About Melanie Macro

Melanie Macro (BA English Lit, Dip Popular Music Performance) is a professional singer and has worked internationally. She works as a performer and teaches privately in her spare time. She learnt confidence and life skills through performance and feels privileged that she can now help others. She has travelled the world and loves to read and learn. Her interests are eclectic; she believes all subjects can be of interest if you keep an open mind.

The Price of Fame

As a singer, everyone automatically thinks you want to be famous. I have to admit that I would love to do concert arenas and big budget live shows, but that still isn’t about fame, it’s about success in my field. If it happened for me, fame would be the down side. This seems increasingly abnormal, and if I had a quid for every time someone asked why I hadn’t gone in for The X Factor, I’d be a lot closer to a deposit on a house. I try in vain to explain, seeing in their eyes that they think “what a waste – if I could sing, I would use it”. This can be quite hard to take, as I think being in work in this field is a success, especially in a global economic crisis. Of course I wonder about how far I’d get in a competition like The X Factor, but being an actual singer, middle class and without a noteable sob story, my guess is not far. Then if you don’t win, you are forever a loser.

Look at all the people The X Factor ‘breaks’. They’re in the final stages, so they should be really excited and driven, but instead they are crying, shattered and fainting. Not everyone can cope with the pressure of constantly having to prove themselves. It’s exhausting, and then we wonder why celebrities are always checking into rehab for ‘exhaustion’- how hard can their lives be – right?! It is these negative side effects that everyone seems blind to.

You only need to look at Britney, who was a wholesome, driven girl with a bright future, propelled too fast into a world where she didn’t understand the rules and behaving like, well, a teenager! She suddenly didn’t know who to trust and sought attention and approval through any means possible. Her desperation was summed up in her lyric “everybody’s talking all this stuff about me, why can’t they just let me live”.

It’s hard enough being a teenager – the insecurity, the need to be liked, to experiment and fight authority. All Britney was doing was all of these things. Magnified onto the world’s stage though, she just didn’t have the mental capacity to cope. it happens all too often, and looking at the increasing numbers joining the ’27 club’ ( famous people that have died at the age of 27 – Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger and Kurt Cobain being only some of them) it can be the ultimate undoing of great talent.

It is scary then that these days, everyone can experience ‘fame’ in some way. As psychologist Pamela Stevenson argued in her documentary recently, the nearest thing the general public has to fame is Facebook and Twitter.

On one hand, social networking can be a great way to connect with old friends and family, share your holiday snaps and publicise your business. It can be enjoyable in the same way as reading a magazine, but now imagine you’ve been tagged in a photo, your eyes shut, wearing ‘that’ outfit that you only realised was see-through once you were in the club, and you’re talking to that person none of your friends approve of. Panic sets in, doesn’t it. Untag! Untag!

Now imagine that wasn’t Facebook but a magazine. You’d be on the ‘What Are You Wearing!’ page, the country laughing, people wanting you to explain why you were talking to her??? All of a sudden it’s not so fun. Everything is so much bigger… how do you cope?

Ultimately I believe the fame-hungry come under two main categories. The first are those who want to feel great success. The second are those who want to be known; that somehow if everyone knows them, their lives automatically ‘matter’ more.

These people, instead of living their lives, are in on a Saturday night uploading pictures and status updates about how “Crazy! LOL” their lives are, keeping up the appearances of the person they want to portray, then sitting down alone thinking how, in comparison, real life is awful.

Think about why fame would feel good to you, and see if it can be achieved in your real life rather than concentrating on your profile. Think how much time you could free up buy not checking Facebook all day. After all, if everyone thinks you’re busy and out all the time as your uploads suggest, they aren’t going to invite you anywhere.

Lose the Virtual Self and find the Real You again, and the next time you see the media tearing up Britney or Lindsay or Cheryl, remind yourself to be grateful you don’t have to defend yourself to the world, and that other peoples lives aren’t always the party they seem to be.

Images reproduced from tmz.com and csmonitor.com

The Olympic Legacy

They hope that the London 2012 games will have ‘inspired a generation,’ and I do believe that the impact of the games has been much larger than anticipated, and what it has highlighted is that Sport can make a difference. For as long as I can remember subjects such as sport, music and dance have been seen as ‘extra-curricular’. Sure certain schools have a larger focus than others, but at my school you couldn’t even do P.E. GCSE. The real shame is that Sport, music, dance and art can really make a difference as well.

To use my own experience, I was a shy, easily embarrassed kid- with a big voice. I wanted to sing, but to perform was very daunting. However, once I started, my confidence just grew and grew, and now I can not only sing, but perform and talk to an audience, I can think on my feet if things don’t go to plan, and I’m prepared to be silly and not worry, as I have learnt the more I put into something, the more the audience will be on my side. I have worked in business and I have a degree, but I believe I would never have got as far in those areas had I not become a performer.

Similarly, sport teaches not only fitness and nutrition but how to live by rules, make strategy, to focus on a goal, to live within rules and to work in a team. All of these things are vital to society, and yet they are not taught as actively as simultaneous equations. The older generations speak of national service as building character and pride, I believe that sport could make that same difference, if it was available for more people.

The Paralympics are a fine example of how sport has given people that have come through adversity a means of pushing themselves and becoming maybe even more than they had dreamed of. It is inspiring stuff, and not just to the disabled but everybody. Sport gave them purpose and a goal and now they are at the greatest show on earth.

I would certainly like to see a bigger focus on these subjects, as they are as important as the rest of the curriculum. I hope that Lord Coe does make sure that the legacy of the Olympics is to bring sport to more people, and I hope that society remembers how proud we all were to be British and how everyone came together and supported all of our athletes,regardless of race, creed or religion. Sport brought the world together, and put everyone on a level playing field

Image reproduced from amateurboxingscotland.co.uk

Feminism. Yes That’s What I Said!

Feminism is big news again. They’re running articles on it in magazines, Cosmopolitan, Company and Grazia to name only a few have run articles on it in the last few issues. Caitlin Moran has had a best-selling book on ‘How to be a woman’ and the government are discussing how to get more women into top jobs. Why though, are we still so nervous to say the ‘F Word’? Indeed Cosmopolitan Magazine ran a campaign trying to get us to say the ‘F Word’ and that is exactly how they put it – and they had a load of glamorous celebrities in ‘F Word’ t-shirts. On glancing at it though, I had no idea they were on about feminism, so it seemed ridiculous that an article trying to get us to say and reclaim the word ‘feminism’ isn’t itself actually saying it.

Emma Bunton in Cosmo’s F Word Campaign

I think Caitlin Moran sums up feminism brilliantly when she says: “What I really want to be, all told, is a human. Just a productive, honest, courteously treated human. One of ‘The Guys.’ But with really amazing hair.”

We don’t want to be different, or get jobs because we’re women. We want to be treated as one of ‘the guys’. The fact that she adds with ‘really amazing hair’ emphasises that we still want to be girls, and enjoy being whoever we are. I don’t think we’ll get this by being afraid to say the word ‘feminism’ or by positive discrimination. If we get a bad reaction when we say we’re feminist, challenge them- ask them what they think it is. The more it is said, the more OK it will be.

We all know the world is changing, more women are going to work, it isn’t all about the men providing anymore. The women don’t want to take over, we want to share. I think in this day and age, everyone, male or female should have some right to flexibility in the workplace. I know many dads that could only have two weeks paid paternity and then had to go back to full time work, when they really wanted to help at home and get used to the massive change in their lives. As more and more women are working as well, there is more emphasis on the man having to help at home as well. Not to mention the single dad’s out there. Why can’t we make it easier for everyone?

It is also worth noting that while these companies discriminate on the basis of motherhood and time out, women are far less likely to change jobs or ask for a pay rise. They are more loyal and cheaper essentially. The cost of replacing an employee usually comes into the tens of thousands for the sort of jobs we’re discussing, and so isn’t a bit of flexi time cheaper in the long run?

The fact we don’t ask to pay rises isn’t a good thing, it’s probably central to why we haven’t got much further since the first feminists. It’s like we got so far and then thought, ‘time for a cuppa.’ Maybe we thought we’d done enough and the jobs would open up, but they didn’t. So now lets give the patriarchy a shove and get in there before the government makes them and it looks like we needed the help.

Image reproduced from cosmopolitan.co.uk

British Virgin Islands – Virgin Gorda

The Baths:

Virgin Gorda is a small island just off Tortola in the Caribbean.  On the south side of the island is a national park known as The Baths, which is one of the most beautiful and unspoilt places I have been lucky enough to visit. There is a short climb down a hill to a quiet beach, which is gorgeous itself – flanked by palm trees, white sand underfoot, and the waves lashing against the granite boulders along the coastline, evidence of the islands volcanic beginnings. You would be forgiven for settling your towel down right there, putting Morcheeba on your Ipod and forgetting everything, but there is a real adventure to the left of the beach at the entrance to The Baths. You enter a series of caves, only just dark enough to evoke a sense of mystery rather than fear, with beams of hot sunlight through the cracks in the rock.  There are rope banisters and ladders as you make your way through the grottoes, so it’s not particularly difficult terrain, the caves are quite large and nothing is too steep, it is definitely an adventure and not a fitness test. The caves are gloriously cool, a welcome respite from the Caribbean heat and they open up into small little secluded beaches, one after another, all different and with stunning views out to sea. It is up to you how far you go, some may wish to settle on one of the beaches, or sit on top of the caves looking out over the Caribbean Sea with the wind in your hair. There are many golden photo opportunities, so make sure to take your camera.

Practicalities:

There are rest facilities at the initial beach at the bottom of the hill in the form of a cafe, which serves drinks, basic food and has a toilet. If you are on a tour you will probably be taken around the island to the various viewing points for photo opportunities, Gorda Peak being particularly pretty. If you went with the taxi option your driver will definitely be able to take you around. Always agree prices upfront and don’t be afraid to haggle!  As a guide I’d say $10 return to The Baths is about right, you will probably share a people carrier with others going to The Baths. Add on another $15 for the full tour and return to the ferry. Don’t pay the driver until he picks you up, then you won’t have to worry that he will be there! You get to the island on a ferry from Tortola (unless you can afford to charter a plane from the island’s airport), which takes around half an hour and costs $30 return.  The ferry operates around every half hour, but make sure to check times, especially of the last one! There will be taxis waiting at either end, so if you don’t mind the 5 minutes extra planning, the ferry/taxi option is much better value.

You can plan your trip in advance using http://www.bviferries.com/

Cruise Ships – An Insider’s Perspective: Part 2

Melanie Macro continues to discuss safety on cruise ships in the second part of her article from an insider’s perspective. If you missed Part 1, click here to read it.

When the Costa Concordia sank, it was reported that people didn’t understand what was going on, that it was ‘every man for himself.’ I wasn’t there so I too can only speculate, but Costa has many nationalities travelling with them, so announcements are given in multiple languages, which would inevitably slow communications. Then there is the fact that some passengers will ignore advice, the general response in an emergency is to go up and out rather than to their designated muster station for instance, making it very difficult to account for everyone.

How many times have you heard a fire alarm go off and no one move – the public largely are a difficult bunch to handle, on one side, you don’t want them to panic, as then you get crush injuries and hysteria, but you want them to actively respond to the warning.

The drills the crew would have partaken in weekly would have been on an upright ship, not one toppling onto its side. Launching lifeboats is usually by pulley and so even on an upright ship it is difficult, on a ship tilting with screaming passengers when you are terrified probably for your own life, well, that’s another thing altogether. Essentially, the Costa Concordia can carry more than 4200 passengers and crew, and in the disaster 30 people died (two are still missing). That is 30 too many, but out of so many, in such conditions, you also have to think that it could have been a lot worse, and the crew should be commended in that sense.

There are those at fault, the Captain for instance, who unfortunately shared the Titanic Captain’s vanity- he wanted to salute friends as they sailed past, so he took a risky route, just as the Titanic’s Captain went full steam ahead to ‘show off’ the ship’s speed and get to New York early, even though conditions made icebergs hard to spot. The captain on the Concordia left the crew to deal with it, and they carried on and did their best. So we need to remember the heroes as well.

Cruise ships do not sink regularly, planes do not crash all the time, but they are machines and they are operated by humans and things can go wrong. You aren’t entirely safe at home, there is always some risk, and you need to rationalise it in the face of all the drama. Since Titanic, maritime safety has improved immensely. You can go to such amazing places, experience some top entertainment and food, and not at a high premium.

I have been in force 12 storms, I have experienced power outages, I have been on a ship that has been on fire and one that tilted so much the gangway had to be taken down. I have witnessed airlifting of the ill by helicopter. All of these incidents were dealt with quickly and without most passengers having to worry. I have been round the world, sailed into Sydney at dawn and around the set of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’ I’ve seen dolphins race the ship, witnessed spectacular sunsets and shooting stars in a sky so clear and unaffected by the bright lights of land. I have sailed the Milford Sound and seen glaciers and the Statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. So all in all, I wouldn’t change any of it, and I have always had great faith in the crews that I have worked with and have looked after me when I have been a passenger.

Take on board (excuse the pun) safety concerns, but please rationalise them. There are so many cruise ships and wonderful holidays to be had, so please don’t let the media scare you into avoiding the cruise industry, but go to the drills and take note of escape routes, just as you would on a plane or when you moved into a new home. After that, relax and enjoy your holiday!

Cruise Ships – An Insider’s Perspective: Part 1

When a ship sinks it is big news, and so you’ll probably already know that two Costa ships have been in trouble in recent weeks, and that people have lost their lives. Whenever there is a ship at trouble, the tale of the Titanic is regurgitated, never more so than this year, the centenary anniversary of the tragedy. So a hundred years on, vessels are still sinking, with significant loss of life. So should we avoid cruise ships? Are they safe?

As long as ships have been sailing, they have been sinking. They are up against weather, swells, depths and of course the limits of engineering. A lot of these ships are amazing, just as the Concorde was. They are still ships however, and as the Titanic proved- even the ‘unsinkable’ are in fact sinkable. That doesn’t mean they are a really risky option. After all, cars have been around since the beginning of the last century, but we still haven’t managed to stop crashing them, nor have we managed to hone their design so that they don’t break down. We certainly haven’t stopped bikes getting a puncture as soon as you’ve stuck the spring bikini diet onto your fridge. In the hysteria people forget that a boat, however big, is still a boat. Like a car, or plane, or motorbike, there is the chance of engine failure, manual error and the sheer unpredictability of the elements. Unfortunately, sometimes more than one of these elements come together and a disaster happens.

As someone who has worked on and travelled with many cruise lines, I would like to point out the opposing argument to the scare stories on the TV at the moment. The crew are very well trained, and hold drills every week, sometimes lasting hours, sometimes outside in sweltering heat. They are taken very seriously, if a ship fails its inspection by the MSA (Marine Safety Authority) it can be taken out of service, which would cost the company millions, and would cost their reputation even more. These crew duties are on top of other safety duties such as fire fighting and stretcher teams. I do have to admit at this point that I was always a visiting entertainer and so was mostly regarded as a passenger, and so my duties were minimal to none. My main role was playing various ‘characters’ during a full drill- from being a nuisance drunk to injured or lost. These characters are given to you by the captain himself and he does not treat it as a game. Your ship mates will realise you are playing a character, but they are still expected to ‘deal with you’ and you can be as difficult as you like. This is fun for me, but they are being marked on how they deal with me and also how they maintain their composure and continue handling the larger emergency. So they certainly don’t think it’s funny when you kick off in their muster station.

SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) was set up after the Titanic sunk killing 1,517 people. They continuously update safety regulations, sometimes as a matter of course and sometimes in reaction to events. Of course all these safety drills, however thorough cannot entirely prepare a ship’s company for any circumstances, as no two emergencies are the same, and there can be any number of extenuating factors.

Check out Part 2 of this article by Melanie Macro which will be published next week on 25 April 2012.