1

The Maligning of Markle

If the eleven year old Meghan Markle was hurt and angry when she first saw that dish soap advert implying that women’s place was in the kitchen, one wonders what she would have made of the media onslaught against herself just days after announcing her engagement. This period should be one of the happiest times in her life, but I wonder how much hand wringing is going on behind the walls of Nottingham Cottage as media outlets root and dig in to every chapter of her past in a gleeful attempt at sales.

There are always those people in everyone’s life who are best forgotten. The friend who let you down, the sister who got jealous… we all have them. We hope, however, that in a moment of public scrutiny, such people would have the dignity to keep their (and your) past to themselves, no matter how much the bribe. Sadly for Meghan Markle, the people in her life she would probably like to forget are right at the top of the parapet, waving dirty linen and scattering old photographs down on the populace like confetti.

Over the weekend, newspapers have printed private photographs from practically every part of Markle’s life – from chubby cheeked toddler to smiling schoolgirl; gangly teenager to wedding day joys. These photographs have been supplied by an ex-best friend, who has clearly completely sold out the woman she once loved and was inseparable from. It is probably the most bitter pill for Markle to swallow, and she is now unable to reply as a future member of the royal family. It would be unseemly for her to try to explain why their friendship disintegrated – and it is really nobody else’s business. The shame lies with the ex-friend, who has shown to all the world her true sense of loyalty and that she has a price. She has taken her thirty pieces of silver.

She has a price, but Markle has a prince.

Jealousy is a cancer that unless acknowledged and dealt with, will fester and destroy. One hopes that Meghan Markle has the sense to know that this onslaught is born from this – and that she, in her cosy cottage making plans with her royal fiance, has already won the war.

Surely Harry will have told Meghan that this would happen. That the media would dig in to every nook and cranny of her life, unearthing unsavoury characters and unflattering photographs, and if they can’t find anything juicy enough to feed the masses – they might just make it up.

The salivating over every past cleavage shot or sexy scene in Markle’s acting past has a horribly misogynistic undertone, driven by a male dominated media. The wish to reduce a woman who has also worked for the UN to just her body, or what she might do with it, reeks of a wish to demean and to humiliate. It is telling that the young Meghan objected to the wording of a television advert years ago, yet womankind are still being reduced to one dimensional characters in order to sell products. It might be dish soap or it might be a newspaper, but you can get your stereotype here, everyone! At bargain prices!

The latest debacle has been the ‘discovery’ of Markle’s father – a man who clearly lives a quiet life and has stayed out of the spotlight. This hunting down of a private person to see what more can be found out about possible rifts or instability reminds me of a Victorian Freak Show. Roll up, roll up – here is the hermit dug out from his cave! Look at him, wonder at him! It’s shameful and inhumane, yet still the people stare.

Meghan Markle must do what she has done many times in her life – pull her shoulders back, switch on that smile and get her ‘boots on the ground’. As a person, as a three dimensional real person, she is warm, charismatic, kind and hard working. She must not allow herself to be reduced to a cardboard cut out or salacious headline. She must prove the naysayers wrong and push the cupboard skeletons firmly back in as she sashays past with a determined eye on the future.

It is what her younger self would definitely expect.

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6

I’m Back….

Dear Reader,

Apologies for my six month break from the blog – I really appreciate all the supportive messages I have received checking I am OK and asking when I will be back! It has really warmed my heart to know you care.

Unfortunately, whilst I originally took some time out to concentrate on some work I was committed to completing within a tight deadline, events overtook me and work (and writing) became pretty much the last thing on my mind.

Back in June, my mother took ill. Whilst in her eighties, she has always been a very busy, active person and this sudden illness was a shock to the whole family. After tests, it transpired that she had cancer – cancer that was about as bad as it could be – and only had weeks left to live. She reacted to this news in her usual style – with calm acceptance and an almost rueful shrug. Her dignity and faith was a complete revelation to me and if I had ever needed an example of quiet strength and courage, I couldn’t have asked for a better one.

I dropped everything to care for Mum in her last weeks. It was terrifying, because I had never had to care for a dying person before. Difficult, because I had to learn everything on the hop. Devastating, because I watched her fade away before my eyes, growing ever-smaller while her cancer grew larger at a seemingly furious pace. And yet it was also tender, funny, loving and a labour of love.

Mum and I had a relationship which had it’s up and downs. Like many mother/daughter relationships, we had had our differences and problems over the years – along with some wonderful times too. Those last few weeks seemed like a renewal of every loving moment and a strange sweeping away of every difficult one. There was a new understanding, an awareness of time slipping away and therefore the need to cut down to the bone – that there was love, had always been love and would always be love. The rest was just detritus that flowed steadily away with every hand hold, every conversation, every tear, every knowing look that passed between us. We talked, we laughed, we mended as surely as she never would.

When that moment came that finally she left us – she just peacefully drifted away, holding my father’s hand after I had just combed her hair and told her how pretty she looked. She knew she was surrounded by our love, and always would be.

In the months that have followed since I lost my Mum, I have talked to her still and laughed at the things she would have found funny. I have smelled her perfume in the air and known she was with me, in whatever way that can be. It might sound strange, but I do feel that she is still around, still keeping us in check!

It has been the sort of personal learning curve I never would have welcomed, but I am proud that I managed it. I could not have managed to care for Mum without the kind and practical expertise of district nurses, Marie Curie nurses and a very supportive GP. Even in the middle of the night, there was someone to answer my call and tell me how to help Mum feel more comfortable. They taught me how to wash her, how to change her, how to have confidence in my ability to comfort her and that was what she really needed the most. I cannot say how highly I respect them and the job they do. And never did I feel that they saw Mum as just another patient. When she was in pain and I had tears in my eyes, they had tears in their eyes too. She was a person to them, an individual and they treated her with such respect and kindness. In Mum’s memory, I will be running a half marathon next year to raise money for Marie Curie in order to enable other people to die peacefully in their own home, as Mum was able to.

…………

Now – in my absence, there have been so many subjects I have thought I should have been blogging about, but I just didn’t have the heart. I’ve realised however, that Mum would most of all want me to continue as I was before, and closing myself off would not be doing her any justice whatsoever.

As she said matter of factly to the doctor just a couple of days before she died, when he tried to explain that she was winding down,

“We must be sensible and face these things, mustn’t we?”

And so that is what I am going to do.

Rest in peace Mum. You have been so loved.

2

The Agony of Britain’s Missing People

Their faces gaze out at us from newspapers, documentaries, the internet. Some of their names are well known to us – Claudia Lawrence, Corrie McKeague, Madeleine McCann. Many we have never heard of. They are the missing people, the ones who vanished one ordinary day and were never seen again.

The families of the missing continue to wait for news of their loved ones. Some run campaigns to keep awareness alive, some have put their energies in to helping other families going through the same thing. The wait must feel interminable, and sometimes there is no end.

So what happens to these missing people? How can someone just disappear without trace, without anyone knowing where they are? Some may have chosen to leave their old lives behind. Some may have been involved in a tragic accident but never found. I remember a boy I had grown up with suddenly disappearing just before Christmas, not long after his eighteenth birthday. He had been on a night out, had been seen saying he planned to walk home although he was very drunk. His mother was distraught, searching, asking for information , to no avail. Eventually, one of his trainers was found stuck in the mud at the side of the canal. And soon after, his body was dredged up. He had lost his balance while walking down the narrow towpath. It was a terrible, spur of the moment end to what had been a drawn out mystery.

I wonder how many other missing people have met a similar, non suspicious end but were never discovered?

Currently, a landfill is being searched in the hunt for Corrie McKeague. How many other missing people ended up in such a place but were never discovered?

It is a terrible thing to consider – that those families will never have an answer to the whereabouts of their loved one.

Then there are those who clearly did not leave by choice, did not come to an unfortunate but non-violent death -, those who were taken. People like Claudia Lawrence, who seems to have been taken – possibly by someone already known to her. The police believe that there are those in the York area who know exactly what happened to the young chef, but won’t divulge what they know.

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There is Damien Nettles, a teenager out on the town with a camera, drunkenly taking odd snaps of those around him. Last seen on a chip shop CCTV, waving goodbye to the owner before disappearing in to the night. Again, there are those on the Isle of Wight who know what happened to Damien that night. They know where he lies, but will not tell his desperate family.

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What about Andrew Gosden, a fourteen year old who inexplicably decided to travel to London alone instead of going to school in September 2007? Did he go to meet someone? Where is he now?

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Sometimes the missing become the found – in devastating circumstances. Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were once two missing girls. They are now known as the tragic murder victims of Ian Huntley.

It is every mother’s worst nightmare – to lose a child, even when they are considered adults. The police say that if a missing person has not been found within 72hrs, the chances are that they are dead or have come to harm. It is a frightening prospect.

It is beyond belief that individuals may know information relating to missing people and their whereabouts, but do not come forward. How these people can face their guilt every day while families suffer the tremendous grief of not knowing, not being able to say goodbye, is a mystery to anyone with a heart.

There are anonymous ways you can give information to the police – through Crimestoppers for example, which you can do online with an anonymous form.

https://crimestoppers-uk.org/give-information/give-information-online/

If you have information about anyone you know has been reported missing, please do the right thing. Do it for their families, who are still waiting to find their loved ones.

 

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Fighting the Stigma

As I covered in my previous blog, the current media campaign of Heads Together as fronted by Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, is encouraging people to be more open about their mental health problems. This week has been a particularly high profile build up to the London Marathon on Sunday, when hundreds of runners will take part under the Heads Together banner to raise awareness and raise funds for mental health charities.

As the royal threesome stated so eloquently in their video today, mental health problems can be rooted behind so many other issues such as homelessness, domestic abuse, bereavement and drug abuse. A huge percentage of us will suffer emotional problems at some point in our lives, some of us will live with mental health difficulties for years without speaking out for fear of seeming weak or being labelled ‘nuts’.

Twitter: Kensington Palace

Over the past few weeks, several high profile celebrities have joined the campaign to start the conversation on mental health, being filmed discussing their own private difficulties and how they deal with them. The culmination of this has been the admission by Prince Harry himself that he has had to deal with his own demons in relation to the sudden death of his mother, The Princess of Wales.

I personally hope that this campaign will continue to encourage us as a nation to be more accepting of mental health illness as being just as debilitating as physical injury or disease. I have personally spent years struggling with anxiety and issues around low self esteem, initially due to a difficult childhood then exacerbated by other traumatic events that happened during the course of my teenage and adult life. I have sought to find answers to the moments of self doubt, of crippling anxiety and times of deep depression. I have turned to therapy, to counselling, to mindfulness, to exercise, to positive thinking, to medication … you name it, I have tried it. Some of it has been useful, some not at all. Each individual will find value in different strategies, and sometimes just being able to talk about your worries or express the dark thoughts you have been struggling with can be enough to clear your head.

Over the years, I have come across a wide range of responses to my mental health illness – from the “Pull yourself together” viewpoint to the much more sympathetic. I find that people who have also dealt with mental health issues themselves are usually the kindest, most understanding people of all. They have been at the bottom of that pit and they know just how dark and hopeless it can seem.

If the Heads Together campaign can encourage even a small number of people to have a better understanding of mental health illnesses, or persuade even a small number to seek help for their own desperation, then it will have been a success.

And that is surely something of huge value to us all.

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Kelvin Mackenzie and the Hillsborough Legacy

Twenty eight years ago yesterday, one of the worst ever footballing disasters took place at Hillsborough. Ninety six Liverpool Football Club fans left their homes to spend the afternoon watching their favourite team play in the FA Cup Semi-Final, but never came home. Their deaths a result of huge overcrowding at the Leppings Lane end of the Sheffield ground, and a lack of immediate response from the police and emergency services due to poor management.

We all know the story of the ensuing years of fighting to have justice for the victims – and the final verdict that the dead that day had indeed been ‘unlawfully killed’ rather the victims of an unfortunate accident. Along the way, however, it was not just the victims, their families or those involved whose characters were sullied, but those of an entire city. Liverpool was painted as home to petty criminals who would steal from the dead, self-pitying idiots who would not accept fault for the incident or their supposed part in events that day. The main culprit for such slurs was Sun newspaper editor Kelvin Mackenzie, whose headline of The Truth stood above an article of complete untruths – that fans had urinated on the police, stolen from victims, got what they deserved. Mackenzie’s disdain for the truth and his apparent vendetta against Liverpool continues to this day. His recent article comparing Everton footballer, Ross Barkley who is part Nigerian, to a ‘gorilla’ and implying that the only rich people in Merseyside are footballers or drug dealers, shows an unapologetic and contemptuous mindset against a city who have never forgotten his lies.

Mackenzie was seemingly happy to write that Barkley was ‘dim’ – yet claims that he did not know the footballer was partly Nigerian, therefore excusing his ‘gorilla’ comment. One might presume a journalist should research facts before writing any article – Mackenzie thought he knew enough to opine about Barkley’s intelligence, yet says he did not know anything about his heritage? The racist and derogatory comments about Barkley and Liverpool as a whole suggest Mackenzie is more concerned with writing sensationalist rubbish than anything close to factual, a skill he has apparently not lost since 1989.

It may be twenty eight years since that sunny day in Sheffield turned in to a day of terrible sorrow and injustice, and Liverpool may have finally received the legal verdict it so desperately wanted for those who were lost – but the message that the city will not suffer in silence stands strong. Both Liverpool and Everton football clubs have both now decreed that Sun newspaper journalists are no longer welcome in their stadia or at news conferences, as a direct result of their continued affiliation with Kelvin Mackenzie. One might wonder why The Sun newspaper still continues to employ this man, and what it would take for them to reconsider his position with them?

The legacy of the Hillsborough disaster is not just that the ninety six victims will never be forgotten or that huge steps have been made to protect the public at large events – but also that the city of Liverpool will not tolerate their naysayers, or those who continue to spin lies about the city or the people who live there.

Not then, not now, not ever.

And that includes Kelvin Mackenzie.

 

 

(Image from Getty)

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PC Palmer and the Re-Appreciation of the Police

When, on Wednesday 22nd March 2017, a crazed fanatic drove his car down the pavement of Westminster Bridge before plunging a knife in to the policeman who was standing guard at the Palace of Westminster, nobody could have foreseen the national feeling of sorrow and loss for a serving policeman doing his job.

Unarmed and at the front line, PC Keith Palmer was used to checking in arrivals at parliament, fielding questions from passersby and having his picture taken with tourists. While trained for such possibilities as terrorist attacks, it is unlikely that he was expecting that moment when an armed Khalid Masood approached him, with murder in his mind.

PC Palmer was, by all accounts, a decent man. He had served in the army, he was good at his job, he had a family and friends who loved him. He didn’t deserve to die in such a gruesome way, by an attacker who just wanted to make a political or religious point.

The outcry following PC Palmer’s death was genuine and heartfelt. So often, the media are happy to complain about our emergency services – particularly the police – for missing clues or not acting as deemed appropriate by some journalist or other. The truth of the matter is, that while some police actions may not be adequate, or may be mis-judged, every day these men and women face dangers and unpleasantness that most of us would happily run away from.

PC Palmer knew that there was a minute possibility that someone might target him for the very uniform he was wearing. Now, more than ever, when our service men and women are warned not to travel to or from work in their uniforms, he knew what it meant to stand where he was, acting as the policeman on duty that morning. He still did his job.

While others ran for safety when gunshots and screaming were heard, our emergency services were running in the opposite direction -straight in to danger. It is gratifying to know that so many felt the loss of this policeman doing his duty that his body was allowed to rest in the Chapel of St. Mary Undercroft at the Houses of Parliament – an honour usually reserved for heads of state – and that he was given a funeral at Southwark Cathedral, after being taken along a route lined with mourners and 5000 police officers, standing in silent tribute.

So often our police forces, and other emergency services personnel, bear the brunt of not only dealing with our worst moments of crisis, but our vitriol when things go wrong. Let us remember that every day they risk their lives and their safety to make sure that WE are all kept safe. And that makes them the biggest heroes of all.

RIP Keith Palmer.