Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Why We Should All Make the Most of the Time we Have with Our Grandparents . . .

What are the first few words you think of when you imagine your grandparents? Cute? Old? Generous even? Or how about some of the less forgiving titles we give to the old folk . . . Tight? Boring? Perhaps you might call them record breaking - not least because you come across as a broken record each time you tut and insist, 'You just can't take them anywhere.' But is this all they are?

You know, everything which we go through today, they went through years ago. And most of them came out at the other end. This fact in itself advocates just how much we shouldn't take them for granted. Can you imagine the amount of insight which can be drawn from the elderly? You may be broken-hearted, or struggling at school, or hating your job, thinking that it can't get any worse. Well, guess what. Our grandparents managed to solve these problems in their own ways WHILST dealing with the aftermath of a World War!

Basically, this Blog is here to remind everybody just how valuable our grandparents are.

I hate to hear people refer to pensioners as 'old biddies' or 'bags'. I mean, everyone can make a joke right? But when a genuine dislike for someone or something which they do manifests itself in a discrimination of age unfairly, I get really annoyed.

People should be judged on their personalities. The old cliché of 'it's what's on the inside that counts' was probably taught to us by our grandparents. Somewhat of an old-wives-tale, it is quite true. Somewhere out there, there is a grandfather who invented something amazing, a grandmother who was an amazing pianist, or both who co-wrote some Earth-shattering novel. It may seem to some that I am only referring to every one in a million, but I really am not. In the same way as we are destined for great things, each one of our grandparents will have achieved at least one inspirational thing in their long lives.

Those of us who are lucky enough to have at least one grandparent around should hear this message, and go out of our ways to give our grandparents the time of day.

And what if your grandparents are no longer around? What if they did something you weren't proud of? What if they died? Well, that's OK. The memories that us and others have of them and their lives can live on if we are tenacious enough not to forget, to consider their lives as we shape our own. From their mistakes and their successes to their lessons learned and their risks taken; each offers an opportunity to put new risks into practise, to make our own mistakes having learned how not to make theirs, to appreciate our successes and to deeper explore what they had interest enough in to sit and learn.

It has been proposed since my grandfathers death last month, that a hospital ward will be named after him since he was one of the leading consultants in his prime. Despite his absence now, I know that I will always remember with pride his conscientiousness, pro-activity and selflessness in his better moments, because the short times that I spent with him and my beautiful Abuela were made the most of. The times I spent sitting around his feet, listening to his stories, asking him questions, learning Spanish songs with my Abuela and bonding over the return of fashions from her day feature some of the most consciously present in my mind. I wont make the same mistakes they made, I will use the solutions which they arrived to after problematic situations in my own life and each time I will know why this is best.

We will ALL be old one day. Unless of course we are unfortunate enough to die a young death. So next time you are driving behind an old lady and she is going a little slower than you would like, have a little patience. She probably knows more, has seen more and has experienced more than you will until you are her age. Have respect.

Send my love to your grandparents if they are still around. If not, then say a prayer. I'm sure that if they can hear it, they will appreciate it. They wont be around for ever you know, and when they eventually pass it will be a lot easier to deal with if you know enough about them to allow them to live on in the choices you make, the decisions you take and ultimately, your heart.

Don't allow yourself to get dragged into the trap of regret when it is too late. For a final old-wives-tale, you really don't know what you've got until it's gone.

Much Love

Sunday, 4 April 2010

What is beautiful?

Something which has changed so much over the years, beauty is something which virtually every girl in the world in the history of the world has striven for. The ideal 16th Century woman would have had a pear shape; flat chest, tiny waste, larger lower half emphasised further by enormous hooped skirts and what has since been referred to as a 'bum roll'. The Victorians adored a full-figure on a woman, denoting good health and more importantly, the ability to bear healthy boys. The rest of the 19th Century saw women faint regularly after being poured into whale-bone corsets in order to achieve the standard 'beautiful' wasp shaped waist and hips at the same time as a generous looking bosom. In the twenties, girls would sport bound material around their breasts and drop waisted dresses with high hopes of appearing androgynous and being considered an attractive 'flapper'. Bras didn't really become popular until around the 1940's, and when they did the main idea was for them to lift and enhance the breasts, as opposed to the support and hiding-place for which bras are more frequently used today. The 1950's saw what some still refer to as the sexiest woman in history; Marilyn Monroe. She was not peach, but quite the contrary. With a healthy BMI of 20, today Good Ol' Marilyn would have been considered a 'big girl'. And then we retreated again to the waif-like skinny malinky body sported by the likes of Twiggy in the 60's, Kate Moss in the 90's and most models today.

But what is beautiful? What is the 'perfect body'?

There are those who will insist (because they are uncomfortable in their own skin, or quite simply, fat) that a thin girl is unattractive, child-like or just plain gross. They might say, 'Urgh, she's just skin and bones' about a gorgeous girl who would still feature in the healthy BMI group.
There are those who will look at a size 16 and say 'Oh thank God I'm not there yet'.

How about those who are healthy AND happy? They are few and far between.

But ideally, this is how we should all be. BMI stands for Body Mass Index; a calculation which determined whether a person has a healthy weight measurement for their height. A healthy BMI falls between 18.5 and 24.9 and I have a BMI of around 23. A little too far into the 'healthy' category, but healthy none the less. Am I happy? In general, yes. With my body, no.

And I'm not the only one.

Why might this be? They say it's the fault of the media, you know, the eating disorder epidemic which appears to have overtaken the young female population. But I think we need to be more specific. Can the fashion industry be fairly blamed for the fact that teenage girls are eating nothing but two pots of baby-food a day? Or for the eleven-year-old swallowing one too many laxatives? Perhaps not, however, the fashion industry as it stood before questions of body image arose did not help the situation.

Whether or not 'clothes look better on a skinnier model' is true, the fact of the matter remains that if these companies limited their products solely to tiny sizes, then the majority of their profits would vanish, because the majority of women AREN'T a size zero. In fact, the most common dress size in the UK is a well-rounded 14. Surely these companies owe us, the majority, enough respect to allow a fair representation on the runway. We don't want to hear that the clothes we are buying would hang better on us if we were size zeros!!!

Don't get me wrong, I know that some people are naturally thin. Fast metabolisms and what not. And if this applies to you, then congratulations; you have what thousands of women would die for. And do. And that is what I am against.

What with all the pressures of teenage life today, school, friends, parents, the last thing we need are health conditions. From depression to fertility problems later in life plus everything in between, those who fall prey to such a condition, such an addiction should have nothing more than their homework and getting out of that dinner with your parents uncool friends.
Healthy should be key. And following much media attention various fashion houses and magazines are beginning to consider what are now referred to as 'full-figured' or 'plus-sized' thanks especially in my honest opinion to the appearance of the confident and inspirational 'big, black, beautiful and LOVING IT' Toccara Jones on prime-time television show popular amongst most young ladies, America's Next Top Model.

Obviously this is a great step, however, it does lead me to wonder, what about the in-betweenies? Those of us who wouldn't be considered waif-like, or plus-sized. Our strong presence is yet to be seen in the fashion industry, but it is on its way.

So can I suggest that everyone who hates their body as much as I do, goes and finds their BMI? Most of you will fall into the 'healthy' BMI category as did I. And if you do, then that is great! If not, then don't worry. We are all different right? Don't go about dieting in order to get down to a size. Do it healthily to get down to a healthy BMI. Small changes in the life of those with a BMI of '24.9 plus' such as cutting out fizzy drinks and walking for twenty minutes a day present a great start.

We all know that we shouldn't eat burgers, or pizzas, or ice-cream. We shouldn't drink alcohol and coffee and fizzy drinks. We shouldn't spend hours sitting in front of the TV, playing video games or ahem, blogging. But you know what my mom always told me when I was shoving my face with Easter eggs earlier on today, 'Everything in moderation, Sweet'.

So, what is the point of this Blog post? The point is, that I think that your healthy body is beautiful. It is natural and it is you and honestly, you are never going to be able to change it that drastically, especially not over a short amount of time. So kiss your skin! It keeps everything that makes you quintessentially you inside.

And I promise I'll kiss mine too.


How It Feels the First Time You Experience an Unanticipated Disappointment . . . and why this is good.

You know how it feels when you want something bad, but deep down you know that there is a slim chance? Then you don't get it but it's OK because you knew how unlikely it was. You go on to choose another dream and forget the last. Perhaps a feeling most associated with the thousands who queue up at an X Factor audition each year.

Well. This is different. What I am blogging about today is almost identical to the situation described above. The only alteration? There is not a slim chance. In fact, there is all the chance in the world. You are made for the opportunity and there is nothing to suggest that the perfection with which you and this opportunity are soul-mates can be combated. And then it all goes wrong. Just when you think that you are finally going to get what you deserve it gets torn from your hands, and torn from your heart. You are expected to crawl back into your shell and choose something else to believe in. But the shock, pain and lack of faith in yourself, the opportunity and others will never fade.

This blog is about dealing with that disappointment, growing from it and preventing such a thing from happening again in all ways possible.

So why am I so bitter? What happened to me?

Sierra Leone.

Please, allow me to explain.

Throughout high school I went on a journey, like all teenagers should. I arrived in year seven, fresh, bushy tailed, and excited to get stuck in. By year eight I was every teacher and parents nightmare. My two friends and I organised a homework copying operation, I was spending hours on the internet each night away from my parents and swearing at our Deputy Headmistress. This went on until around the end of year nine and it got so bad that the mother of this weird cult girl from my year actually approached my parents and told them that she was PRAYING for me. They were flattered. Not.

But then I had my epiphany. I don't know what did it, but all of a sudden I just . . . cared about things. I cared about my future, my family, the world, everything. And that's when it began I guess. If any of my teachers needed someone to do them a favour, I volunteered. I was polite to everyone, performing regularly in my schools choirs and orchestras (even playing the tambourine for a whole concert), and doing anything I could for charity. I wanted to be an 'all rounder' and I know that it wasn't going to be easy, but so what? I'm gutsy, I have passion about what I want to do and I'm definitely not afraid to work for it. I wanted to be the ultimate Little Miss Perfect.

The day it was announced in assembly that a group of teachers were going out to Sierra Leone to assess whether or not it would be safe, productive and enjoyable for a group of sixth formers to visit a year later, I got a fire in my belly. I wanted to be on that trip. I want to help people, touch people, change their lives for the better. Luckily, my two best friends felt the same way. Following our vigorous campaigning the year before to keep our school open (a ridiculous governmental scheme suggested physically merging our high achieving school with a lesser school in the area, in order to 'share' our 'success') which involved doing interviews for newspapers, keeping the school in the public eye and most importantly rallying the school to fight, we knew some of the steps which we could take in order to raise funds for the trip!

For two weeks we continuously spent every waking moment presenting assemblies, reminding everyone to bring in at least one old mobile phone and liaising with a company who promised us a lot of money in exchange for them. Handing over a cheque for £1500 felt amazing, I mean, imagine how much that can help people! For weeks and weeks afterwards, all the way up until the interviews for the trip, me and my two friends did virtually everything we could for the cause bake sales, talent shows, own clothes days. You name it, we did it.

Interview week rolled round and the obstacle presented itself. Despite becoming more popular amongst teachers over the past couple of years, there was one which I was never going to win over. The head of Religious Studies, my old best friends aunt had never liked me, by association with my friend. Family politics which I will never truly understand, but these politics resulted in the emotional instability (as I liked to refer to it) which consumed this teacher. She hated me. Seriously. And with no good reason; she had never even taught me. Sure, we had had a run in a couple of months earlier when she insisted during the battle to save the school that we would not give our annual rendition of the school song at our Christmas Carol Service, because she said that Christmas was a time to put aside the campaign. Because she is such a good Catholic. Despite the fact that she cheated on her husband with another teacher at the school. Just saying.

Unsurprisingly, it was organised that her and two other teachers would be conducting my interview, which naturally unnerved me, but didn't concern me. I figured, there is no way that they couldn't send me on the trip . . . I have worked so hard for it . . . it is my passion to alleviate the poverty, the war, the sadness which the people of Sierra Leone endure each day . . . I just have to prove it.

My interview went well. Honestly it did.

We all know that we should never be arrogant, and take anything for granted. We shouldn't expect things but accept them with a smile when they happen. Whilst trying my hardest to remember this, I still felt that there was no way I could be turned down. I thought that they couldn't possibly refuse me, because if they did, they would have to give a bloody good reason for it. A reason which I was convinced (and secretly still am) they didn't have.

And yet they got away with it. Despite the promise that they would take a larger group than they eventually chose, they still didn't choose me. Talk about a kick in the teeth. 'We did have more places, but we just didn't think you are good enough' is basically what they were saying to me. They took my two friends. But they eventually got a taste of my disappointment later on the same year, when one was not selected as a senior prefect and the other, who was an unquestionable shoo in for Head Boy was overlooked. That's the really sad thing. Parents send their children into schools which promise to nurture their children's talent, provide a 'family' or a 'god-like' love for all students and ensure their well-being, and yet the pathetic politics which go on each day crush the souls of those gullible enough to believe that anything can be so perfect.
I cried like my heart was breaking. How could this be happening? I did everything right. It was all so unfair.

I actually left school that day and spent the rest of the day at home. I felt like nobody could understand how I felt. I couldn't share it with my friends because they were both so happy. How bad is that? I was so gutted, that I couldn't even be happy for them. That is me being honest.

Completely and utterly.

However. It wasn't all doom and gloom.

From this disappointment, I learnt one of the best lessons which will stick with me for life. It's true what they say; the best friends are those who are with you in both your highs AND your lows.

My true friends all came through that week; my parents nursed me, my boyfriend brought me flowers and chocolates and let my cry until my tear ducts had dried up. The best thing was that when I went to school the next day, each of my teachers could not seem to find the words to express their sadness in my sadness, and their shock. They were there for me and made it a thousand times easier for me to wander the corridors which I had once danced down in excitement at the prospect of making a positive change in the world.

I felt betrayed by the headmistress. I think I always will really, because she virtually promised me and my friends the trip. I guess that only breaking one out of three promises was fine in her mind.

Numerous excuses were made as to why I hadn't got on the trip. Each of which was an insult to my intelligence. 'You are too passionate and we felt that you wouldn't follow instructions regarding your safety' was just one of many. Ah yes, because it is much better for them to have sent at least four people who had previously shown virtually no interest.

Don't get me wrong, I understand that to actually experience something like that trip is life-changing and each of the lucky people who got the opportunity came back to England as better people than they were when they left. They put smiles on the faces of numerous people, sharing hope and love with them, letting them know that there are people halfway across the world who care.

I just wish that I'd had that opportunity.

Selfish right? I mean, the job got done, I just didn't get to do it. If I was so interested in the cause, it wouldn't have mattered whether it was me or my friend or someone undeserving who got to provide the comfort which the people of Sierra Leone so need. So maybe I'm a bad person.

But let's save that for another blog.

The point of this little 'care-and-share' session right here is for me to let everybody know that there will be disappointments in life. It is full of them. You will work had one day and a reward will seem like a sure thing. And then you wont get it.

But we shouldn't let this knowledge impair our enjoyment of completing the favours which we used to complete, or wearing our hearts on our sleeves, or even going for our passions. Before the trip, I went about everything all wrong. I did some things, some favours because I wanted to. Because I enjoyed doing them. But I did others because I wanted people to give me what I so deserved; basically, because I had a motive.

I want to share the little insight that I got from this disappointment with my readers; you should have enough faith in your value to not need to go completely out of your way, brown-nosing.
Following this big mess I got into a new routine. I called it the 'Do what YOU want to do' routine. It involved me helping the teachers that I loved, and sacking off the teachers which I didn't. I saw my new goals and I went for them. Each of these goals relied on myself, and only myself. From A Levels to solo performances, I had the power to choose whether or not it would work for me.

I chose that it WOULD work for me.

And so it has ever since. I have my causes which I support, I check in with my old teachers, I work hard. And I do it all because I want to.

So what do you want? Whatever it is, go after it, and be in control. The disappointments will be less frequent and when they do occur, they will feel more justified if they were self-inflicted rather than disasters enforced by petty hypocrites who just adore throwing their weight around.

Take control. And let me know how it goes.

Love as always