Royal wedding street parties held across Britain

From tiny villages to big cities, hundreds of thousands of Britons celebrated the royal wedding with brass bands, baked goods and red, white and blue bunting at traditional neighborhood street parties.

There were 5,500 applications for street closures across the country, officials said, with residents taking over usually traffic-filled roads with long tables, picnic meals and festive banners.

Many towns and cities erected outdoor screens so people could watch the wedding ceremony of Prince William and Kate Middleton in Westminster Abbey – and their kiss from a Buckingham Palace balcony a little later.

With rain holding off and sun breaking through the cloud in London, residents in several neighbourhoods came out to mingle over cold drinks and home-baked treats.

Street parties on big royal occasions have been a British tradition for decades, from Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding in 1981 to Queen Elizabeth II’s golden jubilee in 2002.

“It’s very much a London thing,” said actress Barbara Windsor, star of the quintessentially English Carry On comedy films and the EastEnders soap opera. “When the war was over we used to have street parties all the time for no reason.”

Windsor was among more than 200 people attending a north London party where residents ate pizza and Indian food from long tables before listening to an Irish band and a string quartet.

Across town, about 100 charity workers and local children were invited to a party in Downing Street, home to Prime Minister David Cameron and his family. They were served egg sandwiches and red Jell-O from paper plates, soda in paper cups and tea poured from stainless steel teapots into white china cups.

A trio of singers performed an eclectic assortment of songs – including California Dreaming by the Mamas and the Papas and Radiohead’s Creep – and the policeman on duty outside 10 Downing St. loaned children his bobby helmet while they posed for photos.

The prime minister, still dressed in the formal tailcoat he had worn to the wedding, dropped by to share details of ceremony,

“It was beautiful to see two people who really love each other and who are incredibly happy at an amazing ceremony,” Cameron said.

And, he added, “the cupcakes were very good.”

In London’s Hyde Park, tens of thousands of people watched the ceremony on giant screens, many adorned with union jacks. Wills and Kate T-shirts or even more festive regalia.

“It’s a huge community event and I just came out to have a great time,” said Andy Tobias, a 25-year-old consultant who was among a group of men wearing a white wedding gown and sunglasses. “I’m just trying to look as beautiful as Kate and we might come pretty close, but I think she’ll probably pip us to the post.”

There were parties in city centres and rural villages, including the mountain hamlet of Rookhope in northern England, where 100 villagers enjoyed cakes, scones and tea in the local working men’s club.

“It was a better service than Charles and Diana’s because they have waited and they seem to really know and love each other,” said retiree Betty Bowman, who clutched a Union Jack as she watched the service on TV. “I wish them all the best.”

If William’s brother had been the groom, things might have been less restrained.

“It’s just as well it wasn’t Prince Harry, mind – he’d have probably bent her over backwards and given her a right smacker,” she said.

Not everyone was cheering Friday’s wedding. Anti-monarchist group Republic held a “not the royal wedding” party in a London square.

Several hundred people – some wearing “Citizen not Subject” T-shirts – enjoyed food, drink and music and games including a stall allowing visitors to buy a mock title such as knight or dame.

John Deery, 45, of London, said he had nothing against the royals personally.

“Will is probably a nice guy,” he said.

“I’m not an anarchist but I want a fair society, a fair democracy and I don’t think we have one.”

In Glasgow, officials warned people not to go to an unofficial party in Kelvingrove Park after more than 14,000 indicated on Facebook that they planned to attend. Officials said the party did not have permission and feared it would overwhelm the park.

Mystery solved: How to get boys to write

BRITAIN – Blogging may have solved one of the most pressing problems that has perplexed the education world for years: how to get boys to write properly.

A pioneering approach adopted by a primary school in Bolton has seen a remarkable rise in pupils’ test scores.

The biggest impact has been on boys – who are happily churning out 5,000-word stories for their blogs in the classroom. The school, Heathfield primary, is now being used as a role model to encourage others around the country to adopt its methods. The turnabout has seen the percentage of pupils getting a higher than average score (“level five”) in national curriculum writing tests for 11-year-olds soar from just seven per cent to 63 per cent.

It all started during the heavy snowfalls last year. “I got really frustrated at the bad press teachers were getting [for school closures],” said David Mitchell, the school’s deputy head. “I threw out an idea about hosting online lessons.”

The school texted all the pupils’ parents saying there would be online lessons while they were kept at home. On the school website a blogging platform had been set up and soon most pupils were busily blogging in response to requests to go out into their back garden and report on the depth of the snow.

“Blogging was cool and fulfilling,” said Mr Mitchell. “After this there was no looking back.”

Blogging was then officially introduced to the curriculum with even five-year-olds being encouraged to write what they thought about their lessons. The school set up links internationally with other schools allowing their youngsters to exchange blogs with places as far apart as Canada and Australia. It also introduced a “blog of the week” prize for the most exceptional piece of writing.

Youngsters were encouraged to write their own short stories – with many producing 5,000-word essays at whim. “It is now a part of everyday life and the way our pupils like to communicate,” said Mr Mitchell. “They will produce their work in class and then quite happily and eagerly go home and do a blog. It’s now cool to be writing – especially for the boys. It’s the boys who were coming up with the 5,000-word articles first.”

Writing is the skill that pupils have least mastery of in tests for 11-year-olds, with only 71 per cent reaching the required standard, compared with 86 per cent in reading. The gap between girls’ and boys’ performance can be seen as early as seven – with the last tests for that age group showing one in four boys failed to reach the required standard compared with just 13 per cent of girls. Teachers find it remarkable that their pupils are now so enthusiastic over writing, something that was once considered a chore.

Paul Hynes, head of technology at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, said: “It’s amazing what they’ve achieved in such a short space of time.”

He added that other schools which had followed in Heathfield’s footsteps had noted the same phenomenon – that it improved boys’ writing skills.

Ministers have ploughed millions of pounds into trying to solve the problem of boys’ writing and reading standards, creating a “boys into books” scheme which introduced more fact-based books for boys to read in the classroom and a “reading champions” programme in which Premier League footballers spoke about their favourite books. Neither, though, seem to have had as big an effect as the opportunity to blog at Heathfield primary school

Life imitates art as Oprah Winfrey is reunited with long-lost sister

IT WAS the kind of heart-rending family reunion on which Oprah Winfrey built her television career.

But yesterday it was the billionaire media tycoon’s turn to be reunited – with the long-lost sister that her mother had sent for adoption almost 50 years ago. Winfrey used her eponymous television show yesterday to reveal the family secret she said she had been keeping since October, the discovery of a half-sister, Patricia, living just an hour and half away.

“It was one of the greatest surprises of my life,” Winfrey said.

The host was nine years old and living with her father in Nashville when Patricia was born. She had not even known her mother was pregnant.

On yesterday’s show, an emotional Winfrey introduced the woman she identified only as Patricia, explaining how her years-long search for her birth family culminated in their first meeting at Thanksgiving last year.

Patricia was put into care shortly after she was born and lived in foster homes until she was adopted at the age of seven. When she was 17, she fell pregnant with a daughter, Aquarius, and then six years later had a son, Andre. The single mother had to work two jobs to provide for her children.

In 2007, Patricia happened to see a story on the television news about a woman named Vernita Lee, who was talking about a son, Jeffrey, who died in 1989, and a daughter, Pat, who had died in 2003. The information matched details in her adoption records. Furthermore, Ms Lee was Winfrey’s mother.

“The hair on the back of my neck stood up,” Patricia said.

However, Ms Lee refused to meet, even when confronted with DNA evidence from her own niece, who Patricia had contacted in desperation. It was only when Winfrey’s researchers looked into the claim that Patricia’s birth mother finally broke down and admitted the truth. The half-sisters were eventually reunited at their mother’s house in Milwaukee.

“It was a Beloved moment,” Winfrey said, referring to the Toni Morrison novel in which a daughter comes back from the dead. Home video shows the two in a long embrace.

Winfrey said she was particularly stunned by the news because although Patricia had known since 2007 that the two were related, she never attempted to contact the media for help. “She never once thought to sell the story,” Winfrey said.

“Family business should be handled by family,” Patricia said. “It couldn’t be handled by anyone else. That’s not fair.”

Secret to being a good parent? Take your pick

A great parenting debate is about to be reopened as authors publish books with clashing prescriptions. But will parents be any the wiser?

Mothers are to be subjected to a volley of rival strategies for surviving the child-rearing years. A ticker tape of fresh pronouncements seems to be running continuously; a fact that must do nothing to soothe the mood of a mother already contending with a crying infant and a lack of sleep.

Last month parents were told that running a tidy, ordered home would boost their child’s development – but that having a cosy home was even more important.

The phrase “mother knows best” has never looked so quaint.

“The single most important point of all in childcare is that none of these prescriptions is the right answer,” says Oliver James, whose book on child rearing, How Not to F*** Them Up, is out in paperback in April.

In an effort to turn down the heat on parents, the child psychologist adds: “There is an endless searching for a right way to care for a baby or a small child.

But there is no right way.”

In the next few months Rebecca Asher’s book Shattered: Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality will try to raise the consciousness of exhausted women.

They have been complicit, she says, in maintaining a status quo in which mothers bear the primary responsibility for bringing up children, to the detriment of the rest of their lives.

Then there is the provocative book by Yale law academic Amy Chua taking up a position on the other side of the maternal boxing ring.

In Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother Chua aims to shake up Western complacency and to highlight what she sees as the superiority of strict traditional Chinese child-rearing methods.

Chua’s book, a social formula in the guise of a memoir, reflects a wider reactionary trend, or a “breath of common sense” as its proponents might have it.

There is a growing interest, too, in letting working mothers throw away those tiresome balls they have been juggling to embrace their role at the hearth.

James feels it is a shift in emphasis that comes from young women. He says he has found that many in their early 20s or late teens are asking what the point was of trying to do everything.

There is no prize awarded for working and mothering hard, James points out, although he concedes that for poorer women and single mothers choices are limited.

“Mothers of young babies should consider whether they are comfortable in their skin,” he says. “And that is not an easy thing to achieve, particularly if you have been living like Bridget Jones. It is not an ideal preparation to have enjoyed a career and had little experience of having a status lower than a street-sweeper. It is a huge wrench.”

Much of the “new” advice being offered to parents is the blindingly obvious delivered in fresh wrapping. Arguing repeatedly in front of children is bad, apparently, as is moving house frequently – not revelations that are likely to stop parents in their tracks.

After a bruising early experience, writer and new mother Eleanor Birne has decided to dump the books and look after her 22-month-old son, Noah, according to her own lights.

“I have an ambivalent relationship with all those guidebooks,” says Birne, 34, from east London, whose memoir of motherhood When Will I Sleep Through the Night? comes out in March.

“None of them seem to relate to my baby or to my life. I stopped reading them quite early on because they made me feel quite depressed and as if I was not doing it properly.”

She says her book has no agenda and is designed to reflect how it feels to start living in the “amazingly new world” of a mother.

James feels that a fundamental question has not still been addressed: What kind of children are we trying to create? One mother’s high-achieving prodigy is another’s miserable swot.

“The Chinese theory is right on one point at least. There is a lot of scientific evidence to suggest that if you want your children to be prodigiously skilled you need to be this strict.”

James suggests parents should be honest with themselves.

“You need to ask yourself what kind of an objective you have. If you are determined to have a Tiger Woods or a Williams sister, you probably can follow the advice of the Chinese parenting formula. But if you want your child to be laid back, that is another matter.”

While James fears society has become too judgmental about this area, he thinks the growing attention paid to the first six years of life is progress.

Recent work on the human genome has proved to his satisfaction that genetics has little to do with our behaviour and mental health.

“So we should be getting more concerned about the quality of life at an early age.”

Facebook named as third party in post-christmas divorce rush

IT was first blamed for encouraging illicit encounters; now it is being cited as the superhighway to divorce.

Lawyers are seeing a steep rise in divorce petitions involving Facebook as they grapple with the post-Christmas increase in marriage breakdown.

Emma Patel, head of family law at UK firm Setfords, said: “There is a distinct trend in social networking websites being cited in divorces, almost as a virtual third party. Facebook features in 30 of the petitions I have seen since May, which is nearly all of them.”

She said that the huge popularity of sites such as Second Life, Illicit Encounters and Friends Reunited were tempting couples to cheat on one another. “Then suspicious spouses use the sites to spy, and find evidence of flirting and even affairs.”

Facebook pages were increasingly being cited in evidence as “unreasonable behaviour”, she added, including flirtatious messages or e-mails and chats of a suggestive or sexual nature.

The sites can also fan the acrimony of divorce proceedings, with public slanging matches online and even the posting of photographs of new lovers.

“Couples send abusive comments to each other, even though we advise them not to. In one case things got so bad that we had to involve the police and the person was charged with malicious communication.”

It is estimated that 14 million Britons regularly use social networking sites. The popularity of Friends Reunited a few years ago was blamed for a surge in divorce as people contacted old flames.

A growing number of people also use Second Life, a virtual world where people adopt avatars, or invented personas, to escape from real life, which can lead to infidelities.

Ms Patel added: “The situation has deteriorated so badly that we advise feuding couples to avoid these sites until their divorces are settled.”

Her firm is experiencing the usual rise in divorce inquiries after Christmas, with 20 to 25 in the past week compared with the normal one or two.

Vanessa Lloyd-Platt, who runs her own family law firm in London – which is experiencing a 20 per cent rise in divorce inquiries – said that Facebook had now become “the divorce lawyer’s jewel in the crown”.

She said: “I designated Monday this week D-Day, after a Christmas with inclement weather, which meant greater than normal unmet expectations over online gifts that did not arrive.” Being “constantly holed up with relatives” also caused people to become hugely frustrated, she said.

Alex Carruthers, a family partner with Hughes Fowler Carruthers, warned that people often saw social media sites as “very intimate spaces where they can pour out their hearts freely”. But, he added, they were very public. “Throwaway comments about a partner or personal or financial assertions that cannot be backed up may come back to haunt the person responsible. People should think twice before they post comments.”

Facebook already has a divorce page where people can post comments about what they are going through, and 5,700 people have said they “like” the page.

Meanwhile, the United States offers a hint of the trend. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers said that 81 per cent of its members had used social media sites to gather evidence in the past five years.

Lawyers may be pleased at their new-found source of evidence. But ministers hoping for less fighting and more mediation in divorce may be less than delighted at Facebook’s new role in family disputes.

My Appreciation and thanks

I would like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to all the individuals that have supported this website for the last eight months, your support as been invaluable and have given me the courage to continue working to improve the quality of information that is on the site.

I will you are a great festive season, and for the supporter who do not celebrate Christmas, I wish you continued good health, joy and happiness and look forward to your continued support of Mygripe an thing in 2011.  I hope that there will be more participation from supporter in the coming year and that we can continue to make our voices heard on any subject that we have strong opinion about.

Once again thank you all for your continue support.



British mothers to be given breastfeeding areas at work

BRITISH working mothers should be given the right to breastfeed their babies during office hours, according to a government proposal to be launched on Tuesday.

A Department of Health white paper will set out a plan to encourage firms to adopt “breastfeeding-friendly employment policies” in a push to increase the UK’s low rates of breastfeeding.

Firms will be urged to provide private areas where women can breastfeed or express milk and dedicated fridges for storing it.

Another proposed measure is greater flexibility around when mothers take breaks, enabling them, where possible to return home to breastfeed their child.

Government ministers argue that increasing breastfeeding rates has the potential to boost children’s health and cut infant mortality levels.

The UK Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: “Giving young families good support is key to tackling health inequalities and key to good health in the whole population.

“Breastfeeding is one of the best ways to give babies good health, but our society doesn’t always make it easy for new mums to do it. We want to make it easier for new mums to breastfeed.”

“If we can make it easier more mums would breastfeed and they might do it for longer, giving their children the best start in life,” Mr Lansley added.

Around 66 percent of British women in manual jobs breastfeed, compared with 88 percent of professionals.
National Health Service figures recently showed that 39 percent of mothers who stopped breastfeeding between four and six months after childbirth blamed work.

Women in England won the right to breastfeed in public last month and the European parliament also voted last month to give women the right to two separate, one-hour periods off for breastfeeding each day.

The scheme, due to be introduced over the next few months, will be tried out initially by several as yet unnamed private companies at no cost to the businesses.

It will be concentrated in less affluent areas where the number of mothers breastfeeding is traditionally low.

Saudi women sue male guardians who stop marriage

CAIRO—Year after year, the 42-year-old Saudi surgeon remains single, against her will. Her father keeps turning down marriage proposals, and her hefty salary keeps going directly to his bank account.

The surgeon in the holy city of Medina knows her father, also her male guardian, is violating Islamic law by forcibly keeping her single, a practice known as “adhl.” So she has sued him in court, with questionable success.

Adhl cases reflect the many challenges facing single women in Saudi Arabia. But what has changed is that more women are now coming forward with their cases to the media and the law. Dozens of women have challenged their guardians in court over adhl, and one has even set up a Facebook group for victims of the practice.

The backlash comes as Saudi Arabia has just secured a seat on the governing board of the new United Nation Women’s Rights Council—a move many activists have decried because of the desert kingdom’s poor record on treatment of women. Saudi feminist Wajeha al-Hawaidar describes male guardianship as “a form of slavery.”

“A Saudi woman can’t even buy a phone without the guardian’s permission,” said al-Hawaidar, who has been banned from writing or appearing on Saudi television networks because of her vocal support of women’s rights. “This law deals with women as juveniles who can’t be in charge of themselves at the same time it gives all powers to men.”

In a recent report by the pan-Arab Al-Hayat newspaper, the National Society for Human Rights received 30 cases of adhl this year—almost certainly an undercount. A Facebook group called “enough adhl,” set up by a university professor and adhl victim, estimates the number at closer to 800,000 cases. The group, with 421 members, aims at rallying support for harsher penalties against men who misuse their guardianship.

An estimated 4 million women over the age of 20 are unmarried in the country of 24.6 million. After 20, women are rapidly seen in Saudi society as getting too old to marry, said Sohila Zein el-Abdydeen, a prominent female member of the governmental National Society for Human Rights.

Fathers cite adhl for a variety of reasons—sometimes because a suitor doesn’t belong to the same tribe, or a prominent enough tribe. In other cases, the father wants to keep the allowance that the government gives to single women in poorer families, or cannot afford a dowry.

Islam’s holy book, the Quran, warns Muslim men not to prevent their daughters, sisters or female relatives from getting married, or else they will encourage sexual relations outside marriage. But under Saudi judges’ interpretation of Islamic Shariah law, the crime can be punished by lifting the male guardianship, nothing more.

Hardline judges refuse to go even that far. The founder of the Facebook group, who introduced herself only as Amal Saleh in an interview with Saudi daily Al-Watan, said she set up the group after courts let down adhl victims. She said her family threatened her with “death and torture” when she pressed for her right to get married while she was under 30. She is now 37 and still single.

Some judges even punish the women themselves for rebelling against their fathers. In one high-profile adhl case, a young single mother, Samar Badawi, sued her father and demanded he be stripped of his guardianship. She fled her house in March 2008 and spent around two years in a women’s protection house in Jeddah, waiting for the court ruling.

In April, she got it—she was sentenced to six months in prison for disobedience.

She was released late October, under heavy pressure from local rights group. The judge transferred guardianship to her uncle, and it is not yet clear if her uncle will let her get married.

Badawi refuses to speak to the media after her release, but her lawyer, Waleed Abu Khair, said hardline judges hate the protection shelters because they say the shelters corrupt women.

In Saudi Arabia, no woman can travel, gain admittance to a public hospital or live independently without a “mahram,” or guardian. Men can beat women who don’t obey, with special instructions not to pop the eye, break an arm or leave a mark on their bodies.

In the Saudi public school curriculum, boys are taught how to use their guardianship rights.

“Be jealous, beat her hands, protect her and achieve superiority over her,” reads page 212 of the Prophet Sayings textbook for 11th grade.

The concept of guardianship is interpreted in conservative Islam as meaning that men are superior to women. Moderate Islamic schools of thought, however, see the practice as an order for men to protect women, financially, emotionally and physically.

Radwa Youssef, an activist, said the answer is not to abolish guardianship but to redefine it. Since 2009, she has collected 5,400 signatures for a campaign called “Our Guardians Know Best.” She said many women who go against their male guardians’ will marry the wrong men and bring shame on their families.

“I see guardians as bodyguards who are serving women and protecting them; it is a responsibility, not a source of power,” Youssef said. “If there is a male misusing his powers, he should be introduced to rehabilitation sessions to advise and guide him.”

The Medina Surgeon, as the Saudi media tagged her, has been waiting for justice since 2006.

The surgeon, who has Canadian, British and Saudi certification, filed a lawsuit to drop her father’s mandate. But despite a paper trail carrying testimonies from suitors turned away by her father, bank documents that show her father taking over her salary, medical reports showing physical abuse, and the fact that her four other single sisters over 30 face the same destiny, no ruling has yet been issued.

The only answer she gets from the judge is to go back to her father and seek reconciliation.

“He wants me to go to death,” she told The Associated Press over the phone from Medina, speaking on condition of anonymity because she feared family retaliation. “Until when I am going to wait? …The prophet Mohamed himself wouldn’t have allowed adhl to take place.”

The surgeon lives in a “protection house,” one of dozens scattered around the kingdom for victims of adhl and domestic violence. Under a fake name, she gets escorted to courts accompanied by guards, fearing retaliation from her father.

She recalled her last encounter with her father inside the court: “I kissed his feet. I begged him to let me free, for the sake of God.”

She turns 43 next month.

Indian phone ban to stop illicit romances

A LOCAL council in northern India has banned unmarried women from carrying mobile telephones to halt a series of illicit romances between partners from different castes, media reports say.

The Baliyan council in Uttar Pradesh state decided to act after at least 23 young couples ran away and got married over the last year against their parents’ wishes.

“The panchayat (assembly) was convinced that the couples planned their elopement over their mobile phones,” village elder Jatin Raghuvanshi told the Calcutta Telegraph today.

The rules of inter-caste marriages are complicated and extremely rigid in many rural communities in India, with some lovers even murdered in “honour killings” by relatives trying to protect their family’s reputation.

“All parents were told to ensure their unmarried daughters do not use mobile phones. The boys can do so, but only under their parents’ monitoring,” said Satish Tyagi, a spokesman for the village assembly.

Caste discrimination is banned in India but still pervades many aspects of daily life, especially outside the cities.

Traditional Hindu society breaks down into brahmins (priests and scholars), kshatriya (soldiers), vaishya (merchants) and shudra (labourers). Below the caste system are the Dalits, formerly known as “Untouchables”.

Caste categories often determine Indians’ life prospects, and conservative families will only marry within their own caste sub-division.

Are you too wasted for Facebook?

WASHINGTON – A web security company is offering a free tool designed to prevent users of social networks from posting embarrassing drunken messages online.

On the premise that “Nothing good happens after 1:00 am,” the tool from Colorado-based Webroot promises to “put an end to the embarrassment that follows regrettable, late-night posts”.

The “Social Media Sobriety Test” is a free plug-in for Firefox web browsers.

It requires a user of Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube or Tumblr to perform a coordination test before being allowed to access the service.

The tests include keeping a cursor inside a moving circle or correctly identifying a series of flashing lights.

If a user fails they will be blocked from using a service.

Sobriety Test users can set the hours they would like the blocking tool to be in force.

Google also offers a tool for its Gmail service designed to prevent users from sending drunken emails.

“Mail Goggles” forces users to solve five simple maths problems in less than a minute in order to send a Gmail missive.