Sunday 27 January 2019

We CANNOT Be Blind To The Past

I was a child when I first heard about the Holocaust.  My world was filled with imaginative games, bike rides in the sunshine and books to be read.  The horrors of places like Auschwitz or Belsen were impossible to fathom.  I heard about children as young as I was being imprisoned and eventually gassed to death.  It was too awful to think about and yet for a while after I first learned about the Holocaust, that was all I did.

A few years later, I read the diary of Anne Frank.  I read it when I was at a similar age to hers when it was written.  I recognised the frustrations, the passions and the dreams she filled her pages with.  But there were aspects that were shocking; a world away from the one I knew.  The fear of capture.  The horrors of war.  The hatred faced by people for no reason beyond their creed. 

Just like when I was a child, first hearing about the Holocaust, for a while after I finished the diary, it was all I could think about.  

Slaughter on a mass scale.  Camps that became machines of death.  Hatred that spilled over into atrocity.  I read the words.  I saw the photographs.  I thanked my lucky stars that I was growing up in an altogether different world.  

Or so I believed.

Photo credit: Auschwitz-Berkenau Memorial & Museum

A recent study showed that a shocking 1 in 20 adults in the UK do not believe that the Holocaust actually happened.  The study also revealed that 1 in 12 adults in the UK either have no idea how many Jewish people were systematically murdered during the atrocities, or that they were prone to grossly under-estimating the figure.

It could be seen as easy to write this off as a failing of our education system, or to casually blame it on the fact that 74 years have passed since the liberation of Auschwitz.  But neither excuse is good enough.  

There are countless stories to be found, written or told by survivors of Nazi death camps.  We have photographs of emaciated prisoners in their striped outfits.  Mountains of shoes, pairs of glasses and even locks of human hair can be seen upon visiting Auschwitz itself.  Then there is the fact that the Nazis themselves were detailed record keepers and despite their attempts to conceal what had been happening at their now notorious concentration camps, the world quickly discovered the grim truth, once the war was at an end.

In the face of such harrowing evidence, to deny that the Holocaust ever took place can only happen due to one of two things: sheer determination to keep one's head in the sand and avoid the worst of the world's horrors, or - far more frighteningly - a continuing, hateful level of anti-Semitism.

Photo credit: Getty images

Last January, The Guardian newspaper reported that antisemitic incidents in the UK were at an all-time high.  By last Summer, The Independent were reporting that there had been over 100 antisemitic incidents per month in the UK, during the first half of 2018.

Last year also saw a huge surge in street attacks on Muslim people in the UK, as those whose bigoted views are usually kept under the radar become more and more emboldened, thanks to the likes of "Tommy Robinson" and his ilk.  

Today, as we commemorate the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, there are antisemites on Twitter, continuing to perpetuate hateful stereotypes.  There are people writing similarly vile comments about Muslims.  In fact, it doesn't take more than a couple of minutes of digging (and we're talking shallow levels of digging) on social media, to uncover not only antisemitism or Islamophobia, but racism, misogyny and homophobia being broadcast far more openly than ever before.  Indeed, on one single page (a Twitter user who I have obviously reported for their despicable behaviour), I found not only Holocaust denial, but open racism against black people, homophobia and a vocal insistence that "hate speech" shouldn't be a crime.

People with these views no longer feel they have to keep them quiet.  Donald Trump's election in America - much like the UK's Brexit vote - undoubtedly emboldened far-right men and women, who suddenly believed that their opinions were no longer as unpalatable as they were once perceived.  

And yes, there are people who probably voted for Donald Trump who are not inherently racist or misogynistic, just as there are people who voted for Brexit who are horrified by the rise in racist incidents since the referendum.   The trouble is that those people are being drowned out by a louder, far nastier faction.

Getty images

The holocaust did not start with concentration camps or gas chambers.  It began with words.  It began with hateful rhetoric, aimed at "othering" a section of society.  Back then, it was predominantly aimed at the Jewish community.  Nowadays, with the world seemingly so much smaller and with our words capable of reaching so many more people, it is not only Jews, but Muslims, the LGBT+ community and countless other sections of society who are targeted daily by messages of hatred.

We cannot be blind to the past.  We cannot pretend that hateful ideology does not have the capacity to snowball into slaughter.  We've seen it happen, not only at Auschwitz, but in terrorist atrocities and racially motivated murders in far more recent history.

ANY message of hate is ridiculous, pathetic and undeserving of a place in the modern world.  ANY individual, group or organisation that seeks to undermine or even harm other people, based on nothing but their ethnicity, faith (or lack thereof), gender or sexuality needs to have their platform removed in order to prevent such toxic messages from spreading further.

No individual faith, ethnicity or sexuality is better than all of the others.  The colour of one man's skin does not make him any more or less important than the person next to him.  What an individual believes as part of their religious faith should not have any impact on anyone else's life.  And who you or I choose to have a romantic or sexual relationship with is nobody's business but our own.

We are all humans, all capable of doing right and wrong.  So let's stop turning a blind eye to the most horrific wrongs of the past and work together to prevent them from ever happening again.

Monday 21 January 2019

Blue Monday? Let Music Be Your Medicine!

Seeing as today is Blue Monday - supposedly the most depressing day of the year - I wanted to write a blog about one of the best ways to boost your emotional and physical well-being: Music.

More and more studies are showing that music has benefits way beyond mere enjoyment.  Listening to a song that we love can cheer us up when we're in a grump.  Playing an emotional ballad when you've got a lot of pent-up feelings can be the catalyst to finally letting those feelings out (and it's fair to say that most of us start to feel at least a little better after a good cry).

But it's not just listening to music that can have an effect on our deeper well-being.  Recent reports claim that doctors will soon be "prescribing" the arts to patients suffering from loneliness, mental health issues or even dementia, such is the positive impact that playing an instrument or singing in a group can have on a person's well-being.

It's a subject I passionately believe in.  Music has always been an outlet for my emotions, as well as something comforting that I throw myself into when the world feels bleak.  Breaking out a favourite album on a bad day is like snuggling down under a warm duvet; it just makes you feel better.

But passive listening can only go so far.

In the past, when life has been difficult, I've been known to resort to "YouTube karaoke."  I could never explain it, but somehow, belting out a ballad had the power to unleash all the emotion I'd been bottling up, but in a way that felt positive and powerful.  And once the sad songs were over with, I'd inevitably end up warbling away to some uptempo tunes.  Without fail, I'd end my personal karaoke session feeling much better than I had when I started it.  

Nowadays, I sing with a chorus and I've learnt far more about how music works to boost your health - not just your mental health, but your physical well-being, too.  Did you know, for example, that singing teaches you the correct way to breathe?  Believe it or not, there is a wrong way.  And for someone like me, who suffers with chronic asthma, it's pretty important that I know the difference.

Not only has my lung capacity improved since I joined said chorus, but my posture is definitely better, too.  That's because one of the number one things you learn is that standing in a saggy, slumped position won't help you sound good when you sing.  Once you've realised that you need a good posture for singing purposes, you frequently find yourself remembering your "singing stance" for when you're standing in a long queue, or doing anything that requires you to be on your feet for long periods.

The mental health benefits were less unexpected; of course singing in harmony sounds amazing and therefore makes you feel amazing, because you're a part of it.  Singing is a fantastic stress-reliever, too.  It's hard to fret about family or worry about work when you're busy trying to nail that tricky key change.

And then there's the social aspect.  

Joining any kind of group - be it a choir, a band or a sports team - means that you're getting out of the house (and hopefully out of your own head space) at least once a week and talking to other people.  It gives you the opportunity to broaden your social circle and make new friends.  Inevitability, that group mentality leads to a feeling of support and closeness; you are part of something.  You are one of the family.

Look, I'm not about to say that joining a choir or doing some karaoke is enough to cure depression (or any other illness) all by itself.  Obviously, seeking professional medical attention when you're in any way unwell should be your first port of call.  But if you're just looking for something to boost your well-being, there is a lot to be said for allowing music to be your medicine.

It certainly worked for me.

Thursday 17 January 2019

Technology And I Are NOT Friends...

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know that I have a YouTube channel I'm really passionate about.  I'm very proud of the videos I make and the whole filming and editing process has become something I hugely enjoy.

The trouble is, editing is done on a computer.  And I am...the least technological person ever.


When I use anything beyond a computer programme I'm very familiar with, I instantly become a ninety seven year old, utterly flummoxed by "new-fangled technology."  I flail helplessly, mashing keys and wondering why the screen brightness has suddenly changed, but the programme itself isn't doing what I want it to.  If I still used a desktop PC, I'd probably resort to sticking the mouse in my ear or something.  That's the level of ineptitude we're talking.

And so, for someone as technologically daft as I am, it's quite a wonder that I've taught myself to use Final Cut Pro at all.  That I can edit green screen sketches without somehow managing to accidentally force my MacBook into some kind of bizarre unsafe mode is a constant surprise.  In fact, editing is usually a delight.

Until earlier this week.

You see, I have a problem with my MacBook, in that it has the memory of a goldfish.  It fills up quicker than an Amazon shopping basket on Black Friday.  I only have to blink at my laptop and it responds by telling me I've run out of disk storage.

So, naturally, I have a couple of external hard drives that come in very handy.  And often, when I'm editing a video, I create a library of files that saves directly to an external drive, in order to save space on the laptop itself.  

But sometimes...  I don't.  Sometimes, if I'm a bit sleepy, in a rush to crack on with editing or just having a very typically Emma day, I just import lots of files onto my MacBook, create a library and expect it to cope.

And this week, it did not.

I can't accurately describe the frustration of being three quarters of the way through editing a video, when your computer suddenly says no.  I would imagine it's a similar sensation to the one you'd get if you'd stayed in all day, waiting for a very important call, only for the phone to finally ring and for you to answer it and realise it's just someone wanting to check if you've been mis-sold PPI.

There I was, with probably three hours of editing time under my belt and the finish line starting to creep into sight, when that familiar error message popped up, to tell me that my laptop's teensy, tiny memory was, much like me after Christmas dinner, simply too full to be of any use.

In a moment of what I assumed simply must be genius (spoiler: it was not), I decided that there was an obvious and quick solution to this problem.  I'd merely transfer the folder with all the video files onto my external hard drive and send the Final Cut Pro library to the external drive, too.  Once it was all on there, I could delete it from my laptop and carry on editing like a freaking boss.  

So, that, dear reader, is exactly what I did.  Except somewhere between my laptop and the external hard drive, the library and the folder of video files decided to go off on a beautiful adventure, together.  Because only after I'd deleted them from the laptop, did I realise that despite the "sending items to external hard drive" message that had popped up on screen, the files had most certainly not completed their journey.  They had vanished.

Now, yes.  A tech savvy person would have double and probably triple checked that the files were on the external hard drive before she deleted them from her laptop, but...  I am not that person.  And I was three hours into an editing session and therefore my eyes were sore and I wasn't thinking like a normal human, anymore.  Editing turns you into a strange zombie who notices the sounds your lips make when they slap together too harshly on a syllable.  It doesn't make you alert to the very real dangers of DATA LOSS.

My reaction was obviously typically understated.  I pulled the kind of distressed faces that some would consider Oscar-worthy.  I got very creative with my insults, whilst swearing at both myself and the laptop.  I might have cried.

Believe me when I say that nothing shows you how much of a technological disaster area you are, quite like having to sort out something like this.  The simple answers - check that it's not in the trash, try to restore from a back up etc - were there in my head (and didn't work, irritatingly), but anything beyond that was like trying to carve an elegant swan out of a lump of rapidly melting butter.  

Many questions were asked of Google, and the type of question became more frantic as time passed.  I went from "how to recover accidentally deleted files" to "SOFTWARE DOWNLOAD FOR IDIOTS WHO RUIN THEIR OWN LIVES" at a frighteningly fast pace.

And of course, then I had to navigate a whole heap of slightly dodgy downloads and free trials that let you look at your lost files, but then wanted ninety bazillion pounds to let you have them back again.

I went to bed at gone midnight, by which time I had lost any semblance of remaining sanity, along with all the files I'd deleted.

Thankfully, however, the solution came to me not so much in a dream, but in a fevered state of panic at around 3am.  I remembered I'd once recovered files lost from my camera's SD card using a programme I'd downloaded off the internet.  Surely, I could recover these files from my SD card, too?!

Yes, naturally I'd deleted them off the SD card, too.  Shut up.  They were on my laptop and supposedly my external hard drive.  They were meant to be SAFE.

Anyway, long story short, the following day, I managed to download three separate free trials for programmes that each let me recover a few of the files I needed back.  My reaction upon actually being able to start editing again (admittedly from scratch, which was a pain) was like something more commonly seen on one of those "People's Postcode Lottery" adverts.  I practically fell to my knees and promised my soul to the IT community in general.

Look, the moral of this story is twofold: 1) SAVE STUFF REGULARLY AND BACK IT UP TO MULTIPLE DEVICES.  2) Don't trust me with anything technological.  Seriously, it's for your own good.

Mine, too.

Wednesday 9 January 2019

2019 Blog Plans!

So, here we are in a fresh, new year and if you're particularly eagle-eyed, you may have noticed that this blog also has a fresh, new header.  Don't worry, I won't be offended if you didn't notice, but... Well, I'm rather pleased with it, despite my usual lack of design ability.

The main reason I figured the header needed a spruce up was the fact that the old one was technically out of date.  It still suggested that there would be a free bedtime story for children, released right here every Wednesday at 6pm.  And if you're a regular reader, you'll know that that's no longer true.

One of the reasons I decided to stop writing the weekly bedtime stories was because I was spending so much time planning them in advance and writing them in bulk, I wasn't finding time to blog about anything else.  What with having a day job and a YouTube channel to maintain, writing the stories was becoming the only thing I did on this site and I missed the frequency with which I used to be able to write about anything that took my fancy. 

I was also stressing about the incongruous nature of there being a sweet bedtime story nestled right beside an angry blog piece about, for example, romanticised abuse in fiction. 

For those reasons (and a few more besides), I called a halt to the weekly bedtime story feature in the hope that I would find the time to write something else, instead.  A rather fanciful part of my brain is still keen on the idea of finally getting around to writing that difficult second novel, but if I can make do with posting regularly on this blog - and getting back to writing about a whole variety of different things - then I'll be satisfied.

So, in 2019, you can expect to see more of me on this blog.  No, no... Not like that.  I've not taken to posting nude selfies or anything.  Nobody wants that, believe me.  But you can expect to see more rants, more opinion pieces, more random posts about whatever has popped into my head that day and, as ever, plenty of personal anecdotes.

The Rambling Curl will be rambling in all directions, this year.  I'm rather excited to get started!