On Friday night I took part in the YMCA Central Herts’ Sleep Easy, with 5 of my work colleagues. The aim is that people sign up to raise money & awareness & spend the night sleeping on the street, so that others don’t have to. The above photos are some of the ones I took through the course of the evening.
We arrived at the Galleria in Hatfield shortly after 7 & part of our team were already setting up our camp for the night. We decided to set up a group of boxes, one for each of us, but then figured that the boxes were big enough for some of us to share, which would increase the volume of body heat two fold. The first 2 hours we were all there was used to create & decorate our box homes, in the hope of winning some prizes. Our team decorated our boxes with a luau or tiki hut theme, complete with fairy lights. Around us we had a Paddington, a Thomas the Tank Engine, Finding Nemo, a Dog bed, a cardboard tent & a few others I can’t remember. After the judging of the boxes we had time for some Zumba to keep warm & then some games for fun. After the games we set out to sort out our sleeping arrangements, and people started settling in for the night.
I started the night wearing 2 layers, with 3 more in my bag, but I was really hoping I wasn’t going to need them. I did! By the time we all crawled into our boxes & sorted out our sleeping bags/blankets the reality of the situation was starting to sink in with me. All my friends had been telling me how brave or how crazy I was for doing this, telling me all of the things that were/could go wrong, how cold I would be, the risk I was putting myself at, etc & now it was starting to feel real & more than a little bit scary. The area we were doing the sleep out was on a very public route, where loads of people – drunk people – were destined to pass on their way home from the clubs. What would happen when they discovered us? Then there was the cold. Sure, we had our layers & our sleeping bags & our cardboard boxes, but we were bound to feel the cold, right? Add onto that the discomfort of sleeping on tarmac – well, I guess that was the point, really. We were supposed to be cold, scared & uncomfortable. And I was.
Shortly after midnight we crawled into our sleeping bags (wearing 4 layers) & tried in vain to get comfortable. I settled in with a bit of a heavy heart because I was tired, but I knew I wasn’t going to be getting any sleep, not because of the cold, but because it was too light & far too noisy. We were under a lit canopy, with a very well lit building straight across from us – which the people from the Y told us would not be going out all night. Behind us is one of the main roads through Hatfield, the A1M & there were semi trucks zooming up & down the road constantly, with no sign of let up. The funny thing was that in the hotel, before we went to the Sleep Easy site they made fun of me for bringing a book, but I sure was glad I had one now!
The first hour or so was pretty easy, just lying there listening to the traffic & the people around us talking (wishing they would shut up, so we could try to sleep!), then the muscle cramps started. My legs were cramping like crazy, my sleeping bag didn’t zip up & there was a draught that I couldn’t seem to eradicate. By now I wasn’t very comfortable & was starting to get a little worried. We tossed & turned trying in vain to get comfortable, now having a better understanding of what it must be like to be homeless & have to sleep rough. My hat kept sliding off my head, my pants kept riding up my right leg, making me cold & those stupid people just wouldn’t shut up!
Then the clubs let out for the night & things got a little hairy. A group of drunken lads arrived. They screamed at us, one of them kicked one of the boxes someone was sleeping in a few times. They were so loud & threatening – just their presence that late at night & as drunk as they were made me fear for my safety. To me, they seemed determined to cause chaos, and they made me afraid – now I really knew what it must be like to be asleep on the street. It was scary & I didn’t like it. Around 04:30 I gave up trying to sleep & made my way to the refreshment table to make myself a cup of tea, with lots of sugar. I decided to spend the rest of my night huddled in my sleeping bag, thinking about the temporary situation I was in & being so thankful that it was only temporary. I tried to read, but I was too tired, hungry & cold. Soon the night came to an end & everyone began to stir, then we began to tear down our little cardboard city, with most people lost in thought of what they had just done.
I learned a lot about myself that night & I think my empathy toward homelessness increased 1000 fold. I think I was pretty brave, but I was only out there for one night. Would I have been able to cope if it had been for real? I’m not sure & I hope I never have to find out!
Today we went on a ride to Hertford, along Cycle Route 61. Along the way we passed about a dozen people going the other way, a few dogs – one of which took a shine to my OH & dropped an enormous stick at his feet & hunkered down waiting for him to throw it. (which he did & apparently as a result has a new best friend!).
It was really cold today, very crisp, windy & autumnal & on the way home we got caught in a very cold rain storm, but it was so much fun & I can’t wait to do it again!
The Olympics have had an interesting effect on me. I have lived in the UK for three years now and I love it. I really don’t get homesick for Canada and while I love to visit, “home” is definitely England. I am very pro-British. And yes I know it’s a bit of a nanny state, but all things considered, it’s a wonderful country. So I am here to stay. It is home. But is home really where the heart is? Apparently not when the Olympics are on.
I have come to realise that as much as I love my new country, and as much as I plan to stay here – forever – the question of who I’ll be rooting for at the Olympic Games is a bit of a no-brainer: Canada of course. It really came to a head when the Canada vs Great Britain women’s football game was taking place. Before that Canada and Team GB hadn’t really gone head to head at anything I was watching and I was cheering the British athletes on. But the soccer game. Oh my. One nil Canada – sheer joy! Two nil Canada OMG rolling on the ground ELATION! Go girls! Crush them! And the tears, flowing down my face when Oh Canada was played for the first gold medal (Women’s trampoline)? My emotional state surprised even me.
I really do want a passport that is good for 10 years. And Northamptonshire is home. But if there was ever any doubt, the Olympics have confirmed it: my heart is and always will be Canadian.
So this morning I have been trawling through the internet looking at things about the Olympics & happened across an article about a few athletes for (various branches of) team GB who are refusing to sing “God Save the Queen”. The athletes in question are Welsh & Scottish, & though I do take the article with a grain of salt (it is from the Daily Fail, after all), I do tend to agree with the athletes in question. What’s so “United” in the United Kingdom these days & is there maybe a reason for this stance, for the suggestion that perhaps we should now be developing a new anthem to represent all of the nations in the Union?
Let’s look at this from the perspective of the separate issues within the Union, as I know them:
- The Flag: Above is the Union Flag (aka The Union Jack) – is there “Unity” in this flag? – “The current design dates from the Union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801. ” The Union flag is an amalgamation of 3 countries’ flags – “The flag consists of the red cross of Saint George (patron saint of England), edged in white, superimposed on the Cross of St Patrick (patron saint of Ireland), which are superimposed on the Saltire of Saint Andrew (patron saint of Scotland).” – Where’s the representation of anything from Wales? Answer: There isn’t any & probably never will be, so is there unity in the “Union” flag? No. The given reason is that Wales was already “united” with England when the flag was designed, but in the intervening years it could have been altered, to add Welsh representation, but hasn’t been. Alternatively, how about a different flag for sports representation? One that includes all of the nations of the Union.
- The current state of politics within Wales (to a lesser degree) & Scotland: Wales, Scotland, England & Northern Ireland are all separate entities, who joined in a “Union”. Currently there is a movement, predominantly by Scotland, toward independence & separation from Great Britain. Scotland has their own parliament & Wales have their National Assembly, meaning that important decisions about each of those countries are now being made within the respective countries, instead of in London’s houses of Parliament. This has led to resentment within England, that Welsh & Scottish MP’s can influence outcomes within the British Parliament, but the reverse is not true within Wales & Scotland. This has also led to dramatic differences within the three countries in other respects, such as: NHS prescriptions are free in Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland, but you have to pay £7.65 per item on your prescription if you are in England. University Fees have been introduced (& now risen to a £9k per year ceiling) in England, Wales & Northern Ireland, but remains free in Scotland (to Scottish students, however students from England, Wales & Northern Ireland must still pay to attend Scottish universities.). So, less & less unity & more & more separation.
- National Identity: Historically, people from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland & England were refered to as British, both within & outside of the UK. These days, people from each country are more likely to consider themselves Welsh, Scottish, Irish & English rather than, or before, thinking of themselves as British. Wales has always had a very strong sense what it was to be Welsh, but through the centuries this was oppressed by the English rulers – even as recently as 30 – 40 years ago this was still widely prevalent. Scotland have been fighting the English for centuries for their identity, culture & own right to rule. Historical (& Hollywood) examples abound of the fight(s) for Scottish independence; think Braveheart, Rob Roy, etc. Northern Ireland, despite the peace treaty is still in turmoil over whether they are British & under British (ie: English) rule, with the IRA & Nationalist Parties each vying for power & arguing over whether it is re-unification with the Republic of Ireland or Rule by Britannia. This hasn’t exactly engendered a feeling of Unity within the Union & unfortunately this is reflected across the country(ies).
- National Anthems: England, Scotland & Wales all have their own National Anthems. If you attend a rugby game (for instance) at Twickenham & it’s England playing Wales, they don’t play God Save the Queen twice. Wales’ National Anthem is called “Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” (roughly translates as “Land of my Fathers”) & is a beautiful song. Scotland’s National Anthem is Flower of Scotland & is also a very beautiful song. The English & Northern Irish National Anthem is God Save the Queen. So, if it is generally accepted that these are the anthems that are played at sporting events within the United Kingdom, maybe it is time that we come up with a British National Anthem that isn’t also the English National Anthem? If not, it’s another example of the lack of unity within the United Kingdom, with one or more members of union taking prevalence over the other(s) .
Personally, I don’t want the United Kingdom to completely devolve – I think that the 4 countries need a certain level of separation, but where the emphasis is on the unity (ie: the Olympics) where athletes/representatives from England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland are all competing under the umbrella of/representing The United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, then the emblems (uniform, flag, songs, etc) should equally represent all the nations of the union, not just a couple/few.
One of the things I miss the most is Kraft dinner. There is nothing quite like sitting down on an afternoon in the weekend with a nice big bowl of KD (ketchup, of course is optional!). So imagine my delight when I typed in the word “macaroni” into Tesco.com, when I was doing my grocery shop last night & KD popped up on my screen as one of the choices! Even better – it is currently on sale!! Woo hoo!! Boy, the only thing that would make this any better would be if Tesco also started carrying Lipton Chicken Noodle Soup – now that would be amazing!!
I do miss a lot of food from home – KD, & the aforementioned soup, but also proper dill pickles, dill pickle chips, perogies, cabbage rolls, Hamburger helper, elbow macaroni (for my family’s staple dinner of macaroni, hamburger & tomato soup), decent salad dressings, root beer & …. well, I could go on & on!
Obviously it isn’t just the food I miss – I miss my hometown – the scenery, my family, my friends, everything I had as a child/young adult. I guess the food brings back all those happy memories – hence the phrase “comfort food”, so finding things that I grew up with, things that stave off that craving for home make me feel better, & right now when I open my pantry cupboard I see KD = home!
I was just minding my own business reading a blog post on www.http://thebloggess.com & I thought I would read some of the comments people had posted. (If you are unfamiliar with Jenny, the bloggess – check her out, it’s funny as hell!) Anyway, on Jenny’s blog it magically shows you what the commenter has recently posted on their own blogs, should they have them. Part of the way through reading the crazy responses (seriously, check out her blog) I saw a comment from a guy called Brandon who had recently made a post called “Canadian Call-girls? Brothels Now Legal in Ontario Province” – WTF!!!!
Wow, I knew Canada was a liberal country, but wow!
And, as an aside, I decided to mention this to my OH & we ended up talking about how it always seems to be Ontario that pushes the legal envelope on issues like this. Case in point: Women’s rights (or lack thereof) to take their tops & bras off in public, which lead to us having a raging row about women’s rights & whether men & women really are equal in society & in the eyes of the law. We’re not speaking to each other at the moment!
What do you think?
What in heaven’s name is this country coming to? I appreciate that it is obviously a different world from what I grew up in, but do parents have such little control over their children that the last few days are the results?
Where is the respect? I just do not understand how the youth of today think that it is ok to partake in the violence of recent days. Where is their sense of responsibility? Their sense of right versus wrong?
Who is to blame? Is this, as some are suggesting, a result of the cuts to the social infrastructure by the current government? I find that one hard to believe. If that really was the case, that the cutbacks are to blame, then surely there would be constant rioting, constant civil unrest by more than just the few hundred youths of the last few days.
I think that too many kids today have been held to such little account for their actions that they just don’t care about anyone or anything but themselves. Are we seeing the results of a generation of children with absentee parents? I heard on the BBC news this morning that there have been children as young as 7 who have been arrested! 7 years old! Dear god, what is happening? When I was 7 you can be sure that there would have been absolutely NO WAY that I would have been involved in anything like this. At 7 I was too busy being a child – playing with friends & way too scared (should the thought of something even remotely like this have crossed my mind) of what the consequences would have been had I acted on my thoughts.
How much of the blame lies with social media? All these young people are far more “socially” active these days – they have twitter, Facebook, text messaging – all things that in seconds put them in the centre of the action. They have their own language & what seems to be little or no regard for others. This is not the first time in recent history that these hard questions have needed to be asked. Recently, essentially the same thing happened, in the name of protests over the tuition hikes. It may have started that way, with a few people expressing their disgust at that situation in a lawful manner, but quickly escalated to shocking scenes of violence & a total disregard for other people & their belongings.
All too quickly this mob mentality has spread throughout the country – to Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Nottingham – resulting in violent riots in each of these cities. How & when did it become socially acceptable (within the circles of people the ages of those committing these acts) to be a yob, to put yourself above anyone else & to destroy other people’s lives, livelihoods & futures, all in the name of…..well, what exactly?
I think there is something seriously wrong in this country, with our young people, but what can be done to fix it? And who’s willing to take it on?