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Wow, just over 1800 visits to the page of my most recent blog! Thank you for your interest and support. This page count for a blog post is a record for me.

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For this blog, I thought that perhaps some good news stories might warm your hearts and lift your spirits. I have tried to collect such stories over the past few weeks using our main sources of news at home, including: The Guardian; The Observer: BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service.

At the end of last year, two friends revealed to me that they couldn’t bear to watch the news any more: I readily understand and sympathise with them. The latter part of 2016 was particularly dispiriting and appears to have brought about a shift in social and political attitudes with a rapidity that has left me somewhat in despair. How did we reach a situation where, for example, Gary Lineker – a decent bloke – is pilloried and vilified in certain quarters for expressing anti-racist views and for making humane comments about immigrants?

To quote Benjamin Zephaniah: “we’ve gone backwards”. He told the audience at a literary event held at Birmingham’s Central Library last autumn how he had been racially abused a number of times since the Brexit vote.

A number of aspects of the current climate were brought together and said it all for me during a phone-in, part of which I heard on Radio 4 recently. A (male) Spanish nurse phoned in to bemoan how social media had recently taken to inviting him to go home since the Brexit vote: ‘we want British nurses’. “Well, good luck to that”, he remarked as he ended his phone call to the programme.

What happened … how did we get here?

We don’t actually watch the news in our house, instead there are several radios tuned to BBC Radio 4 so that we can listen to a number of daily news programmes. Perhaps the sound of bad news isn’t quite as awful as the sight of it. We take The Guardian and the Observer (on Sundays). In fact, it doesn’t take me long to read either these days, because I turn the page for all items that concern Trump or Brexit.

As I write this, the light outside is changing, heralding the promise of spring. Bright sunlight is streaming across the desk in my study, shining a hopeful light on the pile of notes and newspaper cuttings that await their inclusion in today’s blog post. I’ve summarised the news items and stories in no particular order below without comment in the hope that they speak for themselves.

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1. I can’t remember when or where I came across this item, it was probably on the radio. Something vaguely tells me that George Clooney and/or Leonardo DiCaprio visited one of the Social Bite cafes in Scotland: I think that there are three of them in the country.

The principal ethos of the cafes is that a customer can pay in advance for a coffee or an item of food so that a local homeless person can come into the café and claim it later.

2. I heard this item on Saturday Live, on BBC Radio 4 on 3rd December last year. The piece talked about a website called 52 lives, the purpose of which is to help individuals in need. The people they choose to help come from nominations to the website. Their story is told (on the website) and supporters offer help, make donations and help to change lives for the better.

3. From The Guardian, 31st December 2016. A reader, who lives in London, wrote to the newspaper praising the staff at Tesco in Penzance where the reader’s 87 year-old disabled mother lives. On one occasion just before Christmas when the reader was visiting his mother, he went to Tesco to order a special cake for her and asked how it could be delivered, as he would be back in London. It turned out that the member of staff he was talking to lived near his mother and offered to take the cake to her when it came into the store.

Not only was the cake duly taken to the elderly lady, but a Tesco Christmas hamper was also delivered and an offer to help while her son was in London was made.

4. From The Metro News, 17th January 2017: the free ‘newspaper’ available from train stations. A student couldn’t find the return part of her ticket when she arrived at Euston Station (on the previous Thursday). When she was told that she would have to pay £159 to get back home to Liverpool, she became very upset and burst into tears. A stranger calmly walked to the ticket counter, handed over his card, paid for her ticket and, equally calmly, walked away after she gave him a huge hug.

5. The Guardian, 2nd January 2017. A refugee support group in Bude, Cornwall, has raised over £12,000 and plans to welcome the first of two Syrian families it hopes to offer homes to. The money raised aims to cover the costs of interpreters, English lessons and fees for local authority rates for private accommodation for the family.

6. The Guardian, 2nd December 2016. By day, the Robin Hood restaurant in the centre of Madrid is a typical Spanish bar; by night, it transforms itself into a place where homeless people can eat free of charge. The restaurant’s business model uses breakfast and lunch takings from paying customers to fund free evening meals.

The restaurant is an initiative from the charity Mensajeros de la Paz – the messengers of peace – which was founded 54 years ago by Father Angel Garcia Rodriguez, now aged 79.

Evening customers enjoy waiter service, table cloths, metal cutlery and proper glasses, just as paying customers do, which makes a welcome change to the soup kitchens that Madrid’s homeless usually frequent and brings much needed dignity to their lives.

7. The Guardian, 26th December 2016. The award-winning dance company Ballet Boyz runs Parkinson’s Can Dance classes for people who suffer from Parkinson’s disease. The classes aim to help sufferers overcome the limitations imposed upon them by the condition. They train at the company’s south London studio, perform routines from its repertoire and have even danced with the all-male troupe.

The approach to classes aims to give sufferers confidence, helps with their movement and provide a therapeutic vehicle in the form of dance.

Funding for the project for a further 12 months has been secured.

8. BBC Radio World Service, Newsday, 3rd January 2017.

Bobi Dodevski, a 35-year old border guard, was covering for a colleague one day in March 2016. Among the many refugees hoping to cross into Macedonia that day was Noora Arkavazi, a young woman who had travelled the well-trodden refugee route to Europe from Iraq. At that time, the fate of refugees hung in the balance as Balkan countries were closing their borders to migrants. Noora and her family left Iraq in early 2016 because their province was beset with violence.

Noora told the BBC World Service’s Newsday: ‘I had a very high fever and had fallen down many times. Bobi immediately sent the Red Cross to save me.’

The couple fell in love and were married in the north Macedonian town of Kumanovo. The groom is Orthodox Christian; his bride comes from a Kurdish Muslim family. They were joined by 120 guests of all faiths, as well as Red Cross workers.

Asked about their rapid engagement, Noora said it was love at first sight. ‘This is what has happened between me and Bobi.’

Noora’s family made it to Germany but Noora stayed in Macedonia with her husband and his three children (from a previous marriage). The five of them live together in Kumanovo. Soon they will be six: ‘I am pregnant,’ said Noora, laughing with joy.

Part Two will be coming soon.

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