Aug 122009
 
bad-cyberbully

Image by J_O_I_D via Flickr

When I was a child I was bullied at school. Hard to believe if you know me today… but back then things were very different.

Tall, gangly and with a chronic lack of self-confidence, I guess I made an easy target. Picking on the "big meek kid" seemed to be the order of the day… and it hurt much more than just the physical pain.

The specifics of individual events elude me now, but I still remember vividly how the taunting and physical bullying made me feel: worthless, insignificant and utterly, irrevocably alone.

It didn’t help that I was getting mixed messages at home. Mum was advocating a "turn the other cheek" approach while Dad was a staunch advocate of a "give them a dose of their own medicine" solution. It left me in limbo.

In the end it turned out that Dad was right, but I was in fifth year at secondary school before I’d finally had enough, faced my demons and turned the tables on the bullies. That’s when it stopped!

Bullying in any form is abhorrent on so many levels, but at least in my day the bullying was a tangible thing. I could see the people who were taunting you: real, flesh and blood boys standing in front of me. But today there’s an altogether more sinister aspect to bullying… a new dimension to an age old menace that’s being facilitated by modern communication technology.

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Jun 042009
 
Sea side of Marbella

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Catching up with a few missed posts… this one from the end of April while we were leaving Spain on our way to Morocco….

We’re sitting on the ferry as it pulls out of Algeciras on the southern tip of Spain. Our destination, Cueta, a Spanish port on the North African coast, and from there across the border into Morocco, and on to the Rif Mountains and the Mediterranean coast. The crossing takes around 45 minutes – highlighting just how close Europe and Africa really are. So close, and yet a world apart.

Ferries are frequent, with ships from the various companies leaving approximately every hour, so there’s plenty of choice and no real need to pre-book.

The girls have been getting more and more excited about the trip to Morocco as our week in Spain has progressed—it’s like going on holidays, they said, when you’re already on your holidays. They’re turning into accomplished little travellers, and I have to say that so far this trip—from check-in at Cork Airport, to collecting the hire-car at Malaga to boarding the ferry to Morocco—they’ve taken it all in their stride. There have been surprisingly few arguments and complaints.

It’s the same now. After a brief skirmish about window seats on the ferry they’ve all settled down nicely and are reading their books or playing with their “Nintendos”.

Ahead of us lies Morocco, and a completely new adventure, but for the last week we’ve been exploring the Costa del Sol, and I have to say that, after a first impression that lived up to all of my low expectations of the region, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised.

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Nov 052008
 

03112008 “Trick or treat, trick or treat, give us something nice to eat….”

When you’re answering your own door to an assortment of miniature ghouls and goblins it’s a phrase that brings a smile to your face, or would if you weren’t trying so hard to look suitably terrified. Standing in the freezing cold on somebody else’s doorstep as the words trip from the tongues of your own band of little monsters it becomes positively cringe-worthy.

Standing begging on people’s doorsteps isn’t exactly my idea of a fun night out – but we were running late for the Halloween disco. So, I took the kids around the neighbours’ houses while my wife put the finishing touches to her own ghastly outfit (this is probably the only time of year I can describe what she’s wearing as ghastly and get away with it…).

The neighbours had been expecting us, and had all sorts of sweet goodies at the ready. By the time they’d finished, they’d managed to accrue a fairly impressive stash, despite the fact that we live in the middle of nowhere and have very few neighbours within walking distance.

I checked their bags to see what they’d got… sweets, crisps, bars, lollipops and, lurking near the bottom of each bag, a solitary apple… the only thing in the haul really worth eating.

Halloween is great fun for kids… but it’s a shame it’s become so synonymous with gorging on sweets, chocolate, crisps and fizzy drinks. It’s yet another example of “US spin” warping traditional heritage and culture and turning it into so much less than the sum of its original parts. It’s like synergy, only in reverse: more is less, as opposed to less is more.Poor eating habits can lead to obesity, even a...

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I can’t help wondering why

we’re always so eager to emulate elements of American culture, when in so many ways they’re patently flawed. But we do it time and again in all areas of life. Take childhood obesity, for example; America has a huge problem with overweight and obese children. Now… thanks largely to the fact we’re so quick to hop on the American bandwagon… so have we.

I’m not suggesting, of course, that the annual sweet-and-snack-fest that Halloween has become is the cause of rising levels of obesity in Irish children. That would be daft. The real problem is the lamentable fact that this rubbish has become a staple of Irish children’s diets.

The National Children’s Food Survey found that far from being an “occasional treat”, sweets, snacks and biscuits now account for a fifth of the average Irish child’s energy intake. That’s a staggering figure for all the wrong reasons. Meanwhile, researchers in Dublin are beginning to uncover a correlation between obesity in childhood and the early onset of “adult” diseases like cardiovascular problems and type 2 diabetes in Irish children.

Studies, reports, think-tanks and government recommendations are all very well, but ultimately it’s parents who need to take a lead in tackling Ireland’s growing obesity problem. Looking after our children’s wellbeing is paramount for any parent, and their diet is a fundamental part of that responsibility. It’s our job to introduce children to good food and to instil healthy eating habits from an early age.

By all means let children have fun, go a bit OTT on the sweets and run riot on special occasions… just don’t let it become the bedrock on which they’ll build the eating habits of a lifetime.

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Oct 152008
 
USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D, flagship of the Uni...

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Both James T. Kirk and Jean Luc Picard had it wrong in Star Trek‘s opening credits. Set against the inky backdrop of the void, punctuated by a billion lustrous pinpricks, the USS Enterprise prepared to engage its “warp drive”. The incumbent captains voice, steeped in authority, yet tinged with a dash of wonder, would utter the iconic words “Space, the final frontier….”.

But of course it’s not really, is it? It’s a frontier, certainly… and one that we are only starting to explore. It’s vast in a way that perhaps we’ll never comprehend: it’s scope, it’s potential and the challenges to human ingenuity that it’s exploration presents are unimaginable. But I have no doubt that, given time, humanity has the capacity to rise to those challenges.

The title of “final frontier” belongs, I believe, to something much closer to home, something equally perplexing, deeply personal and perhaps because of that more frightening by an order of magnitude than anything we’ll encounter in space. It’s a frontier that’s of this earth, and yet also, perhaps, more than that. It’s a frontier that, ultimately, no living person can avoid. I’m talking, of course, about death.

I’ve been pondering death this week – not in a morbid, brooding way, but in terms of how we react to the death of another, the way it reminds us of our own mortality, and to appreciate the things that are important in our own lives. My wife’s “Nana” passed away last week, her departure leaving much sadness, upheaval and reflection in its wake. She was 89 years old, and had lead a full and active life, but somehow age, and a grudging acknowledgement of the inevitability of a loved one’s departure, does little to ease the pain of losing a parent, grandparent, sister or friend.

I was astonished at the scale of the funeral. It always strikes me as incredibly poignant the way that the act of saying that ultimate farewell can bring so many people together. Grieving is an intensely personal process, but it’s not a solitary one. Death, it seems, can be a catalyst for solidarity, sympathy and support.

As with everything in life, children are amazingly pragmatic and resilient when it comes to confronting death. The girls used to see their great grandmother regularly when up in Cork visiting their Nana. They were sitting at the kitchen table when we told them the sad news. The twins were upset, but stoic, and were mostly concerned about their Nana, and the fact that she had lost her mum. The little one stood up without saying a word and went to her bedroom. My wife followed her to find her sobbing into her pillow. “I’ll never be able to see her again,” she said.

After a little bit of time and a cuddle or two she was fine… but her little mind was hard at work analysing things. “Does that mean Nana’s an orphan now?” she asked the following morning as we drove up to the City. And technically, although we rarely think of it in those terms, I suppose she was right.

Now that the frantic few days of the funeral are behind us, and the formal farewells are done, the family will have time to reflect and come to terms with the fact that “Nan” is gone. Each of them will mourn that loss in their own way, but in the knowledge that they’re not on their own. They have each other’s love and support, and all of our thoughts are with them.

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