"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/

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.