After 10 long years I’m finally in heat

I know some people simply don’t have the time for the likes of Heat magazine. In fact, they’ll make a great show of haughtily flapping their broadsheets right in your face and declaring that your IQ is bound to have dropped several points just by picking it off the shelf.

I’m not one of those people, I love Heat. Don’t know why, I just do.

Admittedly it may not have the editorial content of The Independent, or offer an in-depth analysis of world events – much beyond weight gain, wardrobe malfunctions and celebrities who can’t make up their mind who to date. But that’s the whole point of a magazine like this.

It isn’t meant to replace ‘The News at 10’ or ‘Question Time’ and it never claims to help improve your exam results or boost your earning power. Rather, it’s half an hour of total escapism every week – and, if we’re all honest, an opportunity to reassure ourselves that those celebrities who ‘have it all’ often don’t.

Because, whilst the average reader may not have the fame, fortune or enviable shoe collection of most of the people featured week after week, at least us unknown, relatively broke, Louboutin-less readers are safe in the knowledge that we won’t be photographed nipping out to Tesco in our ill-fitting tracksuits, with hair that looks like an unwashed birds nest and eye bags down to our cheekbones. And we won’t make the headlines when we meet, marry and divorce in the time it takes a normal person to draw breath. And we won’t cause a national panic because we lost a bit of weight, or god forbid, ate too much for lunch.

So I reckon that magazines such as these actually work as a rather handy and incredibly cheap form of therapy for Joe Public. They give you a glimpse into the sort of lifestyles most could never hope to afford – unless your mum was a Rolling Stone groupie and you’ve just found out you can move like Jagger – and then show you that the grass isn’t always greener in La La land.

And it’s for that reason – and the handy TV guide – that I have been buying Heat since Issue 1. Now, 12 or so years on, having produced 2 children, lived in 3 continents and survived one life crisis after another, I’ve carried on buying it every week. And yes, I still have a go at my husband if he dares flick through it before I’ve read it cover to cover.

Granted, I often feel like I’m on the wrong side of 30 for the fashion spread and technically I guess I’m also old enough to have given birth to some of the Torsos of the Week, but what the hell. All those years of trivia and escapism haven’t done me any noticeable harm and I’m pretty sure my IQ hasn’t diminished over the last decade – and if it has, I’ll put that down to having children.

So all of that said, it would be something of an understatement to say I was a tad excited to open Heat this week and see I’d finally won Letter of the Week – I think I might actually have let out a squeal. So overcome was I with shock that I immediately had to call my husband (who totally understood my joy) and my sister, who initially thought I’d won the lottery.

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It’s a funny thing that after all these years of writing, having published a book, kept countless clients happy with copy and received fairly respectable hits on my blog, it’s having a letter printed in Heat that really makes my day. And winning the prize of course…

Now not that my 25.5 seconds of fame have gone to my head, but just in case a member of the paparazzi has driven down the A11 by mistake and is currently ambling around rural Norfolk looking for a way back to civilisation, I think perhaps I’ll make the effort to brush my hair before doing the school run later today.

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Do record GCSE results mean kids are getting cleverer?

All morning news has been coming in that it’s been yet another record-breaking year for GCSE results. In fact, the pass rate has risen for the 24th consecutive year since the exams were first taken in 1988. Why does that not come as a surprise?

No disrespect to all those happy teenagers (mainly girls it seems) who are currently basking in the glow of their multiple A* passes, but these ever-improving grades simply show that surely exams must have got easier over the last couple of decades. It’s either that or kids are getting brighter year-on-year, and let’s be honest, why would that be very likely.

You only have to hear many of them speak – or not, as the case may be – to know that this is not a generation where all teenagers come with a staggering IQ or an unusually high grasp on politics, current affairs, the English language, history, world geography or even basic common sense. But this is hardly surprising.

Generation Y is one that has grown up with a rather unhealthy obsession towards body size, fame, fashion and endless low-life celebrities. It’s a generation who seems to believe that 5 minutes of fame on the TV or a few hits on YouTube will automatically equate to a gilded life free from work. It’s a generation who spend 99% of their time physically attached to a mobile or laptop and experience genuine withdrawal symptoms if unable to access Twitter or check their Facebook feed. It’s a generation who have all but obliterated good grammar and basic spelling from the English language, just to ensure it’s quicker and easier to text.

So when those in charge of all things ‘education and exams’ rubbish claims that exam questions are being dumbed down and expectations lowered, or in the case of  Andy Burnham – Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary – claim that “Exams are not getting easier; young people are working harder than ever before” you know it’s all a load of tosh.

Go back 20 years and those sitting GCSEs – the incredibly smart kids included – simply weren’t achieving the ‘record breaking’ 13 A* grades that so many now seem to get. So does that mean we were all dimmer back then or just didn’t try quite so hard? Hardly. If anything we had far more time on our hands to get the work done and a lot more motivation to pass.

We were a generation without celebrity lifestyles to emulate and affordable fashion to religiously follow. We were a generation without mobiles, computers, social networking and trash TV. We were a generation who knew that the only realistic way to earn any money once leaving school was through plain hard work.

And on top of all that, the subjects that we had to study were restricted to the traditional (harder) academic ones such as foreign languages, science and humanities. Of course we may not have actually enjoyed these subjects we were forced to choose from but at least we all covered the basics: the monarchy that shaped this country; the wars which changed the world; the geological forces that formed the planet; the human biology that keeps us reproducing; and those all essential language skills which enable us to ask directions to the nearest railway station when lost in La Rochelle.

Today students are turning their backs on these subjects. Why? Because they find them ‘boring’ and ‘completely irrelevant’. The truth is they also find them a little bit too much like hard work. After all, why waste your time learning about rivers and volcanoes or trying to memorise the periodic table when instead you can pass the time getting better grades in music, drama and P.E? Nothing against those subjects I hasten to add, but at school we covered them in addition to our other lessons, we didn’t plump for an ‘A’ in recorder and a ‘B’ in advanced trampoline.

Of course those in charge of ‘education and exams’ will once again claim these vocational subjects are more geared up to the job market today. But how can it be better to miss out on so much? If students aren’t learning a broad range of subjects at this age how can they possibly emerge into the workplace with a well-rounded education?

Surely that’s the whole point of school isn’t it? As far as I was aware, all those years spent stuck behind a desk were never intended to be a walk in the park or as enjoyable as a day out at Alton Towers. School was meant to be a place where children filled their sponge-like minds with as much information about as many things as possible, not to mention learn that sometimes in life you just have to do things you don’t always enjoy. But obviously I’m well out of touch with the whole point of  education today.

Yes it’s true that I’ve probably forgotten all of the German and much of the French I learned, and I’m sure I probably yawned my way through 100’s of years worth of mind-numbing historical facts. I certainly hated chemistry with a passion and maths sure as hell hated me. But regardless of that, or whether any of it has been relevant to my adult life, I still had the opportunity to find out a little bit about everything.

So it does seem a great shame that traditional subjects such as English, history, geography and science are being ‘dumbed down’ and so many schools are not even offering core subjects anymore, let alone encouraging students to give them a go? Because let’s be honest, there’s no point studying drama, media studies or sociology at GCSE level if, when you then open your mouth as an adult, you have absolutely nothing of interest to say – or think that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1966 and Asia is a small island located off the south of France.

Obviously there’s no disputing there are countless students who worked like demons and deserved the high grades they received. Or the exceptional clever clogs who passed maths at the age of 6. Or the many great schools which produce brilliant results. But what about the others – the majority that make up the rest of the exam entrants?

There are 10’s of 1000’s of kids who don’t bother listening in class and plenty more who don’t bother showing up until the day of the exam? There are kids who, through no lack of effort on their part, just don’t make the grade. And let’s not forget the huge numbers of badly performing schools which apparently produce consistently poor results year after year?

If GSCEs really are as tough as ever how on earth is it possible for nearly a quarter of all girls sitting exams this year to have been awarded an A, not to mention the 1 in 12 who are also expected to also earn a coveted A*? Doesn’t really add up to me, especially when the average exam-sitting teenager I come across these days seems more interested in straightening their hair, updating Face Book and completing a 140 syllable tweet.

Hopefully next year things will change as the Government look to introduce the English Baccalaureate – a school ‘leaving certificate’ that rewards children for gaining at least a C grade in the five disciplines  of English, mathematics, science, foreign languages and humanities.

The bite-sized modules that pupils can re-sit to boost their overall grades in favour of traditional end-of-course exams will also be abolished and, more worrying for pupils who live to text, those taking English language and literature will now be penalised by as much as 12% for the grammatical errors they make.

My grammar probably isn’t what it should be, but here’s a couple of helpful hints for those currently ploughing their way through endless poetry or The Catcher in The Rye: ‘8’ (as in gr8 or h8) is not an acceptable replacement for any vowel and writing ‘bcoz’ probably won’t win you any brownie points.

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Naming & shaming those UK Rioters

Now that the testosterone levels of the country have fallen slightly, the fires been put out, burnt cars towed away and countless broken windows swept up, the true price of these riots is plain to see.

In total 5 people lost their lives, including a man found shot in a car in Croydon and 3 men who were hit by a car in Birmingham. The latest death was that of pensioner Richard Mannington Bowes, who received critical  head injuries when he was attacked in the Ealing riots on Monday night. Like the 3 other men in Birmingham who were trying to protect their neighbourhoods when killed, Mr Bowes was attacked simply for trying to stamp out a fire. Yes, it’s enough to make your blood run cold and boil at exactly the same time.

The last week has all been about identifying, hauling in and prosecuting those horrible specimens responsible and the whole spectacle has certainly made for some interesting viewing, or at least a glimpse of some of the countries worst parents. Many have stood outside the court, effing and blinding at the press and declaring Thug Junior and Minni Oik to be a ‘misunderstood’ little angel in Adidas.

The mother of the 11-year-old who stole a £50 waste bin from a trashed Debenhams store – the youngest looter to be prosecuted – swore and yelled abuse as she left court. Not a shock this one, considering his dad was only recently released from prison after serving time for theft. Mouldy apple didn’t fall very far from that rotten tree did it.

But there is now a glimmer of hope for the country following a long and very depressing week: some parents of underage looters are happy to shop their own kids to the police.

One such mother, on spotting pictures of her 15-year-old son trying to prise open shutters of a shop in Salford, was so disgusted with his behaviour and no doubt horrified that her own sprog was capable of such violence, that she promptly frog-marched him straight down to the police station and handed him over herself. Another father said that if his son had done the crime, then he deserved to have the book thrown at him and would have to deal with the consequences of his actions.

Now that people are being rounded up and marched through the court system at quick speed, what’s alarming to hear (aside from the fact that so many were children) was that many of these looters held positions of responsibilities within their own communities: a care worker with a 2-year-old child of her own, a postman, a lifeguard, an aspiring social worker and a teaching assistant. Heck there was even a ballerina twirling her way through the streets and a millionaire’s daughter running around filling her Louis Vuitton swag bag with stolen electrical goods, cigarettes and alcohol worth £5,500.

Photos of looters have already been posted online and in some city centres so the public can help police identify them. Perhaps however, just to drive the message home a bit more,  the police mug shot of every person charged should be posted (along with their name and a list of the items they took) up on big notice boards around the towns and areas in which they robbed.

Given that these yobs have all desperately tried to shield their identity from the cameras (and their parents) while scuttling in and out of court, I’m sure they wouldn’t appreciate being quite so publicly named and shamed.

So just to set the ball rolling, here are a few for the Hall of Shame – and what a bloody dodgy lot they all are! Perhaps if they were going to steal from shops they should have stopped off at Boots first to pocket some soap, a scrubbing-brush and a comb.

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Spare the Rod? No, bring back hardcore discipline.

More outbreaks of thuggery took place last night and even more juvenile delinquents were out swarming through the streets like a plague of locusts, looking for a free pair of trainers, a new flat screen TV, or in the case of some, bags of Basmati rice and a wooden rocking horse.

TV? New Mobile? Designer Trainers? No, let's take the rice.

Many of these masked and hooded looters were only in their mid teens, but some of them were as young as ten. Yes, that’s ten. As in should be at home and under the constant supervision of an adult.

Quite why a child of this age, or even those of 14 or 15, are allowed to be roaming the streets with nothing but violence on their minds is a mystery to any parent who has even the tiniest bit of control over their child’s whereabouts.

But many of these parents I guess are too busy blaming the government and those who pay their taxes for the shitty life they feel they have, not to mention the disappearance of their ‘Layabout Allowance’ and ‘Dysfunctional Benefit’. The ones that are paid with those taxes.

So it’s not a great surprise they probably wouldn’t have noticed or batted an eyelid when Thug Junior and Minni Oik got down from the table without saying ‘Thank you’ and skipped off into town to hurl a couple of petrol bombs and rob a few shops.

Now I’m well aware that I exist in a totally different world to the one in which many of these rioters live, and for that I’m very lucky. Well actually that’s not true. It’s not all down to luck is it. Potentially the fact that many generations of my family made an effort to listen and learn at school and worked bloody hard once they left had something to do with it. There were certainly no silver spoons being shoved into any of our mouths as babies and no titles or inherited wealth to rely on.

One massive difference that’s very apparent between our 2 worlds is a small matter of discipline, something that these feral little rats out there have obviously never encountered.

Go back a generation (in most parts of society at least) and there was a little something called respect. Respect (mixed with a helping of fear) for teachers, parents, the police and anyone with authority really. And unlike today, where these yobs think they ‘deserve’ respect from everyone and their brother, children back then accepted, or were at least resigned to the fact that respect was something you were given as you grew up and earned it.

When I was at school (a good one admittedly) we didn’t really do anything more rebellious than carve our initials in the desk or pass notes. We were expected to stand up when a visitor entered the room and wouldn’t dream of addressing a teacher by anything other their correct name. We had to keep our socks pulled up, our mouths shut in lessons unless asked to speak and our grubby little feet off  ‘Central Hall Carpet’ – which we did, even though we felt it was a pointless rule.

So discipline was pretty much a given and the punishments for misbehaving ranged from being hit across the hands with wooden rulers, smacked around the face (unacceptable even then but it still happened) whacked with a cane, made to stand outside the classroom, being sent to see the head, given detention or being suspended and, in the extreme cases, expelled.

These days (at some schools) it’s the pupils hitting the teachers with rulers and fists, throwing books at each other, threatening violence if they don’t get their own way, leaving the classroom when they feel like it or simply not turning up to school in the first place.

And why do they act this way? Because they get absolutely no structure, guidance or discipline at home either. Some parents just don’t seem to care that the only qualifications their vile offspring will earn are an ASBO and a criminal record, or that the only lessons in life they’re learning are how to get free handouts for doing bugger all.

These riots are down to ‘poverty’ and being part of a ‘suppressed and ignored society’ these angry hoodies all say, but this is a little hard to take seriously when they’re out on the loot dressed in £100 designer jeans and organising the nightly violent get-togethers on a £300 smart phone. They really need to look up the definition of  ‘poverty’ in a dictionary, but apparently Waterstones have been left well alone, so that’s not likely to happen.

It’s also rather funny how these kids openly resent everyone in this country who works hard to earn their money, yet they idolise soccer players who earn in excess of £100k a week and rap stars who wear diamonds in their teeth and blow a years worth of benefits on one bottle of Champagne. This sort of wealth is OK is it?

So can the actions and shocking attitudes of this apparently ‘lost generation’ all be blamed on the area in which they may live, the state of the economy, the government in power, the high unemployment figures, the state of the education system and a society as a whole that seems to treat celebrity, material wealth and overnight fame as the Holy Grail? No, I really don’t see how they can.

There may be many problems in this country, but none of them can be used as justification by this small group of pathetic individuals who are rioting for fun, stealing for kicks and destroying countless livelihoods and homes because they think they can.

And if all of these reasons above were the only thing to blame, then every child from a single parent family at a badly performing school in a deprived area would be out on the streets. But they’re not are they. The majority are at home with their parents being disciplined, trying hard at school and going on to achieve something with their life.

So in answer to those who are now wondering if it might just be down to a generation of parents being a little too soft on their kids, the answer is yes, of course it bloody is.

These pint-sized hoodlums need to face the consequences of committing this sort of crime. They don’t need a caution, a slap on the wrist or even an ASBO, they need old-school, hardcore discipline. So never mind ‘Spare the Rod, Save the Child’, some parents need to start using sharp sticks and electric cattle prods to get their unruly brats inline.

Teaching children the art of play

Not that many years ago, a child’s life was a much simple one to live. They went to school, came home, ate proper food and slept. There was no right or wrong way for them to be, to think or to act. They stayed young, enjoyed life and learnt through play. Playing that involved friends, fresh air and wide-open spaces that is, not spent passing time alone in a virtual world.

Yes, long before the age of the couch potato and all those computer consoles and handheld devices came along, games actual required inventing – by those playing them no less. Back then there was no need for weighty instruction manuals, an Internet connection or the latest release. You didn’t even need a darkened room, a 40” plasma or lightening fast thumbs to win.

Of course for many kids today it’s probably hard to imagine a time when trees were for climbing up, bushes for hiding in and rivers for swimming across. A time when you’d take off on your bike to explore, or enjoy building machines and go-karts with the limited contents of your Dad’s shed. A time when you’d get together with friends to skim pebbles, play tag or British Bulldog and discuss how to put the world to rights.

Oh how things have changed in recent years – the life of a child is no longer a simple one to live.

All the advances in technology that have helped to improve the world (or at least make it a more convenient place to live) have also changed how the youth of today spend their time. Now the hours between school and sleep are no longer filled with fresh air, fun and laughter. Instead, a computer-savvy generation rushes home from lessons; eager to lose themselves in a digitally generated world and chat to people they don’t even know.

Young children living, learning and interacting by a whole new set of rules, hunched over keyboards and spending hour after hour watching a distorted reality unfold onto a small screen in front of their eyes. They spend all of their spare time surfing, blogging, downloading and chatting. Constantly tweeting and updating on Facebook and telling the whole world secrets that one-day they will wish they had never shared.

Some kids, mainly boys it has to be said, fill countless hours shooting aliens, fighting gangsters and winning wars. Heavily influenced by the media and targeted for their pocket money, these children become addicted to highly unsuitable games in which they ‘play’ at violence, death and destruction until they are completely numb to what they see.

Often these kids are holed up for days on end, so engrossed in what they are doing that they forget to eat, sleep and even live. It’s hard to say what’s more worrying about children, some as young as 9 or 10, developing such a total fixation with technology, and relying on computer screens and TVs to fill their every minute.

Never mind that this sedentary lifestyle, coupled with a modern-day diet of fatty junk food and a decline in physical education lessons at schools, is resulting in one of the biggest health problems that world now faces today – childhood obesity, but it is also robbing them of something they can never get back – their innocence and their youth.

 

Taken from my weekly BLOG written for Treehouse Life.

PA in our Pocket or Marketing Tool?

As technology surges forward, mobiles shrink and mankind busies itself getting connected, the world continues to grow smaller with every passing day. Now, wherever we turn, we see people talking, texting or completely oblivious to their surroundings, engrossed by the latest download.

Of course it’s good to talk – or so they say. Everyone and their brother are now happy to be ‘friends’. They post, comment, and tweet, happy to share their life and divulge their souls. Yet should they one day pass in the street, they’d probably just walk on by.

Yes, the world may be talking, but what, if any, conversations are actually taking place?

Not long ago mobiles were such a simple tool; used to catch up with family or make a quick call. Today, in many ways, they help to run the world. They are our lifeline and motherboard rolled into one.

We rely on them to bank, shop, travel, and date. To track down, meet up, and break up. They tell us what time to wake up and where we need to go. They can be our secretary and our salvation. For the foolish, who use them to cheat and deceive, they can also be our downfall.

As this market grows and mobile advertising looks set to explode, you have to ask yourself this – are phones really designed to help us manage our everyday lives, or are they just a marketing dream – a tool designed to sell, and therefore, in turn, control us?

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How to beat unemployment

According to the paper I’ve just finished reading, the UK is currently overrun with fresh-faced school leavers, all clutching their 9 A* A-Level results and fighting with 50 other over qualified graduates for the chance to work on the tills at Primark.

Students such as a 19 year old featured in the article, who was complaining that since taking his A-Levels last year he hasn’t been able to get any work. The reason being, he claimed, was because he didn’t have any experience for the jobs he was going on. And he couldn’t get the experience because he couldn’t get a job.

Now no doubt this annoying Catch 22 was true in his case, but recession or no recession, it’s always been this way. Not every employee wants to hire someone, just because they have slept through 3 years of lectures and downed 10 pints of Red Bull to cram for the right results at the last minute. This may seem unfair and frustrating to those at the bottom of the employment ladder, but if it makes them feel any better, it also works in reverse.

When an experienced person tries to re-enter or break into a new industry, despite them having years of knowledge to back up the bluster, many can’t even get a look in. For you may indeed have helped Nasa to launch the first shuttle, or performed open heart surgery on a pig, or run your own multi-million pound business empire, but if you haven’t got a first class degree and a diploma in advanced Tweeting, then you haven’t really got a hope in hell. Obviously it goes without saying you also need to be fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese.

Of course half the job requirements listed on any recruitment site are 90% wishful thinking. If someone were that qualified and had the experience to boot, then they wouldn’t be scouring the pages of Monster and offering to commute 5 hours for the minimum wage.

In Generation Y’s defense, it probably doesn’t help that the educational system has now been so badly dumbed down that obtaining a degree seems to be on much the same level as getting a gold star in your primary school spelling test. Everyone knows that GCSE’s and A Levels are easier. These days you’ll now be awarded 5 bonus points for spelling your name correctly on the exam paper and 10 points if you use at least 1 full stop. If your beloved budgie died from old age the day before, then your D will of course be upgraded to a B. On compassionate grounds don’t you see.

In the oldish days, your only excuse for missing an exam would be if you were caught under the wheels of a bus on the way to school. Upon the resit, you’d be marked down a grade for not having followed the highway code properly and looked both ways.

Of course no one taking exams these days would ever accept or admit that they are easier, but come on, how can they not be. There has to be some reason that all these kids who can’t talk properly, can’t text more than 3 letters and couldn’t pick out Africa on a map are somehow managing to get all these A* passes.

A great example of this Diploma’s for Dumbo mentality is a new cutting edge scheme that’s just been rolled out in the form of a ‘Using of Public Transport’ certificate – a prestigious award for those students who have completed the incredibly complicated task as catching a bus. I kid you not.

They must first walk to the bus stop. Once there, they must wait for the bus to arrive, board the bus quietly, find a seat, look out of the window and then finally stand up and step off the vehicle. Impressive I know. Who knew the youth of today was so intellectually advanced that they would be able to pull off such an impressive feat. Oh no, hang on on a minute, people have been doing this for years haven’t they.

Now I don’t want to make light of a terribly serious job situation, but here’s a thought as regards to why so many young people can’t get a job. Perhaps it’s got something to do with the stupid subjects and degrees they are taking. Subjects that are surely chosen for the fun factor and not to actually qualify them to do anything at the end. Take Hannah for example, also featured in the paper. Fresh from the hallowed halls of Southampton Solent University, she is the first person to have graduated from a laughing course, with a degree in stand-up comedy. Now isn’t that funny.

Since when was telling jokes on the list of choices at the school careers day? Surely someone is either funny or not, and if they are destined for a career under the bright lights, then they’d be able to do it without 3 years in the classroom and thousands of pounds worth of student debt to their name. Sure most forms of art, from music to drama to interior design are taught and studied, but stand-up comedy. Really?

So if you happen to be trying to decide which path you should take and don’t think that laughter’s really your thing, then not to worry. There’s always the option of spending 3 years studying how to surf, or better still, writing your thesis on the life, haircuts and marital affairs of David Beckham.

One final pointer for anyone hoping to get a job after school – try picking a subject that actually has a point to it. Or if you really can’t bear to study anything too serious, learn how to unblock a toilet. I mean, who ever heard of a poor or out of work plumber.