The “Not on our Doorstep” Delusion

This week I’ve been feeling particularly depressed about the migrant situation in Calais (and, as an aside, also furious with David Cameron for referring to human beings in crisis as ‘swarms’ and expressing his condolences not to the families of the displaced people who have died trying to enter Britain, but rather to British holidaymakers for the inconvenience to their travel plans – disgusting).

The migrant situation is bleak indeed, and with the current political climate and rise of groups like IS it’s hard to see how things will get any better – more likely they will get worse. It makes my blood boil when people say those attempting to enter the UK should just ‘go back to where they came from’. In many cases they would see that as a fate worse than death, and in many cases it would be.

It is also infuriating to hear the argument that migrants should go elsewhere in Europe – what this ignorant ‘not on our doorstep’ stance fails to recognise is that other European countries accept far more displaced people than attempt to enter Britain each year: according to this article in the Huffington Post, Germany, for example, takes over 100,000 asylum seekers compared to Britain’s paltry 20,000, and Turkey is hosting the largest number of refugees in the world – at least 1.59 million people according to the UNHCR. Why shouldn’t Britain help?

I’m no expert on humanitarian crises, but as I see it the only way the current situation can be resolved is to tackle the problem at the source – through a coordinated and sustained attack against the groups that are oppressing and killing those same innocent civilians who are being forced in their thousands to flee, so that one day their homeland may be a place they can safely return to.

I’m also no advocate of war, but let’s not forget the UK government is in no small part to blame for the rise of groups like Al Qaeda and IS – instead of building fences to keep their many victims out of the UK, therefore, would it not be more responsible to take action and stamp them out?

The fundamental truth that many are conveniently choosing to gloss over is this: Most of the migrants entering Europe are doing so not to ‘seek a better life’, but to escape from one that was a living hell. These people are not cockroaches, scattering amongst our ‘civilised’ society to wreak havoc and threaten all that we hold dear. These people are PEOPLE. And, no matter how much you want to make out otherwise, they have the same right to a fear and oppression-free life as you or me.

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NLP Techniques to Achieve Positive Lasting Behavioural Change

Recently I attended a workshop in Brussels on how to incorporate New Code Neuro-Linguistic Programming techniques into daily life as a means of achieving positive and lasting behavioural change. It’s difficult to condense the content of that inspiring three hour session (hosted by fabulous trainers Lidija and Thomas from Momentum Strategies Coaching, who offer courses in London as well as Brussels and other locations worldwide) for the purpose of this blog post, but I’m going to have a go.

During the session, Lidija and Thomas explained that behaviour change is instigated by our unconscious mind rather than our conscious mind. When we want to change a behaviour we must therefore tap into our unconscious mind. This cannot be done, however, unless we are in the right state of mind to engage. For example, if we are feeling stressed, angry or sad, we are less likely to be able to communicate our wants and desires to our unconscious in a meaningful way.

The word ‘wants’ is key here, because the unconscious mind doesn’t recognise or process negatives e.g. I don’t want to keep behaving like this. Rather, it recognises positive affirmations e.g. I want to change this behaviour.

During the workshop we did a number of exercises to promote relaxation and to help us connect with our unconscious mind. One such exercise involved asking our unconscious to support us in making the positive behaviour change we most wanted. According to NLP theory, in making this connection between conscious and unconscious mind, the unconscious mind will begin to adapt our behaviour in ways that promote the desired behavioural change, without the conscious mind even being aware of it.

One example given to demonstrate this was that of a writer who wanted to finish a novel (bit close to home, this one). If the writer were to ask their subconscious every night to support them in achieving this goal, they might find that one day, on waking, they reach for their smartphone (as is their habit) and it drops onto the floor and underneath the bed. Whilst not necessarily the case, this could be an indication of the unconscious mind forcing a change in behaviour to break the negative behavioural cycle (i.e. checking smartphone before doing anything else, and getting sucked into social media etc.), and the writer might take this as a sign, leave the phone under the bed and get their laptop out instead, and begin to write.

I admit I was initially a little sceptical about this example, but then I tried it myself, and a couple of days later as I walked to work along the normal route I suddenly veered off and took a different route, with no input whatsoever from my conscious mind. And then, also unbidden by my conscious mind, my new novel idea popped into my head, and I spent the rest of the walk to work thinking about it. Granted, this could be coincidence, but I’m interested enough to find out more about this fascinating technique and learn how to use it to make positive lasting change in my life.

As a starting point of NLP it is important to clearly state our Intentions i.e. the things our conscious minds most desire. The following is my list:

  1. I WANT TO FINISH MY SCREENPLAY
  2. I WANT TO WRITE A NOVEL
  3. I WANT TO IMPROVE MY FRENCH
  4. I WANT TO BE A MOTHER
  5. I WANT TO BE A GOOD WIFE AND MOTHER
  6. I WANT TO BETTER UNDERSTAND OTHERS / THE HUMAN CONDITION
  7. I WANT TO HELP PEOPLE

What’s yours?

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Proof of Life / Life Lesson

Last night I took my external hard drive from its safe spot in the bottom of the wardrobe, plugged it into the computer and switched it on, with the intention of finding a photograph of me and R to use on our wedding website. Minutes later, on being asked to do something, I jumped up, and, forgetting the wire was in in my way, walked into it and sent the hard drive crashing to the ground. My heart stopped. And, sure enough, when I tried to turn it back on the computer failed to recognise it. It also made a beeping noise (which, as I later read, is never a good sign). A brief call to a data recovery specialist confirmed that paying for professional help was not an option (500-800 Euros? You have got to be kidding me). In the end we whacked it in the freezer for good measure, on the advice of one website that admitted it was a dubious and last ditch method but might possibly work (yeah right), but it is with a heavy heart I am forced to accept that it – along with about five years’ worth of photos – has gone. And most galling of all is that I’ve been here before, having done the same thing a few years ago (and failed to get the data back after parting with 50 quid).

I feel ridiculous admitting it but I’m devastated. Last night I was inconsolable, and couldn’t stop crying. Rightly or wrongly, I value photos enormously. They are a means of remembering all that’s happened in my life, of connecting with my past and demonstrating how I’ve made my mark on the world. Perhaps it’s that last point that’s the most psychologically interesting. People sometimes tease me about how prolific I am on Facebook, and I have often questioned my need to share the details of my life on social media. However, I don’t believe I am a narcissist. My motivation in sharing pictures in particular is not about boasting, or at least my conscious mind disputes that notion. I suppose I do feel a strong need to make my existence in this world tangible, and posting pictures is akin to sticking a sign in the ground saying ‘I woz ‘ere’.

Photographs are, essentially, proof of lives that have been lived. Loath as I am to admit it, on further analysis there is almost certainly a link to my fear of death – of dying, and of people I love dying. I guess I feel somehow that by capturing images I’m keeping myself present, real, alive. And similarly, by capturing pictures of my loved ones I am keeping them alive, and if, God forbid, anything bad should happen, to me or any of them, at least those memories will exist and can be treasured. Is that morbid? Perhaps. But it’s also true.

But what’s done is done. I must move past the sadness, anger and frustration that I’m currently feeling. I’m glad I’m so prolific on Facebook now because I do at least have low resolution copies of the lost files; the memories are not gone forever. But even if they were, what’s most important is the fact I have my health and I have my loved ones – here, in the present, not in the past, which now no longer exists, except in my heart, my mind – and a few low resolution images on Facebook.

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7/7

Ten years ago today, fifty two people lost their lives in London when terrorists targeted three packed commuter trains and a bus during rush hour traffic. I have a hangover to thank for not being on a train that went through Edgware Road that morning. Instead I drove to work, arriving late. When the news broke I tried frantically to contact my then boyfriend, whose journey to work took him perilously close to where the bus bomb had gone off, in Tavistock Square. But the phone lines were jammed by other frantic Londoners trying desperately to locate their loved ones, and it took over an hour to confirm that he was safe, more time still to do a head count of my friends. I remember it like it was yesterday; the panic, the sense of helplessness. It was like watching a disaster movie in real time, where the ‘stars’ could well be people you know – people you love. Just awful.

There’s something wonderfully resilient about Londoners. Even in a crisis they stand defiant. But that day tested the mettle of even the hardiest of the Capital’s inhabitants. It was a threat to everything they – we – stood for. And whilst there is, of course, the argument that our political leaders are responsible for the rise of the terrorism that now threatens our society – having provided arms and funding to the very people who now carry out these atrocities – those people who lost their lives in the 7/7 attacks, those who were injured, and the many more who will be killed and injured by terrorist attacks in the future, were, and are, innocent victims.

After work that day, at a loss for what to do and not wanting to be alone, we went to Notting Hill to try and process what had happened with friends. For as long as I live I will never forget the eerie silence as hundreds of Londoners walked past the window with their heads down; contemplating, as we were, the fact it could so easily have been them.

RIP.

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Carry on Camping

My first experience of camping was Glastonbury 2005. Fresh faced and only twenty three, I arrived with a bright pink two man tent (for two people! What was I thinking?! Total novice) and solar powered shower, feeling so upbeat I could have taken on the world. Five hours later, lightning lit the artificial sky above my head in violent, neon pink, screams rang out across the field below, and the constant dripping on my forehead had me contemplating the efficacy of Chinese water torture. It was, in short, horrific, and the sight of toppled porta-loos and police divers searching for shocked campers’ passports in a soupy sea of mud the next morning did little to bolster my spirits. Nor the sheer effort of walking more than ten paces, the gloopy mud clamping my wellies in its vice-like grip with every step, making extrication an almost superhuman feat. Still, at least I was in a better position than another member of our party, who, on waking in the night to find his tent filling with water, grabbed his pen knife and proceeded to cut his way out of his tent (an inadvisable act when you are to spend the next four nights sleeping in aforementioned tent, and the weather forecast shows no immediate sign of improvement).

You’d think, on the basis of that experience, that I would never have attempted camping again. But despite the harsh conditions, that weekend spawned a love affair with festivals that has spanned more than a decade hence. And since I’ve hitherto not had the funds to upgrade to a gold-plated yurt complete with midget butler (or whatever else it is the cool kids do these days in their VIP areas), the humble tent and backpack combo has been used time and again – though always as an enabler, rather than a leisure pursuit in its own right.

So you can imagine my surprise at having ACTUALLY ENJOYED my first experience of CAMPING JUST FOR FUN, the recent spell of glorious summer weather having lured us at the weekend to a campsite in the Vresse-sur-Semois region of the Belgian Ardennes. Granted, there were a LOT of static homes and caravans where we stayed (our little tent stood out like a sore thumb), and we were woefully underprepared compared to some of the seasoned pros there (reversing our car to the barbecue so we could sit in the boot whilst eating, because we hadn’t brought any chairs), but overall my first time at a camp site was very positive. It had drinking water, clean toilet and shower blocks, and even a bar (God love those boozy Belgians-like home away from home). All that, and our pitch was located right beside the river, which was lovely.

After pitching our tent on Saturday we walked the kilometer into Bohan, passing a broken bridge that told of how the region suffered in WWII (the whole area felt steeped in history, which was fascinating). After failing to procure the bicycles our campsite host had tried to organise for us through a local vendor, we opted for an eleven kilometer hike through the forest, which was beautiful and challenging in equal measure – the main challenge being the near-constant horse fly attacks along the route. Three hours after we set off, we arrived back at the campsite, dirty and tired but exhilarated, and ready to prepare our barbeque supper and have a drink in the bar before bed.

On Sunday we woke surprisingly late, thanks to my sensible suggestion of positioning the tent in an area that would be shaded from the morning sun. We showered, packed up, bade our neighbours goodbye, and drove the four kilometres to Vresse, from where we hired a two person kayak. This was by far my favourite part of the weekend. Horseflies aside (those little bastards), we spent a very pleasant couple of hours cruising along the river, culminating in a palpitation-inducing accidental rapid navigation, after we failed to spot the signs and went the wrong way down a river channel (filmed by several amused looking tourists).

By the time we arrived back in Brussels, two hours after we set off, we were exhausted but revitalised. Despite only being away for one night it felt like a holiday, and made us realise how much we need weekends like that in our life, to rebalance the relative stresses of work and socialising. Sometimes there is nothing like switching off your smartphone, taking off your watch and getting amongst nature. It makes you feel alive, reminds you what life’s all about and, above all else, shows you can have adventure anywhere, if you just seek it out.

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Dream on, Dreamer

I’m not sure if there is any correlation with this spell of scorching weather, but lately I’ve been having some epic dreams; real edge-of-your-seat, night-long dramas, with casts of thousands and plots so tightly woven I would doubtless make millions if only I could re-create them back here in the real world. Which sadly I can’t. Which sucks.

Last night, for example, involved some kind of (low recall rate being my barrier to fame and fortune) city-wide treasure hunt, at the end of which I purchased four beautiful and ingenious Dartmoor crystal tumblers (despite being pretty sure Dartmoor crystal is not even ‘a thing’, I am reluctant to divulge details of the tumblers here, seeing as that is the one part of the dream I can recall in detail – look out for me on Dragons Den at some point in the future..).

A couple of weeks ago I dreamt of losing the gem stones from my grandma’s ring, which, depending on which dream meaning website you look it up on either means I’m soon to shuffle off this mortal coil or run into a big streak of luck (I know which I’d prefer).

I’m not normally a great believer in dream interpretations, primarily because (as demonstrated above), they tend to vary wildly, implying a total lack of reliability. But many years ago two dreams I had did challenge my usual pessimism.

The first was in the summer of 1989, when I was only seven years old. I know this because it was just days before the Marchioness disaster, a fatal collision between two rivercraft on the Thames in London on 20 August 1989, which resulted in the deaths of 51 people, most of whom were in their twenties. I remember dreaming of a boat in a narrow river channel, packed with people who were dancing late into the night. And then, suddenly, the boat capsized and everyone was in the water. When I subsequently saw the news on television my blood literally ran cold.

The second was probably around the same time. In this dream, I was introduced to a girl on the first day of term at school. Her name escapes me now, but I remembered her so well from my dream that when, on the actual first day of school, I saw her sitting at the front of the hall in assembly, I walked right up to her and called her, correctly, by her name. Oddly, it transpired she lived in our parish, and subsequently our parents became friends through our local church and she would sometimes came to my house after school when her mother was working late.

It’s disappointing to me that those are the only two concrete examples I can give of dreams that were clairvoyant in their nature. Some do say that children are more likely to exhibit clairvoyant tendencies than adults, before the onset of adulthood beats their belief in anything supernatural out of them. It’s likely, therefore, that my only two chances to predict the future in my dreams have passed. But don’t expect me to give up the ingenious Dartmoor crystal tumbler design just yet…

sweet vanilla heaven