"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/

Friday, 31 December 2010

Thoughts on the New Year

Some years ago I came across this poem and sent it out with my New Year wishes and several people liked it and asked me to repeat it.

I realise that some may find it too religious/spiritual but if so just in your mind change the word 'God' for, say, 'Fate' and take the good wishes that go with it!

It was included in King George V1's Christmas broadcast 1939 but I don't hold the royal connection against the poem!

Oh and the picture - it is the wonderful 'Light of the World' by Holman Hunt. Christina Rossetti modelled for the face of Christ - just had to drop that piece of knowledge in [I cannot bear people who show off their knowledge...]

Have a peaceful and serene 2011 everyone.

At the Gate of the Year
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'

And he replied,
'Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!'

So I went forth and finding the Hand of God
Trod gladly into the night
He led me towards the hills
And the breaking of day in the lone east.

So heart be still!
What need our human life to know
If God hath comprehension?

In all the dizzy strife of things
Both high and low,
God hideth his intention.

by Minnie Louise Harkins 1875-1957

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

New Year Wishes

Since the ads on TV are now for summer holidays and sales in furniture stores I guess the Christmas consumption fest is officially over. Except of course for the mega sales in all the shopping malls and High Streets across the country, where those 'must have' items that would make Christmas perfect this time last week can now be bought at a fraction of the price.

I like to make the Christmas festivities last as long as possible, but starting before the 25th as people seem in a better humour then. By the time the day itself has arrived tempers seem to fray easily and by Boxing Day a lot of family and friendly gatherings seem to be strained...

Christmas and the New Year is a time for reflection although personally I try to ignore the news and forget about politics for a time. Of course a lot of metaphors can be drawn when watching friends and family interact but I don't do that...

For instance watching two grandsons argue about who is the eldest, an argument which will always have the same outcome does not make me reflect how often Wars are not worth fighting.

Watching the grandchildren open their presents is a lesson to all. They do not dissemble like adults and show exactly what they think of the wierd socks Aunty Elsie sent and how delighted they are with the gun that their pacifist parents would not buy for them but naughty Uncle Phillip slipped in. I dare not wonder if the world be a better place if we all said what we thought and if we listened more carefully to what others want.

Over the holidays we often visit friends/relations that for the rest of year we would travel miles to avoid. Surprisingly, we sometimes find that boring Great Grandma is not so bad after all and has some interesting stories from which we can learn. And those 'round robin' Christmas letters that arrive tucked in Christmas Cards and which we all laugh at, when we actually sit down and read them we may find amongst the stories of how many cat shows puss has won, they sometimes have interesting news about friends and family that we are glad to know. So perhaps communication with others prevents misunderstandings and actually broadens our knowledge? You might think that but I couldn't possibly comment.

Watching family and friends interact is a metaphor that does not need explaining, nor is the metaphor when family and friends end up having a blazing row. I hope your holiday experience was of the former and not the latter. I am so happy that ours was definately of the former!

One Christmas sentiment I really do wish would last all year is 'Peace on Earth, Goodwill to all Men'. So that is my New Year Wish to you all.

Oh and the photo? Well it is a metaphor! The boat on the Thames Estuary in Christmas week is attempting to hide behind the post. Obviously it can't, just as the Coalition government cannot hide from all its critics, including Elizannie, in 2011! Trying to hide measures like planning to close the Forensic Science Service and the Booktrust funding controversy because it is Christmas week won't work, guys!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Solstice Greetings to One and All!

As the blog title suggests, Winter Solstice Greetings to One and All in the Northern Hemisphere! And Summer Solstice greetings to those in the Southern Hemisphere! The photograph above is a bit of a cheat as it shows the sun rising over the Heel stone at Stonehenge on the Midsummer Solstice morning the last time that Other Half and I were there to celebrate the day.

Many believe that our modern Christmas is descended from the pagan Winter Solstice celebrations. http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/december-solstice.html tells us that the solstice occurs tonight at 11.38pm and gives all the variations around the world according to variations in calendar date, longitude/latitude and hemisphere. Basically, in the Southern hemisphere it marks the date when the daylight hours cease to shortern and start to lengthen again until the Summer Solitice is reached in June. A good cause for celebration!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

BBC Jody McIntyre interview

Shortest blog ever.

Let the dignified Jody McIntyre speak for himself. Ben Brown is provocative and biased. I am complaining to the BBC and I hope that you will too.

Monday, 13 December 2010

This Island Race

No apologies for mis-quoting Winston Churchill in the blog title.

Personally I have never been able to come to terms with the fact that as an island our lifeboat service is run mainly by charitable donations: The Royal National Lifeboat Institution [clicking on this blog title should take you straight to their website] As the website states:
The RNLI is an independent charity, funded by voluntary donations. We could not save lives at sea without the public’s support.

Now it seems that David Cameron's coalition government feels that this Island Race does not need so many coastguard stations, according to this report in the Telegraph of the 11th of December:
The number of coastguard stations in Britain is planned to fall from 19 to eight while the search-and-rescue service, whose helicopter pilots currently include Prince William – is to be sold off to a foreign consortium.

I just hope that the foreign consortioum who will be running the search-and-rescue service do not operate a 'profit only' policy similar to that of our local bus service when privatised. Otherwise only 'routes expected to bring in a profit' will be allowed to be 'serviced'. Other 'routes' will be left out in the cold [and wet] as were some of the villages around here.

Perhaps I understand Cameron's agenda here. Does he want his much vaunted 'Big Society' to take over? After all if the RNLI is so volunteer led, is he thinking that there could be a way that it could be expected to step up and cover the missing coastguard stations? As so many air ambulances are already funded by charities is that his future plan for search-and-rescue services? After all there will be unemployed coastguard staff to go out and rattle collecting tins and they can volunteer to run some of the stations - as long of course as that does not interfere with their job seekers allowance.

If I sound really annoyed about this issue, well I am. Amongst my many family lines I have ancestors who were Essex fishermen and boat builders. The sort of men who went out in the fleet of little ships to Dunkirk [see my blog http://rephidimstreet.blogspot.com/2010_05_01_archive.html] For most of my life I have lived very close by the Thames Estuary. These cuts - like so many others - are spiteful and potentially will affect so many working people - their livelihood and their lives. Think again Mr Cameron et al.

Update: To sign the petition regarding saving the Coastguard stations please go to: http://www.petitiononline.com/ukcghq/petition.html

The photograph above is of the spot where some of my ancestors built boats hundreds of years ago.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Memories of My Grandmother and the Christmas Cake making

In Memory of the first Elizannie who was born on the 9th December 1890 in Southwark.

I really loved my 'Nan'. So much so that when my first grandchild was born and I was asked what I wanted to be called it was obviously going to be called 'Nanny', shortened as soon as the baby could speak to 'Nan'!

My Nan was a strong woman, the eldest of seven sisters - all strong women! - and one brother. The were born in around London, Nan was born in Southwark, and although her father was a skilled man and had served an apprenticeship [he was a 'journeyman engineer'] he had to take whatever jobs he could get. Stories abound about her early life and one is how often the large family had to do 'moonlit flits'. When money ran out because Great Grandfather was put out of work and the rent could not be paid the family would have to leave their lodgings in the middle of the night. Times were hard not only for the tenants but their landlords then who were often working people themselves and forced to let a room or two to supplement their income. Moonlight flits affected them too. However this sort of poverty seemed to have kept the family close to each other and in later life they always helped each other out without thought.

Six of the sisters survived into old age and those not living close by would write to each other regularly - we children and grandchildren would call them the 'Bronte sisters'! But most of the sisters lived near to one and another and their children and grandchildren played together and at times as a child I was never sure which child belonged to which aunt or cousin!

Luckily we still keep quite close and the internet aids that - last year I found lots of cousins on facebook, some I with whom I had lost contact and others who had been born and now had children of their own since I had last been in contact with their parents!

Obviously I am thinking of my Nan especially today. And I thought today would be a good day to make a Christmas cake - the first home made one for many years! - and this reminded me of my childhood and the Christmas cake making process.

My Nan would arrive at our house to assist with the process, which I think also included the making of Christmas puddings and it seemed to take days. Although the fruit had to be washed by hand and 'picked over' to remove the stalks. And then dried by laying on trays with tea towels under them. I used to try and sneak the odd handful but a clip round the ear was the reward if caught! The whole almonds had to be skinned by immersing in hot water and then 'popping' - my job because I would never eat the almonds! - and minced up in the spong mincer clamped to the kitchen table. My mother was so strong with this it used to make the mincer rebound! When the whole amount of ingredients were finally dried and assembled they were mixed together in one of those large earthenware bowls now only seen in museums with a massive wooden spoon. Everyone in the house had to have a stir and a wish. The house seemed to smell of the cooking for days - delicious but unobtainable. To me as a child the real start of the Christmas excitement! But the Christmas cake was always worth waiting for!

My Christmas cake making was much quicker today but a bit eventful too. No need these days to wash and dry fruit and one can buy almonds already ground - although I decided to omit them from these year's recipe as youngest daughter is pregnant and I am not sure if they are allowed or not. Also ommitted booze from recipe for same reason but once I have checked I can add that to the cooked cake [if it turns out OK - I have my doubts!] by feedin it.

So here is my schedule of cooking. I used the old standby recipe by Mrs Beeton [another Victorian Eliza] but don't blame her for the results....

1. Fall at the first post as I can't find the baking tin for large cakes, it is so long since I made a really big one. Eventually find it is right at the top of one of the kitchen cupboard. Climb onto a kitchen chair but still can't reach it [if @Lauren Moore is reading this she will emphathise] Six foot plus Other Half is out. Employ a long handled kitchen spoon to 'grab' it. Just catch it along with another baking tin and a pyrex dish. Rather pleased about the pyrex dish as I had completely forgotten I had it and rather like it.

2. Decide that whoever put the baking tin away years ago did not wash it properly and it is not nice. However the pyrex dish is lovely and decide to use that.

3. Start putting dry ingredients in mixing bowl. No baking powder but do have cream of tartar and bicarb of soda. Go on to google to find how to make baking powder from these ingredients. Write down 'recipe'. Go back to cream of tartar and bicarb of soda and find that the recipe for baking powder is written on those canisters. Swear.

4. Attempt to mix dry ingredients but cannot find mixer blades. Wonder if dough blades would work? Turn out cutlery drawers and big pot holding cutlery. Find proper blades.

5. Start sorting fruit. Whilst weighing start eating fruit especially glace cherries. Start feeling sick.

6. Put mixture in pyrex baking 'tin'. Hadn't realised it is shallower than baking tin. Now so fed up couldn't really care less. Put in oven.

7. Look around the devastation that is my kitchen. Leave it and get back to the computer.

8. Realise that perhaps Other Half had the right idea when he bought a Christmas Cake after I announced my intention of making one. Perhaps cooking is not my forte.

9. Wonder if Mum, Nan and her sisters are up there laughing at me! I hope so! Happy birthday Nan!

If you would like to read more about my lovely Nan please go to my previous blog at:
http://rephidimstreet.blogspot.com/search?q=bracelet If you click on this blog title it should take you straight there!

The picture above is of my Nan on a family day out at the seaside in the 1960s.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Yet another blog in defence of the student protests

I must not listen to radio 4, I must not listen to radio 4, I must not listen to radio 4, I must not listen to radio 4.

Usually I listen to music during the day and get my news via the internet but yesterday accidentally caught Baroness Williams on radio 4's The World at One which resulted in the angry blog http://rephidimstreet.blogspot.com/2010/12/oh-baroness-williams-what-let-down.html [Click on this blog title to go directly to it]

Today I walked into a room where radio 4's Woman's Hour was playing. Mistake. David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, was defending the rise in student tuition fees. We have heard it all so many times but what enraged me even more today was the comment that it was disproportionately unfair to poorer working women who were paying out of their taxes to support students.

Well! There are lots of items upon which I resent my taxes being spent: off hand I can name defence, civil list, subsidies to private sector organisations taking what should be public sector contracts in areas like health, education, social welfare..... And lots of areas where I would like my taxes spent: pensions [ok I have an interest here], welfare,education, health ...... I do not get a say in where my taxes go and nor does anyone else, only through the ballot box, letters and petitions to the Government or on demos. Yet according to David Willets the students on demos are wishing to exploit poor working women by protesting at the rise in tuition fees. A very clever - if untrue - take on this issue.

"Elizannie", someone is shouting, "you are an unemployed woman with no income so where are these taxes you claim to be paying?"

I reply: " Well, yes I am a kept woman having been unemployed due to medical issues for three years. Luckily Other Half can afford to keep me [just!] and he pays income tax. And I have spent nearly all my savings from my workings years, savings after tax paid on the income at that time. And when I spend those savings look at all the tax I pay on my purchases. Every time I treat myself to a book or CD from amazon or at this time of year buy a Christmas present I am paying VAT - which is due to rise in January. I chip in toward the heavy Council Tax we pay here in the South East. I buy stamps for the Christmas cards I send. I no longer pay road tax as I had to stop driving and sell my car [which gave me more savings to spend and thus give the government more VAT!] but until earlier this year I paid that to the revenue. When I do get my pension sorted out if it was a large as it should be [it won't be!] that would be taxable. So I am an [indirect] tax payer."

There are many indirect tax payers in the country like me, not paying income tax but paying tax in the ways outlined above. Many are cared for by university graduates [as are income tax payers of course!] in hospitals, social work areas etc. Older people may have grandchildren taught by graduates in schools. I wonder how many of them are worried that in future there will be less graduates to do the jobs properly. Other Half is an engineer and wonders as there are so few younger people with engineering degrees/qualifications now that if uni courses are cut what will happen to our remaining industries in the future? Maggie Thatcher set out to rid the country of its manufacturing industries, she succeeded but sadly did not propose alternative work places.

The photograph is taken from the BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11940832 That's called irony.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Oh Baroness Williams, what a let down

I used to really admire Baroness Williams [aka Shirley Williams] I remember when I was really young going to the House of Commons and hearing her address a meeting of 'Labour women'. What an icon she was for a young woman then - a single mother [she was at that time separated from her husband but unable to divorce him due to her religous views] who was a successful female politician in a male dominated world, with principles that she would maintain against any ridicule.

Then my idol proved to have feet of clay when she left the Labour Party in 1981 to form the Social Democrat Party due to disagreements within the Labour Party. Many times I have had disagreements within the Labour Party but have stayed on the basis of 'If I ain't in it, I can't change it'. Its been tough - especially over the past 13 years but I am still a member and still trying for change.

I suppose that - like Winston Churchill - once she had 'turned' once it became easy to turn again so when the SDP and the Liberal Party joined ranks in 1988 she went with the flow...

And now we hear that she is quite happily agreeing that it is OK to renege on the Liberal Democratic Party's pre-election pledge regarding Student Tuition Fees. She was interviewed on the World at One this lunchtime - it is available on the BBC website to be listened to again for 7 days http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00wdgr3#synopsis about 18min 30 seconds in.

She said she supports Nick Clegg and Vince Cable in their new proposals because she thinks that free tuition for students is now impossible although she does not condemn* those Liberal MPs who do not support it. She also thinks it was mistaken of those Liberal Democrat prospective MPs who signed the pledge not to raise tuition fess before the General Election. When questioned whether this included Nick Clegg she said she felt he had 'made a mistake' and was being 'brave' now. So that's OK then. She also said how this new scheme was really very fair for those at the lower end of the income scale and actually used the words 'at the bottom on the heap'. Possibly not a wise choice. And apparently the State Scholarship Scheme is really going to help the poor access universities. Oh I remember that argument for the 11+ and grammar schools. That worked so well - not.

This is really odd because in 2003 Shirley Williams withdrew from the possibility of becoming Chancellor of Oxford University in a protest against the Labour Government's imposition of Tuition Fees [no I didn't agree either. A subject for another blog perhaps] She said:
As a firm believer of students being chosen on merit, not means, she could not head up a university which would want to levy higher fees
going on to say
that American top universities like Harvard chose students regardless of their means.

[Shirley Williams was a graduate of Oxford University and taught at Harvard]

Am I drawing a conclusion? Well possibly it is that making someone an idol or role model may be OK for five minutes but not to rely on them for a 'life pattern'. Sorry Baroness Williams, I will make my own patterns for now on. And continue to campaign again tuition fees.

*I am refraining with great difficulty from making any pun using any variation of 'Con', 'Dem' etc.

The photograph? Elizannie at her state school. Wonder when school fees will become mandatory?

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Christmas and Giving

Elizannie's tongue-in-Cheek guide to Christmas season with some serious bits
I do like the Christmas season. Not all the Commercialism and Consumerism, but the sort of Cosiness that occurs when families and friends get together and when one opens a Christmas Card from someone not Communicated with since last Christmas. If it wasn't for Christmas there would be no Communication between one and other for goodness knows how long. All those little Christmas Customs too - not necessarily religious ones but just the ones that have grown up within individual homes. Notice all the words beginning with 'C' in this paragraph so here is another one that I like about the season, the giving that goes with 'Charity'. And I am not even going to mention Christianity or Churches because for so many people Christmas is just a holiday at the end of December, not a religious festival. For those of us who do Celebrate it as a Christian festival, an extra dimension is added.

I am sure that lots of you reading this will think, 'who is Elizannie kidding?' Families and friends forced together over the Christmas Holiday season inevitably end up fighting and arguing - to which I reply it doesn't need a festival occasion to cause that. I can have an argument in an empty room if so minded, and of course the internet aids that considerably. Arguments usually occur because people are attempting too hard to get on - so it is far easier not to try and just be natural! Certain board games should be avoided. I love board games and never get annoyed if I don't win but one year we played Scruples and I ended up not speaking to anyone because of what was said about my driving skills....

When a Christmas Card arrives I love to try and guess who has sent it before I open it. This drives Other Half to distraction but is just one of my more annoying Christmas Customs... I love it when one of those photocopied Christmas letters drops out of a Christmas Card. I love Catching up with the news of family and friends and cannot understand why these letters are so derided! Being a bit of a technophobe I especially love the ones that have been decorated with Christmas motifs and little photographs. Sometimes I even try and emulate these which passes a happy hour or two for me and a not so happy hour or two for Other Half trying to re-set the PC. Back to the Charities and giving. I like to buy Charity Christmas Cards but temper this generosity by buying them in the sales after Christmas, for the following year, arguing that the shops will have already given the charities their share so it is only the shops [and Consumerism] which are losing out..

If able to afford it, giving presents is nice. But I really don't like the desperate 'selling' in the media of the latest 'must have' gifts - particularly for Children. Within our own family we buy only 'proper' gifts for Children, with just token gifts for the adults. And we are not above giving Charity shop items - thus helping Charities again. And often these are 'Comedy' items which will be re-donated after Christmas and hopefully raise more Cash in the New Year.

Hopefully Charities will raise a lot of money at Christmas as people are more generous or feel guilty at the amount they are spending on food and drink. When my Children were younger they always loved to help in raising funds for the Blue Peter Christmas Appeal and what I especially like is the fact that Children are not asked to send money but donate items or their own time etc. Details of this year's appeal can by found by clicking on the blog title above.

There is a bit of a discussion going on the Facebook site at the moment where 'friends' are asking one and other to alter their profile pictures to one of their favourite Cartoon Characters from their Childhood to raise awareness of Campaigns against violence toward Children. Some of these messages are adding 'if you do this please donate to the NSPCC'. Questions have been asked as to whether this is an 'official' NSPCC Campaign or not, but as was pointed out by one Facebook member not everyone can afford to donate and raising awareness Can only be a good thing. A very good point - Charitableness is not only about money but about attitudes. However if anyone does want to donate here is a link: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/Applications/Donations/DonatePredonation.aspx

Mind you I was a little bit horrified at hearing that someone Collecting officially at a football match for the Centrepoint Charity yesterday was told off by a policeman for rattling his bucket aggressively. I have done a lot of Charity Collections - on the street and door-to door - and know the rules about not approaching people and I really hope I haven't rattled anything aggressively but only in a pacifist way. One has principles after all..

I am a sucker for a good Charity CD - especially if it is by an artiste that I love! So it was no pain last year to buy Christmas in the Heart by Bob Dylan. Extremely lush plus all proceeds go to homeless Charities in perpetuity (UK sales benefit Crisis) and this year Annie Lennox's 'A Christmas Cornucopia'. It is a fantastic sound and all of Annie’s income from ‘Universal Child’- one of the tracks -will be paid to the Annie Lennox Foundation, Annie’s own Charity that raises money for Charitable projects supporting and educating women and Children in Africa with HIV/AIDS.

We used to live abroad and have brought home a Dutch/German [along the Upper Rhine] Christmas Custom of the festival of St Nicholas [6th December], which starts tonight. On December 5th Dutch children leave out their Clogs or shoes hoping that they will be filled with small presents or sweets [in our house!] Children that have not behaved in the past year are 'rewarded' with twigs and straw! Luckily we also brought Clogs home with us. St Nicholas is shown in the picture at the top of this blog.

There are other religious festivals around the end of the year/beginning of the New Year and I wish everyone, celebrating a festival or not, joy - I am sorry that I am late wishing my Jewish friends a Happy Hanukkah. My wish for all is that we Could all be a bit kinder and Charitable to one and other what ever the time of year.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Social Networking and other low places! [with apologies to Paul O'Grady]

This blog is a bit of a personal rant so apologies in advance. I really dislike when someone feels it is permissible to criticise [without invitation] one's taste and activities!

I like Facebook! I am not ashamed to say so although many people seem to think that -like watching soaps or reading thrillers - Facebook and other social network sites are too 'low culture' to admit to any participation!

So Facebook... I really love it. I can - within the space of a couple of hours -'meet' various friends and discuss all sorts of different subjects. Just the other day I spent quite a time discussing H.G. Wells with a friend who lives about 250 miles away. Later I had a very long political discussion regarding disability rights with another friend living in the opposite end of England to me. Over then to a friend in America who has just bought an antique chair and sent me a picture of the restoration process. Then I saw the picture of a friend's new baby and finished with a 'family chat' with my cousin. All without having to dress up or leave the house! Lazy? Perhaps but my brain was stimulated, I could coo at the baby and I would never have got to America and back in time for tea and also have been able to do some writing in the meantime! I also belong to various organisations on FB, including political, charitable and social. All good so far.

There is another side to all this, and I don't really like to play the personal card but here goes. I am unable to leave the house without a companion due to my neuro problems so our trips out - which luckily are often - usually have a purpose and I don't 'dilly dally' as I used to and don't get the time to gossip with strangers in shops or in the street - which I used to love! So my gossiping time is fulfilled as well!

Of course there are down sides - as in any walk of life. I know of instances when families/friends have fallen out due to personal details etc being revealed to all and sundry - but then that can happen in the real world as well as the virtual. Although officially children are not supposed to use - for instance - Facebook, too many parents do let their children participate which may not always be suitable. And of course nothing beats the lovely feeling as when last night an old friend I had not seen for years rang the door bell and over many cups of tea we talked for hours.....

I love Twitter too. I 'follow' and am 'followed by' many journos and politicos and in fact generally use them for my news sources. When something big is 'going down' [like today's student demos] often someone will be tweeting away from the spot - and sometimes supplying pictures too.

I used to teach and lecture, amongst other subjects English Literature was one of my specialities. But here again, there is too often a terrible intellectual snobbery that surrounds this subject [like so many 'Art' subjects], I often think in an attempt to turn it into a mystique which excludes others. In fact I was listening to a radio programme a couple of weeks ago in which an eminent playwright, novelist, critic and lecturer lambasted any adults who read the Harry Potter books and/or Tolkien's works. No doubt there will be some who will agree with him - fair enough and those like me who disagree - again fair enough. But surely it is better to keep ones views to oneself [not that I am!] rather than upset lots of those who are happily enjoying something different and not harming anyone in the process. For the record I love Tolkien and Harry Potter - in different ways! And at the moment I am reading a 19thC novel and a 20thC 'whodunit'.

Soap operas - well actually I don't really follow them apart from Radio 4's The Archers, which I always maintain is not really a drama but real life! [I remember the night Grace Archer died but I really was very, very young...] But if someone is a soap opera fan - so what. There are a lot of things on TV and the cinema I don't like but I do like lots of things which others probably dislike. They are not going to change my viewing habits anymore than I wish to change theirs.

What I have attempted to say here is that no-one should feel they have to justify their tastes although the old 'high brow versus low brow' argument will always continue across all the artistic forms. It took the championship of John Ruskin to make the Pre-Raphaelites become popular after all and someone turned down the Beatles before they got a recording contract. Wordsworth and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads were thought revolutionary when published. Enjoy what you enjoy, try something new occasionally but do not waste time with something you think you ought to like but don't just because someone has told you 'it is better for you'!

Don't waste time trying to find Elizannie on Facebook or Twitter. She is there but under a pseudonym. Occasionally kind friends advertise her blogs - for which she is most grateful....

The picture of the The Archers cast [2006] above courtesy of guardian.co.uk

Monday, 22 November 2010

Welcome to Len McCluskey

The ballot for the new General Secretary of the UNITE union has now closed and the result will be announced officially on Wednesday [24th November] Unofficially the media are announcing that Len McCluskey has won by a clear majority and there is a good piece on Ian's UNITE Site: http://www.iansunitesite.org.uk/

All four candidates, when contacted by Other Half and I during the balloting process, were very keen to answer questions. This was very reassuring, unlike our experience during the General Election when we did not have the same 'luck' with the prospective parliamentary candidates in our area [looking in the direction of the Conservative Candidate here...] However what is really disappointing is that it appears that only 16% of the membership voted.

My connection with the union goes back an awful long way and through many different chamges of General Secretaries and union amalgamations.

1. It all started with DATA*

2. In 1970 DATA became TASS** within the AUEW under the General Secretaryship of the wonderful Ken Gill.

3. In 1988 TASS merged with ASTMS*** to form MSF^ under the iconic Clive Jenkins and Ken Gill, then Ken Gill solely when Clive suddenly resigned.

4. MSF merged with the AEEU^^ to form AMICUS^^^ in 2001 with the General Secretaries Ken Jackson and Roger Lyons

5. AMICUS in turn merged with the Transport & General Union to form UNITE under Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson in 2007.

So many initials and so many wonderful General Secretaries who have represented us over the years. A few tears at the memories, I must admit! And thinking of all those who have helped me and so many friends, family and comrades too - not just in wage deals but over terms and conditions of employment and UNITE are still helping. In so many ways my first loyalty will always be to the Union movement even over and above the Labour movement - after all the Union movement was one of the 'midwives' at the birth of the Labour Party!

So welcome to the the position of General Secretary, Len McCluskey. Lots of proud names and initials to follow!

Photograph of MSF union banner, Tolpuddle Rally, early 1990s.
To go to the UNITE website, click on blog title
Obituary of Ken Gill in the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/may/24/ken-gill-unions-obituary

* Draughtsmen and Allied Technicians Association
** Technical, Administrative and Supervisory Staffs
*** Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs
^ Management, Scientific and Finance union
^^ Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union
^^^ From the Latin meaning: friend, comrade

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Celebrations and congratulations

So the Prince of Wales and Kate Middleton have got engaged. Congratualtions to them both but can that be it until the wedding? Probably not - I suspect we are going to be obliged to endure pages of newsprint and hours of media attention to the life history of Ms Middleton, the Prince of Wales [as if we didn't already know it] and lots and lots of speculation about what the dress will look like, what the vows will consist of [love, honour and obey?] and all the thousand and one things that go to make up an 'ordinary' wedding let along a royal, dynastic one.

There have been some fantastically funny and satirical tweets and facebook comments which I really cannot better. It occurred to me as soon as I heard the radio announcement that the government was probably going to hide/was already hiding some bad news with the announcement and all the resulting kerfuffle. And I am not even going to start on costs to the Government and cuts.....

I was in a shop when I heard the radio news and the little old lady standing next to me was so excited I didn't like to spoil her pleasure and voice my cynicism. And that's what its all about really isn't it - pleasure? I suppose the prospect of a royal wedding will bring a lot of pleasure to a lot of people, but I selfishly hope speculation about it won't be continually in the media from now to the wedding day!

Being part Celt I always love a good celebration and adopt any that are going: at this time of year Diwali, Eid, Hanukkah, Hallowe'en, Samhain, Christmas - bring them all on. Lets all share and celebrat with other people, respect diversity but above all be nice to each other. I celebrate any event I can as much as I can - I made this year's birthday festivities last nearly a month. I would even join in a street party for the royal wedding - there I have shocked you all. But I would prefer a street party 'just because', for no particular reason and to have fun - because the community is a community and not because some posh people who really couldn't give two figs about us are getting married!

Oh - the picture? Well I couldn't decide on an appropriate one, and this suddenly struck me. 'V.E.Day Celebrations' by L.S.Lowry. Very appropriate for this week, I thought as well as a fantastic painting.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Remembrance and Pacifism

In memory of Frederick Ernest Bunning who fought in France
Richard Williams who fought in the Balkans
just two representing the many serving on both sides in 1914 - 1918

In honour of Ronnie Mills, taken prisoner at the Battle of Arnhem 1944
Trevor Williams, conscientous objector 1935 - 1967
just two of the many of all nations scarred by World War Two

As I have said before in these pages, pacifism does not mean one does not honour those who have died in the service of their country. Remembrance days are not the days to argue about pacifism versus militarism but I would like to say that I feel that 'remembrance' should not be exclusive to a few days in the autumn but should be always with us. This is why this year I have taken the decision not to wear a poppy, white or red - read on before you lambast me for this decision - but will of course honour the two minutes silence.

Every year I go through the 'Should I buy/wear a poppy? Will it honour the dead or glorify war?' debate in my mind. I have ranged through buying red poppies and wearing/not wearing them, buying white poppies and wearing/not wearing them, buying white and red popppies and wearing both.... This year there have been debates in the media about when is an appropriate time to start wearing poppies [red] and whether those on TV are wearing them just because they have been told to. Enough! Wear a poppy if you want to - that's fine. Don't if you don't want to - that's fine too. But please remember the dead of all nations with honour. Remember too those who showed another kind of bravery and stood up for what they felt was right and were conscientous objectors or pacifists, refusing to bear arms against their fellow wo/man. Believe me it is not easy. A subject for another day, perhaps.

In honour of all who suffered, a fine poem from a fine poet:
Wilfred Owen (1893 - 1918)
Strange Meeting
It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then ,as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall, -
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

With a thousand pains that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
'Strange friend,' I said, 'here is no cause to mourn.'
'None,' said that other, 'save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled,
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels,
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.

I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now...'

May the dead Sleep Gently and the living find Peace.

Photograph of the white and red poppies taken from http://www.ppu.org.uk/whitepoppy/white-news108.html which illustrates 'Thought for the day, BBC Radio Bristol, 30th October 2008' and is really worth reading.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Pensioners' Lot

Chelsea Pensioner - Find His Pipe*

When young and starting out on a career, thoughts of pensions are a long way off and not very interesting. And naturally in the early years of career building promotion and other financial concerns like mortgages and life insurance tend to take higher priority in one's mind. However as middle-age approaches, thoughts begin to turn to pensions and what provisions are on offer in the latest pay deal or whether one should start thinking about taking out private pension provisions to 'top up' what the state pension may offer when state pension age is eventually reached.

As I have become older I have naturally become more interested in the whole pensions issue. And obviously at the moment there seems to be hardly a week going by without an item appearing on the news where a firm has announced the 'closure of its final salary pension scheme' or that yet another firm has gone into administration and its pensioners are now in trouble. And the new Coalition Government is announcing plans to put up the State Pension Age for both men and women. So perhaps it is understandable if young people starting out on their working lives at the moment are not really interested/have faith in the security of existing pension schemes, private or state.

I was thinking about all of this when reading the latests news on discussions regarding the strike between the National Union of Journalists and the management of the BBC over the proposed changes to the BBC Pension Scheme. What never seems to be said in these sort of circumstances is that when any changes are suggested to pension schemes, these changes do not exist to a scheme which is in a sort of 'time vacuum'. The pension schemes that have been built up todate are the result of contracts signed and agreed over the years between employees and employers and are in fact deferred wages as they were part of previous wage agreements and conditions of employment going back over employees' working lives. These employees are not being selfish by trying to retain previouslytheir employers taking money from their bank savings accounts! Pensions are really another form of saving over the working life of an individual. Please respect that, employers.

*This 'search picture' is on a 'search cigarette card issued in 1926 by Major Drapkin and Co (UK Tobacco Co). The question posed is 'Where is the pensioner's pipe?' and it can be 'found' on his newspaper, right hand edge. A better question these days might be 'where is the pensioner's pension?' perhaps....

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Punishing the Unemployed

We really do seem to be returning to the thinking of the 19th Century where the Protestant Work Ethic - amongst other thought provoking ideas - basically laid forth the idea that the rich were showing God's approval by being rich and the poor God's disapproval by starving.

Iain Duncan Smith - as reported in today's Observer [click on blog title above to read the article] wants Job Seekers to be penalised for their audacity in previously working for industries/workplaces that can no longer retain their services. So to show them their sins and remind them what it is like to maintain "habits and routines" of working life [quote from the article] the suggestion is that the unemployed will have to undertake "mandatory work activity" of at least 30 hours a week for a four-week period [quote]. Apparently the Department for Work and Pensions is planning to organise this by contracting private providers who will presumably arrange placing the unemployed with charities, voluntary organisations and so forth.

Lots of objections spring to mind and will probably continue even after I have logged off. The sheer audacity of the way that this has been announced with no regard for the feelings of those who are unfortunate enough to be long term unemployed cannot even be described or listed. However these are just a few additional 'objections' that immediately occur:

1. Will the 'volunteers' in any way displace those already employed? Litter gathering and gardening as suggested in an article on the BBC news homepage should already be covered by local workers, for instance

2. Many of these 'volunteer' jobs will require some sort of training. Who pays the trainers or will they also be taken from those naughty, naughty individuals in the ranks of the unemployed?

3. Fares/Expenses: One assumes that in areas where the population of unemployed is in a higher ratio to the employed than others there will be less 'volunteer' jobs to go around. Therefore there will be fares/expenses involved in the logistics of 'matching' individuals and work. This will surely put the benefits bill up?

4. Insurance: These part-time/temporary workers will have to be insured. They may not be permitted to use machinery because training is insufficient and insurance would not cover.

5. At the end of the mandatory work period where are the jobs that our 'volunteers' are now raring to fill? Would I be cynical to suggest that nothing will have changed really? The real winners will be bureaucracy - a lot of forms will have been completed and possibly a few more civil service jobs created? And the private providers that are organising the scheme of course. Oh but wait a minute - wasn't that one of the ConDem pledges to cut down on bureaucracy and the Civil Service? I must have misheard that.

Picture today is of Robert Tressell's grave - author of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. I may have mentioned this book before. Tressell may be spinning in his grave today. I hope not, may he [and the others with him] sleep gently.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


We are back from a rather meandering road trip around parts of the country which somehow managed to evoke several of my heroes, many of whom I have previously mentioned in these 'pages'.

The ending of our half term holiday in the West Country coincided with a celebratory concert given by a political folk singer friend of ours [and hero!] - Roy Bailey. He was 75 last month. Picture above and click on the blog title to go to his website. Roy Bailey is a good friend of another of my political heroes, Tony Benn, and in fact they perform together in a 'gig' called The Writing on The Wall which is basically the history of dissent. There is a brilliant CD of this available from Roy's website [no I am not on commission!] I have seen them perform this gig many times, the last time at the British Library in 2009 during the BL's Taking Liberties: The Struggle for Britain’s Freedoms and Rights season. 

Roy's concerts always feature him talking about his political beliefs and influences. On Sunday he was talking about two more of my heroes and influences - Paul Robeson and Joe Hill.

Our journey to Sheffield took us via East Midlands Airport, where we stayed at a nearby hotel on Saturday evening. However it was slightly alarming when watching President Obama [of course a hero of mine!] speaking about the foiled bomb plot on the Friday evening news to hear him mention East Midlands Airport.

When we left the East Midlands we travelled onto Sheffield via a circuitous route to take in places we had not previously visited. Driving through Matlock we passed Masson Mills which was Richard Arkwright's most prestigious mill. I suppose only a retired history teacher/lecturer would get excited about this and although I would not describe Arkwright as a hero of mine he certainly was a key figure in the industrial revolution. I suppose in a way it is not surprising that the site is now a shopping village [as well as a museum] and thus one of the birth places of the capitalist system has now become one of its 'cathedrals'!

Onto Buxton in Derbyshire, where Vera Brittain once lived. A definite heroine of mine, especially for her work toward Pacifism and Socialism. I had to restrain myself when browsing in a bookshop from buying yet another edition of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, my bookshelves are groaning as it is and I had already bought too many books during our days away....

Arriving in Sheffield it was lovely to see Andrew Motion's [a literary hero of mine, of course!] poem on the side of one of the university buildings. To see a wonderful picture of this and other great photographs of Sheffield please go to: http://www.flickr.com/photos/theotherbailey/5137117621/in/set-72157625167089633/

Meanwhile the poem is a lovely way to end this travelogue of a blog!:

What If..? by Andrew Motion
O travellers from somewhere else to here
Rising from Sheffield Station and Sheaf Square
To wander through the labyrinths of air,

Pause now, and let the sight of this sheer cliff
Become a priming-place which lifts you off
To speculate
What if..?
What if..?
What if..?

Cloud shadows drag their hands across the white;
Rain prints the sudden darkness of its weight;
Sun falls and leaves the bleaching evidence of light.

Your thoughts are like this too: as fixed as words
Set down to decorate a blank facade
And yet, as words are too, all soon transferred

To greet and understand what lies ahead -
The city where your dreaming is re-paid,
The lives which wait unseen as yet, unread.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Stuck in the Middle with ... Vince Cable

I downloaded a book to my Kindle eReader over the weekend. Not only was it a translation from the German, it was by a 19thC writer - E.T.A.Hoffman - who is not always the easiest writer to follow. So I struggled with it for a while before I realised that I had downloaded the second volume and obviously was starting mid-way as it were. I have now downloaded the first volume and finding the whole thing a lot easier to understand!

Why am I telling you this? Because I had the same feeling yesterday listening to Vince Cable's proposals regarding the green paper on Pension reform. A lot of the arguments for the pension reforms - with which I obviously do not disagree - are the arguments used against retaining Child Benefit for better off parents. The Telegraph article points out that these reforms will benefit women particularly - another reason that I would favour them - but again these are the arguments that I put in my blog arguing why Child Benefits should not be messed reformed!

So I have the feeling that I have opened the newspapers 'halfway through' the story and that the government has had a change of heart over welfare cuts and are not using the opposite arguments for two different 'benefits'. but it seems I haven't!

And the blog title? Well obviously it is a mish mash of the Joe Egan/Gerry Rafferty song and not only does it refer to my feeling of starting in the middle of a story whose beginning has passed me by, I also particularly identify at the moment with the refrain:

Clowns to the left of me!
Jokers to the right!
Here I am stuck in the middle with you.

Elizannie is in the West Country, a bit cold but having fun.

Photograph courtesy of Daily Telegraph, article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/pensions/8086637/Women-to-benefit-most-from-pensions-shake-up.html

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Slipping and Sliding

I am not going to go into long analysis of the Spending Review as there are plenty of better financial blogs doing that. It was as unfair as I expected and I am in the camp that feels the ConDem government have acted in an unnecessary way and it will disproportionally affect the poorer strata of our society.

Last night I watched Jeremy Paxman interview Danny Alexander. It was all rather odd - Paxo was being - in an ironic way I thought - gentle with Alexander. It was if Paxo knew that by pushing Alexander too far he would burst into tears. Alexander had no real answers - just repeated the 'formulas' he had been taught by his boss George Osbourne.

When Paxo asked the question, giving the example of DVLC workers in Swansea, of where those who lose public sector jobs could find other jobs Alexander faffed and fluffed. Reply: The government would of course encourage individuals to start new businesses via start up grants. Paxo looked sad and disbelieving. Alexander got redder and more confused. He knew what to say but did he believe it? The example given of the Swansea area Alexander surely knows is one of the country's employment bad areas.

In the end I went to bed because I could not stand any more after an afternoon of listening to financial analyses and reading blogs and etc. Unfortunately my mind was spinning and I had to get up to read something literary to calm myself down. My book 'on the go' is The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe but I somehow didn't feel this would anaethetise me enough so I opted for a dreadful who-dunit which did the trick and drove the spending review from my mind long enough to send me to sleep.

Today's photograph is one I love of the Thames Estuary at Westcliff. It is purely accidental that the tide is going out.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

In praise of children!

I am being a bit lazy today and mostly publishing my part in a debate on another blog site about the awful implications made by the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt on BBC2's Newsnight. If you have managed to avoid hearing about this up until now, click on the blog title above to catch up.

It has taken me a time to state my case on this as I have been too angry with Hunt's insinuations to type properly. There are so many objections to the objectionable implications made by this highly objectionable minister - OK you probably get the idea that I feel strongly about this. Someone who managed to lay these objections out in a calmer manner than I is Julian Ware-Lane on his blog: http://warelane.wordpress.com/2010/10/07/parenthood-is-philanthrophy-not-a-crime/#comment-2220

My edited contribution [with additions!]is below:

Going back into history around the end of the 18th/beginning of the 19th centuries, larger families amongst the poor are sometimes credited as one of the 'accelerants' of the Industrial Revolution. The fact that infant mortality rates were falling [then still high but not as high as previously] and that the wages earnt in the growing industries meant couples could marry younger and have more surviving children. These children in turn provided workforce for the growing numbers of factories and mines - and we must remember that children as young as four or five would be working as well as their mothers and fathers. So large families helped provide a 'raw material' - labour - for the Capitalist Society to exploit.

And to the parents - if they survived to old age, or at least an age when they were unable to work - the more children they had the more chance that they would be cared for in old age and not have to resort to the dreaded workhouse.

Yesterday I heard someone declaiming on a 'phone in programme that as s/he was childless why should s/he pay taxes to support the children of others: to educate and otherwise care for them. BECAUSE CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE: educate them and ensure they grow up up healthy and strong because - if we want to look at it selfishly as that 'phone in caller seemed to be doing - they are the future doctors, nurse, teachers, road builders, dustbinmen, traindrivers, shopworkers - get the picture?

We hear so much about Benefit Scoungers but any one who has children to make a profit must be very clever at managing money. No doubt someone will produce an example of someone they know who goes to Florida every year and is dripping with luxury goods whilst living on benefits. In reply I will take that someone to a house not far from here where a single mother with three children is having a terrible struggle to make her money last out between her meagre wage payments plus additional benefits. This mother did not set out to be a single mother and 'live on the state'- the tragedy of marital breakdown has reduced her to this status which is now almost hurled as an insult - and she still works as hard as she can to fit in with her growing family, working well below her educational status to fit hours and proximity to the family.

I thoroughly enjoyed being at home with my children and never felt I was 'wasting my education' or losing out on career opportunities. My mother once said 'educate a woman and you educate the family' - very true. Nowadays it is not so easy for women to stay at home with their children and in a lot of ways some of us older mums feel that children and childhood are 'devalued' by modern society and there seems to be a lot of pressure on children to grow up quickly. Childhood is a magic time that does not last long enough - lets preserve it and celebrate it, please.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Watching 'Made in Dagenham'

Please read all through the blog before deciding whether or not Elizannie has 'gone soft'.
I have just been to see the film 'Made in Dagenham' which is a fictionalised version of the 1968 strike by the women sewing machinists at the Ford, Dagenham factory. The settlement of the strike ultimately led to the Equal Pay Act of 1970. My companion was a Ford Pensioner, thus an ex-Ford worker, and he was also an ex-union official. As I wrote in my previous blog 'The Real Story of Made in Dagenham' [September 18th] I have family connections with Ford & Dagenham so we were both eager to find fault with the film!

Well, I won't lie to you, it wasn't as bad as I expected. There were continuity errors and remarks from my companion that certain things were anachronisms Ford wise - certain car models shown produced in Dagenham were not produced there etc etc. And I [being rather shallow] noticed some fashion errors in the characters' outfits! But all those can be allowed on the grounds of artistic licence....

I enjoyed the scenes with the women meeting Barbara Castle and thought John Sessions made an excellent Harold Wilson - I had not expected that at all! A couple of the fictionalised scenes actually made my eyes rather moist and yes there was a definite feel good factor to the whole thing. However the original reason for the 1968 strike - that the women should be re-graded from unskilled female labour to semi-skiilled gets a bit lost and the portrayal of the union and management negotiations - both when meeting together and between themselves - are more the stuff of film sets than actuality.

Bob Hoskins, as a fictionalised portrayal of the wonderful Bernie Passingham [in the film Albert Passingham], makes a comment that applies to many workers in many industries today [and many others fighting unfair conditions]:
Someone has got to stop those exploiting bastards from getting away with it
So lets hope the film sends the message to all sorts of oppressed groups that ordinary people can make a difference if they stand together. And I enjoyed the theme song for the film written by one of my musical and political heroes: 'The Bard of Barking', Billy Bragg with 'Made In Dagenham'.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Child Benefit

I am just going to add my rant to the child benefit 'debate'. It has taken a while for me to calm down enough after hearing the announcement yesterday at the Conservative Party conference of the changes that are proposed - trying to reply to someone earlier on this subject I had to re-type nearly every word due to typos caused by temper!

Just over two hours ago at 10.46am the BBC newspage published an article that had David Cameron reiterating that yesterday's announcement stands. To read this click on the Blog title above. Just a snippet:

On Monday Chancellor George Osborne said that from 2013 the benefit would be removed from families with at least one parent earning more than about £44,000 a year.

As I am sure that the whole cabinet are avid readers of my blog can I ask them collectively to consider the following points:

1. Yes, £44,000 is a good wage to earn - no doubt about that. But it is 'worth' more in different parts of the country and at different stages of life. This 'rule' does not take into account - for instance - house prices. In an area where house prices are extremely high first time buyers and those who are only a few years into a mortgage have very high mortgage repayments which makes the actual spending power of that £44,000 wage not so large as in other places where housing costs are much lower.

2. Many have already commented on the obvious diochotomy of housholds where there might only be one wage earner who earns over £44,000 as opposed to those housholds where there are two wage earners who both earn £43,000 but would not - as far as we know so far - lose the child benefit.

3. Child Benefit was always seen as empowerment for non-wage earning women because however short her partner kept her moneywise, as long as she was the recepient of Child Benefit there was an amount of money that was within her own control. Additionally - and this has been very important for a lot of women over the past few years - if a woman was non-wage earning but receiving Child Benefit it gave her a status toward her State Retirement Pension of 'Home Responsibilities Protection'. This means that every year Child Benefit was received it qualified one towards a State Pension, up to a limit of 22 years. If Child Benefit is not received there must be some mechanism put in place so that mothers who stay at home are not penalised in the pension stakes.

4. A wage earner on £44,000 is obviously a higher earner than one who earns - say - £25,000. S/he therefore pays more tax and on reaching £44,000 pays tax at a higher percentage, 40%. Rather than take away Child Benefit surely a 'sliding scale' of tax adjustment could be introduced so that someone earning £44,000 retains some of the Child Benefit but someone earning - say - £80,000 loses the lot? Would this be 'fairer'? Plus there is also the amount of Child Benefit each individual receives to be taken into account: i.e. this is dependant on how many children there are in each family. Should an individual on £44,000 lose all benefit for all children? Or again should a sliding scale operate, where so much is lost at different levels of pay?

Listening to the news at 2pm there has been an announcement from the Conservative Party Conference that there is a proposal about a 'tax break' for married couples. Again this raises all sorts of questions - not least that the Inland Revenue is allegedly one of the departments that is to undergo 'cuts' so this extra work is to be done by whom? And tax breaks for married couples - what about co-habiting couples with children? Are we going back to the old fashioned married man's allowance? And will there be a 'merger' of a couple's income - what about the separation of a couple's tax affairs for confidentiality reasons? Too many more questions? Have the Coalition Government really thought properly about all of this?

Sunshine and showers/Home from the West again

We drove home from the West country yesterday via Glastonbury. I love the place as has probably become obvious from previous blogs and yesterday it was particularly colourful as the shop windows in the High Street were beginning to show their decorations for the festival of Samhain, which is roughly equivalent to Hallowe'en.[For a link to a site about Samhain please click on the Blog title above]

We left Glastonbury to a glorious blue sky and warm temperatures. Listening to the Ryder Cup commentary on the way home live from the Celtic Manor, Newport [get the connection: Celtic Manor: Glastonbury!] we realised that the lovely weather was remaining in the West and we were travelling eastwards into more dull climes. But it was so good to hear that the Ryder Cup had such a successful [and exciting!] finish. Well done Newport!

The shop showing its decorations in the photograph above has a website which can be accessed here: http://lilithofavalon.com/
I have no connection to the shop btw!

Friday, 1 October 2010

Wet Weather

We are in the West of England again and sharing our weather with South Wales. This is a shame for Newport where the awful rain has stopped play in the Ryder Cup Golf Tournament. Newport has worked tremendously hard to bring the golf to the area and prepare for it. Hopefully this will rejuvenate and bring more business to Newport.

There is an interesting story on WalesOnline about the rumours that the Celtic Manor development maybe up for sale after the Ryder Cup has finished. Go to:

Meanwhile I am catching up on reading and enjoying the view of the Bristol Channel!

The photograph above is of a West Country church. It was far prettier than the photograph of me eating a delicious scone!

Elizannie will return to serious stuff next week....

Saturday, 18 September 2010

The real story of 'Made In Dagenham'

I was born in the Dagenham area and most of my family worked for Ford. I am not old enough to remember all the details of the strike of the women sewing machinists at Ford in 1968 - although I do remember it as I also remember so many bitter strikes in those years with so many of the family sharing so that none would go without during hard times - but I have plenty of older relatives who can tell the real stories of the strikes. All were in the trade unions and one was a trade union official so I know their stories are the real stories.

I have been looking forward to the forthcoming film 'Made in Dagenham' - the semi-fictionalised account of the Ford women sewing machinists strike in 1968, which was not only important to the women taking part but became symbolic and a test case for the equal pay movement for women, ultimately leading to the Equal Pay Acto of 1970. It seems that the film is not really going to show the issues as they really were, it is all a bit too 'comfortable' and f'r instance the trade union character that Bob Hoskins plays is fictionalised and not at all a portrait of the wonderful Bernie Passingham who was the real union hero of that strike. Similarly the 'lead' female character, Rita, played by Sally Hawkins is a fictionalised being. Perhaps the fact that the film is made by the makers of 'Calendar Girls' gives the clue that it will be more 'feel good' than a true reflection of the political and personal upheavals of the times.

In 1968 the women sewing machinists at Ford on the 'women's rate' [no skilled or unskilled rates for women then, just that one rate] were getting 87% of the 'unskilled male' rate. There was also a 'skilled male' rate. However the sewing machinists job had been judged to be a skilled job. The women's working conditions were also appalling [*See below] After an inquiry ordered by Barbara Castle and led by Jack Scamp [one of many he carried out into the motor industry] the women eventually won their case.

But the end of the film is not the end of the story. In 1984 there was another strike within Ford over 'grading' issues when it was revealed that the male/female pay divide still operated when women were assigned lower grades for jobs that were the equal of higher paid graded jobs for men*.

In 1985 the design of the seat/covers was changed so that they were no longer made in the same way and the women lost their jobs to redundancy or transferred to other jobs elsewhere when production was outsourced [for a lower cost]

Apparently the film has some sweaty love interest which will probably eclipse the realy nitty gritty of the political situation of the time and what the women achieved over and above their own pay increase - i.e. the chance of equal pay for all working women.

Last week The Guardian gave the film a rather poor review which can be read here:
but I cannot resist the following quote from the article:
Nonetheless, this remains a film for knee-jerk feminists and the soft in the head. A promising opportunity has been squandered.

A book containing a lot of info on pay and conditions over the years in Ford is:
Working For Ford by Huw Benyon

*For a good precis of the strike by the women and subsequent 1984 action go to: http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2008/07/14/we-brought-ford-empire-its-knees

Photograph of the women sewing machinists in 1968 courtesy of The Socialist Worker

Saturday, 11 September 2010

September the 11th and a 'Bridge Too Far'

Dedicated to all who have died or suffered as a result of all wars and violence everywhere.

Say the words 'Twin Towers' and most people will remember exactly where they were on September the 11th, 2001 as the news started filtering through about the attack on the Twin Towers in New York. I had just finished teaching the last class of the day in a comprehensive school and was in my office with a colleague when her husband - also a teacher - rushed in and told us about the first attack. We ran down to the staff room just in time to see the second 'plane fly into the second tower and amid silence joined the other staff watching in disbelief. After about 40 minutes I drove home, still in disbelief listening to radio 4. Arrived home, turned the TV on - sitting stunned in front of it - soon joined by Youngest Child [then a teenager]and Other Half who came home early from work on hearing the news. We sat like this for hours - occasionally taking and making 'phone calls when we heard that offices in London had been evacuated/'locked down' to find friends and relatives. An awful night.

Ironically I was teaching history at the time, and this was only the second week of term. I had been doing 'the importance of dates' with the new intake classes and in trying to get them to 'identify' with the whole concept of history being 'built' I would fire dates at them: '1066', '1812', '3rd September 1939'asking if anyone knew what had happened then and would always add in a more recent date. That week for a laugh I had added 8th September 2001 because there had been a big football game on that day and England had won something [for the life of me I can't remember what] The next time I had to teach that lesson, on September the 12th I just couldn't do it in a lighthearted manner. I just told the children that they had witnessed something so momentous and dreadful that they must surely know without any more explanation how history was 'made'.

Why am I talking about this and not paying tribute to those who died or the brave individuals of the emergency services or offering sympathy to the victims and their families? Because all that has to be a given, as my dedication 'headline' should tell you. War and violence are so bad that every day we should all remember all victims if the same mistakes are not to be made again. Teaching history is part of that remembering and just as this month has seen and heard many TV and radio programmes remembering the Blitz of 70 years ago here in the UK, September is also the month of the commemorations in Holland of 'Operation Market Garden', the subject of the book [by Cornelius Ryan] and film A Bridge Too Far about the battle for the bridge at Arnhem in World War Two. My Beloved Uncle [mentioned in the Ryan book] was in this battle, shot, taken prisoner and fortunately survived to tell the tale which his son put into a book so that we could all remember and not forget. If you would like to read more about these commemorations in Holland click on the title above to take you to the link.

Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them.
Bob Dylan

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

What to do?

Does anyone else remember the scene in 'Bambi' when Thumper, quoting his father, says
If you can't say something nice... don't say nothing at all

Well someone I am acquainted with has written something evil on the internet about their relative [no, nothing to do with the Milliband brothers!!] Now, do I tell that relative - a really good friend of mine? Or do I take Thumper's father's advice and 'don't say nothing at all'? My friend already has a low opinion of her relative so probably anything I say can't make her opinion worse but could add to the hurt said relative has already inflicted on her. So I think I will stick to Thumper's advice.

So why am I telling you this story when it seems I have already made a decision? It is because I see a minor parallel between all the spiteful blogs and political memoirs that have been in the news over the past few weeks. Unless it is really in the public interest can't we all stick with Thumper's father's advice? The 'cult of celebrity' that has grown over the past few years seems to think we collectively want to examine the dirty washing of every public figure - do we really?

Monday, 6 September 2010

Who should I vote for?

Well,the question above is really rhetorical as I came to a decision about my vote for the new leader for the Labour Party some time ago. I had changed my mind a couple of times in the early weeks as the nominations were announced but once the hustings started and serious thought was started [and serious discussions across the dining table with Other Half] my choice was really pretty clear. In the end I felt I had to decide the following points [not necessarily in order of priority]:

Who do I believe will be strong enough to carry out his/her ideals?

Who will be the best person to unify the Party?

Who will the electorate [not just the Party membership] trust?

And so I made my choice. My decision for which candidate to vote for Party Treasurer was easily made. Those to select for the National Executive Committee and the National Policy Forum and NPF youth candidates as always took a bit longer as there were some 'new' names in the list from whom to select - but there again it was easier than usual as there were some friends and acquaintances amongst these names which made the choice easier than I expected!

The ballot is secret and my votes are sealed in the envelope and ready to post. For the 'big one' the only clue I will give is that I have voted for someone called Ed who hasn't got a brother standing for election as well.

And no the above photograph is not at some mass demonstration. It is of me - somewhere in that crowd, somewhere in the West, sometime in August - being awfully silly and doing the 'Hokey Cokey'. Life is also for having fun, not always worrying about the big things!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Political memoirs and disquieting rumours

I feel as if I am the only person who really does not care whether or not William Hague is gay, straight or bi-sexual. On the other hand I do think it is desperately sad that he felt he had to reveal the private tragedy of his and Ffion's struggle to have a family in order to help put an end to the disquieting rumours about his private life.

Whilst of course public figures should know that their private lives will always be under public scrutinty, the sort of prurience that means that really personal stuff should be laid bare is horrible. One remembers the paparazzi trying to get 'good shots' of Gordon and Sarah Brown leaving hospital after the death of their first child, Jennifer, who was born prematurely. Surely the public don't really want to witness such private grief and should collectively boycott media showing such intrusive pictures - maybe then the editors would get the message and not send out the 'snappers' to intrude at such times.

Onto the publication of political memoirs - not such a big leap really....

Having listened to the various precis and reviews of Tony Blair's memoirs I really do not think I will be rushing out to buy them even though the profits are going to charity. I will wait until the book appears in a charity shop and benefit charity in that way. One political memoir that does sound quite interesting is the second volume of Chris Mullin's diaries [Mullin is of course the former Labour MP for Sunderland South]
Decline and Fall: Diaries 2005-2010
This is currently being serialised on BBC radio 4 and although obviously abridged is very entertaining. Maybe because Mullin is a journalist and author - his previous books include the first volume of his diaries, "A View From the Foothills" He was also the writer of the book and TV thriller, "A Very British Coup". As he was a minister in three departments there is quite a lot of name dropping for the interested!

Arrived home from the West yesterday to find my ballot papers for the Labour leadership on the doormat. Will fill them in and return forwith. And today my birthday present from all my children arrived - a Kindle. I am looking forward to playing with this, I already have a Sony e-Reader which is a means of transporting lots of books about ina small space and also helps with my neuro problems and the Kindle has lots of extra features too...

And now that I am home and can add photographs again to this blog here is one of myself looking contemplative across Bridgwater Bay!

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Forever Young

Sleep Gently, Robbie. 1st September 1985

"Forever Young"

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

Bob Dylan

[Click on title for a link to a YouTube cover]