Yveette copper

I’ve been enjoying the Twitter account of Yveette Copper (sic) for the last week or so. Here’s her bio, freely available on her Twitter homepage for everyone to read:

LABOUR MParody. Spoof, fictional, PARODY Parody PARODY pieces a spoof Parody. I’ve had to take over from Ed Parodied BaIlsmp.PARODY. parody (spoof)

And yet more than half of her tweets are retweets of appalled people scolding her for her trenchant and disrespectful comments!

What is it with people? Either they’re too busy to read her bio or they don’t understand the word parody and are too lazy to look it up or they are naive enough to think that someone in the public eye would Tweet in such an undiplomatic way. It’s so funny and odd to me because no-one I follow, or only the very rarest of people, ever displays such a knee-jerk reactive personality and, if ever they do, it’s usually because they’re having a bad day or they’re distressed about something and they invariably apologise immediately.

I look forward to seeing the account escalate in hysteria as the Labour leadership election draws near. I’d love to know what the real Yvette Cooper MP thinks about it all.

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MsDD has returned slightly blistered but generally in one piece from her Duke of Edinburgh Bronze award expedition. The group walked for 26 miles over 2 days; plotted their route; set up their camp; planned their meals – dehydrated pasta – and managed to finish quickest out of all the groups without falling out with each other. MsDD loved the scenery in the New Forest, the ponies, the cows, the cuckoo and would love to go again. I was worried in case she would have a dizzy spell but she headed off one of those with timely use of her medication and is fine, if exhausted.

Now she just has to do a little admin to provide proof of her other Award activities (Volunteering: being Music Director for the forthcoming Lower School play; Physical: Grade 6 ballet; Skill: her participation in music ensembles) and she’s got the award in the bag.

Many from her year will go on to do the Silver and Gold awards, with more arduous standards, but MsDD will now step back to concentrate on her music and academic studies. She’s had to run herself ragged over the last academic year, because participating in a voluntary activity is compulsory at her school in Year 10, and it is anticipated that her grades will reflect this. Let’s say no more.

I’ve been thinking a lot about volunteering today, with the news that Prince Harry favours the reintroduction of National Service as a character building activity, and the attendant howls of protest from some.

I’ve thought for a while that some sort of mandatory community service for older teenagers would be a good idea. I’ve seen from my offsprings’ own experience, the great opportunities for personal development offered by both the Duke of Edinburgh scheme and  the Combined Cadet Force, which is huge at their school. Both of these initiatives have tested their endurance and teamwork and developed resilience and self-discipline and organisational skills that I am sure will be useful to them and future employers. The Boywonder also spent some time volunteering in a school for children with severe disabilities. It was just a couple of hours a week but it gave him a real insight into the difficulties that some children face.

Now, I know Military Service isn’t for everyone, and there have been all sorts of scathing comments about the Armed Forces on Twitter today. Fine, I get that some people are pacifists and conscientious objectors or simply baulk at the thought of violence. But I’ll say it again: it is the reality of the world that some people have to do the nasty, unpalatable jobs that most people would rather not think about in order to protect our way of life and our freedoms and, in fact, those of others around the world. Joining the military might well be out of bloodlust for some – and I’ve come across this sort of person too – but think of all the peacekeeping and disaster relief duties carried out by people in the Armed Forces. It’s not just about going off to kill brown people.

Besides, a complusory volunteering year needn’t be spent doing military service. My feeling is that each cohort of young people could usefully be engaged in community projects where there is an unfulfilled need. Think of all those old and vulnerable people or people with life restricting disabilities or those with mental health issues or those who are simply lonely.

Loneliness kills. There are plenty of people living isolated lives who never get to pass the time of day with anyone. Professional carers are so pushed for time because their employers overbook them that they literally cannot spend time with the people they help. Wouldn’t it be a lovely idea if there were some sort of initiative whereby teenagers could befriend and pop in on a vulnerable or elderly person to have a chat and a cup of tea for a couple of hours each day?

The young person would learn about the daily difficulties faced by elderly people or people with disabilities and the elderly person would get to understand the issues facing young people. Wouldn’t it be great it people started talking to each other more rather than judging people on the basis of stereotypes and little personal knowledge?

In today’s fragmented world where toddlers have televisions in their bedrooms and it seems that hardly anyone has space for a dinner table, let alone the time to sit around it and chat, discuss and debate as a family, it seems that conversational and debating skills are yet another preserve of the privileged few. I’m not making a stereotypical assumption here: I’ve witnessed with my own eyes children who don’t seem able to sit at a table or use a knife and fork; older children who can’t look you in the eye and have no idea about politics or current affairs or the arts or history or geography or manners or life outside their own very narrow concerns. It’s all too easy to write off young people as vacuous and disinterested but this is not their fault. It’s the fault of a society that is too busy to nurture them. A compulsory volunteering year would be a way of learning “soft” but essential skills that they will need in their future lives like getting on with people outside their own narrow social circle.

We could assign a young person on community duty to, say, new parents as an extra pair of hands when coming to terms with the impact of a new baby, far away from family support. There are all sorts of these things that they could do and I reckon it would be a great way of uniting what has become a dysfunctional community. I believe, from what my friend James Casserly tells me, that they have similar community work built into the education system in Ireland.

There are those who would see community service as a way of undercutting low wage jobs and I could see that happening. It seems a fact of life that charities are taking over work that used to be done by professionals working in public services. I’m not saying that mine is a perfect idea but if it were kept to jobs that are currently not done, that might prevent this from happening.

Similarly I saw one tweet about providing properly paid apprenticeships instead. Well, yes. I think we need these too. To me, community volunteering is not about finding a substitute for jobs or training or further education but about young people trying to find out about themselves, and others beyond their immediate experience and their place in the world and doing some good of which they can be proud. The Boywonder, currently on his Gap Yah, has worked in a local shop and picked grapes at a winery in the Yarra Valley. He’s been lucky to have had these opportunities and seems to have learned so much about what he’s made of. Wouldn’t it be great if all young people had the same sort of opportunity?