Loan Shark

As much as I love bookshops and well stocked bookshelves, this year I am going to try to make the most of my local library.  Public libraries are under threat with swathes of local library buildings and services being closed over the last few years and library jobs being lost or replaced with volunteers .

So here are just a few reasons to love your library:

Continue reading “Loan Shark”

Muggins Here takes over: The Internet

[Background: BBC R4 Woman’s hour gave 5 prominent women the chance to discuss topics that interested or moved them. The resulting programmes were so powerful that Muggins Here is joining in and lining up real ideas for an imaginary #WHtakeover.  Comment and join in  – what are the topics that matter to you? NB: Woman’s hour is not just for women, in 2013 44% of its 3.9 million listeners were male, but it remains a space to discuss overlooked issues such as the increase in unpaid carers or including sanitary products as a vital part of international aid. *All text links are articles, TED talks and sources NOT ads or spam.]

First up, the Internet. As Bill Gates said, ‘the Internet changes everything’ but just as it has changed the way we live, we have changed how we use it. It is no longer simply a resource but also a tool. The potenital to empower and improve lives has been shown to have a particularly positive effect on those with low income or education, those in the developing world and women in general. It gives us all autonomy, security, access to community and a voice. However, it is not perfect; navigating the hackers, stalkers and trolls (who aim to cause hurt and distress by making extreme comments anonymously) can be difficult. It seems the Internet has the power to bring out the best and worst of human nature.

While we talk about the new generation of ‘Digital Natives’ and the Queen’s speech talks of the right for broadband in every household in Britain, there are still those without Internet access or the necessary computing skills to get online. Several organisations are looking to address this imbalance and introduce people to the advantages of internet use.


Virtual Empowerment

Troll Control

Helping Digital Expats

Continue reading “Muggins Here takes over: The Internet”

BBC R4 Woman’s Hour Takeover makes waves…

…so naturally Muggins Here has to stick an oar in.

5 different Guest Editors took to BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour to talk about the topics that moved them in 5 special broadcasts last week; Mary Berry, Eniola Aluko, Jackie Kay, Sunetra Gupta and Angelina Jolie Pitt. The choice of topics varied from theraputic gardening to international aid and made each programme very personal to the incredible women sharing their experiences, knowledge and passions. People are always at their most inspiring when they talk about what they love and every discussion felt all the more meaningful for this. The programmes are also better insights into these personalities than any documentry could manage, comprising hopes, concerns and what inspires each of these inspirational women.

The natural conversational style of the standard programme structure really lent itself to feeling that you were being welcomed into a real sobremesa at their kitchen table (or in Mary Berry’s case, in the garden with vast quantities of cake and tea). There were so many thought provoking conversations and a few laughs along the way so go check them out if you haven’t already!

The best conversations make you think, learn and reconsider your own ideas and opinions. I was so impressed by the programmes (and so excited for the listener’s takeover starting on the 11th of July) that I’m going to draw up my own ‘Muggins Here takes over’ line up with a wish list of topics and speakers this week. Please do join in, comment or make your own and share them.

Muggins thinks again


Having lost the time and the confidence to write opinions down, prefering the safe structure and indulgence of a book review, I’m picking up the preverbial pen again and dusting down the soap box. If you’d prefer just books or travel chronicles then feel free to use the menu to filter things accordingly.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t having opinions, I just didnt feel adequate at phrasing them and wasn’t quite robust enough for other people having opinions back at me (which is either a Catlin Moran or Hadley Freeman phrase, let me check) . I was also not entirely sure that this was the right venting vehicle but then I spent a week in near solitude reading and listening to the radio and had the full range of ‘couldn’t agree more’ to ‘how can you say that? look at the facts!’ and now I’m falling over myself to join in.

I’m laying me down a few ground rules:

Open Source – I like facts. They have this lovely way of making a point seem considered and reliable even though the whole UK EU referendum debate (read debacle) has neatly demonstrated how open they are to misrepresentation and misinterpretation and, just occasionally, being plucked from thin air (or , you know, an academic paper that plainly states these figures should not be used to suggest the exact thing you’re claiming they support *glares at Mr Hunt*). Statistics, like chips, should always come with sources and I’ll include links where I can.  Continue reading “Muggins thinks again”

The Real Neat Blog Award 

A huge thank you to Brontë’s page turners for finding this blog interesting enough to nominate among so many great book blogs. Your blog is so beautifully written and the series of reviews for International Women’s Day was inspiring and left my TBR list bulging.

I love that these nominations allow us to let other bloggers know how enjoyable their posts are – there is something so exciting about stumbling across someone reading a book I adored or have only just put down – and the questions allow us to find out a little more about the person behind the screen; reading around, there have been some interesting questions and hilarious responses!

Book blogs seem to form the best bookclub in the world; one where you get to choose the books, read them at your own pace and discuss them with people whose opinions often resonate, reflect your own or encourage you to rethink – without the struggle of finding a mutually available Thursday or having to reread Middlemarch when you’d really rather not. The whole process of reading is much more enjoyable when it doesn’t end when the book is finished – so here’s cheers to everyone who has read and indulged me in my musings and to everyone who shares their love of books and their thoughts on them online.

Continue reading “The Real Neat Blog Award “

A little more conversation…

BBC Woman’s hour has a brilliant calm and constructive discussion about the BBC 3 show Is this rape?

Listen to the first 17 minutes of the show to hear Jayne Bullough calmly put so many of my earlier points. The summary at the start is also a good alternative to actually watching the show if you are worried about it being too traumatic or sending your blood pressure through the roof.

Find it here

BBC3 open discussion on consent

BBC3 program ‘Is this rape? sex on trial’ has had a lot of coverage on Twitter and stirred up a lot of conversation and a lot of emotions too.  A group of teenagers are given a scenario with increasingly more information and asked to discuss what they think is going on and whether it constitutes a sexual assault. This show picks at the idea that everyone agrees rape is wrong, but people seem to have different understandings of what rape actually is, what consent is and how it should be dealt with.

The Good

  • It highlighted how much we need to educate people as to what consent is
  • The teenagers weren’t judged for their opinions, they were honest and open. We need this to be able to highlight where the misconceptions are and to correct misunderstandings of what consent is.
  • Quite a few teens changed their view as the program progressed and that is encouraging. So often people become defensive but students were prepared to take on each others ideas and consider them. Great example to set.

The Bad

  • The program did not mention once that victims of rape could be male or female, or that rapists could be male or female. There was a lot of ‘oh but girls this’ and ‘oh but men that’. There is no gender divide. That may be the most common scenario but it is not the only one. It was great that they managed to pick so many other assumptions apart, such as previous relationships, alcohol levels and not saying no – but this is a big big one to miss out. If anything, this show perpetuates that myth.
  • Bringing in the legal standpoint was a good idea, but it should have been after the vote as it is not an opinion or a scale. Explaining that yes, this was rape along with the consequences for the rapist and the support for the victim should have been the conclusion of this session and maybe a discussion on how they might act, advise friends or respond to the situation in future – it isnt the system that needs to change, it is our awareness about consent. The reactions to the length of the sentence etc should be about how do we make sure people know what consent is and don’t rape, how do we protect potential victims and alert people who rape out of ignorance (which is still rape).

The Ugly

  • The name of the show. There is an answer to that question. It is not subjective. It is legally and morally rape. It is not a judgement to be decided by the masses.
  • The coach trip part. It’s a serious topic. Let’s not belittle it by reducing it to reality tv tropes.
  • The replaying of the rape scene. We saw it. We understood. Replaying it over and over is traumatic and plays up to the media idea that rape is just another form of sex to be used as titilation. Once was enough. You made your point.
  • The focus on the scary trial and the fate of the rapist will put people off reporting rapes. This would have gained so much respect from me if it had concluded with the legal decision of rape and someone from RapeCrisis coming in to talk through how things are actually handled from the first call. There are fantastic support workers who talk you through all your options and will support you with any prosecution and talking to the police, and will even go to trial with you.
  • The impression was that it was all over after the physical act and there was definite conclusion when the verdict was given. Someone talking about PTSD and living with the experience of having your trust and your person violated would maybe have provoked a bit more sympathy and understanding from the students. It is not just that you were assaulted once, it is the replaying of that terror, a continuing fear and mistrust of others and the constant questioning of what you did wrong, how you could have prevented it or even if you encouraged it that make daily life difficult and can lead to such a high number of victims ultimately committing suicide.
  • Encourage discussion, yes, but please please please then challenge the incorrect views on consent. This could be such a powerful tool to start discussions in schools where education about consent is sorely needed,but I would not have that show played in a classroom unless there was a commentary detailing that ‘she let him in eventually’, ‘she didn’t move’ ‘she led him on’ ‘he’s got his whole life ahead of him’ are not valid reasons to justify rape. If this is to educate, rather than just stir up controversy, then let’s make sure the facts are set out clearly. Rape is not just sex without consent, sex without consent is a violent and abusive act regardless of context.

World Suicide Prevention Day

Today there are over one hundred thousand tweets about World Suicide Prevention Day. This is FANTASTIC! Unlike so many other issues, this really is one where you can help just by sharing a link or liking a post – because each click sends the message ‘its ok to talk about this’. Which it is. Always. (You could go even further and ask someone how they are really feeling – like the Australian ‘RUOK’ campaign that encourages people to answer the question ‘how are you?’ with a little more detail than the standard ‘fine’. If everybody you ask is ecstatically happy and goes on for hours about their life being all kittens and rainbows and comfortable shoes – forget nirvana, true happiness is comfy footwear –  you’ve still been a good friend and they know that you are willing to listen should they need to talk)

The phrase ‘suicide prevention’ is so important. When we talk about suicide it is usually as something someone has already done or attempted. What we avoid mentioning is just how many people have been driven to wishing to end their own lives, whether or not they act on it. The only way to combat the stigma and the isolation of people suffering is to talk about suicidal feelings. There are so many role models for those overcoming physical illness, but far fewer for those struggling with mental health (because someone thinking rationally about killing themselves is not mentally healthy however compus mentus you may feel – but that is ok. There is help and support and a lot less judgement than people anticipate. One great aspect of today’s awareness campaign is helping to dispel some of the stigma around suicidal thoughts and mental health).

Once you start talking, this is a really tough topic to talk about, whether you are helping someone or looking for help yourself. Here are two brilliant organisations that offer support:

Mind has centres across the UK that you can phone or visit for support, advice and great information about mental health disorders .  There are also lots of articles written by people with first hand experience – one of the toughest aspects of feeling suicidal is feeling isolated and alone but reading someone else’s experience of the same emotions, however different the circumstances, can really help dispel some of that ‘you against the world’ feeling.

Blurt is an absolute haven. The website is beautifully designed, it feels positive and calming, which is surprisingly important. The podcasts are on just the right topics, the articles are so well written (I defy anyone to read Charlotte’s story and claim she was being selfish, needy or overdramatic – words too often lurking in the background of our silence on suicide. It is frank and honest and straight from the heart), there are great initiatives to get involved with, a peer support group and you can even send someone (or yourself!) a care package. Suicidal thoughts often stem from it feeling too difficult to carry on, but Blurt helps make the whole business of living a bit more bearable.

This probably isn’t the most articulate thing I’ve ever written, but being able to talk about talking about suicide feels like one of the most important. I hope the buzz of today carries on long enough to make some changes to the way we approach such a difficult topic and each other.

Diana Nyad

Having talked about Malala, who proved you were never too young to stand up for what you believe in, Diana Nyad shows us that you should never give up on your ambitions. A long distance swimmer who made her name in the 70s decided, in her 60s, to tackle that Cuba to Florida stretch she’d been itching to do. It would be her longest swim, she’d been attempting it since the age of 28 and no one had ever done it without a shark cage (which is a pretty terrifying caveat – not only is the distance and your body out to get you but so are some big fast bitey things. Personally, I prefer my motivation without teeth).

Diana Nyad talks with such warmth, energy and good humour that she’s now pretty high on my imaginary dinner party list. She doesn’t let you forget for a moment how hard the training and that final swim was, physically and emotionally, or how much help she had along the way. Her success was not some fairytale but the result of hard work, serious preparation, a talented team and (I think) a good dose of sheer bloody mindedness! This woman and her acheivements are legendary.

Malala Yousefzai

Malala has been an inspiration since she first began speaking up for a girls right to education back in 2008. Having spoken out, been persecuted for it and come back stronger than before, and all before her 18th birthday, she stands testament to what can be achieved by anyone with enough courage and the right support. She speaks often of the love and encouragement from her parents. I’d really recommend watching her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, and the trailer of He named me Malala to hear about her story in her own words and her book has been on my wishlist for a while now!

Reading about her recent GCSE results in a BBC article made me buzz with excitement. This was an inspirational story twice over. Malala achieved this success in the toughest of circumstances, recovering from the shooting in a new country, attending school with a new language and culture , while still pining for her homeland and giving frequent talks and leading campaigns to promote education worldwide. To gain such high grades inspite of all this is fantastic!

The other way of looking at this, that should lend hope to my students and anyone struggling through school, is that Malala was already meeting world leaders, speaking at the UN and being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize before she even took the exams. She didn’t need academic credentials to make her voice heard and she speaks in such an articulate and powerful manner that no one questions her understanding or her age.

In short, sharing Malala’s exam results should give students encouragement that they can not only work through and overcome any challenge but that their acheivements and their contributions are not dictated by academic success. And that you should never believe anyone who says ‘that’s just how things are’.

Here are links to her Website and Facebook.