Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Safer Internet Day

Charlie came home the other day with an enormous foam hand. He is (according to the certificate he also received) an 'Internet Legend'. What that means, in practice, is that he's aware of the do's and don'ts of going online, which is now being taught in schools a bit like the Green Cross Code used to be when I was a lad.

Because, as we know, you can't be too careful.

Today, as it happens, is Safer Internet Day - a day coordinated by the UK Safer Internet Centre that sees hundreds of organisations getting involved in promoting safe, responsible and positive use of digital technology for children and young people.

As parents, we need to do our bit. Top tips on internet safety (from The Department for Education and UK Safer Internet Centre) include:
  • Have an open and honest dialogue with children about staying safe online
  • Encourage them to tell you which sites they might be using and talk to about anything they see online
  • Set boundaries and make an agreement on what they can and cannot do online. If the agreement is broken, restrict internet access for an agreed period of time
  • Read up on information available through schools and official sites, such as ParentInfo, to make sure you are aware of issues and armed with information
We need to arm our children with advice:
  • Be careful what you say online. Respect others and do not retaliate or reply to offending e-mails, text messages or online conversations – leave the conversation
  • Be careful what pictures or videos you upload. Once a picture is shared online it cannot be taken back
  • Only add people you know and trust to friends/followers lists online
And, of course, the government needs to take a lead, too. To this end, internet safety is now a compulsory part of the curriculum. Schools teach e-safety during PSHE lessons and every school is required by law to have measures in place to prevent all forms of bullying including cyber-bullying.

New industry-led awareness raising initiatives (including Google’s ‘Internet Legends’ tour which visited Charlie's school recently) are also helping kids stay safe online, enabling them to get the most out of all that the internet can offer.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said:

The internet is a powerful tool which can have brilliant and virtually limitless benefits, but with this does come some risk. We are working hard to address these online risks but we can’t do it alone, parents are vitally important in making sure that children stay safe online. We want to make sure young people are educated, and parents as well as teachers, are knowledgeable and actively involved in promoting internet safety so that children are able to safely enjoy all that new technologies have to offer.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Pip pip!

Happy birthday to The Pips! No, not Gladys Knight's backing singers but the six little 'pips' that pipe the hour (sometimes, not as often as they used to) on the radio.

Ninety-two years ago this very day they were heard (or 'it' - the GTS, was) for the first time after Lord Reith, no less, had decided some system of broadcasting the time - accurately - was needed.

Being 'of a certain age' I can remember when they were played almost ubiquitously, on the hour across the BBC's vast network. Which also means I can remember that subtle change - the subtlest, a slight lengthening of the last one - which was introduced in 1972.

So, over ninety years of service then, sterling service too, from the Royal Observatory: just don't let anyone fool you into believing that they've stayed the same! 

Pip, pip!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

I 'ad that Bertrand Russell in the back o' me cab once...

We'd all like to know what it's all about, wouldn't we? And if anyone might be expected to know the answer, surely the (self-proclaimed?) cleverest man in the world should? 

But no. Another case where the cup of happiness and eager expectation is dashed from our lips at the last moment... 

Incidentally, did you know that Bertrand Russell was the inspiration for Professor Yaffle in Bagpuss?

(What do you mean you don't know who Bertrand Russell is?)

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Saturday girl... episode 2

In the second instalment of our occasional series in the life of a part-time sales assistant, we join the action late one Saturday afternoon in the lingerie section of that well-known High Street retailer beloved of generations of mainly female shoppers...

Cast: customer (mid-late fifties, male, shirt and tie, tweed jacket, with the bucolic gait and ruddy countenance of, perhaps, a farmer; sales assistant (the eponymous Saturday girl).

Customer: I'd like a bra, please.

Saturday girl: Certainly, sir. What size?

Customer: Oh, er... I don't really know.

Saturday girl: Ok, well. Any idea what type?

Customer: What type?

Saturday girl: What type of bra?

Customer: Well, one to hold a pair o' boobs o' course (he laughs).

Saturday girl: Ah, ok sir. So, er... how big are they?

Customer: Well how should I know? How big do you think they are?

Saturday girl: Who is the bra for, sir?

Customer: For?

Saturday girl: Yes, perhaps it would be better for the person to come to the store themselves? We can measure them. We have a specialist bra-fitting service and...

Customer: What d'you mean? I'm not sure I want anyone fiddling around wi' a tape measure underneath me shirt. Besides, I'm ticklish.

Saturday girl: Well yes, of course, sir, but...

(A penny drops, from a great height and making quite a din, like a gong in the monastic silence of a cathedral-size acoustic.)

Saturday girl: (quietly) Who did you say the bra was for, sir?

Customer: Why - me o' course.

Exeunt, pursued by a bra.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Let us pray

He who sings prays twice, so the saying goes. So it's appropriate that today's post, following my interview with the young chanteuse Emmie Beckitt, should be about prayer. Serious stuff, I know. But then, today is a serious day. Holocaust Memorial Day, to be precise. The day 71 years ago that the Auschwitz death camp was liberated by the Soviet army. So bear with me...

My musing on the subject began early - very early - this morning thanks to being woken by Charlie. He'd had a bad dream. Settling him, cuddling him and gently persuading him back to his own bed, I climbed back into mine certain I was unlikely to sleep. So, my nocturnal friend, the radio. (I have a pillow speaker, so as not to wake my wife) came to my rescue as I lay in the darkness.

Early on BBC Radio Four, following the Shipping Forecast, after an item rather misleadingly called News Briefing and the weather forecast and before Farming Today there is an anachronism known as Prayer for the Day. It's preceded (the prayer, that is) by a short sermon. Today it was about the holocaust - specifically, the liberation of Auschwitz.

In the course of Rabbi Julia Neuberger's two minutes on air she happened to mention that not only did the liberation free the Jewish inmates of that and all the other death camps but also a number of Allied POWs (as well as other opponents of the NAZI regime, of course).

This was the story: these POWs had been used as forced labour, but had secretly sabotaged the building project they were engaged in. A German engineer grew suspicious. The men were lined up against a wall to be immediately shot if tests confirmed that sabotage had, indeed, occurred.

As they waited, one man prayed. And at that moment, the air-raid siren sounded. Everyone fled to the shelters. A bomb fell, and fell (miraculously) on the very building project that was about result in the execution of the POWs.

It's a lovely story. Anything that provides a glimmer of light in the evil darkness of the death camps is to be welcomed, of course. But were the man's prayers really answered? If God exists, would he - could he - intervene to save a handful of POWs when the combined prayers of six-and-a-half million of His chosen people would appear to have been ignored?

The religious answer, the cop-out clause if you like, in cases such as this is that we can't know the mind of God, He moves in a mysterious way, etc. Which is a bit like saying you're right even when you're wrong. Or swearing black's white. Because it simply won't do.

I've thought about this a great deal, as an average agnostic with an interest in (and sympathy for) the spiritual and an unwillingness to close my mind to any of its many possibilities. I'm not certain (is anyone?) that God exists, let alone that prayer 'works' in the sense that it is heard and acted upon by this potential divinity.

My best guess is that - if God exists - then whatever He might do to intercede in world affairs is done through the actions of humans - each and every one of us - and not through divine intervention of the Almighty Hand variety, whether that's by dropping bombs on NAZI building projects or anything else.

This isn't because it's otherwise impossible to explain why God should intervene in certain circumstances and not in others. No. It's because, quite simply, an intervention of a supernatural nature would be the end of the world as we know it. Such things really are impossible. God either works within the laws of nature, within the limits of human imperfections and the gift of free will, or he doesn't bother. Try telling the mother of a dying child that 'God' has chosen to heal the warts on Mrs Herbert's hands instead - and I've been at a service where thanks were given for just such supposed divine interventions.

That doesn't mean, of course, that prayer is useless. As a meditation, as a way of engaging with our deepest thoughts and interrogating out own motives - mindfulness, maybe - it might be an extremely worthwhile activity.

I just can't quite accept that Arthur Dodds, as he stood with his back to the wall with his fellow POWs in 1943, waiting for the inevitable, suddenly happened to get through to The Almighty while the men, women and children across the camp whose bodies were being incinerated failed.

If I'm wrong, of course, then I'm with Job and Ivan Karamazov - the whole thing is an appalling travesty. No God can possibly allow such a thing.

But then, as Dostoevsky also said, if there is no God then everything is permitted.

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