Liverpool Echo

Time to examine the exams

STRESS levels have taken an up-swing in our house of late.
There have been moody silences punctuated by banging doors, sleepless nights and snappy responses. And that’s just me.
Yes, after the blessed tranquility following season in June, things have kicked back into gear big-time at the prospect of A level results day next week.
The trouble is that these results – that little piece of paper on which a few letters are printed – have come to represent the be-all and end-all.
Achieve the right set of letters – A, B, C – and you’re off to your dream university course or job. You’re a bona fide success.

Get the wrong set and a

exam celebration
Get ready for more of this …

t best it’s crushing disappointment – followed by a mad scramble to try to salvage what you can of your education – and at worst an unmitigated disaster.

None of the above is accurate, of course. Grade As don’t guarantee a successful life – however that’s measured – and an E in Geography won’t mean you’ll end up homeless on the streets.
But that’s how our kids are made to feel, isn’t it?
Every. Single. Year.
Why does it have to be this way? Why are parents and teenagers put through this stomach-knotting uncertainty, every 12 months?
There has to be another way. And of course there is.
Much of Europe operates a different system to access higher education whereby students apply for their next steps in life AFTER receiving their results.
No relying on predicted grades and less of an all-or-nothing Doomsday scenario every August.
It’s not perfect but it does help to ease the terrible tension of results day.
For now, though, let’s wish all those youngsters awaiting results the best of luck.
If it all goes to plan then well done. If not – it really isn’t the end of the world.

A new report from university boffins reckons too much sleep can be bad for us.
Research has revealed that people who snooze for 10 hours are 30% more likely to die prematurely than those who slept for eight.
I don’t know about you but after weeks of being denied a full night’s kip thanks to the heat I’m willing to take the chance.

First published in the Liverpool Echo, 11 August 2018
Liverpool Echo

Brexit phoney war getting all too real

SITTING in a restaurant having a family meal, my son whipped out his insulin pen, dialled up a dose and injected. He didn’t break stride, regaling us as he did so about his plans to go to Leeds Festival and his opinion on the Reds’ chances of winning the Premiership.

We take it for granted now, this life-saving liquid that he shoves in his body and which, as a Type 1 diabetic, keeps him well.

He orders it at his pharmacy and then, a couple of days later, it arrives.

But what if it didn’t? What if there wasn’t enough to go round? Or there was a delay in delivery?

It doesn’t bear thinking about – and yet think about it we must.

Sir Michael Rawlins, chair of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said this week that in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit the supply of medicines such as insulin could be disrupted.

This is because it isn’t manufactured in the UK and transporting it is complicated. Stockpiling is already underway.

It won’t just be insulin, either.

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There must be lots of medication brought in from Europe as well as other medical supplies and devices.

The mere fact that this is being discussed is frightening enough. The idea that it might actually happen is beyond comprehension.

Until now, Brexit has been a far-off concept for many.

Two years ago when the country inexplicably decided to put two fingers up to the EU the perceived reality of what it would mean was, at best, vague and at worst horribly misguided.

But here in 2018 things are starting to crystalise. And it’s not a pretty picture.

Food may have to be stockpiled. Motorways will become ‘holding areas’ for trucks to ease the gridlock as 10,000 lorries a day are delayed by customs checks. The new world order will impact on aviation and driving licenses, sterling and passports. As for the 5 million EU and UK expats? Well, God knows.

Of course this might all be a phoney war, gamesmanship down there in Westminster among the no-dealers, the pro-Brexiteers, the Remainers.

For the rest of us, thought, it’s just plain terrifying.
“Oof,” said the current Mr Lee as he clambered between the sheets on our return from our week’s holiday. “There’s nothing like you’re own bed, is there?” I don’t know when this happened but I appear to be married to a middle-aged man.

This column first appeared in the Liverpool Echo on 4 August 2018.

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A spoonful of sugar makes Disney dining so sweet

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It must have been the spoon full of sugar I’d put in my tea because when I looked up I was taking breakfast with Mary Poppins.

But then I was in Walt Disney World in Florida, a place where dreams come true.

Judging by the look on the faces of my fellow diners as we tucked into our meal alongside Winnie the Pooh, Donald Duck and Miss Poppins, I’d say objective achieved.

That morning at the Cape May Cafe in Disney’s Beach Club Resort set the standard for what was to come.

I’d been to Disney before but this time was there to find out more about the dining offer across the parks and hotels.

To be honest, I’d heard about the Disney Dining Plan but never really understood it. After all, there are loads of places to eat on every park so why bother worrying about it before you go?

Part of the answer came later that day in the Magic Kingdom where, after a morning riding The Seven Dwarves Mine Train, battling the ghosts in the Haunted Mansion and taking endless pictures outside the iconic castle, it was time for lunch at Be Our Guest.

We’re in Beauty and the Beast territory here with the restaurant designed to recreate the Beast’s castle.

It’s jaw-droppingly good and the food simple and plentiful.

No visit to the Magic Kingdom would be complete without witnessing its night-time show of fireworks and projections played out against the backdrop of the castle.

Happily Ever After is new this year, an interweaving of stories, clips and music. It’s also lump-in-throat good.

Being a journalist I asked how much the fireworks cost. I was told, in true Disney style, you can’t put a price on happiness.

Neither can you put a price on a great lunch after a hard morning enjoying yourself Soarin’ Around the World at Epcot.

It’s a well-established ride that’s had an impressive reboot, a multi-passenger flight simulator which takes you on a thrilling aerial tour of the globe.

Back on firm ground, our party stopped off in Japan for something to eat in the guise of Teppan Edo. Here, food was prepared traditionally just inches away from diners on a tableside grill, our chef bringing drama and excitement courtesy of some sharp knives and sharper banter.

I’m not hugely familiar with Japanese food but this was spectacular.

Little wonder some of the best Japanese chefs in the world work here but, again, demand is high and it’s worth checking out the menu in advance to know what you’re spending – another advantage to being on the Disney Dining plan.

I’m not a big fan of big drops on rides, so what possessed me to go on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios I’ll never know.

Still, my stomach had settled just enough to enjoy dinner that evening at The Hollywood Brown Derby, a place awash with classic movie decor and serving staff who knew the menu inside out and were happy to chop and change dishes on request.

If shopping is your thing check out Disney Springs. The massive outdoor complex combines retail heaven with great bars, restaurants and entertainment.

We tried The Boathouse, a waterfront steak and seafood place with great wines (make sure you take ID) and a great atmosphere.

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All the eateries here come under the Disney Dining Plan so it’s straightforward enough to book where and when you want to eat while keeping abreast of your ‘credits’ – that’s the system used in the plan to help you keep track as each eaterie attracts a certain number of credits depending on what it offers.

You can ‘save’ credits too – so if you fancy a top end restaurant one night you can save them up day to day. Just adjust your dining choice accordingly.Ideal for budgeting your holiday money in advance.

This year has seen a number of new rides and experiences introduced across Disney, but none more eagerly anticipated than Pandora – The World of Avatar.

A brand new ‘land’ created within the Animal Kingdom, the centre-piece is Flight of Passage, an augmented reality flight simulator.

This is as thrilling an experience as you’ll get at Disney, soaring over oceans, across plains and mountains and through forests.

It is utterly beautiful and, for my money, now the gold standard in theme park rides.

Earlier, we’d eaten at Boma – Flavours of Africa at the Animal Kingdom LodgeDisney hotels have excellent food options from buffet service to high end dining – our hotel for our stay, the Grand Floridian was outstanding.

Boma, though, was one of my favourites and made for a varied and interesting breakfast. Satu’lil Canteen meanwhile in The World of Avatar offered quick, efficient service and some great salads – perfect to load up on ahead of the park’s new after dark entertainment, Rivers of Light.

Soon enough it was time to come home – slightly heavier than when I left thanks to the fantastic food I’d tried.
Time to cut out that spoonful of sugar. Sorry Mary.

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Disney Dining bookings for 2019

Britons booking a 2019 holiday to Walt Disney World in Florida can now get free dining for the duration of their stay, when booking with Attraction Tickets Direct. The offer provides savings of up to £2,072 for a family of four, on meals, drinks and snacks over a two-week holiday.
The offer launched in April and runs until late 2018, valid on 2019 bookings only. Bookings for a minimum of 5 nights in a Disney on-site hotel plus theme park tickets are eligible for the offer. The level of free dining is commensurate with the level of hotel booked, details as follows, with savings based on a family of four sharing one room, for 14 nights in value season:

  • Value hotel – free breakfast per guest, per day, saving up to £532
  • Moderate hotel – free Quick Service Dining Plan per guest, per day, saving up to £1512
  • Deluxe hotel or villa – free Disney Dining Plan per guest, per day, saving up to £2,072

Call 0808 271 4453 or visit www.attraction-tickets-direct.co.uk for further information.

Liverpool Echo

Into each life a little rain must fall

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New Brighton recently until work started on the patio … (Picture: James Maloney)

IF it’s raining as you read this then blame me.

We decided to have our patio re-laid, based on the endlessly sunny weather, but barely was the first flag up than the rains came down and now the garden looks like a WW1 battlefield.

To be fair, the break in the heatwave has been a relief given that I prefer to sleep with both legs under the duvet rather than the one-in-one-out affair we’ve all endured of late.

But, raining or not today, it would take a monsoon to solve our water problems and for the recently announced hosepipe ban not to come into force next month.

I know what you’re thinking. Why haven’t they stockpiled water? Why is it happening here in the all-too-rainy North West? And if only they fixed the damn leaks we may not be in this position.

Of course United Utilities will argue these things aren’t as straightforward as they seem. Leaks are hard to repair, they say, for all kinds of reasons – not least of which is because many are underground and therefore unseen.

And the North West isn’t half as rainy as we think it is.

The fact is, it’s not just the lack of rain that’s the problem. It’s the demand.

Paddling pools, long showers, watering parched plants – when it’s hot we all use more of the wet stuff.

You can rail against water companies as much as you like but the fact is we can all do our bit by not wasting water.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating failing to flush the loo or sharing a bath with your neighbour.

But how many of us leave the tap going when we brush our teeth? Or fill the kettle for just one brew?

Water is a precious commodity and we’re lucky to have it – clean and on demand.

Other parts of the world don’t have that privilege.

For the entirety of her very long reign we’ve been told the Queen is barred from making political statements. Pah! She might keep her gob shut but she lets her accessories do the talking.

How else to explain that brooch she wore – a personal gift from the Obamas – when greeting Donald Trump this week?

He will have been too ignorant to clock it of course but we heard you Ma’am. Loud and clear.

First published Liverpool Echo, 21 July 2018

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Clothes don’t maketh the man – but they help

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Raymond Deane (15) was sent home from school for wearing a sports bra with mum Kim Deane (Picture: Gavin Trafford)
SOME months ago I met a very important man, a senior executive at a top firm.
He was giving a presentation in a boardroom and came equipped with an Apple iMac, lots of slides and an air of authority.
He also wore no socks and sported a rather scruffy polo shirt. To add insult to injury, he also had significant turn-ups on his trousers, revealing the full horror of his white hairy ankles.
Reader, I judged him.
Here was a business man in a top level meeting with other business leaders and he looked like he’d just fallen out of bed.
First impressions count, don’t they? Dressing appropriately is important – that may sound a bit old fashioned but it’s what I strongly believe.
Clothes don’t necessarily maketh the man (or woman) but they don’t half help.
I was ruminating on this as I read the story this week of a lad sent home from school in Bootle for wearing a sports bra in support of a female student. She had turned up similarly attired for school and was also sent home.
The lad felt she had been ‘body shamed’ and wanted to act in solidarity.
I should point out the bras were worn as tops rather than underwear beneath a blouse.
Now some ECHO readers have been full of praise for the 15-year-old, arguing he has stood up for what he believes in. That may be so but here’s the bottom line: nobody should be wearing a sports bra as a top to school. Or the office. Or to the shops unless they’ve called in on the way home from the gym for an energy drink and a deodorant.
It’s not being a fuddy-duddy or po-faced, it’s just being respectful of your surroundings and of others.
I’m all for individuality but not if it distracts others or makes people feel uncomfortable.
And that goes as much for sports bras in schools as it does for white ankles in meetings.

THE teenage daughter has just come back from her first girls’ holiday, a week in Corfu. She returned the colour of an old sideboard with tales of parties, boat trips and twinkly eyed Greek waiters.
 “And then there was the Sex on the Beach,” she told her dad and me over tea.
 I knew she meant the cocktail but her father? Not so much.
 It’s amazing how much mess egg and chips makes when it’s spat out with force.
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Happy Birthday to a grand old lady

LATER next month my family and I are off on holiday to Italy. I know we’re lucky. My husband and I both work full time so we can save a bit through the year which means 10 days of eating ice cream and lying under a foreign sun is entirely achievable. But things could be very different for us and for an awful lot of other people. And it’s all thanks to the NHS. Because if the NHS wasn’t the free service it is me and my better half may well still be paying off the debt incurred to have our kids. We went through years of treatments in order to become parents at a cost to the health service of thousands of pounds – although of course we didn’t pay a penny. If we had then our credit card bill would have cast a long, unaffordable shadow down the years. Even if we’d managed to clear the debt by now we would still be racking up costs to support the medical needs of our son who has Type One diabetes. Insulin, testing strips, blood monitors. None of it comes cheap. We’ve been made rich in other ways, too. My dad had a serious heart condition for many years. He had operations and drugs and inumerable emergency admissions to hospital. But he worked for Plessey’s and my mum packed biscuits for Crawford’s. They weren’t exactly rolling in cash so, in a world without the NHS and in which patients would have to pay for everything – like it was pre-1948, the chances are he would not have been around to see me grow up. But he did. He got to walk me down the aisle and be at the Christenings of both his grandkids. Priceless. Today is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the NHS. Like many things, it’s not perfect. At 70 it’s creaking a bit and needs more care than it did in the past. But we should all raise a glass to the grand old lady. She’s done us all proud. * This week saw the 18-year-old attend her school leaving prom, a glittering event at which everyone looked their best. Especially the mums watching from a nearby car park.  You’ve got to hold your school gate end up one last time, haven’t you?