Smile & the World Smiles With You – or does it?

I grew up in what was a friendly town and friendly community. People talked to each other, even if they were strangers. They would smile and say hello, or actually the local phrase was “How you doing?”, not in a Joey Tribbiani way, more like “Howyadoing” as though it were one word.  Shopkeepers were jolly and jokey and knew all of their regular customers. The customers were loyal and patient. People held open doors and got thanked for doing so.

Fast forward 20 years and things have changed enormously. People are sullen and glum looking, hardly anyone smiles. They barely make eye contact let alone speak.  We sat having coffee today in a Cafe Nero, almost all the independently owned cafes and shops are gone now and my town has become like most others – a giant brand.  Chain stores and chain coffee houses are everywhere.  The friendly, knows his customers shopkeeper is now a creature of history.  The shops are now filled with bored looking, fed up staff, who couldn’t care less what your “usual” is.  In many ways, I don’t blame them for their attitude.  The customers don’t speak to them, other than to make demands upon them, without so much as a please or thank you.  That’s not how I was brought up, I was brought up to have some good grace and general manners with people, so it saddens me when I see customers just thrust their money at the shop assistant and then snatch back their change, without an acknowledgement to the human being who just served them.

So while we were drinking the burnt tasting coffee, I was people watching through the window, when I noticed across the mall an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair attempting to get into a shop.  One side of the double doors had swung shut and he was struggling in his wheelchair trying to pull it open.  It was a hugely busy Saturday, there were people walking past inches from his chair, there were people actually walking around him to go into and out of the shop and not one of them offered to help him – not one.  My husband got up and walked across the mall and opened the door for him, but it did take him quite a few minutes to get out of the cafe, weave his way through the shoppers and go to the gentleman’s assistance.  In that time I counted 8 people who walked into that shop past that man and not one of them thought to pull open the other side of the door.  That made me feel really sad, is this what we have become.  Everywhere I looked people were talking on mobile phones or texting, people were rushing around with their heads down, people were letting doors close in each others faces.  Is this the world my girls will grow up in.  I am determined to teach them differently.

So I decided to perform a little experiment.  I made a point of looking directly at people, trying to catch their eye and if I did I smiled or said hello.  Most people appeared to be genuinely shocked, a few stared at me like fish with their mouths opening and closing.  A few actually responded with a wary hello and a couple actually smiled back.  I held doors open for people, or let them go in front me.  Some said thank you, some smiled or nodded, but quite a few just barged on anyway as if it were their right and they were going to shove in front of me in the first place.  What on earth has happened to the human race?  We weren’t always this rude, uncaring and cold.

We left town soon after and on the way back to the car we had to cut down an alleyway.  I say alleyway, it’s not really, it’s a wide paved area with some flower beds and a couple of benches, there are no shops on it and only the car park at the end.  On the corner though there is a snooker hall and amusement arcade.  Outside it was a large group of teenagers, mostly boys with their low slung jeans, beanie hats and skateboards.  A bit like male Avril lavignes.  Some of them had electric guitars and drumsticks, so I suspect they might also have a little band.  About 30 paces in front of us was a man carrying some shopping bags.  I was carrying the baby and my husband was carrying our toddler and pushing the empty pram, they had both had enough of being in it at this stage.  The man went to step down the kerb and whatever happened he fell and dropped all his shopping bags.

Again there were people everywhere walking to and from the car park.  They all looked around at what had happened, but none of them did a thing to help.  Old ladies were passing us tut tutting at these “wild” teenagers hanging around, some of them glaring accusingly at the boys as though they were to blame.  By this stage however at least 6 of those young lads had picked that man up, lifted all his shopping and were asking him if he was alright.

Yes all the condescending adults, all the people who screwed their faces up at this group of teenagers walked past a man who had fallen and the people to help him were the unruly, wild teenagers.  By the time we reached the spot, one of the boys turned to me and told me to be careful as there was a loose kerb stone and he wouldn’t like to see me fall over with the baby.

I got into the car with a smile on my face, my sadness at the human race disintegrated because of that group of teenage boys.  The young boys branded as trouble by a big proportion of society, shone today as caring, respectful young men.  I turned to my husband and said “If I was their mothers, I’d be very proud of them.”  So to whoever their mothers may be, I say “You have raised lovely sons.”

Maybe it’s time as adults we take a leaf out of their books and start to care just a little bit more about those around us, maybe we should look beyond fashion and age and just see the human being, the person trying to live, just the way we are trying to live.  Maybe we should hold open a few more doors, make a little bit more eye contact, smile at a stranger and say please and thank you again to the person behind the cash register.

Just Once

After my long hard battle to become a mum, after trying to cope with the loss of our son.  I often feel that, now that I have not 1, but 2 miracle children, I can’t ever have a wee moan.  I can’t ever let motherhood get to me, I can’t ever complain that it is difficult.

I cannot explain, what it feels like every day to wake up and know that I am a mum, to know that those two girls are asleep and that they are ours.  I prayed for this moment for a lifetime and now I have it, I should be happy and never say a wrong word – right?  Of course that’s right and I do understand how people desperate to have children hate seeing parents moan about theirs.  However, I think I have earned the right to allow myself to have a bit of a moan, even though I feel immensely guilty doing it.  So here goes

Just Once – I’d like to lie in my bed on a weekday until after 9am.

Just Once – I’d like to come downstairs make a cup of tea and some toast, sit down in peace and eat and drink it all to myself, without having to pour some of my tea into a plastic tea set cup for my toddler to drink and split my toast between both of them.

Just Once – I’d like to do this watching the news and not Disney Junior or Cbeebies

Just Once – I’d like to do this without our toddler diving onto the couch beside me spilling my tea and without our baby clinging onto my legs and biting my kneecap.

Just Once – I’d like to have a shower without 2 little remarkably cute faces, pressed up against the glass.

Just Once – I’d like to have my shower, without the door being opened and various items being thrown in along with me – mostly my clean clothes or the towel.

Just Once - I’d like to get dried and dressed without having to tell my daughter 100 times, that I’m putting on deodorant!  “Mummy, what you doing, mummy what you doing, mummy what you doing”  It takes a brief moment to deodorise, but my daughter can fit that question in at breakneck speed over and over and over!

Just Once – I’d like to be able to turn on the hairdryer and dry my hair properly without having the 2 of them dangling off the cable or the baby trying to eat it.

Just Once – I’d like to have a pee without an audience.

Just Once – I’d like to put on my shoes without having to remove plastic animals and Lego bricks from them first.

Just Once – I’d like to be able to wear the same outfit all day and for it not to end up covered in food, snot and tears.

Just Once – I’d like to drink my glass of water with lunch without having to ask my toddler to take her hand out of it!

Just Once – I’d like them both to go for an afternoon nap so that I can put my feet up and watch some trashy television for an hour.

Just Once – I’d like to be able to watch said television without having to scrub the finger prints and yoghurt off the screen first.

Just Once – I’d like to be able to read a magazine during the day without it being battered out of my hands, pages torn from it and eaten!

Just Once – I’d like to look in the fridge or fruit bowl and not see things with bites out them!

Just Once – I’d like my toddler to throw her unwanted snacks in the bin or just hand them back to me, instead of hiding them somewhere until they are wearing blue fur coats.

Just Once – I’d like to eat my dinner without little hands poking through it and begging for some even though their own dinner is exactly the same.

Just Once – I’d love to have a long soak in the bath without having to empty a multitude of toys out of it first.

Just Once – I’d love to sit down in the evening before 10pm

Just Once – I’d love to get to bed before 1am and be able to switch off and not plan anything!

That’s about it really, there’s quite a few Just Once’s on there.  However, I am happy to forfeit them all every day for the countless times our baby crawls across the floor to me, crinkles up her cute little nose in a smile and stretches her chubby arms up for a cuddle.  Or the numerous times throughout the day that our toddler will suddenly come to me and ask for a big hug, then look me in the eye and say “I love you mummy.”  Each and every one of these times is worth a million sleepless nights, mucky television screens and furry biscuits!  These are the precious things I never want to happen Just Once.

Soft “Pooh” Play

As the weather is still rotten I met my friend and we took our children to the local soft play centre.  We usually go on Fridays, but decided to go today before the schools finish for summer and the place becomes Sodom and Gomorrah!

Anyway it wasn’t too busy and as my friend is 4 months pregnant, I had the sole task of accompanying both our toddlers into the play area.  For those of you not familiar with soft play centres.  They are netted off areas covered in crash mats and padding with slides and various other rollers and rocking toys.  The toddler area is fantastic, but if your toddler is under 4, they tend to need a little adult help at getting up onto some of the platforms.

So I crawl in on my hands and knees through the door and the children automatically head for the back section which has the slides.  Again there’s another little door to crawl through, a few posts to weave around and then a little 3 ft long plastic tunnel to crawl through to get to the slides.  (No need for gym membership if you take children here)

There was a man in his late 20′s early 30′s already in there with a little boy, so I made my daughter and her friend wait until they had crawled through the tunnel.  Just as the man entered the tunnel though, he broke wind!  Yes he farted in a plastic tunnel and the sound reverberated around the whole play area.  In a desperate attempt not to laugh I was eating the inside of my cheek.  Trying to distract the children who by this stage were both staring open-mouthed at the tunnel.

My charming daughter then pipes up at the top of her voice “mummy, who made that noise?”  I couldn’t speak, I was gulping in air trying to stop myself from laughing.  So she carries on “mummy, who made that noise, what was that noise?”  My friend’s son then shouts “oh a big fart”

By now my entire body is shaking from trying to suppress the laughter, I can feel the tears springing up behind my eyes and my voice has risen by about 10 octaves, to a mere squeak.  When the man appears out the opposite end of the tunnel and oh my word the whole backside of his sand coloured trousers are chocolate-brown!!

The fart had become a little more than a fart and was now coating the inside of his trousers.  By now I just had to get out, I knew I was going to explode with laughter.  There were children blocking the door way and I practically threw them out of the way, grabbed my 2 toddlers and crawled out.  However, the ever observant toddlers had already spotted the trouser incident, my daughter was shouting “uh oh, uh oh” repeatedly and my friend’s son shouted “that man did a pooh-pooh.”

So there I am crawling on all fours across crash mats, my body shaking with laughter and by now tears streaming down my face.  I got to the entrance and just rolled out the door onto the floor on my back and I couldn’t get up for laughing.  My throat hurt from laughing and I actually thought I was going to throw up.

I couldn’t even tell my friend what had happened, because I could barely breathe, let alone speak.  Then I see that poor man crawling out of the soft play on his hands and knees and of course we are sitting on seats right at the entrance.  Knowing that I couldn’t look him in the eye I buried my head in the children’s changing bag.  Of course though, both toddlers decided to point and tell my friend “that man poohed his pants”  “look, look, there’s pooh.”

He had to crawl out of there and then walk past everyone to leave the building.  Oh the shame.

There is a definite moral to this story.  Never go to a soft play centre if you have gas!  If you must go, then for goodness sake wear dark coloured trousers!

War of the Words

I don’t get to spend a great deal of time on social networking sites anymore.  Most of my internet time is now restricted to the evenings when our girls are finally asleep for the night and I’ve managed to get semi organised for the next day.

In many ways I’m actually glad that I am now “free” of this burden, I say burden because to be honest that is what it seems to be nowadays.  Browsing through Facebook or in the various baby forums I joined, they seem to be full of fighting and not a great deal else.  People taking chunks out of one an other through words.  Most of these people have formed purely online friendships and geographically will probably never actually meet up face to face.  Which beggars the question – why?  Why let a “virtual” friend or in fact “virtual” stranger bother you that much that you get into a full-blown, mud-slinging argument.  Surely it isn’t worth the typing time or the obvious annoyance that it has caused.

I know in baby forums debates about breast and formula feeding will always get a little heated, in fact almost anything to do with parenting choices will become heated, as naturally enough everyone has their own methods and beliefs on how things should happen.  However, to descend into full on fighting – bar getting physical, seems both pointless and unnecessary.  These things inevitably seem to end with people leaving the group and vowing never to return, only to be followed by a string of posts from others begging them to stay.  If the “flouncer” as they are known in chat circles, decides they’ve had enough begging requests, they will then create a post saying they will stay.  For me reading this stuff regularly, it has all just become so tiresome.  I open a thread, see the argument, read a few posts, sigh and then close it again.  The truth is, I just can’t be bothered reading the same thing battered out day after day, instigated by different people.  Generally the one who decides they need attention that day.

Surely if you post on an open forum like that, then you must know to expect differing opinions, you must know that you could come up against some harsh critics.  These places are not flowery gardens of loveliness.  Some of them are full of very opinionated people, people who believe it’s “my way or the highway”.  If you don’t want an opinion that differs from yours, or you are not prepared to accept that every poster won’t agree with you, then perhaps an internet chat type forum isn’t the place for you.

I spoke before about Facebook and the silly status updates that people aim at each other, another bizarre behaviour in my opinion.  What I don’t get though is that parenting forums are there for help, support, advice and friendship for people who share a common bond – our children.  Why do we as parents insist on turning the raising of our children into a competition?  Why can we not just get on with the important job of trying to raise these little people and turn them into well-rounded individuals.

Don’t get me wrong debate is good and the world would be a very dull place if everyone shared the same opinions and just agreed with one and other about everything.  Does it have to turn into a battle though?  Do people really have to have this major online bust up and then tout for supporters, split the group down the middle, form a new splinter group, fall out again in another few months and the splinter groups then form another splinter group?  At what point do the splinter groups end up as just individual people going it alone all over again?

My Gob is Well & Truly Smacked

I don’t often question anyone elses parenting choices, each to their own I say.  I’m pretty sure there are things that I do, that others wouldn’t approve of.  So I make a point of not looking down my nose at anyone and minding my own business.  Unless something extremely harmful or life threatening is going on.

What I witnessed today though left me absolutely reeling and I can’t for a second get my head around what the parent/guardian, or minder of this child was thinking.  In fact I’m fairly certain he wasn’t thinking at all.  If he was, it was only about himself.

I had been into town with my girls to buy our toddler some new shoes and I decided to come home the shorter route down the motorway.  I was about 2 miles from my off slip, when I noticed the car in front swerving over the white line, then back across almost onto the hard shoulder, it continued to do this back and forth, back and forth.  Then it would speed up and slow down.  My initial thought was, this is a drunk driver.  My next reaction was that I wanted to get as far away from him as possible.

I decided that I was going to pass him.  As I pulled alongside him, I realised what the cause of the erratic driving was.  He was steering his car with his elbows and using his hands to text!  That in itself makes my blood boil, but what horrified me even more about the situation was the fact that there on the front passenger seat was an infant carrier, complete with infant!  I actually felt sick and I was stunned beyond belief, that anyone would do this.  If this guy is prepared to take a risk like that with the life of his own baby or a baby in his care, then he would have absolutely no regard for the safety of my children or anyone elses.

When I got off the motorway, I pulled in and called the police and gave them his registration.  I know it probably won’t achieve anything, in todays economic climate, they probably won’t even call and see him.  However, I couldn’t just ignore that little baby, I didn’t want to hear a news report of a baby being in a car accident, knowing that I may have been able to prevent it.

I’m just stunned at how much attention he was giving his text and how little he was giving his driving or his baby.  Why on earth would someone do that?  Is this the downside to our wonderful technological world, can we now not switch off, even if it means we could cause death?

Spot the Conman

During this miserably wet June, I’ve found myself reading a lot more magazines than normal.  Not the celebrity type reads, the “real” people stories.  I am amazed by the number of stories of women in particular being conned out of thousands of pounds mainly in the name of love.

First we have the old story of women going on holiday and meeting the love of her life in a bar, more often than not Turkey or Tunisia, although there are of course other countries that it happens in too.  These 2 seem to have dominance in the holiday “love rat” stakes.  After he has milked as much money, mobile phones and designer labels off her that he can manage, she then usually finds out by text message or Facebook that he has gotten engaged or even married to some other woman from some other European country.  He will of course convince her for a while that it is all some lie by a jealous colleague and his heart belongs solely to her.  So she will make a few more trips to his country and part with more of her money, before she discovers he is indeed a cheating, lying, rat,  whose intentions were never anything more than taking her money, or perhaps attempting to marry her for a visa!  I am not suggesting that all Turkish or Tunisian men are doing this, but the stories seem to be getting more and more commonplace.

Next of course is the age-old “you have won or inherited a huge sum of money”.  It is of course being looked after by some random solicitor somewhere in the Netherlands and you have to pay a few thousand pounds for him to travel to Ghana or some other remote part of Africa to “sneak” it out for you.  Nigerian 419 scams as these are known, have been around for years and yet people still fall for them.  People still send Western Union money transfers off.  Money that they cannot afford to just lose, but it’ll be alright, because they will get £42 million pounds when the solicitor is freed by his captors in Ghana, who discovered why he was there and are now holding him and your money to ransom!

Now there appears to be a new predator on the block though.  The man/men signing up to uniformed dating websites and posing as members of the military, mainly as Army Officers, either American or British.  Like most women, I appreciate the appeal of a man in uniform – heck I married one!  The uniform seems to represent a lot of the things we desire in life safety, strength, reliability and trust.  A regular income and a “secure” job and they are just a bit heroic too.  These men realise this and that is one of the reasons why they have chosen to go down this route for their con.

So you are a lonely women, perhaps divorced, widowed, you have spent many years raising your family and it’s time for you to have some company and fun in your life now.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, in fact, you should  do it, you do deserve it.  However, do so with caution.  These men seem to home in on women who have stated that they are widowed or divorced, perhaps they think they smell money or perhaps they feel that you will be vulnerable and easy to manipulate, perhaps it is a combination of both.

They will message straight away and send a profile picture of “himself” in his full military uniform, looking every bit the handsome, dashing hero.  There is a very strong possibility that the photograph is NOT the person you are messaging.  Chances are it is a photo that has appeared in some military story or document on the internet and they have stolen the image.  The photo could very well be of someone who has retired from military service years ago.  He may also include photos of some large sprawling house with cars, horses and all the trappings of a well off life.  Again this is probably plucked from the internet.

They will message you every day, bombard you with heroic stories and find out as much about you as possible.  If you have suffered from grief and loss, they will have too, so will understand exactly how you feel and promise to put you back together again.  The messages will become loving and protective of you.  He will start to suggest meeting up and start telling you he feels as though he’s known you forever.

By now he has you pretty much hooked.  He will tell you his wife died of some horrible illness or accident and he is raising their child all on his own, while serving his country.  Chances are he also lost his parents in some equally tragic manner.

So you arrange to meet somewhere in the UK.  On the day before or in fact even the morning of the meeting, you will get a message telling you he can’t come he’s being sent on a mission to Afghanistan, Iraq or whatever other country at the time there happens to be a war in.  He says he will try to email or even call you when he gets there, but he can’t tell you when that will be, or how easy it will be to make a call or get internet access.

You are heartbroken, but your concern and worry about him only further strengthens the hold he now has over you.  You might even have started to tell a few people about him.  So you get a phone call a few days later, you are madly excited to talk to him for the first time person to person.  However, you can’t help but notice that the American/British accent you were expecting sounds foreign and his English seems a little broken – Please let the Alarm bell ring.  You might even mention this to him, he will try to fob you off by saying it’s a satellite phone and the connection is very bad and that he can’t hear you properly either.  Alarm bell ringing again!

He will end the call telling you he might not be able to phone again, he doesn’t know when he’ll get back, but when he does he’s flying straight to see you.  He realises how precious life is and he wants to spend the rest of his with you, he might even mention marriage at this stage.  You are now madly in love, unless you’ve listened to your Alarm bells.

Your further communications are sporadic and by email only.  There may even be a few days when you hear nothing from him.  He will then email you telling you some dreadful war story.  His next email will be a panic one.  His child who is at boarding school or being looked after by a friend while he’s away has taken ill and requires emergency surgery which will cost $5000.  He of course has the money – you know he has, he’s a military officer, they are well paid, you’ve seen the sprawling house.  However, being in a war zone he can’t access his bank account, he needs your help.  He needs to borrow the money, he’ll give it back with interest as soon as he gets home.  He’s desperate, his child might die.  You of course want to help, even if you cannot afford to.  This should now be your big Alarm bell – the military all have Families Officers and welfare officers appointed to look after soldiers families while they are on active service.  The Army welfare service would make certain that his child was looked after, they would sort out everything on his behalf.  They would NOT leave his child to die or leave his child with no money.  They would sort out even a tiny problem.  Do not believe him, if he tells you he has no one to turn to and ask, tell him to speak to his welfare officer.  Think about it, he’s in a war zone, how did he find out his child needed emergency surgery – through the military of course!

Other lines of extracting money have included telling you he is coming home from war but the military won’t or can’t pay for his flight and of course again he can’t access his money.  Do I even need to mention the Alarm Bell.  Of course the military will fly him home, they do not send soldiers to war and then leave them to make their own way home.  They do not all trot down to the airport in Afghanistan and check in for a British Airways flight.  They come home on military aircraft, the same way they got there!

Then there is the mystery phone call from his foreign sounding friend the day before he was due to leave Afghanistan on the flight you sent $2500 by Western Union for.  The friend tells you that lover boy is in hospital in wait for it…..Ghana!  He needs money for the hospital fees and money to get his luggage out of storage and of course money for a new flight.

By now you should be deafened by the Alarm bells, your head should be vibrating.  Why on earth would he – a military office “fighting” in Afghanistan be in hospital in Ghana!  Ghana for a start is nowhere near Afghanistan and the military would not leave any of their personnel in an unsecure hospital in just some random country.  If he needed hospital treatment, he would be treated by military Dr’s in Afghanistan first and then if necessary airlifted to a military hospital, more often than not in Germany.  Once he was stabilised he would then probably be flown home to hospital.  No matter what line you are fed, the army are NOT sending him to hospital in Ghana or anywhere else in Africa/Asia.  He also would NOT be paying for his medical treatment.  Again while in active service the military sorts out his treatment.

I know some people may read these things and think, no one would fall for this stuff.  Believe me I’m just a bit gobsmacked myself that they do, but they do.  I am reading stories containing just this kind of stuff on a regular basis now.

It is a very harsh and expensive lesson to learn, it could leave you in serious financial difficulty.  So please, tread carefully.  Play it safe with internet dating, be wary and be safe.  Thousands of people really do find true love online, thousands of people end up in very happy and successful relationships due to internet dating.  Just be aware that your wonderful, heroic man in uniform, may be nothing more than a person male or female sitting in an internet cafe somewhere in Africa waiting for your big fat Western Union money transfers to turn up.

So in summary the things to be careful of are:

If he sends you the dashing head and shoulders photograph of himself in his Number 1 0r 2 dress uniform – that is the formal uniform with proper Jacket and medals etc – ask him to send you some pictures in his combat/camoflage uniform.  Believe me, I have worked with the military for years, they all have tons of these pictures.  They all have pictures posing with a tank/helicopter/or big gun.  Make sure it is actually the same face in all pictures and don’t just look at the uniform.

There is software that can do reverse image searches, it’s not fool proof and doesn’t always bring up a result, however, if the pictures have been used elsewhere on the internet, chances are the software will find them.

If he tells you he needs money for a family members operation etc, tell him to go to his Welfare/Families Officer – they all have them, don’t accept the lame excuses as to why he can’t do that – he can!

If he tells you the Army can’t/won’t fly him home – They will.  Do NOT NOT NOT send him money for a flight, no matter how much he promises in return.  The military will fly him home, they may not fly him to your house unless it’s his country of origin too, but they will fly him home.  They will not under any circumstances leave him to make his own way home from a war zone.

Lastly, don’t be put off every man in uniform that may approach you on these sites, the majority are probably exactly who they say they are, just be on your guard for the crooks.  Keep your purse shut and you mind alert.

Listen to your Alarm Bells, don’t let your thumping heart drown them out.  Remember the old saying, “if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is”.