Do you remember the time when your world changed? When your innocence was lost and the reality of the big bad world we live in hit you?
I can remember watching the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games as an 8 year old, I thought that the world could not get any better than this. They were the games where we all watched the young Ian Thorpe in awe with his size 17 feet. We also saw the first Aboriginal gold medallist, Cathy Freeman taking glory in the 400m in her legendary suit.
I saw athletes of many disciplines competing for their countries and themselves and it was probably the first time I watched sport of such a high level. The way in which every athlete competed for their country was outstanding but even more amazing for me was the fact that this sporting event was uniting the world. I remember wondering how many other people were watching these races and I probably underestimated it a lot as a small child.
But the following year, an incident would happen that would set the wheels in motion for a dramatic change in my life and an opening of my eyes. 9/11. I remember being at school as a year 5 pupil and my teacher Mrs Smith sitting the whole class down. I remember her telling us that something very important had happened in America. I got home and saw the videos on the news of the plane crashes that have stuck with me ever since. The images of the falling towers are almost engraved in my mind and it was the beginning of a time of my life when I would start to question the world I lived in.
From that moment on, it seemed that the subjects I studied in school also started to change. Before we learnt how elephant was spelt with a -ph and not an -f and now we were learning how these creatures are at risk of extinction due to ivory poachers. I had studied diverse eco-systems such as rainforests and oceans, full of mysterious animals and climates, yet now I was being taught that these eco-systems were also at risk as the effects of global warming were coming to light. I was always a good reader as a child and loved getting into a book, but during the last two years of primary school, the books I read also changed from my favourite series of Sophie books by Dick King-Smith, about a young girl born on Christmas Day with dreams to become a lady farmer, to the more grown up pre-teen Jacqueline Wilson stories which had much more deep themes such as divorce (The Suitcase Kid), the foster system (The Story of Tracy Beaker), manic depression (The Illustrated Mum) and even child mortality (Vicky Angel).
Books, for me, were and still are a great escape from the real world, and I am so glad that Jacqueline Wilson wrote so many books on so many subjects that affect children not only in the UK, but across the whole world. Putting these stories, with children at the heart of them, are a great way to introduce difficult themes into a young person’s world and I know that if I have children I will definitely encourage them to read the Wilson books.
This immersion into more grown up books tied in with the events of 9/11 and my greater awareness of news changed my view of the world dramatically. The following year, in 2002, there was the murders of Holly and Jessica. I never met these girls, but they were the same age as me and that picture of them in their matching Manchester United t-shirts will also stay with me forever. I didn’t fully understand what had happened at the time but as I grew older and learnt more about the horrible events that happened to these two ten year olds I started to seriously question the world I lived in.
This is the problem with knowledge. When you know too much it can affect your decisions and outlook on life. Certainly, for me, over the past year I have read more ‘proper’ articles by The Guardian than ever before. It’s very easy as a student to only keep up to date with ‘news’ posted on websites such as Buzzfeed but I have realised the importance of making myself aware of the world I live in. After reading these more serious articles, I have come to see that the world is full of monstrosities and it is very difficult for me to describe the inhabitants of the earth ‘civilised beings’. I don’t wish to name the subjects I have read up on, but the things that people do to each other are truly disgusting and we are still so far away from this ‘civilised’ term.
I feel that I am part of a spoilt generation of people. I grew up with the internet and have seen it grow and develop in ways I never thought possible. We have everything available at our fingertips and with the amount of apps and GB on our phones expanding every month, who knows what we’ll be using our smartphones for at Christmas.
Sometimes I wish I could return to Sydney Olympics of the year 2000. Everything seemed so simple and perfect, I loved the world I lived in and had great dreams and aspirations. Yet, here I am. There are times when I absolutely loathe this world. Things that I read which make my blood curl and the hairs on my neck stick up. But even so, I have learnt to love this imperfect world I live in and make the most of every day.