Not everyone’s looking forward to Christmas

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Look around you – it’s hard resisting the festive spirit. The city swamped in starry lights, non-stop chatter on radio about plans for the holiday season, and TV advertisements imploring us to ‘give’, and ‘make it just that extra special for someone’.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, they say, but there’s not much room in big brand advertising for the symbolism of the birth of Christ, or the charitable traditions of Christmas…. so what really is Christmas?

A few weeks ago, a group of colleagues from work and I took a break from the self-indulgent nature of Christmas when we were invited to spend the day with young disadvantaged children at a primary school in South London.

Together with Kids Company – a charity that provides practical, educational and emotional support to children around London, we organised six different activities from cupcake dressing and face-painting, to making cards and playing musical chairs.

The volunteers dressed up as Santa’s elves, Christmas trees, and a Christmas pudding. Of the Santas, one in particular was effortlessly jolly and the other had a sophisticated hand wave. The elves and trees were cheerful throughout the day and made sure the kids had enough to eat and drink.

As a Christmas pudding, I was tasked with face painting. Nervous at first, I gradually got better with every butterfly and lion, and excelled in Superman faces. I just hoped nobody would want ‘Lady Gaga’.

While having their faces painted, some of the kids engaged in conversation, but others preferred to stay quiet and concentrate on the final outcome. Many left satisfied, recommending to their friend and pointing to the face-painting desk. It wasn’t long before we heard another ‘Miss, I would like a butterfly.’

‘Are you looking forward to Christmas?’ I asked Jeff, a seven year old boy (name changed). There was a hesitation followed by a soft whisper ‘No’.

The feeling of anxiety before Christmas is not unique to young children. Yesterday, at Crisis – a shelter that welcomes rough sleepers and people without families – there was an elderly lady, perhaps in her early sixties, apprehensive about idea of spending the day on her own. ‘Without public transport, don’t think I could make it to the centre, and I’m not sure what I’d do by myself apart from smoke cigarettes, she said wistfully.

For all that X’mas has to offer – Christmas markets, festive treats et al, I became slightly confused about the spirit of Christmas.

While Covent Garden saw festive shoppers indulge in the festive spirit, the world of young children at Kids Co. and Crisis was a far cry from what I see every day.

Perhaps the idea of Santa Claus is a fictional character that some children only see in films.  While speaking with the Kids Co. volunteers, we were informed a majority of the children at the school were emotionally abused, homeless and from troubled backgrounds.

‘A significant proportion of children find Christmas a struggle and this is further exacerbated by pre-existing financial difficulties in their families,’ said Jasmina Stosic from Kids Company. ‘These children don’t come from stable homes.
They have to make choices between paying the gas bills and celebrating
Christmas,’ she added.

Similarly volunteers at Crisis are up against the odds in trying to accommodate most guests as there has been a 43 per cent increase in homeless people since the last year.

Recent statistics released by Joseph Rowntree Foundation show child poverty in the UK has fallen to 27 per cent, its lowest rate for almost 25 years. However Jasmina said, ‘That frankly is misleading, we are looking after more than 36,000 children, and the number is growing.’

I recalled what Dr. Seuss had said in How the Grinch stole Christmas: “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!  What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

With more than 30,000  children anxious about the holiday season, and a significant rise in people without a roof above their head, we could probably all afford to do a little bit more, either with our time or our money, to benefit those for whom Christmas offers no consolation from daily life.

Nobody said it would be easy – but not forgetting those most in need at Christmas time will mean more smiles on children’s faces all year round.

 

 

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Has foreign ownership impacted fan loyalty of English football clubs?

I never quite got to grips with the football frenzy, until I moved to England two years ago. The loyalty of fans to their clubs is something similar of what cricket and IPL is to the people of India. However I fail to comprehend  with little English representation among team players  and with some of the top league clubs being owned by Russians, Americans or Arabs , could this have made any difference to the loyal supporters over the years?

Leo, a supporter of Newcastle United admits club football is quite different now. He said, “Traditionally club owners and players were true local heroes, but now English clubs are often owned by foreign investors who fill their teams with an overwhelming number of foreign players who will stay as long as the money is good and the trophies are won. So it’s much harder to identify with a team whose players and bosses are seemingly far more interested in personal attainment than they are about your home town, and who will move on at the first sign of a better offer.”

In the past few weeks, I’ve been catching a glimpse of the action at the nearby pubs which inadvertently are full of men. I saw Newcastle United’s defeat against Manchester City that left him feeling quite gutted, but nevertheless still proud to see his team clinch fifth place this year. And one couldn’t forget Manchester City’s historical win against United after 44 years two weeks back.

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Having seen some of the fans take to the streets to support their teams made me wonder if it was family tradition. Wearing light blue t-shirts, people of all ages, babies on prams with Manchester City scarves were all out in force to glorify the champions; at times it all seemed a bit too sentimental.

Louise admits to it being more of a family tradition. She said, “I support West Bromwich because my dad and uncle follow them, so it’s kind of like a family tradition.”

“What football club you support is, like what religion you follow, a source of identity and heritage for many families. It is definitely passed on from generation to generation, and I believe kids automatically follow their parents’ choice of which team to support. They go to matches at an early age, and are almost certainly encouraged to like the same team as their parents,” Leo added.

With many foreign investors and players, a big question is has money taken precedence over the sport and has this potentially affected the loyalty of players and fans. There are several examples of players ditching  clubs at the very first sight of a bigger cheque being waved infront of them. Every one knows of the famous Ashley Coles move from Arsenal to Chelsea in 2006 for ₤25 million. However, on Saturday after the Blues’ magnificent Champions League triumph over Bayern Munich, he reacted by saying “this is why I came to Chelsea.”

While Chelsea FC is owned by oligarch Roman Abramovich, who has allegedly invested a million of his own money in the team, Manchester City is owned by the Sheikh Mansour of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi and Manchester United by American businessman Glazer.

Speaking with Kelly she says yes, ” It’s sad to see over the years how people think they can buy the best teams and players, it’s definitely not like what it was before. But on the plus side it has also attracted more international fans and more support. People from all over the world follow the Premier leagues now.”

With twitter and facebook abuzz on Chelsea v/s Bayern Munich, I couldn’t but resist switching on to Radio 5 live and  keep abreast of the atmosphere. When they won the European championship, even the commentators couldn’t contain their emotions, I guess everyone was in a state of disbelief.

Learning of Chelsea’s visit to Stamford Bridge on Sunday evening, I was keen to catch the players at the parade. I didn’t make it in time but was lucky to see the jubilant fans blowing whistles, chanting ‘Chelsea, ole, ole, ole’ and dressed in patriotic blue and white.  Despite the crowds, and long queues to get the train in time, the atmosphere was unbelievably brilliant.

“Sport unites, it brings people together. Yes it has changed, but as long as we win it doesn’t matter. My family always supported Chelsea, I will continue to. Ole Chelsea Champione,” said one walking back to the station.

A fan whose family has been supporting Chelsea for four generations said, “Its hard for me to watch penalty shoot outs as it is, when there are teams I don’t support. Watching Chelsea, and moreover seeing them win, it was simply unbelievable. Even now, I’m just not sure what to say.”

Spain’s economy: What do some of London’s spaniards have to say

If you switch on the TV, or read the papers, headlines like these on the Spanish economy can’t escape you. As we move into the next quarter, one can only be hopeful, but looks like not much has changed since two years ago for the people of Spain.

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While most of these articles talk about the future, what analysts have to say, how long will it take before things fall into line and what needs to be done, which I think is imperative, my curiosity drove me to find out how this could have impacted people around me.  Looking for a different angle to that seen in the mainstream media about Spain’s dwindling economy , I approached my friends and people working in restaurants down the street to find out what they have to say.

At a restaurant in Upper Street, which has a vague spanish exterior, I’m curious to find out if there are any Spanish natives and then comes up Esther Alija, the Assistant Manager at Sangria. Despite the tough economic situation and depressing news about the economy, Esther is upbeat and optimistic. She says,” I came here four years ago to study TV production at the University of Middlesex with plans to go back to my country and work in a TV broadcasting house, but after my graduation I am still here.”

“I can’t go back there, there is not even a job for me in a restaurant. I work here part-time on weekends with shifts in between while I am still looking for work in my field, ” she said.

“My boyfriend is a qualified engineer and he is working as a waiter here in London. The south of Spain is in a worse condition than Madrid, and especially the villages, they are affected the worst,” she added

Prof. Luis Garicano, of London School of Economics said in his blog Nada es Gratis, “Since the beginning of the crisis, the percentage of households unemployed (ie, includes members unemployed or inactive) has increased about 8 percentage points and in about 36 percent of all households.”

Not so long ago, Ade Lozano and myself used to share a house in Sheffield. I wrote to Ade to find out if things were any better since she moved home to Seville last year. Currently unemployed, she said, “I’m an architect and I’ve been unemployed for nearly one and a half year. Unfortunately, the construction sector is one of the worst hit by the economic crisis.”

“Many things have changed since the recession. Job opportunities are close to nothing, even if you are a graduate or you have some work experience. If you are a very lucky excellent door-to-door sales agent or a sales representative you might get a job with some mobile network operator who will also then only pay you if you sell something,” she said.

Garciano shows an interesting statistic of the spanish unemployent levels going back to 1976. According to the EPA , first quarter of 2012 was bad, of the 20.5 million jobs that existed in Spain in the third quarter of 2007, 3 million have been destroyed in the crisis. This represents a 15% loss of existing jobs in 23 quarters, compared with 14% of jobs lost in 10 years of job losses from the crisis that began in 1976.

Without any income, people are compelled to spend less and are monitoring every penny, which has inevitably led to the closing of most small shops and bars in Seville.

Lozano said, ” I would be lying if I said this hasn’t taken a toll on my lifestyle. Certainly, since the recession, I’ve gone shopping only a few times and going out has been less. My social life has been reduced to watching a movie at home or going for a walk with some friends. As I don’t have any income I can’t afford to spend much money on things that are not essential but only those to cover my expenses. This situation has compelled me to change my habits and consume less.”

” The cost of living has gone up and people are consuming less. Cars are something people will not invest in these times and is seen as something as a luxury, ” said a 25 year old receptionist working at the restaurant.

Tatty, another said: Everybody knows the political situation is no good there. There is no work in Spain; I completed a degree in Business Administration and work as a waitress now. There are no jobs at all.”

The anonymous receptionist added, ” I studied in Germany but came here because my friends are here in London. Yes there are no jobs in Spain, but where I come from, Barcelona is still a lot better.”

So what are the reasons for Spain’s economic predicament? “Compared to Germany and France, I think we are worse off because people here are not interested in politics, they aren’t equipped with enough knowledge to fight the big corporations, financiers, politicians and the decision makers which makes it harder,” she added

Having said this, “I am still positive we will get out of it, everyone knows of the Great Depression of 1929 in America, its a cycle, we will come out of it,” she added.