Back to school!

And so it begins. The weekend before returning back to school, the holidays have almost ended and I’m desperately trying to savour every last, delicious second of freedom, before we’re back on that hamster wheel, when real-life begins again. Over 20 years of teaching under my belt and the ‘fear’ is still there. I know I will not be able to sleep on Sunday and Monday night. A build up of nerves, apprehension and excitement. Wondering how on Earth I’m going to be able to fit back into the routine and discipline of being back at work again.

My daughters also have mixed feelings. They are looking forward to going back to school and meeting their friends, but a huge draw for them also is being with their new teachers. It’s so strange to be on the other side of the fence. Hearing my daughters chatter to each other about what their new teachers are like, and the excitement about building a relationship with someone who is going to be such an important figure in their lives for the next academic year. I know that if I say something to my girls, give them a golden nugget of information, they will listen politely and then perhaps forget or dismiss what I have said a few moments later. If, on the other hand, their teacher says exactly the same thing to them – they will absorb that pearl of wisdom with so much gratitude and love, repeating it to all and sundry.

Listening to my daughters reminds me of how important my role is in the classroom. It doesn’t matter how much other work I’ve got on, how much paperwork needs filling in, data that needs inputting, how many items there are on my never-ending ‘To-do’ list – my most important job is to be present for the children in my class. Not just teach them the curriculum. But to look after them. Listen to them. Notice if they are sad or upset, worried or nervous. Notice if they are tired. Listen to them reminding you everyday that it’s their birthday soon. Listen to what they did during their weekend. Notice if they’re worried about who they are going to play with at playtime or lunchtime. Because being a teacher in the classroom and showing children how to get better in their reading, writing and maths is only a tiny, miniscule part of the job. Actually, we nurture children. Make them believe in themselves. Make them understand that failure teaches us to get back up, dust ourselves off and try again. Teach them to work with different people. Get them to learn to articulate their points of view without being fearful. Make them understand that not everyone can be good at everything – we all have our own strengths – find your strength – you are important and precious, regardless.

On my third teaching practice, I worked in a beautiful, kind, warm, welcoming school. Every morning I would be excited to walk into the school building. The headteacher was always there at 7 o’clock in the morning and he would always walk into the school hall, set up a CD of calming classical music, and that would be the music I would hear as soon as I came into school. The music would get rid of nerves or anxiety that I was feeling and I would almost float into the Year 3 classroom where I was based. Every morning, the headteacher, would walk to every classroom and would wish every member of staff, ‘Good Morning!’, and his presence would always fill us with confidence that we would be able to deal with whatever challenges lay ahead.

There were 32 children in this class. All of them sweet and kind. In this particular class, there were two boys who were twins. One was a smiley, happy, chatty boy. The other brother was withdrawn. Unable to make eye-contact. He had a huge speech impediment and would not want to communicate with anyone. As was the custom on teaching practice, my job on the first couple of days was just to observe the children and learn from the class teacher about how she managed the class, and went about teaching things. The twins intrigued me though. I found myself watching the quieter twin in particular. He never appeared to listen to the teacher. His back was always turned and he would be playing with something in his hands. He found sitting up straight really difficult and would always be lying listlessly over his desk. In a world of his own…

If the teacher went over to speak to him, he would tiredly blink his eyes, as if he had woken up from a dreamless sleep and be completely unaware of what she had been asking him to do. During my break time, I asked my class teacher about him, and she explained that the two boys had been victims of sexual abuse since the age of 3 months. Both children had been removed from the horrific situation and were living with foster parents. Nonetheless, trusting adults, communicating with people, learning – these things were incredibly challenging for them both. What they both needed was an incredible amount of love, patience and understanding.

It means nothing really – but my heart broke for those two beautiful boys. I was probably only 20 years old and I wondered what type of monster could even think of harming babies? Anger consumed me. That was my first experience of working with children who had been hurt, abused, betrayed by adults. Sadly, it was not the last.

I knew from that moment though, that when I became a class teacher, when I was lucky enough to have a class of my own, I would do my best to make sure that the children in my care would feel loved, cared for and valued. But most of all – safe. That regardless of what else was going on their lives, aspects that I was not in control of – when they were with me, in our classroom, I would be there for them and they would nothing to worry about and nothing to fear.

I’m not 20 anymore – but I hold onto that feeling always. I love my job because I am working with the best people in the world – children. Life is so simple with children. They are idealistic – they care about the environment and justice and making the world a better place more than the adults who run the world. They laugh at the simplest things and can be so incredibly kind to others. When I was going through some incredibly tough moments in my life, it was seeing the children in my class daily that helped me heal and feel better again.

I’m aware that I sound as though I’m not bothered about whether children learn or not. Nothing could be further from the truth. Actually I’m passionate about education and learning, I’m living proof that if you work hard at school, then your life will change! But children don’t learn when they are in a state of fear, or in an environment of mistrust, when they are afraid to make a mistake. Children don’t learn if they feel that their teacher doesn’t like them, or doesn’t care about them. Children don’t learn, if they are not happy.

So, as I enjoy the dwindling moments of the summer holiday, I hope that the children in my new class have had a good summer and are looking forward to coming back. But most of all, my nerves, anxiety, fear is all tied up in a desperate knotted ball of making sure that I do my best for them – because that’s what they deserve.

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The Lion King

Last week, my brother was driving home from work and decided to call me up.

‘Hey, have the girls seen ‘The Lion King’ yet? If they haven’t, I’d like to take them.’

‘No they haven’t, that’s really nice. Of course, by all means, they’d love that.’

‘Ok, what happens if the youngest one cries – you know, when Mufasa dies…’

‘Do you want me to come too?’

‘Only if you want to?’

A few minutes later, all of us were going. A big, fat, Indian family trip to see the live action, 2019 version of the epic, ‘The Lion King’ at the weekend.

The Lion King isn’t an easy watch for me. A little cub, loses their strong, protective hero of a dad and spends the rest of his life missing him and seeking redemption. The reason why my brother felt that my youngest would cry, was because she did cry when we went to see the musical in the theatre back in December. During the interval, when we were queuing in the long queues for the toilet, she was inconsolable as Mufasa had just died – and the lights came up. It was more than she could bear. Surely that wasn’t how The Lion King ended? The father just dies? We go to the toilet? My brother’s fear of her becoming upset was founded in reality.

We walked into the theatre together, the children sandwiched in the middle, between their Mama (maternal uncle) and Nanni on one side, and my husband and I on the other. We all commented on how we’d never been to the cinema altogether like this before. It was nice. Popcorn and sweets in hand, we all settled into our seats. Eventually, after all the endless adverts and trailers, the film finally began.

The beautiful, spiritual strains of the choir singing in Zulu began their familiar chant,

‘Nants ingonyama bagithi baba’, which translates to, ‘There comes a Lion’.

I felt the familiar sensation of sharp tears pricking my eyes. The animals from all over the kingdom bowing down to their beautiful newborn prince, Rafiki holding Simba up on the edge of Pride Rock for the nation to see – and me knowing already that everything was going to go so horribly wrong. It took superhuman strength to fight those tears back. ‘You can’t cry yet!’ I had to tell myself!!!

No matter how stoical I was trying to be, there was a part when I completely lost it. And that was when Mufasa tells Simba to look to the night stars whenever he needed help. That Mufasa would always be there for Simba, he would never be alone. At this point, I could contain them no longer. The tears were unashamedly raining down my cheeks, I glanced over to my brother – and saw that he was crying too, which made me cry even more.

You might be thinking how pathetic, a pair of grown-assed people, crying at a children’s film like a pair of children themselves? Well, whilst Mufasa was reassuring Simba that he’d always be there for him, and to look to the stars…I was transported back 30 years, when my mother would be feeding my brother rice and curry, and my brother would ask where our dad was – and my mother would take him to the front door, show him the night sky and say in Bengali, ‘Look up there, you see the brightest star? There’s your father looking at you, he’s always there!’

My brother was only a baby at the time, I don’t know if he even remembered that conversation. But to me, it was as vivid and clear as though it had happened yesterday.

A little later on, towards the climax of the movie, Rafiki tells Simba that Mufasa is alive and takes him to the river – whereupon Simba looks into the river and realises that his father still lives – within him. Once again, a flood of tears flowed blissfully from my eyes, grateful to be released. Once again, I looked over to my brother who was bravely trying to contain himself – but fighting a futile battle.

The Lion King isn’t a movie that can be easily watched if you have lost your father. Every word, every sentence, every scene carries a huge amount of meaning.

The months and years after my father’s death were unbelievably painful. Our struggle as a family, the support that we had to give to one another, the fact that we had no one else to turn to – are days that I will never forget. Luckily, my mother was a fierce lioness who kept our ‘pride’ together and we emerged into strong adults ourselves. The dichotomy that we face is that we will be eternally grateful to God that we were given a mother like her, but equally devastated that our father passed away in such an untimely way.

I often think about my father when I watch my little daughters. I know he would have loved conversing for hours with both of them. My eldest, constantly thirsty for knowledge, he would be amazed with her determination and wisdom. My youngest, the cheeky little one, who I know would have him wrapped around her little finger and make him laugh all the time. How do I know this? Because I see how they are with their Mama, my little brother, and even though my brother never got to know my father at all well, I see that my father lives on, inside him. The pride and love that I feel for my own daughters, I know that he would have felt, as he lives on inside me too.

I’ve said this before in previous blogs but there’s never any harm in saying it again. The people who you love, never leave. They are always there with you, living on in your heart. Giving you strength and love when you need it the most. Sometimes reading a blog can remind you of that. Sometimes sobbing in front of a giant screen, watching The Lion King, can remind you of that also.

God bless.

History

My eldest daughter, and many other children that I know are absolutely obsessed with one particular programme – ‘Horrible Histories’. She watches as often as she can. Learning about gory and gross facts from different time periods in history. And she loves it. We were grocery shopping yesterday and told me how much she loves history. How much she loves learning about the past. I explained that history is also important so that we learn from the past – so we don’t repeat the same mistakes from the past. She nodded sagely and agreed with me…

In 2008, the double recession hit Britain – and I called it. I knew what was going to happen next. I remember telling people in the staff room of the school that I worked at, at the time. ‘You watch what happens now. People are going to lose their jobs. People are going to become unemployed. The recession was the fault of the bankers – but the politicians will start to stir hatred and discontent and blame one particular section of society in particular – immigrants. People of colour.’

I was right.

I mean, it wasn’t a mind blowing prediction, I’m not pretending that I’m some kind of Nostradamus! But this shit has happened before. Within living memory of some people. Nazi-bloody-Germany, anyone???? First there was a recession, then came discontent, then came the rise of the far-right, then came the ethnic-cleansing, the holocaust of the Jews. They were blamed for, ‘taking all the jobs’… sounds familiar? They were despised because of their appearance. Massive crowds gathered to hear the right-wing racists speak. Chanting in the crowds. Hatred rife. ALL WITHIN LIVING MEMORY!!!

I grew up in the 1980s. Racism was rife. I was happy at the very first infant school that I went to. My teachers and friends loved me. I had a good life. Which sounds hilarious, doesn’t it, as I was only 6 at the time. But then my parents moved house, I went to a different primary school – and that’s where I learnt that I was different. I was a person to be despised. On my first day at my new school, I was told a joke by a few boys who were in my class.

‘You know what my dad says,’ one of them began, ‘Pakis don’t come in tins, they come in hundreds!’ They all fell about laughing.

I was confused. I didn’t get it. What did they mean? I had just turned 7 – and I could see that I was in for a rough ride.

Luckily, I was academic. Luckily, I was good at maths, I was good at English, I was well behaved, so the teachers liked me. I didn’t react to the racists. To be honest, I didn’t know how to. So much of what they said, didn’t even make sense! I spoke to my mum and dad at home and they only had one bit of advice to give me. Work hard. Become educated. Get a good job. You will have to deal with this for the whole of your life because of the colour of your skin…

Things changed in the 90s. There was a shift. Racism was wrong. It was decided! It was not acceptable for people to be openly racist. Note – I’m being very careful with my words. It was not acceptable for people to make racist comments openly – they would be shot down by others. Other people of all colours would react and the racists would have to modify their behaviour. I loved the 90’s and the early naughties. To me it felt like a brave new world.

2019, on the other hand, is a very different beast.

We have the leader of the ‘free world’ actively goading his supporters to chant, ‘send her home’, whilst he basks in the glory of his power to send a crowd into a racist frenzy, to promote open hatred of minorities, his ability to say anything without consequence. This has had a butterfly effect all over the globe. Here, in the country that I love, once again I’m hearing about open racist abuse and attacks on people of colour. Particularly, focused on women. Groups of people, telling women of colour to, ‘Go back to where you came from’. The abuse that is being reported is from third generation British Chinese, or third generation British Asian women who are furious. This is their country. Imagine how much behaviour is being unreported by others?

Nobody is challenging them. When the women fight back, they are told to ‘calm down, it’s just a bit of banter,’ by other members of the public!!! What makes this worse for me is that I remember that things had got better, and the fact that as a society we are regressing, horrifies me. But the other part that breaks my heart – my daughters. They, because of their skin colour at some point are going to hear abuse like this. They are fourth generation British Asians – this is their country as much as anybody else’s. I don’t want them to be on the receiving end of the type of abuse that I received growing up, or that is happening right now to others.

Anyone who complains is branded as a snowflake. Abuse is passed off as ‘banter’. The attitude being, ‘if you don’t like it, you know what to do!’

Sometimes, when I think of the racists and racism coming out into the open, it reminds me of Harry Potter. When Voldemort comes back, rises to power again, the death-eaters reek havoc and the world is in disarray again. It reminds me of what is happening now, in our world. Hatred is on the rise and seems to be winning again. We know what happened in Harry Potter – we knew what would happen from the very first book. We knew Voldemort would be defeated. It was just a matter of time.

A matter of time. There are so many good people in this world, who are kind and caring and smart. If we can learn anything from history and anything from literature, it is that good will prevail in the end.

We, the good people in the world need to unite together. We need to rise against the hatred that is being spread by the right-wing figures in our land. We need to call it out.

Incidentally, there are some incredibly upsetting threads on twitter which highlight exactly what I have been writing about today. If you wish, please have a look, here are the links.

Meanwhile – take care of one another.

One Upmanship

Have you ever walked into a room, surrounded by many, many people, but felt as though you don’t belong? No one notices you, no one acknowledges you, you’re there – but you may as well be invisible. It’s too hard to walk up to people that you know, in one of the groups – what if they don’t want you there? What if they’re having lots of fun without you – you’ll just be ruining their fun surely? What if the reason that they’re enjoying themselves so much is because you’re not with them?

The times that you are surrounded by people can be the loneliest.

If you’ve never felt that way – be thankful. It’s an awful feeling. And the worst thing is – to admit that you feel this way from time to time – it feels as if there is a huge stigma attached to it. People are meant to be like wolves aren’t we? Survival is guaranteed if you’re in a pack – lone wolves – just how well do they fare on their own?

If you told somebody that you broke your leg over the weekend – they would be able to see the cast, they would see you painfully hobbling about, they would see you on crutches possibly. Because of all the visuals, most people would have empathy for you straight away. You’re in pain, I get it, let me help you, what do you need?

It’s nothing new, what I’m about to say, but I feel that it cannot be said enough. When people are going through pain internally, battling demons that no one else can see on a daily basis – they hide the pain, we choose not to see their pain – and we judge them. We are impatient with them. Their behaviour seems weird to us. Why? Because we cannot see their bandages, their casts, their crutches. They seem fine. And we judge them.

You want to know why someone is so messed up as an adult? Take a good look at their upbringing. Low-self esteem, low self-confidence, feeling unlovable, feeling uninteresting, negative body image, feeling stupid and unintelligent – so many of these issues stem from pain that people went through in their childhood. Each of those things – a huge demon that you constantly fight with every day – all because your primary care givers never made you believe in your self worth. They helped chip away at you everyday. Constant criticism of your intelligence, how uninteresting you are, not wanting to spend time with you, your unpleasing physical appearance… Yes, you may have been fed, clothed, housed, educated – but you have also been given shadows, spirits, invisible beasts that appear all too often to tell you how worthless you are.

No one can see them. No one can hear them. Only you.

Parents have a lot to answer for. I will say it. Parents have children – and they have a duty. I know this because I am one. It is my duty and my children’s right to be fed, clothed, housed, educated – and most of all, loved. I am not doing them any favours by spending money and time on them That is their right. It was my choice to have them. They deserve the best of whatever I am able to give them. They are the most precious people in my life. Why wouldn’t I let them know this? Why wouldn’t I praise their intelligence and make them feel incredible about themselves? Why wouldn’t I try to converse with them and make them understand that their opinions, their points of view, their conversations are interesting and matter? Why wouldn’t I praise how strong and beautiful they are? Why wouldn’t I send them out into the world, feeling equipped to take life on?

Too many people feel that they have no one to turn to – because that stems from their childhood. Parents not having the time to be interested in the little things that their children want to share with them. Their own worries and problems being all-consuming. These patterns that people fall into become habits. A little child tells you that they fell over and now they’re hurt. You don’t want to make it into a big deal, it’s not a major graze, you tell them to stop being silly, it’ll be fine. You go one step further, you tell them about a time that you were knocked over by a car and got hurt. That was serious! What they’re going through – that little graze – is nothing! The child skips away. You congratulate yourself on great parenting. You are a survivor, you were knocked over by a car, you were so brave, everyone told you so, and now look at you – a fully grown adult, with all kinds of responsibilities – look how far you’ve come.

You see the problem comes when a child’s issues, their pain is constantly dismissed by the people they love the most.

Oh you’ll be fine, that happened to me too and I’m alright!

Oh you’re always complaining about something, what is it? Nothing? Well it can’t have been that important then, can it?

You think that’s bad? Well, this is what happened to me and look at me, I’m fine!

The most incredible feeling in the world is when you meet people who actually see you. To whom you are no longer invisible. If you’re in pain, it matters to them. They want to help, they want to listen, they want to take your troubles away. They enjoy your company and like spending time with you. To them, you’re not boring and trivial. They quite like the way you look. And most important of all, they listen.

One upmanship on pain – on who suffered the most in their life is futile. Pain is pain. Worries are worries. You can’t compare one person’s plight with another. What we should do, as decent human beings is just listen to one another. Share our problems and worries – not make someone else feel that our issues are more serious than somebody else’s.

On Thursday night, I discovered that a good friend of mine, has cancer. Bloody cancer. I listened, let her talk. Talk through the shock of discovering what she had. The fears that she felt. The pain of having to tell people about her illness. Do you know what eventually brought a smile to her face? Listening to my woes – that paled in comparison to hers – but made her feel better because she had spoken to me about her troubles, and listening to my miniscule issues, took her mind elsewhere. Not once did she say, ‘Why are you worrying about that? At least you don’t have cancer!’

I think what I’m trying to say is that many people are carrying a huge amount of hurt and pain inside them, which could be alleviated if people simply took the time to sit and talk and listen to each other. Look out for the invisible people. The ones who look lost and simply need bringing into the fold. Make sure they’re ok. We complain don’t we, that the world isn’t a great place to live. People just aren’t kind and don’t care for each other anymore. Well, let’s try to be those kind, caring people ourselves. Not the ones who make everything about themselves. The ones who make others blossom in their presence. The ones who make other people feel like they matter. Then, who knows? The world might just start becoming a better place.

What we can learn from the Serengeti…

I was watching ‘Serengeti’ on BBC 1 the other evening. A wildlife programme about how the animals in the wild interact with each other. A lot of people hated it because it was edited to be more like a film than a wildlife documentary. I let the outraged keyboard warriors on Twitter, whose part time occupation is to be permanently angry, think what they like. I enjoyed it.

There were several parts that stuck with me. There was a lioness, Kali, who had given birth to cubs and was kicked out of her pride because the cubs had not been fathered by one of the males in her pride. As a single mother, she has to now protect her cubs and feed them, facing dangers all on her own. Another narrative was about a pack of hyenas who were led by a strong and intelligent matriarch – who sacrificed her life so that her daughter could survive. She then became the new, reluctant leader of the pack – cowering under the responsibility of this new role.

People’s criticism of the programme was that the ‘stories’ weren’t real. That it was the equivalent of a Disney programme because of the anthropomorphic nature of storytelling. I saw what people meant – but I took a different message away. I looked past the contrived nature of the programme. I looked past the anthropomorphism. What I saw was two mothers, fighting against all odds to protect their children. That much was true. That the instinct to protect the children that you have given birth to, is the most powerful instinct of all – regardless of whether you are a human or an animal.

You see, watching that programme I was thinking about the choices. Some people go through life thinking that they have no choice but to stay in the situation that they are in. Often they are bullied into believing that they are worthless, disgusting, disappointing – that their only option in life is to remain in a situation that is damaging to them.

Choices are more difficult to make when you have responsibilities on your shoulders. Children. Mortgage. Mouths to feed. Bills to pay. Not much money to play with. The fact that people in these circumstances stay and rise up to face their responsibilities full on, without backing down, without backing away – they feel that they have no choice. But the truth is – they do. They can walk away. They can lead their own life and do whatever they want to do. But the choice of doing that – and the consequences of what would happen, are unthinkable.

When I was watching ‘Serengeti’, two of the male adult lions were about to tear the tiny lion cubs apart. They had been fathered by another lion. They didn’t belong in the pride. A code had been broken. The mother, Kali, had a choice. Watch her children die, whilst she remained in the safety of the pride – or fight. As soon as she saw that her cubs were threatened by the menacing lions, she reacted with such ferocity – willing to fight both of the lions, willing to lay her life down for her cubs. It was a choice – but an instinctive one. One that she had no choice over. One that that she made before she could even think. By making that choice, she was exiled. Leaving the security of the pride, she had to leave with her cubs and survive – somehow.

We make choices in all aspects of our lives. The choice to remain in employment in places where we might be treated badly, unappreciated and undervalued. We sell ourselves the narrative that ‘it’s like that everywhere’. It’s not. You’re making a choice to stay in a situation that is destroying you. It’s not like that everywhere. You might tell yourself – it’s not that easy at my age to move on. Nobody else will want me. I’ll just see out my days here…. Well how do you know that? How do you know that nobody else will want your experience? How do you know that your personality isn’t exactly what somebody else needs? You’ve been sold a tale – and you’ve believed it. How do you know that’s true? Why do you accept that?

What inspired me whilst watching ‘Serengeti’, was the fact that within us all, there is a fight, there is a will to survive. There is a will to protect ourselves and those that we love.

Within the story of the hyenas, the matriarch sacrificed herself for her daughter. The daughter, Zalika, then had to step up to becoming the new leader – and to do this, she had to gain the respect of the pack by fighting against other predators and crucially, bringing back food for the pack. There was an opportunity for her to find food for her pack. However, she lost her confidence and let the opportunity pass by. As she was about to give up, she looked back at her pack, saw their eyes on her – understanding the responsibility that was on her shoulders, she went back and fought again to snatch the food away and was victorious.

Each of us, is the hero of our own story. We aren’t so different from animals in our need to survive. In our need to protect the ones we love. As you are the hero of your own story, behave accordingly. Don’t tolerate people putting you down, or treating you as though you are a lesser being. Don’t put up with being someone else’s second choice – and treating you that way. Move on. We lose confidence in ourselves – I know that better than anybody else. But that is a feeling that you have to fight against. We can never let ourselves believe that we don’t deserve to be treated well.

Finally, the most incredible thing that I saw was what happened when Zalika, the hyena, wanted to give up. She looked back and saw who was watching her. And that alone drove her forwards to fighting on. Think about who drives you. Who do you see when you look back and makes you realise that you can’t give up? Look at yourself through their eyes. How would they want you to be treated? Are you being treated that way? If so, wonderful.

If not, what are you going to do about it?

Saying thanks

I’ve never worked in retail before. I’ve not experienced working in a shop, dealing with the general public, working the tills, seeing different faces all the time. My job is very different, you work with a group of children, day in, day out. You help them to the best of your ability, you build relationships with them and their parents, at the end of the year, you receive lovely cards with extremely kind messages from both the children and the parents, sometimes gifts and you feel overwhelmed by the love that you were lucky enough to receive. People thanking you for doing your job.

Retail isn’t like that. Retail is a very different type of beast. And that’s only something that I learnt once I met my husband. My husband travels around the country, delivering training and providing further professional development to people in optics. He loves his job. He loves the travelling, going to new places, meeting new people, seeing people benefit from the help that he gives. But for years, he worked in a testing room – day in, day out, meeting patients, giving them the best service that he possibly could.

He talks about his work a lot to me and I like hearing about a world that I’ve never experienced before. One of the training sessions that he delivers to people is about communication with patients. In these sessions he talks about how it doesn’t matter what time of day it, whether it’s first thing in the morning, you’re feeling tired (you’re not a morning person, or you’re feeling under the weather, or you’ve had an argument with someone at home); or 15 minutes before closing time (you can’t wait to get home, you’ve got things to do, you’ve had a really hard day) and a customer has walked through the door to have a quick browse. It could be that you’ve had 3 customers complain on the trot, you’re short staffed and you’ve had the day from hell – the next patient/customer who walks through the door needs to be treated with the same courtesy, energy and enthusiasm as the first patient of the day. They deserve to be treated in such a way that makes them feel valued and makes them want to come back. Basically treat others in the way that you wish to be treated. It’s not hard is it?

It really resonated with me because I work with children. It doesn’t matter how I’m feeling inside – whether I’m angry or tired; whether I’m feeling heartbroken or ecstatic – I always try to treat them with care and consideration. It doesn’t matter how I’m feeling inside – they deserve to be treated fairly.

When he used to work in the testing room, I remember the number of times when patients had been so delighted with how he had helped them, my husband would receive letters and cards of thanks, emails sent to the customer care teams mentioning his care and professionalism. Boxes of chocolates, gifts for our daughters. People just feeling really grateful for the help that he had given them and wanting to show their gratitude somehow.

It always stayed with me, how happy he felt, just being recognised by someone for just doing his job the way it was meant to be done.

Obviously, before I met my husband, when I was out and about I would always recognise good service when I saw it. The people who go above and beyond to help you, and do it with a smile. It occurred to me that we are so quick to complain when things aren’t right, when we aren’t happy with the service that we have received. Why aren’t we equally as quick to thank people and give recognition to those who have done their job well? I suppose people do that in restaurants – the size of the tip that you leave is one way of showing thanks. Whilst shopping, I’ve now started approaching managers to let them know about members of staff who have been really helpful and courteous, I’ve started tweeting to publicly thank and show recognition for those who have been incredibly helpful.

Today there was an incident in a bookshop where I was served by an incredibly joyful, enthusiastic person, who knew their stuff and made time specifically to help me even though she was really busy with other customers. I thanked her, then spoke to her manager about what a delight that particular member of staff had been. I know this sounds incredibly corny but the manager became really emotional and thanked me for my feedback! She explained how refreshing it was to hear positive feedback because usually people only approached her for complaints. I could see the relief and happiness written all over her face, and I felt really emotional too. Which is what inspired me to write this blog. People shouldn’t only ever hear what they are doing things wrong. That is not the way we should be. We absolutely have to make the time to let people know when they have done the right things, when they got it right!

I don’t flourish in an environment where my faults are picked at and exposed all the time, give me praise and tell me what I’m doing well and I’ll work even harder and better for you. Children are the same. So why don’t we adopt that approach to all aspects of life? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t complain when things are wrong. What I believe is that the same amount of energy should be put into acknowledging people when they have done their job well.

Angels

Last month, it was my youngest daughter’s birthday so we had a party to celebrate. As the children were quite young, a few of the parents stayed to keep a watchful eye on their child, whilst others went and did the inevitable Saturday morning chores that everyone has to do. After all the running around, racing through the obstacles in the soft play area, dancing in the disco, taking pictures in the photo booth, it was time to eat. All the children settled down to tuck into the party grub. And that was when it struck me. I took a step back, looked around and was astounded at how many dads were there, all making sure that their child had enough food, making their children laugh by telling silly jokes and making funny faces, making sure that they were eating enough food, and swiping the food off their child’s plate to help them out. It was actually really beautiful to see. I mention it because a) normally, it is mothers who stay at the parties; b) a few years ago, you would not have seen so many dads be so ‘hands on’, in this fashion.

I stood there feeling happy that at least times are beginning to change. I imagined that a lot of the fathers standing there, making their children laugh, joking about, actually looking like they wanted to be there, not that it was a horrendous chore being at the party, were also the types of dads that would have helped willingly with the nappy changes, the night feeds, the endless sleepless nights. Whether that was reality or just my imagination running wild, of course I don’t know – but that was the impression I got anyway.

I often marvel at the way my husband is with our daughters. We might be watching a film, or a programme at night, deeply engrossed and interested. Suddenly, he’ll press pause on the remote, rush out of the room and race up the stairs to where the girls are sleeping. Why? He will have heard a noise (that I didn’t hear), and he just wanted to make sure they were ok. He takes pains to cook what they want; he spends time making them laugh and joking with them; nowhere is too far to drive or travel to take them to where they want to go. He’s the one that instils in them the drive that they should ‘never give up’. He tells them how strong they are and tries to instil the discipline of tidying up and putting things away. (That’s still work in progress by the way!) And they adore him. He’s the fun one that they want to spend time with. He’s the one that they want to rest upon and snuggle up to when we have ‘Movie Night’. He’s the one that they want bear hugs from, who lifts them up in the air and swings them around and up onto his shoulders, whilst they scream with delight. Do I feel envious of their bond? A pang of jealousy perhaps? Absolutely not. For me, there is no greater pleasure than watching the three of them together and I’m grateful that he is the way he is.

Those of you who read my blogs all the time, know that I write about this a lot – but my father passed away when I was 11 years old. You never recover from something like that. Never. I would always watch other fathers with their daughters, and it would feel like someone had placed huge bricks of concrete on my heart. The pain would feel as if I was being crushed. Unbearable. Of course, I just got on with life. You don’t concentrate on your pain, you concentrate on the tasks that lie ahead of you, you get things done. You feel like you’re coping, you feel like you’re getting on with things, when suddenly – BAM! The smallest thing might happen and the pain resurfaces, as raw as ever.

I remember when I was about 14, I had a dream that my dad hadn’t really died. In all the years that have passed, that was the only dream that I’ve ever had about him, so I remember it vividly. Honestly, it was like watching a film from the 1970’s, it had that type of filter, he was wearing a dark chocolate brown waistcoat, over a long sleeved white shirt, with brown flared trousers. We were on a bright, white yacht, sailing on the sea, my dad and the rest of our family, and he explained that he was sorry that he had had to fake his own death, but he had had no other option. We were all going to sail away together to start a new life somewhere else. I woke up convinced the dream was real, he was alive, everything else had all been a terrible nightmare… Of course when I realised that everything was still just as it was, I was devastated all over again – but a part of me was so happy that even for a few seconds, even though it had been a dream, seeing him again had felt so real – I hadn’t lost him after all. A part of him was there with me…and always would be…

I believe there have definitely two times in my life when either he, or another angel was there to look after me when I could have possibly died – or at the very least, been badly hurt.

Once, was when I had just passed my driving test, and was driving back home one evening. I was extremely confident and cocky about my driving skills, driving faster than I should have been, braking later than I should have been. Overestimating the control and capability of myself and my mother’s ruby red Ford Escort, that she would let me drive. So there I was, driving a lot faster than I should have been, approaching the roundabout that people often call the ‘Ribbon roundabout’ in Coventry, due to the sculpture of a huge blue ribbon, in the middle of the huge, grassy mound. A nod to the days when Coventry was a famous ribbon making city. I could see that the traffic was slowing down, but I foolishly maintained my driving speed. All of a sudden the car in front of me, which had seemed quite far away, came to a abrupt stop – but I was still hurtling towards it. I panicked. My heart was thumping. My palms were sweating. My breathing, fast and shallow. I don’t know why but I closed my eyes. I was convinced. This was the end. I was going to smash into the car in front of me. I pressed the break pedal with my right foot – but I felt it go down deeper, much deeper under my foot. The only way to explain it, was that it felt as if the brake pedal had a mind of its own. It had gone down much further than I had pressed it because by this time, panic had made me lose a lot of the strength that my legs normally possessed. The car had miraculously come to a halt. Tentatively, I opened my eyes. My car had stopped just in time, and the traffic was moving again. With so much gratitude in my heart, I drove home safely – and have been a careful driver ever since. I know many of you won’t believe me, and a lot of you will scoff – but I know that I wasn’t in control of the car when it managed to break without hurting anyone. I was just immensely grateful to be alive.

The second time – and this one – I can’t believe that I made it out of the situation unhurt and safe – I was at the Pool Meadow bus station in Coventry. It was a Sunday night. I was a student at the time and I was returning home after a friend’s wedding that had taken place in Wolverhampton. I had had a terrible time getting home. I had caught a train from Wolverhampton to Birmingham New Street, but there were only replacement bus services to Coventry. I arrived at Coventry station quite late, but felt really unsafe as there were no members of staff around, and there were a huge number of unsavoury types, who were clearly drunk, yelling aggressively at each other, I knew I had to get out of there. There was no real time to use the phones at the station to let my mum know the change of plan. She had been due to pick me up at about half past 9 from the station. Another woman, who could see that I was feeling distressed said to me, ‘I’ve ordered a taxi, jump in with me and get off at Pool Meadow, you’ll be safe there.’ I was so grateful to receive some kindness when I was feeling so frightened and vulnerable, I immediately agreed.

Her cab arrived and we both got in. I realised my mistake as soon as sat down and the doors were closed. She knew the cab driver. They were arguing. My brain just shut down. My head ached. I was so tired. I just wanted to get home. Why had I got into a car with a complete stranger in the first place? She began asking me questions and I answered mono-syllabically, trying to muster the calmest and friendliest tone that I possibly could. Carefully, I scanned the route that we were taking – hoping desperately that the roads were leading to Pool Meadow. When we finally got there, I thanked the lady and the driver and ran out of the car as fast as I possibly could. Racing into the station, I hunted for the telephones. There they stood, in the middle of the empty, deserted station, a cluster of phones that would let me hear a friendly voice once again. I grabbed the receiver of the nearest phone, shoved in some coins and tapped the buttons to call home. To my relief, my brother picked up the phone, he relayed the message to my mum that I needed to be picked up from Pool Meadow now. She leapt into action, and I continued to talk to my brother. Whilst on the phone, I saw a figure, not much taller than me, walking towards me. It stopped directly behind me. I turned and saw a man, with a strange look in his eyes, staring straight at me. ‘I have go to now,’ I whispered to my brother, as I placed the receiver back on the hook. I remember hearing him cry, ‘Wait! What’s the matter?’ But there was no time to explain. I knew I was in trouble. I looked at the man, straight in the eyes – then I heard a clatter on the floor. I looked down. By his feet, there lay a kitchen knife. The type that you use to chop vegetables and cut meat. I looked back at him. Everything happened in slow motion. I grabbed my things and ran to the nearest door. I didn’t scream. I couldn’t. I didn’t look back. My arms and legs felt like lead. I wasn’t running fast enough, I couldn’t make a noise. I needed to get out. Outside to safety- where I would be able to breathe again.

I reached the door, pulled it open, saw some cab drivers and stood hovering near them. I couldn’t tell them what had happened either. My mind couldn’t quite process what had just happened. A man, with a knife, had been standing behind me. His knife had dropped – and I left. What if the knife hadn’t clattered to the floor? What if the echoes of the sound hadn’t reverberated around the hall? What if I hadn’t run away fast enough? What if? So many what ifs? Eventually, my mum’s pulled up to pick me up and I sobbed all the way home. Not able to speak. Unable to explain what had just happened. All I could think was – I could have died. But thank God, I didn’t.

Several months later, after I was able to process what had happened, I realised how incredibly lucky I was. I was grateful to God, to the angels who are there to protect you, to my Dad, who I felt was always there looking after me. I don’t know who saved me, who protected me, or what forces were in action to save me on both occasions. All I know that I was blessed and incredibly lucky to come out unscathed on both occasions, and that it makes me feel comforted that even though he physically isn’t here anymore – perhaps my father played a part in making sure I was safe and ok, just as he would have done, had he been alive today.