Fear Not For He Runs With You

 

Bible VerseI have been running pretty much since I was 12 years old, on and off, but very much on for the last 15 years. Even ran the Virgin London Marathon in April 2010, a defining moment for any human being. Preparing for my 5 hours and 26 minutes of personal glory meant training through rain, sleet, snow and ice over the months of December to February, then revelling in the changing of the seasons as winter made way to spring.

 

The dreaded winter runs

Yet every year, I absolutely dread starting my winter runs. I mean really dread. I am a child of the sun through and through, born in Zimbabwe and raised across the Caribbean. How I have survived nearly 30 years in England is anyone’s guess. But that’s another story.

For the past 2 weeks, since the clocks went back and the temperatures dipped, I have found every reason why I couldn’t and shouldn’t run: It’s too dark so it’s not safe. Got to get to work extra early today so no time to run. I’m just getting over a cold (which finished 3 weeks ago). I didn’t lay my clothes out last night and it’s going to take too long to find them. I’ll go tomorrow. I really can’t be bothered.

Then I realised that all week I had been fearful of a lot of stuff. I was worrying about my parents’ health even though they were actually chilled about things. I was getting wound up about my son’s seemingly lackadaisical attitude towards preparing for his entry exams in 2 months, even though he was obsessed with getting into high school. A couple big projects at work just weren’t progressing quickly enough and so I was actually dreading even looking at them. I was putting off having a conversation with a really challenging individual about their really challenging attitude and now I was avoiding them altogether. I was feeling pretty below par all week, then started getting annoyed with myself as really my life was nothing to be miserable about at all, especially considering the crap a whole load of other people have to face.

 

Fear of failure

Then as I started my morning devotions today the penny dropped…and made a loud clang. First of all the title of today’s ‘UCB’s Word For Today’ devotional was about exactly what I had been experiencing all week: fear. And the first few sentences read:

‘Let’s take a look at some of our most common fears and how we can overcome them. Fear of Failure. This is the most common fear of all, and it keeps us from fulfilling any vision God may give us.’

I hadn’t run properly for about 3 weeks and it was now all dark and cold and wet and yucky. I was fearful of the pain from the blast of the freezing air on my cheeks, the vasospasm of the blood vessels in my fingertips even through my lined gloves and the resistance of my thighs as I willed them to step up, move fast and get it all over and done with. I was fearful of not being able to comfortably finish a run after my 3-week hiatus. I had totally forgotten the lesson that God had taught me all those years ago as He had given me the strength, the will, the resilience and the stubbornness to train in some of the harshest weather there was to achieve my personal goal. He had shown me the stuff I was made of and here I was essentially disrespecting how far He had brought me – way beyond a 3-miler through the ‘burbs in 7ºC.

How often had I worked through tasks that seemed impossible just by taking a step back, a deep breath in and a moment in prayer? And really my father’s blood pressure was really not that high and a second week of monitoring as suggested by a doctor who was objective about it was ok. And as for my son, he was after all a), only 9, b), confident he could do it, c), left with 8 whole weeks of prep, and d), actually doing this a whole year earlier to see if he was ready. On top of that, hadn’t we already prayed  for his success? And I won’t even mention the really deep valleys that He, our Creator, had lifted me and others up from, and to a higher plane each and every time.

 

Step out in faith

I was spending a lot of time being fearful of stuff that I had already dealt with yet had fallen into the trap that we all easily do – that default setting of self-doubt and thus forfeiting our faith. So I read on and meditated on the Word: ‘They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.’  – Psalm 112:7. I prayed as per the devotional: ‘Ask God to remove any fear you may feel of not being good enough. Thank Him that He loves and accepts us just as we are, while inspiring us to improve.’

The devotional went on: ‘Using the gifts God has given you, step out and take a risk based on faith, trusting Him for success.’

And so I stepped out. I set my Nike+ Run Club app to a 2 mile run but when the time was up, I was just warming up so I carried on and ended up doing 4.7 miles. Whilst I was running, divine inspiration came and I worked out this absolutely cracking introduction to a presentation in 2 days’ time. When I got back, 9-year-old was done with homework and was enthusiastic about practicing an exam paper which he completed in good time. And his score, with 7 weeks to go, means if he carries on at this pace, he’ll ace it…and his parents’ purse strings will remain tight for another 6 years. But that’s cool because if we step out, ‘You will have good success’ – Joshua 1:8.’

As for my being a little unsatisfied/unhappy/grumpy all week, well the endorphin rush fixed all that. However, as my little book of ‘Everyday Happiness – 365 Ways to a Joyful Life’ says for today, November 12th:

 

Book of Happiness

May we be all encouraged to step out in faith for guaranteed success in all we do – big or small!

 

 

 

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Zimbabwe at 37: Independent We Are Not

On April 18th 1980 Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, marking the end of a brutally racist white regime and the return of African rule. All that was wrong with our country supposedly became right.

Happy-Independence-Day-2017-Zimbabwe-Images-Wallpapers-Photos-Pictures

Image from: http://independenceday2017images.com/happy-independence-day-2017-zimbabwe-images-wallpapers-photos-pictures.html

 

Today Zimbabwe celebrates 37 years of independent rule. This year more than any other, the proclamation rings hollow, because independent we are not and the only thing to celebrate is the bravery and boldness of those who sacrificed much in the run up to, and since 1980.

I remember independence year like it was yesteryear. My family was living in Jamaica at the time, alongside a whole load of other Zimbabwean expatriates, who had been flung to all corners of the earth by the oppressive and racist white regime of Ian Smith. We attended a ceremony to celebrate the occasion, and even as a 7-year-old, the significance of the moment was not lost on me. The adults were really serious, more serious than funeral serious as up until then, for me, funeral serious was the most serious anyone or anything could be. So this was big. When they sang the new national anthem, the pride in their voices was audible, and the emotion in their souls was palpable.

In my adult years, I came to know that many of the adults that day including my father, had left Zimbabwe when it was Rhodesia with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Some had left part-way through a higher education that their uneducated parents had sacrificed much for them to gain. Others had left families, dead and alive. But none, including both my parents, had left without the hope that one day they could return home, free, to resume their interrupted lives, and rebuild the nation they had fought for.

The Pre-independence Years

In my adult years I think back to my childhood, my pre-independence childhood, in rural Rhodesia. In my little world, with my extended family, it was a happy and safe world. But, intriguingly, all the images and memories of that time are always covered in a grey cloud, literally. There is no colour. I figured out that this cloud represented the soldiers that lurked everywhere whenever we went into town. Big white soldiers, with red faces, dirty blond hair, mean mouths and big guns held up against their green army fatigues. They watched our every move and made sure we didn’t go into the stores we weren’t supposed to shop in or the restaurants we weren’t supposed to eat in. To this day I feel nauseous at the sight of anything, absolutely anything, with the pattern of those fatigues whether green, grey or blue.

In my adult years I think back to my uncle, my youngest maternal uncle, a true ‘army vet(eran).’ He ran away at 14-years old or so to join the freedom fighters. I now imagine how heartbroken my grandparents who raised me and numerous other cousins must have felt, not knowing the whereabouts of their youngest child. They never showed us that heartbreak, or even fear for that matter, not even on the night that the white soldiers burst into our kitchen, pointing their big guns at my grandmother, probably demanding that she tell them where her son was.

In my adult years, when you hear of the brutality of civil wars across the globe, I now know that we survived that time purely by grace, My uncle did come home. I have yet to hear the story of how he turned up, but though he must have seen some very ugly things he came back with more joie de vivre than I remember him disappearing with. I saw him every time I went back on vacation; every time until 1996. That was the last time I saw him alive. He had survived a brutal war only to die, one day before Zimbabwe turned 17, at the hands of a regime equally inhumane, an African-led government that failed to respond to the AIDS epidemic, waging war, this time against its own.

Modern-day Warfare

Today that war rages on with different rules of engagement, but a war nonetheless. The shops and restaurants may now be open to all, but far from all can pay for anything therein. The country has run out of money for the 2nd time in 10 years and this time round the government issues a worthless currency, saving the real money for themselves of course. No one who holds a decent job gets paid at the end of the month, any month in fact. To get paid you need to run a hustle or be connected to someone in power. And the icing on the cake, those same people in power say it’s okay to use goats – as in livestock goats – to pay for school fees, while they use the country’s money to fund their children’s education at elite schools around the world.

There is no infrastructure: if you have water and electricity at the same, by default you must be living in the presidential residence. The best roads are at the airport to impress visitors or in the president’s constituency. The capital city is a shadow of its former self. The offspring of the wealthy elite boast that they have never set foot in Harare – way below their worth to do so.

In 2017, any voice of dissent is shut down, imprisoned or disappears. Worse still, the masses are so broken that they have no faith in anyone who stands up to the regime. Where are the leaders in waiting? Not allowed and nowhere to be seen. When they do manage to rise, they somehow falter as there is no fertile ground for their growth.

Today, a Facebook friend posted a video of part of the Independence Day proceedings in Zimbabwe. A procession of middle-aged men, surrounding one very old man, shuffles along to the beat of a brass band playing what I call afro-imperialist music – dreary, overbearing, repetitive, with bars reminiscent of the old colonial days, trumpets on the verge of screeching and drums too loud. These are the ruling elite, Zimbabwe’s new oppressors. Fatigues have been replaced by suits and the weapon of choice is now the dollar. Their mouths remain mean but now their faces are black and their heads bald. There isn’t a woman or young person in sight. Everyone is serious, funeral serious, because this time round there is everything to mourn and nothing to be proud of.

Zimbabwe at 37 – independent she is not.

Zimbabwe_Independence_Celebrations_45967

Image from: http://www.heraldonline.com/news/business/article145176029.html

 

 

Women’s Day 2017…or is it 1720?

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day to celebrate, according to the IWD website https://www.internationalwomensday.com/About, ‘the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.’ As the day draws to a close, I have to admit that I am a little ambivalent about what progress has really been made with regards to gender equality…and in fact ‘gender everything’ ever since the modern revolution of women’s rights started back in the 1900s. This question weighs heavily on my mind not just today, though I can’t say it does so every day either, but often enough for me to be compelled to blog about it on our special day, when all I really should be doing is catching up on some sleep!

Theoretically a woman like me – aged 44, with a privileged upbringing as my niece-in-law described it over the last family weekend (and not privileged as in ‘moneyed’ either, much more and pricelessly so), with my own family albeit not in the conventional, ‘married-with-2.4-white picket fence’ sense, with parents still alive and fighting fit, in a profession with the perfect balance of job satisfaction and challenges that stretch the intellect, able to make time to get my hustle on and tick off my bucket list – should be patting herself on the back with all her female relatives and friends in the same boat, or thereabouts, about how good we have it.

This past month alone though, I found myself wondering why I was the only woman in not an insignificant number of meetings of late; why at several high profile celebrity events, all the noise and hype was around male achievement when there were some ground-breaking contributions by women in the same time period; why in 2017, a young man in Australia feels it’s reasonable to imprison a woman for nearly 2 months subjecting her to what appears to be a brutalizing regime of rape and beatings (https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/mar/08/uk-backpacker-raped-held-captive-australia-out-of-hospital); why the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland cannot just admit to its appalling and inhumane treatment of young mothers and their children and allow their souls to rest in peace (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/07/catholic-church-children-buried-at-tuam-ireland); and why a father is more insulted by his daughter’s murderous breakdown as a result of sexual exploitation, than by the fact that it was his own friend who subjected the daughter to such, with intentions of moving on to his other daughter (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-37683927) . And I wonder about the multiplication factor that would be applied to all of these incidences, because they are not isolated by any means.

As each year passes, and more so this year, I cannot help but think of the millions of women all over the world whose lives do not reach their full potential whether it’s personally, for their families or their communities, simply because the laws governing their locality say that they are not worthy. I think of the hundreds of thousands of women who go missing every year into black holes of sexual and other forms of slavery. I think of those who are disowned by those endowed with the title of ‘family’ simply because they do not conform to the rules of their society that are designed to suppress their very essence, their womanhood. I think of those women in areas of conflict – including the conflicts we don’t hear about – who cannot be the mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends, wives, girlfriends and comforters that they are meant to be and just want to be. It is mind-boggling to me that the men and other women who subjugate women like this, do mankind an indescribable disservice. Without mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends, wives and girlfriends who are valued in the true sense of the word, society will eventually cease to function. This is not to proclaim superiority over men – but God did not create man alone.

Whenever I get around to reading historical accounts of women in society I often wonder where it all went wrong. The tales of ancient and some recent civilizations indicate that women at one point, long long ago, had a much higher standing in society. Then for reasons outside the scope of a late night blog like this, it slowly but surely fell apart. Fell so far apart that at the core of it, when all the glitter and glitz and gloss is peeled back, when you delve into the psyche of society, I must ask, is womanhood in 2017 any different from what it was in 1720? If one were to plot some extrapolation of gender progress over time and do some mathematical corrections that take into account changes in the key societal factors which are converted into some numerical value, would we see an exponential or even at least a linear growth in women’s standing in society? I suspect it will be far from either.

Perhaps what is the more important driving factor for gender equality is not how society defines us, but how we as women define ourselves. We now have a voice that most but not all choose to listen to, and we are using that voice now more than ever before. Already this year, women around the world, many who didn’t really need to, marched in their millions against a misogynistic President – not that he is the only one of his kind mind you. With that voice we are redefining ourselves, or actually, let me phrase that correctly, reclaiming our original and intended definition of ourselves, with the intention of marching forward, side-by-side with men, in all our womanly glory.

IWD Logo for blog

 

Dear Mr and Mrs Obama

Thank you.

For encouraging Change

For reminding us that Yes We Can

For encouraging us to reclaim Hope

For showing us that if you go higher when they go lower, it’s a win-win, though really the win is mostly ours and not so much theirs

For allowing our children to grow up knowing that if a black man runs the ‘free world’, it’s no biggie – when they grow up, if they want to do the same, or anything else for that matter, they can

For showing the rest of the world that not only does functional love exist between a black man and a black woman, it is actually the reality for the majority of us

For validating the black family…and how central grandma is to that family

For shutting down the angry black woman thing

For putting the ‘respeck’ back in the black man’s name

For showing the world that it’s quite normal to be articulate, educated, high achievers who are dynamic and inclusive, grow vegetables, love hip-hop and basketball, have beach holidays in Hawaii with ripped abs when they’re nearly 50, hug the Queen, give us shoulder goals, and keep their child away from the presidential farewell celebrations because said child has an exam the following day…and be black at the same time

For your impeccable style and grace

For giving us back our confidence

For inspiring an entire planet

For showing white people that they can indeed pronounce an African name if they just r-e-a-d out the l-e-t-t-e-r-s as they are wr-i-tt-e-n

For showcasing your culture and bringing others together

For not getting embroiled in some scandal – of course you are not perfect, we just haven’t seen your imperfections – but we thank you for giving us a breather on the shenanigans because chances are we will now get plenty of that

For, merely as a result of your presence in the White House, exposing the racial hypocrisy in your nation

For making us all proud.

 

Because it’s not always about giving people what is expected

Some wanted you to create predictable radical social-political change in your country: ‘fix all of black people’s problems’

But the roots, and there are plenty, of those problems were never going to be upturned with a two-term dig of the shovel by one hu-man

Your soil doesn’t allow that

Sometimes leadership is about sowing a seed

It’s about leading by example, re-igniting the self-worth of those that bestowed upon you the privilege of being a leader

So that ‘they’ remember that the soil belongs to them too

That kind of awakening psyches ‘them’ out, makes ‘them’ do weird things like choosing an Orange President

But the combination of being ‘woke’ on one side and going ‘weird’ on the other has potential

Potential to open the door for what you proclaimed way back in 2008, A Change We (All) Need.

 

Do keep in touch Barack and Michelle. And by the way do a little something later for Sasha please; it really wasn’t her fault she had an exam…

 

Yours,

 

One Really Proud Black Woman

 

The reality is…a reality TV star is the 45th POTUS

When all is said and done, that is the reality right?

I feel the need to add my 2-pence in with a lengthy blog on Donald Trump becoming the 45th POTUS, but in reverence to my renewed drive for increased efficiency, ‘work smart not hard/kill 2 birds with one stone’ mentality, I will insert the link to my rant after Brexit here – https://lalulaworld.wordpress.com/2016/06/29/an-unexpected-br-exit/ -, because essentially these 2-pence can easily be put towards the current situation. A few modifications here and there to make it US-centric, but the principles underlying this seismic fall-out remain the same – disillusionment, delusion, disenfranchisement, modern-day feudalism coming to roost, hatred and dirty nasty ‘politricks’.

Nevertheless, I will add a PS to the original rant, because you know, this occasion cannot pass without that.

PS.

When we look back over the last century to now, has there ever been a POTUS that wasn’t in some way a creation of America’s imagination, a caricature or a character of some sort. Some had valid qualifications for the job yes, but one thing they all have had in common is that at some point, when the cameras stopped rolling, the illusion became apparent – a contradiction of terms yes but that is the ‘reality’ that is America – an apparent illusion.

optical-illusion

Image from:

http://tabithaannthelostsock.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/optical-illusion-american-flag.html

 

 

Let’s start with whom most of us are familiar with. Wasn’t John F Kennedy though genial, a carefully crafted vehicle for his father’s obsession with power and glory? Then throw in his love for the fast life that was Hollywood, hanging with the mob and side-chicks. Perfect concoction for good TV.

Lyndon B Johnson had an honourable track record for his attempts to restore civil rights, but known to be someone who could change his personality to suit the occasion.

Richard M Nixon, Watergate says it all. The ultimate baddie.

Gerald Ford to be fair didn’t really choose to be President, but his intellectual capability for the job was questionable especially being an ex-football player. Only in America does a football player rise to the Presidency. And he pardoned Nixon.

Jimmy Carter was probably more successful as an ex-POTUS than a POTUS, so one has to ask ‘what did he do’ in the White House.

Ronald Reagan, though Governor of California before he became the 40th POTUS, let’s face it, was a Hollywood actor. He could therefore play any role asked of him. He is the reason why Arnold Schwarzenegger thought he could do the same but he forgot that Trump’s America does not like foreigners, especially those that actually sound like a foreigner; and Ronald Reagan is also why Will Smith went through a phase of joking about how he too could transition from actor to POTUS (or maybe that was the media creating something).  Today though, we know where those bad jokes can lead a nation.

Ah, then we enter the Bush era that gave way to the 41st and 43rd Presidents. An oil-rich dynasty that got into the White House to make themselves and their Texan buddies more millions than they already had through war-mongering. All under the guise of serving their country, waging a war on terrorism, using God as justification for bad behaviour.

Bill Clinton is one of the most liked and most charming and most popular POTUS’, who despite being impeached and displaying misogynistic tendencies of tremendous magnitude, and in the process contributing to his wife’s defeat in today’s election, is still liked and charming and popular. Typical reality TV star – incorrigible character, but you still love him.

Barack Obama. As a black woman, I will never deny the importance of his position as the 44th POTUS and how much it means that our children can grow up knowing that a Black man can hold that position and that it’s not a big deal for a Black man to hold that position. But I am under no illusion that his public image is probably a well-crafted one, and that one day, it may all come out in the wash. Most of us still admire him and Michelle though – that is reality TV – we take what makes us feel good even if it’s not real.

PPS. Be a part of the reality show

So we must not lament yesterdays’s episode because it’s part of the storyline. As more seriously put in this piece I came across as I searched for a meaning behind the madness, this is how the world works – https://medium.com/@theonlytoby/history-tells-us-what-will-happen-next-with-brexit-trump-a3fefd154714#.1z8d5jkpm. History repeats itself, the same characters are thrown up in different guises and the plot follows a time-tested formula.

All we now need to do is decide what character we will play and play that character well. Become a part of history, a history our children can look back on and draw inspiration from when their turn comes up in the next round of calamity.

Because right now, just being a spectator is not going to cut it.

An Unexpected Br-exit

On the afternoon of this now forsaken referendum, my 8-year old declared that he had voted at school. I was pretty taken aback – mostly because he hardly volunteers information about what he has been up to, but also because it showed just how big a deal this referendum to leave or remain in the European Union (EU) was if 8-year olds were getting involved. He didn’t hesitate to tell me which way he had voted – to stay, and ‘my friends did too,’ he added – this was really information overload for me today! His reason to stay: so he can go and visit his French child-minder anytime he wants, after she goes back to France…fair enough.

I too voted to remain. The referendum race was going to be tight of course, but so sure was I, and I guess so was everyone else in the remain camp, that we would edge across the line first, it didn’t even occur to me get up early and watch the results. And besides, if 8-year olds could get it right, surely the rest of us, or rather the majority of us could too, right?

Watching our dear veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby read out the results on the morning of June 24th, my first thought was that he looked absolutely battered. Not battered in an ‘I’m-77-years old-and-it’s-way-past-my-bedtime’ kind of way, but more in an ‘I-can’t-believe-what-I-have-to-tell you…and-in-my-golden-years-at-that’ kind of way. When he actually announced the leave majority, I felt the way he looked, and the words ‘but the 8-year olds got it right though’, rang loudly and repeatedly in my head. The United Kingdom had voted to leave the EU – the Brexiters had won.

EU-referendum-574677

Image from: http://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/682835/EU-referendum-result-European-Union-Leave-Remain-In-Out

 

‘Gripping political drama and a nation in turmoil’

One week later, and the whole nation is in turmoil. It’s true to say that no one expected this outcome, not even the Brexiters themselves; those who say they are not surprised are only able to say so with the help of the good old retro-scope. Who would have thought that within 96 hours of the vote, we would have bloodless coups left, right and centre, no Prime Minister (PM) as David Cameron was quick to jump ship, a crumbling opposition party thanks to a grand total of 17 Judas Iscariots, a Chancellor missing in action, a far-right leader in Nigel Farage now with a licence to offend in even greater proportions, a looming general election between rudderless political parties, and the real prospect of the bumbling blonde ex-journalist Boris Johnson becoming our ‘leader,’ someone who is unlikely to command any international respect. Answer: no one. The only man standing by his principles, is the Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn, and at this rate, who knows how long he can remain so loyal to his cause. This is the kind of drama that no seasoned political playwright or screenwriter could have ever conjured up.

‘The false science of politics’

I admit that, though by nature a remainer, in the days leading up to the polls, I did think about what it could mean to leave. As an immigrant myself though, I just couldn’t get past the misdirected anti-immigration rhetoric – surprise, surprise. This and the false claim that £350 million saved per week by leaving the EU could rescue our National Health Service (NHS) meant my flirtation with leave lasted all of 30 seconds. The decline of the NHS was obviously not going to be reversed by phantom cash. When politicians brandish numbers about without clear calculations, we must be very suspicious. Besides, the mind-set of those that manage the health service is now so thwarted, mismanagement of funds, fictional or real, would be inevitable. One advantage of being an immigrant from a non-EU state is that you know very well the very tall tales that a government can spin. We all wish our fellow Brits would have figured this out a while ago.

And, I will also admit, that at times I felt that the evidence for the reasons to remain were largely speculative. In recent times, it seems politics has tried to pull itself off as some sort of science, brandishing about terms like ‘evidence-based policy’ and using statistics and data inappropriately, because it rhymes in a slogan or evokes the right ‘feelings’ in the electorate. If real scientists or ad-men and women were to use the same methods, they’d be slurred by the media that dutifully reports this BS, and fined to oblivion by the bodies that regulate those professions.

‘Why remain?’

My vote to remain was really about safe-guarding, as best as I know how, the future of the next generation of Brits – both descendants of natives and immigrants. We can no longer argue that Britain, a nation with no real industry can sustain itself. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is, like everywhere else in the world, wider than ever, with no signs of that gap narrowing. The class system prevails mightily here and will continue to do so for generations to come, meaning that if the have-nots want to ever move up, they will need to move sideways, then up. To move sideways, you need to have the option of moving across borders open to you; whilst some Brexiters are lamenting the invasion by not just the Polish but also the Muslims and the Africans and the Syrians (I know Muslim or African is not a nationality, but a certain brand of Brexiter doesn’t function at that level), they forget that there was a time they too had to move to foreign lands just to survive.

‘The great social divide’

The nation’s wealth is concentrated in London where it is largely in the hands of the dreaded foreigners. And in that capital city are politicians that will happily sell out the masses to those foreigners as long as their own off shore accounts are kept flush. The tragedy is that even the opposition parties that are supposed to represent the masses have joined in on the pimping. When I first came to this country nearly 30 years ago, you could easily tell the difference between a politician that was ‘Labour’ (left-wing) and one that was a ‘Tory’ (conservative; right-wing): the content of their ‘speak’, their manner, their way of dress – these were clear differentiators. Today, I’m sure I am not the only one that struggles to tell members of either party apart – they have all morphed into one mass of privileged men and women, who are nothing but career politicians that now don’t even pretend to aspire to be servants for their electorates. And the few with a remaining whiff of social conscience, can attest to this. They exhibit varying degrees of pomposity, but what they all have in common is a clear disdain and disregard for the working class. Some of them repeatedly chant ‘we need to reach out’ and ‘reconnect with the grassroots’ but the hollowness of those sound bites has become increasingly nauseating. With the results of this referendum, and whilst shooting themselves in both feet, the grassroots has made it clear that no amount of reaching out, in the current form anyway, is going to reconnect anyone.

The working class, most of whom occupied the leave camp of Brexiters, are not entirely blameless though. Left behind whilst globalisation, and all that comes with it, marches ahead, they seem to lack the will and appear powerless to change their circumstances. When I lived in one of the most deprived parts of England, I was shocked that in families with 2 generations of unemployment, it hadn’t dawned on either the 2nd or 3rd generation to start thinking laterally, and perhaps exercise their right to, for example, a free university education. At the same time, the goal of many immigrant parents whether they came into this country illiterate or overqualified 5 times over for their jobs, was to ensure that their children were qualified to the hilt.

One of the most painful open secrets in education is that underachievement is by far highest amongst working class white boys…and it starts at a young age. The current term ‘white male privilege’ should be revised to ‘white male of-the-ruling-classes privilege’ because it certainly does not include the rest. Recently, it was reported that race hate crimes against Muslims were now at a level 3x higher than last year and the most likely perpetrators were white teenagers. A lot of the reasons for this underachievement and bad behaviour are socially and culturally based; yet no one speaks about this as it doesn’t fit the political agenda of the day. The result is a perpetuation of a culture that can neither articulate its needs nor organise itself sufficiently; a culture that will find it difficult to produce an effective leader, one that can spearhead the drive to rebuild a nation, particularly a nation isolated from its neighbours. These skills are vital if the working class intends to contend with the ruling elite in London… and in Brussels.

And as for the middle classes…well, we now exist only in name. Many have long relinquished any combination of bi-annual foreign holidays, two cars, school fees, nannies and cleaners.

blogger EU REFERENDUM RESULT

Image from: http://jondanzig.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/eu-referendum-result-disunion.html

‘Let’s do what we do best’

With events unfolding as they are, the actual reasons why many of us voted to leave or remain are rapidly becoming redundant. We now find out that the results of the referendum themselves are not binding. Someone needs to invoke Article 50 of the EU Lisbon Treaty, a law that outlines the steps to take should a member state wish to leave the union. Who that someone is, we don’t know as we don’t have a leader. Our recently departed Mr Cameron says we won’t trigger the process yet. Mr Johnson wants informal talks before we start proceedings. The EU response to Mr Johnson: ‘the computer says no’. And Nigel Farage continues to offend, and gloat, here and in Brussels.

So far the single most important result of the referendum has been to give our current social and political structure a badly needed shake-up, forcing us to come to the table to start our 12-step programme to rehabilitation. The first step is in acknowledging the facts and confessing: ‘Hi my name is Britain and I am no longer Great’. Our Britain is indeed no longer great, not in the way that it used to be, nor is it great in the way it needs to be to function alone. The way the world is evolving won’t allow for this parochial and insular mind-set.

Whichever way we voted, we all took a risk, and the thing about taking risks is that you don’t really know what you’re going to get. A change is something we all wanted, we didn’t know how we would get it, but to get that change, we absolutely had to go out on a limb. As the MP Sir Eric Pickles said on the day of the referendum results, ‘I’m sad and dismayed, but that’s democracy. Now we need to get on with it.’

And as Brits, that’s something we are still very good at it – getting on with it and making the very best of a bad turn of events.

Cameron ‘v’ Buhari: The case of a spade, a pot and a kettle

So this past week, our very own UK Prime Minister David Cameron, bestowed upon us a revelation of fantastical proportions. He was overheard or rather ‘over-recorded’, in a conversation with the Queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Speaker of the House of Commons, stating that ‘We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain… Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world’. This conversation was conveniently made available to us, the public, 48 hours before an anti-corruption summit, hosted by Mr Cameron himself, was to be held in London. It’s always intriguing to me how western leaders take any opportunity to show themselves as leading the way in making the world a better place for us to live in – a leaked recording justifying the need to cleanse the world of dodgy dealings might, to the inflated political ego, equate to some serious brownie points. But, we know better don’t we?

‘A spade is a spade’

The ensuing frenzy over Mr Cameron’s so called gaffe showed the lengths the media will go to whip up a political storm. Was it really a gaffe? No. Mr Cameron was just calling a spade a spade. Nigeria and Afghanistan rank at the top of the international corruption index. It’s a well-known fact, in all four corners of the globe, that Nigeria is not just fantastically corrupt, but stupendously so. Nigerians will tell you themselves, with no hesitation, just how tightly corruption is woven into the fabric of every aspect of their society – from the state house to the pulpit, threading in everything in between. In fact, Mr Cameron could have gone all the way and reeled off a long list of other fantastically corrupt countries, many of which would be found on our beloved continent of Africa, and chances are that he would have got full marks. I for one was offended that he didn’t call out my birth nation of Zimbabwe …

‘Best qualified’

The parties involved in that leaked conversation are by far the best qualified to assess who is corrupt and who isn’t: Mr Cameron who himself admitted that he has benefitted from hidden offshore assets and whose party is bankrolled by businessmen with dubious links who, in return, get titles and tax breaks; our dear Queen Elizabeth, Head of the Royal Family, whose family fortunes are founded on loot plundered from all corners of the British Empire, and are sustained in the present day by the tax payer; the leader of a religion that has long exploited those that they are supposed to protect from evil; and the leader of the House of Commons packed with Members of Parliament who inflate their expenses and land the tax-payer, again, with the bill, whilst regularly popping up as the central characters in salacious scandals straight out of a den of iniquity. Nigerian leaders, present one probably excluded, are familiar with all these tendencies; put them all together and you have a cupboard full of pots and kettles calling each other black.

‘Clean up your act too’

However, there is one person who came out less charred than Mr Cameron – Mr Buhari, the Nigerian leader. His response was class. He didn’t retort hypocritically and indignantly in the way that some of our African politicians would have, and deny (the obvious) that Nigeria is corrupt, or demand an apology (because this was not about him), or embark on some irrelevant tirade to deflect from the real issue. Instead he took it to another level, rose above it all: ‘No. I am not going to demand any apology from anybody. What I am demanding is the return of assets. What would I do with an apology? I need something tangible.’ In others words, ‘we can go round and round in the way that spades, pots and kettles do, but actually, if you’re serious, you clean up your act too’. Mr Buhari has been cleaning house in his own country so he probably knows what he’s talking about.

‘A true boss’

And interestingly, with that response, mainstream media swiftly moved on to find another story to drum up – in their eyes, this particular storm, with no mud-slinging, had turned into nothing but a damp drizzle.

Mr Buhari, handled this like a true boss – wonder how his anti-corruption colleagues and his country handle him after this…

 

The Sugar Crisis

This past week Public Health England (PHE) launched an app which informs parents about the sugar levels of common foods. The Sugar Smart app scans bar codes of thousands of food and drink products and displays the sugar content in cubes and grams. This app is part of a United Kingdom government-backed campaign to encourage the nation to cut down on excessive sugar intake which is contributing to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.

 

The cynics amongst us may say that this is another move typical of a nanny state forever telling the public what to do, whilst simultaneously jumping into bed with some private techno conglomerate that in turn gets a gigantic tax break for doing some alleged good.

Whilst I tend to err on the side of cynicism on anything remotely related to any government, in this case, this may be one move worthy of applause. See if this backstory convinces you!

First of all who is Public Health England?

PHE was established in April 2013 to bring together public health specialists from more than 70 organisations into a single public health service. PHE’s job is to basically make the public healthier. It does this by researching ways to improve how the public understands health, come up with solutions to public health problems and advise the government on what to do to put these solutions in place. PHE publishes a range of documents that are available to the public, on various health issues and how they can be tackled.

What is PHE’s issue with sugar?

In October 2015, PHE published a 48-page report called ‘Sugar Reduction – The evidence for action.’ The report was put together by a group of experts on nutrition called the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.

Their research showed that as a nation we are eating around twice as much sugar as we should be. Excess sugar in our diet contributes to and in some cases, directly causes a multitude of health problems such as:

Obesity – about 1 in every 4 adults, 1 in every 10 of 4-5 year olds, and 1 in every 5 of 10-11 year olds are obese

Diabetes – and its many complications including heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke

Tooth decay – half of 8 year olds have tooth decay

Personally my heart breaks when I see an obese child – not one that’s a little chubby – but obese, because I think of all the health problems lying in wait for them as an adult. Obesity costs the National Health Service (NHS) £5.1bn every year – money that can potentially be spent on unavoidable health problems. If we can reduce our intake of sugar by at least half of what we are taking in now within 10 years, that would improve our quality of life and save the NHS £500m every year.

What exactly is sugar?

Sugar is a carbohydrate that provides the body with energy. It is found naturally in fruits, some vegetables and honey as fructose, in plants as glucose, and in milk as galactose. Sucrose, the name given to sugar that is refined is made up of glucose and fructose, and is called ‘added’ sugar.

In foods, sugar may also be referred to as maltose, corn syrup, molasses, invert sugar and hydrolysed starch. Don’t be fooled by the different terminology – it’s all sugar.

What’s so bad about sugar anyway?

Like most foods, sugar itself does not need to be shamed. The problem is the quantities in which we consume it, especially the added sugars. Sugar is added to a range of foods and drinks to make them taste better and in some cases preserve them.

What happens to your body when you eat too much sugar?

The adult human body is not made to deal with excessive amounts of sugar; it can cope with no more than 7 cubes per day. When we eat more sugar than we need, it’s converted to fat leading to weight gain. Sugar also confuses our metabolism causing high cholesterol, high blood pressure and insensitivity to insulin, a hormone that controls sugar levels. High cholesterol and high blood pressure can lead to heart problems like heart attacks, and strokes. Insensitivity to insulin leads to diabetes.

How much excess sugar are we eating?

A National Diet and Nutrition Survey showed that school children and teenagers are eating 3 times, and adults 2 times more sugar than they should be. For the average 4-6 year old this is the same as 22kg of sugar – equivalent to 10 of those 2.2kg bags of sugar we buy, or 5, 500 cubes per year. Mindboggling when put in those terms, right?

Steps such as making the Sugar Smart app available to families to help cut down their children’s intake makes sense because they are the group that are eating far more sugar than they should. Secondly, a lot of the health consequences like diabetes and heart disease develop over time, so it makes sense to target children before these illnesses set in – ‘prevention is better than cure.’

How much sugar is ‘safe’?

Per day, children aged 4-6 years old need the equivalent of 5 cubes or 19 grams, those aged 7-10 years can make do with 6 cubes or 24 grams and anyone aged 11 and over needs no more than 7 cubes or 30 grams. Note that there is no recommendation for children younger than 4 years, which in my mind means that added sugar is a ‘no-no’ for this age group. This is a really important message that I don’t think has been stressed enough.sugar-app-645x645

Where is all this excess sugar coming from?

 

The main sources of sugar are soft drinks especially fizzy drinks and cordials (drinks that need to be diluted), table sugar, juices, sweets, biscuits, cakes, pastries, breakfast cereals and alcoholic drinks. You can also find added sugar in the unlikeliest of places such as  bread, yoghurt, flavoured water and soups.

How do we cut down our sugar intake?

The first step is education – we should all aim to know roughly the recommended daily amount of sugar, why too much sugar is harmful, and which foods are high in sugar. You don’t need to have ‘Google’ levels of information to know what to do: the basic facts as outlined in this article, and many others, is a good enough start.

There are some practical things we can do without waiting to be advised by PHE. One thing I did when I had my child was to not have fizzy drinks and sweets in the house – I just didn’t buy them. So he grew up knowing that we don’t eat or drink these products. However, at parties, he is allowed to have them, because I feel it is important for children to get to know different foods, safely. We do have other sweet treats like desserts, ice-creams and biscuits but these are limited to no more than 2-3 times per week, and importantly, in small quantities. Now that he is 8, he is so accustomed to his diet that he isn’t a big fan of sweet things. Though his cousin has a sweet tooth, being raised the same way, she’s not hot on sweet drinks at all. And one of my son’s besties also raised the same way, doesn’t like juice and only drinks water. We have to remember that children will follow whatever precedent we as adults set.

Another rule of thumb in our house is that neither adults nor children drink anything that is any shade of blue, green, purple, or pink unless it has been blended in the house with identifiable ingredients – not that we blend much anyway – no time for that! That pretty much rules out blue drinks, reduces sugar and a whole load of artificial gunk.

It’s not going to be easy for everyone to cut down their sugar intake – what else is PHE doing to help us?

PHE knows that it’s not easy for everyone to get, understand and act on this information or any information on health and lifestyle changes. It’s also known that the highest levels of sugar are consumed by poorer, deprived families who are more likely to have limited access to this information. The creation and availability of the Sugar Smart app is just one step to help the public. PHE recommends that a range of actions are required such as:

  • Reducing price promotions on high sugar foods
  • Reducing the levels of advertisements of high sugar foods to children
  • Introducing a tax on high sugar foods; this has been done in some countries with good effect
  • Introducing recognised training in diet and nutrition to people who can influence the public such as those that work in catering, fitness and leisure industries
  • Controlling portion sizes of meals

 How can I get the sugar app?

You can download the app onto your smart phone from Google Play or the App Store.

How does it work?

Sugar AppThe app tells you the recommended daily amount of sugar for each age group.

  1. Open the app
  2. Allow the app access to your camera when prompted
  3. Pick a product with a barcode
  4. Scan the barcode with the app camera
  5. Line the barcode up with the red line and wait for a beep
  6. The app will then read out the amount of sugar in the product

Although about 75, 000 products are loaded into the app, there are still more to be added. If your product is not in the app, a pop-up message will tell you. So, I scanned 5 products and only 2 came up, but it worked perfectly and kids love it.

The menu tab in the app gives more information on the sugar content of food, your scan history and direction to the app’s website: http://www.nhs.uk/change4life/Pages/change-for-life.aspx

Is this app necessary?

For some people, no. But others may find it helpful when you take into consideration the age-group they fall in and the lifestyle they lead.

There is a panel on the packaging of most foods that tells us the exact amounts of fat, protein and sugars contained in that product. However, the amounts are given in grams which I find difficult to interpret because I am of the generation that worked in ounces. The Sugar Smart app uses images of sugar cubes so anyone from any era can understand the results. It’s also great for engaging children and young adults who have grown up with apps, and children are after all the primary target of this part of the campaign.

Let’s give it a try – one more app on your phone won’t hurt, and we may actually use it!

 

For more discussions on topical health (and life) issues listen to Matters of Life and Health on the online radio station PowerXtra Radio www.powerxtraradio.co.uk or via the TuneIn radio app, Tuesdays 7-830pm GMT.

A Tale of Two Boys: Emmett Till and Tamir Rice

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The year that saw the public unravelling of the discriminate American policing and judicial system continues to the bitter end of 2015.

This week, just over a year after 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot dead in Cleveland, Ohio whilst holding a toy gun, the police officer who shot him will not be indicted on any criminal charges. In fact, it’s not immediately apparent what consequences this officer will face.

The facts…in a nutshell

The official report from the county prosecutor’s office tells us this: Tamir, who was African-American, was playing with a toy gun in a park on November 22nd, 2014; a 911 call was made reporting a man waving and pointing a gun at people; the caller did state that the gun could have been fake and the person involved could have been a juvenile; two police officers subsequently arrived on the scene and drove within a few feet of Tamir; inside 2 seconds of getting out of the patrol car, one of these officers fired 2 shots at the 12-year old; one bullet struck his abdomen; the police officers stated that they ordered Tamir 3 times to raise his hands; none of the witnesses heard these commands; neither of the police officers administered first aid to Tamir after they realised he was indeed a juvenile; one officer instead tackled and handcuffed his 14-year old sister; when his mother arrived on the scene she was threatened with arrest; both officers refused to testify at the grand jury hearing; the office that shot Tamir was deemed not fit to handle firearms; the prosecutor at the same hearing blamed the emergency services despatcher for not relaying the information that it was possible that the individual in question was a boy with a toy gun.

Two subsequent reports, the Sims report and the Crawford1 report, both concluded that Tamir’s killing was reasonable. There is guidance from the United States Supreme Court that explains why the policemen who set up an ‘officer-created jeopardy’ situation will not face criminal charges. It’s flawed, because like most things American, it’s open to interpretation, but nevertheless this guidance, or rather, one interpretation of this guidance, was upheld2.

A deeply and profoundly sad state of affairs

The onslaught of public reports of deaths of African-American men and women at the hands of those whose duty is, and who are paid to serve and protect, has been relentless. The countless editorials, opinion pieces and commentaries on these events, in the main-stream and off-stream media, from the right-wing to the liberal leaning to the conspiracy theories, all raise ugly issues and rub salt in the deep wounds that afflict American society.

I could blog a self-righteous piece based on my own worldview which is here on the outside looking in, about what a mess America wallows in; sometimes though the clearest view is indeed from that vantage point. As much as a personal rant would feel good, it would a), not shed any light on the complexity of the dysfunction within that society, b),  require an anthology of American history and society which I am not in any way qualified to write about, c), serve no real purpose other than self-gratification on my part and d), not ease the deep and profound sadness I and many like me feel about the young lives that are being snuffed out like nuisance prey by a seemingly predatory system.

A predatory system that has changed little in the last 60 years.

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Emmett Till: July 25, 1941 – August 28, 1955

Image courtesy of: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/till/peopleevents/p_till.html

 

On August 28, 1955, 14-year-old African-American Emmett Till was killed by two white men in Mississippi after allegedly flirting with a 21-year-old married white woman. The only difference between the case of Emmett then and that of Tamir now is that the killers of now, wear uniforms.  I urge you to read the story yourself and I’m pretty sure you will find it incredible. I know that 3 years after I first came across it, I still find it to be so.

Both boys were perceived, by whites, to be older than they were on account of their physical appearances – Emmett weighed 68kg and stood 1.63m tall; Tamir was 79kg and stood 1.7m tall. So the fact that they were bigger than they should be warranted and even justified an aggressive response to childish behaviour. There is published work on how whites view and interpret the physique of black children3, and it’s very telling.

You would think it’s enough that black and brown-skinned adults are negatively stereotyped – not that we need studies to tell us that, though statistics and surveys are very useful in providing objective evidence to the naysayers. Does this deadly stereotyping really have to extend to black and brown-skinned children too? Can they not be allowed to be like all other children who sometimes do incredibly stupid things without paying for such stupidity with their lives? Even if Emmett had really made lewd comments to an adult woman, surely all that adult woman had to do was drag him by the ears to his family and allow them to deal with him. That’s how we know things to have been dealt with in the good ole’ days right? And, there is no doubt that Tamir was silly to have been brandishing any imitation weapon of any kind in public especially in the climate at that time; for generations, children have been fascinated with guns, because adults revere guns; for generations, children have played cops and robbers with fake guns, no questions asked. Are we now to accept that it’s open season on any child who engages in this past-time (though in my circles it is quite un-PC, and rightfully so, to give children toy guns)? Since when have law enforcement officers been intimidated by children playing with toy guns?

In the case of Emmett, media stories at the time even focussed on that fact that his father, an officer in the US army, had been executed in Italy during the 2nd World War for allegedly raping and murdering women, in an attempt to show that there must have been some genetic disposition in Emmett towards aggression against white women. I really urge you to read up on this case yourself – it boggles the mind. The holes in both stories are gapingly wide, yet even after the cases were bought before a judicial system and the American public, no one was found culpable in the violent death of a child.

Of course, in between Emmett and Tamir there have been others: some we hear about like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Laquan McDonald, but most we don’t, like Kendrick Johnson4. In all cases it’s apparent that the deeply disturbed and flawed legacy of Emmett’s killers and their ancestors continues to thrive in modern day Americans. I can’t even use the word the term racist legacy because that word doesn’t really feel as if it fully encapsulates the forces at play here.

An ugly mind-set based on destructive principles

These forces appear to surmise that anyone of African origin is somehow not human, soul-less, devoid of emotion and feelings. It is this mind-set that shoots a child of colour first, then prevents that child’s loved ones from comforting him as he dies, then lies about the events that transpired, because that mind-set is confident in the fact that there is a system that will support your every devious move.

There’s no doubt that policemen see some ugly things in their line of duty; but is that justification to shoot first then lie later? Working in accident and emergency as a junior doctor some years back, I and my colleagues saw human beings at their ugliest too. But never at any time did we ever lose sight of the fact that we were dealing with human beings, fellow human beings, who no matter what, were to be treated as such. There is no reason why policemen shouldn’t have that same empathy…unless they are somehow not human, soul-less, devoid of emotion and feelings.

60 years forwards…or backwards?

Although Emmett Till’s death in 1955 turned out to be one of the catalysts for the American Civil Rights Movement, why is it that his story is repeated through Tamir Rice in 2015? The sad truth appears to be that the destructive principles that form the foundation of American society have never been dismantled. Now they are being exposed for what they are. But unless all Americans can fully and positively exploit the opportunities that are open to them to really uphold their revered Constitution, and start work on a new foundation, things will go back another 60 years.

 

CLEVELAND-web3-blog427[1]

Tamir Rice: June 25, 2002 – November 23, 2014

Image courtesy of: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/23/us/in-tamir-rice-shooting-in-cleveland-many-errors-by-police-then-a-fatal-one.html?_r=0

 

 

1http://prosecutor.cuyahogacounty.us/pdf_prosecutor/en-US/Tamir%20Rice%20Investigation/Crawford-Review%20of%20Deadly%20Force-Tamir%20Rice.pdf

 

2http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/12/28/tamir_rice_s_death_didn_t_lead_to_indictments_because_of_supreme_court_vagueness.html

 

3https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/12/28/why-prosecutors-keep-talking-about-tamir-rices-size-36-pants/?tid=sm_tw

 

4http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/fed-seize-cell-phones-computers-ga-gym-mat-death-article-1.2303553