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What kind of world do you want to live in?

My daughter has a wonderful friend who she’s known since infant’s school. She is full of character, passionate about fashion, has an amazing smile and has one of those hugs that just makes you feel like you could conquer the world.

She also happens to have an extra chromosome that means she has Down’s Syndrome.

I remember when I was pregnant with my son having a conversation with my midwife about the new blood test which told you whether you were at high risk of having a baby with Down’s Syndrome. We were debating whether we should take the test or not & my Midwife asked me what we would do if the test came back saying high risk-would we have the amnio? My husband & I had already discussed this & because of the extra miscarriage risk had decided we wouldn’t. “In that case” said my very sensible midwife “why bother having the blood test?”

Now I’m not criticising anyone who decides they cannot cope with a child with Down’s Syndrome. We all have to make our own decisions & I think we’re too judgmental as a society as it is but I do have an issue with how Down’s Syndrome is generally portrayed and even more so with how it’s presented by the medical profession. I genuinely believe this can mean women, at a highly emotional point in their lives, may not be as informed as they could and should be.

If you didn’t watch “A World Without Down’s Syndrome” by Sally Phillips when it was broadcast you missed an incredibly thought provoking programme. I had seen the media coverage of the new test available for Down’s Syndrome but I hadn’t given any thought to the potential repercussions. In Iceland where all women are offered pre-natal screening for DS 100% abort their children if the test comes back positive. That means there hasn’t been a child born with DS in Iceland in 9 years.  As the new test is made available in the UK we could be facing the same outcome.

Now if someone had said to me when I was younger “we can eradicate Down’s Syndrome” I would have seen that as a positive. It pains me to write that now but before we knew Katy and had a better understanding I only had society’s portrayal of DS to base my judgments on. That portrayal meant I saw Down’s Syndrome as a disability whereas now I see it as a difference.

I can almost hear you asking “But aren’t people with Down’s Syndrome more likely to have health problems? Aren’t they slower to develop intellectually?” Yes that is true but I genuinely believe we need to challenge what we see as “normal.” We all learn at different rates for all sorts of reasons & having a baby without DS is no guarantee they won’t have health problems.

Katy would be a different person if she hadn’t been born with that extra chromosome & you know what? Our world would be a sadder place for it. So if you, or someone you know, takes the test and is told the baby is at high risk of having Down’s Syndrome please be as informed as you can be before you decide what to do. Talk to families who include individuals with Down’s Syndrome, talk to the individuals themselves. At the very least watch this TED talk by Karen Gaffney before you make a decision:

As World Down’s Syndrome Day approaches I am thankful that my daughter has such an amazing friend as Katy & that Katy is all that she is-including that extra choromosome.


EU referendum

Should we stay or should we go?

Everywhere we look in the UK there’s talk of the EU referendum, from pages upon pages in the papers & long segments of the news to social media posts from those we’re connected to,  the EU referendum is never far from our eyes.

Now I started this campaign desperate for information to help me make a decision, I was totally undecided ( I’m still not 100% sure) but I quickly realised that trying to access unbiased facts was like searching for the Holy Grail. I found myself questioning my thoughts on all the areas being talked about, here’s the process I went through:

  • Immigration. I see immigration as a positive thing for our country. All the research shows that the most diverse businesses are the most successful ones and I believe the same holds true for countries providing we all treat each other with respect. Are there issues with immigration? Of course there are, no system is perfect & we should always try to work on those but we will never get a perfect system. That’s just life. So this would indicate a “remain” vote for me.
  • Economy. I have no idea whether our economy will be better if we stay or go. Frankly we’ll never know what the alternative vote would have given us. Ultimately I believe the success of our economy has more to do with our skills and attitudes as a country than whether we’re in the EU or not. So this is a neutral issue for me.
  • Sovereignty. Do we want our decision made in Westminster or Brussels? To be honest Westminster feels as remote from my life as Brussels does most of the time so does it make a difference for me? Do we lose some of our national identity because we’re in Europe? For me purely as an emotional decision this is a neutral with a lean towards Leave. 
  • Refugees. If someone is so desperate they will pay everything they have left to put themselves and their families on one of those tiny boats to cross the Mediterranean we shouldn’t be treating them like criminals. I believe we’ll look back on how we’ve acted in the refugee crisis with shame. Do some militants hide among them? I’m sure they do but does that mean we should abandon the thousands of true refugees because a small minority are a threat? Not in any society I want to be part of. We helped create this problem, we need to help solve it. I’m putting this as a neutral because neither the Remain or Leave campaign are dealing with this properly for me.

    A terrified child clings to a rock on the shore as a group of Syrian refugees arrive on the island after travelling by inflatable raft from Turkey. The Eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to Greece has overtaken the central Mediterranean route, from North Africa to Italy, as the primary one for arrivals by sea. From January to June this year, 68,000 people arrived in Greece, compared with 67,500 in Italy, accounting for nearly all the arrivals in the period.

    A terrified child clings to a rock on the shore as a group of Syrian refugees arrive on the island after travelling by inflatable raft from Turkey. The Eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to Greece has overtaken the central Mediterranean route, from North Africa to Italy, as the primary one for arrivals by sea. From January to June this year, 68,000 people arrived in Greece, compared with 67,500 in Italy, accounting for nearly all the arrivals in the period. (from

  • Security.  Are we safer inside or outside Europe? Does being part of the system help us share useful information. I have to think it does, although whether we’re part of the EU or not we should all be cooperating on this one. Remain
  • The Apocalypse. Seriously while this is a big decision the world is not going to end & the sky fall in whichever way we vote. It’s such a shame that the national debate is such a negative one. I understand why, marketeers have known for a long time that fear sells better than any other emotion & so it’s being used to try & sell both sides of this debate to us. Positivity doesn’t have the same effect on us as human beings, which is such a shame.
  • My tribe. We all have a tribe, people who tend to think like us, share our values and beliefs. They are a huge influence on us & my tribe are overwhelmingly remain. The leave campaign, concentrating as it does on immigration,  feels less tolerant to me. What has shocked me though is seeing posts on social media from people I thought were tolerant labelling all “leave” voters as uneducated and intolerant thereby displaying an intolerance themselves. If we cannot, as a society, respect another’s right to disagree with us, and their reasons for doing so without being judgmental that worries me more than whether we stay in the EU or not. This is, to me, the most British of values-to respect and defend someone’s right to free speech whether we agree with them or not. 

After spending a long time thinking about these issues I realised I was asking myself the wrong questions. If we have this once in a lifetime opportunity to think about whether we should be in the EU the question I think we should be asking ourselves is:

“Is the EU the right institution for the world we live in?In a world where geography is so much less important that it ever was should we be building stronger links with countries because they happen to be located next to us or should we be building links with countries who share our values and aspirations?”

If we had known in 1973 that technology and the internet was going to produce the world we now live in would we still have voted to join? Knowing the world we now live in should we vote to stay?

Asking myself this question has led me towards a leave vote despite the attendant associations around immigration. Am I certain of this decision? No-the concerns around negative views on immigration of the leave campaign weigh on my mind. It may well be that I don’t decide until I enter the voting station and that’s fine, in the end I know I’ve given this decision a lot of thought and that’s what we all need to do for a vote as important as this.

My much loved Granda with my daughter

Do men really not care about equality?

I love TED Talks ( you may have noticed I love them so much I organised Cumbria’s first TEDx with my son Luke.) so if I have chance I watch a TED talk at lunchtime. It’s a great way to switch off from work but still achieve and exposes you to lots of new ideas.

Today I watched former President Carter’s TED talk about female equality:

Now this is a subject I’m passionate about but I found myself disappointed with his final statement that men simply don’t care about equality as they are reaping the rewards of higher pay and an easier rise to the top in their career.

As it happens today is the second anniversary of my granda’s death. You can see him with my beautiful daughter at the top of this post. I was incredibly honoured to have him in my life for as long as I did, he was a huge inspiration to me. I can still remember going to visit him shortly before his death and telling him I’d got an exciting new job. The twinkle in his eyes was a joy to see and he was incredibly proud that I was making a positive move in my career.

Now my granda was born in 1923 so you would expect him to have a different set of values re equality yet he always supported and encouraged me in my career as well as my family life. My dad, very importantly as I know now, never gave me any hint as a youngster that there may be limitations due to my gender. My husband has always been incredibly supportive, whether it was in the decision to take a career break to look after our young children or in changes of direction in my career.  I have to honestly say, other than one manager very early on in my career, that all the men in my life have been completely supportive of equality. So is it a difference between the USA and UK? Or have I been incredibly lucky and been born into a family of men who collectively, despite not being blood related, have held the same values?

One thing I do know is that I have been lucky by accident of birth, there are countries in the world where the fight for women to make their own decisions is a much tougher one. The UK, while there is still work to be done, is one of the countries where a lot of progress has been made.

I’d love to hear if your experience backs up Jimmy Carter’s claim or if you’ve had experience that’s similar to mine? If you’re a man do you think he’s right? Is it too easy to say I support equality but then casually enjoy the benefits of it rather than challenge it? Let me know in the comments.

My New Years resolution is to smile more

Reflection and Resolutions-give us a smile!

The New Year is such a time for reflection isn’t it? Although in reality it’s just an arbitary day which we’ve given a title to, rather like our birthdays it automatically sends us into navel gazing mode. We look at the year that’s gone measuring what we’ve achieved, and very often what we haven’t, before looking forward to our aims for next year.

I’ll be honest I’m not a great one for New Year’s resolutions, if I want to achieve something I’ll just get on with it rather than choose a specific time of year to set a goal and some recent research suggests only 8% of Americans stick to their resolutions. We’ve no reason to think we’re any more successful in the UK.

So when my son asked me on New Year’s Day if I’d set any New Year’s resolutions my instinctive answer was “No, I don’t bother with those” but then I got thinking as I walked my dog (a great time for the brain to get into gear as research shows) and I decided I would make one. It’s nothing fancy and not difficult to do but my resolution is simply to smile more this year.

Just imagine if we all made that resolution how much happier we could make the world. We all respond to a smile, internally as well as externally. It’s good for our mental and physical health in all sorts of ways, it attracts people to us so expands our contacts which also makes us happier so what’s not to love about smiling?

So if you see me in 2015 and I’m not smiling give me a smile to remind me of my resolution and I promise to smile back. Here’s to 2015 being a year of smiles for us all!



The language of mental illness: is it all madness?

It was World Mental Health Day on Friday of last week and I got to thinking about how much has changed since mental health issues first affected my family over 30 years ago but then also how much hasn’t. Some of the stigma of mental health illness has lifted but there are still a lot of people who are scared of sufferers and also many who believe they should just pull themselves together.

I was listening to something on the news and realised that we use completely different, and often negative, language when we talk about illnesses that affect our brains. The very word mental has very negative connotations yet illnesses like depression are just as life changing and life threatening as cancer, an illness which suffered the same sort of stigma years ago but which is now widely talked about. Ironically the chances of suffering from either type of illness are roughly the same, 1 in 3. Any one of us can be affected at any time. Continue reading

New Website

I’m very excited about doing this new website to start conversations with a wider audience, all the posts up prior to this are from articles I’ve previously written and posted on LinkedIn so there are no comments here, although some did raise a lot of comments on LinkedIn.

If you haven’t previously seen them on LinkedIn I’d love to hear your thoughts and I’ll be posting new blogs on here in the weeks to come. I’m also planning to add more content on other pages as I go along, any suggestions of things you’d like to see are very welcome.