Tag Archives: the railway children

#ifIgrowup

When I was 8 years old I told my teacher I wanted to be a writer, not just any writer but the new Enid Blyton. Aged 12 I told my teachers I wanted to be a journalist. Having not changed my mind in the intervening years at 16 years old I told my careers teacher I still wanted to be a journalist.

He said: “Don’t be daft you’ll never do that, it’s not what you know it’s who you know. Journalism’s not for the likes of us.”

Just a few months later I left school at 16 and became a secretary. I spent a few years temping and travelling before I got pregnant with teenboy.

Aged 22 and pregnant I found a new journalism course starting in a couple of months. I applied, wrote an essay, sat the tests, aced the interviews and was accepted.

I then had to come clean and tell them I was 5 months pregnant and couldn’t start the course in a month. One of the lecturers said: “I wondered if you might be pregnant cos when we were interviewing you your stomach kept moving. But you can’t ask, can you?”

I started chasing my childhood dream the following year.

Once qualified I broke stories that changed people’s lives, changed laws, exposed scandals, lies and frauds as well as told the stories of the good people so often do. I loved every second of it, going back to work when Teengirl was just a few weeks old.

It all ended, however, when Teengirl suffered a brain haemorrhage at 9 months old and wasn’t expected to survive and I ran out words.

But I never ran out dreams…

Teenboy

As a little boy teenboy wanted to be a pilot, a train driver, a lorry driver. He was obsessed with all forms of transport. Unfortunately he still is as any of you who’ve read this blog know!

Now at 22 his dream is and has been for a few years to be a film maker and editor. Film-editing being his preferred profession.

Thankfully because we live in the UK teenboy got into Uni three years ago and graduated in summer 2015 with a 2:1 degree in Film and TV Production. Currently he’s got three jobs: working in a bar, teaching filmmaking and occasionally filming and editing for a start-up YouTube channel.

But he’s not finished there; he still has plans, big plans. And I think, given a few years, he’ll fulfil them.

Teengirl

When my princess tomboy was a little girl she wanted to be a vet during the week and an artist at the weekend.

At 17 those dreams have evolved slightly. Right now she’s studying for a BTEC in computer game design and already has a GCSE in this.

She’s not sure if she wants to study this at Uni, she quite fancies trying her hand at photo journalism or perhaps fine art or maybe political journalism or creative writing. But then again she might not even go to Uni and train as a tattoo artist or a scuba diving instructor. Who knows! She has so many opportunities at her feet it’s hard to decide. But she’s just 17 she shouldn’t know what she wants to do for sure yet. She’s still got plenty of time for dreaming.

Babyboy

Right now he wants to be an alien! And a lot of the time he wants to be a Lego builder or designer. Big impossible dreams you may say. I say the bigger more imaginative the dream the better. And while he’s reaching for the moon he might just hit a star.

What’s amazing for my children is that the world is their oyster and they know it. They can do whatever they want as long as they can dream.

#ifIgrowup

#ifIgrowup - donate and give a child a chance to dream

#ifIgrowup

International children’s charity the Railway Children help vulnerable children who live alone and are at risk on the streets at home in the UK and abroad. It urgently needs to expand its work in East Africa where thousands of street-connected children are at risk of violence, abuse, exploitation and prostitution.

For 7-year-old Joseph who lives alone on the streets of Nairobi in Kenya every day is a matter of life and death. He doesn’t know what he’ll when he grows up. He doesn’t know if he’ll grow up. He has no need for dreams.

The Railway Children are fighting to save children like Joseph to give them a future. Once these children are safe and well-cared for and back in school, they do have dreams and ambitions, just like any other child.

You can help these children by donating to the #ifIgrowup appeal at www.ifigrowup.org.uk where until 22 January 2016, all donations to Railway Children’s If I grow Up campaign will be doubled by the UK government, helping them reach twice as many children. Proceeds from the appeal will fund Railway Children’s vital work in the UK and abroad; match-funding from the UK government will fund work in East Africa.

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The Zeitgeist of My 2013

As we approach the most depressing day of the year, Blue Monday, I’m already feeling melancholy so I decided to look back as a first step to looking forward and I discovered that if 2012 was the year I learned the fragility of the body and life, 2013 was the year I learned the vulnerability of the psyche.

I’ve had highs and lows, tears and laughter, one-offs and one to manys, but I hope that my zeitgeist might help me learn a lot about myself and help me create 2014’s adventures:

1. Lost 3 stone and fixed most that ailed me:

After being diagnosed insulin resistant in 2012 I changed my diet and lifestyle at the end of January ‘13.  In a year I’ve lost 3 stone, brought my underactive thyroid up to normal level and lowered my cholesterol.

I feel healthier than I have done in years.

2. Got famous among teens on Tumblr as the mum who got chatted up (kinda) by Jack Barakat at the All Time Low gig in London on Valentines Day:

From the stage he looked up, saw teengirl standing next to a girl who was at least a foot taller than her and obviously thought she was much younger than she is and shouted up: “Are your parents with you?”  She shouted back: “Yes, she’s there,” pointing behind her to me.

And I waved at both Jack and Alex like a loony as Jack put his hand to his ear in a phone shape and mouthed: “Call me” at me.

Teengirl has been dining out on that ever since!

3. I went to Downing Street:

Because of this very blog I was invited as a guest of Mumsnet, The Railway Children and Aviva to a reception at Downing Street hosted by Samantha Cameron.  And I was one of the few people selected to meet and chat with Sam Cam.

It was the most surreal, incredible, amazing day of my life.  An experience I’m highly unlikely to replicate and one I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

4. Teenboy and I didn’t talk for 3 months:

For some secret reason teenboy opted not to go to Camp America for the summer and returned home instead.  Just 3 weeks later he was going off the rails, a week later he’d totally lost the plot and stormed out.  We didn’t speak for 3 months.

I descended into depression and apathy and anger.  My hair began to fall out and continued to do so for many months. I stopped sleeping and I obsessed about my ability as a mother.  I stopped writing on here, anywhere.  I questioned myself over and over again desperately trying to work out where I’d gone wrong as a parent.  I went back and forth in my mind over what to do for the best: do I seek him out and talk to him or leave him be to come back on his own.  In the end I never made a decision I just let it linger on all the while feeling sadder and madder.

In the end he came back just before he went back to Uni and apologised.

But if I’m honest, I’ve still not properly recovered from it.  It has caused ripples that have surfed through many parts of my life and my psyche still feels very vulnerable and my self-belief has been seriously dented.  And our relationship remains fragile.

5. Teengirl got counselling:

In 2012 teengirl’s friend committed suicide and then she was bullied by an ex-friend who spread rumours about her sexuality.  I took her to see a counsellor who I’d seen several years ago who practices new and innovative approaches.  Teengirl had one session with him with his Metaphors of Movement.  This was during summer half term holidays and when we left neither of us were quite sure if it had made a difference.

The summer holidays came and went and by the time teengirl went back to school in September my happy, outgoing, confident, strong and feisty girl had come back to me.

6. I became an award winning poet

I wrote a poem entitled Around the World in 80 words, entered it into the South of England Show competition and won with almost full marks.

7. Went on a streetwalk with homeless outreach workers:

Thanks to Mumsnet and The Railway Children I got to go out with outreach workers from New Horizons Youth Centre onto the streets of London to see how homeless young people live and how these workers try really hard to help them get off the streets and into safety.

Eye-opening, heartbreaking and humbling.

8. I saw Roger Waters perform The Wall live and cried:

I’ve loved Roger Waters since I first heard Radio Kaos when I was 18.  The Wall was my go to album when teengirl was in the hospital as a baby with Comfortably Numb being my soundtrack to that horrendous time.

And with the opening bars to the wall crashing down I cried on and off for two hours as I sat in awe at one of my heroes.

9. Took teengirl to a Dove Self Esteem Workshop:

Another day I can never replicate that more mothers should be able to share with their daughters.  I spent time with hundreds of teenage girls, listening to their worries and hearing their hopes and strengths.  I felt like I was in the presence of some of our future female leaders.

This event gave me the greatest gift a mother can get: I learned that my daughter looks up to me that she thinks I’m fearless and amazing.  And I’m an inspiration to her.

10. Supported teenboy through yet another argument with his estranged dad:

Teenboy has issues with his dad who lives abroad and who has never supported him financially or emotionally since he was 3 years old.  This time his dad had tried to tell him how to live his life, told him if he’d raised him he’d be different and better, etc, etc, etc.  Things a child should never hear from a parent.  Teenboy’s a man of 20 now though and he shouted back this time.  He said all the things that he’s kept inside for 10 years.

I got the call at midnight from my little devastated boy who doesn’t understand why his dad doesn’t seem to love him.

I went to Southampton the next day and we talked about his dad, their relationship, or lack thereof.  I was worried he’d spiral down into depression again but he assured me he was doing ok.  He clarified this when he told me he felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders by telling his dad what he’d wanted to say for many years.  He hadn’t said it before because he was afraid he wouldn’t be loved if he voiced his feelings.

That night teenboy texted me to tell me he loved me, to thank me for always being there for him and for always loving him no matter what.

Our relationship has begun to be repaired thanks to an argument with his dad and we’re working on it, it’s not normal yet and still quite fragile, but it’s better.  And he knows I will always be here for him.

 * * * * * * * *

Yes 2013 was quite hard in some ways but in others it was out of this world amazing.  I’ve learnt so much about myself and occasionally the kids have let me have a little insight into their inner workings.

So this year I’m going to continue to be fearless and strong by running headfirst into some new adventures including:

  1. Teengirl and I are launching a t-shirt line featuring some of her artwork and some of my photographs.  Guess what everybody got for their Christmas?
  2. I’ve begun an NLP for Life Coaching diploma.
  3. I’m in the midst of creating a healthy weight loss system based around the principles I used to lose weight and keep it off.  It’s due to launch in around April/May.

Have you looked back and liked what you saw?  Have you been spurned on to take action to make 2014 better than last year?


Talk to Your Teenager about Homelessness

Just a few months ago shortly after coming home from Uni for the summer Teenboy became an arse.

He was a rude, disrespectful, incredibly angry, abusive, cruel, party animal who turned our calm and happy home into a battlefield where we all walked on eggshells.

That is, until he lost his temper one time too many.  He shouted and swore and railed at me.  He blamed me, he ranted at me, he called me names and screamed at me that I’d failed him.

And then he stormed out.

He didn’t return home for 3 months and in that time we talked only once.

But luckily for him and for me, he had my parents to go and live with.

If he hadn’t had that I dread to think where he would’ve ended up.

But one thing’s sure, if he’d disappeared that night and I didn’t know where he was staying despite him being a 19 year old adult I would’ve reported him to the police as a missing person.

Just a week ago I went out in London’s Kings Cross with outreach workers who try their damndest to help young people living on the streets.

And the whole time I was walking around the streets of Kings Cross in the biting freezing December cold I don’t think I’ve ever felt so grateful to have not lost teenboy to our city’s streets.

What Hell Must They Be Running From?

There are children and young people living on the streets of all our cities, not just London, who have never experienced parental support or love.  For them, sleeping rough is better than living at home.

I can’t even begin to imagine the hell their homelives must have been.  It took me an hour to heat up after being out in the biting cold wind of that December night.  I can’t imagine spending day and night being that cold but I can imagine wanting to be free from an  emotionally freezing cold home where violence or emotional abuse is the norm.

I cannot picture a life that is so bad that I would rather sell myself for sex than go home.  I can’t begin to imagine sleeping outside with danger at every turn: drugs, pimps, paedophiles, thieves, people who take advantage, victimise and brutalise again and again.

But sometimes, just sometimes it’s one argument too many that sends a teenager hurtling onto our streets.  It can be the high emotion of simply being a teenager, the feeling that nobody understands them, the pain of trying to fit in and failing, the fear of disappointing parents and friends.  Sometimes, just sometimes it can be just one tiny thing that tips them over the edge and then the stubbornness borne of being a teenager will prevent them from returning home.  Or they think you don’t want them cos they’re too much work, too emotional, too angry, too hurt, too teenager.  And so they stay there on the streets that will ruin them forever.

Not Missing

As cold day turned to freezing night Pete Middleton, an outreach worker specialising in helping young homeless people from New Horizon Youth Centre took me out with him on his rounds of the 3 train stations in and around Kings Cross and the surrounding streets.

As we walked and talked Pete constantly kept a keen (and very experienced) eye out for any child or young person his intuition told him could be vulnerable or homeless.

It’s Pete and his team’s job to reach out to these young people night after night, to spend time with them in the hope of gaining their trust so they can help them.  If they’re over 16 he’ll try over and over to get them to come along to the New Horizon Youth Centre where they’ll find structure, food, a shower, help and advice to get a roof over their heads and, hopefully, a future.

I was amazed when Pete told me that the majority of young people they help have never been reported as missing.

And it’s a sad fact that New Horizon and other similar projects are unable to physically help under 16s.  They HAVE to refer them to social services.

Sadly, a lot of these homeless children have run away from social services involvement in their lives, or their family has put the fear of god into them as regards the power of social services and they’re terrified of them despite the good work we know they often do.

And too often these homeless children just can’t see that social services can help them and sadly they’ll do their utmost to not be found again.

And unbelievably just like the over 16’s many of these children have never been reported missing.

Take Care This Christmas

As we run full speed into one of the most emotionally difficult times of the year with hopes of family tranquility and expectations of family arguments before the turkey has even been carved please stop and consider that each and every one of us could be just one argument away from losing a child or teenager to the streets of our cities.

Please talk to your children.  Make them aware of the realities of living on the streets.  If you can, take them to your closest city on a freezing cold evening forget their hats and gloves and walk them around for an hour.  Sit with them on a bench or a wall for just 15 minutes.

And when they complain about being cold explain to them that woman or girl over there in the sleeping bag begging for money has been out in that cold all day and will be out in it all night because they don’t have a house.

Explain to them that no matter what they do that you will always love them and support them.  Tell them that everybody makes mistakes and you’ll forgive every one of theirs just like you did when they were toddlers.

Tonight, can I ask you to hug your child and tell them that you will always love them no matter who they are or what they do with their life.

Find out more about New Horizon Youth Centre

New Horizon are financially helped by The Railway Children

Read more on how to talk to your child about homelessness at Mumsnet

The Railway Children are supported by Aviva.  They’ll give the charity £2 every time you comment on one of the discussions on  Mumsnet (see above)


Teenagers Need Access to People Who Give a Damn

Teengirl was appalled when I told her I was going to No 10 Downing Street last night.

“How can you go there?” she asked “When his politics are ruining our country?”

“Because it’s not about politics,”  I told her.  “It’s about charity and children.”

every five minutes a child in the UK runs away from home

A shocking, stark and scary statistic.

The song ‘Jump’ by Girls Aloud played on a loop in my head as I walked up the stairs in Number 10 that Hugh Grant danced down in Love Actually and it wasn’t until I’d walked up a flight and a half that Winston Churchill slapped me in the face (metaphorically speaking of course).

The walls of the ‘Hugh Grant’ staircase as it will always be known to me from now on are almost papered in portraits of prime ministers past from Churchill to Brown and from Lloyd George to Baldwin and my mind wouldn’t shake the image of that most famous of PM’s Hugh Grant.

At the top of the stairs I turned left and then through a doorway.  But before I walked through the door into the actual reception I looked up and was astounded to see a pink neon sign.  Unfortunately I couldn’t read the neon writing from the angle I saw it at.

But that pink neon sign in Downing Street tickled me even more than the NYPD blue and pink neon sign in Times Square when I saw it 20 years ago.  I so wished I had my camera to take that one photograph that would’ve summed up my Downing Street visit perfectly.  I snapped it in my mind and it’ll live there forever alongside Times Square NYPD.  But if you do know what the sign says could you please let me know – it would make the photograph in my mind complete.

Did you Know – children run away from problems at home into other worse problems like drugs and sexual exploitation

As I chatted in the reception with other Mumsnetters and bloggers, Ann off of Mumsnet HQ summoned me over:  “When everyone else starts moving into the next room could you just wait here.”

I’m sure my face fell as the thought that I might be getting left out hit the light behind my eyes but of course I agreed.

And as almost everyone else headed through to the other room that housed the biggest chandelier I’ve seen outside of Only Fools and Horses I stayed forlornly put.

But my frown soon turned upside down (oh come on…I’ve got a toddler) when it began to become obvious that I’d been selected to meet Samantha Cameron!!!!

Did you Know – Aviva with Mumsnet has raised £72,000 so far for the Railway Children

And meet her I did.  I shook her hand and I chatted with her very briefly about this very blog.

Can I just tell you right now that she is absolutely lovely.  And as she spoke to every person in the room (including me) she seemed genuine and really interested in what we had to say.  She also seemed genuinely appalled at the statistics and seriously interested in raising awareness of the plight of children who become homeless and how the Railway Children (and their partners) are helping vulnerable children by addressing the problems that could lead to them running away from home.

Did you Know – The Railway Children provide access for children vulnerable to homelessness to people who give a damn

FYI – The Railway Children is a non-profit organisation that fights for children living on the streets.  They provide protection and opportunity for children with nowhere else to go and nobody to turn to.  They are helping make the invisible, visible.

Look out for my next blog which will show how one of the Railway Children’s partners StreetWork, Edinburgh reach out to children who are on the street but not homeless yet.  And I might also expose more of Downing Street shallowness! 

Behind this door I met Samantha Cameron at the event she hosted to raise awareness of the Railway Children's work to help homeless children and teenagers.

Behind this door (10 Downing Street) I met Samantha Cameron at the event she hosted to raise awareness of the Railway Children’s work to help homeless children and teenagers.


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