"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 25 January 2012

The Abyss

To the disgust of many the first thing I do in the mornings when I eventually make it down the stairs [!] is turn on my laptop and log in to facebook to catch up with friends, family and political comrades and opponents! Occasionally something sparks ideas for a blog or other piece of writing.

Today a discussion about the cuts regarding disability living allowance and the proposed cap on total welfare benefits led me into a longer comment than I could fit onto facebook - hence this blog.

I am going to apparently digress a little. Listening to one of those radio 'phone in discussion programmes a couple of days ago. The subject was whether the proposed cap on benefits was a good idea or not, a rather desperate lady [let's call her Mary] had called in and was explaining how although she and her partner had lived and worked in London all their lives, paying their taxes and council taxes, through no fault of their own they had lost their business last year [like so many in this present economic climate] which in turn had led to them losing their house. With three young children settled in schools, they obviously wanted to rent a house in the area in which they had been living but rents were so high that if the proposed cap on benefit went ahead there would not be enough money to pay rent and have money to live, eat, clothe the children and all other bills.

When the radio presenter suggested Mary was, well almost selfish for wanting to stay in a high rent part of London, Mary pointed out that if she stayed there she would be near family who could help out with child care IF she was working. The presenter seemed then to change tack and refused to believe that rents were actually so high.

And this seems to be part of the problem - the refusal of so many to accept the problems that the vulnerable have to face to get out of what E.M.Forster described as 'the abyss' in Howards End:
The boy, Leonard Bast, stood at the extreme verge of gentility. He was not in the abyss, but he could see it, and at times people whom he knew had dropped in, and counted no more

Forster was writing in 1910 and just over 100 years later we are returning to a society that has citizens like Leonard Bast teetering on the edge of falling into the Abyss. Unless we act quickly we could even end up with an underclass of our people living as the communities described in George Gissing's The Nether World in 1889:
But that those who sit here through the livelong day, through every season, through all the years of the life that is granted them, who strain their eyesight, who overtax their muscles, who nurse disease in their frames, who put resolutely from them the thought of what existence might be--that these do it all without prospect or hope of reward save the permission to eat and sleep and bring into the world other creatures to strive with them for bread, surely that thought is yet more marvellous.

I also notice not many seem to be making a call for the restituion of social housing with fairer rents or suggesting that private landlords who are often making large profits renting out properties, some of which may have been built as social housing and previously bought at a reduced price by long term tenants but have since passed into the housing stock, may be 'capped'. After all this is a free market [sometimes difficult to type with my tongue in my cheek]

So Facebook and my friends there, you've done it again, got me so exercised first thing in the morning that I felt a blog coming on.... And Clarice may have to take off her housework rubber gloves and write about The Nether World and Howards End sometime this week.

The photograph shows the splendiferous Samuel West who play Leonard Bass in the film of Howards End.

Thursday 19 January 2012

Thames Estuary Airport versus The Richard Montgomery

I am sitting at my keyboard with a bad head cold. I am not asking for sympathy, just using it as an excuse for any slightly woolly thinking. I like sitting here because - if it wasn't for 'ouses inbetween* - I could see the Thames Estuary. In fact if I go upstairs and hang dangerously out of my bedroom window I can see the Thames Estuary. If I sat on the roof of my house I could probably see all the way to the idyllic stretch of the Estuary that lies just off the beaches of Southend and almost see the area which 'houses' [probably not the right word but hey, I am poorly] the SS Richard Montgomery [Thanks to Wikipedia for this link. We supported your action yesterday and are very glad of your assistance today to share your knowledge]

Residents of the Essex and Kent land areas surrounding the stretch of the Thames Estuary where the Richard Montgomery lies on the sea bed have long been aware of the ship wreck and possible dangers it poses. There have been TV and radio programmes, numerous press articles since the American Liberty ship stacked full of explosives sunk in 1944 on how safe/unsafe the wreck is to the surrounding areas. A recent BBC Kent article in September 1911 commenced with the statement:

The threat of a significant structural collapse of a shipwreck full of explosives off Kent is getting more serious, the coastguard has said.

The photograph above is from the BBC Kent article and in the background can be seen the Southend shoreline. When I worked on the 8th floor of one of the office blocks in Southend in the late 1960s [I am that old but would like to point out I don't look it] there were sonic boom tests along the Thames Estuary for the Concorde programme, I believe these were carried out by the Royal Air Force English Electric Lightnings. There was much concern in the local press at the time that these 'booms' could set up waves that could cause explosions on the Richard Montgomery and we were told that we might have to evacuate our offices. I seem to remember extra fire drill which were not pleasant climbing down the outside of a tower block building....

There is a fantastic interactive map of the proposed airport sites on the Guardian website The map does not show the Richard Montgomery which is between Southend on the Essex side and Sheerness on the Kentside, nearer to the Kent side and frighteningly near one of the proposed Airport sites, Grain. The map also shows all the conservationist/wild life areas that would suffer by the building of the airport. There would obviously be concerns over the infra structure costs: rail/road links and more which would help in the decision making process. But for me the biggest question is what happens to the SS Richard Montgomery?

It is about time the concerns about the SS Richard Montgomery were addressed once and for all, and definitely before any more money is spent talking/investigating/researching any airport in the Thames Estuary.

*If it wasn't for 'ouses inbetween is a line from the Music Hall song sung by Gus Elen - 1899, which contains the lines:
Wiv a ladder and some glasses
You could see to 'Ackney Marshes
If it wasn't for the 'ouses in between

BTW is anyone wants any clues to whereabouts on the Thames Estuary I live here are a couple of literary clues:
1. Just about exactly the spot where Magwitch killed Compeyson in Great Expectations
2. Not far from the spot where The Nellie was anchored at the start of Heart of Darkness

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Power in the Union

Owen Jones has written a very uncomfortable blog in The New Statesman : Ed Balls' surrender is a political disaster. Uncomfortable for lots of reasons and for lots of people. Uncomfortable for its truthful content and uncomfortable to those who have caused him to find it necessary to write it. Please read it.

I cannot write anything like as well as Owen does. I remember him from the days when he was a political aide to the wonderful John McDonnell MP and it has been great to see Owen's journalism and writing becoming more and more successful. So whilst I have been still trying to work out how to put into words my feelings about Ed Balls comments last week, Owen has got there ahead of me and in a far better way. But enough of all this grovelling praise, and now for the reply I posted to his blog:

As an LRC member, a Unite member and a 40 year plus Labour party member what can I add Owen, except that I am also struggling to know what to say to those rubbing their hands with glee at what Balls said last week. Usually I can ‘PollyAnna’ most things and have managed to stay in the party all these years by thinking that there are some good people left who will fight their corner with me. Now it is getting harder to remain in the party. My constituency and local Labour party is full of good friends who I have known for many years and mostly feel like me, I would feel awful to leave them behind if I left. My parents and grandparents fought many elections, marched on many rallies and demos under Labour banners and saw the lot of the working man and woman improve in their lifetime. Their children and grandchildren received the university education of which they could only dream. Medical care at the point of need became a reality and not just an aspiration. I could say much more.However I have always said that the Unions have had the interests of the working class [and increasingly the non-working class due to the terrible unemployment figures - which in real terms are far higher than the published statistics] more in their sights than any political party. The unions after all ‘set up’ the Labour Party through the original Labour Representation Committee all those years ago. Trade Union power has been eroded by successive governments since the 1960s – perhaps this is where we should concentrate our efforts and give all our support – and hope.

And here's what the General Secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey, had to say about Ed Balls comments in the Guardian this morning: Ed Miliband's leadership is threatened by this Blairite policy coup By embracing cuts, Ed Balls and Ed Miliband have left all those who stand against them disenfranchised

Photograph taken from http://owenjones.org/about/

Monday 16 January 2012


There is a new hashtag #TheGoveBoat on twitter and it also a new subject trending. So I have taken the hashtag as my title for this blog, my alter ego has already fired off several angry tweets on the subject this morning!

I wake up to the news on the radio and often am motivated by items thereon. This is a handy method of getting me out of bed and into the 'working' day. Thus I often find myself mentally composing emails and other great works of literature whilst also doing the mundane jobs of finding matching shoes and tracking down a clean mug with which to start the day. But today the news that Michael Gove has suggested - in a letter leaked by the Guardian started with me in a furious mood.

I like to be calm first thing in the morning. Calm I am not. To quote a couple of Gove's 'ideas' [and so far this is only an idea, which is the only thing which is keeping me this side of laying on the floor and having a full blown tantrum. And I am a pacifist....]:
In spite, and perhaps because of the austere times, the celebration should go beyond those of previous jubilees and mark the greater achievement that the diamond anniversary represents.
Actually, not a bad idea of a way to mark the diamond anniversary, if thought necessary, would be to endow a new hospital, say, or build/repair some schools? And:
I feel strongly that the diamond jubilee gives us a tremendous opportunity to recognise in a very fitting way the Queen's highly significant contribution to the life of the nation and the Commonwealth.

Aren't the proposals for street parties and banquets and Royal tours and all the other things that are already in place enough?

The Guardian goes on to add [not a direct quote from Gove's letter]:
Gove ends his letter by suggesting that if insufficient taxpayer funds are available a private donation could be sought

I believe that the Queen is one of the richest women in the country. So does she really need a present of £60million from all its citizens, many of whom are struggling to survive?

BTW it has been suggested that a new Royal Yacht could be a bit of a poisoned chalice with all the Coastguard cuts...

I really cannot understand Gove's reasoning. We have pensioners in this country at the moment who have had their extra winter fuel allowance cut. We have disabled people who are fighting for [and too often losing] the continuation of disability living allowance. We have young people not able to attend universities due to fears of debts that could be incurred through the student grant system. A great lack of social housing. Libraries closing. Schools that need repairs having leaking roofs, inadequate heating and more. Hospitals existing by luck more than judgement due to inadequate staffing and buildings also needing attention. And so much more. But oh yes, let's build a Royal yacht. Of course it might give British manufacturing a boost. If it hasn't already been destroyed and broken up and much engineering knowledge lost due to the processes Maggie Thatcher started.

Maybe my prejudices are showing. Maybe I am ranting. Maybe others agree.

The picture is Vincent van Gogh's Fishing Boat's on the beach at Saint Maries de la Mer. I couldn't think of anything more beautiful to use than this today. Bringing me back to the calmer waters and mood that I prefer.

Thursday 5 January 2012

Pink toys for girls, Blue toys for boys?

NB: This is not an advert for Lego toys - again just using them as an example!

In a spirit of mischief but also with a genuine desire to further the debate about gender choices in toys for young children, I thought I would share with you the latest news from the Lego company.

If you have read my blog The danger [or not] of gender stereotyping in toys or Helen Lewis Hasteley's blog in the New Statesman: All I want for Christmas is… presents that aren’t bloody pink you will know that there are lots of strong views about whether or not we should - to generalise - be buying pink toys for girls and blue for boys.

Today I received one of those emails from amazon.co.uk designed to make me and other consumers spend any money I might have left after the holiday season. [Bad luck, not much in my case] News of new Lego products. A whole new set of pink Lego products. Here's the amazon blurb:

Welcome to Heartlake City and the world of LEGO Friends, a brand new range of construction sets and exciting mini-dolls for girls who love to build and play.
Centered around a beautiful, heart-shaped lake in the foothills of the Clearspring Mountains, Heartlake City is an amazing place to live where there is always something cool happening. It’s also the home to five special girls. Though they are best friends, each has their own personality and different hobbies.

Sound a bit yukky and stereotyping and all the other things we would probably agree that are not either politcally correct or desirable in the twenty first century? I am not sure how comfortable I am with this marketing BUT never the less I have a seven year old Granddaughter who I know would really love this and would play with it non-stop if it arrived on her birthday. And I feel [as a Grandmother and retired teacher] it would probably help with her spatial awareness when building the Butterfly Beauty Shop or Olivia's Tree House.

In an investigative mood and looking for balance I visited the Lego website to see what new toys for [presumably] boys had been announced. [January is the time when new toys are announced, merchandised and the big sell starts for the Christmas 2012 market]

So new for boys: Well Lego City has some new additions due for 2012. Would boys prefer these to Lego Friends? Undoubtedly. Would girls like Lego City? Well, yes I would think so, although the colours are predominantly blue and the subjects: police, fire services, forest patrol, helicopters, space vehicles could possibly be considered to be more masculine? Here's amazon blurb on one of the Lego City products the Mobile Police Unit:
Move to the action with the Mobile Police Unit!
Move the LEGO City Mobile Police Unit right into the action. As the detective monitors the control center, he alerts the police officer that the robber is escaping in a sports car with a bar of gold. Chase him down on the police motorcycle and put him in the mobile station’s prison.

BTW I loved the Lego City camper! Here's the amazon blurb:
It’s holiday season in LEGO City and the good times are ready to roll courtesy of the LEGO City Camper Van.

Go on a holiday to remember, visit the sea and indulge in a little surfing, then go for a long bike ride, followed by a spot of grilled fish for dinner. The perfect setting for a fantastic time had by all, pack up the Camper Van and hit the open road to see where it leads. Featuring a surfboard, bike and grill, the LEGO City Camper Van has a kitchen and sleeping area, a plasma TV, working doors and opens out fully to enhance and broaden scope of play. The LEGO City Camper Van also comes with two minifigures ready for the time of their lives as you take them on a real adventure. The perfect addition or even start to any LEGO collection, the Camper Van provides hours of entertainment and a whole range of road-trip scenarios just waiting to be built upon.

Of course there are lots of other 'sets': Harry Potter; Knights; Star Wars.

So I have said that I would probably buy one of my Granddaughters. And probably one of my Grandsons would enjoy one of the Lego City range. But the others? Well one Granddaughter would not like Lego at all, one Grandson already loves the Knights and Castles range and for the smallest one it is too soon to tell. But do we buy pink for the girls and blue for the boys? I'll leave that question hanging. But luckily for Other Half it isn't something he has to worry about, being colour blind, he just buys the toys they ask for!

NB: This is not an advert for Lego toys - again just using them as an example!

Photos courtesy of www.lego.com