Sunday 29 March 2015

We Need To (Not) Talk About Katie...

Katie Hopkins.  If you don't know who she is, congratulations.  Your blood pressure is probably lower than mine and you're doing a much more successful job of denying the oxygen of publicity to one of the world's most obnoxious trolls, than I am doing right now.

If you really don't know who she is, let me give you a quick low-down:

Katie Hopkins first appeared on TV as part of Lord Sugar's reality show, The Apprentice, where she was frequently critical and needlessly nasty, before refusing her place in the show's final.  Her notoriety (read: ability to piss off so many different people that it became a talking point/ratings winner) then ensured a flurry of requests to appear on other reality TV shows, such as I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! and Celebrity Big Brother.  Note the word "celebrity" in both of those titles. The truth is, she's not a celebrity; she appeared on a TV show, supposedly in the hope of going into the business world and then simply played up for the cameras and - to our shame - the world has lapped it up and put her on a pedestal, albeit one we like to frequently knock her from.

And why is she reviled by so many people?  Why is she so notorious?  For statements like these:

"To be diagnosed as depressed is the holy grail of illnesses for many.  the ultimate passport to self-obsession.  Get a grip, people." - March 29th 2015.

"People on benefits should have to prove they're on contraceptives to get cash." - March 27th 2015.

"Bollocks to everyone moaning about cuts to welfare.  If you can't pay for food, sacrifice your iPhone and get your lazy arse to work." - March 26th 2015.

"(Jeremy) a legend.  The BBC are a disgrace."  - March 26th 2015.

"Angelina Jolie.  Smug doesn't even come close.  Cutting her organs to maximise life expectancy.  What's next, Fag Ash Lil?  Your lungs?" - March 25th 2015.

"'I was so fat, I got bullied at school.'  No child.  You ate too much and people pointed it out.  Own your problems."  - March 24th 2015.

"I am the Jesus of the outspoken.  This is my body, given up for you, to prove fat people are lazy."  - March 24th 2015.

And so it goes on.  Not one of those tweets/statements was made more than a week ago, which should give you your first clue as to what sort of person Katie Hopkins is.

She's an attention-seeker.  She's one of those people who blames every bad thing on "political correctness gone mad" and longs for a simpler time, when we could be bigoted, racist and needlessly nasty without comeback.  She's a woman grieving over Jeremy Clarkson having lost his job, whilst suggesting that the man he assaulted deserves to be abused as a result of Clarkson's sacking.

Whenever there is a news story that captures even a flicker of the public imagination, Katie Hopkins will jump right in with a soundbite.  And that soundbite is written purely to court controversy.

Oh, yes, she claims she's just writing the things we're all thinking, but are too scared to say.  And with over half a million Twitter followers, she certainly does have some people who agree with her twisted little rants about "common" children's names, or all fat people being inherently lazy.  But let's look at the newspaper she writes for:  The Sun.  Known by millions as "The Scum."  Known for making up lies about the dead, following the Hillsborough disaster.  Known for reducing women to merely a pair of tits on a daily basis.  It's hardly the greatest compliment in the world, to be given their column inches, nor is the approval of a section of their readers (who, judging by Twitter, don't know that "should of" isn't even close to being grammatically correct) a ringing endorsement of her words.

And yet, she continues.  National tragedy?  Katie Hopkins will find a way to say something "shocking" and detract from the real news story.  Election campaign?  Katie Hopkins will make it about her.  Celebrity gossip?  You get the idea...

Why?  Because we let her.

Katie Hopkins often gets referred to as a troll.  I've used the word, myself.  In fact, I called her a troll today, on Twitter:

But the truth is, she's not just a troll.  She's doing this quite deliberately, for our attention.  Because it works.  She's made a career out of being deliberately unpleasant.  She's gained a national newspaper column, purely as a result of her ability to wind people up with her nasty remarks and her shock-tactics.  And we're buying it.

I work with children.  Some of those children have tantrums.  Regularly.  Why?  Because they've learnt that it works.  Throwing themselves on the floor and kicking and screaming will eventually wear their parents out so much that they get the toy, or the chocolate or whatever it is they want.  Or they get out of having to do the thing they were protesting, because it's just easier for their parents to give in.  That behaviour is learnt behaviour and it's for that reason that the generally accepted method of dealing with tantrums is to ignore them.  The child eventually learns that kicking off doesn't get them what they want and they modify their behaviour accordingly.

Every time Katie Hopkins sees an opportunity to make a barbed comment and earn herself some press attention, she's throwing the adult equivalent of a tantrum.  She's metaphorically chucking herself onto the floor and screaming: "LOOK AT MEEEE!"  She's not truly saying what we all think, but are too afraid to verbalise; she's merely courting controversy, because that's what her entire career is built around.  And every time we react, we're furthering that career.  Is that what any of us want?!

We already live in a society in which a person can become "famous" simply for being on a semi-scripted reality TV show.  We already make celebrities out of people who don't have any discernible talent.  Let's not compound that, by continuing to make a celebrity out of Hopkins.  

Next time she feels the need to weigh in on a subject and try to make it all about herself, let's not give her what she wants.  No hastily made mock political campaign posters.  No moral outrage.  No angry responses written in the press.  Let's just ignore it.  And then ignore it the next time.  And the time after that...

Denying Hopkins the oxygen of publicity that she craves will - eventually - see her notoriety fall.  Oh, she'll still have a few fans, fawning over her "hilarious" comments on mental health issues etc, but if we collectively refuse to listen, she'll eventually end up screeching her nastiness into, if not a vacuum, then a much smaller, emptier space.  Our column inches will be free for actual news.  Our collective blood pressure will drop.  And a z-list "celebrity" might just learn that courting controversy so blatantly gets pretty boring after a while.

So many of us claim to hate Katie Hopkins and her vile, attention-seeking behaviour, yet we're also the ones talking about it, writing articles on it and making memes to share around the Internet.  We're giving her exactly what she wants.  We're buying the screaming toddler a lollipop in order to stop the tantrum.  But lollipops don't last long and pretty soon, the toddler will be throwing herself back onto the floor again.  And so the cycle continues...

It's time to completely ignore Katie Hopkins.  It's time to stop playing into her hands and start walking away.  It's got to be worth a shot.  Let's pretend she doesn't exist.  

We need to not talk about Katie.

Friday 27 March 2015

Why The Germanwings Tragedy Must NOT be Used To Further Stigmatise Mental Health Issues

Photo credit:

By now, almost everyone reading this will know of the dreadful events that took place on Monday morning, when Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed into the Alps, killing everybody on board.  We've gone from mourning a terrible, tragic accident, to trying to comprehend the horrifying realisation that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed the aircraft into the mountains, seemingly in a bid to take his own life.  He took with him 149 innocent people, including babies and children.

There is nothing any of us can say that can take away the awfulness of such a situation.  149 people on that aeroplane did not want, or deserve to die in such a frightening manner.  149 people were murdered by Lubitz.  It would appear that Andreas Lubitz deliberately set the controls of the aircraft to ensure that it descended lower and lower, whilst retaining speed, until a crash was unavoidable.  On the cockpit voice recorder, found in the aircraft's "black box," the captain of the plane, father-of-two Patrick Sonderheimer, could be heard frantically trying to kick the door down, in an effort to avoid the disaster, after his co-pilot locked him out of the cockpit.  What must have gone through Sonderheimer's mind does not bear thinking about.  So to, for the crew and the passengers as they realised, in the final seconds of the plane's descent, what was about to happen.

The mass outpouring of grief that followed what we all thought to be a tragic accident was understandable and quite right.  Innocent people had died in dreadful circumstances - the natural response is to mourn them, whether we knew them or not.  Following the discovery of the black box and the appalling realisation that this was not an accident at all, the next natural reaction is anger.

Of course we are disgusted by the mere idea that one man could take well over a hundred innocent men, women and children to their deaths with him, in a deliberate plane crash.  Of course we are rightly shocked that so many people died needlessly because of one man's actions.  The reports of sick notes from doctors, signing Lubitz off work on the day of the crash, found ripped up and ignored in his home, only serve to deepen that anger.  When tragedy strikes, we often need something or someone to blame.  Something to help us make sense of a situation we cannot possibly comprehend.  It is therefore, completely understandable that people are appalled by what happened and find Lubitz's actions to be beyond contempt.

Andreas Lubitz

However, some of the media coverage of the story has only served to prove what a damaging, stigmatising attitude we still have towards mental health issues.  Lubitz is said to have had a history of depression.  It seems almost certain that his decision to crash the aircraft was taken in order to end his own life.  That he took 149 innocent people with him is deplorable and, standing as a barometer for public opinion, it's completely understandable that the media coverage is not going to be favourable towards Lubitz.  But instead of condemnation of his actions - along with sensitive reporting on mental health issues - we have headlines like this:

The Scum.  I know.

Think about that headline for a moment.  Lubitz's actions may well seem a million miles away from sanity to many of us, but madman is hardly a sensitive word to describe anyone with severe mental health issues.  All it does is further instill a sense of fear surrounding subjects such as depression and suicidal thoughts.  "These people are mad," it tells us.  It makes them "other."  People to be avoided.  People who should be seen as automatically dangerous.

Globally, more than 350million people are thought to suffer from some kind of depression.  This can range from mild stress and anxiety, to extreme mood swings and suicidal thoughts.  "Depression" encompasses a huge range of emotions and issues.  And with so many people around the world believed to be suffering from some form of depression at any time, it's highly likely that you know someone who fits the term.  It could be someone you love.  It could be a work colleague.  It could be the bloke who sells you your morning paper.

And yet, despite the condition being so common, many people are afraid to speak about it.  The social stigmas associated with mental health issues mean that many suffer in silence.  Depression can, therefore, be an incredibly isolating, lonely experience.

Around the world, an estimated one million people take their own lives each year.  That is a tragically high statistic, but, when viewed in association with the number of people who suffer from depression (350million), we can see that actually, the number of people who do go on to end their lives as a result is quite low in comparison.  It's important to note this, not because those 1million lives are unimportant - far from it - but because it brings to the fore the fact that too many people wrongly link all forms of depression with suicide.  For many, depression can be managed, to the point where the sufferer appears to live an almost completely normal life.

Of those 350million people all around the world, how many do we really believe want to kill themselves and take innocent people with them?  Whilst mental health issues can be severe and the answer is sadly probably not none, we can certainly assume that the majority of people who live with a form of anxiety or depression on a daily basis are not looking to commit mass murder, the way that Andreas Lubitz did.  And we must - however difficult it is, when combined with the very natural anger and grief we feel over recent events - try to remember that those suffering from extreme mental health need to be supported, rather than demonised, in order to help them to avoid this kind of horrendous outcome.

There obviously needs to be protection for the innocent.  If there is any question that a person suffering from severe mental health issues may do something to endanger other people's lives, then nobody is going to dispute that we must protect those people at all costs. That is why employers should take in interest in the medical history of their employees.  That is why we should have steps in place to support those who need it and to protect the innocent in the hope that something like this can never happen again.  We must support the person suffering as well as the people around them and in doing so, we must also make it clear that "depression" covers a huge range of emotions and issues.  It is overly simplistic and hugely offensive to suggest that anyone who has experienced depression is "mad" or a danger to society.

I've suffered on and off with depression for most of my adult life.  I've had times when I've wanted to harm myself.  But I have never, ever wanted to harm anyone else.  There is no sense in turning a completely appalling tragedy into a witch-hunt against those with mental health issues.  Not everyone who suffers depression will have the desire to take their own lives.  Not everyone who does take their life will have any wish to take anyone else with them.

As I said, I am not condoning Lubitz's actions and I never will.  I share the shock, horror and grief over Flight 9525 that is undoubtedly felt by everyone reading this.  I am in no way excusing what the co-pilot did that fateful day.  I stand alongside everyone else in extending my love and support to those families grieving for lost relatives, taken from them by an atrocious action.  I am not writing this to say that we should all calmly forgive Andreas Lubitz for what he did.  The anger that surrounds his actions is completely understandable and I share it.

But I am asking for the media to realise that shaming and demonising depression and mental health issues with their use of deliberately frightening, judgemental language will not help a single one of those 350million people out there, living with an illness that could affect any one of us.  Whilst we continue to demonise mental illness, we will never change anything for the better.  To honour the memory of those innocent lives lost on Monday, we should be redoubling our efforts to understand mental illness and depression.  We should be encouraging people to speak honestly and without fear and we should be looking for ways to ensure that this never, ever happens again.  

Mental illness is invisible. Unlike with cancer, or a broken bone, you cannot see the person's suffering, but that does not mean that it isn't there.  When an illness is "hidden," it becomes harder to understand and more easily stigmatised.  It's up to us - and those in the media - to end that stigma.

Using judgemental language that tars sufferers of depression with the same, appalling brush - even when that language comes from a place of entirely justifiable anger, reflecting the shock and grief we all feel at Monday's events - is not the answer.

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Wednesday is "Bedtime Story Day!"


I've had an idea.  Dangerous, I know... ;-)

Some regular readers to this blog will know that I'm a published children's author.  Writing - in any form - is a passion for me, but writing stories for children is a special love of mine.  Becoming a published children's author was, for a long time, my absolute dream - something I had worked on, albeit unsuccessfully, for many years.  Three of my books are now out there and that's great.  But I have a head full of stories.  So, how could I get those other stories out there into the world, quickly and easily?  The answer seemed pretty obvious...

My first ever book launch.

Starting today, every Wednesday is going to be "Bedtime Story Day."  

I'll be publishing a brand new children's story every Wednesday evening at 6pm.  All of these stories are completely original and unconnected to my previous book series.  They're aimed at children aged between 4 and 7 years old.  Now, I'm no artist, so there won't be pictures, but... I can remember my mum reading my chapters from books without pictures (or featuring very few) every night before bed, when I was maybe six years old, so I'm hoping that the lack of pictures won't be a problem.  That's what our imaginations are for, after all!  

What I'd love is for this idea to really take off and if it does, then I'll think about upping the frequency of the "Bedtime Story" feature to twice a week (and maybe more, depending on demand).  Of course, if this fails completely, then I'll have to have a bit of a rethink!  But please, if you're a parent, or you know someone who is, give this a go and let me know what your little ones think!

With all of that waffle out of the way, let's move onto the very first original story!  I hope you - and of course, your little ones - enjoy it.

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Sidney The Shell Bird

Sally Jenkins loved making things.  She loved her necklace, made from beads she’d found in the bottom of her mother’s sewing box.  She loved her set of paintings, sprinkled with glitter to make them extra special.  But most of all, she loved Sidney.

Sidney sat perched on Sally’s bookshelf, surrounded by toys and books.  His body was made from a lump of clay, painted pink.  His head was a large, pointed shell, with two black-eyed peas glued to it for eyes.  His feet were two smaller, slightly rounder shells.  Sticking out from his sides were two large, yellow feathers resembling wings, with a third yellow feather as his tail.  Sidney was a rather funny looking creature, but Sally adored him.  She took him out to play with her in the garden and she’d sit on her bed in the evenings, telling him all about the things she had done at school. 

Sidney was very happy living with Sally.  But there was one thing that made him unhappy. 

Every day, whilst Sally was at school, Sidney would sit on the shelf and stare out of the window.  Flying across the sky, he could see birds.  Real birds.  Sidney had seen his reflection in the glass and he knew he looked different.  He knew he had feathery wings, but when he flapped them, nothing happened.  He was too heavy to fly.  He was certain that he was a bird, but he had never seen another who looked the way he did.  Sidney longed to find out what kind of bird he really was, but none of the other toys in Sally’s bedroom seemed to know.

One morning, as Sally hurried off to school, Sidney made a decision.  “Barrington,” He called to Sally’s favourite bear.  “Today is the day!”

Barrington Bear yawned and rubbed one shiny glass eye with his paw.  “What day?”

Sidney puffed out his pink, clay chest.  “Today is the day I’m going to find out what sort of bird I am,” he declared.  With that, he hopped down from Sally’s shelf and landed on her soft bed, before jumping down to the floor.

“Where are you going?”  Eliza, the porcelain doll asked.

Sidney pointed to the window.  “Out there,” he replied.

Before Eliza or Barrington could say anything else, Sidney had hopped out of the bedroom, down the stairs, through the kitchen and out of the cat flap into the bright, morning sunshine.

This is it!  Sidney thought.  I’m out here, with the real birds!
For a while, Sidney simply enjoyed bouncing through the grass, gazing up at the blue skies.  Then, as he reached the end of Sally’s road, he spotted a pair of birds, shaking their black feathers as they flew down from the roof of a house.

“Hello!”  Sidney called as he hurried over to the birds.  “Excuse me, can I ask you something?”

One of the birds cocked his head to the side.  “Who are you?”  He asked.

Sidney smiled.  “I was hoping you could help me to answer that.”

“Whatever do you mean?”  The second bird replied.  She fluffed out her feathers.  “We’ve never seen you before!”

Sidney swallowed hard.  “Well...  I mean...”  He stammered.  “What kind of bird am I?”

The first bird laughed.  “You’re not a bird, are you?”  He chuckled.  “You don’t look like any bird I’ve ever seen!”

Sidney lowered his head and his yellow wings drooped.  The second bird nudged the first with her wing and looked Sidney in the eye.  “What my friend means, is you’re definitely not a blackbird, like us,” she told him.  “I’m afraid we’re not sure what kind of bird you are.”

“Oh,” Sidney replied.  “Thanks anyway.”

Determined not to be put off, Sidney left the blackbirds behind and continued hopping onwards, for what seemed like miles.  Finally, he came to a large set of gates, with a sign above them, written in large letters: “ZOO.”  On one side of the sign, was a painting of animals Sidney had seen before in storybooks – a lion, a zebra and tiger.  On the other, was a painting of two, brightly coloured birds!  Sidney beamed.  “This is more like it,” he declared and hopped through the gates with an excited bounce.

Before long, he stumbled upon a large, green bird, with an enormous, multicoloured tail.  Sidney gasped.  “You’re amazing,” he exclaimed. 

The bird nodded.  “Of course I am,” he said.  “I’m a peacock!  We’re fabulous creatures!”

Sidney grinned.  “Am I a peacock, too?”

The peacock stared down his beak in disgust.  “You?  A peacock?  Oh, absolutely not,” he sneered.  “Look at you!  You’re small and funny looking.  I’m tall and beautiful.  You’re nothing like a peacock!”

Sidney turned away.  “Sorry to have bothered you,” he mumbled.

Sidney trudged towards the exit gates, when he heard a squawking noise.  He turned around and looked up.  “Hello?  Who’s that?”

“Who’s that?”  A voice echoed.  A parrot sat perched on a branch, staring down at Sidney.

Sidney managed a smile.  “My name’s Sidney,” he called.

“My name’s Sidney!”  The parrot sang back.

Peering up at the parrot, Sidney frowned.  “You’re called Sidney too?”

The parrot began prancing up and down the branch, flapping his wings.  “You’re called Sidney too!”

Realising what was going on, Sidney shook his head.  “Never mind,” he sighed.  As he plodded towards the exit, he could hear the parrot singing to himself.

“Never mind!  Never mind!”

As Sidney passed through the exit gates, he was fed up.  Nobody knew what kind of bird he was and worst of all, they’d laughed at him.  With a heavy heart, he decided to go home. 

By the time he reached Sally’s garden, the sun was beginning to set.  The sky was darkening and Sidney was feeling glum.  As he headed towards the cat flap, he heard a voice coming from a nearby tree.

“Are you alright, little friend?”

Sidney glanced up.  Sitting in the tree was an owl.  Seeing Sidney’s sad face, the owl spread his wings and flew down to the ground beside him.  “You look ever so sad,” he said.

Sidney sighed.  “Well...”  He began, before changing his mind.  “It doesn’t matter,” he whispered.

The owl shook his head.  “Oh, but it does,” he replied.  “If it’s making you so unhappy...”

Sidney flopped down in the grass beside the owl.  “It’s just...  Everyone has been making fun of me,” he said.  “And all I wanted to know was what sort of bird I am.”  He sighed and turned away.  “But I guess maybe I’m not a bird at all.”  Sidney rose back to his feet and began plodding away when the owl called after him.

“Not a bird?”  He exclaimed.  “Why, you most certainly are a bird.”

Sidney span round.  “I am?!”  He cried.  “Do you know what kind?”

The owl thought for a moment, the way that truly wise creatures often do.  Then he smiled at Sidney and pointed with his wing.  “Look at your body, made from the finest clay!  Look at your feathers, so yellow and bright!  And your head is made from a perfect shell.  And that is where your name comes from.  Sidney, you are a Shell Bird.  And might I say, you’re the finest example of a Shell Bird I’ve ever seen!”

Sidney gasped.  “Oh, thank you!”  He could hardly wait to scurry back up the stairs and tell all of Sally’s other toys the news. 

From that day onwards, when Sidney watched other birds flying past Sally’s window, he didn’t feel sad, or confused.  Sidney knew just what kind of bird he was.  And even more importantly, he knew he was already exactly where he belonged.


10 Years of New Doctor Who!

Tomorrow marks ten years since Doctor Who burst back onto our screens.  I remember it well.  The TV advert campaign had been building, excitement surrounded the return of one of the BBC's flagship shows from days gone by and I decided, despite only having seen one or two episodes from the original series - and not being overly fussed about them, if I'm brutally honest - to give it a go.

By the end of that first episode, I was hooked.  

There was something utterly magical about the show for me, right from the get-go.  It was fast-paced, it was a bit silly at times (plastic Mickey and the living wheelie bin didn't make me want to hide behind the sofa; it made me laugh then and still does now), it was intriguing and it felt fresh.  After years and years of rubbish gameshows and Casualty dominating the Saturday night TV schedules, this felt like something much-needed.  It felt like something for me.

The show felt strangely welcoming.  That might seem like a bizarre thing to say, but it's the only way to describe it, really.  I was watching something that didn't feel entirely like passive viewing.  It was like being grabbed by something and told: "FIND OUT MORE.  THIS IS YOUR THING."

And so a love affair began.  From that day onwards, I knew where I had to be on a Saturday night.  Going out?  Pah!  No way.  I needed to be there when the Daleks made their inevitable comeback.  I had to be on my sofa when the TARDIS travelled back in time to the Second World War (and in doing so, increased my weird fear of gas masks by 100%).  I couldn't miss the next adventure.

I couldn't find the copyright details for this photo - please don't sue me if it's yours, just let me know and I'll credit you!

The "first" (actually 9th) Doctor was played by Christopher Eccleston.  I was already a fan of his, having watched him in other things and it was actually his presence that made me determined to tune in for that first new episode.  He didn't disappoint - I loved his slightly cheeky comic timing and I adored the way that he played the Doctor as having a dark, almost tortured side.  It felt real - of course he'd seen some horrendous things over the course of his life, so he was bound to be carrying a fair bit of emotional baggage!  I fell in love with Eccleston's "fantastic" Doctor and his regeneration at the end of the first series was an absolute hammer-blow to my fledgling relationship with the show.

I knew about regeneration.  I knew someone else would come along and hopefully be just as awesome as my Doctor, but I still didn't want it to happen.  By the end of series one of new Doctor Who, I'd watched a few more of the original episodes and appreciated them far more,  So I was aware that there had been many Doctors and that if the show was to continue, there would be many more.  But losing my beloved Eccleston?  That was unthinkable.  How could the show possible carry on without him?!

That's how.
(Photo borrowed from Spoiler TV)

I wanted to hate David Tennant.  I wanted to think he was terrible in the role.  I wanted to cry out that the 9th Doctor was far better than the 10th, but...  What can I say?!  David came along and brought a new charm to the role.  An even greater level of almost childlike enthusiasm.  An eye for the ladies.  A deeply vulnerable side...  He was pretty much perfect.

His relationship with companion Rose Tyler is often talked about - David even recently confessed that in his eyes, Rose was the Doctor's girlfriend, not merely his travelling companion - but for me, his best sidekick - and the best sidekick, whatever criticism she gets from some fans - was the fabulous Donna Noble.

Credit to the BBC.  Seriously though, good on you.

By the time Donna joined, however, most of us knew that David was leaving.  It made their fantastic union all the more poignant, because we knew it couldn't last.  Their comedy, their friendship and their ultimate, tragic separation (death would have been easier than what happened, to be honest...) made for utterly compelling viewing.  I defy anyone to watch Donna's last episode (bar the final one, in which David regenerates) and not cry.  Her desperate pleas to the Doctor not to send her back to her old, hum-drum existence are frankly devastating.  She knows he's really saving her life, but in her eyes, he's ending it.  

As viewers, I think the companions are vitally important for us.  They play the role we would love to play.  They are whisked off on wonderful adventures, fighting terrible foes and exploring incredible new worlds.  We see everything through their eyes - the good and the bad - and we wonder what it would be like if our lives were turned upside down by the arrival of a strange, blue box.  So to see Donna sent back to her life pre-Doctor, not by choice, but by horrible necessity, was genuinely heartbreaking.

Speaking of which...

All good things come to an end.  And so it came to be that David Tennant hung up his sonic screwdriver, in an episode that tugged so hard on the heartstrings, you felt emotionally drained by the end of it.  It had everything - the Master, monsters, Bernard Cribbins begging to be allowed to sacrifice himself in place of the Doctor, whilst the Doctor spits venom about how unfair it is that he's got to die.  The ecstasy of thinking the Doctor had miraculously survived, followed by the crushing realisation his regeneration was, well, just something of a slow burn...

I know a huge number of fellow Whovians who cry at David Tennant's "long goodbye," as he goes around, visiting his former companions from a distance, saying a silent farewell.  But for me, the moment where I become almost inconsolable every time I watch it, is when the Ood softly says: "The universe will sing you to your sleep" and you know the inevitable has come.  David's final words: "I don't want to go" were just the final stab in the chest for us fans.

Credit: MTV.
I'm not crying.  It's just been raining.  ON MY FACE.

Nobody could replace David Tennant.  Nobody.  There couldn't possibly be anyone I could love as deeply as him in the role.  The Doctor was ruined.  RUINED, I TELL YOU.

Sorry... What was I saying?!
(credit: BBC)

Every Whovian has "their" Doctor.  The one above all others.  The one nobody - in our eyes, at least - can ever better.  I thought Christopher Eccleston was mine.  Then I thought it was David Tennant.  David is a hugely close second, but my Doctor?  Is Matt Smith.

At first, though, I was too busy mourning David's exit from the show to let Matt's Doctor in.  I didn't give him the chance he deserved, until I watched his first series again and was blown away.  He's a phenomenal actor.  

Matt's Doctor was funny, a bit zany, childishly enthusiastic, warm yet with a dark side, passionate, fiery and fallible.  Matt's Doctor made mistakes and - usually - wasn't afraid to admit to them, when he did.  He was the absolute king of big speeches and quotable quotes, too.  It's a Matt Smith era quote that I have inked on me as part of my Doctor Who tattoo:

And the reason for that choice of quote?  Well, that's what Doctor Who means to me, really.  the companions are often people who dream of a better, more exciting life than the one they live (even if they don't realise it, until the Doctor comes along).  Doctor Who teaches us to reach for those dreams.  To be optimistic in the face of doubt and to fight for what's right, even if dreams of peace and unity seem a little far-fetched, at times.  And I'm a dreamer, for sure.

We're now ten years into the triumphant return of Doctor Who and the show is still going strong, still changing and still capturing the imaginations of new viewers.  For people like me, who grew up watching Buffy, the show was a perfect extension of what we already knew.  For some kids, the show became an extension of the brilliant CBBC show, The Sarah Jane Adventures, which featured the late, great Lis Sladen.  Children getting into Doctor Who today are finding something that encourages them to explore, believe and hold onto something.  Doctor Who is more than just a TV show, for many of us.  It's something to belong to.

Of course, my Doctor has gone, now.  In his place, we have Peter Capaldi, whose Doctor is darker, less zany, a little harsher and seemingly still has many layers we've not reached, yet.  I'm enjoying finding out more about him and seeing where he - and his relationship with companion, Clara - will go next.


Some people say that liking a sci-fi show makes you nerdy, as though that's a bad thing.  Me?  I'm proud of my nerdiness.  I'm thrilled to have found a show that delights and devastates me in equal measure.  It's something I can be passionate about and I have absolutely zero shame over that.  When you find something you love, who cares whether people laugh at you for it?!

Not me, that's for sure.  Happy birthday, new Who.  Here's to the next ten years.

Sunday 22 March 2015

Ten Inspirational Manics Lyrics To Live Your Life By

Yes, you read that blog title correctly.  As a Manics fan, I get a bit tetchy when I'm told that my favourite band only write "depressing lyrics."  

I admit that tackling subjects such as the Holocaust, anorexia and the death penalty might not instantly mark the Manics out as a cheery band.  I also admit that you're never likely to get motivational posters being made out of some of their darker lines...

...But bear with me, on this.  Sometimes, Manics lyrics can be beautiful and - yes, believe it or not - inspiring,  And with that in mind, I'd like to share ten inspirational Manics lyrics to live your life by.  Admittedly, I may be interpreting my own meaning out of these words on some level, but isn't that what we're supposed to do with poetry?  Anyway, this is my way of proving that Manics lyrics aren't all doom and gloom...

1. "Who gives a shit about sexuality?" - Gold Against The Soul, taken from the album of the same name.  Lyrics by Richey Edwards & Nicky Wire.

Whatever the band were intending to say here, there's a very simple meaning we can take from it: what does it matter whether a person is gay, straight, bisexual, asexual or anything in between?  They're a person, just like you or me.  Let's not judge ourselves or anyone else on just one part of their life.

2. "I know I believe in nothing, but it is my nothing." - Faster, taken from the album, "The Holy Bible."  Lyrics by Richey Edwards.

It might sound a little strange to refer to a lyric about believing in nothing as being "inspirational," but in this case, it's less the lyric and more the intent behind it.  This is a man saying "look, don't judge me for not having the same views or beliefs as you.  What I believe - or don't believe - is up to me."  This is someone saying it doesn't matter if we go against the grain, as long as we're true to ourselves.  And that's pretty inspirational.

3. "Freed from the memory, escape from our history.  And I just hope that you can forgive us, but everything must go." - Everything Must Go, taken from the album of the same name.  Lyrics by Nicky Wire.

For me, this line has another very simple meaning: Live your life forwards, not backwards.  Don't solely focus on the things that have gone wrong over the years, just try to learn from them and then keep going, because the freedom you'll feel at letting go of the past can be incredible.  Sure, it's important to remember things that have happened and to treasure the memory of those we've lost, but we shouldn't cling to yesterday so hard that we miss out on today.  

4. "If you tolerate this, then your children will be next." - If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next, taken from the album "This Is My truth, Tell Me Yours."  Lyrics by Nicky Wire.

This may sound like an unusual choice of inspirational lyric, but again, it's about the meaning behind the song.  This is essentially the voice of someone saying "we have to do something," rather than sit idly by and watch terrible things happening all over the world.  It's a call to action - we need to be helping those who need it and acting against hate and atrocities, because it could just as easily be us who are in need and wouldn't we want someone to help us?

5. "You have broken through my armour and I don't have an answer.  I love you all the same." - You Stole The Sun From My Heart, taken from the album "This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours."  Lyrics by Nicky Wire.

Being a bit of a soppy old romantic, for me this line really encapsulates the importance of letting someone in.  It can be scary, allowing someone to break down your defences and really get close to you, but to do so can be incredibly beautiful and deeply rewarding.

6. "Find your truth, face your truth, speak your truth and be your truth." - Judge Yr'self, penned for the Judge Dredd soundtrack.  Lyrics by Richey Edwards & Nicky Wire.

I like this a lot.  For me, this is simply about discovering who you really are and then being that person, unashamedly, without trying to fit in to whatever box society wants to put you in.  Again, I'm more than likely placing my own interpretation onto these words, but hey...

7. "Little things change people's lives." - Send Away The Tigers, taken from the album of the same name.  Lyrics by Nicky Wire.

It doesn't take much to do something for someone else.  And you never know how much of a difference it might make to their life, if you do.  Equally, we must remember to thank those people whose small actions have made a big difference to our lives.

8. "This world will not impose its will.  I will not give up and I will not give in." - Postcards From A Young Man, taken from the album of the same name.  Lyrics by Nicky Wire.

Someone once told me that they thought these lyrics were too "forceful."  But to me, they're about passionately following something you believe in, right until the end.  It's about refusing to give up on something you feel strongly about and it's about not allowing life to break you, even when things get tough.  These are the lyrics that I had tattooed on me, a year after leaving an abusive relationship, so they mean a great deal to me.

9. "And if we can, then we must hold our heads up, learn to trust.  It's up to you, it's up to us.  Some dignity, a little love." - Four Lonely Roads, taken from the album "Rewind The Film."  Lyrics by Nicky Wire.

This is pretty self-explanatory....  Keep your head up, be proud of who you are.  Show some love and allow others to see the real you.

10. "Isn't it lovely, when the dawn brings the dew, I'll be watching over you." - William's Last Words, taken from the album "Journal For Plague Lovers."  Lyrics by Richey Edwards (edited by Nicky Wire).

Okay, I'll admit I take some issue with the way that William's Last Words was edited.  Originally, the "lyrics" were more aptly described as a piece of prose, written from the viewpoint of a man who seemed to be retiring from his job.  It was heavily edited, with obvious reason (it was literally pages long and jumped around a lot), but in doing so, the meaning of the piece was changed.  It became a goodbye, seemingly from the viewpoint of a man who was either leaving or dying.  It's understandable that, having had no goodbye note from Richey (who disappeared in 1995 and was legally "presumed dead" in 2008) must have had a huge impact on those who loved him, but to edit his words into the goodbye he never wrote sits a little uncomfortably with me.  Perhaps, in amongst the prose, really was the goodbye he could never bring himself to say and Nicky simply found it and put the piece together, but the truth is that we'll never know what Richey really meant by William's Last Words.

That all said, I think this line is particularly beautiful.  I've chosen to include it  - and to end this list with it - because sadly, death will happen to us all, someday.  But to believe that we'll be watching over those we leave behind is a beautiful thing.  It inspires me, whether I 100% believe it or not, because I want it to be true.

So, there we have it.  I guess the point of this list was not only to prove that the Manics' lyrics aren't all doom and gloom, but to highlight that we can all find inspiration in the things we are passionate about, even if others can't quite see it.  These lyrics inspire me (as do many other Manics lyrics, not to mention lyrics from other bands/artists I love). 

 Feel free to share lyrics that inspire YOU in the comments!

Thursday 19 March 2015

Why "The World's Ugliest Woman" Should Be A Lesson To Us All.

Screenshot of the original BBC blog.

Last weekend, my dad sent me a BBC blog he knew I would be interested in.  The blog, which formed part of the BBC's "Ouch" - an exploration of the disability world -  was about a lady called Lizzie Velasquez.  Lizzie was was born with two very rare medical conditions - Marfan and lipodystrophy.  It means that no matter how much she eats, she is unable to gain weight and at the age of 26, she weighs just 60lbs (just under 4st 3lbs).  She is visually impaired and has suffered a number of health complaints as a result of her condition.

At the age of seventeen, Lizzie stumbled upon a video on YouTube, purporting to show "The World's Ugliest Woman."  She was horrified to discover that the unwitting subject of the eight-second video was her.  The clip had over 4 million views and the comments were, frankly, despicable.

They say "never read the comments" and with good reason.  But, having found herself the subject of such a cruel piece of public shaming, Lizzie read every single one - and there were thousands.  They ranged from people telling her to kill herself, to others wondering why her parents would possibly have kept her.

Reading Lizzie's story was profoundly moving but, sadly, not shocking.  The words that kept her awake at night are words I am all too familiar with, myself.  

"Go home and kill yourself, you ugly freak."

"You're so disgusting, nobody is ever going to love you."

"Your parents must be ashamed to have created something so hideous."

These were words I heard on a daily basis.  Spoken to my face, by the same people who spent their daily bus journeys to and from school, playing games where they'd spit in my general direction and see who got the most phlegm on me.  People who'd sit at the back of the bus and scream vile insults at me, in the hope that I'd turn around, so they could see whether I was crying or not.  The ringleader - Stephen - would come and sit next to me, wrapping his arm around my shoulders and speaking his cruel words in a soft, gentle tone, which somehow made them all the more damaging.  "I'm saying this to be kind.  Killing yourself is the kindest thing to do.  Your parents won't have the shame of such an ugly freak of a daughter, then.  And you'll be free from all of this.  Because it'll only ever get worse.  Nobody's going to stop, because you'll always be disgusting."

And that was how I ended up with a school tie around my neck, attached to the shower rail, hoping that when I stepped off the edge of the bath, everything would go black and it would all be over. 

I was thirteen years old.

It didn't all go black.  It wasn't all over.  And at the time, I was mortified.  I took a handful of Paracetamol tablets - probably no more than four or five - before I realised that I didn't want to die.  I just wanted it to stop.  I wanted to be referred to by my name, rather than a succession of insults.  I wanted to be seen and treated as a person, rather than as an "it."

"It's crying!  Look at it!"

Lizzie Velasquez says that her parents love and support enabled her to think positively and hold her head up high, despite the daily bullying she endured at school.  Incredibly, she even says that she "happily forgives" the person who made the YouTube video, which makes her a better, stronger woman than I could ever hope to be, because I don't forgive Stephen and his friends.  I can't.  They killed the confident, happy, bright young girl I was and replaced her with a woman who still - nearly twenty years later - looks in the mirror and all too often sees someone ugly.  Lizzie has an incredible strength that I can only dream of possessing.

Lizzie decided to channel her efforts into making a difference.  She set up her own YouTube channel, to explain who the person behind the "World's Ugliest Woman" title really was.  She began trying to teach others to be confident in who they are, regardless of what they look like.  Her channel makes for some truly inspirational viewing and I recommend it to you all.  She is, along with the mother of Megan Meier (a teenager who took her own life after enduring bullying online) campaigning for an Anti-Bullying Bill, which would allow all schools funds with which to form anti-bullying programmes and which would mean that all instances of bullying would have to be officially recorded.  Her life and work were recently celebrated in a documentary.

Think about that, for a moment.  A woman who could have been broken by society's obsession with looking a certain way, has instead channelled her energy into helping others.  That makes her more beautiful than any bully could ever hope to be.  It's a cliche, but it's true to say that real beauty shines from within.  It's not just skin-deep.  Lizzie Velasquez, with her tireless efforts to support those experiencing bullying, is an absolutely beautiful person.

We could all learn a lot from her.  We should all be standing up to bullying, because picking on others because they don't look the way we want them to is an appalling way to behave.  Picking on someone for any reason is deplorable.  We don't have the right to break down a person's spirit.  We don't have the right to enforce our values on anyone else.  Everyone has the right to live their lives happily and freely, without being harassed, spat on or called names.

I am incredibly grateful that the Internet didn't exist when I was being bullied.  It meant that I was able to go home to a safe place, where I could try to push the cruel words out of my head.  Had YouTube or Facebook, Twitter etc existed back then, I'm certain I'd have been found online and my safe place would have been destroyed.

Now, it does exist.  And whilst the Internet is an amazing place, it also means that the bullying that many young people encounter is no longer restricted to school buses or classrooms.  It's in their homes.  It's on their phones.  It's inescapable.

But whilst that makes bullying harder to tackle, it shouldn't mean that we don't try.  We need to speak with one voice and say that enough is enough.  That we don't stand for people being bullied and put down, for any reason.  That we want to encourage young people to be accepting of others, regardless of whether or not they meet societal standards of so-called "beauty."  We need to be teaching those young people to love themselves just the way they are, regardless of the ridiculous (usually photoshopped) images of "perfection" the media bombards them with.

Or, to put it another way: We all need to learn to be a little more like Lizzie.