Category Archives: Important

Last Week My Children’s Dad Died

Candle and flower

We married in Las Vegas in 1997, eight days after we met. I was 26, he was 50. Twelve years and two children later he was sentenced to ten years in prison for a violent attack on me. He served half the time and was then deported. He carried out what I can only describe as a hate campaign against me, beginning in prison, and continuing from afar following the deportation. Last week he died.

I finally understand what people mean when they say “I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel.”  The usual response to that is “There is no supposed,” and of course that’s true, but it’s nevertheless an accurate reflection of where I’m at.

This isn’t a post where I want to say bad things about him – I was just giving the background so that you can understand why I would have conflicting emotions about this. My overriding emotion of course is for my children; I know what to feel for them, but I don’t know what to feel for myself. I’ve tried to focus on the fun times we had during the early years in Vegas, before everything went very bad, because holding on to negative feelings helps nobody. What’s the point in any bitterness now?

My children have been through such a lot. They were 9 and 6 when it happened, they’re 17 and 14 now. While he was in prison here in England they visited him many times, but since he was deported they’ve only seen him once. They still kept a close relationship though – emailing, messaging, speaking, a few times a week. Whatever he did, he was still their Dad and this is incredibly hard for them.

The news came early last Tuesday morning. We spent most of the day just sitting on my daughter’s bed watching the TV, interspersed with me messaging people to tell them the news, and leaping up to do little bits of housework which is my default when I’m not sure what else to do.  Every so often I would ask them a question, or share a memory about their Dad, just to give a prompt if they wanted to talk about him.

During that afternoon my daughter decided she wanted to go out with her boyfriend that evening as a distraction. So I asked my son if he wanted to go out too. He did. He chose the cinema. I took him to Five Guys for a burger first, and we were served by an extremely friendly and enthusiastic young man. After taking our order, he looked at us with a huge grin and asked “So, have you two had a good day?” and then stood there beaming at us, waiting for an answer. My son and I stared blankly at him for a couple of seconds and then both instinctively laughed. In my family we’ve always had the ability to find humour, even in the gloomiest of times, and it was nice to have that lighter moment then.

Saturday was the funeral. He had been living in the Philippines after remarrying a young woman there, so there was no way we were going to be able to travel out there. Instead we lit a candle for him at home.

It was crazy marriage from beginning to end. I wasn’t simply a blameless victim, I made plenty of mistakes too along the way, and at times I behaved badly. But we have two wonderful children out of it, and that’s the most important thing. As you can imagine there’s far more to the story than I’ve summarised here. But right now there is nothing more to say.



Did You Know That 1 in 113 People in the World is a Refugee?

Gulwali Passarlay and Vanessa Chapman

Gulwali Passarlay with me (read on to find out more!). Photo credit: Ollie Gapper

I’ll say it again, 1 in 113. Pretty shocking right? The numbers are unprecedented. When they talk of a refugee crisis, they ain’t kidding (I’m using the word ‘refugee’ as a catch-all word which also includes asylum seekers and others forcibly displaced through war or persecution. It doesn’t include economic migrants). Around half of those refugees are children, many of whom are alone, either separated from their parents or orphaned.

I haven’t been blogging for a while, and that’s partly because of refugees, let me explain…

I organised a conference at work in June, and I booked Gulwali Passarlay as our keynote speaker. Gulwali is author of ‘The Lightless Sky: My Journey to Safety as a Child Refugee’.

The Lightless Sky book cover

Gulwali arrived in the UK as an unaccompanied asylum seeking child at the age of 13, after having spent a perilous year, travelling 12,000 miles alone from Afghanistan. I read his book prior to meeting him, and I’m really struggling to put into words what this book did to me. It was so shocking, and moving, and heartbreaking, but also uplifting and hopeful. How he survived the journey, and made it to the UK is incredible. His strength and determination, which shines through in the book is truly humbling.

Since arriving here nine years ago he has gone on to achieve so much, a Degree in Politics from Manchester University (he barely spoke a few words of English when he arrived), he has done a TEDx talk, he carried the Olympic torch in 2012, he is an activist and campaigner for refugees, and of course the writing of his book. He has appeared widely in the press and on television; if you Google his name you’ll find plenty.

In person he is strong and charismatic, as well as warm, friendly, kind and funny. He is undoubtedly brilliant, and yet underneath it all he is you or me.

“It wasn’t my fault I wasn’t born in Europe. My home was a war zone, did that somehow make me less human?” Gulwali Passarlay, from The Lightless Sky.

Also in June we had the EU Referendum. I’m not going to say much about that right now, but suffice to say I was hugely shocked and upset by the result. And I continue to be hugely shocked and upset by the racism that the result appears to have triggered. It’s frightening. I can’t even articulate how abhorrent I find it.

The combination of those two things – Gulwali’s story, and the Referendum made me feel unable to blog for a while. I mostly write about silly trivial things on here, and a lot of the blogs I follow are fairly lighthearted, and suddenly I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to write about significant and important things, and yet I felt dwarfed by the size and importance of the issues and didn’t feel I could really do them justice. I wanted to make a difference but didn’t know how.

I now feel ready to return. I might not be able to change the world, but right now I’ll be happy if I can get a few people to read Gulwali’s book (available on Amazon and in many high street book stores!), and other personal stories like his. Those individual human stories are so important for changing attitudes. Statistics and media headlines are faceless. I fail to see how anyone could read his book, and then still come out with hateful “Send them home” type comments about refugees and asylum seekers. Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t want to lose that hope and optimism that things can change.

Do You Run Contests or Giveaways on Your Blog? Are You Sure They’re Legal?

Cartoon pic of man at computer

photo credit: office coffee via photopin (license)

Many of us run the occasional promotion on our blog in the form of giveaways or contests. Having had experience over a number of years of running competitions in jobs I’ve had, I was aware of a lot of the legislation that exists, however I had never really thought about it much in terms of my blog. I decided to look into it, naively thinking I could just do a little bit of research and then post the main rules on here for any other bloggers who may be interested. Turns out it’s far more complex than I had realised.

This post is going to be quite long, and frankly not very interesting for anyone who doesn’t run prize promotions on their blog, so if that’s you, you may as well stop reading now, I won’t be offended, see ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya!

For the rest of you (and I know I’m going to lose more of you along the way)…

Let’s Begin

As you can imagine there is different legislation in different countries, and in different states/territories/areas within countries. And even within those, there isn’t just one piece of legislation – depending on what type of prize promotion you are running (I’m going to use the term “prize promotion” to cover all types of contests and giveaways), you could need to refer to legislation about prize draws, giveaways/sweepstakes, competitions/contests, lotteries, promotion/advertising/marketing, gambling, gaming, data protection, equality etc. Plus there are many variances in terminology that can be confusing, and when you do read the legislation, you have to contend with all that Paragraph 6 Section 4(b) Schedule 7 type of malarkey.

I couldn’t possibly cover everything in this post (nor would you want me to), so instead I’m going to draw out some key points which you may want to think about (although PLEASE do note my disclaimer at the end).

The first question that sprung to my mind, and possibly yours is this – if you’re running an online prize promotion on your blog, and you are allowing entries from around the world, do you have to comply with the legislation of all countries? The short answer is yes (eek!). The long answer is yyyeeeesssss (eeeekkk!).

Let’s ignore that question for now (I’ll come back to it later), and answer some others…

Doesn’t all this legislation only apply to businesses/corporations?

No. A lot of it won’t be relevant to little ms/mr blogger, but much of it is, and you’d be wise to inform yourself of it.

Are there some general rules that apply in all countries?

What? You expect me to have read the legislation for ALL countries? Get real! I have however looked at the legislation for several countries, and what I can say is that there are some general rules that seem common to many.

Primarily, for the types of prize promotion we are talking about, there are three main categories:

  1. A free prize draw Also known as a giveaway, or a sweepstake. It is free to enter, and the winner/s are drawn at random. (in some countries, free prize draws are generally free of direct legislation, although you do of course still need to comply with common laws. In other countries free prize draws with no skill element required to enter are not allowed). Remember that if it’s random, it really must be random; a simple way is to attribute a number to each entrant and then use an online random number generator.
  2. A competition or contest These involve some skill or special knowledge to be demonstrated in the entry, and may or may not involve a cost, or purchase required, to enter. The winner/s are judged on merit of their entry, and not by random selection.
  3. A lottery This involves a payment to enter, and the winner/s are drawn randomly.

Be clear on those distinctions because mixing them could run you into trouble. If you require entrants to pay something, or buy something, in order to enter and then the winners are chosen randomly, you could be deemed to be running an illegal lottery or possibly a gambling operation depending on the nature. And if they are required to play a game of chance, this could be an illegal gaming operation, EVEN if payment is not involved (Whhaaattt?).

Almost everywhere, if you run a lottery, or any form of gambling, or gaming, you need a permit. Therefore if you are requiring people to pay something in order to enter, then there MUST be a skill/knowledge element to enter, and the winner MUST be judged on merit of their entry, and not randomly or by chance. And you need to have something in the case of a tie, that also isn’t random.

To add some more complication. When I spoke of “payment” to enter, in some countries, mainly the US, payment is classed as “consideration”, and other things can also count as consideration, such as time invested in making an entry, which can count has having paid to enter, and therefore to reiterate, there MUST be a skill/knowledge element involved, and the winner MUST be judged on merit of their entry. I’ll also throw in here another point, sometimes it’s ok to have a payment type entry, with a random drawing, as long as there is an alternative free entry route that is as easy, and as well publicised as the payment route entry (I’m a bit fuzzy on the details of this aspect). Rafflecopter entries presumably cover this well because whilst they may have some entry options that involve some “consideration” there are others that do not, so they’re covering all bases. I saw talk on one lawyer’s site which implied that even asking people to ‘Like’ or ‘Follow’ something could potentially be classed as consideration.

Are you following this? Good, let’s complicate it further…

What is meant by skill/knowledge?

In many countries, the skill/knowledge required to enter, mustn’t be so simple that the vast majority of people could do it, so it couldn’t just be a question that was say “What is 2+2?” You may be wondering where the line is drawn between what is too simple, and what is acceptable right? Well indeed, and there is no definitive answer, that would be for a court to decided if it got to that stage.

In the case of blog contests, we quite often see creative skill required, to draw something, or write something, or come up with an idea for something. These are skill contests, and thus winners must be awarded on merit and not by random drawing.

Got that? Here’s a bit more…

Does “free entry” mean completely free?

When we talk about “free entry”, the cost of a phone call, text message, internet usage cost, or postal stamp to enter would still be classed as free entry as long as they are at the standard rates; any premium rate calls, or special postal delivery costs etc would then be classed as paying to enter, unless there is also an equally valid free route.

Is it ok to ask people to buy something in order to enter?

When we talk about “Purchasing a product” in order to enter, this is fine as long as the cost of the product required to enter the contest isn’t more expensive than the product costs anyway. And in some cases, purchasing a product to enter can still count as free entry (I’m not going to explain this one further, as it’s another area I’m a bit fuzzy on).

If I’m running a skill based contest on my blog, is it ok for me to be the one who judges it?

This one is a bit tricky (you know, like most of the rest of it). The UK legislation says that where the judging of results could be subjective (i.e. it’s not something with a right or wrong answer) you must always have an independent judge, you can be a judge too as part of a panel, but there must be at least one independent person. I found this in the legislation of a couple of other countries too, but not all those I looked at; do check that one out yourself (I’m not doing EVERYTHING for you). Either way, you must state clearly what the judging criteria is.

Are there restrictions on what you can give away as prizes?

Yes, in many countries you need a permit if the value of your prize is over a certain amount (generally much higher than would apply to most of us bloggers). Also, there are prize restrictions on items that are restricted (funnily enough), such as alcohol.

Do I have to list the terms and conditions of the contest, and if so, what must be included?

Yes, listing the terms and conditions is as much to protect you as anything else. There are lots of examples online of what should, or could, be included in the Ts and Cs, so do an online search for that and find something suitable. One point to keep in mind, when you state the closing date/time of a contest, remember to take account of time differences if it’s open to residents outside of your time zone, and specify which time zone your closing time refers to.

Are you nearly finished here Vanessa because I’m getting soooo bored?

I sure am. As well as reading my disclaimer below, remember that my notes above are a broad overview of SOME of the rules that MAY be applicable in your country or area. My mind keeps going back though to my first question, about whether an online contest open to everyone must comply with the legislation of every country. Because if it’s true that it must, then we’re kind of screwed….except, I saw on one law site where they suggested including the words “Void where prohibited” in the rules/Ts and Cs, which then puts the onus on entrants to find out whether they are eligible to enter from their country or not. Although of course if you do that, then presumably you’d still need to check out the legislation yourself for the country that the winner comes from, to be sure they are eligible before you give them the prize? But maybe that’s the only way around it, and it may be the way I go from now on. Did I mention how complex this all is?

Also worth noting, Facebook and Twitter have their own rules if you run prize promotions on there that you should seek out and adhere to.

For any of you that have stayed with me to the end of this post, congratulations, I would give you a prize except I’m not sure if I’m allowed…

Were you aware of all of the rules/some of the rules? Do you let it affect how you run prize promotions or do you just do it the way you want to and keep your fingers crossed that it won’t ever be an issue?

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this post is correct to the best of my knowledge, however, I am not a lawyer, nor do I claim to be any kind of expert on the law. Nothing in this post should be taken as legal advice. Always do your own research and/or get legal advice before running any kind of promotional activity on your site.

These are some of the websites that I looked at when researching this post:

The Picasso Dilemma

People looking at a Picasso painting

The dilemma goes like this. There is a burning building, inside is a child and a Picasso painting. You can only save one, which do you choose?

“What dilemma?” I hear you cry. “There’s no dilemma, OBVIOUSLY you save the child!” Obviously you do…although…hmmm…if you save the Picasso, you could sell it and buy mosquito nets for Africa, potentially saving thousands of children (and before anyone says it, yes I know the Picasso probably wouldn’t be ours to sell, but this isn’t a real scenario people, we’re just discussing the concept!). Saving the Picasso therefore potentially results in a greater good. I came across this dilemma on a BBC news article in December about giving to charity, and it keeps popping back into my mind, so I thought I’d share it with you – hey don’t mention it, it’s what I’m here for!

So the dilemma remains. Even if we accept the logic that saving the Picasso would potentially do more good, if it came to it, if we were really in that position and faced with that decision, how many of us could actually turn our backs on that child that is right in front of us? It’s far easier to turn our backs on the thousands of children in Africa who need us, we can’t see those children, we can’t hear their cries, they’re easier to ignore. Ouch.

What does the decision say about us? Are we being human and compassionate by saving the child in front of us, by reacting to that direct need and cry for help in front of us? Or are we being hugely selfish and just doing that for ourselves, because we couldn’t live with ourselves if we had turned away from the child in need that was right in front of us? But if our instinct is to save the child in front of us, then maybe that is the right decision? After all, our human instincts have evolved to where they are for a reason. Or have we evolved to think beyond our instincts rather than blindly follow them? Which is it?

Goodness, this is pretty intense stuff compared to what usually goes on around here isn’t it. I don’t offer an apology for that though, it’s good sometimes to question ourselves, and what motivates us. Clearly the concept I’m discussing here doesn’t just apply literally, we can no doubt relate it wider.

Any thoughts? (Preferably thoughts related to what I’ve just written about, but not necessarily, I’ll take any thoughts).

While we’re talking about mosquito nets (and this wasn’t the original purpose of writing this post, but it seems a shame to waste the opportunity), if you want to help the fight against malaria, you can donate to the Against Malaria Foundation. A net costs $2.50, and 100% of public donations go on buying nets.

photo credit: IMG_0951.jpg via photopin (license)

Homophobia and Suicide

Matt and Naz
On 30 July 2014, my (real life) friend Matt lost his partner of 13 years, Naz, to suicide. Two days earlier Naz had emotionally “admitted he was gay” to his family. Naz had felt unable to tell them before that because of their religious beliefs.

Matt was determined to make some good come of this tragedy, and has campaigned tirelessly since then to raise awareness of the devastating human impact caused by religion-based homophobia. He set up the Naz & Matt Foundation, now a registered charity, to provide free support to LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Intersex) individuals, their friends and family, to help resolve challenges linked to sexuality or gender identity, particularly where a religion is directing the situation.

Matt is a peaceful campaigner, he is not looking to spread hate, just understanding, love, and acceptance. Matt has appeared on both BBC news and Sky news to talk about the Naz and Matt Foundation, and Naz and Matt’s story was published in The Guardian last Saturday. The least I could do was to give him a platform here to talk about their latest project.

Matt, over to you…

Thank you Vanessa. To highlight the issues to the wider public, and encourage them to take action, we are planning a 130 mile, 8 day sponsored journey from London to Birmingham in April this year. “The Journey to Find Acceptance”, will carry a message of love and acceptance as we travel through each town along the way. The majority of the journey will be walked. We will be filming the journey as we engage with religious communities in each town that we walk through – to gauge public opinion and explore individual attitudes towards acceptance if their own children were to come out as being gay.

Matt with camera strapped on head

Matt trying out his film equipment for the walk

Do you have a plan for the journey Matt?

We have a rough plan, it may change as we finalise the details:

Friday 17th April (evening) – London
Opening Party at Club Kali

Saturday 18th April (meet 10am, 11am start) – London
Start of walk – from West Hampstead Cemetery

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, 19th-23nd April
The main journey, travelling through Hendon, Watford, Luton, Milton Keynes, Milton Manor (Northamptonshire), Rugby and Coventry

Friday 24th April (evening) – Birmingahm
Closing party at Saathi Night (@Nightingales)

Saturday 25th April (approx 10.30am) – Birmingham
Final walking leg of walk, from the Nightingale Club to Handsworth Cemetery

We will celebrate all the beautiful people who have struggled, and continue to struggle, to find acceptance from their families and the communities they live in. And to remember the life and soul of Naz (Dr Nazim Mahmood) who spent his whole life helping other people.

Matt and Naz on a sunny day

That sounds like quite a journey Matt. How can people help?

There are a few ways people can help:

1) They can join us for any part of the journey, particularly the start in London on 18th April. Please dress fabulous or in drag to make a statement! Like our Facebook page to keep updated on plans for the journey.

2) They can sponsor the journey through JustGiving – follow the ‘Donate’ link on the Naz & Matt Foundation site.

3) They can help spread the word in any way they choose.

Thank you for coming by to tell us about this Matt. I knew Naz to be an incredibly kind, generous, warm-hearted man, and it’s a truly wonderful thing you’re doing here in his memory. I wish you all the luck in the world.

Thank you Vanessa, and thank you for having us here.

Matt and Naz's initials in the sand