Deep breath… I’m not used to getting abuse (I’m a lover, not a fighter).
I’ve never come across anyone who thinks giving up what little free time you have for a cause that benefits all of us is something to be attacked.
But I’ve managed to make myself a target on Twitter for pointing out that balloon releases are harmful to wildlife – an indisputable fact.
The Marine Conservation Society – and plenty of other charities too – work tirelessly to try to prevent balloon releases going ahead, because of the damage they cause. Here are a few problems.
My experience of Twitter has always been positive – I’ve given and received help, have discovered amazing people, places, photos, ideas and have even made friends in real life through it.
But it can also be a place where misunderstanding grows, potentially into something dangerous.
I want to set the facts straight.
Last weekend, I replied to the Lincolnshire Echo about an article they’d linked to. They covered the story of inspirational Ethan Maull – a brave, young, little boy who lost his battle to cancer. He had a strong spirit and started the Up Yours To Cancer foundation, which is raising money for the children’s ward at Nottingham Hospital.
A vigil was going to be held in his memory.
Followed by a balloon release.
As this is such a sensitive event, I replied to Lincolnshire Echo, rather than go in like a bull in a china shop, shouting all over Twitter about the scourge of balloon releases. More than happy to do that for the opening of a new bridge or a commercial launch, but there are grieving family and friends in this instance, so your approach has to be softly softly.
Here’s the tweet:
Not inflammatory, I thought. Only the newspaper and anyone looking on my timeline would see it. But that’s not the point. Just because it’s a delicate situation doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t protest against balloon releases.
It’s not being insensitive or preventing people from honouring their loved ones. I’m not a parent, so I can’t even begin to understand the pain Ethan’s parents are going through. But I’ve lost people close to me. I’ve felt grief. And sending 1000 balloons into the sky wouldn’t have healed the despair and anguish I was going through at the time.
But the catalyst for – let’s call a spade a spade – bullying, was when I was walking my puppy through Lincoln.
I saw a balloon from the tribute that had fallen back to the ground (as balloons do, where else would they go?).
She’s only 6 months old, so she of course jumped on it and tried to eat it, nearly choking. That wasn’t completely what I was upset about – that’s the kind of things puppies do and I was there to intervene and bin it.
But it shows exactly what happens to wildlife. They’ll chomp on it, thinking it’s food and then either choke or swallow it, which then gets stuck in their digestive system, eventually starving them to death.
Balloon releases are plain and simple acts of littering.
I wasn’t even in Lincoln when the balloon release took place, so I couldn’t have nicked one for a prop. (I was in Sheffield trying on a bridesmaid dress; plenty of witnesses as there are 6 bridesmaids for this wedding!)
As much as it saddens me to experience how harsh people can be behind the safety of a screen, I’ve got nothing to hide.
The utter bloody-mindedness is almost funny. What did they think happened to the balloons after they were let go? “She can’t possibly be telling the truth! The balloon’s gone into space by now!”
Sheesh. I’ve got too much to do to be dealing with people like this, but I hope the time I’ve spent writing this has busted some myths about balloon releases.
Summary: They don’t just go away, they come back to land and sea, killing animals and littering our landscapes. Where your kids play. All the dots are connected (and we are a dot).
So what could everyone have done for Ethan? Hold that vigil, light some candles, have a procession, tell each other stories about him to make you laugh and remember him for the amazing person he was. You will always hold him in your heart.