Friday, 1 August 2014

Happy Yorkshire Day!

Having just spent some time in that unique county, reminded myself of why it's justifiably proud and enjoyed some of it's stunning scenery, I can't let today's designation as Yorkshire Day go unmarked. 

God's chosen county? Maybe. The friendliest people? Possibly. Best fish-n-chips? Undeniably...

Happy Yorkshire Day everybody! 

Thursday, 24 July 2014

He is not missing...

I'm writing a book on the first war. (Who isn't... or hasn't?) But - and it's a big but - mine is about the aftermath, the immediate aftermath, when France and Belgium were slowly rebuilding and first the Army followed by the (then) Imperial War Graves Commission were burying and reburying thousands and thousands of bodies and slowly creating the vast memorial cemeteries that are now such a universal symbol of the human cost of war.

My protagonists - a group of soldiers eager for demob but kept on in Flanders after the Armistice - form one of the many companies whose unenviable task it was to search the shattered land for the missing, to exhume hasty battlefield burials and then to establish the now famous concentration cemeteries like the largest of them all, Tyne Cot.

It was a grim task. But many such men volunteered for the work (and not merely for the extra 2/6 a day). Some even remained in Belgium after demob and found work as IWGC gardeners. A sizeable British  community in Ypres between the wars had its own school and church and remained there until the Germans once again invaded in 1939. Then came a hastily arranged and hazardous evacuation.

In the meantime, the monuments to the missing had been built. Massive structures like Thiepval, the memorial wall at Tyne Cot and, of course, the famous Menin Gate which was inaugurated by Field-Marshal Sir Herbert Plumer ('Daddy' Plum, one of the few high-ranking officers to have escaped the 'donkey' epithet and to have been universally respected by the troops) on this day, July 24th, 1927.

In one chapter of the book I'm writing the men - by now ex-army IWGC gardeners and labourers - gather at the Menin Gate for the ceremony (as actually happened - medals, but not uniforms, were worn). They listen as Plumer delivers his speech:

One of the most tragic features of the Great War was the number of casualties reported as 'Missing, believed killed'... It was resolved that here at Ypres, where so many of the 'Missing' are known to have fallen, there should be erected a memorial worthy of them which should give expression to the nation's gratitude for their sacrifice and its sympathy with those who mourned them. 

At home in England, at the same time on that July Sunday morning, congregations gather in churches up and down the land to listen to one of the very first BBC outside broadcasts - a live relay from Ypres - and, perhaps, to follow the service in the specially-printed feature in the Radio Times.

You're not, perhaps, meant to be moved by your own words. (Although Dickens cried at the death of Little Nell.) But I find even my own modest description of that event, culminating as it did with the playing by buglers of the Somerset Light Infantry of the Last Post (the start of a tradition that continues, famously, to this day) followed by pipers of the Scots Guards playing the Flowers of the Forest lament as the men who fought there remember their comrades who died and are commemorated on those walls quite unusually affecting.

But then, that's down to the event itself, the memorial, and the men it commemorates. Just to see the 'intolerably nameless names' - almost 55,000 - filling the walls and arches of Reginald Blomfield's great edifice is moving enough.

It takes but a little imagination to appreciate the impact it must have had on those present that day, those for whom the countless names were living people, comrades, friends and of whom, at last, in the words of Herbert Plumer, the world could now say:

He is not missing; he is here. 


You can read an extended extract from the beginning of this book on the Authonomy website.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The FGM Rose

A couple of days ago I was approached and asked if I'd like to write a post and host this video. Even without watching the video, I agreed. I'm aware of the campaign and support it wholeheartedly. Indeed, I'm glad of the chance to help spread the word.

But I was a little unsure what to write. Other posts I'd seen followed the 'Because I'm a Girl' theme and I clearly can't compete with that. But I'm a dad of two daughters and - as I've written before - nothing in my life has made me appreciate so keenly the position of girls and women in society, the dangers faced, the hardships endured and the ignorance and evil that has to be overcome.

Having now seen the video, I think it speaks, powerfully, for itself. I hope it isn't regarded as being something of a cop out to allow it to do just that. Please watch it. Please share it. The campaign - by Plan UK - launches today with this short film made by Marmalade Film & Media.

125 million girls and women the world over are living with the consequences of being cut. Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign has so far reached 58 million girls worldwide and its projects in Africa and Asia have proved that knowledge of the harmful impact of Female Genital Mutilation as well as an understanding how it is linked to discrimination against women and girls can help to end it.

And we can help too.

Please share.

Monday, 14 July 2014

It's childcare, Jim...

It was 58 years ago today that Dr Benjamin Spock (no, not that one!) published his landmark book, 'The Common Sense Book of Baby and Childcare'.

It was an instant success: in the first six months it sold over half a million copies and has been selling ever since. It was blamed by various preachers and politicians for the permissive society, political unrest and paternalism, as well as other crimes that don't begin with 'p'.

But all he did - and in a reassuringly conversational tone - was to tell parents to trust their own instincts and to put the child first. It's pretty standard stuff today (although his views on some things, such as placing sleeping babies on their front, have since been proved to be bad advice). The book still sells well (at the time of Spock's death in 1998 over 500 million copies... if only my modest efforts in the genre could match that!). It has been translated into almost 40 languages and - aside from the Bible - is the biggest-selling US book of the twentieth century.

I wish...

Prior to Spock the main approaches to childcare tended to ignore children's emotional needs and usually followed a rigid timetable (two years and a day? Time for potty training!) That most parents (and parenting authors) now appreciate that children develop at different rates and have important emotional needs is largely thanks to Spock. 

It's childcare, Jim, but not as we knew it.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Win a family pass to Lollibop!

Build it, paint it, climb it…. LolliBop, the UK’s biggest kids festival, is back!

We went for the first time last year, when the event was held at the Olympic Park, and loved it. This year's festival for the under 10s takes place at Hatfield House, August 15-17 and the all star line-up  includes some of the hottest names in children's entertainment including Justin Fletcher, Mr Bloom, Mister Maker, Lazy Town and Sam & Mark on the main stage, plus live shows from Chris & Pui, Postman Pat, Scooby-Doo, Swashbuckle & many more.

Creative kids will love the new 'Join In with Southbank Centre' area with plenty of dress up, make and take and workshops. We also have a brand new active zone with footballing from Tottenham Hotspur, baby ballet, an old fashioned sports day and martial arts.  Other highlights include Bear Grylls Survival Academy, LolliKitchen, LolliBooks and special areas featuring Thomas & Friends, a Disney Silent Disco & Skylanders Trap Team.

Hatfield House is easily accessible by road, or rail, just 20 mins from London Kings Cross and has ample parking on site.  The whole programme is for the under 10s and tickets are on sale now priced £20.00pp

We’ve got one family pass (four tickets) to give away to this brilliant festival. Entry is via the Rafflecopter widget below and the deadline is next Tuesday, July 15th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms & Conditions ·      The competition closes at 12:00am on Tuesday 15th July 2014 ·  We have one family pass to giveaway. Each pass admits 4 people, one person in the group must be aged over 18 (NB children under the age of 12 months do not require a ticket)  ·      The winning family can attend on the day of their choice, either August 15, or August 16 or August 17. The date must be specified at time of confirming the prize  ·      Travel and accommodation are not included ·      The prize is non-refundable and no cash alternative will be offered  -     The prize is non transferable and ID will be required at time of collecting the ticket wristband upon arrival  -    The prize includes all events and activities at LolliBop but not food and drink from any stalls or bar.

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