Relationship Intensive

Do you have relationship problems or a reoccurring theme that follows you in every relationship? I always realise, quite soon into a relationship that things aren’t right but instead of moving on I stick with the relationship, hoping that he’ll change, that things will improve or that I’ll change. I usually try to fit a round peg into a square hole. I’m very good at giving up what I enjoy doing in order to suit him and then I get frustrated. With those patterns of behaviours, formed over many years I decided to sign up for a one day relationship intensive course with relationship coach, Anna Garcia, in London. I found out about the course through a sponsored ad on Facebook. I hoped to get to the bottom of why I am as I am.

Anna strode onto the stage like a celebrity; confident, beautiful, sophisticated in a long flowing pink dress, before an audience of around two hundred. This was to be an Oprah Winfrey style show. She was dynamic, hard hitting, pulled no punches and throughout the day women from the audience, me included were invited to come up and tell our personal story. ‘When you are grounded and rooted,’ she began, ‘you blossom and the bee will come to you, so today is about learning to be confident, honouring yourself and loving yourself.’ ‘Be true to yourself, don’t live according to others expectations,’ she told the Asian woman who was experiencing family pressures not to marry a younger man because this wasn’t culturally acceptable. ‘The more comfortable you can be with you, the simpler your life will be,’ she told another woman. ‘You are the Chief Energy Officer of your life,’ she told us all. There were women from all walks of life, every background and every faith. I learned so much about different faiths and cultures and how culture can impact on relationships. This was a truly inspirational day, heartbreaking, heartfelt and deeply emotional for each of us as we explored the patterns of our behaviour. ‘Let go of the past, let go of missed opportunities,’ she told a black woman who had missed marrying her childhood sweetheart but still regretted it thirty years later. To the social rescuer, a Swedish lady, she said ‘don’t carry their problems, address your own. You are not responsible for someone else’s life.

Anna’s advice was common sense. Maybe we don’t need a coach to state the obvious: ‘be true to yourself,’you want to be loved…it doesn’t happen until it’s meant to happen,’don’t apologise for who you are, be who you are,’ but hearing such moving stories from other women, knowing that we are all in the same boat navigating our way through a minefield of relationships certainly helped. Relationships have changed, Anna argued. ‘You don’t see your mother in here do you? That’s because the average person now has three long term relationships across their life, no longer one.’ ‘Relationships can have a sell by date and that’s ok.’ ‘Humans have finally awoken. Today anything not authentic we let go of, it becomes painful to hold onto something that doesn’t work.’ And the biggest news Anna imparted was ‘ladies, I’ve news for you, Mr Right does not exist but Mr Right Now does.’ A relationship can end at any point and we need to grieve, we must let go. ‘What are you getting from holding onto him?’ she asked one woman. ‘Better to be on your own.’

The biggest statement for me was: ‘Whatever we choose in life – our jobs, house, holiday everything comes with a bag of problems and somehow we accept the pros and cons, the pain, the downside but when it comes to relationships suddenly we don’t want problems, we expect only perfection.’ In life pain is mandatory, suffering isn’t and that’s what we carry. We need to get back to our grounded centre.

Very often we don’t trust ourself in relationships and we become addicted to certain emotions. They become habit forming. With any addiction the advice is to just stop. It’s a choice that only we can make. We need to honour who we really are and stop our sabotaging habits. ‘We repeat what we don’t repair.’ Very true. We need to take an action we wouldn’t normally take, feel the fear. That’s scary. Addiction is a low vibration. When we are addicted to something we are holding onto a set of emotions. It’s those emotions we need to tackle.

‘Life biggest gifts come with the greatest pain. Don’t expect to get into a relationship and not get hurt.’

Anna stirred up a great feeling in the audience, a driver for change, ‘are you ready to peel off the layers,’ she shouted. ‘We need to take whatever it is that’s preventing you from finding love away.’ Now that’s where, to my mind the snag lay. It was towards the end of the day and Anna asked ‘who here would love to be loved?’ Shrieks of yes rang out across the audience. And how much is that worth to you? Put a price on it in your head. A screen then appeared with a picture of a yacht and a figure of £995 for a two day intensive programme. Food is not included in that price by the way or accommodation overnight! At that point I switched off because I found it a hard sell. We had shed tears, hugged shared intimate stories and now we were offered a solution but at a high price. ‘You can’t put a price on love,’ Anna shouted. ‘Are you ready to change?’

Did I find the course worthwhile? Yes. But will I change my behaviour patterns? I’ll try but it’s going to be hard.

Primark on a Saturday

Primark on Saturday is my idea of hell
Trip Advisor reviews of Primark Oxford Street
warn us not to go
for Primark it would seem
is everybody’s idea of hell

It’s Victoria Station in rush hour
People cutting across each other’s path
It’s the Ikea of the clothing world
Manic, daunting and where’s the exit?

A rugby scrum, a babble of different languages
Shopping carts on wheels
Children diving under racks
Clothes displayed too high to reach

People grabbing, reaching, queuing, stressing
Teens with headphones, bored and sulking husbands,
ladies in saris and bin bag burkhas
and wanton women scantily clad

Everything sold at bargain bucket prices,
shapeless crumpled garments
loose threads, hems hanging
Just think of who made them
On a dollar a day

I’m stressed, I’m sweating,
It’s as hot as an inferno
Where’s the escalator?
Where’s the changing room?
Where’s the God-damn exit?
Just get me out of here
I’m not a celebrity
And if I was I wouldn’t shop here

Poem: When I Think Of You

Poem: When I think of you….

When I think of you I think of that first date, your smile and the easy way we spoke
Your back to the midday sun, sipping shandy in the early evening, wanting that first kiss as the moon made a milky pathway across the sea.

When I think of you I think of tea in Rye, Alibi in Hastings, photo poses at Dungeness. I think of trying on hats at Camden Lock and a Santa Claus party in Leicester Square. I think of walking through bracken in the Ashdown Forest and sauntering along the beach. Many hours of Kodak reel.

And then when I think of you the happy memories start to fade, replaced by a cloud, visions of you at the machine, the place where you go to destroy your future.

When I think of you I think of the passion between us
Costing no money, only time and emotion
Kisses on the beach, carefree as teenagers

When I think of you I think of late night munchies, Maltesers and Baby Bels
Your head nodding to ‘Personal Jesus’ except that he can’t make miracles for you

When I think of you I think of your second date gift, a love song CD and the third date gift, a loaf of homemade gluten free bread, so simple and inexpensive.

When I think of you I think of your slim figure
Long legs, trim waist, no evidence of middle age slugging into the picture

When I think of you I see us making love, I see you sleeping next to me like a corpse, your hairy back, your hands as dry as alligator skin

When I think of you I hear your words on replay, ‘for whatever reason’ a phase you often used, along with an array of overused adverbs and texts littered with question marks

When I think of you I think of your desperate situation
Your life in one room, a foldaway bed and change in the meter,
a cupboard of Food Bank produce, prepared at any moment to gamble the roof over your head.

When I think of you I think of your cheeriness despite your lack of dosh
Your hopes and dreams dashed, fed into a machine

When I think of you I think of my lucky escape sucked into the vortex of your addiction and all that might entail, a tide of money flowing away like the Red Sea leaving us both destitute, my kids hating me and me hating myself.

When I think of you I think of the level of self-destruction, a pitiful situation that consumed our every thought and conversation, no money verses money, both situations causing you so much anxiety

I remember the day that I found out about your addiction, scrolling right back on Facebook. I wonder how long it would have taken before you ‘fessed up.

I think of your dating profile, a web designer you told us women, and your Facebook profile an entrepreneur, fabricated titles littering the ether, the person you wanted to be

I think of all the women you’ve dumped days before their birthday, all the women who’ve dumped you days after their birthday. I think of all the empty Valentine’s evenings there must have been, but all I remember is the beautiful Christmas we spent together and the sweet necklace I’ll treasure

I think of your fickle love, one weekend telling me how committed you were, asking what would it be like to live together, days later telling me this wasn’t real love

When I think of you I think of 8 happy months in the main
But most of all when I think of you I wonder what will become of you…

Poem: Teenager

Poem: Teenager
If you let a teenager
do just want they like
all you do is drive them away

If you let a teenager
do just what they like
all it does it show you don’t care

If you let a teenager do just what they like
You set no goalpost, no leading light

If you let a teenager do just what they like
coming in all hours, eating when they please
you give them no direction, carte blanche
to do just as they please

Brexit March

Poem: Brexit March
They came in their droves
The BBC said hundreds,
We knew it to be thousands
Gathering in Carlisle Place
Heading onwards with their flags

The toothless of Tintagel
Tattooed of Tring
Smokers of Sunderland
The battle cry goes up

Activists of Acton
Drinkers of Doncaster
Merry of Margate
Unite today

Highjacked by the Right
They demanded free Tommy Robinson
And chanted we want Brexit now
Get out with no deal is better than a fudged deal
The White Pendragons and other Far Right groups,
They give us a bad name
For we’re still a welcome country
Blacks, whites, gays and everyone else
All we want is to take back control
Otherwise anarchy will stalk this land

Bathed in June sunshine
St George’s flag on their backs
They sang the National Anthem
on the corridor to the seat of power
Brexit’s on the brink
Yet there’s a paralysis of Parliament

Give us our Brexit
and give it us now
We made our cross
We didn’t vote a £40 billion trade making loss

Supermarket comparison

Let’s do a supermarket comparison – Waitrose or Sainsbury’s? Which is cheaper to shop in? The simple answer is Sainsbury’s. Waitrose opened in Haywards Heath, West Sussex a year ago. Lured by the aesthetically pleasing environment, friendly, helpful staff and general tidiness of the store as well as the temptation of a free coffee in their mezzanine cafe I started to make the odd purchase here and there. I was in danger of becoming a Waitrose shopper because I liked the overall ambience of the store. I have to say that the Waitrose shopping experience is a pleasing one and it specialises in many luxury ranges which is appealing. The colours are calming, the customer service desk is located near the entrance and the staff smile as you enter. There are artistic displays of food on stands. It all looks very appealing and stylish and the shelves are neat and tidy. And so I decided to do a price comparison with the nearby Sainsbury’s, which is only a 5 minute walk from Waitrose because I wanted to start shopping in Waitrose, knowing the experience was a nicer one.

I compared the prices of about twenty items on Friday 4th May 2018. Waitrose hikes their prices on many goods. My comparison is like for like. Overall I found that most goods were more expensive in Waitrose. My guess is that shoppers of Waitrose don’t care about this. They go there for the experience and niche range of certain items.

Pack of 4 cans of Heinz baked beans – £2
bag of 5 limes – £1.50
Leerdammer 8 slices – £1.80
8 Club biscuits – £1
Whole cucumber – 45p
Penne Pasta – 40p
Double cream – £1.10
Hovis Soft white bread loaf – £1.05
Dolmio – £2.40
3 peppers – £1
Muller Corner pack of 6 – £2
Lurpak – £3.75

Pack of 4 cans of Heinz baked beans – £2.75
Bag of 5 limes – £1.70
Leerdammer 8 slices – £1.40
8 Club biscuits – £1.44
Whole cucumber – 52p
Penne Pasta – 89p
Double Cream – £1.10
Hovis Soft white bread – £1.05
Dolmio – £2.65
3 peppers – £1.15
Muller Corner pack of 6 – £2.59
Lurpak -£3.75

Considering going to Cuba?

Cuba is a communist island just ninety miles off Key West, in Florida. The United States imposed an embargo against Cuba in the 1960s following the missile crisis and because of this and the future actions of American administrations it’s bereft of modern interference. A timewarp it’s stuck in the 1950s, unchanging, dilapidated yet magnificent, a rich dichotomy of many cultures, which will remain the case, it’s predicted for the foreseeable future because President Trump has reversed the progress talks on ending the embargo that Obama initiated. Now is, therefore, a perfect time to visit this fascinating Caribbean island. Two tips to kick this blog off: Cuba operates a closed currency. You can only change your money while you’re there. There are two currencies: one for the locals (CUPS) and one for tourists (CUCS). Be careful in street markets because you might end up being given the local currency. Take sterling or Euros. Change money as you go because you can’t take it home with you. Don’t take American dollars, because you’ll pay a high exchange rate. Learn a bit of Spanish or take a Spanish speaking person with you. Outside Havana English isn’t widely spoken.

I’m mesmerized by the scene as we emerge from Havana airport, still laughing with my group about the airport security staff dressed in short skirts, stilettoes and fishnets. I fumble for my camera, dropping the arm of the blind person I’m supposed to be guiding through the busy concourse, wanting to capture it all in one hit. Palm trees line the road, rustling in the pleasant March warmth. Bougainvillea trails down walls and a rainbow of 1950s American cars sexily glides along, the drivers in panama hats, their arms hanging out. I feel as if I’m in a movie set, maybe ‘Mississippi Burning’ or ‘Selma’. ‘Joanna,’ our Geordie Traveleyes tour guide shrieks, ‘Don’t abandon your VIP (visually impaired person) in the middle of the road.’ Whoops, I needed to focus on the task in hand. I rapidly become known as the David Bailey of the group.

I’d like to be able to sum up what Cuba is like, but that’s hard because it’s a mixture of lots of things and different experiences I’ve had. My first impression was colonial India but it’s also fifties America meets nineteen seventies Spain. Some of the hotels have that 1970s Costa Brava feel to them and lights might go out or the water runs cold, but generally not in good hotels. Cuba has flecks of Istanbul running through the decor and mosaic tiles and notes of war torn Syria, in that some areas of the city are completely dilapidated. Wherever you walk in Havana you hear the deadened roar of the old cars, like kids’ bright coloured sweeties in such wonderful and varied tones of green, blue, yellow, pink, all gleaming and in pristine condition and set against pastel buildings glinting in the sun. Out of Havana we saw more beaten up wrecks and old Russian Ladas.

The aroma of tobacco mingles with rum wafting through the air, music on every corner, an old lady in a scarf smoking a huge cigar dancing in the street. Old men shaking maracas, young guys strumming guitars and there are other spontaneous performances. Cobbled streets. Chaos. Stray dogs wherever you look, some with government labels on them instructing the public to treat them well. Washing hanging from balconies, knotted cables twisting around the exterior of buildings, piles of rubble as big as a bonfire occasionally blocking a pathway or road. Graffiti like you see in Belfast with a war theme; a boy with a gun, a face in a gas mask. Forlorn looking children sitting on doorsteps, people begging, puppies in cages on the back of bicycles, street traders selling garlic down one street and mango along another.

Our 28 year old local tour guide told us, ‘I will give you the truth, even though I work for the government. Our salaries are low. Most of us earn the same salary. This is my country and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else but I’d like to have better opportunities, the type of opportunities you all have.’ He went on to tell us that Cubans inherit their homes and cars from the previous generation as well as domestic appliances like washing machines. They have to make do and mend and look after what they own. If their house is too small it’s too bad. The people who own cars have to look after them because the cost of replacing them is astronomical. An Audi elsewhere would cost $30,000 but here it costs $90,000. The old American cars are worth a great deal and the reason they are still here is because the Americans when they left Cuba left them behind. These cars were tested in Cuba, the theory being that if they worked in this climate they would work anywhere.

I ask the guide a bold question knowing he couldn’t answer. ‘Is there dissent bubbling under the surface? What if students rise to form a movement to overthrow the system?’ ‘There is no movement,’ he tells me. ‘On the whole we are happy. We have free education, free health care, but yes I’d like more but dissent will never happen because the secret police are everywhere, watching us. You do not know if one of your family is a member of the underground police. We must be careful. I cannot continue this conversation.’ He laughs. ‘You British people ask too many questions.’ Wandering down a street in Varadero I get talking to a local woman and ask her if she’s happy with the government. Yes, I know, dumb question but I had to ask. She pulls up her shirt and shows me an unsightly raised scar running down her chest, like a piece of red liquorice. ‘I had a tumour cut out. I’m lucky to be alive. We have free medical care and it’s one of the best in the world. Life isn’t perfect, it never will be.’

Out in the countryside things are more backward and unchanged than Havana. The odd beaten up 1950s car putts along and then the road will be empty until a horse and cart, carrying hay or agricultural workers comes along. There are guava, mango and orange trees. Turkey vultures fly overhead, a mountain range rises in the distance. There are run down tower blocks, with more washing hanging from balconies and shanty towns with single-storey homes that look like garages, easily destroyed in a hurricane. Boys without shoes mess about in the red mud, men work with scythes in the fields and occasionally there are stalls by the roadside selling coconuts or other fruit.

If you want a beach holiday don’t go to Cuba unless you find a good deal, because there are plenty of nice beaches in Europe for a snip of the price. You don’t need to travel far to find a beach in winter. Although that said the water, in March was beautifully warm and the sand was white and soft. Go to Cuba because you want to see the culture and for a glimpse into the workings of one of the only remaining communist countries.

Cuba with Traveleyes

when I booked to go to Cuba with Traveleyes, the world’s first air tour operator specializing in serving blind as well as sighted travellers I received many remarks of pity such as ‘Bless you, what a charitable thing to do,’ ‘you’re good,’ ‘that sounds like a lot of hard work,’ ‘why would a blind person go on holiday?’

Around half the group were sighted and the other half were blind. Each day a different sighted traveller was paired with a different blind traveller. The sighted travellers described what they saw around them, guided them wherever we went and took them to things they could touch, feel and smell. We helped them select food from buffets and showed them around their hotel rooms, helping them to use the safe in the room and making sure they had packed everything at the end of a hotel stay.

The holiday blew my mind away. The very last thing these people needed was pity. Pity directed at them by people who seem to believe they are somehow ‘trapped’ inside a body, that they suffer, or that their life is so hard that they cannot possibly enjoy life like the rest of us and have the same goals and aspirations to travel and see the world. The more I thought about my friends’ comments the more irritated I became. I had no idea how much a blind person could enjoy life and just how independent they are until I spent time in their company. It was a rich, poignant and deeply humbling experience and that’s before I even begin to tell you about Cuba. I took two visually impaired people into the town one day. They could only see light and dark. At the end of the day they said ‘Joanna, you’re more blind than we are.’ I had no idea which bus we needed to get back to the hotel, but they knew the colour of the bus because they’d asked the driver. They also knew that we’d missed our stop because they had an inner sense that we’d travelled too far. But it was about other things too. They were more sensitive to their surroundings, listened and used their senses whereas I take things for granted and think I understand situations but actually some of the time I miss what’s really going on.

The visually impaired people on the trip had a range of different eye conditions and heartbreaking stories of denial as their sight declined, not wanting to go out with friends and making excuses not to join in. Tragically many had lost their sight during their teen years when they started to be interested in the opposite sex. ‘I’d only tell the girl after the third or fourth date and only if I was keen,’ one man told me. ‘I took a girl to the cinema but lost her during the interval when we got up for ice creams. It was too dark and I couldn’t find her so I sat alone for the rest of the film and never saw her again.’

Some could only see light and dark while a few had some peripheral or tunnel vision. One man told me that his parents and teachers didn’t pick up his declining eyesight when he was a child. ‘It was the seventies. Things were different back then and as for my parents they were always out of it, not interested and drunk on Bacardi. Ironic really,’ he added, ‘that I’m going to visit the place where rum is made.’

Several people had a rare genetic condition called RP ( Retinitis Pigmentosa) and this ran in their families. And another person was born prematurely, at around twenty-four weeks without any sight all. We were with a different visually impaired person each day and I’d always ask, ‘How do you cope with life?’ Several had guide dogs and one man joked that his dog was a ‘bate magnet,’ and he’d made many friends and acquaintances out with the dog. They had assistance in getting them to work via taxi or public transport. One man interestingly told me that his house was filled with colour. It was important to him to fill his life with colour. He hated the idea of beige walls and beige carpets and replaced them with bright walls, bright paintings and red and white striped carpet and bright coloured cars. Even though he couldn’t see colour he needed to know it was there. Another man told me ‘I don’t give it much thought, I just get on with life but being blind has its advantages. It saves on the electricity bill. I only have the lights on once a week when my chiropodist visits.’

The thing that these people all had in common was an incredible drive and determination to live life to the full. ‘I’ve had a great life’ was a statement I heard many times from each of them. Between them they had achieved more than any of my sighted friends. They had PHDs, they ran successful businesses and had gained awards for their outstanding success – and one man, in his seventies with other health conditions on top of his visual impairment was still running his business as well as doing lots of travelling. They had taught, they could speak several languages and they had been skiing, paragliding, cycling, swimming with the dolphins and they had travelled the world over. Nothing deterred them, they were courageous and didn’t let their disability affect their enjoyment of life and if they did feel vulnerable and apprehensive this didn’t come across. Positivity and a zest for life shone through and by the end of the holiday their energy and excitement had certainly rubbed off onto us sighted ones.

There were so many funny things that happened on the trip, too many for a short blog but enough material to fill a Bernard Manning comedy night. On arrival at our hotel a group of us waited on a settee for the tour guide to register us in. There was a TV screen on the wall and the channel suddenly changed to a lesbian sex scene. The sighted people were horrified and gasped but the blind people sat in a row totally oblivious!

Smoking may be going out of fashion but in Havana they love their cigars and the bigger the better. One afternoon two blind men were in the bar trying to light cigars. I’ve no idea where their guides were but they couldn’t see to light their cigars and the cigars were black market and didn’t light very easily. A series of hand gestures and frantic waving eventually got the attention of the waiters. Later and drunk on rum, they made their way to the lift to return to their rooms but getting into the lift they couldn’t see the numbers. They pressed all the buttons, went to each floor, in the hope that somebody would get in to help them.

Some of the humour surrounded the white cane and the blind people referred to them as ‘the staff,’ ‘Harry Potter’s Quidditch’ (I’ve not learned to fly on it yet, one commented) and talked about the ‘power of the stick.’ The lift doors were closing and one man put his stick in the gap, ‘Moses commands these doors to open,’ he barked ‘and the lady’s legs.’ Out on the street I was always focused on looking for good photographs and there were several occasions when I wasn’t concentrating on guiding my blind traveller. ‘Joanna just leaves me and goes off,’ one man said and another said ‘it’s like being with bloody David Bailey,’ ‘but I know she’ll come back eventually.’ On one occasion I was busy looking up at the buildings and didn’t notice that my blind man had his stick wedged between a lady’s legs. And then there were many restaurant incidents of blind people sitting at the wrong tables and eating the wrong peoples’ food.

Of course I wouldn’t be performing my role as a guide if I didn’t describe everything I saw. ‘There’s a woman with huge knockers over there’ I said to the blind men or ‘just for your information the woman in front is wearing tight white trousers and thongs.’ My comments were always appreciated!

Several of the visually impaired travellers were regulars with Traveleyes. ‘What do you get out of these holidays?’ I asked each of them. ‘I’m in the moment, I’m living,’ one told me and ‘it takes me away from routine, the drudgery of everyday life. I can feel the sun on my back, the sound of different music, the routines are different and I meet interesting people.’ ‘Traveleyes is a great team. The people on these trips are non-judgmental and I get to go to places I wouldn’t otherwise be able to go to.’

They were the same reasons why we all go on holiday, but the unique Traveleyes experience makes dreams come true. For me I loved going with a big group of people, getting to know a different person each day and hearing about their life and I enjoyed the group banter and fun. When we visited museums it was helpful being with another person. I would describe what I was looking at and read out information and the other person would tell me what they knew and add to my knowledge.

Here is a link to Traveleyes:
A blog specifically about Cuba will follow!

The rise of sensitivity readers in the world of publishing

Any author will tell you that their words go through a rigorous process before they emerge into a published volume. We read our manuscript several times and we cut, cut, cut before it’s passed to the editor who will also cut, make suggestions, tidy up and point out grammar errors and typos. Then we read it through again, make the necessary changes and pass it to a proof reader who will give it a final polish.

Some publishers are now running material through what is called sensitivity readers. Sensitivity readers are a growing army and come to the industry with diverse backgrounds so that their unique knowledge, experience and awareness of potential issues can be applied to specific genre and story lines. They come with their own unique understanding of a particular social group or race and apply their understanding to the edit. They critique the work. For instance a black sensitivity reader might read a historical novel set in the Deep South of America during the time of slavery. They will be asking important questions as they read. Does the material ignore the harsh realities of slavery? Does it romantise slavery? Will it offend anybody? The idea is to look for potential sensitivity issues, to structure the material so that it’s considerate and respectful and authentic. There’s certainly any appetite now in the industry for readers with a different perspective to cast their eye over material before it enters the public arena. In this era of heavy litigation this has got to be a good thing. But what about the pitfalls?

This move towards sensitivity reading could deter authors from writing what they want to write. It’s about political correctness and censorship and ultimately could stifle creativity, imagination and impose the rule book on our work, which is not what we want. Fiction should reflect and challenge and be disturbing. Disturbing sells but at the same time we need to hold our pens lightly and be mindful of upsetting. I wouldn’t want to see an overly cautious publishing industry. This is political correctness on steroids and a band aid issue. In other words the reasons why sensitivity readers are needed is because certain marginalised groups are underrepresented in the book world. The way to be truly sensitive and to learn about black views, working class views, disabled views and so on is to pump Government and charity money into helping these groups write about their lives and their background. We writers can’t put on every hat we write about. We do as much research as we can and can’t always get things write. We all have a different way of looking at things. Life isn’t uniform and neither are opinions. My books all cover sensitive issues and all of them have given rise to criticism. That’s the nature of the beast. But I would much rather work closely with some of these underprivileged marginalised groups to help them write their story. That way the writing would be truly authentic. Better, after all to come direct from the horse’s mouth than pretend you can slip into somebody’s else’s shoes.

Loneliness in the teens

Loneliness is endemic in our society but there has always been a stigma associated with it. The damage to our health from feeling lonely over an extended period of time, we are told is equal to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

None of us like to admit to feeling lonely because of how others will perceive us. It’s not cool to be lonely. People will automatically assume we have no friends, that we’re weird and unpopular or that we make no effort to help ourselves and that we should go out more and mix with others. You can have a big family and a wide circle of friends and plenty of hobbies and a full time job and still feel the crushing pain of loneliness. You also don’t have to be elderly to feel lonely. Loneliness cuts across the generations. Like MP Jo Cox the most lonely period of my life was when I was at university, 300 miles from home and my long standing friends and everything that was comfortable and familiar. It was the first time in my life that I’d been away from home and I desperately missed my mum, my dog and my boyfriend and the arrival of letters in the pigeon hole each day just seemed to heighten my sense of isolation. You can have lots of fun at university, get drunk and go to plenty of parties but still feel alone and alienated from those around you.

The Jo Cox Commission is starting a national conversation about the scale and impact of loneliness in the UK and so I thought I’d write a blog about what I’ve observed about the crushing feeling of loneliness. I want to discuss another group of people who feel lonely, a group that gets ignored – teenagers. In these times of marital and relationship breakdown people go on to have more children with a new partner. I had two children with my husband and then went on to have a third child with a new partner. For a number of years they played together, grew up as siblings, had lots of fun together and went on holiday with us. And then suddenly that family unit was gone. My older children work and lives miles away and I don’t see them much. The relationship with my new partner broke down and now it’s just me and my youngest. She’s now in her teens and in effect is an only child. The times they had as three children together are over and this is a bereavement. Children in this situation are coping with a loss and might be feeling lonely as an only child. It’s different, I think when you’ve always been an only child from the start and you remain so. It’s all you’ve known. But what about the children whose siblings fly the nest and into adulthood? And the ones whose fathers leave and maybe never see them again? They are left behind and this must be a desperately lonely time for them and I don’t think secondary schools are equipped to address the social phenomenon of loneliness among students. The institution of school, let’s face it is a lonely one too and much is placed on the ability to make friends and socialise but schools are big places these days with different lunch periods. Students don’t necessarily have the same lunch periods as their friends or classes and the catchment areas are often spread over a big distance making it hard to meet up with friends at the weekend.

As the Jo Cox Commission shines the spotlight on loneliness think about all of the groups in our society who haven’t been considered and think about what can be done to help their plight. The loss of close relationships in a teenager’s life and readjusting to life as an only child can come as a big shock.Trying to make sense of what has happened within their family while learning to live a new way of life can be a massive thing.

Here’s a link to the Jo Cox Commission :