Yesterday, during a spontaneous shopping trip to Milton Keynes, I stumbled across a free exhibition of photos from the Titanic.

Subsequent research has shown that this particular exhibition is about to embark on a world tour.  But while it was sufficiently interesting to be worth 15 minutes of time, even more so as it was free, I can’t see people falling over themselves to make any sort of special trip for it, and certainly not paying for it.

That being said, the most interesting part of the exhibition came right at the end.  There was a passenger and crew manifest, colour-coded according to whether they lived or died.  A cursory look through quickly reveals that First Class women had the best chance of survival, and Third Class men, and crew members had the worst chances.

But when you actually look more closely at the names, and ages of people, some really sad stories pop out.

One of those is the Fortune family from Manitoba, Canada, travelling in First Class.  64-year old Mark Fortune was travelling with his 60-year old wife, 3 daughters in their 20s, and their 19-year old son.  During the sinking, the wife and 3 daughters were all put onto the same lifeboat, and Mark, and his son Charles, both died.  Neither of their bodies were ever found.

Also, affected in the same way was the Ryerson family from New York.  61-yead old Arthur managed to get his wife, her maid, their 2 daughters, their 13-year old son, and their governess on board the same boat.  But he was not so fortunate.  His body was never recovered.

Similarly, Dr William Minahan from Wisconsin managed to put his wife and sister onto the same boat, but did not survive himself.  Some might say that his family were “lucky”, in that William’s body was one of only 335 out of 1500+ perished, that were ever recovered from the sea post-sinking.

 

From looking at the list, it was also very clear how your luck depended almost solely on your class of travel, and your gender.

Generally, if you were female, in First Class, your chance of survival was pretty close to 100%.  And across the genders, eye-balling the list, your overall chance of survival in First was about 75%.  But if you split it on gender lines, men in First fared less well.  In fact, of all those who died from First Class, only 5 were women.

When you continue down the list to Second Class, again, virtually all who lived were women and children, but your overall chances of survival were lower.  Your chances, across genders, was about 50%.  But if you were female, or under 18, your chances were probably about as good as those in First.

But then you get to the unfortunate souls travelling in Third Class.  There, your gender or age didn’t get you very far.  If you got on a boat, you were incredibly lucky.  The chances you had of survival were about 20%.

A few sad tales also emerge from here, of whole families, or even whole families minus 1 (which I’d argue was worse) being wiped out.

There was Mr and Mrs Andersson from Sweden, and their 5 children, all aged 11 or under, who all died, and were never found.

There was also the Asplund family, also from Sweden, consisting of 40-year old Carl, his wife Selma, and their 5 children.  Selma, and the two youngest children, a girl and a boy, aged 5 and 3 were able to get on a boat and lived.  Carl and his other 3 sons, aged 13, 9 and 5, all died.  Carl’s body was later recovered, but the bodies of the boys were never found.  Of the two children saved, the 5-year old was a girl, Lillian.  Her 5-year old twin brother Carl Edgar was one of those who died.  Lillian went on to be the last living survivor who had memories of the sinking.  Two survivors outlived her, but both had been less than a year old at the time of the accident.

The Goodwin family were also completely wiped out.  Frederick and Augusta, both in their 40s, and their 6 children, aged 16 to 1.  The only body recovered as that of Sidney, the youngest.  His discovery shocked the crew who pulled his body from the water, to such as extent, that they paid for a memorial for him from their own wages.  He remained unidentified until 2008 when DNA testing by the Armed Forces lab revealed his identity.

 

Of the crew who sailed on the Titanic, your chances depended mostly on the job you held.  There was only an extremely small number of female crew members, so those numbers are not taken into account.

If you were deck crew, your chances were pretty good.  Around 80%.  I imagine that was because those were the men on-deck at the time of the collision, so had the most warning to get off in time, but also because they were the ones who would have manned the life boats.

Conversely, if you were engineering crew, and therefore based deep in the bowels of the ship, your chances were extremely poor.  In all likelihood, those men were probably trapped early on by water getting in, and most likely drowned in those first few moments after the collision.  That being said, subsequent reports have praised the work of some of the engineering crew, who were working the water pumps and preventing the boilers coming into contact with water, which may have saved the ship from sinking for an extra hour, giving many more life boats a chance to launch.

Another department to fare badly was the victualing department.  Nowadays these would be waiters and waitresses, maids, receptionists and the like.  They had a survival chance of about 10%.  But the largest group to do the most poorly was the restaurant staff.  They were employed separately, not by White Star Line.  There was some debate, post-sinking, whether they were locked in their quarters by stewards, to prevent them rushing the life boats, but this was never proven.

Needless to say, it was a tragedy that led to great loss of life, but also to vast over-hauls in passenger safety and evacuation procedures.  To this day, cruise guests all have to attend mandatory safety briefings over what to do in a case of emergency.  Public safety, and something that seems glaringly obvious (like having enough lifeboats for the number of people onboard), was a un-thought-of concept in the early 1900s.  The idea of a mass tragedy, aboard “the un-sinkable” Titanic, was something that would never have occurred to anyone.  To put safety procedures into place was seen as an admittance that “something might go wrong”, which was simply an unacceptable thought, and therefore not worth thinking about, or planning for.

 

 

At the end of last year, I was approached by my old university to see whether I’d be interested in mentoring a second year student as part of their newly-launched mentoring scheme…  There was a bit of investment on my part, in terms of training, but nothing that I didn’t really already know from my own teaching experience.  Plus I know that my dad has been successfully mentoring a number of students (now independent adults) for some years, and has found it to be a rewarding experience.

So I thought I’d give it a go!

I was originally paired with a student named Jack (female), with an interest in teaching as a career.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the “meet and greet” that the university set up…  I mean, I could have attended, but it was a week night event, an hour and a half drive from where I live, in early December.  Forgive me for not wanting to do that.  Even if they’d made it a Saturday afternoon or evening…  I’d have gone to that.  I really would have.  Anyway, I made that clear to the student, and also said that I’d be happy to make the trip down for a face to face, perhaps at Easter, and made a weekend of it, revisiting old jaunts and the like.  It would have been fun!

Admittedly, I didn’t have high hopes for the process from the beginning…  Jack wasn’t particularly engaged (was it being pushed as a course requirement?), but she did ask a few questions, to which I responded, and asked my own questions back.  This lasted maybe 4 emails, into late January.  And I haven’t heard a word from her since.

In February I was asked by the university if I’d take another student on.  And as Jack was apparently dead, I agreed.  This particular student did even more poorly.  We had, “hello student!  I’m Sally!” and then “hello Sally, I’m X.”  I can’t even remember their name.  And then complete and utter radio silence.

Of course, I could contact my link at the university to raise the issue – I do get periodic mass emails from the office in charge, full of the joys over how well the initiative is going! – but I have no desire to get either student into trouble.  And frankly, I can’t be arsed to get involved in a back-and-forth of emails explaining “why this isn’t working” and “oh dear, what can we do about that?” replies.

That “can’t be arsed” mentality reminds me a great deal of “Spoon Theory”.  In that “Spoons” can represent… “energy levels”, “cares”, or to be crude, “fucks given”.  And over the course of a day, week, month, there is a fixed level of Spoons that can be allocated to be “spent” on general life.  Now, for most people of my age, Spoons are to be spent, in their majority, on work/mental and physical health/relationships.  And by the time most of the Spoons have been spent on those areas, there are only very few left over to be spent on an unknown and apparently ungrateful undergraduate in a town not even moderately close to where you currently live.

And even less so when that undergraduate is both disinterested and unappreciative of your time, Spoons left to allocate to even emailing their superiors, fall to a figure approximating zero.  And when you swap the term “spoons” for “fucks given”, you’ll understand why I’ve done nothing about it!

In all, I haven’t been even a tiny bit surprised to find the experience a total bust.  I knew it almost from the day I sent an email back to the initial “would I be interested?” query.  *shrug*

Of course, I like to be open to new experiences.  I actively seek them out as much as time and finances will allow.  I’m a firm believer that new experiences, especially positive ones, lead to ultimately happier and more fulfilled lives.  However, unfortunately there is no way to see ahead to find out whether that initial punt on a new experience is going to be life-enhancing, or, as in the case of this one, a complete and utter waste of time!

 

I think, if we all think hard enough, there is at least one thing that we are significantly better that than the general population is. For me, it’s songs.  Both lyrics and tunes.  I have a pretty freakish memory for an exceptional number of songs, that stretch back right into the mists of time.

I like to test the skill periodically on “new songs” – that is, new to me. I have done it today specially for this post, with Hank Williams’ “I Saw The Light”.  I chose this song because I happened to hear it for the first time about 3 days ago.  Today I found it with lyrics on YouTube and gave it a go.  By the 3rd listen I can sing along with it with about 90% accuracy and on the 4th I can sing most of it independently.  Granted, this is quite a simple song, as songs go, but I find that listen 3 and 4 generally result in a secure knowledge, irregardless of the song.  The same goes for foreign language songs, suggesting it is working in my brain at a deeper level than purely language.  And once the song is learnt, it’s there in my brain forever and ever.  I still remember songs I learnt years and years ago, and haven’t sung for just as long.

And like all talents, most of them start off from when we are young. Because, as everyone knows, if you want to become expert at something, you need to start young.  I developed this particular skill aged 5, with the soundtrack to ‘Joseph’.  I listened to it constantly and would be “tested” with the lyric book by being given a lyric, and me saying the next one.  I don’t recall ever getting it wrong.  And now, being able to recite the colours of Joseph’s coat, in order, is still my party trick.

Musicals in general are still my strength. I guess it’s because it’s what I started with, but there are soooooo many musicals I know the whole thing of…  Off the top of my head I know ABSOLUTELY ALL of:

Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Lion King, Miss Saigon, Matilda, Oliver, Love Never Dies, Wicked, Joseph, The Sound of Music, Cats, Chess, and probably a load more.

Then there are another load that I know mooooost of…

In all, the number of songs I know probably counts well into the thousands.

I guess this incessant rote learning put the necessary skill into my five year old brain, the perfect age for something like that. And 25 years later, I’ve still got the knack because I have practised it.  I still hunt out or stumble over new music and my brain sucks it in just as quickly.

Aren’t brains weird?!

What’s your unusual talent?

  1. A mid-afternoon bath. And if your bathroom is configured in the right way, you can put your laptop or ipad on the closed toilet and watch Netflix at the same time!
  2. Opening your bedroom window an hour before bed, and closing the door. Then when it’s actually time for bed it smells all fresh-airy and cool. As opposed to stuffy and unloved.
  3. “Free” coffee from Waitrose after you’ve made a purchase.
  4. Throwing yourself onto a freshly-changed bed.
  5. Catching up with someone on the road, who minutes ago did a shitty and unnecessary over-take.
  6. Pulling out onto a new road without having to stop.
  7. The sound of rain on the windows.
  8. Turning all the lights off to watch a film.
  9. Having a really good stretch.
  10. Holding non-crying babies.
  11. When your brain tries to fool you that it’s time for work, and then you realise that it’s only 4am, and it’s Saturday.
  12. Driving over a hill in the road and getting the roller-coaster tummy.
  13. Late night drives when you’ve got the roads to yourself.
  14. Taking your shoes off after a long day.
  15. When a favourite song comes on the car radio.
  16. A fresh cup of coffee.
  17. Getting round the Queen Eleanor roundabout in a complete run of green lights.
  18. Finding a new TV series to binge-watch.
  19. Going back to bed to read a book.
  20.  Staying in PJs all day.

It’s always nice, at the end of a year, to do a little reflection on things that you’ve tried out during the year.  Whether they have worked well or not.  From significant, to shallow.

Smoothies = WORKED

Fruit smoothies have been a consistent addition to my diet since early summer, and possibly one of the best things I’ve done for my bodily health in a while.  Every week I buy a punnet of strawberries, raspberries, something else, bananas and peaches and some juice.  Then mentally divide the whole lot into 4, meaning that 4 days out of 7 I’m getting more than my 5 a day in one delicious concoction.  I also add a teaspoon of chia seeds (supposedly a good protein source, and good for hydration) and half a teaspoon of super green powder.  It’s hard to say, but I feel like I’ve had less colds so far this winter, than I might have had otherwise.  Either way, I’m doing something good for my innards, which is delicious and easy.

Amazon Lockers = WORKED

Such a great system, that is miraculous for people like me who are usually out of the house during working hours.  Now I can order something from Amazon and free of charge (although you can pay £2 for next day delivery if you want), get it delivered to a “locker”.  In my case, these lockers are located inside a small supermarket-large local shop about 2 miles away.  There I know that my package is safe and secure until it is convenient for me to collect it.  No more wondering which dodgy courier they are going to use this time, where anything can (and does) go wrong, and my package ends up in Wellingborough or something mad, and if I want it at a time I’m sure to be in, I’ve got to pay for the privilege.  Screw you couriers, I’m with Amazon Lockers now!

Netflix/Amazon Instant = WORKED

Technically these were set up Summer 2014, so this was my first full year with them.  Both cost me around £7 a month, and Amazon Instant comes with my LoveFilm disc subscription anyway.  Both have proved to be fantastic investments.  I’ve seen loads of great stuff through them, particularly Netflix, that now I wouldn’t be without them.

The clothing ban = WORKED

In September I decided that I wasn’t going to buy any more clothes until the end of the year, because I had enough.  And I think I did quite well!  There was a £5 Primark dress in the sale, which was too nice/good value to resist, and I’ve worn it loads.  There was a fluffy sweater-dress which I paid for with vouchers, and a Christmas party top.  And I haven’t missed shopping.  In fact, I used to go into town at least every other weekend for a mooch/coffee, but the clothing ban has broken the habit, and I don’t think I’ve been into town for anything since at least early November.  I’ve currently got no desire to visit the clothes shops…  Occasionally an urge hits, but then I go and look in the drawers or in the wardrobe and realise, actually…  No.

Online Christmas shopping = WORKED

This year, I resolved, as much as possible, to do my Christmas shopping online, and with the exception of a few food-related bits, I succeeded!  I had it all delivered to school (the Amazon Locker system seems to shut down around December – I assume too much demand) which worked like a dream.

Mini-breaks = WORKED

One of the best times I had this year was my one-night stay in London over Easter.  I did what I wanted to do, no catering for others and their whims, and it was perfect.  I have resolved to try and “mini-break” more in 2016, finances allowing, as it does great things for my mental health.  In the same category I could put “a proper summer holiday”, and by that I mean “get out of the country”.  My summer 2015 trip to Cape Verde was one of the best things I did for myself all year.  Mental health investments are worth any amount of money, I think.

Things to work on in 2016 –

I wish I’d read more books this year.  According to my records, this was my worst year for total books read since 2011.  That being said, the last 18 months I’ve been pretty dedicated to the ‘Outlander’ series.  Of which I am currently on the 8th book of the (currently) 8-long series, where each one is 800-900 pages of dense, dense type.

I also want to find more time, generally, to read.  I feel like it is something that is good for me, that I should shoe-horn into my daily schedule a little more than it is now.

I’ve also taken on a 2nd year university mentee to work with until at least the summer.  Initial introductions have been made, but now the ball is in her court to make the next step.  Something tells me this isn’t going to be a blinding success, but I’m willing to make the effort if she is.

I’m sitting here with my diary, to look through, and see what the highs and lows of the year were.  I’m hopeful that highs will out-number lows, fortunately!

Highs –

  • Adele and I had our annual Bicester jaunt in January.  We both really enjoy it, and love treating ourselves to a few special bits and pieces. ;)  Plus, we’re both big fans of Pret a Manger for coffees and snacks!
  • When the naughtiest boy in my class called the whiniest boy in the class a “crybaby wanker!”  I still laugh about that one…  Because it was true.😉
  • Went to see ‘Spamalot’ in Birmingham.  It was freezing cold that day, but such a good show.  So funny!
  • A sad day turned funny when I bumped into an old secondary school teacher at a funeral.  She INSISTED I took her phone number, plus the number of my old head of year.  Needless to say, I haven’t called…
  • I got pretty obsessed with Grand Theft Auto V on the Xbox.  I played it for so many hours, and it ended up being only the 3rd game I’ve managed to complete – although I did have to skip loads of levels I couldn’t pass…  It was the absolute perfect way to wind down after stressful days at work.
  • Spent a cold and wet day in London with Laura visiting the Sherlock Holmes exhibition, and then hiding out in Pret for hours to escape the weather.
  • Dressed as a crocodile for World Book Day.  The massive crocodile head gave me the perfect chance for a bit of shut-eye during our weekly snooze-fest diary meetings.
  • Went to Fosse Park for shopping with Adele and Ed.  Fun purchases made.
  • Baby Eli was born.
  • Caught up with some Nicholson family members, who we’ve not seen for years at Blist Hill Victorian town.
  • Had a fantastic over-night stay in London.  Had a lovely jaunt round Camden Market, then saw ‘War Horse’.  Got a 5* hotel half price!
  • Went up the Shard.  Almost had it to myself at times.
  • A fun day spent training with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
  • A jaunt to Tamworth for mum’s birthday with the fam.
  • A dramatic arrest at school for psycho/drugged parent!
  • A Pampered Chef party at Lauren’s.  Bit random, but fun.
  • The ‘Outlander’ finale on Amazon Instant.  OMG.
  • Saw Derren Brown in Northampton with Hazel.
  • A permanent job offer!
  • Job celebrations in Rushton with Louise.
  • A very hot and sunny day in Cambridge with Laura.
  • A lovely alfresco meal at Sharon’s house.
  • Farewell pub garden drinks with the girls.  Lots of presents.  Felt very loved and spoiled.
  • £109 worth of stuff from ‘Next’ for £7!  Yay for sales and vouchers!
  • A most marvellous week on Boa Vista, Cape Verde.  All-round perfect.
  • 3-night trip to Ely with the parentals.
  • 2-night stay in Glasgow with Brian.  Great shopping!
  • Annual Ragdale visit with Adele.  Glorious, as always.
  • Trip to Stafford to see various family.
  • Sunny trip to Packwood house with the fam.
  • Saw ‘Hairspray’ with work girls.  Met Peter Duncan of ex-Blue Peter fame in Ask afterwards!
  • Auntie Margaret’s 90th birthday in Cambridge.
  • New iPhone.
  • Giggles with Trish at Beckworth Emporium.
  • Visited Lisa and baby Arabella.
  • Baby Flora born.
  • A windy trip to the Bell Plantation with Adele.
  • Whole school trip to see ‘The Snow Queen’ at the Derngate.  Enjoyed by all.
  • A successful blood donation!
  • A delicious school Christmas dinner!
  • A Christmas buffet at Adeles.

Lows –

  • Our old neighbour Betty died in Late January.  She was a character who will be well missed.
  • Adele and Ed sadly lost their longed-for baby daughter Robyn at 25 weeks.  Unfortunately, Robyn was very ill, and would have not have had a chance at normal life, had she survived at all.  But it was still gut-wrenchingly sad.  It is so devastating to see people that you love hurting, and not being able to do anything to help, beyond being there.  At the end, they were helped out by a local charity who provides funerals at no cost for babies and children.  And so I made that my yearly Christmas charity donation.

(This is a post I’ve actually been sitting on for a while, but recent events have only reconfirmed and heightened my convictions on the issue.)

I am pro-choice and pro-abortion like I’m pro-knee-replacement and pro-chemotherapy and pro-transplant surgery. As the last protection against ill-conceived childbearing, choice is a part of the set of tools that help adult couples to form the families they are equipped for. I believe that choice can only be a positive social good. I suspect that a lot of other people secretly believe the same thing, or would when they were truly confronted with it. And I think it’s time society said so with a bit more conviction.

Choice is about who gets to make the decision. The question of whether and when we bring a new life into the world is, to my mind, one of the most important decisions a person can make. It is too big a decision for us to make for each other, and waaaaay too important for perfect strangers to have a single opinion or comment about.  Particularly that dangerous breed, the white-middle-class-conservative male.  Often repulsively arrogant and ill-informed on the rights of any person who isn’t exactly like them.  To quote the ever-wonderful sitcom, ‘Friends’, “No uterus: No opinion”.

But independent of who owns the decision making process, I’m pro the right to make an informed and adult decision, YES, that decision can ABSOLUTELY come about after advice from experts/doctors/family/church, but those institutions should NOT be the final decision makers on any case.

Here are the reasons why:

1. I’m pro-choice because being able to delay and limit childbearing is fundamental to female equality. A woman who lacks the means to manage her fertility lacks the means to manage her life. Any plans, dreams, aspirations, responsibilities or commitments – no matter how important – without adequate pro-choice materials – have a great big contingency clause built in: “Until or unless I get pregnant.”

Think of any professional woman you know. She wouldn’t be in that role if she hadn’t been able to time and limit her childbearing. Think of any girl you know who imagines becoming a professional woman. She won’t get there unless she has effective, reliable means to manage her fertility. In generations past, nursing care was provided by nuns because avoiding sexual intimacy was the only way women could avoid unpredictable childbearing and so be freed up to serve their communities in other vital ways.

2. I’m pro-choice because well-timed pregnancies give children a healthier start in life. We now have ample evidence that babies do best when women are able to space out their pregnancies and get both pre-natal and post-natal care.  Wanted babies are more likely to get cuddles and developmentally appropriate stimulation, to be welcomed into families that are financially and emotionally ready to receive them, to get preventive medical care during childhood and the kinds of loving interactions that helps young brains to develop.

3. I’m pro-choice because I think motherhood should be taken seriously. Most female bodies can carry a baby, and thanks to antibiotics, cesareans and anti-hemorrhage drugs, most are able to survive pushing a baby out into the world. But parenting is a lot of work, and doing it at all decently takes twenty dedicated years of focus, attention, patience, persistence, social support, mental health, money, and a whole lot more. This is a life-transforming thing, not to be undertaken lightly. The idea that women should simply get on with it when they find themselves pregnant after a one-night-stand, an assault, poor contraception or emotional immaturity, completely trivialises motherhood.

4. I’m pro-choice because intentional childbearing helps couples, families and communities to get out of poverty.

It is no coincidence that the middle class as we now know it, rose along with the ability of couples to plan their families, starting at the beginning of the last century. Having two or three children, instead of eight or ten was critical to prospering in the modern age. Today, unwanted pregnancy is declining for everyone but the very poorest people and communities.  Sometimes, strong, determined girls and women sometimes beat the odds, but their stories are the exception to the rule. The rights of a woman living in a civilised society dictates that the full range of contraceptive tools, and should it come to it, the most humane and safe termination care, should be available to all those who need it.  Not just the privileged, educated few.

5. I’m pro-choice because reproduction is a highly imperfect process.  Growing a human is a complicated business with flaws and false starts at every step along the way. To compensate, in every known species including humans, reproduction operates as a big funnel. Many more eggs and sperm are produced than will ever meet; more combine into embryos than will ever implant, and more implant than will ever grow into babies.  This somewhat “touchy” system makes our very own bodies the world’s biggest abortion provider.

In humans, a high percentage of fertilised eggs fail long before becoming babies.  But the weeding-out process is also highly imperfect. Sometimes perfectly viable combinations kick themselves out; sometimes horrible, life-ending defects slip through.  Like any other medical procedure, therapeutic contraception and abortion complement natural processes designed to help us survive and thrive.

6. I’m pro-choice because I think basic morality is about the well-being of sentient beings. I believe that morality is about the lived experience of sentient beings—beings who can feel pleasure and pain, have preference and intention, who can live peacefully in relation to other beings, love and be loved, and value their own existence.

What is the pre-term foetus capable of wanting? What are they capable of feeling or understanding?  In this moral universe, real people count more than potential people or hypothetical people.

There is always an argument over when a person becomes a person…  But I believe that that the idea of “lived experience”, or “to-be-lived experience” trumps all.  In essence, what does the woman making the decision know?  And what does she know of the life she is expecting for her child?  Is she bringing a child into health, stability and love?  Or disability, in-stability and resentment?

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