"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/

Thursday, 29 December 2011


Prejudice (or foredeeming) is making a judgment or assumption about someone or something before having enough knowledge to be able to do so with guaranteed accuracy, or "judging a book by its cover". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prejudice

There I was, not minding my own business, but having a bit of a discussion on a blog which I had never visited before but which was up and running on a subject in which I was interested. Not politics for once [well it is the holiday season] and definitely nothing to do with religion [even though it is the holiday season]

OK, so in these sort of discussions participants can get very, shall we say, heated. After all as a wise man once said - over a hundred years ago - "it is difference of opinion that makes horse races"* And even on my favourite discussion site there are occasional flaming 'offences' and name calling.

But suddenly one of my comments was answered with one which went along the lines of 'well you would think that because you are a Lefty Christian'. I couldn't really see the relevance of my political and religious views to the subject under discussion - and said so - and added that if the term was meant as an insult I didn't take it as one. And since the commentator had obviously visited this blog site and looked at my profile to find out those facts, the 'problem' probably laid with him/her.

Thereafter whatever I said on the subject was dismissed with 'well you would say that wouldn't you', by more than one commentator. [We were discussing gender choices in children's toys on which I did some research years ago, see: http://rephidimstreet.blogspot.com/2011/11/danger-or-not-of-gender-stereotyping-in.html ]

The whole episode is laughable - BUT! There is an arrant prejudice displayed here. If my profile on here had displayed an ethnicity and my arguments were dismissed because of that ethnicity surely others would have deplored the racism displayed? If I had said 'God [or Marx!] wants me to tell you that.....' maybe that would have been a reason for others to say 'well you would say that wouldn't you?' But just because I happen to be a Socialist and a Christian does that make all my views inadmissible? Within political and religious gatherings does no-one think I never express my own views and never argue. OK so you don't all know me personally, but believe me I am just as argumentative in real life as in cyber life!

I have said before that probably the most prejudice that I have come across in my life is due to my avowed Pacifism. I am used to that and have defended it on here on more than one occasion [bit of an oxymoron there!]

So a bit of a rambling blog for the last one of the year. I would love to have some other views on this subject but will wish you all a Happy New Year and may all your hopes and dreams come true.

*Mark Twain: Pudd'nhead Wilson, 1894
Photograph courtesy of youthvoices.net

Monday, 12 December 2011

Christmas Round Robin

Yes, it is that time of year again - the much derided ‘Round Robin’ Christmas letter time! Actually I love hearing everyone's news and hope others don’t mind getting mine that way. Each year we all promise to contact each other in the New Year in our 'Round Robins' but inevitably life intervenes and I at least find myself apologising yet again for letting time slip by. But at least once year many of us do manage to contact each other through this much maligned medium.

I am also saving money on postage again and will be sending some of mine by email to our lovely friends and relatives outside the UK. The money saved will be sent as usual to charity, although to a different one this year. We are still supporting the wonderful charity MAMAA in memory of a dear cousin but this Christmas we are sending money to the Special Care Baby Unit at St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey. Thanks to the unit, Youngest Daughter and Fiance have a beautiful baby girl who was born at St Peter’s in April and YD wants to raise some money for the Unit. Thanks to St Peter’s too for restoring YD to health as she was very ill too.

The rest of my Round Robin just contains odd news about things which should interest old friends and family. No political rants, I save them for blogs and twitter! I eagerly await the Round Robins from the family and friends and love getting Christmas Cards and Holiday Greetings. To all those who say what is the point of remembering others just once a year - that is the point! We remember others often but once a year we show them that we care! Often when I am writing out the Christmas cards I will pick up the 'phone and call someone. Or I may glance at a name that has been crossed from the address book because that person has gone to a better place, but their memory is still fresh in my mind. So rather than dismiss the notion of 'Round Robins', cherish them. That is what this time of year is also about. Remembering friends and family. And giving thanks.

The picture of the [Round!] Robin is courtesy of the rspb.org.uk There are many Christmas legends about Robins: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Robin scroll down to: 'Cultural depictions'. However one of my favourite 'robin legends' is the notion that the robin is really a soul that has passed on who is returning to re-visit its earthly home/relatives. Another link with Christmas legends.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

November 30th

Today is the anniversary of lots of things including St Andrew's Day [Patron Saint of Scotland]; the author Mark Twain was born in 1835; Winston Churchill, war time British Prime Minister, was born in 1874.

But this year there is a different meaning to the day. Many public sector workers are holding a day of action today and are on strike because of what they see as an attack on their pensions by this government.

The government claim that the taxpayer cannot afford to pay the promised public sector pensions. Why don't the government admit that these pensions are not 'privileges' but deferred wages that have been negotiated in wage deals over the years? Surely the government wouldn't dare ask for a cut in wages [yet] but in effect that is what they are doing with this pensions 'scam'.

David Cameron claims [in his usual bullying tone] that these individuals have played into his hands. One of my friends who is on strike today has written this. And a big thank you to him for letting me publish it here. Please read it and decide who is right. I know who I am behind and it is not Mr Cameron.
I am on strike today. I do not want to be on strike. I have not been told to go on strike by my trade union. I have made an intelligent decision based on the information available. I purchased a product when I joined the local government pension scheme, which at that time was sold to me as 'it cannot change & is enshrined in law'. I am now being told that due to changing circumstances, the terms of my pension are to be torn up before my eyes, and that I will have to
1: Pay more in contributions, as much as £50/60 per month, when in the last 12 months my post at work has seen salary reduced by £5000 & I have not received a cost of living pay rise for 3 years.
2: Receive a large amount less than the frankly modest pension I am currently due.
3: Have the possibility of any early retirement removed
4: If I don't like the changes being made to my pension, sold as 'enshrined in law', then I cannot have my own contributions back, they are keeping them!!!

One word - NO!!!

Please do not cross picket lines. Solidarity to all those on strike and thank you for all the work you do every day for poor pay and conditions. You deserve to have the promises made to you in the past fulfilled.

Photograph courtesy of the http://www.unison.org.uk/n30/

Monday, 28 November 2011

Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" and its relevance today

I want to look at A Christmas Carol from a different, less literary perspective to the usual discussions at this time of year. I want also to look at it’s impact on society and popular culture from it’s ‘birth’ and its relevance to the present day.Very many people may not have read Dickens’ story but ‘know it’ never the less, either from one of the many film adaptations or from hearing the story read somewhere. It has never been out of print since it was first published in December 1843. So many names, phrases and ideas from the story - and remember it is not much more than a long ‘short story’ - are in every day parlance and our collective consciousness: “Bah humbug!”; “God Bless Us Everyone”; “Marley’s Dead”; Scrooge; Tiny Tim; The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future; Bob Cratchit and more....

Why has it been around for 164 years and is still going strong? There have been many theatre and film dramatisations and it can be seen in children’s cartoons as well as in ‘serious’ dramatic versions. At Christmas time every year there are new lovely children's versions produced and every couple of years a new film version seems to arrive.
Dickens manages to create believable characters, communities and families in this shortish story. Because it is a shortish story and although he does not have time to ‘build’ on these characters, it was no mean feat to have produced such a memorable tale in such a short piece of writing. Perhaps it was Dickens’ journalistic training that gave him the tools to produce this story, perhaps it was because he had a passion for the story and the message he wanted to spread? You decide. It may be appropriate to ask what were Dickens aims and objectives when writing A Christmas Carol. What do we think they might have been? Possibly to make money? Sell his magazine? Change society by getting a message across? Or a mixture of these?

Well, he probably had several reasons, some altruistic, some financial. Dickens was not having a good time financially, he was half way through the serialization publication of Martin Chuzzlewit, which was selling badly and he was consequently being threatened by his publishers with a reduction in finances. At home, his fifth child was on the way and Dickens needed money! So the idea of publishing and selling a Christmas tale to boost his finances was obviously a very good idea!
However Dickens had been shocked by the Royal Commissionon on the working of the Cornish Tin Mines and was worried about the employment of children and had been preparing to write an article on this. Also in October 1843 Dickens had been fund raising for the Manchester poor and possibly the idea for the story had begun to ‘grow’ then. Dickens had stayed with his older sister Fan (Mrs Henry Burnett), who had a young son who was frail and disabled. Dickens shared a platform with Disraeli and Cobden, and spoke about Ragged Schools which he had visited during the previous month. So the idea of writing a story which illustrated the plight of the poorer part of contemporary society to highlight the need for social reform must have also been an important motive for Dickens.

Dickens took sole control [printing, arranging the illustrating etc] of his Christmas story to maximize profits but was so eager for it to ‘look good’ that he did not gain the profits he had hoped. The story was ‘pirated’ [a dramatic version from a pirate copy was staged within a couple of months!] and although he took offenders to court the legal fees ate up monies he had made from the high book sales. But there was an excellent long term effect because A Christmas Carol helped bring Dickens’ work back to popularity and set a ‘trend’ for Christmas stories and – more importantly – certainly caused a pricking of the national conscious!

Looking at the story in the context of the times that it was written explains some of the devices Dickens employs in his work. For instance there are references to the Industrial Revolution in the chains that surround Marley’s ghost. The exploitation of the poor [and especially children] such as the Cornish Tin Miners can be seen with the street urchins and the beggars and the children of Christmas Present: Ignorance and Want. The fact that the two gentleman are taking up ‘subscriptions’ for the ‘Poor and Destitute’ shows the 19th century Patriarchal Society in full flow, and the thought of the ‘deserving poor’ is not far behind. Scrooge mentioning the Treadmill, Workhouses and the ‘Surplus Population’ reference current political theories such as those of Malthus and Bentham.

There are many misconceptions about the book - almost as many as there are film adaptations!:
  • Scrooge is a miser: Although his name has almost become synonymous for a miser he is not, although Scrooge could be described as mean when he will not give to the charitable gentlemen. But is he even mean when looked at in his contemporary context? He is an upholder of the Protestant Work Ethic and believes in many of the values of his contemporary society including the workhouses and jails and Malthus’ theory regarding surplus population. So according to the times was he really so unusual? We don’t get a description of how Scrooge is dressed, apart from him changing into his dressing gown and night clothes. But he is often portrayed in shabby clothes as befits his miser status. Dickens left a lot to the readers’ imagination and over the years we have all built up ‘pictures’ and ‘memories’ that may owe more to the films we have seen. The patriarchal system Scrooge supports as the story opens worked quite well *if* the patriarchs were sympathetic enough, and sometimes it seems as if our present government would like to return to this with David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ for example. Is this Dickens’ intention – to remind the rich that they must be more generous with the poor? If so perhaps Scrooge is meant to equal the emerging middle classes? He is a ‘self made man’ - the hero of 19th century capitalism! Just because he went to boarding school in those times does not mean his father was rich. Scrooge’s first job was as a ‘humble’ clerk to Mr Fezziwig, so Scrooge knows the value of money and wants to retain his own. But what he does not seem to realize – and perhaps this is what the ghosts are truly showing him – is what good his money can do for others rather than remaining in his 'hoard'. What he considers a good wage for Bob Cratchit would be a good wage for a single man like Scrooge but not for a family man like Bob. And the ghosts are also showing Scrooge that although Scrooge is acting like a good early Victorian man of business, paying his rates and taxes and believing in ideals like ‘surplus population’ and the workhouse, when he sees the realities of this – that Tiny Tim could be considered ‘surplus population’ - statistics translated to flesh and blood make the reality something very different. Something a lot of our present cabinet need to think about? And when Scrooge sees the advantages of a family life, at the Cratchit home, at his nephew’s home and at all the poor but happy homes to which the Ghost of Christmas Present takes him, he realizes that his money can perhaps be spread a little further. He realizes – courtesy of the Ghost of Christmas yet to come that he will not be able to take his money into the grave with him and all that will live on will be the memory of him – and it would be better for people to have a happy memory of him than to be happy that he is dead. He does not want the only emotion shown at his death to be the happiness of the family that are not now to be evicted. This reaction to Scrooge’s death is contrasted with the genuine grief of others to Tiny Tim’s death.
  • The novel is overly sentimental and miserable: Many people on first reading this story are really surprised at the tone, how light and humorous it is. They just don’t expect to laugh. There are pathetic and sentimental parts – especially about Tiny Tim – but again Dickens knew his reading public and knew when to ‘lay it on thick’ and when not to. To me the ‘heaviest part’ is at the end of the story of the Ghost of Christmas Present and the appearance of Want and Ignorance and again Dickens knew when to push his message home.
  • The novel is about the very poor: Is it? We do not see them often, when the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge around the world to see how others are spending Christmas he does go through Almshouses, Hospitals and Jails. But the main characters like the Cratchits are not very poor. They are on the brink of poverty but Bob - although poorly paid - has a job. The lack of sufficient money was probably contributing to Tiny Tim’s illness. Dickens is encouraging employers to pay their employees fairly. Only the pleas of labour ‘agitators’ today? Dickens also points out that Christmas Day is not a statutory holiday and was only at this time granted as a favour. Statutory holidays were still in the future for a lot of workers. Dickens would purposefully not have written too obviously against the employers, knowing that most of the readership of his books came from the middle classes and not wanting to alienate them. The most important ‘poor’ that he shows are the children: Ignorance and Want:
"Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, “but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?”
“It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,” was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. “Look here.”
From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.
“Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost.
They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.
Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.
“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.
“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!”
“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”
The bell struck twelve.
  • Dickens invented Christmas: There were plenty of previous ‘literary Christmases’ to prove that it was celebrated before Dickens got his writing hands on it! Walter Scott’s Marmion [1808], Jane Austen’s Emma [1815] or the Christmas of the 1830s as described in George Eliot’s Silas Marner. However what Dickens does perhaps is to ‘reclaim’ Christmas from the rich for the poorer classes – instead of telling the reader about the rich in their country house holiday type Christmas parties he tells instead of those like Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s nephew Fred and more importantly those that the Ghost of Christmas Present [aka Father Christmas] takes Scrooge to see, from the Cornish Tin Miners, to the sailors at sea and the ‘ordinary’ people in the streets who have one day to celebrate and then back to work.
  • There is a lot of religion in the novel: Well, the first ‘mention’ of religion in the novel appears when the Spirit of Christmas Present and Scrooge see people going to church on Christmas Day. Of course Bob and Tiny Tim go to Church, but not the whole family, which is interesting in itself. In fact Dickens has a ‘go’ at those who use ‘religion’ to inflict greater suffering on the poor when he is out with the Spirit of Christmas Present:
‘Spirit,’ said Scrooge, after a moment’s thought, ‘I wonder you, of all the beings in the many worlds about us, should desire to cramp these people’s opportunities of innocent enjoyment.’
I?’ cried the Spirit.
‘ You would deprive them of their means of dining every seventh day, often the only day on which they can be said to dine at all,’ said Scrooge. ‘Wouldn’t you?’‘I?’ cried the Spirit.
‘You seek to close these places on the Seventh Day,’ said Scrooge. ‘And it comes to the same thing!’‘I seek?’ exclaimed the Spirit.
‘Forgive me if I am wrong. It has been done in your name, or at least in that of your family,’ said Scrooge.
‘There are some upon this earth of yours,’ returned the Spirit, ‘who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill–will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.’
This passage is relevant to the present day because the Spirit is telling Scrooge that those who are ‘interpreting’ religion are twisting it to suit their own ideas. Still happens, sadly.
  • Dickens invented the ‘Telling Ghost Stories on Christmas Eve tradition: Certainly Dickens invented the idea/tradition of a Christmas story/edition for his magazines – a sure fire way to make money as evidenced by the runaway success of A Christmas Carol. but the idea of telling Ghost Stories on Christmas Eve goes back possibly to pagan times with the whole idea of Christmas being annexed by the Christian Church from the pagan festivials of Saturnalia and feasts for the Winter Solistice etc. Throughout Northern Europe there were traditions that the family ghosts returned at Christmas time to share the festival with their living relatives.
The Ghosts: my intrepretations!
  • The Ghost of Christmas Past: Sounds somewhat like a candle which at the end their ‘trip’ together Scrooge snuffs out. It was a Christmas custom to light a candle on Christmas eve. This Spirit shows the reader the reason that Scrooge acts as he does but does not excuse him for those actions’'
  • The Ghost of Christmas Present: A representation of Father Christmas. Our red faced, jolly ‘Santa’ dressed in red robes trimmed with white fur is actually an invention of the Coca Cola company. Victorian Father Christmases were dressed in any colour robes but often green as a hang over from the ‘Green Man’ legend and very early celebrations. This ghost shows Scrooge what he is missing by his actions but also offers a warning in the shape of the two children: Ignorance and Want – Dickens’ warning to the reading public about the effects of the squalid conditions of the Industrial Revolution and Growing Capitalist Society could have on the very poor.
  • The Ghost of Christmas Future: Sound more like the Grim Reaper? And in fact he foretells Scrooge’s unmourned and lonely death. So he foretells the consequences of Scooge’s actions unless he changes. Perhaps he also symbolises one’s conscience catching up with one at the end....

There are other theories such as Freudian: The Id, the Super Id and the Ego: Regina Barreca[1] links the three spirits to the Freudian dimensions of personality, “the Spirit of Christmas Past . . . with Scrooge’s id impulses (the emotional, irrational child – ‘I want it and I want it all now’), the Spirit of Christmas Present with his ego [Ego too strong = extremely rational and efficient, but cold, boring and distant ]. . . and the Spirit of Christmas Yet-to-Come with his super-ego (to imagine the effects of his actions on himself and others. The Superego is the last part of the mind to develop. It might be called the moral part of the mind. . . .)”

Has the book made any difference within society? After we have read the book we may understand why Scrooge became like he did pre Ghost visits – but not excuse him. Can A Christmas Carol be read on two levels? On one level as almost a fairy tale about a rich, selfish man who eats the wrong sort of supper, has a nightmare which is real enough to make him realise that he is wasting his life and the riches he is amassing and could lead a better and happier one helping others and when he wakes he does. The other level is a deeper warning about how laissez faire economics can eat away at society from within and whilst killing off ‘expendable parts’ in the form of ‘surplus population’ something more precious and vibrant – happiness and innocence – will also be lost unless the selfish giant [to borrow from the future yet to come, Oscar Wilde] becomes less selfish a sterile and unloving, uncaring society will develop. Is this the reason that the story is still popular – because deep down we all know that we cannot afford to forget it? Charity is not just good for those who receive it, it is good for the giver too? Are there lessons there still for all of us and for our present government?

The biggest ongoing lesson, and one we should never forget are the two children, Want and Ignorance. They are pictured above, a little 'statuette' which I bought in Glastonbury. Those children constantly remind us that if the children of the world are allowed to grow up surrounded by Want and Ignorance we are - in the words of Private Frazer - all doomed. As a Christmas Wish: "Please do not let this happen".

My twin Clarice has written a literary appreciation of A Christmas Carol here: http://villiersroad.blogspot.com/2011/11/christmas-carol.html

[1] Professor of English Literature and feminist theory at the University of Connecticut

Friday, 11 November 2011

My Remembrance

Last year I wrote a blog for Remembrance Day which was picked up by another, far better blog than mine and caused a bit of discussion. As usual, whenever I state that I am a pacifist, a lot of the comments were very aggressive and some commentators almost seemed to want to wilfully misunderstand my reasonings. Fair enough, their privilege.

So this year I thought I would celebrate publically all those whom I personally remember each Armistice Day as well as all the other days throughout the year.

My Welsh Grandfather, who was so badly injured in the First World War, during the campaign in the Dardanelles, that he was invalided out of the army. This was after being posted as missing for many months and my Grandmother believed he was dead. He was awarded the Silver War Badge at the time, which given those honourably discharged due to wounds or sickness. This was to be worn on 'civvies'only, so that those wearing them would not be presented with a white feather [I daren't comment on the practice of presenting white feathers, you will understand why, I hope...] Also remembering all Granfa's brothers, friends and military comrades.

My English Grandfather, who served in the First World War at Ypres ['Wipers'] as well as other platforms of war. he became a member of the Fleet Air Arm and finished the war as a member of fledgling RAF. He came home physically unscathed but emotionally scarred, like so many. Also remembering all Granfer's brothers, brothers-in-law, friends and military comrades.

My English Grandmother, who worked in a munitions factor during the First World War whilst her husband served in France, whose wages plus his pay were not enough to keep her and her son and led a strike for better pay for munitions workers - and won. And all her sisters and friends who did similar, ill paid war work but were not celebrated. And were so debilitated at the end of the war that many died of Spanish 'flu.

Other Half's Grandfather who wanted desperately to become a regular soldier and tried to enlist as soon as WW1 started but was turned down on ‘Health Grounds’. In 1916, when the heavy losses were beginning to decimate the pool from which the military could recruit, standards in physical fitness, health and height were relaxed and Grandfather-in-law was allowed to join up. He stayed in the army after the end of the war, was in the Guards and eventually qualified to become a Chelsea Pensioner.

All those family friends who were members of the International Brigade in Spain in 1936. Often forgotten. And all the displaced persons, many of them children who were refugees and lived with so many East End families.

My Uncle who was a Chindet in Burma in the Second World War and suffered recurring bouts of malaria all his life.

My Uncle [happily still with us] with a few physical scars but whose nerves were shattered by his experiences at the Battle of Arnhem in the Second World War. All those young men who were in the cementary in Arnhem when we visited in an attempt to find my Uncle's lieutenant.

All my Uncles and their cousins and comrades who served in the Second World War and their wives who kept the homes and families going.

My mother and father who were Conscientious Objectors in the Second World War but worked for others and helped where ever they could.

My father-in-law and all his brothers who could never talk about their service in the Second World War as their emotions ran too deep to express.

Other Half's Uncle who died in Belgium in the Second World War, and his brother-in-law and his brother who died the same week.

My friend's father who was in the Luftwaffe and shot down over England in the Second World War. Aged nineteen, he never wanted to fight and loved England.

All the nationalities of all the young and older men and women who have ever died in the name of whatever 'justice' is the current 'ideal'.

All those 'innocent' civilians affected by all conflicts.

My twin sister has put a poem by Siegfried Sassoon on her blog today:

photograph courtesy of www.peacemuseum.org.uk

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The danger [or not] of gender stereotyping in toys

I posted a comment on an interesting blog by Delilah

She was incensed because when she visited Hamleys in Regent Street, London recently she found that the boys and girls toys were 'segregated' and situated on completely different floors of the very large department store. Delilah objects to this stereotyping of children's toys and hence the reason for her blog, Hamleys toy shop promotes gender apartheid

As this is a subject in which I have an interest - and as Christmas is coming and an awful lot of toys will be bought and discarded in the next few months I thought I would share my thoughts!

Before you read my comment, please do not think I am in favour of gender segregation in toy shops! I would hate to think that girls were not allowed the opportunity to peruse or to play with exciting things like chemistry sets, and likewise that boys could not have the excitement of learning how to cook. Since I cannot perform chemical experiments or produce a reasonable meal I honestly will say neither is due to lack of opportunity educationally or socially-with-play-opportunities, simply I am just very heavily inept when it comes to weighing out any sort of ingredients....

However I would like to point out that I was as surprised as anyone when, in my second year at university, my own sociological research overturned my long held hypothesis that children did not have an inbuilt gender prejudice when choosing their playthings. As a mother of three young children I was convinced that we as a society 'socialised' our children into demanding gender stereotypical toys by our either influencing or applauding their choices ["Yes Maisie darling, I am sure you would *love* to have Miss Betty's Hair Salon for Christmas whilst your strong big brother Oliver has a woodwork set capable of building a replica of Stonehenge in Oak" type of thing]

In my research and after a lot of observation and note taking at various nursery schools and early play scheme areas I realised that at first babies and toddlers played with whatever was placed in front of them, regardless of gender. But by about three the little ones seemed to generally congregate into single sex gender groups and migrate to certain single sex activities: girls to the more domestic toys like 'pretend' home making skills, doll dressing etc and boys to the building bricks and toy cars. Actually this quite horrified me. Girls also seemed to be more attracted to bright,'pretty, colours when at the dressing up box - wanting to look 'beautiful' with boys rushing about imitating anyone grown-up who could rush about, basically, like a fireman or policeman.

I had previously subscribed to the theory that if a young child played with toys like building bricks it would help develop their mathematical skills in later life so had made sure that my elder two children had plenty of the old fashioned red, blue, yellow and green 'Lego' type 'opportunities'. But my eldest daughter heartily disliked such toys and had to work really hard to suceed at Maths whilst my son would play with such toys with deep absorption and was actually later found Maths an easy subject, and did very well at it. At the time of my research my youngest daughter was just coming up to the 'Lego age', so I rushed out and bought her a set of pink Lego [including a Lego hairdressing salon I believe!] hoping that the pink colour and 'domestic' subjects in the pink boxes would attract her [BTW Lego had had a lot of criticism when they introduced such a gender stereotypical collection as a pink collection 'for girls'. Me included]

Well anyway, youngest daughter loved pink Lego, played with it non-stop and was a whizz at Maths in later school life, turning out near the top of the school mathetmatics-wise and now using those skills in sales and marketing. May just be a coincidence and she would have been good at maths anyway, but I like to think my sociological research helped! And btw youngest daughter is now nagging me have I kept her sets of Lego for her 6 month old daughter. [Yes!]

So a little bit of gender stereotyping can be helpful when raising children and buying toys although nothing replaces common sense....

Monday, 31 October 2011

Happy Hallowe'en/Samhain Greetings

As I have said before, I do love an excuse for a party/celebration. If there is a chance that I can dress up in fancy dress and act silly, all the better. So Hallowe'en/Samhain is a lovely chance for me to have fun...

Hallowe'en - or to give it its proper title All Hallow's Eve - is a Christian Festival. As with many Celtic or Pagan festivals, the early Christian Church 'adopted' an early Celtic/Gaelic festival, Samhain, which celebrated the end of harvest and also to some extent the advent of the darker, winter months.

[Samhain has been 'readopted' and 'rejuvenated' by other pagan and wiccan movements in this century and these can also be read about on the above Samhain link]

All Hallow's Eve is the night before the Christian festival of All Saints [the 'Hallowed'] Day. The following day is All Soul's Day - the festival of the 'Faithful Departed'

Like other Christian festivals - Christmas and Easter - the 'religious' bit has been largely forgotten and the celebrations and fun have taken over. However every year Hallowe'en gets lots of bad press with not all trick or treaters behaving well and commentators suggesting that those who do behave well but dress up in witch or ghoul costumes are celebrating the black magic or practising devil worship. Obviously such commentators haven't read my links....

I think that apart from the innocent fun that can be had on Hallowe'en [and yes Other Half and I do dress up and go and trick or treat our grandchildren whether they want us to or not. But breaking with tradition we take sweets for them!] the nicest thing about these few days is remembering on All Soul's Day all those we love who have departed from this life. Of course we remember them all year, but an extra thought or so on that day is always good.

I thought you might like to see a photo of my teddy dressed for tonight's fun. He looks much more handsome in his fancy dress than I... So wishing everyone a Happy Hallowe'en/sending Samhain Greetings and remembering all those who have departed.

Friday, 21 October 2011

The Legacy of Dale Farm

Well most of the fighting and violence is over. At Dale Farm anyway, but the basic problems still remain. Plus additional problems engendered by the events of the past few weeks.

Mention of the fact that one lives not far from Dale Farm to anyone living elsewhere in the country and the other person has a definite view on the events of the past few months/years. Sometimes that view is obviously coloured by which newspaper the individual reads. The orator will tell me they are very knowledgeable about the history/geography/social make-up of the area - despite the fact that it is only a very few miles away from where I am typing this and have lived for over forty years and I possibly know a little bit more about it.

It seems that prejudices do seem to abound - for and against the travelling community. And for against Basildon Council which happens to be Conservative, not my favourite political colour it is true but a council that has changed hue over the years that this problem has been ongoing and has had to deal with changing national laws as well as the local issue. And for and against those who arrived at Dale Farm and actively supported the Irish travellers who were living at the 'illegal' part of the Dale Farm settlement. These protestors/supporters were variously called amongst other labels 'activists' or 'anarchists' according to which media source is being followed.

The local newspaper to the Dale Farm has published over the past few months lots of facts and figures about the history of the dispute which can be found by searching the archives. Possibly these articles give the clearest, most disinterested account of how the situation arose as presumably they have been double and treble checked by the paper's legal team. [I have had stories checked by that legal team and can tell you they are good!]

The awful press photographs and media filming of the violence of Wednesday's eviction process were not a surprise to local people. The travellers had been threatening such violence for a long time. However I certainly wonder whether those threats were purely from desperation on the travellers part and would not have been enacted if it had not been for the glare of publicity plus the assistance of some of the more pro-active protestors and supporters. There were plenty of peaceful protestors and travellers on site who sadly did not seem to attract the same attention from the cameras.

So the legacy? Well it would seem that a lot of people have had their prejudices about travellers confirmed and entrenched. This is very sad for the travelling community as a whole, most of whom around the country integrate well with their surrounding communities. Basildon council is facing massive bills and a lot of censure for their handling of the long running legal process. Various 'bodies' have become involved and various accusations - like 'ethnic cleansing' - hurled about which will take a long time to settle. Any campaigner with any sort of cause will be labelled as a trouble maker 'like those at Dale Farm' - ignoring the fact that the peaceful protestors and the peaceful travellers did not cause any hurt or harm to the police, baliffs or anyone else.

Wednesday was a very sad day to be in this part of Essex. Parts of our main roads could not be negotiated, helicopters were circling constantly overhead [police and media] and watching the fires burning and the rhetoric from both sides at Dale Farm on the TV screen juxtaposed with news reports of similar scenes from Greece was depressing. Essex is a nice, friendly county - honestly.

Nobody 'won'. Civilisation regressed a bit. Where communities can't or won't integrate everyone loses. Magnify this and we have wars.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Antiwar Mass Assembly, October 8th

We joined thousands of others at the Antiwar Mass Assembly in Trafalgar Square on Saturday. There is always a warm feeling when surrounded by like-minded comrades although even pacifists were surprisingly calm when I misjudged handling of my 'Stop the War' placard.

It was good to bump into friends who had made the same pilgrimage [although by different tube routes] from our village, and hear other friends speak and sing. The speeches from the 'platform' were many and inspiring. Each speaker was allowed two minutes: Brian Eno read out a list of things upon which the money the war is costing could be better spent. Eno's two minutes was up before his list was finished. Lots of other inspiring speakers including Joe Glenton and Hetty Bower, aged 106.

Hetty has led many peace marches and led the march later in the day to Downing Street. Addressing the assembly in Trafalgar Square she told how she could remember how, at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 when she was aged nine, she could remember her father saying [and I am mis-quoting from a bad memory!] 'the first casualty will be truth'.

It was sad that our gathering was to mark the anniversary of our ten years of intervention in Afghanistan. How much better it would have been to have been celebrating ten years of world Peace. Or one hundred years. Or more. We can only work for this together by being and staying together.

Below is a snippet of my mate Roy Bailey, who appeared with Tony Benn, singing 'I Ain't Afraid' by Holly Near

The photograph top right was one of the many memorials to those killed in the war around the Square. It shows an art work [for a clearer image of the words, click here ] by the fabulous Robert Montgomery To see another memorial go to Elizannie's sister blog Clarice's Book Room

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

And Ordered Their Estate

I have been enjoying our Indian Summer for the past week or so, roasting in the tropical temperatures on our West Country cliff top camp site. Unfortunately the tropical temperatures meant that broadband and mobile 'phone signals were frazzled so I couldn't comment on the Labour Party conference although I watched it as much as I needed.

This week, back in the South East, I have tried to avoid watching the Conservative Party conference. Especially after Theresa May's piece yesterday of what I initially thought was a stand up comedy routine, but realised was in actual fact sheer ignorance and prejudice. She involved an illegal immigrant, deportation and a cat - you know what I am talking about I am sure. If not, click on the link.

However, listening to the prognostications of the Conservative politicians this week, and to a lesser extent some of the younger Labour politicians last week, I thought back over all the conferences I have 'listened in to' over the years. I can remember being told that I was too stuck in the mud and things would never go back to what they were, politically, and I was worrying unnecessarily, hanging on to old ideals... I was too firmly left wing and 'Old Labour', I was told around 15 years ago - nobody would try and destroy the Welfare State. Nobody would stand for it. Well we all know that story about 'Nobody'[see below*] and should take heed of it...

Now we have a government here in the UK who seem intent on destroying the NHS [yet David Cameron's election quote was 'We are the party of the NHS'] and taking away any benefit it can from the poorest and most dispossessed in our communities whilst preserving low taxes and large bonuses etc for the highest earners. Our government seen to believe in very 19thC ideals such as those Mrs Alexander expressed in her 1848 hymn:
The Rich Man in his Castle
The Poor Man at his Gate
God made them High & Lowly
And Ordered their estate

[The original third verse of the poem All Things Bright and Beautiful. Now ommitted from most Church Hymn books by popular demand...] When the hymn was sung in the past including that verse I always felt it sounded like the Conservative Party at prayer and refused to sing it, much to the embarrassment of The Children.

And now to redress the balance, Eldest Daughter's favourite hymn:

They Who Tread the Path of Labour
They who tread the path of labour follow where My feet have trod;
They who work without complaining, do the holy will of God;
Nevermore thou needest seek me; I am with thee everywhere;
Raise the stone, and thou shalt find Me, cleave the wood and I am there.

Where the many toil together, there am I among My own;
Where the tired workman sleepeth, there am I with him alone:
I, the Peace that passeth knowledge, dwell amid the daily strife;
I, the Bread of Heav'n am broken in the sacrement of life.

Every task, however simple, sets the soul that does it free;
Every deed of love and mercy, done to man is done to Me.
Nevermore thou needest seek me; I am with thee everywhere;
Raise the stone, and thou shalt find Me; cleave the wood, and I am there.

Henry Van Dyke

Now those are Socialist ideals to be proud of! I am not sure of the tune name, can't find my Socialist hymn book to check right now but maybe my friends at CSM will know?

In other news I am surprisingly happy with my photo for my bus pass. Yet rather shocked that when we were shopping in Glastonbury last week, along with our normal 'ethnic' and 'alternative' shopping we somehow managed to also buy a vacuum cleaner and a lavatory seat. Does this mean we are growing-up at last? Our Children do not seem to agree.

*This is a story about four people: Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.
There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it.
Everybody was sure Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job.
Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it.
It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when actually Nobody asked Anybody.

The photograph : 'Well Met in Glastonbury'. Just because.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Dale Farm

I have been reluctant to write about Dale Farm. Not like me at all, usually with an opinion on everything and an open mouth to match, you say. So why have I been silent on this topic?

Firstly, let me say I have no axe to grind about Travellers, Roma, or any individuals who live outside the 'normally accepted' housing 'standards'. I agree that empty houses should provide homes for the homeless rather than be left deteroriating for years accumlating value for greedy individuals who do not need the capital they have expended. But those who move into an empty dwelling whilst the owners are on holiday and whom it takes months to remove via the courts are a completely different case and law breakers to boot. I also agree that local councils should make provisions as the law demands for traveller sites.

I live in the same county as Dale Farm, not near enough to be affected by the inhabitants so please don't accuse me of being a NIMBY. I don't have friends or relatives in the neighbouring villages/towns to Dale Farm and I don't think I know anyone who teaches in the local schools. I have taught in schools where there were traveller children [not from Dale Farm] and I have certificates to say that I have undertaken and passed the relevant Traveller awareness courses.

I abhor any form of discrimination: be it on the grounds of ethnicity; religion; social culture; gender choices; educational attainments; political leanings. I have marched and lobbied for civil rights. Yet this situation has seen me until this week quite silent on the issue, although reading and watching much of the media coverage. Clever manipulation by the latter of fact on both sides has made me feel - for once - that whatever I say could so easily be misrepresented that I really have hung back. I have read and heard politicians across party lines saying and doing things with which I agree and disagree, celebrities who seem to know little of the real facts making rather silly statements and others making really cogent comments. I have seen organisations I respect and to which I belong drawing what I consider most odd conclusions. I totally abhor the amount of money [estimated at £18million] which it is going to cost to carry out the process of the law by evicting the Dale Farm Travellers from the illegal site] but surely cost along should not stop the process? Sadly that has never been an argument accepted for the country not going to war.....

But a few days ago, at a family get together, relatives asked me what my views on the Dale Farm situation are. One [from a distance away from Essex] paid me a compliment by saying that he thought I would give an unbiased point of view and why didn't I write about it. So here goes:

The Travellers at Dale Farm, Crays Hill, Essex and Basildon Council have been in dispute for ten years. If one wants to trace the history there are numerous hits if one googles: lots of press articles, questions in the House of Commons and the European Parliament, blog entries [there is a blog in support of the travellers which also contains lots of links] These hits give both sides of the argument and it must be difficult for those not living in the area to make up their minds who is in the right. A support camp, Camp Constant, has been set up adjacent to Dale Farm to disseminate press reports and gather supporters from all over the UK and Europe in the hope of preventing the eviction of the Travellers from the illegal part of the Dale Farm Travellers site on the 19th of September.

And that's the rub: 'The illegal part of the site'. The whole of the Dale Farm site was bought a long time back by Travellers. Part of it [the 'legal site'] had planning permission for the around 40 dwellings that are there. Although some of the neighbouring villagers were against this that was just one of those things - they could equally have ended up with a factory or something else they didn't like next door. Someone always complains about something.

And so it might have ended there. Until a further 80+ dwellings moved onto the part of the farm that did not have planning permission and which is classified as green belt [the 'illegal site'] In itself,developing a site without planning permission is a not uncommon story and many of us will have read about similar council actions against individuals, maybe just extending their property without permission, in our local press. But this story is a bit bigger than that. The illegal part of Dale Farm has far more inhabitants that the original, legal part and has had quite devastating effects on the neighbouring village. National press have often cited how property values have dropped in the neighbourhood, and this may seem somewhat mercenary to an outsider but to those living there it is devastating and it is not the only effect. Village life has changed considerably, whereas early on in the history of this dispute villagers were happy to talk to the press and media about the problems Dale Farm was causing, by the time that the BBC 9 o'clock news was reporting earlier in the summer on the situation, the residents of the village were refusing to be interviewed for fear of reprisals. Yet this has been reported in the National Press as 'apart from one man, no villagers have any complaints'. Local press has a list of complaints in their 'comments' common under pseudonyms - but these range from the extremely reasonabe to downright malicious and as full of hatred as the threats of violence by individual travellers referred to above.

The inhabitants of Dale Farm have also become nationwide media heroes and heroines by their appearances in 'Big Fat Gypsy Wedding' and the documentaries made about the problems at the site between the Travellers and the council, aired earlier this year. Thus many people country wide feel some sort of ownership of the problems here in Essex.

Accusations and cross accusations have flown backwards and forwards for the past too many years. The Travellers have accused the council of attempting 'Ethnic Cleansing'in their eviction proposals [The Irish Traveller community is designated an Ethnic Grouping by the European Parliament] Yet if the council were trying to stop any illegal development by a non-ethnic minority community, would it have received a second glance? Individual Travellers have threatened violence if the eviction is carried out and of course the media has jumped on these threats. These individuals do not help the claims of their larger community. Claims of non-payment of Council Tax and other bills have been bandied about regarding the Travellers. Eventually no-one knows which side to believe.

Meanwhile solid facts have emerged, many of the Travellers do own properties and sites in other parts of the UK and Ireland. Basildon Council may have turned down reasonable offers to come to some agreement. Latest news today is that Basildon Council are preparing accomodation for any travellers who have nowhere to go on eviction. Some travellers have already left the illegal part of the site in the last few days. Basildon Council have repeatedly offered alternative accomodation to those Travellers who do not have alternative sites, but - perhaps understandably - the Travellers say that they do not want to live in bricks and mortar and want to keep up their own cultural mores. But it still remains that where they are living now is in an illegal site that does not have planning permission and that if the eviction is carried out the Travellers will not be homeless.

I have tried to present an unbiased 'guide' to the way the 'situation' has arisen at Dale Farm. I do sympathise with any small community trying to retain its cultural background and traditions. However, when moving and living within another community's mores it is not always possible to exclude one's own, smaller community from the larger community. If some of the benefits of the larger community, like schools and hospitals are enjoyed, surely it is necessary to also obey its rules, like the planning laws?

I still really hope for a peaceful solution and dread any violent confrontation next week. Children around the country are the real losers - children at Dale Farm are growing up to regard themselves as 'others' and children outside Dale Farm will also regard those children as 'others' due to the intense media interest. We need integration not segregation. If only we could all live peaceably together.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Its the Same The Whole World Over

It's the same the whole world over,
It's the poor wot gets the blame,
It's the rich wot gets the pleasure,
Ain't it all a bloomin' shame?

Its strange how one thing leads to another. Discussing economic growth on one site, I was suddenly taken with the urge to start singing the above refrain, which of course comes from the old music hall song, aka She Was Poor But She Was Honest . A monologue version performed in the 1930s by Billy Bennett is shown below

[BTW the sound of my singing is not good, especially as my voice has disappeared thanks to a the gift of a sore throat from Other Half]

The economic report which sparked my awful singing was a report on the BBC news online yesterday with the title UK manufacturing output shrinks as export demand falls. To quote from the article:
The Markit/Cips manufacturing purchasing managers' index (PMI) fell to 49 last month - a 26-month low. Any level below 50 implies contraction.

So why the singing? Well, looking at the chart supplied by the BBC, the slowdown is global with the only two countries above that worrying '50' level being Germany and Japan. Unsurprising, Japan has fallen since July considering all their ongoing economic problems due to the earthquake and tsunami, but still have only fallen by 0.2 points. China is the only country to have increased but by a meagre 0.6 points and is still just below 50, at 49.9

Whilst the global economy is in such a parlous state thus showing there is a world wide problem, our present government constantly blaming the previous government here and employing swingeing cuts to those who can least afford it does not actually help. It seems as if the coalition government takes the same sort of attitude to its electorate as the character in the monologue below and:

[Goes] riding in a carriage
Past the gutter where [the poor] stands.

Perhaps it is time to show we really are all in this together, not a time for our leaders to be standing on the bridge ignoring the rest of the country floundering in the water below.

Oh, and whilst I am having a rant I would remind the Government that it is also not a time to be spending lot of money on weapons etc and I will be marching to affirm that on October 8th.

Billy Bennet monologue
She was poor but she was honest,
Though she came from 'umble stock,
And her honest heart was beating
Underneath her tattered frock.

But the rich man saw her beauty,
She knew not his base design,
And he took her to a hotel
And bought her a small port wine.

It's the same the whole world over,
It's the poor what gets the blame,
It's the rich what gets the pleasure,
Isn't it a blooming shame?

In the rich man's arms she fluttered
Like a bird with a broken wing,
But he loved her and he left her,
Now she hasn't got no ring.

Time has flown - outcast and homeless
In the street she stands and says,
While the snowflakes fall around her,
'Won't you buy my bootlaces.'

It's the same the whole world over,
It's the poor what gets the blame,
It's the rich what gets the pleasure,
Isn't it a blooming shame?

Standing on the bridge at midnight
She says, 'Farewell, blighted love!'
There's a scream, a splash, good 'eavens!
What is she a doing of?

Soon they dragged her from the river,
Water from her clothes they wrang.
They all thought that she was drownded,
But the corpse got up and sang:

"It's the same the whole world over,
It's the poor what gets the blame,
It's the rich what gets the pleasure,
Isn't it a blooming shame?"

She was poor but she was honest,
Victim of a rich man's game.
First he loved her, then he left her,
And she lost her maiden name.

Then she ran away to London
For to hide her grief and shame.
There she met an Army captain,
And she lost her name again.

"It's the same the whole world over.
It's the poor that gets the blame.
It's the rich that gets the pleasure.
Ain't it all a bleeding shame?"

See him riding in a carriage
Past the gutter where she stands.
He has made a stylish marriage,
While she wrings her ringless hands.

See him there at the theatre,
In the front row with the best,
While the girl that he has ruined
Entertains a sordid guest.

"It's the same the whole world over.
It's the poor that gets the blame.
It's the rich that gets the pleasure.
Ain't it all a bleeding shame?"

See her on the bridge at midnight,
Crying "Farewell, blighted love".
Then a scream, a splash, and . . Goodness!
What is she a-doing of?

When they dragged her from the river
Water from her clothes they wrung.
Though they thought that she was drownded,
Still her corpse got up and sung:

"It's the same the whole world over,
It's the poor what gets the blame,
It's the rich what gets the pleasure,
Isn't it a blooming shame?"

NB There are several versions of this monologue/song. Some more respectable than others. I have heard/read most of them during my research for my dissertation Victorian Literature and the Fallen Woman. So I will not be including any others, but there is a lovely, clean version here: http://poemsandprose.blog.co.uk/2006/01/04/it_s_the_same_the_whole_world_over~439049/

The picture is of one of my favourite 'Fallen Women' paintings, 'Found' by D.G.Rossetti, 1853.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Give Peace a Chance on October 8th

Trying to collect my thoughts after travelling from the South West of England to the South East yesterday, and also after collecting all the dirty washing from a three week family holiday, I have spent longer trying to catch up with emails, tweets and facebook messages than maybe I should today. But an important email was from the http://antiwarassembly.org/* asking for pledges to attend their Mass Assembly at Trafalgar Square on Saturday 8 October 2011, 12 noon.

Other Half and I were glad to add our pledges to those of many of our friends and political comrades including Roy Bailey, Tony Benn, Billy Bragg, John McDonnell, Len McCluskey, Owen Jones ..... the list goes on and it is easier for you all to visit the website and pledge your own attendence! The pledge we signed:

I pledge that if British Troops are still in Afghanistan on the tenth anniversary of the invasion I will join the mass assembly in Trafalgar Square on Saturday 8 October to make it clear to the government that they must not continue this brutal and pointless war in defiance of the will of the people.

Those pledging were also asked if they wished to add their own reasons for wishing to attending the assembly. My unoriginal contribution is:

I will be there because all my life I have wanted to live in a peaceful world. I was born in 1950, with the shadow of World War 2 hanging over my family. As a teenager in the 1960s I lived in fear of the bomb and joined CND. No decade since has been peaceful and I wish for my grandchildren to live without the terror hanging over them that has followed our lives. Cessation of the illegal action in Afghanistan will be a step toward this.

Please visit the website and if you cannot attend send a message of support.

*The Antiwar Mass Assembly has been called by Stop the War Coalition, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and British Muslim Initiative.
Photograph courtesy of the website http://antiwarassembly.org/

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Dongles and Days Out

We are enjoying 'down time' in Somerset and until yesterday had little or no internet access. Also very little time to watch TV news or listen to radio news although the events in Tripoli have had us watching the BBC 24 hours news channel whenever we have spent some time in our cliff top home. The 'dongle' has not been a success but now we have managed to buy a subscription to a site and get access.

Unable to access twitter & facebook has been the worst part of the imposed internet silence. I realise that I get most of my news from twitter, from trusted 'sources' whose links I follow - and although I could occasionally access twitter on my 'phone I could not open the links - bah humbug! Facebook silence has meant I could not follow the progress of a poorly relative plus I have been down on both my home gossip and - along with the loss of twitter - my political campaigning!

But what more than makes up for all this is being with family and friends and the wonderful views from my cliff top. It really is idyllic here overlooking the Bristol Channel and on a clear day like today looking deep into the Land of my Father.... And other days out in the area provide other outstanding views.

Meanwhile, in breaking holiday news, Eldest Grandson [aged 6years] won the junior section of 'Hat for a Song' in a beautifully crafted hat made by Aunty, representing 'Ice, Ice Baby' - but his rendition of the song surely 'capped' his win. Meanwhile my 'Give Peas [Peace] a Chance' whilst not actually winning did stump the audience.....

Love to you all from all of us in Somerset!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Give Peas a Chance

Pretty ironic that my last blog on Saturday afternoon should be entitled 'Blessed are the Peacemakers' considering the events since last Saturday evening. Like many others I have watched horrified as what started as a peaceful demonstration in Tottenham became the 'justification' for many to join in mob disorder and criminal behaviour across the country, starting in London and now spread to many big towns and cities.

The peaceful demonstration was completely understandable. As someone who has taken part in very many peaceful protests - often for peace! - I would plead that no-one should ever suggest that the subsequent mob behaviour from Saturday onwards will become a reason for disallowing future peaceful protests. But on this occasion why did this events turn so quickly into such frightening, mindless pandemonium?

I have many friends and family in the London areas alone that were very near to some of the areas that were in trouble. Really worrying. Let's make it clear - the sort of violence most of us watched on our TV screens cannot be excused. There may be 'reasons' why [mostly young] people were acting this way, but they are not 'excuses'. Just as when David Cameron said:

'Things got out of hand & we'd been drinking. We smashed the place up & Boris set fire to the toilets.' 1986 on the Bullingdon Club.

that was the reason for the behaviour, not the excuse. There cannot be justification for anti-social behaviour of any sort, whatever one's class and status in society and appropriate punishment should be meted out. [I am not being clever by dragging David Cameron into the fray - just pointing out that these sort of idiotic happenings - usually fueled by drink and/or drugs - can happen anywhere, anytime]

But what should be asked in the current circumstances is why since the weekend these criminals across the country have felt that they wanted to attack and destroy what was often their own community? Do they not feel that this is their own community? Have they no sense of 'ownership', no sense of a place in or committment to society - could it be because they have after all been brought up since Maggie T made her famous 'there is no such thing as society' remark? Does 'society' really not exist now? Oh I really do hope that is not how these people think.

Maybe some of the 'reasons' trotted out by sociologists, psychologists, commentators are right, maybe some are wrong, maybe some still to be aired will provide better answers - but whatever else we do we must all understand that saying 'something must be done' is not enough. There is such a thing as society - David Cameron and his vaunted 'Big Society' is a country mile away from what should be the real thing. Our politicians need to go back and look at its infra-structure. They must realise that until it doesn't matter where each citizen lives, until all citizens have equality in all things like access to free education, medical services, protection by the law [so that 13 year olds in inner cities do not feel it necessary to carry a knife for protection, for goodness sake], access to all manner of social services [to name a few: libraries; marriage guidance centres; youth clubs; welfare clinics] etc etc and the tax system is fair and big companies are not legally avoiding paying tax in the country in which they made big profits maybe, just maybe we are all sitting on a tinder box that could ignite again.

My facebook good night message last night was - broadly - to say that I hope peace would break out over night. A Beloved One replied 'Give peas a chance' - a lively pun on the wonderful John Lennon composition. So the blog title is what it is and the photo above is of the Amersham viaduct over the M25 under which we often drive when coming toward London. It always cheers me up.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Today's blog is an extended and amended comment which I made in a discussion on another blog site. Bit lazy? Maybe but it is all part of my 'campaign' for peace and tolerance [and boy! do people get angry with me when I talk about peace...]

The thread on the other blog arose from a newspaper story earlier this week about a hospital midwife who refused to wear scrub trousers to work, as she said it was at variance to the teachings in her particular form of Christianity.

To me the whole essence of the story boiled down to whether or not the employer had made it clear at the original employment interview that there was an enforcable rule about what needed to be worn where in the hospital. Granted in the Daily Fail article the words 'Muslims are allowed to wear...' appeared, but this is par for the course, and again it was not entirely clear where in the hospital this was allowed.

Anyway, the original matter has been resolved, one hopes with satisfaction on both sides. But the blog discussion continues and what really bothers me were some of the vitrolic and quite spiteful remarks that kept recurring on the comments thread - both for and against the midwife's views. Pleas for tolerance and mitigation were brushed aside and quite 'off topic' obvious 'hobby horse' rants introduced.

One commentator equated Christians with Right wing activists. He obviously hasn't read my blog lately! The midwife had quoted Deuteronomy 22:5 to support her refusal to wear trousers, and another commentator asked why we/she were not therefore supporting Deuteronomy 22:20-22: to stone unchaste damsels and adulterers as the Islamacists [sic] want to? [And ended a sentence with a preposition!!!!]

My reply went something like this:
We could all go on throwing Biblical quotes and references to each other to prove/disprove whatever we wanted. The above reference only proves that in this quote it was thought a father should feel himself/be made to feel himself responsible for the actions of his daughter before she is stoned to death for her promiscuity.

A few of my thoughts on this [and these are my personal thoughts although I happen to be a Christian so please don't attack the whole history of religion, Christianity or otherwise, just because you may disagree with me]:

1. I am really glad I didn't live in these times, because when this was written it was obviously a reflection of the contemporary times of the writer.
2. Other cultures do still regard promiscuity/adultery in women as a very serious crime. Again I am very glad I live in the UK in the 21st century - not for me, I am too old [!] but for my sisterhood!
3. As has been the subject of many comments on here, whatever version of the Bible one reads, there are many translations so we can never be sure that what we are reading is what the writer intended - whether we agree with what we are reading or not.
4. No one person wrote the Bible. It is rather like a newspaper today - we may like one article by one journo but not one by another. In fact the word 'gospel' means 'good news' [is that what our newspapers supply today?!] - and were written after the events described by four different 'authors'. Therefore Matthew's view of the Beatitudes, say, might and do differ from Luke's account.

Please allow that others may have a different view of religion to you and don't trash their views. I can accept other views [obviously I think I am right - otherwise I wouldn't be thinking this way!] but we can all live peacefully together if we are all tolerant. Sadly too many of any persuasion [religious or otherwise] feel that force is the only way to win an argument. So my favourite Beatitude is:

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God

and if you don't want to admit the existance of God replace it with 'Man', or 'Earth' or 'Nature' or whatever.

And as my final, final, words on this thread I will quote someone much wiser than me, H.G. Wells a fervent atheist, in a note to G.K. Chesterton a fervant Roman Catholic:
"..... when H.G. Wells was seriously ill, he wrote Chesterton and said, "If after all my Atheology turns out wrong and your Theology right I feel I shall always be able to pass into Heaven (if I want to) as a friend of G.K.C.'s. Bless you."

To this Chesterton replied, "If I turn out to be right, you will triumph, not by being a friend of mine, but by being a friend of Man, by having done a thousand things for men like me in every way from imagination to criticism......"

[with thanks to http://www.tentmaker.org/biographies/chesterton.htm for this quote]

And as a final piece of mischief the photograph above is of H.G.Wells, the fervent atheist who never changed his mind - well not on this side of life anyway!

Sunday, 31 July 2011


The national and international events of the week that ended on the 23rd of July seemed to involve me in so many emotions that I did not feel like putting pen to paper [or rather fingers to keyboard] blog wise until now.

Of course, at the time I blogged on the Parliamentary 'hearings' where Rupert & James Murdoch and Rebecca Brooks 'gave' evidence. ['Gave' is in inverted commas because 'giving' is not an action that I entirely associate with this trio] This week more evidence has emerged that seems to suggest that maybe they were, if not withholding the truth, then certainly economical with it. But by this week I was beginning to feel that the world was spinning on its axis widdershins and who knew what would happen next.

The bomb blast in Oslo and massacre on Utoya island in Norway was something that I didn't feel I could write about apart from a brief dedication. In fact the two Norwegian events left me - like so many people across the world - so stunned that I really did not want to listen to the news or get involved in anything that smacked of 'current affairs' for quite a few days. Cowardly? Shock? Whatever, I did watch part of the Peace rally and memorial on Monday evening, not wanting to but feeling if I didn't I would somehow be denying the awfulness of what had happened.

One man caused that much misery and awfulness. Whether in the name of religion or politics; whether because he was deranged or sane; whether he had links with other groups or was acting on his own, his actions reverberated around the world. It made the high drama/soap opera of the world of News International receed into the world of make believe for a little while.

Many people have found this a reason to reflect this week. And like the picture above of the ripples in water [taken from Geraint Smith with thanks] the actions of both the Norwegian gunman/bomber and those at News International continue to ripple and spread across the world.

On Keats' gravestone in Rome he asked to have inscribed "Here lies one whose name was writ in water" suggesting that fame is as fleeting as trying to write one's name in water. Lets' hope that whilst the ripples of their actions spread the names of the gunman [the reason I am not repeating it here] and the Murdochs are also 'written in water'. But hope too that their victims are never forgotten because we must all try to ensure that such things cannot occur again - in their names.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Dedicated to the people of Norway

The fabulous Roy Bailey performing his version in 2010

Dedicated to the people of Norway after the terrible outrages committed there yesterday by allegedly the so called 'Christian' rightwinger Anders Behring Breivik, who has been arrested. May all those killed sleep gently and may their families find peace. And wishing that more peoples in the world would follow the example of the Norwegian

PM Jens Stoltenberg who has taken a calm and deliberate response to the awfulness rather than escalating the

The wonderful Holly Near song:

I ain't afraid
I ain't afraid of your Yahweh
I ain't afraid of your Allah
I ain't afraid of your Jesus
I'm afraid of what you do in the name of your God

I ain't afraid of your churches
I ain't afraid of your temples
I ain't afraid of your praying
I'm afraid of what you do in the name of your God

Rise up to your higher power
Free up from fear, it will devour you
Watch out for the ego of the hour
The ones who say they know it
Are the ones who will impose it on you

I ain't afraid of your Yahweh
I ain't afraid of your Allah
I ain't afraid of your Jesus
I'm afraid of what you do in the name of your God

I ain't afraid of your churches
I ain't afraid of your temples
I ain't afraid of your praying
I'm afraid of what you do in the name of your God

Rise up, and see /find/ know/ hear a higher story
Free up from the gods of war and glory
Watch out for the threats of purgatory
The spirit of the wind won’t make a killing off of sin and satan

I ain't afraid of your Bible
I ain't afraid of your Torah
I ain't afraid of your Koran
Dont let the letter of the law
Obsure the spirit of the your love--it's killing us

I ain't afraid of your Yahweh
I ain't afraid of your Allah
I ain't afraid of your Jesus
I'm afraid of what you do in the name of your God

I ain't afraid of your churches
I ain't afraid of your temples
I ain't afraid of your praying
I'm afraid of what you do in the name of your God