just poor countries where toilet hygiene is important. In the UK, campaigns have been launched to increase the number of conveniences.


Since 2000, about 16 per cent of public loos have closed – because local authorities are no longer required to provide. This may change, as some MPs are demanding that the Government orders councils to provide facilities.

Some councils may find it cheaper to pay shops etc to open their toilets to the public than reinstate toilets that they have to maintain and clean. In Richmond upon Thames, for example, 69 restaurants, pubs, shops and offices are paid £600 every year to allow the general public to use their toilets.


All very well, but remember this: complacent attitudes towards hygiene lead to disease.


Astonishingly, one in six adults has admitted to not washing their hands after they have been to the toilet.


This means germs from the toilet can easily spread from hands into the food we eat – and that leads to gastrointestinal infections.


And if you do wash your hands, it is important that they are dried properly, too as wet hands pick up more germs than dry ones.


According to the Royal Society for Public Health, hand washing and drying could reduce up to half of all acute respiratory infections in this country, which would lead to an £80 million saving on GP consultations every year.


Makes you think, doesn’t it?


Stats to make you think:


On average, one house produces more than one tonne of faeces every year (Water Aid)


One gram of human faeces can contain 10,000,000 viruses, 1,000,000 bacteria, 1000 parasite cysts, 100 parasite eggs. (UNICEF)


Hand-washing with soap after using a toilet can reduce the incidence of diarrhoea by up to 47 per cent (UN)


884 million people do not have access to safe water


60 milllion children are born every year into households that have no hygiene facilities


The average European uses 200 litres of water every day (Americans, 400 litres). In the developing world, the average person uses ten litres per day for washing, cleaning, cooking and drinking. (Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council).

history has been made

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Today has been momentous; history has been made.

It was an impressive victory – not just for one person but for many.

It was a time when I realised that there had been a mandate for change – that the future might be very different. Surely things won’t be the same again. The tide has turned and it cannot be go back.

The victory was sweet and I am hoping that this taste of honey may last.

Oh yes, Barack Obama has won the presidential elections, but that is not what I am talking about here. The victory that was so sweet for me is this: that my children allowed me to listen – for a whole morning before they were packed off to school – to Radio 4.

Not once did they ask for Radio 1 instead.

Ah, the future is truly looking good…

Written by CommonPeople

November 5, 2008 at 4:01 pm

a new life

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I’ve just a week left to go before I leave my job of nearly 15 years. How do I feel? Terrified.

 The emotional turmoil of whether or not to choose redundancy over a post at the organisation that was unlikely to suit me or my family commitments was agonising.

 The response from friends was overwhelming: leave and leave now.

 Even from those who were choosing to stay there. When I asked why they were not choosing to take their own advice, the responses were mixed and not always in tune with the words they had spoken to me.

 Fear seemed to be a major factor: fear of the unknown, fear that they wouldn’t get another job. These are understandable – and I had the same feelings.

 They loved their job. Same here: I wouldn’t have spent almost 15 years in the same place if I didn’t connect with what I did.

 I’m not criticising my friends for choosing their route and staying: I’d have done the same if I’d have assurances from management about the jobs I could have done, the hours and (crucially) the shifts I would have been expected to work.

 No assurances were forthcoming. At the last minute (just minutes before the deadline), I ticked the box that was to change me life and took the document to work.

 I took the plunge and am going. Next week.

 I’ve cleared most of my desk and but still need to leave forwarding emails to contacts.

 I’ve read counselling notes (largely ineffective), tried to keep motivated at work (extremely difficult), done the grieving (that surprised me more than anything), been angry (even though I “chose” to go).

 Now I’m in the final stages.

 But then what?

 Change is a difficult concept for me. I can embrace some changes easily and readily and others leave me dumbstruck.

 I can’t rationalise why I feel so confused. Am I afraid to admit that I might define myself by what I do, rather than who I am?

When meeting someone new and I’m asked about me, I don’t tell them about bringing up my children, my voluntary work or my life. I tell them that I’m a journalist. That is my status, but is that me, the person?

 While it’s true that I am a journalist, I am much more than that. I’ve just got to learn to remember that after next week.

Written by CommonPeople

November 3, 2008 at 11:16 am