June 2nd, 2014
Filed under: Uncategorized
We depend so much on volunteers in this country that we should mark this week by giving all volunteers some recognition and a big thank you. It doesn't surprise me that as a nation we are generous with our time: my neighbours include a volunteer who drives the sick and elderly to hospital and doctor appointments; a charity shop worker; the chairman of two societies; one who visits the elderly for company and another who referees hockey matches.
We all volunteer our time for different reasons; some are purely altruistic, others have a self-interest, some do it to fend off lonliness, others because they know that life has dealt them a good hand and they want to give something back. The people I've mentioned above are all of a 'certain age' and it seems to be the case that the retired are particularly good at turning their hand to volunteering once their working lives are done.
But what encourages me today is that I've recently come across a number of young people who volunteer their time too. And it seems quite clear that if they start early, they're likely not only to continue but to inspire others. So I'd like to give a special round of applause to all young people who currently volunteer…….and encourage those that don't to consider it. You can always choose an area that interests you anyway, and thus derive some real enjoyment from your labours. It can also enable you to meet new friends, different people and enlarge and enrich your social life. So you've got little to lose and lots to gain!
May 21st, 2014
Filed under: Uncategorized
It's really good to read – for a change! – that a new survey has discovered that perceptions of old age have changed a lot over the last few years. This is the conclusion of the people at PayingTooMuch.com who commissioned the survey.
And it's particularly good news for those of us who know we are ageing, but who hate being continually categorised as 'the elderly', or 'pensioners' or even grandparents! How often do you see a news story saying 'father robbed'… or 'mother mugged' when if the person happens to be a grandparent that title is automatically attached.
And don't get me started on the illustrations that newspapers usually use on stories about pensioners or senior citizens. They are almost always someone who is at the extreme – someone very wrinkled, bent, hobbling and bandaged. Whereas those of us who have recently become pensioners know that many, if not most, of us are still trim and fit and upright and fighting off that wrinkled skin!!!
So if 80 is the new 60 that's fine by me. And much more representative of how life really is. People in their sixties, seventies and eighties are nowadays often leading busy, full lives contributing to society. So let's hear and spread this message more often!
April 17th, 2014
Filed under: Uncategorized
I'm currently in France where grandparents are out in force minding grandchildren for working parents. It's the school holidays here, just as home, although Friday isn't a public holiday, so parents need even more cover! The difference I observe though is that French families traditionally holiday together – all,generations – so many parents will have taken part of their annual leave in order to be with the entire family. They really value family life here, which is why they've introduced this new rule that staff shouldn't have to take work emails or phone calls after 6 pm. It sounds wonderful for the work-life balance but surely pretty impossible to implement, particularly if you're a journalist – say – who really has to respond to news whenever or wherever it happens.
But the intention is good – that children should be entitled to their parents' full-time attention after school and before bed. Will be interesting to see how it works!
March 20th, 2014
Filed under: Uncategorized
The idea that we can all suddenly be happy – just because someone has decreed that today is Happiness Day – is bizarre. In fact, it's downright insulting and actually quite dangerous for nothing is more likely to make someone depressed than the idea that they 'should' or 'could' be happy when they're not.
Happiness isn't something you can switch on. It's not even a sensible goal to aim for as it can be elusive. I always tell clients that hardly anyone is happy all the time. Some people are sometimes happy; others spend their lives in a state of anxiety and despair ; most us know highs and lows. Far better to aim for a life of contentment for that is far more achievable – a much more realistic goal than all-out happiness.
Besides, at a time when there's so much misery in the world with wars, disasters and air-traffic accidents all around us – promoting World Happiness Day just feels inept and inappropriate. Whoever dreamt this up should find better things to do with their time.
March 13th, 2014
Filed under: Uncategorized
Our hearts go out to all the relatives of the people missing on flight MH370. It's hard to imagine what agonies they are suffering while they await news – any news of their loved ones. Those of us unaffected can understand why it might be taking the various agencies ages to work out what happened, but for those who are directly involved the wait must be seeming so very very long.
There is nothing worse than uncertainty. It unsettles us totally, which is why when people go through life's dramatic events they often feel so much better once a decision has been made, or once a marriage has ended or a job finally come to an end. Even though the endings may feel brutal and difficult at least they leave us knowing what we have to deal with. But uncertainty leaves us frozen in time, inept, unsure what to feel or how to cope because there always seems to be hope: hope that the worst may not have happened, that things may not be as bad as they seem.
So the relatives now will be clutching at straws whilst fearing the worse which means they are in limbo; their feelings won't have a chance to settle down until they have the facts. And they probably won't be able to sleep, eat or think straight in the meatime. It's a truly punishing period they're going through.
The disabling effects of uncertainty are well-known in counselling, which is why we always advise people who are suffering any kind of manageable uncertainty to try and do what they can to dispel it. If someone is due to appear in court, for instance, and is unsure how it is going to be, we'd encourage them to visit the court in advance to familiarise themselves with as much of it as they can. Or if someone is due to start a new school, we'd recommend a visit ahead of the start of term just so they know what's what.
Unfortunately, in this circumstance of unmanageable uncertainty, there's not a lot we can recommend, except perhaps that the sufferers take as much care of themselves as is possibly while they wait, to try to eat and sleep so that they are physically as strong as they can be to face up to the eventual news when it comes. If it's bad news, it will be shattering, but there will be relief as well as shock as they realise they've moved out of the 'uncertain phase' and into a new phase of grief and loss and bereavement. Not easy to deal with but one stage better than before.
March 11th, 2014
Filed under: Uncategorized
We visited the Cliveden Maze on Saturday and the fine weather had brought loads of people out. This didn't mean it was crowded – we had plenty of space to more around and around and keep going round the same corners! It was huge fun and the boys loved it, but also a bit frustrating as we kept meeting the same people coming towards us. However, despite a few arguments, it was obvious that most people were having an absolute ball. I noticed some of the adults raising their eyebrows at me as we continually brushed past each other….but eventually, we all began to laugh and laugh as we continually failed to reach the centre which was everyone's goal.
It occurred to me then that visiting a maze would be a terrific bonding exercise – particularly for any teams who weren't bonding well. A few minutes let loose in a maze would prove to be both relaxing and fun, while also proving to them the worth of working together rather than separately to solve a puzzle.
It seems that researchers believe they've found a way of beating peanut allergies in young children. This sounds such good news – for allergic reactions in children can be very scary, even life-threatening. It must be a nightmare for any parent whose child is allergic to peanuts – they are, after all, so common and so widely found as minor ingredients in a whole range of food products. Having to read every label and monitor your child's eating constantly must be very wearing – so it'll be wonderful in the future if children can be de-sensitized in this way to allow them to live a more normal, worry-free life.
It appears there's more work to be done and more trials, so we're not there yet, but let's hope that the trials prove successful so that the treatment can be more widely rolled out. And maybe if it works for peanuts, the same process can be used for more nut allergies and therefore more children.
I speak from personal experience, as our 4 year old grandson Arthur developed allergies very early on. His first allergic reactiion was aged about 8 months, when his face ballooned and he had to be rushed to A&E. It was soon established that he was allergic to eggs and nuts. As a baby and toddler, it was fairly easy to avoid those but as he grew the worries increased that he might inadvertently come across those things through friends, or at nursery or out and about.
In fact, he outgrew some of the allergies and now only reacts to cashew nuts and pistachios. And it was in my care that last year he suffered an allergic reaction to what must have been the tiniest trace of cashew nuts. It was an alarming experience made bearable by the exceedingly quick reaction of the local paramedics and ambulance service so that by the time we were taken into hospital he was well out of danger and just needing to see a doctor for a steroid prescription.
He thought the whole thing was very exciting, loved seeing the blue flashing lights that came to his aid, but for his grandparents it was a stark reminder of just how watchful we must be. And this is why I feel for parents and grandparents of those children with allergies to more widely available products, like peanuts. Being constantly vigilant is, at the moment, the onnly way to keep them safe.
This sounds like an excellent idea and one that we hope crosses the pond before too long. Most of us granparents and those from the 'older generation' often think that today's younger people are unnecessarily fussy about the 'sell-by' and 'use by' dates found on so many products today. Obviously, we're not going to be stupid and feed vulnerable young or elderly people out of date eggs or rice that's been left at room temperature or meat that's gone over and changed colour and smell! But all too often we see the younger generation turn their noses up at perfectly good quality stuff. And we don't need to be told any longer how much waste we all create. Tesco's recent survey about food waste hardly came as a surprise. We tend to blame it on the big, weekly family supermarket shop which has replaced our parents' habit of shopping locally daily. And it's understandable that it's not always easy to predict and plan a whole family's meals day-by-day a week ahead – let alone forecast what each person's appetite is likely to be. But if we can persuade people to be a little less cautious about eating food that may be just past its sell-by date but in perfectly good condition nonetheless, then we'll incur less waste which will help the planet and our pockets. In the meantime, people in the US are going to be allowed to benefit from these products that are recently out of date. And I hope someone here copies the idea before too long, and operates it with great care and oversight – so that those in real food poverty can pick up some bargains without endangering their health.
……was the headline in the Daily Mail yesterday about the recent advice from the co-ordinator of the Sex Education Forum. Whilst we're fully in favour of educating all children that they own their own bodies and that they do not have to subject themselves to unwanted kisses and cuddles, we feel the emphasis given to the story was all wrong. Of course, no child should be forced to kiss a grandparent or elderly relative if they're reluctant. But, for goodness sake, credit us 'oldies' with a bit of common sense! What grandparent has ever forced themselves on a child? We wouldn't dream of encouraging any child to do something it didn't want. Many children go through a shy stage or a self-consciious stage where they shrink from over-exuberant contact and we must respect that. But i'm sure most of us do! We've been here before with our own children, we know they sometimes feel sociable and sometimes don't; we've had them hiding behind our skirts (or trousers!) and we know that forcing them into close contact when they don't feel like it would be cruel. On the other hand, we grandparents know nothing more joyous than the arrival of our grandchildren. Mine call out my name as soon as they see me and fling themselves into my arms. But if they didn't, if they were having a quiet, introspective day, there's no way their parents, or I would force them into it. And I'm sure most of us agree. So, I'd have thought that Lucy Emmerson, said co-ordinator, might be better off spending her time on teaching children more about keeping themselves safe from far more predatory contact than a simple peck on the cheek. It's a serious area and doesn't need to be devalued by experts like her.
December 19th, 2013
Filed under: Uncategorized
I saw a very depressing item on Channel 4 news last night about how families are going into debt to finance Christmas. And this isn't so that they can eat – it's so that they can give their children the Christmas they 'dream of'. Parent after parent trotted out the mantra that they couldn't bear to see their childrens' faces on Christmas morning if they hadn't received the gifts on their lists. Many were spending £100 on each child. And the PayDay lenders were the ones who will end up laughing all the way to their banks.
How has it come to this? Why do we put children on such a pedestal that we believe they deserve everything they want? What is wrong with teaching them that life consists of ups and downs, that we don't always all get exactly what we want when we want it? What became of saving up for those things we dearly wish for? Or earning them by helping out with jobs around the house…..?
It's not going to be good for the next generation if they grow up thinking they can have what they want. But it seems that the parents seem to think this is normal, so guess we must have gone wrong with the previous generation. That's presumably where the rot set in.
Basically what children need all year round is love and security: if they know they come from a settled, stable home where their parents will always love them and support them, they can put up with little disappointments in everyday life. They also need help with learning that all kinds of things can make you happy – and that material things usually don't. They could do with a few warnings about the insidious nature of advertising too – and some warnings against being sucked in by keeping up with their friends, school mates and peers.
But I guess if the parents haven't yet learned these lessons they're hardly likely to pass them on to their kids. More's the pity for it would save them a bundle of money and help them avoid going into debt.