"You may say that I am a dreamer/But I am not the only one" John Lennon: "Imagine"

"So come brothers and sisters/For the struggle carries on" Billy Bragg: "The Internationale"

Elizannie has a reading room at 'Clarice's Book Page' http://www.villiersroad.blogspot.com/

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Are we returning to the world of 'A Christmas Carol'?

  • Marley in his pigtail, usual waistcoat, tights, and boots; the tassels on the latter bristling, like his pigtail, and his coat-skirts, and the hair upon his head. The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel.       A Christmas Carol

Many of you know that I am a bit of a geek when it comes to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. I have taught/lectured on it from both the English Literature and the Popular Culture 'angles'. I collect different editions of the book  and interesting ornaments/memorabilia. I have blogged on it and written political parodies on it. So when my latest acquisition - Marley's Ghost - arrived today, I was pretty excited.

As always, when reading/teaching 19thC literature, it is frightening how close we are to returning to the mores of Victorian society under this present government. The notion of the 'deserving and undeserving poor' [which had actually been around since Tudor times] played a big part in the distribution of charity in Victorian patriarchal hierarchy.

When Scrooge in A Christmas Carol early in Chapter One asks the two gentleman who are seeking charitable donations to help the poor: 

'Are there no prisons?' asked Scrooge.'Plenty of prisons,' said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.'And the Union workhouses?' demanded Scrooge. 'Are they still in operation?''They are. Still,' returned the gentleman,  'I wish I could say they were not.''The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?' said Scrooge.'Both very busy, sir.''Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,' said Scrooge. 'I'm very glad to hear it.'
it is somewhat similar to Iain Duncan-Smith's shameful comment this week: 
'I am happy for people to visit food banks. I don't have a problem with them'. 
The story of Marley's Ghost is that he, the late partner of Scrooge, visits the latter on Christmas Eve to warn him that unless Scrooge changes his ways he is doomed to become a restless spirit like Marley:

'I wear the chain I forged in life,' replied the Ghost. 'I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?'Scrooge trembled more and more.'Or would you know,' pursued the Ghost, 'the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!'

Scrooge tries to argue that he is only doing what a good Victorian should be doing, making and reinvesting his profits - see the Protestant Work Ethic :

'But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,' faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.'Business!'' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. 'Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!'
This is to me one of the most important statements in the book. It resembles the biblical quote, parallels of which can be found in all the great religions: 
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?      Mark 8:36

Another important statement occurs when the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge the figures under his robe. This ornament of mine shows a sanitised pair, illustrations from the book show a more frightening pair:

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.'Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!'exclaimed the Ghost.They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.'Spirit! are they yours?'Scrooge could say no more.'They are Man's,' said the Spirit, looking down upon them. 'And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!' cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. 'Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end!''Have they no refuge or resource?' cried Scrooge.'Are there no prisons?' said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. 'Are there no workhouses?'
 The John Leech original illustration

The last 'comparison' with the present day/Victorian times I will make is using the 'metaphor' of Tiny Tim. He is presented in the book as a fragile, sickly child who, although his father is in regular employment, it is not possible for the family to afford the good food and medical treatment that he needs for what is a curable condition without which he will die.

We have seen under this present government an erosion in both confidence and financial support for the NHS, despite David Cameron's electioneering promise that the Conservative Party was 'the Party of the NHS' [January 2010] We have learnt how many working people, including parents of course, cannot exist solely on their wages but have to rely on welfare benefits and/or food banks to feed themselves/ their families. When the cry goes up that we are in a period of austerity and cuts have to be made one remembers the quote of the late Tony Benn: 
If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people.

In other words, no military campaign has ever been put aside because we are in a period of austerity......

Are we getting close to returning to the sort of society and times that Dickens wrote about in 1843? Please think about this and when listening to the pleas and excuses of the government in the forthcoming election campaign perhaps it will help to decide where we go next.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

New Tory Party Anthem

We'll never live like common people
We'll never do what common people do
We'll never fail like common people
We'll never watch our life slide out of view, because we are the favoured few
Because we have plenty to do. 
We despise the common people, sing along and this might just all come true.
We’ll sneer at the common people
Patronise them even when they're trying hard, we think the things they do 
Are stupid. We think that poor is poo. 
We don’t want to live with common people, we dislike the common people. 

with apologies to Pulp: Common People

Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one's definition of your life; define yourself

Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one's definition of your life; define yourself. Robert Frost

Its been a funny few days. Good: we had a few days recuperation 'at home' in the South West after my bout of bronchitis and the weather was really kind to us. Not so good: the residue of the weather not having been so kind this winter was evident everywhere. Driving across the Somerset Levels and seeing how Muchelney is still cut off by the floods, huge 'lakes' of standing water, sodden fields etc. Talking to a friend from Burrowbridge who had been flooded and comparing our experiences of the floods in Chertsey. Our cliff top dwelling campsite is now smaller than it was as a large area has fallen into the sea. Most unexpected, but then so were the wild waves which reached the height of the cliff top.

It was good as always to catch up with friends and family, but not so good to receive an email from a friend of nearly 40 years standing to say that she couldn't put up with my inane ramblings [ramblings I admit to, inane seemed a little harsh] any longer and our friendship is over. I suspect that my political opinions which differ to hers, never discussed face to face but which I air [ you may have noticed dear reader] on the world wide web annoy her. Since I have friends from all sides of the political spectrum, different faiths and ethnicity and - you may have noticed - enjoy a good discussion on all sorts of issues, I find this rather sad but am not about to change my ways.

And then, for holiday reading, I have been re-reading the late Tony Benn's Dare to Be A Daniel which kind of says the same thing as the Robert Frost quote of the blog title. Except I somehow feel Tony Benn was better at putting it across than I.

The Robert Frost quote was sent by a cousin this morning and is quite humbling really. It reminds one of just why and how people like Tony Benn stood up for their principles and could do it for a lifetime. I hope I can do the same, and remember why I am a political activist.

P.S.   Talking about principles, I am so disgusted and offended by the Grant Schapps post budget 'Bingo & Booze' 'infographic' I can't reproduce it on my blog, but it can be seen here. However I will show the satire of it tweeted by David Schneider this morning: 

For Duncan xx

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Tony & Bob

Due to a combination of the floods and  unwellness [is that even a word?] February and early March has been a wash out in the Elizannie/Other Half household and we are actually off on a bit of a recuperation for a few days later today. But how could I leave without paying a tribute to two of our political heroes, one whom I knew and one I would have liked to have known.

The announcement of the death of Bob Crow on Tuesday this week came as a complete shock. A man of very strong principles - and I may not have agreed with all of them! - but someone who looked after his union members, stood up for justice for so many other causes such as Football against Racism. I remember listening to Boris Johnson blustering and puffing on a radio station before the last scheduled train strike when Bob Crow 'phoned in because that was the only way that he could get Boris to talk to him. Pure Genius. He will be sadly missed and the photograph below of the tribute to him by his members at Convent Garden Tube station says it all:

Tony Benn's death was not so unexpected but still very sad for those who had loved and maybe also known him for so many years. I was furious when I found out some years ago that he used to visit my father's house when I was a child tucked up in bed! - but made up for it by meeting him later in life. There are many wonderful obits out there so I will just say that when I awoke to the very sad news of the passing of Tony yesterday I realised that we had all lost a true Socialist, a Gentleman in all senses of the word.

The last time we saw him was at Kings Place theatre in March 2013 where he was due to appear in his 'Writing on the Wall' show which he shared with Roy Bailey. Unfortunately at the last minute Tony had to cancel due to his poor health and Roy carried on on his own. Just toward the end of the evening, Roy was called off stage and returned with a very frail Tony who had not wanted to let his audience down. Roy was crying and Tony got a standing ovation. He looked so frail but when he spoke his voice and words had all his usual strength and conviction. So many of us had tears streaming down our faces that night. 

Thank you Tony for so many things - you will be sadly missed but you have left us all with great memories and many good quotes.

Tony & I at a peace rally in Trafalgar Square.
I had just given him a great smacking kiss 
and he laughed and said 'That was very nice'!

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Who now is the benefit scrounger? Running backwards to the 19th Century

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Many times I have said how much I love the internet and how often it alerts me to a piece of commentary I may have otherwise missed. This morning, whilst catching up with various cousins: wishing one a happy 18th birthday; four of us having an inappropriate giggle over a silly news item; finding out how a dear friend in the US is faring healthwise; smiling at the latest cute picture of Second Youngest Granddaughter - I was alerted by a facebook 'political friend' to a piece in yesterday's Guardian by Suzanne Moore.

Lots has been written about Monday evening's Channel 5 programme 'The Big Benefit's Row'. With a title like that it really was not worth watching, but in the true 'Triumph of Hope Over Experience' spirit and because some good people were on it I thought I would give it a whirl. I didn't take into account that because it also boasted some people who I dislike, the whole thing could turn into a shambles ......

So, in my opinion, the show consisted of people like Ken Livingstone, Jack Monroe, Annabelle Giles, 'White Dee', Owen Jones putting [or rather attempting to put across] reasoned arguments for, statistics about and true case studies of those receiving welfare benefits Edwina Currie and Katie Hopkins hurled abuse and shouted down everyone with whom they disagreed. Yes those two woman really were that bad.

Audience members were not exempt from the opprobrium of the two women. One woman in the audience said she was out every day looking for a job, Currie shouted back at her 'Try harder'.  Panel member Rachel Johnson [editor of 'The Lady' and sister of Boris] put her arm round Jack Monroe and tried to defend her from the worst attacks of Currie and Hopkins. In my last blog I mentioned how benefits campaigner and disabled rights activist Sue Marsh was asked to come on the show and then sidelined and forgotten about. You can read her account here.

And of course someone had to mention during the programme how that dreaded and now demonised group - PENSIONERS - are taking the biggest chunk out of the welfare budget. How DARE they! Most of them having worked for forty plus years, paid tax and national insurance [okay some received Family Allowance. Big deal. Seven shillings and sixpence a week [thirty seven and a half pence] for the SECOND child was my stipend in 1975. And then - oh my - we were granted it for the first child also around 1978. I holidayed in Florida on that. NOT.

It was truly an awful programme. But it seems people are still talking about it [so am I, here!] and when I went out with a large group of friends the evening after the programme it seemed as if the discussion naturally turned to the programme. We all went to uni together back when rocks were soft and now we seem to represent all shades of political opinion and life experience, all of us aged around the 60 age mark, some of us now drawing our state pension. One of our number, who has suffered some truly calamitous life events and after her employer was forced, due to the recession, some years ago to close down his business can only find a job with one of the biggest employers in her village. She 'admitted' that - as she is only paid the minimum wage for her 40 hour week - she needs benefits to top up her wage. In fact most of the employees in her factory have this top up. But her employer is a respected local employer with all the trappings of a wealthy man? Sound familiar to students of the 19th? Who now is the benefit scrounger? The employees or the employer?

I could also talk about my niece who has been for so many job interviews, told on one occasion she must attend wearing a 'business suit' and yet when she arrived was told the person she was to see was 'out for the day'. No-one repaid her travelling expenses or for the suit she had bought [the job centre hadn't sanctioned it. The call for the interview had only been made the night before so presumably the interviewer had had a better offer between making the call and my niece arriving, despite having demanded the correct wearing apparel]; I could talk about the young man I was trying to help find a job for weeks by letting him use my lap top to search the job centre web site. Lots of jobs, pages and pages from one of the pizza delivery shops: zero hours contracts and must provide own car. However tips could be kept; I could talk about the cousin who was struck off DLA by ATOS despite a letter from her consultant and walking with two sticks, and how she had tried for two years to get smaller social housing from her council as she could not afford the heating bills only to be told there was nothing smaller in the area but as soon as the 'bedroom tax' came into force she was fined for having a spare bedroom; I could talk about the single mother who forced to move because of the 'bedroom tax' applied for a bus pass for her son to get to school only to be told he was not eligible as she had 'chosen' to move.

I could talk about all these immoral acts - but what would be the point when those like Edwina Currie, Katie Hopkins and members of this uncaring coalition government would not listen, care or shout me down?

The picture above is from January 2013, I could not access a more upto date one. Below are the figures for 2011/2012, which will obviously have changed thanks to ATOS and the 'bedroom tax'.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

For Richer, For Poorer ....

Travelling around the country last week gave lots of 'thinking and discussion time'. Listening to the news and commentaries on the car radio, quickly turning off if the Environment Secretary or Michael Gove started to stutter out their excuses - and believe me excuses they were - led to discussions. Looking at scenery we have known and watched change - not always for the better - for fifty plus years led to discussions. Looking at housing estates built on what were previously known as flood plains led to discussions. Not being able to drive across usual routes on the Somerset Levels due to the extreme flooding, roads and houses that have been flooded for up to a month now, led to discussions. Observing derelict local schools which we knew to have been happy, community orientated places of learning but now replaced by the school bus which took young people to larger anonymous buildings miles away where youngsters became the equivalent of numbers rather than names and were growing up to feel much less community minded - especially when local amenities like their libraries, shops, doctors surgeries and more had been removed and travel to a larger 'centre' became a necessity led to discussions.

Of course, we were also reminded courtesy of the car radio that times were bad [due to the last government of course] and there is not the money to spend on luxuries. No mention of the damage done to the areas of S.Wales where we spent some time, by Maggie Thatcher in the eighties. The mines that closed there [and in other parts of England and Wales] and had all traces obliterated in a fit of spite - recently released Government papers have revealed that which many of us suspected. And of course the closures brought with them the loss of so many other jobs tied to other local businesses including shops. In one small valley this could have been the only local food store until the villagers themselves took over. You see, in these areas there has always been the sense of community referred to in the last paragraph, something those in Whitehall will never understand.

Moving on to Somerset there was a sense of bewilderment in the communities there who feel completely forsaken by their elected officials. Discussions reported in the media as to whether it would be better to spend money on flood defences for the countryside or the town are truly irrelevant - in much of the countryside river dredgers have been sold off so that flooding becomes inevitable and additionally clearance of trees in upland areas and building on the flood plains has created a [excuse the pun] 'perfect storm'. However the excuse that there is not enough money to go around to help everyone becomes ironic if one considers that there is always enough money for military campaigns and hardware...... Still Prince Charles is visiting today, so that's all good....

Michael Gove's ideas to change the Head of Ofsted are documented here and in other parts of the media. Putting politics aside, I would prefer an experienced person like Lady Morgan to an inexperienced individual whose only qualifications maybe his/her political allegiance. A story to watch.

And just to plug a blog that is about last night's Channel 5 'The Big Benefit's Row' programme, and its up to you, dear reader, to decide who you prefer, Jack Monroe or Edwina Currie. I am sure you will understand who gets my vote!

Just to leave you all with a picture of the River Parrett in Bridgwater on Saturday evening. It may look photogenic, but the water level is frighteningly high.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Pete Seeger: Gone to Greater Glory. May 3, 1919 – January 27, 2014

Pete Seeger died last week but I couldn't get to my blog to write my tribute until now. Many far better and far more eloquent writers have written thousands of wonderful words about one of my heroes, but I still want to add my tribute and play you some of his songs.

Pete has been a great influence on my for over 50 years now. His music, his life, his political activism, especially his peace campaigning - the whole man. Other Half and I have been off on our travels for the past week and spending hours in the car managed to pick up quite a few tributes and programmes on Pete on the car radio. Last night coming home and listing to yet another tribute we were trying to decide if we were to just choose one song he sang to sum up our feelings which one it would be. Of course an utter impossibility but bear with me as I describe a few and why they illustrate his life and my feelings.

I thought of the first song of his I heard which pierced my evolving teenage activist awareness: 'Little Boxes'. In this song he expressed exactly what I felt I didn't want to be - conformist in a society that seemed to want to pigeon hole its citizens into 'people like us'. Looking back over 50 years I wonder how much I have kept true to this ideal and deviated from the norm.... Some I hope!

Of course the iconic anthem 'We Shall Overcome' sung by so many - Other Half and I and our family included - at so many demos and marches over the years doesn't need an introduction. Pete reworded an old spiritual and this link is not the best rendition musically but historically and emotionally it cannot be bettered - a civil rights concert in the US in 1963. Thank you Pete for all you did.

The picture above shows the first album cover which Other Half and I bought and played to death in the first home we shared [incidentally the small record player developed a fault which periodically tripped the main fuse off and plunged us into darkness but we sang on regardless... ] Although this album [and 'LP'] disappeared over the years as LPs got outdated and through housemoves, many of the songs on it were replaced on new purchases of CDs and MP3s and even DVD*s. 

I had two favourites on this album,  'Abiyoyo' 


and the German protest song 'Peat Bog Soldiers' [In German and English] 

Other Half in our discussions nominated a song from the album - by Bob Dylan -'Masters of War' as one of his favourites. [Another thing about Pete, he was never precious or vain, singing others' songs as willingly as his own and always pleased to share when others' sang his songs] Sadly, I couldn't find a youtube or audio link to this so instead I am putting in a link to another anti war song, originally written by Pete during the Vietnam war but here adapted for the Iraq conflict and Pete is joined by Billy Bragg, Steve Earle and Ani DiFranco   

{*I bought the DVD 'The Internationale' which tells the story of how the internationale workers anthem and how Pete persuaded Billy Bragg to rewrite it in a more modern version 


[Original version in French with English commentary by Pete] Billy Bragg version of 'The Internationale', with his comments of how he wrote it at Pete's request:


Moving on, I love this link which shows Pete singing 'Amazing Grace' with Arlo Guthrie 

And here is Pete singing one of Arlo's father's - Woody Guthrie - songs: 'This Land is Your Land' 

  at his 90th birthday celebration

My final song for you all is a personal one with deep memories, again written by Bob Dylan but Pete's choice to perform on the 'Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan, Honouring 50 Years of Amnesty International' CD

Pete's biography can be found on many sites across the net but this is a rather good oneAnd the same with obituaries but here's one from the Guardian.

Sleep gently, Pete and thank you for everything.