Thursday, 17 March 2016

Happy Returns

There's a great hoax doing the rounds on Facebook at the moment. It's a good one because it rings true - but it's not. It's a fake news report about a mother who sends invitations to her son's seventh birthday party, and includes the caveat that gifts must be worth a minimum of £50 because "I'm tired of buying nice presents for his friends and getting happy meal gifts in return!"

It's a spoof, of course. I was thinking about this because my daughter is turning thirteen. Thirteen! How did that happen? One minute they're chewing on a dummy, the next they're chewing you out for forgetting to wash their favourite shirt.

I've decided this is the last birthday party I'm ever organising for her. Trying to get her to decide how she wanted to celebrate was a monumental task. I presented several ideas, the response to which ranged from "Ugh," to "So-and-so's already done that," to a contemptuous raising of the eyebrows. Finally, my daughter graciously accepted my suggestion of a 'Pamper Party'.

There are various companies that will organise a pamper party for you in your own home. They vary widely in cost, but they do the same kind of thing; face masks, mani-pedis, nail art, head massage and make-up. The company I've hired is also bringing spa robes and a non-alcoholic cocktail fountain. They sound very efficient, and I have high hopes that while the girls are getting their nails done, I can spend the entire two hours upstairs in my bedroom with Netflix and a glass of wine.

The curious thing is how regulated birthday parties are becoming. The company I've hired, for instance, insists that all parents complete an online waiver  before they will carry out any treatments. I suppose this is to absolve them of responsibility if one of the kids goes into anaphylactic shock from the face cream. But it's not the first time I've been asked to sign a parental waiver for a birthday party. It seems this kind of red tape is becoming the norm.

Then there's the question of party gifts. I absolutely HATE party bags. I know they're seen as a nice gesture, and many parents do them as a thank you to the children who've come to their parties. But why? Are we really so achingly polite that we have to organise, host, cater and pay for a party, and then feel obliged to present gifts to people just for turning up? It's barking mad. So I don't do party bags.

But I'm far too much of a wimp to just brazen it out completely and send the kids home empty-handed. So I cheat, and buy them a single chocolate rabbit or small chocolate egg. Not a party gift, you see, but an Easter gift.

Next year I might add a caveat of my own to my daughter's birthday invitations. No presents required for the birthday girl. But her mother likes bath salts and oatmeal cookies.

Well, it's worth a try.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Tired Of Caring?

Seeing the images of riot police clearing away tents in so-called Jungle City made me think. How must those families have felt, having fled war and tyranny, only to end up in some miserable tent in the winter? Unable to go forward or back, desperately trying to reassure their children that everything was going to be okay, wondering what would become of them, and then suddenly finding themselves facing helmeted security officers tearing down their makeshift homes? Any parent would shudder at this scenario, suddenly being alone and helpless, with nowhere to go and no safety for their kids. And what they've left behind - endless bombardment, starvation, the terror of ISIS - doesn't bear thinking about.

But here's the thing. You talk about it long enough, think about it long enough, you start to lose compassion. In the TV News business, we call it 'care fatigue'. There's only so much sympathy you can have for the sad tide of refugees fleeing the Syrian War before you start switching the channel to another rerun of Friends

The problem is that this whole thing is unprecedented. Of course, all right-minded people want to help people in their hour of need. And Europe, by and large, has a good track record in giving aid and succour. But when the numbers become alarmingly huge, when there seems no end to the human wave arriving on her shores, even decent people start asking their governments 'what is being done about this?'

The answer appears to be, stop them getting to Europe in the first place. A solution anyone can see is too simplistic. The only way to stop people leaving Syria is to make Syria a place they want to stay. 

That's why the international community has to work harder to make the ceasefire stick. That's why all sides have to support the political transition that was part of the negotiated deal last December. Of course, the main superpowers US and Russia are both deeply suspicious of each other. But if they were the ones dealing with the unprecedented numbers of migrants, the Syrian War would very possibly be over by now (cynical hack alert). In the meantime, we mustn't lose sight of the fact that this is a human tragedy, and the vast majority of these people are deserving of our compassion.

On the subject of caring, I've found myself involved with two charities this week. Both are hoping for more publicity for their causes, and both are extremely worthwhile. The first is the charity of which I am a Patron, and have been for some time. Build Africa ( is working on a project in an area in Kenya badly hit by Al Shabab. The group has successfully ruined the local tourist economy, leaving hotels empty. With no jobs, many young women and girls are leaving school to go into prostitution to make ends meet. It's a grim tale, but one which can be ended through initiatives improving education and entrepreneurial skills.  

The second is a grass-roots project in Bangladesh to save the Bengal Tiger. ( Originally, ecology experts thought there were 400 of them left in the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans, now they've revised that to a mere 100. They could disappear altogether, and all because stupid people think tiger bones can cure illnesses or make your willy large. I'm talking to you, Mr Chinese Idiot. Tiger populations have been massacred because of demand from China. Get with the program: tigers cannot cure rheumatism or meningitis or malaria. Making wine out of powdered tiger bone will not help your ulcers or your erection. It merely confirms what a complete and utter moron you are. Sorry if this isn't politically correct, but then killing tigers isn't morally, ethically or environmentally correct.

So there you have it. Migrants, forced prostitution and tigers. My list of what we should be caring about. What are the causes close to your heart?