Peter James_TOGSAldous Huxley, one of my heroes, once said, “Has it ever struck you, what a lot of our finest romantic literature is the result of bad doctoring?”   He also said that he would never drive a motor car in France, because the temptation to run over a priest would be too great.  But that is for another day…

The desire or need to write, in all of us stems from different triggers.  But I’ve never met a successful writer who had not been a passionate reader as a child.  I was fortunate enough to have had an unhappy childhood – although it didn’t seem fortunate at the time!  As a reluctant boarder from the age of 7, I escaped from both loneliness, and a bullying, sadistic headmaster, by immersing myself into the worlds of my heroes in books, from Just William, to Biggles, to the Saint, to Sapper and then, deliciously and wickedly, to Bond – with regular quick erotic detours into certain well-thumbed pages of Lady Chatterley.  To paraphrase Paul Theroux, I learned at an early age what all of us who are privileged to love books know – that reading good fiction gives all of us a second life.

A few years ago I was travelling on a train from London to York to do a Waterstones event, immersed in a book, while an elderly couple opposite me stared into space.  They weren’t even looking at the view.  Every ten minutes or so one would say, ‘I’m bored’ and the other would nod.  After a while I wanted to scream at them, ‘Read a book!  A magazine!  A paper!  Anything!!!!’  And I realized how lucky I was to take my love of reading for granted.  They were either among the 5.1 million people in the UK who lack the literacy skills they need, or lacked parents or teachers who could have given them the priceless gift of loving books.

So often I meet people who tell me, often with pride, that they never read, ever.  That upsets me hugely.  I learned so much of what I know about life, and so much about what others think, through the pages of books I have read, and I continue to learn every time I open a novel or a non fiction tome. I do a lot of talks in prisons, every year, and it is always a joy to see 30 or 40 faces in a prison library.  Some are there because simply because it relieves the monotony of their day, but many are there because they want to improve their reading skills, or even to learn to write fiction.  Although I do remember one old lag telling me, with a broad grin, ‘Last time I was in here they taught me how to read and write – now I’m in for forgery!’

But joking aside, it is a tragic fact that 48% of our prison population has literacy skills below that of a good CSE.  All those millions who struggle with reading cannot participate properly in education, employment cultural or community life, and I find it endlessly shocking that this should be the case in such as wealthy country as ours and with generally good standards of free education for all.

What I love so much about The Reading Agency, and why I am making it my principal nationwide charity, is that it is on a mission to create a fairer society by helping everyone become a confident and enthusiastic reader.  I firmly believe it has the credibility, the passion, and above all calibre of people running it, to achieve this.

I love that TRA engages with children through its massive Summer Reading Challenge, that it engages with reading groups, which have become of such huge importance to authors in recent years, that it engages with people with poor literacy skills, and that it works so hard and closely with libraries.  I’m not sure, if libraries had not been so accessible to me as a child, whether I would ever have become a writer.  I loved to immerse myself in the world of literature in the libraries in my home area of Brighton and Hove, and to engage in conversations about books with the librarians, at a very early age.  I learned so much from them about what to read – much more than from many of my teachers at school.  In the brave new world in which we find ourselves, of diminishing book shops and libraries ever under threat, I can only see The Reading Agency’s role playing an increasingly important role in the future literacy of our nation.

by Peter James
International Best Selling Author

 

Work Experience Woes

Wardrobe Troubles and Turbulent Translations

It’s difficult for someone, who considers GCSEs to be an experience, to give a broad take on life. Despite two years of avid academic concentration on GCSEs, the syllabus doesn’t exactly cover the particulars, even when it is taught at a brilliant public school like Lancing College with nearly two-hundred years of experience with students like me. (Although our Headmaster is not even nearly that old.) This was my reason for seeking out the real world, in the form of work experience in a law firm. As well as hoping this will be my future career, it also deals with all aspects of the real world – gone wrong, where feuds have taken place, and professionals are needed to resolve matters.

 

Of course GCSEs (and the related teachers) did their best to make me competent with sentences and equations, scientific theories, and gerundives, but even an AQA certificate with an A* (assuming utmost luck) cannot prepare the inexperienced for real life experiences. Because apparently, reading property deeds from the 1800s as ‘Shakespeare without metre’ is not the most pragmatic approach, and turning up to the Marketing Department in a Prince of Wales Check Suit and a washable tie is ‘old fashioned’. It should be remembered that I am the one that shops at Hollister and owns a pair of skinny jeans, and I assume that the Marketing Director (who advised me of such particulars) doesn’t. I hope.

 

Mind you, GCSE Spanish was very useful in translating Peruvian Police Documents (with the tiniest bit of help from the Online Oxford Dictionary) in my work experience with the Personal Injury Department (with the wonderful Emma Grose-McCall, who ensured that I could truly relate with all of the new experiences). Although, perhaps introducing myself (with my newly instilled confidence) in Spanish to the man in the corner who I was told dealt with Spanish property (the fantastically chatty Dennis Phillips, who was fantastic at relating with someone of my age), was not a wise move. Especially when my skills faltered in mid conversation, with a man whom I later learnt spent most of his time speaking over the phone in fluent, barely accented Spanish. For the record, my Spanish teacher told me that she’d eat her copy of the AQA textbook if I didn’t get my A*. Which shows the true value of the A*, especially when the exams I have taken are discarded for traditional O levels again, which my very lucky little brother will no doubt surpass me with, to my inherent jealousy.

 

Vincent Langley

Whitehawk Inn

For those of you who don’t know, The Whitehawk Inn is no longer the community pub but the community HUB for work and learning! As an award winning, community led organisation we provide a range of support activities for those who are looking to go back to work. Everything we do is designed to draw in those who are socially excluded and who lack skills and confidence, whether it’s the programme, the décor or the skills & abilities of the staff team.

As an organisation we are passionate about working with people to develop and fulfil their aspirations for success, and as a result improving their own lives and those of their families and the wider community.

Every year, at least 800 people take part in activities at The Whitehawk Inn: most of them have a barrier to participating in work and learning because of multiple and complex circumstances and needs. Sometimes the work we do is intensive and clients see quick results; with others, progress is slower and trust takes longer to build.

As well as gaining skills and preparing for work, clients benefit in other ways including improved health & well-being, improved confidence, higher self-esteem and self-worth. Many clients become more active in the community: joining a group, taking responsibility for organising events and activities. Families value the better communication and a reduction in frustration and social isolation as well as directly benefiting from parenting classes, first aid workshops, budgeting and financial help and health advice. Many clients comment that belonging to The Whitehawk Inn, making friends, learning from their peers and being part of a social network has helped them to see a way to improve their lives, that they have a future.

Meet Mike, a Job Drop Inn attendee

In 2011, Mike started coming to Job Drop Inn: he was 24 years old, from Whitehawk and hadn’t worked since school. Mike was expelled from school with no qualifications. He became involved with drugs and petty crime as a teenager and was arrested; not long after this his son was born. The root of Mike’s problems included lack of confidence, compounded by a chaotic home life, being in care as a young person and not being able to read and write.

In eight weeks Mike made amazing progress. He started volunteering with a local charity and enrolled on a literacy class. He found that the support of his advisor and the camaraderie of his group helped him to learn to trust others and he saw his confidence grow. His advisor supported him to make an application for a Princes Trust Award, enabling him to buy a cheap refurbished computer. This was the first computer in his household and made a huge difference to Mike and to his family.

One year on, Mike is coming to the end of his college Maths and English class at City College and he is doing well. Mike has found the confidence to move out of home and now lives independently in Hove. He is continuing to look for work and knows he can come back to WHI  if he feels the need to.

Mike says “I knew I could talk to my advisor and I trusted her to help me work out what was best for me and for my son. She gave me lots of encouragement, especially when I felt like giving up. Without her I think I would have gone back to my old ways. I’m so glad I have found a new home and feel that I’m getting a second chance in life “

Frances Duncan
Director – The Whitehawk Inn

Emma AndrewsDwindling confidence plays havoc with the human basic instincts. The Daily Mail carried a feature this week, about consumers cheating at checkouts, allegedly a third of us admit to this, and to me it is a sad symptom of a nation of people who are gripped with fear about the precarious economic climate.   

Fear sadness, guilt and anger, being basic human emotions, can hold many of us back in life and are both nature and nurture within all of us.

As young children for example, if our Mother  was frightened of spiders, then there is a good chance that so will you, or one of your siblings be. 

If you had an angry father, then you are likely to have similar tendencies to fly off the handle, unless you are conscious about this particular trait, and you may have, perhaps through harrowing childhood experiences, at the mercy of an angry parental outburst, made positive steps to address what may be considered as a weak gene?

With economic restraint, fuelling human fear and enhancing the other basic human emotions, what tends to happen is that we revert to childlike behaviour: leaving the house ten minutes earlier so that you beat your colleague to the best parking space outside your office, pondering over your inbox so as to avoid your turn in team tea making duties and so on. 

Time management is affected too, not helped by the multi hat wearing expectations lain upon you by your overstressed boss; the need to meet sales targets with fewer personnel to help you, noticing that you simply do not have enough hours in the day to return calls, or answer emails.

The hard economy ripples over us all and can be all consuming but with some small attitude tweaks, we can replenish our energy levels, which in themselves are perhaps the most damaging crosses we have to bare; drained energy leading to apathy, result: poor productivity both at work and home.

Start by siphoning those inner child qualities within you and draw upon the endearing qualities you had and still have when you were a child and the abundant sense of energy which is so empowering. 

Do you remember sharing your packed lunch with Susan, the little girl with her sun kissed cheeks? The little girl who’s Mother regularly forgot to pack her sandwiches. How your kindness energised you and enhanced your sense of wellbeing?  

Perhaps you remember Ben, the fantastic footballer at your local club. You felt sorry for him because he never did have the correct gear; you lent him yours often enough, because you admired his talent, his great humour and yet felt for him because his parents were so neglectful and his spirit drive and energy, shone over your whole team, fuelling you all with hope and possibility, uniting you in such a positively infectious way, that in 1989 your team represented your county! 

Take ten minutes in your lunch break and reflect on your childhood memories, good or bad, focus on an event which fuelled you with energy, recall how positively people responded to its outcome then use that energy supply to gently shift your attitude in the week ahead.

I for instance was born with cerebral palsy and am so lucky that it’s mild, only affecting my right hand side. My childhood was difficult yet I found pleasure in talking to my pets and making up stories to read my siblings. I suppose in my case I drew comfort from fantasying because in real life, my childhood was challenging. I was also a victim of bullying and believe me; its affects are long lasting.

With my purpose being to help primary school children be kind to one another, I’ve written a book drawn from my own energy, the flight and fight attitude I learnt through my experiences as a frightened little girl, subjected to daily taunts, and from small acorns who knows, perhaps it will engage children, parents and teachers alike and help to educate them in the important anti- bullying message. 

Emma Andrews www.dillysdog.co.uk    www.thebusinesspromoter.co.uk

There has been a lot of press lately about cruise ships and disasters – coinciding nicely with the Titanic centenary shortly upon us.

Of course the Concordia accident in January was a terrible tragedy and the blame has been firmly laid with the captain of that ship. I was speaking to a CEO of another cruise line about how can a captain just steer the ship where he wants, and it turns out that he cannot – under any circumstances -deviate the course of the ship without the signature of 3 deck officers and a shore-side captain too – so Captain Francesco Schettino and the other deck officers really did disregard standard procedures. 

Another Costa ship lost power and then more recently the Azamara Quest experienced a small engine room fire and lost propulsion for a while – however it was extinguished and the ship made it to port. We had a couple of guests onboard that sailing and they sent us an eyewitness account – you can read it here. Azamara Quest Fire from a passenger perspective http://www.theluxurycruisecompany.com/luxury-cruise-blog/blogs/azamara-quest-fire-from-passenger-perspective-264/

The way that Azamara Club Cruises handled the situation on board was exemplary, and also to be commended was the way they handled the PR – they immediately advised of the compensation package (all money back for that cruise plus a free cruise in the future, hotel stays and flights all paid for, plus more, and the president of the line flew out to meet the guests) In all the press coverage I have read there has been nothing but praise for the staff and crew onboard – so props to Azamara for showing Costa how to handle a situation well.

But how safe is a cruise? Lets put it in perspective – While even one death is one too many, between 2005-2011 cruise lines carried more than 117 million passengers with a total 21 deaths related to marine casualties. That is less than 0.18 fatalities per million; in comparison there were nearly 16,000 fatalities on the UK roads for the same period, yet we all still drive cars.

Cruising is a very safe form of holiday – each ship has a detailed emergency plan and every member of staff is allocated and trained to undertake a safety role if there is a problem. Staff continue to be trained and practice regularly even while they are at sea. Regular completion of practice safety drills is a requirement of maritime law.

In light of the Costa incident, cruise lines have voluntarily agreed to operate the lifeboat drill for passengers before leaving port, as opposed to within 24 hours as current law dictates.

Cruising remains statistically one of the safest forms of holiday available.

Scott Anderson

Scott Anderson is General Manager for The Luxury Cruise Company, based in Hove.

Lesbian and Gay FoundationAs a Director of The Lesbian & Gay Foundation, I am familiar with the inequality faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual people in this country. The organisation I work for has built itself on not championing gay rights, but championing equal rights for lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

When I came out as gay in 1998, it was illegal for me to have consensual sex with someone of the same sex, yet my friends of the same age and younger were able to have consensual sex with partners of the opposite sex.

14 years later, I’m still facing inequality on the basis that whilst the law of the land allows me to have a loving relationship with my partner, I can’t choose to have my relationship blessed or recognised in law in exactly the same way as heterosexual people, or even have the ceremony undertaken in a religious setting (just like my parents did, just like my sister did…and just like almost everyone that has surrounded me all of my life has done). 

So last year the Government lifted the ban on civil partnerships taking place on religious premises, and now they are looking at removing the ban on same-sex couples having a civil marriage ceremony. The Government recognises the commitment by same-sex couples in a civil partnership is the same as the commitment made by opposite-sex couples in a civil marriage. Therefore it makes no sense to ban same-sex couples from getting married through a civil ceremony. This is about removing the barriers to enable greater choice in this modern world.

There has been some confusion in the media and from certain religious groups about this consultation, so the Government has made it explicit that they are proposing no changes to religious marriage. A marriage through a religious ceremony and on religious premises will continue to only be legally possible between a man and a woman.

I pay taxes, just the same as my heterosexual peers  I pay taxes that pay for an Equality and Human Rights Commission in this country that is focussed around ensuring equality for everyone, that protects the rights of everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation. I pay taxes that cover the costs of politicians and more importantly, I pay taxes that contribute to the 26 Bishops in the House of Lords – who work within an organisation that is often reported to be very publicly, very openly and very unfairly telling everyone why I am not entitled to the same rights as heterosexual people when it comes to issues such as Gay Civil Marriage. This is inequity. It is inequality. 

As I prepare to move in with my partner, it may be down the line that we choose to have our relationship recognised in law, currently I’m unable do that in the same way that heterosexual people do. I am not asking for anything different, but some lesbian, gay and bisexual people in same sex relationships want to have their partnerships recognised, blessed and welcomed by their faith.

Gay Civil Marriage isn’t going to ruin the fabric of our state. It’s not going to suddenly create a new breed of gays, a hoard of men in white dresses seeking photo opportunities on the steps of St Paul’s or forcing the hand of the state for a gay royal to be married at Westminster Abbey (although that’s not such a bad thought on reflection).  As Harvey Milk once famously said “If it were true that children emulate their teachers, we’d have a lot more nuns running around!”

Whilst it could be argued that there are only a small number of real differences between Civil Partnerships and Marriage, with the key legal distinctions around relationship break-down and divorce, as civil partners must dissolve their partnership and can’t be divorced. Furthermore, adultery is not recognised as a reason to dissolve a civil partnership, due to the fact that in legal terms adultery is defined as sexual intercourse between a man and a woman outside the marriage. The two are not seen as equal; another example of how the current system is unfair and unequal.

Currently, heterosexual people have a choice between a religious or civil marriage, whereas the formation of a civil partnership is entirely a civil process.  Yes, this is inequity.  It’s unfair.  It’s not equal.

Aside from those specific exceptions, civil partnership offers the same legal rights as marriage. So pensions, parental responsibilities and other social and welfare benefits remain the same for both groups in theory.

Yet whilst these debates continue, people in society continue to be discriminated against in the provision of employment, education, training, goods and services. As the debate continues around not offering lesbian, gay and bisexual people the same rights as heterosexual people in marriage, it continues to provide an assumption in society that this can be extended to all other aspects of lesbian, gay and bisexual people’s lives and homophobia and biphobia will continue to affect people in society.

Lesbian, gay and bisexual people continue to be battered, bruised and killed in this country, simply for being who they are, loving who they love and living how they live. Gay Civil Marriage would work towards helping people realise that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are equal…so let’s just do it!

Enough is enough.

This is a guest blog from Director of The Lesbian & Gay Foundation, Darren Knight www.lgf.org.uk

 

Costa ConcordiaThe recent grounding of the Costa Concordia is a very tragic accident and our thoughts and prayers go out to those families who have lost loved ones.

The media have been having a field day printing all sorts of mis-advised facts and figures, in what amounts to - in my mind – sloppy journalism. Still that’s the news media today –never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

 Carnival Corp, the parent company of Costa Cruises, have already issued a statement saying that it was human error that caused the accident. Apparently the captain steered the ship off its normal course to wave to an ex crewmember on the island of Giglio. This may seem an absurd action to take, however I have been onboard ships where the captain has altered course to sail past his home town and sound the ships horn. In time, once the investigation is complete, we will know for sure what happened.

Time for new legislation I think from SOLAS (International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea) that govern the rules onboard the world’s cruise ships. These rules c0ver smoking areas, the amount of wood allowed onboard, the number of lifeboats needed, fire-fighting equipment etc. That’s why a lot of the old traditional liners have been scrapped – as it would cost too much money to bring them in line with the latest SOLAS standards.

 That is a real shame as there are so many wonderful old ships sent to the Alang scrap yard in India to be broken up. Many cruise lines are building bigger cruise ships, however there is a trend in the luxury cruise market to build smaller vessels. These 6-star cruise ships carry from just 49 guests to 700, and offer all-inclusive luxury.

Carnival Corp also owns such a brand, Seabourn, and has built three new ships over the past four years, to compliment their existing fleet of three smaller vessels. These new ships, Seabourn Quest, Seabourn Sojourn and Seabourn Odyssey carry just 450 guests.

On these ships you can want for nothing, everything is included, champagne on tap, butler service, amazing cuisine and superb service. Cruise ships can be thought of like hotels, just on the water, and they are assigned star ratings too, based on their levels of cuisine, service, accommodation etc – much like a 3-star hotel would be OK, and then the Ritz would be a 6-star hotel.

All this luxury comes at a cost of course – however fares are coming down and you can get a seven-night cruise with flights from about £1,599 per person. The price of the Costa cruise by comparison would cost about £599 per person, but you do get what you pay for.

Another big advantage of cruising on a luxury cruise ship is that it wont take 2 hours to evacuate in an emergency.

By guest blogger Scott Anderson, General Manager of The Luxury Cruise Company