Liverpool Echo

A New Year resolution that costs nothing: kindness

Another year is on the turn and the papers are full of advice on resolutions. What to make and how to keep them.

But rather like cheap toys and teenage hearts, New Year resolutions are made to be broken.

So, this year, I’m not bothering with my regular resolve to drink less wine, eat less chocolate and take up jogging.

I know that instead of feeling smug at my achievements – another 5k done! Go me! – I’ll just feel shame at my inadequacy. An emotion which usually hits as I sit with a glass in one hand and a giant Toblerone in another.

Instead, I’m resolving to do something which is a bit less quantifiable. I’m going to be kinder.

boris
I’m going to try to be kinder in 2019. Even to him.

Now, I know this sounds soppy but think about it. Couldn’t we all do with a bit more kindness in our lives – especially in a world where it sometimes feels in chronically short supply?

Better still I have made a list of targets for my kindness to keep me on track:

  • Anyone who voted for Brexit. I’ve rolled my eyes at you for too long and it’s gotten us nowhere. I can’t agree with you but I will try harder to understand. It might be our only way out of this mess
  • The people who run the Mersey tunnels. So many queues, apparently so few toll booths open. I’ll try harder to relax and enjoy the radio rather than shouting random profanities as the start time for my morning meeting slips by
  • Rough sleepers. Sometimes I give cash, sometimes I don’t. But I’ll now try to always give time. A few kind words costs nothing
  • Shoppers in Tesco who go to the self-service tills with overflowing baskets and take an age. I will tut no more
  • People who are strangers to correct grammar on social media. I will not judge. Ok, I will but not as much

Me. And you. Let’s all be kinder to ourselves. Buy the dress, eat the chocolate, binge on the box-set. Not every day, of course, but just enough to keep us sane in this mad world.

Because kindness, like charity, begins at home.

Have a happy New Year.

First published in the Liverpool Echo, 29 December 2018.

Charles Dickens, christmas, Liverpool Echo, Liverpool Playhouse

Dickens of miracle on Church Street

“I have always thought of Christmas time as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women  open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

So wrote Charles Dickens, the man responsible for A Christmas Carol, which celebrates its 175th birthday this year

Now, some of Mr D’s writing can be a bit hard to understand – he never used one word when 50 would do – but that quote is as clear as a bell.

And all these decades later it still resonates.

I was thinking about Dickens and his old miser Scrooge this week as I battled crowds, rain and queues in pursuit of my last bit of seasonal shopping.

On the face of it there was a singular lack of kindness or charity or forgiveness to be found in the city centre five days before Christmas.

Fellow shoppers barged past. Over-excited kids screamed blue murder while tired mums juggled rolls of wrap with bags and pushchairs. 

Rough sleepers endured the wet to sit on bits of cardboard and watch as the rest of the busy world scurried by.

Meanwhile, the news agenda was dreadful, dominated by squabbling politicians and grounded planes.

But then came a series of minor Christmas miracles.

I met a shop assistant who went so far out of her way to help I could have kissed her. Then came the woman behind me in the queue in Marksies who made me laugh so hard I lost my place in the line and didn’t mind.

Carollers were collecting loose change by the fistful and a group of the kids forgot it was cold and wet and they were bored as they gathered around the Nativity scene in Church Street, faces alight with wonder at a collection of plastic figures.

It was Christmas and the spirit of the season was abroad after all.

It took a bit of finding but Mr Dickens would have been proud.

I touched a nerve this week when I mentioned on Twitter that I couldn’t open my wardrobe for fear of a precariously balanced stash of gifts tumbling out.

Lots of readers got in touch to sympathise, many saying what a nightmare it was to keep prying little eyes at bay at this time of year.

I couldn’t agree more.

Except my kids are 21 and 18.

First published in Liverpool Echo, 22 December 2018.

christmas, Liverpool Echo

Mandatory fun that’s not worth your dignity

Christmas jumpers. Discuss.

I have no problem with them on small children. I have no problem with your uncle wearing one on Christmas Day after several glasses of Bailey’s. I will even tolerate them on a celebrity or two as long a sit’s on the Graham Norton show.

But in the work place? I don’t think so.

I have lost count of the number of reasonable, grown-up people I see – usually attired for 11 months of the year in businesswear – who lose all sense (both common and fashion) come December and take to sporting hideous knitwear.

From 3D comedy Rudolphs to flashing snowmen and giant Christmas puds, the Christmas jumper remains as ubiquitous and as irritating as ever.

I just don’t get it. Why spend even a few quid – because let’s face it, these things are usually as cheap as chips and won’t stand to be near a naked flame – on something you can only wear a handful of times?

And God forbid you’re caught rolling your eyes at Gary from Accounts in his festive sparkly number because then you’ll be labelled someone who is No Fun and possibly even Miserable.

And at this time of year Fun is Mandatory. Whether you like it or not.

So, if you haven’t succumbed as yet to this fashion fiasco I urge you not to.

It will be the saviour of your dignity.

And my sanity.

It’s only worth looking ridiculous for one day a year ….

And talking of eye rolling – I did my fair share when I heard some radio stations had decided to ban that staple of many a Christmas playlist, Baby It’s Cold Outside. 

The argument is that in these post #MeToo times the lyrics are questionable at best and at worst frankly disturbing.

My first thought was: what a load of nonsense.

It’s a cheery tune, beloved of department stores and covered by everyone from Dean Martin to Lady Ga Ga.

What could possibly be the problem?

But then I listened to it. Then I Googled the lyrics. And the problem is there for all to see.

“I’ve got to get home,” warbles the woman. “But baby it’s cold outside,” replies the bloke.

“The answer is no,” she continues before asking“Say, what’s in this drink?”

And so it goes on – her trying to leave, him pressing her to stay.

It’s creepy and inappropriate. 

I know it may have been written in simpler times – the 1940s to be exact – but that’s no excuse here in 2018.

Time to change the record.

First published Liverpool Echo, 15th December 2018.

cheshire oaks, christmas, Liverpool Echo, royal mail

Posties: the human touch in online world

DID you read the story of the little lad who sent a birthday card to his dad in Heaven and got a note back from the Royal Mail saying it had been delivered?

Jase Hyndman is only seven and lost his father four years ago. Nevertheless, he sent a card to him, asking the postman to make sure he received it.

He was, as you can imagine, thrilled when a reply came back, confirming delivery and how Royal Mail had had to “avoid stars and other galactic objects” to get it there.

What a lovely thing to do. An act that cost nothing but brought so much.

Meanwhile, here in Merseyside the ECHO recently highlighted a scheme where posties are keeping an eye on elderly customers, calling on them to check they’re safe and well as the winter weather bites.

All it means is that they knock and say hello to customers but for many that might be a lifeline – and the only human interaction they get from day to day.

The Royal Mail sometimes get a bad press and it’s all too easy to take posties for granted.

But in this digital world when so much is facelessly online they remain embedded in the community, a humanitarian resource.

We should treasure them more.

SO, off I went last weekend to the seventh circle of hell – also known as Cheshire Oaks at Christmas.


Don’t get me wrong – there were bargains to be had – but the pay-off was the stress caused by a lack of parking, the queues, the crowds. And the toilets.

How can somewhere as big as Cheshire Oaks get toilets – specifically the ladies – so badly wrong?

I get there are renovations going on at the moment. I get temporary loos are nobody’s idea of fun.

But why are there so few of them – and so many out of order? Where was the water to wash your hands? The cleaner to empty the overflowing bin?

Meanwhile, over at the gents, there was no queue in sight.

Given it’s predominantly women who’ll be lashing out a fortune this Christmas it would be nice if shops made it a pleasure for us to spend a penny.

First published in Liverpool Echo, 1 December 2018.

Liverpool Echo

Trendy kids’ Goose is rightly cooked

AS a 14-year-old schoolgirl – and like every other 14-year-old before me – I loathed school uniform.

So, I would roll the top of my skirt over to make it shorter, push my socks down to my ankles and insist on sporting a coat which was the height of fashion but non-regulation and which got me into detention on a regular basis.

“It’s not a fashion parade,” the headmistress would chide.

But it was. And still is.

canada goose
Canada Goose coats banned by Wirral’s Woodchurch school

So I am wholeheartedly behind the plan by one Wirral school to ban pupils from wearing designer coats in a bid to combat “poverty shaming”. Brands on the hit list at Woodchurch High include Moncler, Canada Goose and Pyrenex.

Of course, “poverty shame”’ has been with us for a long time.

I remember the kids in my school dinner queue who had to present token to get their lumpy mash and runny custard – denoting they were on free school meals.

But designer brands were unheard and – free school meals or otherwise – me and my school chums were all generally in the same boat; I didn’t know anyone whose family had cash to splash.

Here is 2018, however, there is a real gap between the haves and have-nots and the pressure on mums and dads to help their kids fit in by wearing the latest trainers or labels is enormous.

I know some parents are against the ban. After all, if they’ve shelled out their hard-earned cash for a coat why shouldn’t their kid wear it?

But why would you send your kid to school in a piece of clothing worth hundreds of pounds that’s in danger of getting lost or nicked?

And if it helps reduce poverty stigma – even if its unintentional – then what’s the problem?

 

 

I KNOW the John Lewis Christmas advert hasn’t been met with universal acclaim – there’s a definite lack of schmaltz in it for a start. And I understand why it’s accused of being a shameless plug for Elton John.

But there’s something about the message contained in it – that you never know the effect one gift can have – that strikes a chord.

For Elton it was a piano which led to a lifelong love of music and a billlion-dollar career.

For me it was a set of pens which led to a lifelong love of words and a job on the ECHO.

If only I’d been given a guitar …

First published in the Liverpool Echo, 17 November 2018.

 

Liverpool Echo

Shops. Use them or lose them.

woolworth
No longer a wonder … the long-gone Woolworths

THE shopping fest that is Christmas is looming but new figures show the high street is being battered like never before.

Around 14 shops a day are closing while analysts are already sounding concern that October – traditionally the start of the big festive spend – has been a slow month.

Major chains including House of Fraser, Maplin and Poundworld have collapsed this year and others have all been forced to seek legal agreements with landlords to shut stores.

It’s a lot to do with online shopping, of course, coupled with a slow-down in spending and a change in consumer habits – we flash the cash on holidays now rather than in shopping centres.

And yet, and yet . . .

There is still nothing like browsing the real-time rails, feeling and trying on goods, imagining them on your back or in your home.

Online is great if you know exactly what you’re looking for and you’re certain of your size and colour. It’s perfect too if too if you want to do a spot of price comparison or research before committing to that expensive washing machine or oven.

But if you fancy a browse or a try-on or some advice from a human being then for many people shops are still where it’s at.

There’s no doubt the high street will continue to change but if we, the consumer, want to keep our favourite brands we have to make the effort.

No good bemoaning their loss when they’re gone – like Woolies and Lewis’s and C&A.

Use them or lose them.

I WAS intrigued to read the story of the bloke asking a court to legally change his age from 69 to 49 saying he wants to avoid discrimination.

There’s been an outcry but I can’t see why.

I spent years knocking bits off my age. I was 42 for at least three years.

Then someone put an old school picture on Facebook and I was busted.

Nice while it lasted, though.

IT seems incredible that World War One  ended 100 years ago today.  I’ve never known a year where the personal testimonies of those who fought have seemed so vivid and their stories so resonant.

Perhaps it’s advances in technology that have brought to life so forcefully those who lost their lives decades ago. Or perhaps in order to move forward in these uncertain times we have realised we have to learn from the past.

Whatever it is, I predict a bumper turn-out at war memorials across the country.

First published in the Liverpool Echo, 10th November 2018.

Liverpool Echo

Blue Peter, 60 years of telly magic

WHEN I was little you were either in the Blue Peter gang or you weren’t.

And by being in ‘the gang’ I mean you were a fully paid up member of the sticky-backed plastic appreciation society. You knew what an Advent crown was, yearned perhaps for a Blue Peter badge and admired the sunken garden.

Crucially you did not watch Magpie. For Magpie was on The Other Side.

john noakes

It was unscripted, slightly improv and light years away from the ordered BBC world of John Noakes, milk bottle top appeals and Shep the dog.

Some have argued that this children’s TV split exemplified a class divide. That Blue Peter’s audience was made up only of kids who had parents who owned their own homes and who had shelves of classic children’s literature in their bedrooms.

Rubbish.

Blue Peter welcomed all kids from all backgrounds and still does.

It might have represented aspiration, though. My mum worked in a factory, my dad in Plessey’s. They wanted me to know there was more, to have more, than they ever did.

And BP, with its presenters off on summer expeditions and arts and crafts makes and guests who could talk about Egyptian mummies did just that.

The programme is 60 years old this week and it’s easy to look back on it all through rose-tinted spectacles.

Yet I would argue that production standards on children’s shows have declined.

From what I can see there are a lot of imports or repeats – perhaps inevitably as budgets are slashed – but surely kids deserve high quality shows here in 2018 just as they did in 1978?

We need to find the next Blue Peter. Government ministers are throwing cash at the project but it isn’t just about cash.

It’s about innovation and imagination.

And accepting that in the right hands even the wackiest of ideas – like a Tracy Island made empty toilet rolls, squeezy bottles and a dab of paint – can create telly magic.

MY husband has invested in a new doorbell which he proudly screwed into place one day when I was in work.

I came home, rang the smart new bell-push – and was treated to the chimes of Hakuna Matata from Disney’s Lion King. The next night he’d changed it – to Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid.

I think it’s hilarious. The kids are mortified.

And for that alone it’s worth the odd looks from the postman.

First published in Liverpool Echo, 20 October 2018