children

A Little Pixie Dust

"All children, except one, grow up."

A classic and inspired opening line from one of the best loved children's stories of all time.

Yes, today I'm talking about 'Peter Pan'.

Not just the Boy who Wouldn't Grow Up but the book, and the play and the man who created him - J.M.Barrie.

Full disclosure here  ... I am an avid reader of classic children's stories. I have a good collection of them, some of which I read first as a child and some which I re-read over and over, always finding something new in them every time of reading.

Yes I know many of the books I love were written in a different time, and maybe some might say that they are not as 'relevant' to the young generations that have come along since they were written, but what I love about these tales is that they are often beautifully crafted, invariably include fantastical storytelling and they have the ability to transport me into another world.

As a would-be children's author (I'm still working on it by the way) I recognise now that I was probably born in the wrong time, because these days to be a children's writer I guess one needs to be more 'edgy' than people think the writers of yesteryear were.

Except that it's all relevant. In their time, many children's stories DID speak into issues and situations, including social issues,  and sometimes challenged them, albeit subtly. And many of them are just simply about human nature and those values which, I hope, we will all want to treasure regardless of the times.

Peter Pan coverWhich brings me to the story of Peter Pan, which is really partly about 'youthful innocence and escapism'. Peter is a mischievous, free-spirited, rather cocky and careless boy who doesn't want to grow up. He is determined to be independent but it's only when he meets a girl called Wendy and her brothers that he gradually realises that love is also part of the human equation. I don't know about you but that's a lesson lots of us can learn, whatever era we live in!

These days the story of Peter and Wendy and their adventures in Neverland, the fairy Tinkerbell, the Lost Boys, the ghastly Captain Hook, are all well known to us through numerous interpretations, including in various movies and cartoons down the years.

Although J.M. Barrie created Peter early on, he really made his first main public appearance in a play ...  Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up ... which debuted at the Duke of York's Theatre in London on December 27 1904 - interesting because stage productions of Peter Pan are often now associated with the Christmas period and the pantomime season, at least in the UK. Peter Pan first page

In 1911 the story of Peter and Wendy began to reach a wider, worldwide audience when it was reworked as a novel with that classic opening line.

My treasured copy of the story, which I picked up years ago in an old book shop, was first published in 1951 and at the start of the book there is this inscription ...

Do you know that this book is part of the J.M.Barrie "Peter Pan Bequest"? This means that Sir J.M.Barrie's royalty on this book goes to help the doctors and nurses to cure the children who are lying ill in the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London

And this is what I love most about Peter Pan. 

SO much has been written about Peter, Wendy, Neverland, the dog nurse Nana, the whole 'cast' of the play and the subsequent stories, books and movies,  J.M. Barrie himself and the children who so-called 'experts' reckon Peter and his characters were based on.

J.M.Barrie is best known for Peter but he wrote so much more, including many plays and stories which address social concerns. And I love the fact that in 1929, Barrie assigned the copyright of the Peter Pan works to Great Ormond Street Hospital, a leading children's hospital in London.

I understand the copyright status is unclear these days because Peter Pan is now generally in what is called 'the public domain'. Original copyright in the UK ran out on June 19th 1987, the 50th anniversary of Barrie's death but that was later extended to another couple of decades, and there have been some developments since in other parts of the world. But that doesn't take away from the fact that down the years GOSH has benefitted greatly from the 'Peter Pan Bequest'.

I know Great Ormond Street Hospital a little, having visited to report as a journalist and in a personal capacity with loved ones, and they do amazing work. It's a hospital dedicated to the care of children and it IS a very special place where children are at the centre!

So today - as we mark the day in 1937 that J.M. Barrie left this earth - I was trying to think of a way to celebrate him and his most well known characters. And I found this quote and this image ...  which is just inspiring. 

Whatever we 'believe' in, we all need trust and faith, if only in those around us. And a little of 'pixie dust', even if not scattered by Tinkerbell herself, helps us to dream and create a little bit of magic for ourselves and others.

I Love It!

Peter Pan quote


Musical Memories

I'm not a classical music buff, and not particularly knowledgeable either. 

I like a bit of Beethoven and Mozart and a few other random composers but I have a lot to learn about that musical genre that we now call 'classical'.

But there is a piece of music that I love and which has specific memories for me.

In the Hall of the Mountain King - GriegIt's a piece of orchestral music called 'In the Hall of the Mountain King' by a Norwegian composer called Edvard Greig, who was actually born on this day - June 15th - in 1843.

It's from a wider composition or Opus called 'Peer Gynt' which was written for a five act play created in verse by another famous Norwegian - the playwright and  dramatist Henrik Ibsen.

'Peer Gynt' is thought to be based on a Norwegian fairy tale, and it's about a boy called Peer Gynt who was a rascal. He stole things, played tricks and never helped his mother. He was disliked by all who met him.

One day he went to a wedding and met a beautiful girl called Solveig. He fell in love and was determined to marry her, but Solveig's parents knew Peer's reputation and sent him on his way. Heartbroken, he left his village because he couldn't bear the thought of seeing Solveig knowing she could never be his. He ran into the mountains where he could be alone and that's where his adventures began. 

Peer arrived at the castle of the Mountain King, where disgustingly ugly trolls caught him and took him to the king, who was furious that someone had entered his domain.

But he liked the look of the young man and when Peer persuaded the king that we wanted to stay, the monarch was happy for him to remain in the mountain kingdom so long as the young man marry his daughter. Although she was beautiful, she was not a patch on Solveig, and anyway in order to marry her, Peer was told he would have to be transformed into a troll - one of those mythical Norwegian/Scandinavian creatures that is generally unfriendly and even thought in some cases to be evil.

Peer decided he did not want to be a troll and he made plans to sneak off when it was dark. Before his escape he stole jewels from the king, filled his pockets and ran. However, the troll guards heard him, and he was chased and surrounded. The stolen gold and jewels were discovered and he was dragged back to the castle where he was kept in prison until he agreed to marry the king's daughter, Anitra.

That's just part of the story but it's one that sticks in my mind.

And that's because I learnt about it in school.

I clearly remember my teacher, Mrs Jones, playing us the music that Grieg composed in 1867 for Ibsen's play, and telling us the story of Peer Gynt. Then we all had to draw pictures from the different scenes in the story and I remember drawing one - very badly because I am and never was an artist - of Peer in the Hall of the Mountain King and being chased by the trolls.

That must have been fifty years ago or thereabouts but still I remember that lesson or series of lessons. The story of Peer Gynt fascinated me then and it still does now. I didn't realise at the time what an iconic piece of music 'Peer Gynt' is ... listen to it below and you may recognise it.

But on this day as I think about that piece of music, and the man who composed it, I also remember Mrs Jones.  And thank her, all these years later, for opening another door into the world for me.

There are a few teachers I remember from my school years but not all!

Some teachers just have a knack of bringing subjects to life. They are often not appreciated by their students or even the wider world, and some rarely receive the recognition they deserve.

So today I say thank you not just to Mrs Jones, but to all the wonderful engaging teachers past, present and future. You may not think you're making any impact at all but there again you may be creating memories that last a lifetime for your students.

Meanwhile, here's that piece of music that inspires me ...

I give you Edvard Greig's 'In the Hall of the Mountain King'....

Enjoy!

 

 

 


Somewhere Over the Rainbow

It was back in 1939 that the world got to know a certain young actress, singer and dancer who would become one of the most famous women in the world.

Judy Garland was born on this day - June 10 - in 1922 and she had already been on the stage for many years, as a child star on vaudeville, before she starred in The Wizard of Oz,  a musical based on a classic children's book called 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' by the author L. Frank Baum.

Baum actually penned 14 Oz stories plus 41 other novels, 83 short stories, over 200 poems, and at least 42 scripts - a prolific writer. I've read some of the Oz stories and if you've never done so, its worth it. But as I was investigating him, I discovered that actually some of his works were rather 'prophetic'. He apparently wrote about future inventions like television, augmented reality, laptop computers (in his novel entitled The Master Key), wireless telephones (Tik-Tok of Oz), women in high-risk and action-heavy occupations (Mary Louise in the Country), and much more.

The_Wonderful_Wizard_of_Oz_first_edition_cover'The Wizard of Oz' is, of course, a fairy tale about the adventures of a young farm girl named Dorothy Gale, played by Judy Garland in the movie. She and her pet dog Toto venture into the magical Land of Oz after they are blown away from their home in rural Kansas by a cyclone.  It was first published in  January 1901, and the book has become one of the most loved and best-known stories in American literature. The Library of Congress has even declared it "America's greatest and best-loved homegrown fairy tale."  By 1938, when the film was in production, it had already sold a million copies. And it's success has gone from strength to strength, being translated into many different languages.

'The Wizard of Oz' movie - the original - is one of my favourites. As a child I loved it's excitement. Would Dorothy ever 'get home'? And I loved its tension - the Wicked Witch of the East who is killed when Dorothy's house falls on her, and the Wicked Witch of the West who plagues her for much of the story. 

As an adult I watch it and read much more into its narrative twists and turns. Our longing to be safe and 'home' and to appreciate what we have there, without perhaps having to travel far to find happiness and fulfilment and friends. The 'evil' that may be around us and how we need to gain the courage to fight against it.

And, of course, I loved the music in the movie with original score by Herbert Stothart. The film was nominated for  six Academy Awards, including 'Best Picture', but lost out to another brilliant classic 'Gone with the Wind'. But it DID win 'Best Original Score' and 'Best Original Song' for  "Over the Rainbow" - sung at the start of the movie by Judy.

I love the sentiment of this song. We all dream and wish and hope for 'something better' don't we? But as the movie unfolds, we learn that sometimes our dreams and hopes and wishes are all right here, right where we are. We just need to learn to cherish and appreciate what we have.

Today, enjoy this excerpt from the movie and what I think is one of the most perfect songs ever written...sung by one of the most brilliant performers the world has ever seen.

 


The Bare Necessities

One of my jobs at BBC Radio Jersey is to co-ordinate and produce what we call the 'Morning Thought'.

It's broadcast at around 0640 every morning ... so it is a bit early for a lot of people ... but it is surprisingly popular, as anyone who has contributed to it may tell you. Many a vicar, church minister or leader or individual who's done a recording have told me that after their 'morning thoughts' have been transmitted they will get people saying 'heard you on the radio!'

Each 'thought' is only about two minutes in duration and it's just an uplifting thought to help ease people into the day. It's sometimes spiritual but not always. We feature people of different faiths, and topics like fair trade and peace, and charities who are maybe marking a significant anniversary or a special week. 

The contributors usually record in advance (rather than getting up at the crack of dawn) and since the start of the coronavirus lockdown, when the Radio Jersey studios have been closed, they've been unable to come in to record. But they've been wonderful because they've all learned to record at home on their phones and tech devices, and email the audio to me, after which I'm able to edit and make it ready for the Breakfast Show.

Why am I telling you this?

Well it's because on Monday this week, our morning thought was about the importance of friendship. And our contributor, a great guy called Graeme who leads a church in Jersey, started with one of my favourites songs from my childhood.

Back in the early 1970s I was at boarding school in Kenya. It was one of those schools that had 'houses', Everyone was in a 'house' and there was a system of rewards and punishment for good stuff, or bad things, we did. Points added to the house tally if you did something amazing, points deducted if you stepped out of line. So what you did wasn't just for YOUR own glory, but for the general benefit of the whole house. And if you stuffed up then it wasn't only YOU who suffered but all the other kids in your house. It helped to bond us together, and made us realise the need for corporate responsibility. Oh and of course, it helped to encourage us all to behave ourselves and it kept us all in line. 

If you know the Harry Potter books, you'll know all about this. 'Ten points to Gryffindor for...' or 'Twenty points taken away for...' 

At the end of the year at one particular school I attended, the house with the winning number of points got a treat ... a chance to see a movie!

I'm sure you get where I'm going with this now. One year my house won the house cup and we all sat down one afternoon to watch 'The Jungle Book' ... the animated movie which had been released just a few years earlier, in 1967. And yes, I really AM that old!

I loved it! I've seen it numerous times since that hot afternoon in the school hall, with black out curtains keeping the sunshine out, and I never tire of it. The tale of Mowgli, the little boy brought up in the wild with his band of animal friends. Based on the fabulous collection of stories by Rudyard Kipling, one of my favourite authors and poets!

As I said, for his Monday 'morning thought' for BBC Radio Jersey, our Graeme was thinking about friendship and he took as an example those friendships in 'The Jungle Book'.

And at the start of the piece he actually broke into song and gave us a little rendition of one of the most popular songs from the film - 'The Bare Necessities'.

It's a great tune with fantastic words. and it's sung by the big bear Baloo and Mowgli 

Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
That's why a bear can rest at ease
With just the bare necessities of life

It's hard to 'forget about your worries and your strife' I know, but actually there's something in this song about just trying to keep life simple.

But the real reason I'm talking about this is because ever since I heard Graeme singing that song on the recording emailed to me, it's been going around in my head, like an earworm. Now, don't get me wrong, it's not a bad song to have constantly in my brain, but I figure if I share it with you here then I might get it out of my system.

Or maybe not.

 

PS - if it's now in YOUR head, sorry. But hope you enjoyed it!


Mothering Sunday

New Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (2)So today in the UK, the British Isles and many other English speaking nations is 'Mothering Sunday'.

Otherwise known as 'Mother's Day'.

If you go to any card shop you may be hard pushed to find a 'Mothering Sunday' card ... but sometimes they are there, if you are eagle eyed. I know because every year I rummage endlessly through the card racks to find one.

My Mum loves a Mothering Sunday card.

So given that not many people call it that, you might be wondering about the title of this blog and the picture.

Well, it's because the day was called 'Mothering Sunday' LONG before people started calling it 'Mother's Day'.

The history goes back to the Medieval times in Britain, to the Middle Ages. 

The fourth Sunday in Lent, 21 days before Easter Day, was also known as Laetare Sunday, or 'Mid-Lent Sunday' and it was a day when Christians could have a break from the fasting which was required during the Lenten season, the preparation for the holy festival of Easter. So it was a bit of a celebration day. The faithful were encouraged to make it even more special by attending services at their 'mother church', the place of worship where they were baptised. That might have involved travelling home for the day. 

In the Middle Ages, the Mass or church service on that fourth Sunday in Lent included several references to mothers, and so the day became one also to celebrate not just the 'mother church' but mothers in particular.

The tradition of coming 'home' to church on this day lasted for centuries. By the mid 17th century this annual journey had become known as 'mothering'. And traditions developed down the years. Mothering Sunday became a day when servants, especially those working in domestic service in big houses, were given this day off to go home to see their mothers and family members ... and attend church, of course.

From 1908 in the USA a 'Mother's Day' was introduced as a way of honouring motherhood, although this was being celebrated on the second Sunday in May. And in the UK, perhaps not coincidentally, something called the Mothering Sunday Movement was created in the UK in the early years of the 20th century, to try to revive the importance of the day.  

By the 1950s Mothering Sunday was being celebrated across the British Isles and the Commonwealth, still on the fourth Sunday in Lent, and that's where it remains to this day.

But increasingly, the day has lost it's spiritual context and the American influence means it's now almost exclusively called 'Mother's Day' ... hence my annual rummage in card shops.

And like in the USA, the day has become more and more commercialised. Cards, flowers, chocolates and other treats are bought in vast quantities. Lovely, but expensive.

Nowadays, including in the church, the day has also become a time not just to celebrate people who are actually  'mothers' but those who are mother figures and it's sometimes also a general celebration of women and their achievements.

While Mothering Sunday and Mother's Day is a lovely day, it can be hard for some people. Those who yearn to be a parent, to give birth to their own children but have been unable to do so can find the annual celebration of 'mummies' really difficult. For those who have lost babies, even many years ago, this can be a very sad day. It can be a very poignant and painful day for people who've lost their mothers, and those who didn't have a strong and loving mother figure in their lives.

It's a complex day and I try never to forget that.

But today, if you'll let me I will just take a moment to thank my own Mum ... the best mother in the world.

On this Mothering Sunday I thank God for her. I thank her for all her love and for the many sacrifices she made for me and my brothers, and for just being an inspiration to me.  And I just want to say ... 

I love you Mum!


Being Dennis (the Menace)

 

Dennis the menace

Who knows who this is?

If you were (or still are) an avid reader of  'The Beano' comic you might recognise him?

It's Dennis the Menace!

The mischievous little boy with, it has to be said, a bit of an evil streak. He gets up to all sorts and unlike many anti-heroes, he doesn't really get any better as time goes on. He is just Dennis.

Why am I remembering him today?

Well, it was on March 12th 1951 in the UK that the long running children's comic first featured the little boy with the devilish grin and the catapult. The comic came out a week later on March 17th ... but it was today that history began. Well,  Dennis the Menace history anyway.

I loved the Beano, and other comics actually, not just for the jokes but also for the cartoons - not just Dennis, but also 'The Bash Street Kids', 'Minnie the Minx' and 'Billy Whizz', with the fantastic quiff of hair.

And the great thing is that The Beano is still entertaining kids today. Published by DC Thomson in Dundee in Scotland, the comic first appeared on 30 July 1938 - it's now more than 80 years old but Dennis is still Dennis. Sort of.

His name of his cartoon strip has changed a bit over the years ... 'Dennis the Menace' to 'Dennis the Menace and Gnasher' (his dastardly dog) and now to 'Dennis and Gnasher'. By the way, did you know that Gnasher apparently is an 'Abyssinian wire-haired tripe hound' ? No, me neither. You learn something new every day.

The idea of an archetypal naughty schoolboy who gets into all sorts of trouble and causes mayhem especially for the adults around him is, of course, a winner for a comic strip. It's what all kids want to do but mostly feel they can't - right? It's escapism, pure and simple.

Down the years, there have been TV shows and films about Dennis, but you might have noticed that usually the little lad is not the dark haired broody chap we know here in Great Britain, but an angelic looking blond kid, who is nevertheless as mischievous as our Dennis.

Dennis usaWell that's because in the USA, Dennis IS an angelic looking blond kid!

He ALSO appeared for the first time on March 12th 1951, in newspapers across the USA. Originally the comic strip was distributed by a company called Post-Hall Syndicate and today it's distributed to at least 1,000 newspapers in 48 countries and translated into 19 languages by King Features Syndicate. It's why the cartoons and TV shows and movies generally feature the little blond version of Dennis.

But weirdly, although Dennis the Menace appeared for the first time on exactly the same day on both sides of the Atlantic, there was and is NO connection.

How spooky is that?

It seems that creative people on both sides of 'The Pond' were having almost identical ideas about creating a boy character with mischief on his mind, at the same time! Plus, the name apparently was independently conceived based on different personal experiences. Ok, so the word 'Dennis' lends itself to rhyming with 'Menace' but I still think it's a bit freaky that different cartoonists came up with the same concept independently. 

That aside, on this auspicious Dennis the Menace Day, I wanted to leave you with a quote from the boy himself.

I've no idea which version of the Menace this is attributed to or whether I need to say it in an English or an American accent, but when I looked online for 'Dennis the Menace Quotes' THIS is what popped up.

And I love it. 

A little while back I blogged about just being yourself and not being forced into anyone else's mould. and this quote in the same vein. 

Dennis is just Dennis, in the UK and in the USA (and around the world now). He's just Dennis, even though that's a bit naughty, disruptive and hilarious. And he works hard at remaining Dennis and not becoming someone else, despite the pressure - in his case, to conform and behave.

So this Friday ... I don't know about you, but I'm going to think about being the best ME that I can be!

 

Dennis the menace quote

 


Choose to Challenge

Today is International Women's Day. It's a day to support and celebrate women's rights. Not that we shouldn't do that EVERY day but it is a good thing to have ONE day at least when the world comes together to celebrate the achievements of those of the female gender and to think about what we all might do to help ensure girls and women gain the equality they deserve.

Iwd hillary clinton quoteIt's also a day to encourage girls and women to believe in themselves, to believe that they have as many rights in life as anyone else to follow their dreams no matter how big. I love this quote from Hillary Clinton ... it says it all I think! Even if the world around you is telling you that you are second class, all girls and women are deserving of the same chances as boys and men. And we all not only have the right to dream, but to make those dreams come true.

In 2021 this might sound a peculiar thing to say, because in many cultures women have equality with men across the board ... don't they?

Don't they?

Well, perhaps in many countries women do have equality, even in law, but that doesn't mean females get equal treatment and are considered equal by everyone. And we do know that there are many cultures still where women ARE treated as second-class citizens and girls still don't have the same chances as boys. There are still communities where girls are not allowed to go to school, where some are held back from school because they need to be at home to help the family - collecting water, looking after siblings. There are some cultures where girls are married off to older men even before they are teenagers, effectively ending their childhood. There are still places where women do much of the work in the community, as well as taking the lion's share of family responsibilities and child care, but are excluded from decision making and leadership.

And that's just for starters!

Today International Women's Day has become increasingly about standing up for women's equality and challenging the norms of society which keep women and girls subordinate.

And this is interesting because that's where IWD began back in the early 1900s, when women's inequality and oppression was beginning to result in more and more women fighting for change. 

The campaign for women's suffrage - the right of women to vote - had actually begun in the mid 19th century, with corresponding advocacy for economic and social as well as political equality. But by the early 20th century not much progress had been made and there was growing unrest and debate. Women still felt largely oppressed and they became more vocal.

In the USA in 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights and the following year the Socialist Party of America declared February 28th as the first National Woman's Day (NWD).

In 1910 there was big conference in Copenhagen in Denmark -  the second International Conference of Working Women - and it was there that the idea of an International Women's Day was mooted. The conference was attended by over 100 women from 17 countries and the idea was approved.

Although the USA marked their National Women's Day on the last Sunday in February for another couple of years, in 1911 International Women's Day was marked for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, on March 19th. On that day, more than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women's rights to work, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. And the right to vote.

As the world stood on the brink of global conflict which we now know as World War I, Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on February 23rd in 1913 - again the last Sunday in February. At that time, Russia followed the Julian calendar while most of the rest of the world used the Gregorian calendar where that day equated to March 8th. Hope you're keeping up with this.

Anyway, it was at this point that discussions began to try to align everyone to celebrate on the same day and it was agreed to mark International Women's Day every year on March 8th.

In 1914, women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the impending war and to express solidarity with women across the world. In London a women's march resulted in the arrest of suffrage campaigner Sylvia Pankhurst as she made her way to speak to the large crowds in Trafalgar Square.

Although women remained passionate down the years, it was not until 1975 that the United Nations celebrated International Women's Day for the first time. Two years later, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by nation states, in accordance with their individual national and historical traditions.

Moving into the 21st century and by the year 2000 unfortunately there was little appetite for or activity in most countries for International Women's Day. The world had moved on from the years of 'feminism' and in fact that concept was now a bit of a dirty word. But still the world was not equal. Women were still being treated differently, including being paid less than men and given fewer opportunities in many areas of life. 

So it was that in 2001 a website called www.internationalwomensday.com was launched, with the aim of reinvigorating International Women's Day. Today the site provides help, resources and guidance to all those campaigning for better equality between the sexes, and more opportunities for women and girls across the world. Every year there are different themes which sum up some of the challenges facing women across the globe, and call us to action. Some of the themes have included #ChooseToChallenge #TheGenderAgenda #EachforEqual #PledgeforParity #PressforProgress #MakeItHappen ... you get it right?

In 2011 the centenary of International Women's Day was marked across the world, and in the USA, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 2011 to be "Women's History Month", calling on Americans to mark the day and to reflect on "the extraordinary accomplishments of women" in shaping the country's history. Which brings us to Hillary Clinton, who was then US Secretary of State. She launched the "100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges".

Down the years, there's been a substantial change in attitudes to International Women's Day. There has been sign up from many international groups working with girls and women, lots of charities and business organisations now organise events and many business leaders and celebrities actively support the day.

In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother's Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers, and the day is officially recognised and celebrated in many countries around the world, including some where gender equality is still not a given.

Because although many people, including from younger generations who didn't live through the years before Gender Equality legislation, might think that the battle is won, there is still much to be done. Women are often still not paid the same as men doing the same job. Women make up at least half the population of the world but we still don't have equal representation of females in politics and the business world. Many women choose to create their own businesses rather than enter the male dominated business world. Around the world, as I said at the start, girls are often disadvantaged for cultural reasons. They experience inferior health and education, and violence against women and girls is often worse than against men and boys.

Today we are encouraged to not just act locally but also to think on a global level and to try to make a difference, and not just on International Women's Day.

But what might that mean for us? Might it mean stepping out of our comfort zone? Not just accepting the treatment of others because it doesn't affect us personally?

This year's campaign theme on International Women's Day is #ChooseToChallenge

We might not march like those women in 1908 and in 1914. We might not get arrested as Sylvia Pankhurst did, just for deigning to speak up for the rights of women.

But we can CHOOSE to celebrate the achievements of women. We can CHOOSE to challenge inequality and unfairness when we see it and help create a more inclusive world.

And, as it says on the International Women's Day website,  today maybe we can all spend just a few minutes in reflecting how WE might be able to do our bit "to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding".

We might not feel we can make much of a difference on our own, but two voices are better than one. A thousand voices are better than a hundred, and a million voices, all challenging the status quo where women and girls are still not given the opportunities they deserve, could change the world.

And you don't have to be female to take up the challenge. It's something we can ALL do!
 

 


A person's a person, no matter how small!

Here are some lines you might recognise if you, like me, have been a reader since you were very little.

"The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play, so we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day. I sat there with Sally. We sat here we two and we said 'How we wish we had something to do.'"

Or how about this? 

Do you like green eggs and ham?
I do not like them,
Sam-I-am.
I do not like
green eggs and ham.”

The cat in the hat bookcoverYes, opening lines from two children's classics - 'The Cat in the Hat' and 'Green Eggs and Ham'

By 'Dr Seuss'.

Admittedly, if you're my age, you're more likely to know the name and the books if you were brought up in the United States of America, but nowadays Dr Seuss is globally popular not just for the books (he wrote and illustrated more than 60 books under that pen name), but also because of the cartoons and films that have brought the author's incredible imagination and creatures and thoughts to life over the decades since he first put pen to paper.Green eggs and ham book cover

'Dr Seuss' was actually a chap called Theodor Seuss 'Ted' Giesel, who was born on this day - Mach 2nd  - in 1904.

He wasn't just an award-winning world renowned children's author and poet, but also an illustrator, animator, filmmaker and political cartoonist. And by the time of his death in September 1991, his many children's books had sold over 600 million copies and been translated into more than 20 languages.

Horton hears a who book cover

'Horton Hears a Who' (published in 1955) is one of my favourites - the story in rhyme of Horton the Elephant and how he saves Whoville, a tiny planet based on a small speck of dust, from the evil animals who mocked him. 

The most popular line from that book is "A person's a person, no matter how small" - it's just so profound! Dr Seuss isn't just about fun, there's usually a moral in there somewhere too.

And how about 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas!' ? That one was published in 1957.

All written by Dr Seuss! NOW do you know who I'm talking about?

As was/is the case with many successful authors Ted Giesel's first efforts as a children's writer - a book called 'And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street' - was rejected by many dozens of publishers. But just a few years later, by the time of the outbreak of the Second World War, he was beginning to become quite successful. During the war he supported the US war effort and made a name for himself as a filmmaker. One of his war documentaries inspired a film called 'Design for Death' (1947), a study of Japanese culture - and that picked up an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. A couple of years later in 1950, a film called 'Gerald McBoing-Boing', which was based on an original story by Seuss, won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

Such a brilliantly talented person!

Dr Seuss was also at the forefront of the movement to get children reading. In 1954, a report was published in Life magazine highlighting illiteracy among school children in the USA. It concluded that kids were not learning to read because their books were boring. The director of the education division of publishers Houghton Mifflin, William Ellsworth Spaulding, compiled a list of 348 words that he believed were important for young readers - first-graders - to recognize. Spaulding asked Ted Geisel to cut the list to 250 words and to write a book using only those words.

The result was 'The Cat in the Hat', which uses 236 of the listed words.

Astonishing!

Seuss' books, his words, have certainly got children reading down the years. Just as JK Rowling got a generation at the end of the 20th century picking up a Harry Potter book, Dr Seuss' creations have inspired millions of young readers. 

Down the years Dr Seuss picked up many an award, and even a special Pulitzer Prize in 1984, for his "contribution over nearly half a century to the education and enjoyment of America's children and their parents".  He even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and although he passed away in 1991 he remains one of the highest paid celebrities and authors. 

But I think it's his ability to engage children with words and to encourage them to read, opening up their imaginations to a world of possibilities and to laugh out loud, shed a tear or two and empathise with others, that is his greatest legacy.

So, with that in mind, I'll leave you with a brilliant quote from the amazing man called Dr Seuss.

Cat in the hat reading

 


Symbols of Hope

Have you had your vaccination yet?

If you're a person of my age, that's a question you might be hearing or reading quite a lot recently.

And right now, in my case, the answer is - NO!

My age group hasn't yet been invited to have the Covid19 jab and I'm not vulnerable and I don't have underlying health conditions, so I've not been called early to our local vaccination centre at Fort Regent overlooking St Helier in Jersey.

Here we're getting on famously with the rollout of the vaccination against this awful virus, and I expect to have my jab probably sometime in the next six weeks. Although we all know that it won't cure COVID, it will protect us against becoming ill and hopefully, prevent more deaths.

The world is pinning its hopes on the various forms of the coronavirus vaccines which have been developed over the past year, to ensure we can go back to a sense of 'normal' sometime in the future. It won't kill off the virus because most experts predict it is here to stay, and it won't mean those of us who are vaccinated can just pick up our old lives without thought of risk in the future.

We will still need to wear masks, sanitise our hands, and I reckon social distancing is probably here to stay for a long time. And it's not just about us, it's about the rest of the world. Until the vaccine is shared with poorer nations and we all have an equal chance to benefit from it, the world will still be constantly on the brink of outbreaks, lockdown, restrictions.

These are extraordinary times but are they 'unprecedented'? I haven't the time to go into it in detail here, but in the course of human history there have been many 'unprecedented' times. Many epidemics and pandemics, many diseases which were the scourge of humanity not just for one year, or even decades, but for centuries.

On February 23rd 1954 a group of schoolchildren in Pennsylvania, USA, were the first group of people to receive injections of a new vaccine against a disease which has been around since pre-history.  However, it was in the 20th century that major outbreaks and epidemics began to emerge.

That disease is poliomyelitis - polio. Click on the word if you want to find out more about what it is ... but in short, it's an infectious disease which can in very rare situations cause death, in many has no effect and in others results in long term ill-health, paralysis and disability. It spreads from person to person through infected human faeces or saliva and it's been around for thousands of years. We know this because there are historic depictions of the disease and it's debilitating effects in ancient art.

However, it wasn't until the late 18th century that polio was recognised as a distinct condition. And the virus that causes it ...  the poliovirus ... wasn't identified until 1900.  Since the late 19th century there had been major outbreaks in Europe and the United States  and the race was on to try to identify this disease which in the 20th century became of the most worrying childhood diseases. You only have to look at old films and read history to see the way polio devastated lives. One of the images ingrained in my mind is that of the 'iron lung' - one of the symptoms and effects of polio is paralysis of the lungs, so these massive contraptions helped people to breathe.

Polio outbreaks blighted the first part of the 20th century. The most famous victim of a 1921 outbreak in America was future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) who at the time was a young politician. The disease spread quickly, leaving his legs permanently paralyzed.

The rapidity with which the coronavirus vaccines have been developed has been astonishing. In the past, this took many years of research and tests and trials and in the case of polio it wasn't until the 1950s that the first vaccines were developed by various virologists and medical researchers.

In the late 1940s, President Roosevelt helped to create an organisation by the name of the March of Dimes, to find a way to defend against polio. They enlisted Dr. Jonas Salk, head of the Virus Research Lab at the University of Pittsburgh. Salk's research resulted in the discovery that polio had as many as 125 strains of three basic types, and that any effective vaccine needed to combat all three. Little by little, by growing samples of the polio virus and then deactivating  or “killing” them by adding a chemical called formalin, Salk gradually developed a vaccine which was able to immunize patients against polio without danger of infecting them.

And it was that vaccine developed by Jonas Salk that was used during that first mass anti-polio vaccination of the children from Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on this day back in 1954.

As with the current situation, there wasn't just one vaccine being developed. Soon after that first trial, another medical researcher, Albert Sabin developed an oral vaccine against polio ... and this is the treatment which is credited with having made the difference to the spread of polio in the second half of the 21st century.

This vaccine, which is a drop on a tongue, is the one most commonly used. I remember as a little girl queuing up in front of a school nurse and having a little drop of something bitter on my tongue. I didn't know then that this was protecting me from paralysis and disability. 

Not everyone was so fortunate. I have a couple of friends who were infected as children and have ended up with physical disability - it usually affects the legs. I feel fortunate that I was born post 1954 when vaccines were available.

Yet the availability of a polio vaccine did not eradicate the disease immediately, or even within a half a century. Polio is still around today and it's mostly in parts of the world that are poor and disadvantaged, and where there is still conflict.

In recent decades there's been a real effort to try to eradicate the disease, led by the World Health Organisation. If polio is completely eliminated, it would be the second disease after smallpox to disappear from the face of the earth.

In 1988 when the WHO initiated the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, around 350,000 children a year across the world were being paralyzed by the polio virus. Back at the beginning of the 21st century the WHO was reporting that the number of cases diagnosed each year had been reduced by 99.9%.  In 2016 polio numbers had been driven down to 42 cases across the globe.  

The multi-billion dollar global effort to eradicate polio is concentrated on children and among those who embraced this campaign more than 35 years ago are the members of Rotary International. 

Their 'Purple for Polio' campaign involves giving the polio vaccine to children across the world.

Why 'purple'? It's because every time a child receives their life-saving polio drops on mass polio immunisation days, their little finger is painted with a purple dye ... this shows they've received their polio vaccine.

Crocus polio 1I've sort of got involved in the campaign over the past years. I've interviewed local Jersey Rotary members about it on the radio and I've been to celebrations, and I've bought and planted purple crocus corms which about this time of year are beginning to pop up across the island, and in my garden!

As the campaign has developed, it has come down to just a few countries where polio is still 'wild' ... including Pakistan and Afghanistan. There, poverty and conflict mean that clinicians often can't get into isolated rural communities, and sometimes prevailing cultural and even religious beliefs prevent the population embracing the treatments or even allowing the medical professions in to host those mass immunization days. It's slow progress in places like this.

Unfortunately during the coronavirus pandemic, where travel has been so restricted, cases of polio have started to rise again. Last year more than 200 cases of wild polio and around 600 cases of the vaccine-derived form of the disease were registered. According to news reports, most of the vaccine-derived strains of polio are in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but rogue strains of polio also emerged across sub-Saharan Africa, Yemen, Malaysia and the Philippines.

So there is still much to do! It might still take a while, but across the world there are those absolutely committed to seeing an end to this terrible disease which affects not just individuals and their futures, but families and whole communities.

We're not quite there yet, but the signs of the purple crocuses springing up in my garden, and across Jersey, are symbols of hope.

 


Keep Looking Up

Wisdom comes in all shapes and sizes, but not always from holy scriptures or experts who have studied to PHD level or who have all the experience in the world.

So how about this for a thought for today?

 

Snoopy keep looking upProfound eh?

And that's from a dog!

The dog is Snoopy, and if you're not already aware of it, he's the companion of a certain Charlie Brown,  a little boy who is 'loveable loser'  - he's meek, not that self-confident and is of a nervous disposition. He's pessimistic quite a lot, but also sometimes optimistic. He worries about the day and all the things around him, and other times hopes for the best and tries desperately to make good things happen.

Charlie Brown is puzzled by Snoopy and some of the slightly weird things he gets up to, but he looks after him, and does his best to provide his dog with a happy life. And in response, Snoopy is always there for Charlie when he gets let down or needs support.

I've always felt a bit of an affinity with Charlie Brown, even though he isn't a real person, but a cartoon.

He's the central character of the Peanuts comic strip created by Charles M Schulz, who died on this day - February 12th - in the year 2000.

'Peanuts' had first appeared in print in USA newspapers on October 2, 1950. It shows the world of a group of young children. Adults are barely heard, but woven into the comic strips are some very adult themes like philosophy, psychology and sociology. There's some deep stuff in Peanuts and it's characters, even things that could be interpreted as 'spiritual' if not 'religious'.

Take this Snoopy quote for example - 'Keep Looking Up... that's the Secret of Life'.

Now, as a person of faith, what I get from those words is that I need to keep looking up to the Creator, for inspiration and motivation.

In the Old Testament in the Bible, in Psalm 121, we are encouraged to look up to God for all our needs. I particularly love the translation of this psalm from The Message translation:

I look up to the mountains;
    does my strength come from mountains?
No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains

He won’t let you stumble, your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.
Not on your life! Israel’s Guardian will never doze or sleep

God’s your Guardian, right at your side to protect you—
Shielding you from sunstroke, sheltering you from moonstroke

God guards you from every evil, he guards your very life.
He guards you when you leave and when you return, he guards you now, he guards you always

Don't you love that? We're not on our own. We just need to look up, not to physical mountains, but even higher, to put our trust in God.

But the Snoopy quote an also be interpreted in a different way. If we are constantly looking DOWN, physically, we will never see the potential of what isn't yet here, what might be open to us. We will always be just concentrating on where we are, now, and not looking forward.

See what I mean? There are so many different ways of looking at life through the eyes of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the gang. Maybe you may interpret this Snoopy Saying in a way that rings true with you and your life?

The final Peanuts comic strip was published on the day after Charles M Schulz died. On February 13th 2000 the 17,897th-and-last instalment appeared in newspapers around the world.

But that wasn't the end of Charlie Brown and his world. The comic strips live on, there are TV cartoons and movies, and images of him and his quotes and those of Snoopy and the other Peanuts kids all over the internet. They are icons of our time!

Hope charlie brown

We all need friends and we all need hope if we are to live life well. 

Charlie Brown had Snoopy ... who do you have?

And are you, like Charlie, always seeking the hopeful path? 

Are you looking UP or always looking down?

Maybe worth thinking about?