Update and Comments: 18 April 2020 – Lockdown!

Lockdown

I heard the best ever reaction to our lockdown, from my 6 year old grandson. When he was told by his mother that our president had extended the period for our isolation, he apparently was absolutely thrilled, “Oh, great! I love lockdown. I wish we could always have lockdown!” The reason for this euphoria is all due to his parents devoting hours and hours (whilst they still have had to try to work from home) finding exciting and unusual ways to entertain two boys of 6 (going on 7) and 2 (going on 3)years of age.

I imagine that when this is all over, and we are able to return to some semblance of normality, the parents of these two children will breathe a united sigh of relief as they will probably be far less exhausted being back in their respective work environments than they are in their own homes right now. Everything from finger painting, building Lego, making a fort using their bunk beds as well as outdoor furniture, having an indoor obstacle course created for them, bouncing as a family on the trampoline, chasing around the garden, making muffins ….the list goes on and on. They are very lucky to be living in a home where there are parents who are able to give them this kind of attention and also where the fear of having no food to eat is not part of the equation.

At the other end of the continuum are the millions of poor families who suffer so badly whenever anything unexpected takes place. Whether this is bad weather, illness, a collapse in the economy resulting in job losses or, as is the current situation, a previously unknown epidemic, they are the ones who need to be remembered and helped wherever possible. Unfortunately, where a country has an almost collapsed economy the plight of millions of people becomes a bigger problem than the epidemic itself.  It is, however, heartening to hear of the extremely generous donations being made by people such as Nicky and Oppenheimer – R1 billion; Mary Oppenheimer and daughters  – R1 billion;  the Rupert family and Remgro Ltd. – R1 billion; the Motsepe family and associated businesses – R1 billion, as well as R1.5 billion donated by Naspers, part of which will go towards the Solidarity Response Fund established by the government to help limit the lockdown’s impact on the economy and those who are living in poverty.

As is so often the case, there are normal individuals who have put their hands in their pockets to give whatever they are able to afford, as well as giving time to assist where they can, for example sewing masks for local hospitals.   Radio stations have come on board together with big companies in trying to help those suffering the most but only time will tell just how bad the outbreak is going to be and how quickly all the informal workers as well as the self-employed can start working once again and avoid an even greater disaster than the pandemic itself.

The whole world is reeling from the shock of this epidemic and all we can do is to try to remain positive and to keep in touch with others who may be in isolation and alone. A phone call to say that you are thinking about them may make a big difference in their lives at this challenging time, just knowing that someone cares.

Wash your hands, sanitize, wear that mask if you go out, and more than that let’s all try to enjoy the day we have today and hope that tomorrow is here for us all and finds us well and still sane!

Bye for now and see you on the Magic Roundabout!

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Racism

Racism

The attitude one shows when dealing with another person should never be based upon the colour of their skin, or the fact that they belong to another cultural group different to one’s own.  It should be about having respect for yourself and, in turn, respecting the other person, regardless of colour or creed. Anyone who is so full of hatred towards those who are different in any way to themselves and who are prepared to call another person a disgustingly insulting name could possibly be viewed as having some kind of a major personality problem. It doesn’t take much intelligence to realise that, when one insults or humiliates another, it produces very negative feelings not only for the targeted individual, but for the perpetrator as well.

The giving of positive feedback, or the praising of another person is actually of benefit to the one who has done the praising (albeit genuine and not a case of brown-nosing, or being patronising!)  It is the same as giving an unexpected gift to another person – who is it who really benefits from the action of giving? In many cases it is the giver, due to the unexpected and delighted response of the recipient!

Children are not born with preconceived ideas about anything, including the colour of a person’s skin. That is why, when they go to multi-cultural nursery schools and their parents ask them if there are Black, Asian or Mixed-race children in their class, the child often has no idea of what to answer. They themselves are not aware of the colour of their own skin.  They will often say that they have peach coloured skins and their friends have beige skin – if they are pushed to give an answer!

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Every now and again racism raises its ugly head worldwide, however, it is practically a pandemic in South Africa. This situation is obviously a smoke screen fanned by political parties to disguise the real issues which need to be addressed. These include unqualified, inept as well as corrupt government ministers and employees in various government run departments throughout the country, poverty, unemployment, ongoing corruption, a failing educational system, a totally inadequate government health service, an almost non-existent power utility as well as crime, horrendous numbers of road deaths due to the many unlicensed drivers, illegal immigrants – the list goes on and on, ad infinitum! Where politicians and the ruling party in general realise that they are failing in their duties, it is a way of trying to avoid any responsibility when they constantly relive the past and try to blame minority groups for all the country’s woes.

There will always be unpleasant people in the world, and it is almost impossible to avoid coming in contact with some of them. So, the fact that a person of another colour scowls and acts rudely might be part of their general make-up. We should perhaps look at the times when people of our own cultural group are rude to us and realise that we couldn’t label such behaviour as racism! We need to try to stop using the word “racism”, and face the fact that people by nature gravitate to spending time with others with similar backgrounds or points of view, or even those who speak the same language. Whether these groups of people happen to have the same colour of skin doesn’t mean that they are deliberately alienating other racial groups.

We should take a step backwards and observe small children in a playground setting who, as mentioned previously, give no thought to the colour of the skin of their playmates. They seem to gravitate to other children for various reasons, and it definitely is not due to their racial group. It could be that they feel comfortable around another child, because they enjoy playing with the same toys, have similar temperaments and do not feel threatened.

Perhaps we should follow the lead of our children and forget about colour and creed and enjoy interactions with other people based on commonalities such as interests and belief systems and finding the other person attractive in one way or another. Such attraction can be anything from admiring something they are wearing, their hairstyle, the friendliness of their smile, the tone of their voice or their body language, with no thought as to whether or not they have the same skin colour as we do. Much good could come of it and South Africans need to make a concerted effort to truly become that rainbow nation envisaged by the late, Nelson Mandela. However, it is a sad fact that the correct behaviour and attitudes in any kind of business or establishment come from the top downwards. This is a serious problem in this country right now due to the many uneducated, ignorant and often arrogant politicians supposedly leading the country who, by making unintelligent comments, are constantly setting unsavoury and totally unacceptable examples when it comes to cross cultural interactions.

One can only hope that all South Africans will eventually have a much less divided country once the current bunch of politicians become history and things change for the better. The country’s citizens can but try to stay positive despite all the negativity with which they are bombarded, via the media, on a day to day basis.

“If tolerance, respect and equity permeate family life, they will
translate into values that shape societies, nations and the
world.” – Kofi Annan

The Changing Face of Television

If you are a South African then do you remember how excited we all were in 1975 when we had an hour or so each day of television? It was thrilling to actually see the multi coloured tuning pattern on the screen, even if there was nothing else to view! We were catching up at long last with the rest of the world. Crazy that the Nationalist government had managed to prevent South Africans from being able to see what was going on in the rest of the world for so long. As a child in the U.K. I remember watching Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men, Muffin the Mule, Children’s Hour and so many more kiddies’ programmes (albeit in black and white) in the 1950’s. We were all told by our parents that we couldn’t watch too much tv or we would all end up with square eyeballs! In the 1960’s we suddenly saw the advent of ITV with its regular advert breaks.  Now mum had time to dash to the kitchen to make a brew of that British necessity – tea! By the early 1970’s colour televisions were the norm and no-one seemed to be walking around with square eye balls!

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Arriving in South Africa in the early 1960’s was a real culture shock which included the lack of television. People moving down to South Africa from Northern Rhodesia, as it was then called, brought their television sets down with them, to no avail! At least nowadays we are able to keep in touch with world affairs and because of that, the world would seem to be a far smaller place. Could be due in part to the size of the people who inhabit it these days, as well as a worldwide overpopulation problem!

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From the tiny black and white sets, to the cabinet model, and now to the huge flat and curved screen, smart state of the art tv’s, which are operated by remote control – television has most certainly changed its look from its humble beginnings. Now it is very often a statement purchase. The bigger the screen, the wealthier or more of a trend follower one is perceived to be. Furniture has to be purchased taking into account the position and size of the tv! Houses need to have enough windowless walls to enable families to have television sets in rooms other than the lounge. No-one wants to be left out of being able to view favourite programmes just because it’s time to cook dinner. So most homes have a smallish set suspended on a bracket in the kitchen. Useful too if you don’t know how to cook, as there are loads of so-called experts showing off their culinary expertise. Not all of these lessons take place in a traditional kitchen setting. Now you can even learn to prepare a gourmet meal on the banks of a river with elephants and giraffe wandering around in the background! After watching that, you dare not dish up fish fingers and chips without feeling guilty.

There are those people who have decided, for whatever reason, not to own a television set. I once met a very educated health worker who refused to have either a television or even a radio, and never read the newspapers at all as she was afraid of being the recipient of potentially negative information. I somehow think that this ostrich-like head in the sand attitude to life is quite inadvisable when one has an occupation which involves people interaction on a permanent basis. It really is important to be up to date with world affairs to a certain degree or run the risk of coming across as an absolute dinosaur with no current general knowledge whatsoever. Yes, try to avoid stress in your life if that’s the most important factor but, there really are limits!

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Owning a tv can be an expensive item especially when one is almost forced to pay a monthly fee to have cable tv because of poor local content. However, if one is circumspect about what one watches, television can be a form of relaxation, as well as often proving to be extremely informative. One may not be able to afford to take costly overseas trips, but by tuning into a geographic channel it is almost as good as the real thing. Armchair travel can take you wherever your heart desires, at the click of a button! No waiting at airports, no fear of airline crashes, or Isis attacks, just a totally stress-free experience!

It is also a wonderful way for children to learn about the world by having televised lessons. Instead of sitting through boring geography lessons, with a possibly disinterested teacher droning on and on, how much more fun is it to go on a visual exploration and to almost lose oneself in the journey. As far as the old-style classroom learning is concerned, does one really ever need to know where sugar beet is grown, or the names of all the lakes in Canada just to regurgitate such facts at exam time. (Deviating slightly, I just wonder, as an example, how many of us have used Pythagoras’ theorem since leaving school? Engineers or architects maybe?  It certainly doesn’t seem to apply when buying a home or raising children).

Since the introduction of music videos there have been studies which would seem to indicate that, if one uses more than one sense whilst receiving any form of information, there is a much better chance of such information being retained. Therefore, visual school lessons seem to make a lot of sense.  By all accounts there are many classrooms around the world which rely on televised programmes in combination, in most cases, with the traditional teacher in the classroom scenario. This is obviously linked to the availability of connectivity as well as the occurrence being mainly in the more affluent areas (when one is talking about developing countries). I would like to investigate the schooling scenario which is in place nowadays in remote places such as in the outback of Australia. Could make for an interesting future article perhaps? I am pleased to have read several articles recently, written by experts in the educational arena, stating that the teaching methods will have to change drastically in the next 10 to 20 years to prepare children for a constantly changing world.

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Hospital stays may be made less traumatic if, when a patient is recovering from illness, they are able to watch a televised programme whilst lying in bed. By using the mandatory headphones this could be a way to avoid constant chitchat with the patient in the next bed, if that is the choice. Watching tv might also prove to be less exhausting than trying to read the books or magazines brought in by well-meaning relatives.

Even standing in a long queue at the bank, or reclining in the dentist’s chair, are occasions where it is no longer unusual to see a television set suspended on the wall, or above your head (in the case of the dentist) showing wild life videos, or a live  cricket match. In the case of the dentist, it is always rather nerve wracking when the practitioner appears to be more involved with the action on the screen than with what is going on inside your mouth! What is meant, with all the best intentions, to relax the patient may have the opposite effect entirely!

However, when all is said and done, that good old goggle box may have its critics, but it has certainly come a long way from its humble beginnings. The benefits, when viewing time is limited and programmes chosen with care, (especially in the case of young children and the kind of content to which they are exposed), can certainly outweigh the negatives. For those who live alone or those confined to their homes due to illness or lack of mobility, the difference a television set can make may be immeasurable and life without out it would indeed be pretty dull and lonely.

“Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained
in your living room by people you wouldn’t
have in your home”
– Late David Frost (British Television Host)

Birth Announcement – Futuristic

It is with great pleasure that my wife and I are letting you all know that our beautiful new baby has arrived. The birth was eco-friendly, albeit two weeks later than we had expected, as no drugs were involved, and the child came into the world in an inflatable paddling pool made of bamboo which we put outside on the front lawn.  The water we used to fill the pool came from the many litres which we had harvested in recycled plastic buckets during the very heavy rainfalls of the past few weeks. There were a few leaves and some other bits and pieces floating in the water, but then babies need to build up their resistance as soon as possible, I believe. Melody, my tough as nails wife, recovered instantly and, after we had cut the baby’s chord, and wrapped it in a yellow blanket, got out of the paddling pool, showered, and made dinner. She is amazing to say the very least.

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The name we have chosen for the new arrival is Green Cherub. We will let the child decide as to whether they would prefer to grow up either male or female or transgender, so we will be dressing it (not using a gender at all until the child has decided) in gender neutral clothes and colours until the time that we know whether we have a daughter or a son. We are sure you will understand, after all we are living in modern, non-stereotypical times and we feel very strongly about saving our planet. As new parents we hope to be able to do our best in assisting in reducing the carbon footprint.

Melody plans on breastfeeding the new arrival until it is time for nursery school – probably about 4 years from now. We both believe in having as much input as possible in the early years with very little outside interaction with people who have no regard for things that we hold dear such as veganism or serious recycling. Once the child is old enough to mix with other children, we will choose a nursery school with great care. If needs be, Melody is considering starting her own school so that she can hand pick the kind of children with whom our child will mix. There is still plenty of time for us to make final decisions on the child’s education but, one thing is certain, this child will be taught Mandarin along with English as soon as it is starting to talk. One has to be objective and look at the future and how China seems to be encroaching in every area of life.

If you would like to send a gift for the new baby, it would be really appreciated if you would consider making a donation to Green Peace in lieu of baby gifts. We will not be using any manufactured perfumed baby products as well as nappies of any kind. The disposables are creating havoc in landfills and then the old-style terry towelling ones need chemicals to keep them spotlessly clean. Therefore, we have decided to go au naturelle and just mop up as nature takes its course.

I can hear Melody calling me to come and help bath the new arrival, so I hope that you will be happy for us and understand if we seem to be hibernating for the next few years. We do not use social media as a means of keeping in touch, so it will be very occasionally that you have any updates on what is happening in this neck of the woods, but if you are nearby, please do not hesitate to call in to see us. We will always be on hand to offer you a healthy drink or a homemade rusk.

Kind regards

Harry, Melody, and Green Cherub

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The Joy of Teddy Bears

The Teddy Bear was named after President Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the USA, who was a keen hunter. He was out on a hunting trip one day when he came across a bear who would have been an easy target for shooting. The president took pity on the animal and refused to harm him. This resulted in a cartoon being drawn showing this event and, consequently, a toymaker took the initiative to produce a soft toy to mark the occasion, and called it Teddy’s Bear (Teddy being the nickname for President Roosevelt). The toy soon became so popular that everyone wanted to have a teddy bear of their own.

What would childhood memories be without a favourite teddy bear. Years ago we lived in Italy when our eldest son was 2 years old. He had left behind all that was familiar to him including grandparents, most of his toys and not least of all, his spaniel, Suzie. It must have been a very confusing time for the poor little boy who was only just starting to speak English. Suddenly he was in an environment where children were revered and a lot of attention was lavished on him, but practically every word spoken was in Italian. We didn’t realise initially just how much living in a foreign country was affecting him.

One Saturday afternoon we were in the toy department of one of Milan’s largest departmental store where there was an entire wall dedicated to teddy bears of every conceivable size and form ranging from the tiniest to almost adult human dimensions. We told our little boy to pick a teddy for himself. He toddled over to the bears and picked up one which was almost the same size as himself and started chatting non-stop to this newfound toy. At last there was someone who listened and seemed to understand his baby talk. The bear was purchased and named Arturo, as he was, after all, an Italian bear.

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Arturo and friends

Now, many years after the arrival of dear old Arturo, he has become part and parcel of our family history. He is still around, although not quite as sprightly as in his heyday, but still wears a very snazzy knitted Italian outfit.

It is customary in South Africa, and possibly in other parts of the world as well, that where there is childhood trauma, teddy bears are given to the affected children to help ease the pain that they are currently enduring. The fact that teddies are usually fairly soft and chubby makes them easy to cuddle and research has shown that when children are given a choice of dolls, they will usually choose ones which are rounded and cuddly looking. Having a favourite teddy to take to bed at night has been a comforting factor in the lives of many children in various parts of the world for a long time.

Teddy Bears come in many styles and varied price tags. If they were made a long time ago and are jointed (arms and legs and head which can be moved into different positions), and especially if they were made by a respected toymaker, they could fetch a very high price on auction. A hand made and jointed bear made from mohair, would be far more valuable than a bear which is not jointed and was mass produced in a factory using a manmade material such as nylon. By the same token, if a bear was owned by a famous person, then it could also have a high selling price attached to it regardless of the kind of bear it might be.

Let us not forget some of the bears who, over the years, have become household names. Among these are Winnie the Pooh, made famous by A.A. Milne,  Rupert the Bear (still going strong and appearing in cartoon form in certain newspapers, after decades of wearing the same yellow check trousers and red jacket) and the delightful Peruvian bear who was found lost and bewildered at Paddington station in London.  He has even become a renowned movie star in his own right!

For most of us, the value of the teddy bears which we remember from our childhood days has far more to do with the memories connected to them than their potential re-sale value. One of the first bears that grandparents gave to one of our children was named Growly Bear. Not only was he jointed, but when turned onto his tummy he growled quite fiercely.  Somehow, he disappeared over time, and sadly he might have proved to be valuable by now, if only we knew where he has been hiding all these years! Perhaps he attended a Teddy Bear’s picnic and forgot how to find his way home!

Fortunately, despite today’s children being techno savvy from an early age, some things just don’t change and a love of teddy bears seems to be one of them. May the humble teddy remain as popular  with future generations of children as has been the case since President Theodore Roosevelt saved the life of that fortunate brown bear so many years ago.

 

Family Dynamics

No matter how one likes to believe that every child within a family is treated in exactly the same way by its parents, this is often not the case. The actual position of the child within the group of siblings as well as parental influence can be a determining factor in the way in which that child is going to develop. Much research has been done by those who claim to be professionals in their field regarding the only child, the first-born child, the middle child, the youngest child etc. etc. There are those who maintain that the first-born child is going to achieve more and be more independent than his siblings. The fact that the first born has to make his way out there in the big bad world without the help of an older sibling, is quite possibly a factor which could account for these findings.

The first born is the child who often has the undivided attention of doting parents who take loads of photographs, keep copious notes regarding his milestones, and lavish an enormous amount of attention on him. (I am using him as opposed to him/her, purely to prevent the reading of this article becoming tedious and not as a gender-based preference).  He might also be the child who is often the first grandchild in the family, and therefore may also receive a great deal of spoiling from grandparents as well as aunts and uncles.

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By the time baby number two makes his appearance, the parents have already made sure that his arrival is not going to interfere with the well being of child number one. Therefore, the second baby is expected to slot into the family with as little disruption as a new baby is capable of. Ha ha ha, this is where the fairy tale may have a slightly different ending! Sometimes the only reason that families have a second child is due to the first child having been an easy one to raise, with no major hiccups along the way. This may be the universe doing its best to ensure the survival of the human race! Very often parents have been quoted as saying that if baby number two had been baby number one, then the reproduction factory would have closed down immediately.

From the above observations, we already have an inkling of what the future might hold. The second child may be treated differently from the first due to either the parents’ frustration at having to cope with a more challenging individual, who differs entirely from their first born, or even from a feeling of failure or despair by not knowing how to handle the challenges presented by this newcomer to the family circle. Whatever the reason, life will never be the same again.

The amount of photographs taken of baby number two and the notes on his developmental stages might be far fewer than his older sibling, and this in itself could potentially pose a problem regarding feelings of inferiority in later life. I have recently been told by two separate families, who each have two girls, that the second daughter in both cases has never forgiven the parents for the fact that they were not the first born! This resentment towards their older sister has continued into their thirties.

To complicate matters even further, there is also that scenario where a third child arrives on the scene, sometimes because the first two are the same sex and the parents hoped that they might be able to change the recipe. If they succeed, then very often this third child becomes something of a celebrity, and one or other of the parents makes it obvious to all and sundry just how delightful it is to have pink baby clothes instead of blue, and dolls instead of motor cars in the house or vice versa. (I am not touching on the current trend of some children being treated as sexless by their parents until perceived to be old enough to make their own decision on whether to be a boy or a girl!)

Now, we see the middle child syndrome raising its ugly head. I actually knew of a Swiss woman whose brother and his family lived in South Africa, who was the middle child in their family. When she came here to visit them, she refused to sit in the middle seat on the aeroplane as she complained that she had always been the “sandwich child” and wasn’t prepared to allow this to happen anymore. Makes one wonder just when the reality kicks in of being sandwiched between an older and a younger sibling. What happens when a pregnancy results in triplets? Now that could be an interesting subject to pursue.

At a later stage I would like to go into more detail regarding the dynamics within families and recount some scenarios which I have personally come across over the years, as well as mentioning some well documented cases which might be of interest to you, my reader. Meantime, you might enjoy starting to look around you at families that you know and find the position of the children within them to be quite enlightening if not altogether entertaining.

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