Monthly Archives: August 2012

666 SHADES OF GREY

On an individual level sometimes things can appear black or white, but all too often other factors impinge too complicate things resulting in a myriad shades of grey. This was evidenced in the plot of the recent Jimmy McGovern drama, one of his ‘Accused’ series. ‘Mo’s Story’ sees single mother Mo take a “let’s grass them up” defiant stance following the shooting of her best friend’s son by local a local gang. Her resolve, however, is severely challenged when she discovers that her son was the shooter. As the complexities of the storyline became clearer, I found myself wondering just how difficult it must be for people when their beliefs are challenged by actions of dearly loved close family members.

On a public level, the complexities get much greater for any politician who attempts to do what they believe to be best for their constituents. I know that I can often be quick to criticise them, but do appreciate the fact that some people still put themselves into the firing for what is generally a thankless task. Sometimes it seems that they have an impossible task trying to chart a way forward that will satisfy all of the population, particularly when polls often seem to indicate close to 50% diametrically opposite splits in opinions. Sadly, the job of politicians is made even harder when their collective reputations are sullied by the actions of a few high profile abuses of privileges and responsibility. Thankfully many good reporters have done a wonderful job in exposing such unacceptable practices.

I am all for transparency and freedom of information but do believe that there may be times when access to certain facts needs to be carefully controlled. When people are found guilty in a court of law, a sentence is handed down and they should be deemed to have paid their debt to society on completion of the sentence. I cannot imagine anybody wishing anything else for themselves should they find themselves drawn into a destructive series of events that leads to their conviction for some offence. Sometimes, these same people may not be so ready to accept that as the case for certain types of offence committed by others. The public release of the residential address of a convicted sex offender who has served their court sentence for example could easily result in vigilante action being taken to seek to extract further punishment beyond any that was deemed appropriate by the courts. I can understand public frustration about such issues, but the answer does not lie in acting outside the law, it is the job of politicians and governments to seek a suitable resolution; and our duty to petition them accordingly.

Which brings me to the current situation regarding Julian Assange; he may have a case to justify seeking to publish leaked information from a variety of sources, but just how responsible is it to make ‘everything’ available. But then again Wikileaks doesn’t make everything available, just as with every media publication, there will inevitably have to be a selection process to determine what to publish and what to ignore. I have noticed that they do not appear to have an archive of all their own internal communications, nor does the site have a readily accessible ‘contact’ link. Although Mr. Assange is so keen to expose corrupt governmental goings on and expect them to accept responsibly, it seems that different rules apply to himself. Rather than go to Sweden to address the allegations of sexual assault laid against him, he seeks refuge in a country with a dubious press freedom history.

Mr. Assange may well have justification for seeking to expose some of the dubious practices and outright lies that have appeared via Wikileaks; his current stance regarding the Swedish accusations does, however, make it much harder for him to claim any moral high ground as he is letting himself appear no different to those that he and his organisation accuse.

But his case will be greatly helped thanks to the support of George Galloway MP who ……………. but that’s a whole other blog topic! Having spouted his latest regarding what is and isn’t rape, just how can he possibly remain associated with a political party called ‘Respect’?

 


SEDUCTION, TEMAZEPAM & INXS

OK, I’d better try to explain the title: it’s a reference to ‘Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll’, a euphemism that we (PSE teachers) would often use to refer to our curriculum. The initials also lead to STI, the current accepted term to describe a variety of conditions that are mainly transmitted via sexual contact.

Today was the first day back to school for many children in Scotland, and for the third year running I managed to remember not to go in for the initial In Service Training day, yesterday. Today also saw Radio Scotland including the topic of parental involvement in Sex Education for discussion during this morning’s ‘Call Kaye’ show, for another time.

Yet again, it didn’t take long for the familiar points of view to be aired:

  • there was the mother who didn’t believe that schools should have any role to play at all as parents should be the only ones to talk to or educate their children about sex;
  • there was reference to another mother who had allegedly given her teenage daughter a copy of ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ and told her to “get on with it”;
  • and the father who believed passionately that all sex education should be undertaken by schools as there were “too many ill-educated parents ‘breeding like rabbits’ and producing children who simply carried on that tradition”.

Life is all about taking educated risks, and so is sexual awakening – the decision to write this blog is also an educated risk. For many years I believed that I was doing my best to navigate through the minefield of Sex Education – writing this might spur some ex-students on to tell me that I failed big time! Nevertheless I will continue.

Listening to the debate reminded me that Kaye Adams is an excellent host, and can play ‘devil’s advocate’ with grace and ease. It also reminded me of how impossible it is for those in positions of responsibility and power, such as politicians, to make well-judged decisions as long as the tendency to categorise things as black or white, yes or no, persists. We do not all come to these difficult situations from the same starting point. For parents in a steady and loving relationship, who have a settled and secure lifestyle, it may be easy to moralise about what the state should do. On the other hand single parents living a chaotic life will inevitably approach things in an entirely different way and, in many cases, will probably be more than happy to absolve all responsibility to the schools. In between, there are many, many more than forty shades of grey!

Example 1 – I recall an end of term day many years ago; we used to close early at lunchtime on the last day, but this time I spent a while after closing, waiting for paramedic assistance, with a student who had overdosed on paracetamol as the thought of seven weeks at home with abusive parents was simply too much to bear.

Example 2 – I have been following the blog of a girl who relates how her abuse by both parents began at a very early age, before they forced her into child prostitution. In a recent post she was asked what others could do to support her now. Her reply was so wonderfully gracious:

Thank you so much! There are two major ways you can help:

  1. Mention it. If someone makes a rape joke, bring up cases like mine. If someone says a girl is “a whore,” tell them how many people may be hurt by them using those words. Be a voice for those who are too afraid/ashamed to be their own voice.
  2. If you see something, say something. If you’re not sure whether a child is being abused, talk to the child, call someone – do SOMEthing. And don’t stop until that child is safe or you have no more options.

Thank you so much for your support of myself and people like me. By being a voice for the survivors, you are speaking out against the perpetrators.”

Well, after all that, I certainly don’t claim to have any answers – just questions. The principal one being – in an age when young people are bombarded with graphic imagery via a variety of easily accessible media, is the ONLY option for teachers to seek to find time in a crowded curriculum to teach students the biological facts about human reproduction round about the time of the apparent average age of puberty, when a large number of them will already have been encouraged/pressurised to experiment much sooner (regardless of what their parents may feel). One of the main observations that I would like to add is based on a fairly stereotypical view, but one that experience has tended to confirm: I really do believe that some sex education sessions should be conducted in same-sex groups – my reason for suggesting this is my long-held assertion that teenage girls generally mature much sooner than their male counterparts, and consequently when most girls are ready to deal with sensible mature discussions, the majority of males of the same age simply aren’t equipped to handle them.

It is so easy to rationally ‘tick a box’ on a worksheet to indicate that they would routinely use a condom when the moment arrived – when hormones and alcohol kick in, reality bears no relation to informed logic. Peer pressure and media projected expectations are very powerful things to ignore.


RETURN OF THE CYNICS

Having been very pleasantly awed by the London Olympic Opening Ceremony, after not even being sure that I would watch it, I was in two minds as to whether or not to risk disappointment by watching last night’s Closing Ceremony. I had regularly viewed my Twitter feed during Danny Boyle’s spectacular and was really quite stunned to see virtually 100% positive comments, it was also rare to note any Tweet that didn’t reference the ceremony.

During the two weeks of competition I saw very little in the way of negative commentary as most contributors had either been caught up in the wave of euphoria that came in the wake of the succession of Team GB medals, or had simply opted to focus on other things. Last night marked a change and a number of tweets suggested that a possible release of pent up cynicism was clearly evident in the tone of many posts made during the Closing Ceremony.

As I watched, I recalled times when I had been a ‘designated driver’, or late arrival at a party once things were well under way. It can feel rather uncomfortable to be sober when surrounded by people who are well-travelled along the road to inebriation. Joining in can be extremely awkward; and so it was last night. I can absolutely understand that it must have been a truly wonderful experience to have been present in the stadium, most particularly for the athletes who were finally getting an opportunity to relax with colleagues at the end of such an intense phase of their lives, but it really didn’t enthuse me at all. As a party for Olympic participants I believe that it worked extremely well, and tweets from athletes confirmed this. In particular I was struck by Zoe Smith’s (weightlifter) comments about hearing the noise from inside the stadium and being so desperately keen to get inside to join in.

As an outsider, however, I found that the selection of music was often inane and patronising and came nowhere near the inspired choices featured in the Opening Ceremony and the repetition of certain tracks smacked of penny-pinching on PRS payments. I think Emeli Sandé is an exceptional talent but did find it odd that she alone had secured so many slots to fill given the massive pool of talent available. The props looked so amateurish after the opening marvels, and whilst the opening ceremony contained many weird images, these mainly did appear to eventually make sense – many of last night’s proceedings were simply weird, full stop. Watching in parallel with following my Twitter stream was very much like watching a slow motion car crash, and I stuck with it until the very end, all the time expecting the worst.

For me the highlights were probably:

1 – the opportunity to see again some of the iconic images of winning and losing athletes, in particular Jade Jones’ absolute release when she threw her helmet into the air after winning her taekwondo Gold medal and Nicola Adams’ beaming smile after becoming the first ever female Olympic womens’ boxing Gold medallist; and;

2 – the deconstruction of the cauldron and the extinguishing of the flame; although even this raised many questions as to why the IOC doesn’t formally link the Olympics and Paralympics into one inclusive event rather than continuing to support segregation and inequality.

Whilst some of the singing was oviously live, in many cases this simply served to highlight the poor performances by some of the performers who have a long history of excellence.

Another consideration was in the choice of some of the performers; the Olympics, quite correctly make a point of seeking to root out drug use, yet here we saw participants such as George Michael, Kate Moss, Liam Gallagher and (albeit allegedly reformed) Russell Brand, all being given prominent roles – it’s perhaps a good job that no random drugs tests had been carried out prior to the start of this event. To highlight models famous for being Size Zero, also seemed a step too far from the healthy roles that had been so successfully promoted by the athletes.

Perhaps the next time that I feel aprehensive about watching something in case it disappoints, I will give it a miss.


OLYMPIC INSPIRATION

It is very difficult to avoid the Olympics at present, and despite being somebody who rarely watches sport I can fully understand the enthusiasm for celebrating the many excellent performances of competitors from around the world. Despite my previous post about corporate branding, I haven’t been blocked, so will risk another Olympic themed post. Following that post I have to say that I was pleased to note the appearance of a new sport of ‘back-pedalling’ as the public were told that still and video images taken within the venues could indeed be shared for personal and social use as the main concerns were, apparently, related to professional photographers who might seek to profit from any non-sanctioned images. Similarly I noticed reassurances being given that people attending venues should feel free to wear whatever they wish, provided that ‘it didn’t look as if they were being paid to wear it’. I have a strong suspicion that the moderated stance could well have been motivated by an acceptance that any attempt to rigidly police a more rigorous one would be virtually unworkable and counter-productive.

Once the anticipatory hype had been sidelined by the start of competitive spectacle the mood of most people, as portrayed by the media, seemed to get firmly behind the core ethos of ‘The Games’ – ‘FASTER, HIGHER, STRONGER’! This was clearly fuelled by the plethora of Team GB medallists that began to appear. I was very heartened to see a plea posted on FaceBook recently – encouraging the media to give greater prominence to Olympic champions, over other ‘celebrities’ as role models. In particular I would have no complaints if those ‘Z-listers’ who are ‘famous for being famous’, whose true accomplishments are virtually impossible to uncover featured far less prominently in the media.

In fact apparent mixed messages continue to circulate. Some of the principal corporate sponsors of the Olympics, are best know for their relatively unhealthy dietary products, burgers and carbonated soft drinks. With the BBC televising every single event, many people will be motivated to spend even more time sitting watching sporting performances rather than actively participating.

Always seeking to be topical, today’s BBC Radio Scotland weekday morning phone-in debate programme, ‘Call Kaye’, considered the potential motivational effect of Andy Murray’s individual Gold Medal, alongside a discussion about efforts to encourage school students to eat healthy meals by restricting access to fast food outlets in the vicinity of schools. This wasn’t the first time that the subject of healthy school meals has featured as a topic for discussion and it didn’t take long for somebody to suggest that the solution is simple, just get schools to stop students from leaving the school campus at lunchtime thereby compelling them to take healthy options in school canteens. This argument is flawed in just so many ways:

1/ any straightforward ban will never persuade teenagers to adopt the proffered ‘good for them’ option;

2/ aside from human rights issues about allegations of illegal detention during students’ own lunch breaks, schools simply do not have sufficient human resources to maintain statutory duty of care obligations should they actually insist students remain on campus during the lunch break – it certainly wouldn’t take long for parents to complain about lack of supervision – teaching staff are entitled to their lunch breaks;

3/ few schools actually have sufficient capacity to cater for all students during a lunch break; in particular newly built ones are not even designed to cater for the whole school roll being fed in one sitting;

4/ if students were to be prevented from leaving the campus during the school day, what could the school realistically do to prevent them bringing unhealthy options on-site with them in their bags? Would ‘food compliance’ checks be instigated where every bag would be searched on entry, with ‘offending’ items being confiscated for return at the end of the day – or to be stolen?

Education, not enforcement must be the answer, as banning will simply make the ‘forbidden fruit’ more appealing. For any real change, it is essential that students actually want to choose healthy options over unhealthy fast and convenience foods. This is perhaps one of the many ways in which positive and popular role models such as Mo Farrah, Jessica Ennis and Bradley Wiggins might help. If they were to become involved in ways that helped to show how important dietary choices are in achieving sporting success, perhaps we might begin to turn the tide.

Away from diet, future generations need fairly intensive and immediate post-Olympic support in the form of easy access to training and participation facilities in order to capitalise on any increased interest in the many different sports that are currently being highlighted by the comprehensive coverage of all events. Sadly, I fear that such wide-ranging access will not be forthcoming and much of the increased motivation to participate actively will be allowed to dwindle. The Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 will provide a further opportunity to rally popular interest, will we be in a better position to capitalise on increased aspiration by then? Or will the ‘chattering classes’ still be seeking to politicise sporting achievements for their own self-interested ends, whilst the growing numbers of obese citizens with no ready access to a wide range of sporting facilities, remain anchored in their chairs in front of high definition TV screens watching others push themselves to achieve success?


SCOTTISH BORDERS TO GLASGOW

Living in the delightfully rural Berwickshire in the Scottish Borders does have some draw-backs. Something that many young people born and raised here are often quick to point out is that there is little to do. What this usually translates as, is that there are very few opportunities to engage with organised activities and events and pre-packaged entertainments. There are certainly plenty of things to do (at times I feel spoilt for choice), but these do rely on a deal of creativity, inquisitiveness and self-motivation. Opportunities to get out and about to enjoy the environment to the full are everywhere – as long as one is prepared to get out and walk, run, cycle, paint, photograph, write about, sing about, communicate with people, visit local attractions, discover historical facts about ……………….. etc.

What is lacking, however, is a wide range of opportunities to experience live performances of music, comedy and drama; and a comprehensive integrated public transport system to get to and from the things that are on offer. There are a number of gems, but the range is limited, the locations are widely spread apart and don’t occur as often as they do in city locations. A very good friend of mine once explained the problem; “there just aren’t enough chimneys.” He was referring to the low population density; what contributes greatly to what makes this part of Scotland such a wonderful place to live in, also creates a number of practical problems for anybody seeking to lay on cost-effective entertainments.

So it was that I found myself driving along the M8 en-route to Glasgow on a Saturday evening – some things that I want to experience just aren’t on my doorstep. That particular day was ‘the day after the night before’, the first official day of competition in the 2012, 30th Olympiad in London. I had managed to stay up to watch the whole of the Opening Ceremony in which Danny Boyle had managed to cause a sensation with his far from traditional spectacular. The political undertones had caused certain tongues to wag furiously, but in general most opinions that I have seen concentrate on the genius of Danny Boyle’s ability to distil much of what makes contemporary UK/Britain the way it is into such an expansive and inspiring production.

Inevitably, being a Saturday afternoon, I was driving with the radio on and was listening to a round up of the day’s sporting events, mainly a combination of the first day of the new Scottish football season featuring reports of the first Ramsden Cup matches, alongside details of the initial Olympic achievements.

The other major factor to come into play during my journey was the scattered torrential rain showers, some of which contributed to a dramatic vista in the distance, and others that had to be driven through. Driving along the motorway and entering Glasgow I caught sight of a brilliantly coloured rainbow in my rear-view mirror – a timely reminder of the ground breaking and controversial decision of the Scottish Government earlier in the week, to agree to seek to introduce legislation to allow same-sex marriages in the near future.

So it was against this background of thoughts that I parked immediately outside King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in St. Vincent Street. I had been aware of this legendary venue for many years, yet this was to be my first step across the threshold. For a place with such a massive reputation it turned out to be much smaller and more intimate than I had expected. Rather than being a problem, I was very reassured as I really do prefer such venues to the bigger and much more impersonal ones. I am glad that I had seen Bruce Springsteen at Hamden, but please give me ‘up close and personal’ any time.

Even before I knew just how intimate the venue was, I did know that the gig was certainly going to be fairly ‘up close’, as I was due to interview the singer/songwriter that I had come to hear, and to take some live photos of her performance. Toni Etherson had appeared on my radar a few months back, and I had been most impressed by her work so when the opportunity to see her arose, I jumped at the chance to go. A review of the actual performance is available on my Tumblr site, along with my other reviews (www.dstrachan.tumblr.com).

Having driven across Scotland, this was one of these occasions where I left after the first act; in addition to being keen to savour the memory of the magical performance, I had checked out the other acts in advance and felt that whilst they might be competent enough, the tracks that I had listened to hadn’t jumped out and grabbed me enough to encourage me to delay my return to the east coast. Had the venue been nearer home and served by a reliable public transport service, I have no doubt that I would have taken the opportunity to give these other acts a fairer hearing.

In the meantime I will file the memories of an excellent set and a wonderful person away for future recall, and look forward to more from Toni in the future.


POSITIVITY vs. NEGATIVITY

A number of things have cropped up recently to remind me that I have been meaning to write about my feelings about the effects of positive and negative attitudes to life. A year ago the UK was shocked by a wave of rioting in that erupted in a number of English cities following the shooting, by police, of Mark Duggan in Tottenham. Any death is extremely regrettable and explanations need to be clarified to enable family and friends to gain closure, but that explosion of very negative reactions didn’t seem to be a productive way to work for a better world, except perhaps as a job creation scheme for police, glaziers, builders and decorators. But I believe that being forced to spend scarce resources on restoration of vandalised property simply makes it even less likely that things might actually be improved.

A year on and the UK is experiencing a different wave of emotion. As Team GB members amass Olympic medals at an impressive rate, we are now presented with a number of extremely positive role models to demonstrate what can be achieved by positive attitudes and dedication to self-improvement.

Running alongside the Olympic achievements of all competitors, regardless of nationality, there seems to be a growing number of reports about so-called internet ‘trolls’; those individuals who spend time posting nasty and offensive comments on social media sites. This has caused some people to stop using such sites due to abuse, and others to find the Law attempting to impose sanctions on their activities. Whilst I will never condone such offensive taunting posts, we should be grateful of the general agreement that free speech is tolerated in the UK. If we start seeking to impose legal sanctions on some people, we run the risk of others seeking to direct similar sanctions against ourselves if our views are deemed offensive. Whilst it is easy for somebody not directly affected by such on-line attacks to say so, I believe that the best way to deal with them is for everybody to absolutely ignore them. They should be ignored, not replied to, not commented on and certainly not re-posted. Like all bullies, surely the principal reason for instigating such attacks is to elicit some reaction – if absolutely no reaction at all is generated, there will be no incentive to continue. I hope that this generalised criticism is not seen as hypocritical as I do not think that I am identifying any particular individual. By all means, Social Media site providers may well continue to suspend accounts if their terms and conditions are breached, but I strongly believe that is as far as it should go, with the full weight of the Law being reserved for physical attacks and threats.

To a lesser extent, the ability for people to go on-line and criticise things without fear of consequences, by writing extremely negative reviews of things, either via their own personal blogs, review columns in on-line publications or via sites such as ‘Trip Advisor’, can be very damaging too. Businesses who are subjected to a few negative reports from people who appear to have nothing better to do than deliberately seek faults can face ruin, and artists who have negative comments posted about their output can become disheartened to the extent that they might give up on their ambition.

When I started writing reviews of gigs and albums I made a pledge to myself only to publish positive ones. If a solo artist or band has invested much time, energy and emotion in producing an album or providing a live performance, I do not believe that I have any right to ‘slag them off’ simply because I don’t like what they have done. In virtually every case I have no doubt that they have done something that I wouldn’t have the skill to do. From a purely selfish point of view, I can’t see any reason for me to give up any valuable time and energy to compose negative comments. That is not to say that I will never offer constructive criticism, but only when I feel convinced that there is room for improvement. If I have been impressed by something I will be molre than happy to spend time seeking to be supportive, if I haven’t been impressed, then that’s as far as I will go. Privately, if appropriate, I might offer explanations to those directly concerned if I were ever asked why I hadn’t commented, but I wouldn’t see that as being something for public consumption.

If all those who invest lots of time and energy into compiling and posting negative reviews would direct that effort to something more positive, we might even find that society gradually became a more caring and compassionate place to live.

Although I haven’t spent very much time watching live Olympic events, I remain absolutely convinced that participants offer a very positive example of how progress can be made – only by effort, commitment and determination. For others their potential success might not lie in sporting endeavour but a similar attitude can still go a long way to help. Finally, it has been extremely heartening to note that competitors when interviewed generally appear to be so much more genuine, nice and considerate than many of the excessively paid professional football players that I have seen on TV. I pray that any Olympic medallists are kept well clear of the PR consultants that advise professional footballers, and that all attempts to politicise Olympic performances are strongly resisted.