Who’s Crying Now?

Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts.

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations.

We all cry. At some time or other. Some of us more than others.

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Me at 16, saying goodbye to school friends after the end of exam ball. (I won’t call it a prom. It was a disco in the school hall.)

Tears are everywhere this week. Yes, at the Olympics. The sound of the Star Spangled Banner is enough to make most Americans well up. But tears do not just come from pride and patriotism. They come from all sorts of feelings that sport can evoke.

We’ve seen a few tears over the years at the Olympics. Who remembers Derek Redmond ripping his hamstring in Barcelona in 1992? Redmond fell to the ground in agony but somehow got to his feet and began to painfully hop his way towards the finish line, determined to see it through. And as if that wasn’t moving enough, someone emerged from the crowd to help him along. His dad. And the nation cried too.

This week in Rio there were tears of disappointment for Djokovic as he lost an early match. Andy Murray is having a better run but he has shed some tears too over the years. On losing the Wimbledon final in 2012 it broke my heart to see him cry. But this year it was just as emotional seeing his tears of joy and relief as he took the title for the second time.

Crying is a part of what it is to be human. It can be a sign of sadness, anxiety, depression, grief, fear, tiredness, pain, hurt, anger, frustration, a broken heart. Crying is a natural stress reliever. It can make you feel better. It can make people realise you need help. It’s how babies communicate, children too. And then we learn to hide it, repress it, be ashamed of it even.

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DS2 rarely cries. This was as close as he got as a toddler. He wanted the camera.

A book, a film, a piece of music, the smell of the sea, the way the light slants on an Autumn day, all these can make you cry  – out of empathy or a memory stirred.

But did you know:

Cultural differences aside, women are more likely to cry as they have smaller tear ducts which overflow more easily than men’s. (Can anyone tell me if that’s true?)

When you cry, your heart rate increases and your breathing slows. And that lump in your throat is known as the ‘globus sensation’.

Crying stimulates the brain’s endorphins. It’s a natural painkiller which is helpful for a broken heart. (I added that last bit.)

Crying helps release emotions. It makes you feel better for a bit, more able to cope.

Shakespeare said: ‘To weep is to make less the depth of grief.’

I say: ‘Better out than in.’

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DS1 cried a lot. Here is an example. He also wanted the camera.

 

Thank goodness for Wimbledon.

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Ever since I was about six years old I have looked forward to this time of year. Sunshine, exams over, Wimbledon. But ‘summer’ 2016 is one I’d rather forget and we’re only at the beginning of July. The tennis is as good as ever – though the seeds have dropped like flies and there’s been a heck of a lot of rain. But the world appears to have gone barmy.

Today, July 4th, is traditionally the best day of Wimbledon fortnight and it will at least distract me from the goings on outside of SW19. July 4th is also Independence Day for the USA.  (Or ‘Treason Day’ as we Redcoats like to call it. Joke.) Much to celebrate? I can’t see an awful lot right now – a country divided by guns, Trump, hate. Much the same as the small island on which I live, (but without the guns) – a country divided by the English Channel and drifting off into the Atlantic, probably without Scotland for company. Billy No Mates, that’s us.

Meanwhile, 165 people have been killed in Baghdad. One. Hundred. And. Sixty. Five. And yet news coverage of this has been snatched by Farage, a man more despicable than the Child Catcher.

Why are so many men lobbing grenades into the midst of humanity and then legging it.

Who is left to clear up the mess?

As a Christian, my hope is in Jesus. (Now because I’m mentioning Jesus, don’t switch off. I’m not going to give the ‘Sunday School answer’, to coin the phrase of a good friend.) I know without a doubt that Jesus would not have carried a gun or a bomb or a grenade. I know without a doubt that he would weep over the death of an Iraqi as much as over an American citizen or a chap who went to Eton.

Why? Because Jesus treated everyone as equal. He told the story of The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son. He looked after the disabled. He trusted women in his circle, first appearing to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection, telling her to go out and spread the word. A woman, when they were second class citizens, their testimonies not even accepted in court. That was how he rolled.

He turned the tables.

We must not turn them back.

We need to look after each other. We need to be salt and light. We must trust in love, and banish hate. Easy? Well, no, because we humans like power. We like to dominate other people. Take what isn’t ours and hang onto it. We like to shut our eyes to the world’s problems because they are not our problems. Even when it’s going on in our own back garden, we still ignore it. Until it impacts us directly.

And you know what? I won’t be told to ‘get over it’ if I believe passionately in something.  I will keep highlighting the ridiculous gun culture of the richest most influential country in the war. It hangs heavy on my heart. I don’t know why this in particular but it’s something I have to speak out against. Sometimes it takes an outsider to see things clearly. Like when I’ve finished a manuscript, one I’ve been working on for two years, a world only I’ve been inhabiting, I have to ask my writing buddies to read it. They can see the mistakes that I have missed.

I will keep highlighting the fact that men with crazy hair have got form (you know who I’m talking about).

I will keep highlighting the ridiculous separatist way our country is heading.

I will keep highlighting the subjugation of  women  across the globe. (And as an aside, I am delighted to discover I have two suffragette sisters in my family tree so maybe my militant tendencies were there all along. It’s just I’m braver at speaking out now.)

I will keeping speaking out against our education system which is failing our children and young people.

I will keep on.

I will nag. I will cajole. I will argue. I will reason. I will joke. I will cry. I will get angry. I will get sad. I will do what I have to do, what my heart tells me.

And you know what else? I will pray because that’s what Christians do. But I will pray in the knowledge that prayer is not a replacement for doing stuff. It’s one part of having a faith. The other is doing to others what you would have done to you. It is loving your neighbour. It is not judging. But it is also speaking out when you see wrong. It is offering a better way.

Jesus never gave up. If I could only have a dot of his courage and compassion…

Peace out, everyone.

Meantime, back to SW19.

 

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Response To Nicky Morgan

Let Our Kids Be Kids

“That is why the campaign led by some of those who do not think we should set high expectations, who want to ‘keep their children home for a day’ next week, is so damaging.

Keeping children home – even for a day – is harmful to their education and I think it undermines how hard you as heads are working. I urge those running these campaigns to reconsider their actions.”

Taken from Nicky Morgan speech at the NAHT annual conference 2016, 30th April 2016

In response to Nicky Morgan’s attack on parents choosing to exercise their democratic right to protest on Tuesday above we’d like to say the following…

Parents supporting this cause, which has the well being and happiness of their children at its very core, are very angry that Nicky Morgan should suggest that they don’t want high standards for their children.

We all want the best but…

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Keeping Abreast

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Many moons ago, I was a breast pump agent for the National Childbirth Trust, which is something not many people know about me and perhaps something not many people know about.

I was heavily pregnant with son number 2 and on maternity leave. As a member of the NCT I wanted to do something worthwhile that wouldn’t be too onerous as I already had a one year old to look after. So, I volunteered. For about a year, I was on hand to hire out the industrial-sized, hospital-type breast pumps. New parents would come to my house, often stressed because of a pre-term baby or illness or somehow struggling to breastfeed, and I would show them how to work the pump. I never used one myself but was told that it was brilliant.

At this time, I had a lot of friends who I met through the NCT and other post-natal groups. One of them had so much milk she became a donor for the SCBU at Kings College Hospital, after being screened. This milk was gratefully received as its immunity-boosting components can be life-saving for prem babies.

Yesterday the media was awash with stories about breast milk – if you’ll pardon the pun. A breastfeeding mother had an operation and was unable to breastfeed her son, so she went on Facebook to see if anyone would step in. She had a huge response and several women were able to help, coming to her bedside and feeding her baby. Some people found this difficult. I had to think about it myself for a while as I confess my natural response was to find it a bit weird.

Which I now see is daft.

Wet nurses, cross-nursing, milk-sharing has gone on forever all over the world. But in the  modern West, we see breastfeeding as a private thing, because breasts are associated with sex and we forget that the job of breasts is to feed babies. For me, breastfeeding was generally a good experience though there were times when I had to feed my babies in public loos. You wouldn’t choose to eat your fish and chips in a bog so goodness knows why it is acceptable for vulnerable babies.

I breastfed all three of our children on demand. I fed the oldest till he was 8 months when I had to return to work and was pregnant again. I fed number 2 and 3 until they were 14 months old. I’d like to point out that I am not a member of what some of the press call the ‘Breastapo’. I just feel that babies have a right to feed when and where they need to be fed. Who cares if you catch a glimpse of breast? Why does it put some people off their food when a baby is also just having food?

Back in the early 90s, I taught in a nursery unit attached to an infant school in Camberwell. There were many children there from Ghana and Nigeria and it was interesting watching the role play. In the ‘home corner’ they would hold the babies to their chests, as this was what they saw their mothers, aunts etc do. When I had my own children, I noticed them and their friends doing the same thing. Breastfeeding is not embarrassing for children. It’s just some adults that find it so.

WHO and UNICEF both say that milk donating and sharing is the second best alternative to breastfeeding in consultation with your health provider. Yes, there are issues over screening for infectious diseases such as HIV (which all pregnant women are screened for anyway). And I believe from reading about it that it’s better to match the age of the baby receiving the milk to the age of the supplier’s baby, as breast milk changes as the child grows. But these issues can be overcome. Fundamentally, I don’t have a problem with it. Any reservations I had yesterday were cultural.

And I must just add here that it goes without saying that breastfeeding doesn’t work out for everyone due to illness and for all manner of reasons. Giving a baby a bottle is fine and mothers should never be made to feel guilty. 

Yesterday’s news item is good because it gets breastfeeding talked about. Hopefully one day boobs won’t be news. They’ll be seen as the givers of life that they are.

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#milksharing #wetnursing #BlogoftheDay #Mumsnetbloggers

 

A Day of Waiting

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These are frightening times. I am blessed to have been born in the UK in the 1960s but I fear for my own children, approaching adulthood now. Our government are stripping all I hold dear about this country. Our NHS, our education system, our welfare state – all the wonderful support that was introduced after the Second World War when Europe was stripped bare of everything, except hope for a better future and a deep desire for a lasting peace.

We are told lies. We are told that we have to have Austerity as we can’t spend what we don’t have. Sounds reasonable? What about the fact that our debt has increased while our most vulnerable people have faced some of the worst cuts ever? Where’s the money gone, boys? And after all this, to tell us this is a ‘Budget for the next generation’. What, the generation that will be saddled with debt and never able to afford their own home? My children? That one?

And as for the USA, well, I can’t even bring myself to talk about what the heck is going on in that country. Toddlers with guns, a Nazi with bad hair taking the limelight from an even bigger psychopath, homophobia, Islamophobia, racism, sexism, greed… And this from the country of opportunity and the land of the free. (Just so long as you are white, male, and rich.) But then, as history has shown us time and again, empires rise, empires fall…

It’s been a sad week. People have been killed, not just in Brussels, but all over the world. Senseless, pointless murder. Fundamentalists trying to take what isn’t theirs to take. On this Easter Saturday, a day of waiting and mourning, I know that tomorrow will bring something better. I know that love wins over hate. Light wins over darkness. Hope wins over despair.

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That’s why I love Jesus. He was full of compassion, a rebel, a feminist, a friend of the poor, the disabled, the outcast and the disenfranchised. He lived in an occupied territory, he had no material possessions, and he not only preached about love, but he acted on this.

Love wins.

Top Nine Doggies!

SophieCol-Matt-Austin-55.jpgI love my Tibetan Terriers. They are known as untrainable but they will do pretty much anything for a piece of people food. The one on the left is Millie and the other one, Susan, is her daughter.

I have spent the weekend looking at dog and cat videos on Facebook as I’ve been a bit poorly. I should be cracking on with my novel. And I will. Once I’ve blogged about my top nine famous doggies.

1. Petra. She was Peter Purvis’s dog and appeared on over 1100 Blue Peter programmes. I remember when she died, how upset he was (and the nation’s children). They made a sculpture to put in the Blue Peter Garden. Anyone know where it is now?

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2. Shep. If we have Petra, then we have to have Shep and her companion, John Noakes. One of the phrases of a 70s childhood, and one we can still say without shame, is ‘Get down, Shep!’.

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3. Marley. The hero of John Grogan’s book, ‘Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s worst Dog’. Who hasn’t read this book or watched the film to the end and not cried? No one. ‘You are a great dog.’

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4. Buster. This is the Buster who owned Roy Hattersley and wrote his diaries. A goose belonging to the Queen is involved. Brilliant.

 

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5. Pudsey. Winner of Britain’s Got Talent 2012. So clever! Pudsey_2218034b

6. Hachiko. A true story of loyalty. This Akita used to wait everyday to greet his owner on the way home at Shibuya Station in Tokyo. One day the owner didn’t return as he’d suffered a fatal cerebral haemorrhage at work. Hachikco came back every day for the next nine years to wait for the same train in the hope his owner would appear.

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7. Greyfriar’s Bobby. Another tale of loyalty and the bond between human and dog. A Skye Terrier from Edinburgh who spent 14 years guarding his owner’s grave in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard until he died himself in 1872. Have you touched his nose?

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8. Appollo. The first search and rescue dog to arrive on site after the collapse of the World Trade Centre on 9/11. One of the fearless rescue dogs who worked so hard to try and find survivors at Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks. There are so many dogs who have worked as rescuers and many who’ve given their lives. Brave doggies.

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9. Judy. World War 2 hero. There are many animals who serve in wartime. Judy was one of these remarkable dogs.

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I could go on and on but I do need to get on with my novel now…Only my dogs need a walk…

 

 

Who is going to be the next James Bond? And does it really matter? Here’s my top ten.

Whoever replaces Daniel Craig as the next James Bond will have a hard act to follow. There’s much talk in the media right now. Will it be Aidan Turner, he of the groomed chest wielding a scythe as Ross Poldark? Will it be the less manly but very twinkly Tom Hiddleston currently making a splash in ‘The Night Manager’ on Sunday evenings? Or James Norton who’s shown us within a few weeks his versatility in ‘War and Peace’, ‘Happy Valley’, and ‘Grantchester’ (not every actor can play a Russian Prince, a psychopathic sex offender and a 1950s vicar). Or will it be Idris Elba, the first black Bond? How about the first ginger Bond, Damien Lewis? The German (and ginger) Michael Fassbender who did a jolly good impersonation of Daniel Craig coming out of a chilly loch in ‘Macbeth’? How about a young, gay Bond? Daniel Radcliffe showed he could carry the Potter brand, why not Bond? How about the first woman Bond? Jaime Bond?

Does it matter who it is? To lots of people, yes. To the wider world, yes too. White European men, speaking the Queen’s English (even with a slight Scottish/Welsh/Irish burr), are not the only ones who are kickass. And if Ian Fleming were writing now, who would he have in mind?

Here’s my alternative, (slightly more) diverse top ten:

10. Ewan McGregor.
He’s classy and a blooming good actor, reminiscent of Sean Connery.
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9. David Tennant
Quirky, charismatic, slightly loopy verging on manic as ‘Doctor Who’, though he’s shown the brooding side in ‘Broadchurch’.
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8. Sam Heughan
I know he’s far too busy with ‘Outlander’ but he’s good at brave and tough. And there’s the kilt.
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7. Michael Sheen
Always more than meets the eye with this one.
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6. Emma Watson
She’s kickass, classy and clever.
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5. Kate Winslet
A woman of experience and depth, with a cut glass accent.
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4. Andrew Lincoln
Ever since playing Egg in ‘This Life’ back in the day, I’ve liked this actor. He’s my wildcard.
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3. Thierry Henry
Can you have a French James Bond? Hell, yes, if he speaks like this. Plus he’s super fit (physically, I mean). I have no idea if he can act but he has va-va-voom.
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2.Jennifer Lawrence
Funny, clever, tough. Hard to beat.
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– she’s badass.

1. Tom Hiddleston
Ok, so I had to have a number one and Mr H. has won me over with his b… eyes. (Yes, I am that shallow.)
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Who would you choose?

Brideshead Revamp

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I was sent an email today from the lovely author (and mentor of mine and founder/patron of Words for the Wounded) Margaret Graham, telling me I had a review in the Daily Mail for ‘Bright Stars’. So of course, I Googled and found the review by novelist Wendy Holden who likened it to Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Brideshead Revisited’. (And I dashed out and bought a copy for my mum.)

The comparison, of course, thrilled me as ‘Brideshead Revisited’ is one of my top ten novels and the TV production one of the best ever. I even blogged about campus novels a few months ago and had to include Brideshead. Just because.

So if you were ever a student, if you are a student, if you’d like to be a student, if you remember the 80s, or if you don’t, or if you weren’t even born, you can download Bright Stars for £2.79 and see if the comparison rings true. Is Cameron a modern day Charles Ryder, in a kilt rather than tweeds? Is Tommo anything like Sebastian Flyte, with an electric guitar rather than a teddy bear?

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‘…from balls and Bollinger to sweaty discos and the Nelson Mandela Bar.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/books/article-3400416/POPULAR-FICTION.html#ixzz3xJvIqiXr

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Author Interview: Sophie Duffy

RAZZ.

Sophie Duffy lives in Devon, and became a writer after taking a creative writing evening class and then a Creative Writing MA. Her first novel published was The Generation Game in 2011, which has won several prizes. She also published This Holey Life in 2012. Bright Stars is her third novel and follows the life of Cameron Spark as he struggles both to move on from and to accept traumatic events in his past. Sophie is also involved with CreativeWritingMatters, a writing school in Exeter. We send Rachel Stubbs to find out more…

Your website says that you studied your MA at Lancaster University. Are any parts of Bright Stars that are based on your own experiences there?

I studied for my MA at Lancaster University by distance learning from 2002-2004 but I was an English undergrad there from 1986 to 1989 and that is where the inspiration came for Bright Stars

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You are all Bright Stars!

 

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As the 2015 draws to a close, I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who read ‘Bright Stars’, to all those who came to the launch, to everyone involved in the publishing of it, to all those who took the time to post reviews, to everyone for their support. I hope it won’t be too long before the next one is finished… Please be kind, 2016, to all of us.

P.S. ‘Bright Stars’ is on sale on Amazon as part of the 12 Days of Kindle until January 5th at 99p.