"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/

Monday 16 December 2013

Deck the Halls [3] The Rest of the House

If you have stayed with me through the previous two episodes of 'Deck the Halls', gentle reader, you may have gathered that Elizannie's decorating style is more 'tacky' than 'stylish'. The shops this year seems to be advocating a sort of Scandinavian style of decoration [sort of inline with the dark detective dramas on TV?] so true to my decorating style I have added that into the mish mash of earlier years.

'Normal' [not a word heard often in the Elizannie/Other Half household] year round decorations have to be put away or incorporated into the general Christmas scheme.  The general household decorating scheme is probably best described as 'eclectic' at best or 'random' at worst. The Staffordshire china dogs collection - which many hate! - but live so happily around the lounge and cannot be put away for the festive season so are given  jaunty Christmas hats and scarves [above]

Conversely, some of the 'Christmas House Decorations' tend to be left out all year. The wonderful statuettes of Tiny Tim and the Ghost of Christmas Present live permanently on display as maybe befits the house of A Christmas Carol anorak [see Dickens: "A Christmas Carol", and its relevance today'], whether this year's addition of Scrooge's School is a step too far to qualify for year round status remains to be seen.

And as with the Christmas Tree decorations, some of the 'Christmas house decorations' are 'historical' - the snowman cross stitch framed picture made by Youngest Daughter aged six; the Nativity tableaux bought by Other Half's sadly missed late mother; the beautiful candles and icons bought many years ago when our family lived in Bonn; the couple of remaining decorations bought by my mother in the '60s; the knitted silly toys made for the children many years ago and now played with by the grandchildren.

Fresh mistletoe* does not have a place in the household, due to the year when Eldest Son was around two years old and decided the berries looked edible. A call to the local hospital and then onto Guy's poison unit revealed that yes, mistletoe berries were poisonous leading to night where no-one slept, 'flushing him out' with copious amounts of [any] fluids he would drink. And as any parent of a child in this sort of situation will know, he didn't want to drink anything - let alone the usually craved for and forbidden lemonade, cola or any other fizzy drinks. We do have fresh holly, home grown but berry safe as for some reason it 'bears [no] berries' That either means we need a male or female plant to help out, but after the preceding family history I am not in a hurry to find out.

Changes have to be made with changing circumstances. House redecorating and renovations this year mean that the holes where the advent stockings have been hung for nearly twenty five years been filled. So they have been relocated to another place and a new custom will be commenced. Old customs, new customs - as in 'real life' we all are forced to move with the times. The linen Christmas dinner tablecloth, used for many years by Other Half's grandmother in Bermuda then shipped here nearly 40 years ago and used with joy although now covered with many irremovable red wine stains [!] has been joined by a polyester cotton one bought in the West Country a couple of years ago. Some decorations, kept in the loft all year, look just a little too fragile/tatty to be stuck to the walls but are returned to the loft, too precious with the memories they bring to be thrown away.

So whatever your decorating scheme, whether you celebrate Christmas or any other festival or none at all the Elizannie/Other Half family send Holiday greetings to one and all. As Tiny Tim says 'God Bless us Everyone'.

Yes, Elizannie has gone a bit soft but the next blog will be more true to form - possibly - although if you call around, beware there is a bunch of plastic mistletoe* in the hall!

Saturday 14 December 2013

Deck the Halls [2] The Outside Lights

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is favourite film not only of our immediate family but of our extended family too. Last year one of my seven year old grandsons decided he had to have his own copy of the film, and after a Christmas day out with four of our grandchildren last week they demanded to watch the film yet again, despite me dangling the enticement of one of the over 30 different versions of A Christmas Carols in my collection [new this year is The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol which did not budge their interest one iota!]

Anyone who ever watched NLCV will know that is about the attempt to have a perfect family Christmas with all the family traditions, beginning with the best decorated house ever [above] To be honest, Elizannie would really like to have the same sort of lighting effect on this house but [a] Our house is no where near the size of the one above and [b] Other Half has far better taste!

So anyway, last weekend was the time to get the Christmas outside lights from storage and  decide on our 'lighting scheme'. Last year we had had to dispense with some of our lights that had 'given up', so it was in a timely arrival on Sunday morning, Royal Mail delivered our new set of outside lights. However Other Half was most disappointed and the lights were duly rewrapped and put to one side to be posted back asap. The whisper was out that Sainsburys had the best lights in town so off we went, and it was probably a true whisper as they were completely sold out. So onto Tesco, who did have some very nice lights and a box was purchased. This did follow some intense discussion with a very nice man and his father which involved the man and me 'stepping out' the area that would be covered by the measurements on the box to show his father whilst Other Half slunk off in embarassment.

By the time we arrived home it was getting dark, but it was with a great sense of surprise that we found, when we opened the box from storage, that we had bought extra lights in the after Christmas sales last year. In fact remarkably similar to the ones just purchased from Tesco. My suggestion that we could just have a bigger display was not taken up.... the lights were put to one side to return the next day, along with the parcel to be returned via the post.

By now it was dark but Other Half had the bit between his teeth and was determined to put all the lights out forwith and produced the 'old' lights that still worked. And were of course in a terrible tangle despite having been put away very neatly last year. So picture me sitting nicely on the lounge floor, with lights stretching all the way along the floor and up the hall to the front door in the untangling process whilst Other Half climbed step ladders and cursed, attaching them outside.

Well the result was that it all looks very Christmassy and tasteful and worth the effort! Our little road is quite jolly with the effort the neighbours have taken with their lights so Merry Christmas and God Bless Us Everyone, to quote Tiny Tim and A Christmas Carol!

For Michael Mills, Andy Mills, Lizi Cole, Pauline Mifsud, Stephen Howlett & Lyn Price

Monday 9 December 2013

Deck the Halls [1] - O! Christmas Tree!

I love a well decorated house. But a decorating house elf would be very welcome:

The Christmas Trees:
For many years Elizannie and Other Half bought 'real' Christmas Trees until persuaded that this was not a good idea ecologically and also by the amount of tidying up caused by pine needles resulting in anti-social behaviour and language on the part of Elizannie. Also a visitor finding pine needles under the furniture in October was slightly embarrassing. And the year when 90% of the pine needles had fallen by Christmas Day sent us out on the day after Boxing Day to buy a 'really good' artificial tree in the sales. Which we decorated and put in the place of the ailing real tree before Youngest Daughter came home from her boyfriend's the next day, much to her bewilderment.

But as usual this year, I forgot the routine for removing the Christmas trees [we also have a  fibre optic one for the porch. Love it] from their year round hidey holes. They live in the wardrobe at the far corner of the yellow bedroom. And the doors open in such a way that one cannot remove the trees lengthwise, but they must be levered out at a sort of angle [45 degrees is the optimum] as one door is opened, then reverse the angle of the tree boxes [roughly 63.5] to enable closure of that door and opening of the other. Then, as the wjole boxes emerge slide them CAREFULLY along toward the room door, perform a three point turn around the end of the bed, and slide boxes out into the landing. Once the trees have been removed from boxes a sort of reverse process takes place to put them back into the wardrobe, whole thing to be repeated on 12th night.

Luckily the fibre optic tree fits together quite easily and as long as the transformer has been put away in the right place that is soon up and running. The tree for the lounge is more problematic, a bit more like a 3D jigsaw, and an alphabet puzzle all at once. If the wrongly lettered branches are slotted into the wrong level the result resembles a giant lavatory brush so extreme caution must be taken. And if the basic error of putting the lights on first has been made, no matter how artistic the arrangement of the tree decorations they all have to come off and a re-start employed... And surely those lights worked last year. We wouldn't have put away dud ones, would you?

Oh the decorations! They live in the loft of course. And the boxes/suitcases in which they abide of course have grown during the year and the loft hatch is again inhospitable.... Other Half is not encouraged by Elizannie not being able to remember how many containers there are in the loft, and her insistance that there must be more 'up there' and his fruitless search, only to be told that 'O, I remember now, I threw those decorations away last year' bring forth an unseasonable response.

But opening the tree decorations is a mini festival! All those tacky, beautiful home made ones, even some Other Half made at junior school. Those which represent 'stages' of the children's interests: Disney films, nursery rhymes etc. The lovely nativity scenes bought at various cathedrals around the country. All so valuable whether bought in Harrods or homemade. Sugar canes to commemorate Canadian and American friends and relatives. Some decorations with their greetings in Welsh. Plenty bearing the word 'Peace' - surely the most important of Christmas wishes. The angel on the top to remind us of all those who have gone ahead of us. And if one can rope in a few children to help dress the tree, all the better. [I am not advocating tying the children to the tree but to hang the decorations onto the tree] And if you hear me humming 'O, Christmas Tree'  - actually it is really 'The Red Flag' - the tune is the same....

Photograph of a different style of 'Christmas tree' courtesy:
My only connection to this company is my greed.....

Friday 6 December 2013

Nelson Mandela

There are too many brilliant and much better obituaries to Nelson Mandela on the web already for me to try and compete. But I can't not say something about the passing of this wonderful man, not when I spend so many hours and virtual print complaining about the selfish and uncaring citizens in society.

The photo above shows Mandela in 1990, not long after he had been released from his Robben Island prison in February of that year, the last of his confinement since 1963 when he had been sentenced to life for sabotage.

His life events are easy to find. As his so many inspiring speeches and quotations from these are easy to find [indeed there is one at the bottom of this blog!] He even passed into popular culture with the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert aka Free Nelson Mandela concert at Wembley in 1988 which was broadcast to nearly 70 countries [and btw which we watched on a tiny TV in an equally tiny caravan in Portsmouth!] And there was a story line on 'East Enders'  in the early 90s when one of those cheeky Mitchell boys bought a job lot of cheap t-shirts to sell on, only to find they were emblazoned with 'Free Nelson Mandela' when he was already free.....

But Mandela was an icon and an inspiration to so many for his persistance, courage and his capacity for forgiveness.

I try to be a good person but unfortunately fall short too much of the time! Witness this morning, listening to all the tributes from politicians from all sides of the political spectrum to Mandela, and there I was thinking of various of the right wing variety 'Aha, that's not what you said when Mandela was locked up and 'my' side was campaigning to get him released. There were even suggestions from you/your side that he should be hanged not released'. And then dear Ken Livingstone came onto the radio and when the presenter put that very point to him, he just laughed and said '... well, Mandela would not have held a grudge!'  and I instantly realised I have a long way to go before I can be 'nice' let alone 'good'...... And when the same presenter put the fact to Livingstone that Mandela's party, before he had been imprisoned, had been involved in civil unrest and violence which is why the then South African Authorities felt 'justified' in locking him and his comrades up, Ken Livingstone suggested that if the positions had been reversed perhaps Mandela's jailers would have used the same methods when they had no other way to express their claims for rights: no votes, no powers at all - pacifist me found myself nodding along.

In South Africa, citizens are celebrating Nelson Mandela's life. Here people are gathering outside South Africa House and queuing to sign the book of condolence at St Margaret's, Westminster. We are so lucky to have lived in this man's lifetime.
No one is born hating another person because of the
colour of his skin or his background, or his religion.
People must learn to hate,  and if they can learn to hate,
they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally
to the human heart than its opposite. 
         From A Long Walk to Freedom 

Photo of Mandela 1990, courtesy of AFP

Tuesday 3 December 2013

I Promise

I often 'use' something I have read on twitter or facebook, or something heard in the early morning news as a kickstart to a blog but today the 'inspiration' for my blog is a small carving which I photographed [badly] in Glastonbury yesterday.

It is a late 15thC carving of a betrothed couple which is on a medieval building thought to be near the spot where public betrothals took place. Although Other Half and I have spent very many hours in Glastonbury and were confident we knew a lot about the area and its history, pride comes before a fall and all that and we had never seen this lovely little carving. But yesterday morning when we were in St John's Church in the town and chatting to a couple of officials about engagements and weddings and then onto betrothals and the meaning of betrothals in earlier times, the subject of this carving came up and we were sent along to look at it!

In medieval times a betrothal was as binding as a marriage. Indeed any sort of promise was considered as binding. In a time when many could not read or write a spoken word had to be considered binding.

When did this change? Well the engagement/betrothal bit probably in the 19th/20th centuries although 'Breach of Promise' legal cases were still being heard in the law courts in the 1930s. And I was brought up to believe in the 1950s by my mother that if I broke a promise I would go to hell, but I think that even then that was a tad old-fashioned and certainly rather harsh!

But what about in the 21st century? Maybe not promises but that over used politicians word 'pledges'. There is an example of the 'broken Tory pre-election pledges' doing the rounds on twitter and facebook at the moment:


A Tory Pledge = What-we-say-when-we-want-to-get-into-power-but-please-don't-believe-it statement. [Elizannie]

Election Manifesto promises/pledges are of course regularly broken by incoming governments - they can always employ the caveat that 'the last government' left too many problems for us to be able to carry out that particular reform/benefit/improvement/funding [delete as necessary]' But other declarations made at the beginning of one parliamentary term are often reneged upon by the end of that term. Especially, I would suggest, by this coalition government. And the London Mayor - Boris Johnson - regularly makes pledges about things over which he has no power but which sound really good as a sound bite. But when pinned down - as he was on LBC radio's Nick Ferrari show this morning - and asked something about which he should know as it is within his responsibility - in this case tube fares - he often shows an ignorance which, imo, displays an arrogance. [He also flunked some IQ questions on the show which on the back of his controversial speech last week has caused many humourous comments on twitter]

So the point of this blog? Well perhaps:
  1. Politicians should try not to promise that which they are not absolutely confident they can fulfill 
  2. We should treat all promises, especially those from politicians and employers with great caution
  3. Never think you know all about a well loved place! 
  4. As a society we should be prepared to learn from the past that a promise, pledge etc is inviolable and not to be given lightly

Monday 11 November 2013

Conscientious Objectors

Over the past few days leading up to Remembrance Day I have taken part in many discussions/debates - virtual and real - about white versus red poppies [with a detour about purple poppies], pacifism, whether one can honour the dead and afflicted of all conflicts without wearing any poppy, whether shops should be open before the two minute silence of Remembrance Sunday and more. At times I found myself getting upset, at times verging on anger [not an emotion that I wish to feel] that some of my fellow debaters seem to almost wilfully misunderstand my views.

But one group of 'veterans' is too often forgotten and I am as guilty of this as the rest, but should feel more shame. This group is the Conscientious Objectors, those who refused to bear arms 'for their country' due to their strongly held principles, but could not always convince the tribunals who tried their cases that they should be exempt from military service.

The photograph above shows my parents around 1939, the year of their marriage. As a married woman my mother was exempt from military service but was along with my father, a Conscientious Objector. My father had to appear before a tribunal and, as I understood it, had his appeal for exemption rejected because he would not rule out that he would refuse to fight in every war but stated as he had worked so hard for peace in the years before 1939 he could not in all honesty fight in this war. Again, as I understood it, he was eventually, if not totally exempted, allowed to not 'join up' as long as he retained his job which was considered to be a kind of reserved profession, a journalist [ 'alternative civillian service']

I know that the two of them went through many heart breaks and much heartsearching during the war. Both had brothers and cousins in the military and both worked with voluntary organisations in war aid efforts. I think of them every remembrance day and am so glad that they and their comrades are honoured at Tavistock Square, London on Remembrance Day every year.

To read more about Conscientious Objectors and their stories in World War I click the link here and for World War II here.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Remembrance Day 2013 - Uncle Harry and Uncle Ron

Its almost a tradition that I write a Remembrance Day blog. Not what I intended when I wrote the first one in 2010. Or the next in 2011. Or the one in 2012. And I definitely wasn't going to do it this year, but once again there has been so much discussion in the media about the wearing or not of red poppies and in political forums about the terrible principles of those who do not - or even worse wear white poppies - that I felt I had a bit more to add.

The lovely photograph above, although blurred in the copying, was sent to us from one of Other Half's relatives in Canada last night. It is of his Uncle Harry who was killed in WW2 in Belgium. We have never seen this picture before and it is therefore very precious to us, blurred or not. And that is what Remembrance Day should surely be all about. Remembering those who died or were affected in whatever conflict, on whatever side and whenever. And for us as Pacifists working toward Peace so that waste will never happen again, and that all the Uncle Harrys in future will live and meet their nephews, nieces, great nephews and nieces and great-great nephews and nieces. This Uncle Harry never met his descendants - but they still remember him and have talked about him all their lives.

Also this year my family will additionally mourn the passing this August of my lovely Uncle Ron who was taken prisoner of war at the Battle of Arnhem which left him with emotional battle scars. In the title of the book written about him by his son 'Too nice to be a soldier':

So whatever colour poppy one wears, or whether one wears one or not, do remember all those who have died. I respect others' rights to disagree with my wearing a white poppy but the surprising thing is they do not seem to respect my right so to do whilst claiming that wars are fought to allow freedom of thought and expression......

Monday 21 October 2013

Never Forget - Aberfan

Its pouring with rain today. Just as it had been in Aberfan forty seven years ago, although not on the day itself.

This is a deeply personal blog. When the news of the Aberfan disaster reached us in Essex, my family only heard that it was a place with the name beginning with 'Aber'. Like many Welsh ex-pats, my Father's home village began with the prefix 'Aber'*. However the slag tip that moved and engulfed the school, the children and the teachers was at Aberfan, about 25 miles away.

As we sat and watched the tv news, somehow more horrific in black and white although we were watching in real time, as in so many houses across the UK and the world, the tears were pouring down our faces. We knew the area, not that far from 'our' village, but that surely made no difference to the horror and empathy every parent and observer felt. But all those who had lived and played in the shadow [quite literally] of slag tips felt an extra pain.

My father hardly slept that night. And the little sleep he had, was full of nightmares that he was pulling my cousin out of the slag.

There is no need here to replay the causes, the warnings not heeded, the wonderful rescue efforts, the lessons learnt, many web sites detail** all this. They tell of lives affected, not just those left living in the village itself but those like the nearby university students who arrived to try and pull survivors from the wreckage only to find that it was not survivors they were recovering. Many of those students went on to become teachers and replayed those days over and over again.

But we must never forget those children and adults who died. We must never forget the warnings that went unheeded and remember now when health and safety jobs have been amongst the many job cuts recently that we can never be too careful.

May all who died sleep gently and may their families find peace. May we never forget.

* which means the mouth or confluence of a river or small stream. It is usually followed by the name of the river.

**Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aberfan_disaster

Photo above shows the Aberfan memorial garden.

Thursday 3 October 2013

A [Peace] Poem for National Poetry Day


Untitled poem by Bertolt Brecht:

General your tank is a powerful vehicle.
It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men.
But it has one defect:
It needs a driver.

General, your bomber is powerful.
It flies faster than a storm and carries more than an elephant.
But it has one defect:
It needs a mechanic.

General, man is very useful.
He can fly and he can kill.
But he has one defect:
He can think.
by Bertolt Brecht

Wednesday 2 October 2013

A Lesson in Double Standards or an Open Blog to Lord Rothermere

When teaching, especially small children, sometimes the easiest way to teach literary terms, everyday sayings, proverbs etc is to give an example of the point under discussion.

So today's example for the saying under discussion 'Double Standards' was provided nicely for me by a discussion on last night's BBC2 Newsnight programme. If you missed the piece in question you can view it here.

The piece featured an interview with Jon Steafel, the deputy editor of the Daily Mail followed by a discussion between Steafel and Alistair Campbell on the subject of the Mail's article by Geoffrey Levy published last Saturday attacking Ed Miliband's father Ralph. 

Interviewed by Emily Maitlis, Steafel defended his paper's decision to publish the article by suggesting that Ed Milliband must have been influenced by his father's 'dangerous' political views which commenced with a diary entry of a boy of seventeen, quoted out of context* . However when Maitlis asked whether the paper's owner - Lord Rothermere - had been influenced by his g.grandfather's publication in 1934 of the article written by him [and adult!!] Hurrah for the Blackshirts 

Steafel insisted it would not have done! I was surprised that the walls of the studio did not fall in with such a blatant example of Double Standards.

In the interview on Newsnight, Alistair Campbell displays - imo - a righteous anger against the Daily Mail. Today's edition of the Daily Mail shows no repentance. 

Normally I try to inject a bit of humour into my blogs. I cannot find anything funny in this subject.

*In an article in today's Guardian the author of Ralph Miliband and the Politics of the New Left (Merlin Press, 2002), Michael Newman explains how the Mail distorted quotes from his book.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Don't buy the Daily Fail, read Ed Miliband's reply here!

'Ultimate tribute': Ed, pictured with Ralph in 1989, is determined to bring about his father's vision of socialism

Ed & Ralph Miliband in 1989 as published alongside Geoffrey Levy's article
Below is Ed Miliband's reply, published in today's Daily Mail, to the scurrilous article by Geoffrey Levy which the Mail published last Saturday [28th September]
Ed Miliband: My Dad Was A Man Who Loved Britain
Ed Miliband MP, Leader of the Labour Party, writes in Tuesday’s edition of the Daily Mail:
"It was June 1944 and the Allies were landing in Normandy. A 20-year old man, who had arrived in Britain as a refugee just four years earlier, was part of that fight. He was my father. Fighting the Nazis and fighting for his adopted country.
On Saturday, the Daily Mail chose to publish an article about him under the banner headline “The Man Who Hated Britain.”
It’s part of our job description as politicians to be criticised and attacked by newspapers, including the Daily Mail. It comes with the territory. The British people have great wisdom to sort the fair from the unfair. And I have other ways of answering back.
But my Dad is a different matter. He died in 1994. I loved him and he loved Britain. And there is no credible argument in the article or evidence from his life which can remotely justify the lurid headline and its accompanying claim that it would “disturb everyone who loves this country”.
Saturday’s article referred to a single diary entry by my father, written as a 17 year old, describing the suspicion he found of the Continent and the French when he arrived here. To ignore his service and work in Britain and build an entire case about him hating our country on an adolescent diary entry is, of course, absurd.
In fact, his story will make you understand why he loved Britain. Britain saved him from the Nazis. He arrived here as a 16 year-old boy - a Jew - having walked 100 kilometres with his Dad from Brussels to Ostend to catch one of the last boats out before the German soldiers arrived.
It was a boat to Britain. He arrived, separated from his mother and sister, knowing no English but found a single room to share with my grandfather. He was determined to better himself and survive. He worked as a removal man, passed exams at Acton Technical College and was accepted to university. Then he joined the Royal Navy.
He did so because he was determined to be part of the fight against the Nazis and to help his family hidden in Belgium. He was fighting for Britain.
When I was growing up, he didn’t talk much about the Holocaust years because it was a deep trauma for both sides of my family. But he did talk about his naval service.
The Daily Mail’s article on Saturday used just a few words to brush over the years my father spent fighting for his adopted country in the Second World War. But it played a bigger part in his life than that.
It was hard for him as a newcomer in the Navy. Life could be rough. But when we were growing up, he talked about how he had grown to have deep respect for the people he served with. He loved how the Navy brought together people from all classes and all backgrounds.
My father would often talk about the time he spent on the ships where his job was to pick up and translate German radio messages. He remembered the banter at meal times and recounted moments like his discharge from the Navy when his commanding officer’s parting words were: “Don’t vote Labour, Miliband.”
After the war, he went back to university. Later, he would meet my Mum, become a university teacher and raise a family. My father’s strongly left wing views are well known, as is the fact that I have pursued a different path and I have a different vision.
He was a man with a great sense of humour so the idea of me being part of some “sinister” Marxist plot would have amused him and disappointed him in equal measure and for the same reason - he would have known it was ludicrously untrue. I want to make capitalism work for working people, not destroy it.
But whatever else is said about my Dad’s political views, Britain was a source of hope and comfort for him, not hatred. Having been born in Belgium he didn’t start from a belief in the inferiority of other countries, but he loved Britain for the security it offered his family and the gentle decency of our nation.
When we went on holiday abroad, the part he would look forward to the most was coming home. When he taught in America, he hated being away from our family and from Britain. When he thought of how many Jews had been killed, including members of our family, he felt very lucky that his boat from Belgium had come here.
Like most refugees, the security of our country was really important to him. And like some refugees, he owed his life to it. So my Dad loved Britain, he served Britain, and he taught both David and me to do the same.
Britain has always benefitted from a free press. Those freedoms should be treasured. They are vital for our democracy. Journalists need to hold politicians like me to account - none of us should be given an easy ride - and I look forward to a robust 19 months between now and the General Election.
But what appeared in the Daily Mail on Saturday was of a different order all together. I know they say ‘you can’t libel the dead’ but you can smear them.
Fierce debate about politics does not justify character assassination of my father, questioning the patriotism of a man who risked his life for our country in the Second World War, or publishing a picture of his gravestone with a tasteless pun about him being a ‘grave socialist’.

The Daily Mail sometimes claims it stands for the best of British values of decency. But something has really gone wrong when it attacks the family of a politician - any politician - in this way. It would be true of an attack on the father of David Cameron, Nick Clegg, or mine.
There was a time when politicians stayed silent if this kind of thing happened, in the hope that it wouldn’t happen again. And fear that if they spoke out, it would make things worse. I will not do that. The stakes are too high for our country for politics to be conducted in this way. We owe it to Britain to have a debate which reflects the values of how we want the country run."

I am declaring a personal interest, I suppose, as my late father was a friend of the late Ralph Miliband. However as my Socialist politics are more to the left of my father's socialist politics & Ed Miliband's are to the right of his father's socialist politics there is a sort of ironic cross over! I never met Ralph or his sons.

Monday 30 September 2013

A Return to Nineteenth Century Values

Hackney workhouse stone yard c.1900 © London Borough of Hackney Archives Dept.
Stone-breaking was also a favourite task to be given to vagrants staying overnight in the workhouse tramp wards. From the 1880s, these often had special cells where the men were detained until they had broken the required weight of stone into pieces small enough to fall through a grid to the outside.*

For a brief moment when listening to the radio yesterday, I thought I was listening to a reading from a 19thC novel. Then reality clicked in and I realised in fact it was the news and  the latest policy announcement from the Tory party conference. As the Independent reports today:
All those who have been unemployed for three years will have to do some work or training in return for their benefits – or attend a jobcentre every day – under tough measures to be laid out in detail by George Osborne today.  
My first reaction - like many of you I am sure - 'do the Tories honestly believe that forcing long term unemployed workers [that oxymoron is deliberate] to attend a jobcentre daily or pick up rubbish etc will inspire them to rush out and find a non-existent job?' is plainly ludicrous. But then I realised that, if we as a society are returning to 19thC values and mores as the Tories plainly seem to want, then perhaps yes, this is what they believe.

I know I have quoted the Protestant Work Ethic of the 19thC before but Just In Case you have missed it, here we go again:
The Protestant work ethic (or the Puritan work ethic) is a concept in theologysociologyeconomics and history which emphasizes hard work, frugality and diligence as a constant display of a person's salvation in the Christian faith.......  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestant_work_ethic
In other words, if one was poor and needy in the 19thC it was a sign that God was displeased with you and if you were rich and successful it was a sign that you had gained God's favour by working hard, and the richer you became the more pleased God was. So the poor had to keep working harder and harder because the reward was in God's hands [quite convenient for the employing class not having to pay more in wages, obviously] and the rich had to make more and more profits to prove that God was even more pleased with their 'industry'. That of course is a quick, cynical, marxist interpretation of Weber's theory but I am Elizannie.

The Independent goes on to say:
But the Chancellor will tell the conference: “For the first time, all long-term unemployed people who are capable of work will be required to do something in return for their benefits to help them find work. 

Maybe I am naive, but if there is 'something' for long term unemployed 'to do', couldn't these 'somethings' be construed as jobs? And thus wouldn't the unemployed be employed and then they wouldn't be unemployed any more and would pay tax and national insurance. I seem to have missed something somewhere along the way.  I do know several people who whilst unemployed wanted to work in various charitable, unpaid areas such as schools, care homes etc to raise their skills but this was not allowed/was impractical by the rules of the jobcentres they attended. 

*The photograph above is taken from the site maintained by the great Peter Higginbottam http://www.workhouses.org.uk Please visit the site not just because it is so interesting for a vision of what a return to 19thC values could mean. 

Thursday 26 September 2013

ASDA, you have seriously offended a lot of people - what are you going to do about it?

BBC News

Supermarket chain Asda [and Tesco] has apologised and withdrawn a Halloween outfit it was selling online as a "mental patient fancy dress costume", after criticism.

My last blog asked the question 'What Offends You?'. I have had a few emails in reply although I had hoped for more and am still hoping....

However I hadn't even got out of bed this morning when an item on the radio news had me so offended that I almost jumped out  and down the stairs [which with 'my back' could have been a mistake] in my rush to get to the keyboard and ask Asda via social media and this blog for an explanation.

Fortunately by the time my trusty machine had fired up I had calmed down a little and the radio was also letting me know that other people were also seriously offended. Surfing news sites and twitter showed that plenty of others are upset. And sadly, that Tesco had been selling a similar outfit which they too have also withdrawn.

I replied to a friend on facebook who had beaten me to it with his complaint:
I found this absolutely disgusting and don't think an apology is enough - a substantial contribution to a mental health charity would be a start. However to think that a big company would think this is acceptable behavior is seriously worrying and indicitive of areas of our uncaring society.
For a statement on this from MIND, the mental health charity, please click on this link.

Breaking news: Asda have just announced that they will be making a donation to Mind. However, although I am very pleased about this, the damage has already been done and like many others I am sure, I will be complaining to both Asda & Tesco head offices. Please join me if you agree.

BTW I love Halloween and fancy dress. My worst outfit was a bra tied round my head with images of ghosts stuck to it - 'GHOSTBUSTERS'. I have promised not to do that again - but it wasn't as bad taste as the Asda and Tesco outfits, surely?

Saturday 21 September 2013

What Offends You?

Lemn Sissay with golliwogs
Photograph courtesy of The Guardian

There was a very interesting article in yesterday's Guardian's [20th September] 'Comment is Free' by Lemn Sissay about the sale of Golliwogs in a shop in the Shetland Isles. Like Lemn, I am always very offended if I see these 'dolls' on sale in a shop - but instead of complaining to the shop owner, Lemn blogged about the experience and then wrote about the effects of this blog and how he felt in the Guardian yesterday.

After his original blog, there was quite a furore in Shetland and the shop owner was rather upset. The article in the Guardian yesterday is - I think - Lemn justifying his blog. It is very interesting as it details the history of Golliwogs [I do hate that word] but in a way displays a lack of understanding about the way a previous generation [he talks about an grey lady, and elderly lady. Probably my age for goodness sake!] played with these dolls without any awareness of their duplicitous meaning. Now I am older and wiser [well perhaps] and would never have bought these dolls for my children and grandchildren.

Whilst I completely agree your feelings, Lemn, when you saw the dolls on sale [I don't even want to use the 'descriptive' name of them because I feel it is that offensive] and I think your blog is fair because it describes your feelings, I think it would have been even fairer if you had explained to the little old lady that you objected to the sale of the dolls, and why.I remember having one of these dolls as a child, reading about them in Enid Blyton's books and collecting the replicas on jars of jam to get an enamel brooch [I am so ashamed of these I won't even sell them on ebay!!] But that was then, I was tiny and it was the 1950s. Now I know better and when I was staying at a resort a couple of years ago where the shop was selling plastic 4 inch such  dolls I complained to the owners and they have been taken from sale. However in the Lake District last year, where all sizes of Peter Rabbits, Jemima PuddleDuck et al were being sold [at rather inflated prices] in many shops in many towns it became impractical to complain in everyone, packed as they were with tourists eager to part with their money. Was I a coward? Probably.
The photograph of you and the dolls is probably the most powerful statement of the whole piece, btw.Michael Rosen's advice was excellent. Because what children learn, the adult teaches. So Lemn, what do I conclude? Keep on blogging and complaining about the racist connotations of these iniquitous dolls.  But if it is any use to you, I always warn 'subjects' if I am going to 'use' them in a rant and credit the photos. So take this as notice that I will do both! Haven't written the blog yet but it will be on http://rephidimstreet.blogspot.co.uk/ Don't worry, I have nowhere near as many readers as you!
Sometimes we get so absorbed in our justified passions that we find it difficult to step outside ourselves to see another's point of view. I can be as guilty of this as the next person. I have also been in the position where someone has unwittingly insulted me - when - as too often happens - someone shouts at me 'Are you deaf?' I don't actually feel offended because I am deaf, usually I find it funny because I realise I have covered it up rather well. On the odd day when I am in a bad mood this can upset me!! But we do need to always allow the other person to express their point of view. Even if we think, ultimately, that it is rubbish.

What offends you?

Monday 16 September 2013

You Really Couldn't Make This Up, Sadly


Something I love about facebook is the way that it can spark a train of thoughts which ends up as a blog on this site! But a post from one of my friend's today had me almost speechless [odd I know!] and wondering if I have somehow 'shifted' into some kind of parallel, satiric world.

The link which this friend posted was to Wings Over Scotland
which is a 'Scottish political website, which focuses particularly on the media – whether mainstream print and broadcast organisations or the online and social-network community – as well as offering its own commentary and analysis' [to quote from their 'about us'] and the post upon which I am concentrating is from July 31st and entitled The Pride of Britain. Do please read it.

The premise of the article - which shows photos of various MPs [across parties] - opening food banks up and down Britain - is how can representatives of the people look so happy to be opening what is surely symbolic of something which shows the shame of Britain. The idea that food banks are necessary in the 21st century because welfare benefits and wages are insufficient for many to be able to feed themselves and their families surely must fill any caring citizen with concern? The idea - boasted about in parliament last week - the job centres refer claimants to food banks - is, to me, toxic. Patrick Butler wrote an excellent blog about the the DWP shenigans via the job centres  in the Guardian earlier this month. Please read this too.

I have 'lifted' the photograph above from the Wings over Scotland article. In their words it shows

Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander MP, opening a foodbank with a cretinous smile on his face as if being a member of the government of a modern industrial nation in need of foodbanks was something to be happy about
In the 60s satirical TV programmes arrived on our TV screen and were welcomed by my generation and shocked the older generations. We laughed at the scenarios posed by That Was The Week That Was, The Frost Report, Rowan and Martyn's Laugh-In, At Last The 1948 Show and more. Nothing approached this true life stupidity.

I have posited before that we are returning to the 19thC ideals of the 'Deserving Poor'. [BTW that link refers to the Disraeli novel Sybilsubtitled Two Nation another prase often heard. Read it and weep]

Well, I seem to have given you all a lot of reading homework. I must have temporarily forgotten that I am retired and no longer lecturing. But if we don't learn the lessons of the past and additionally remain aware of what is going on in our present, we will have severe problems in the future. 

Thursday 12 September 2013

?Royal? Mail

Elizannie was extremely rude last night when the news broke that the Royal Mail stock market flotation is set to go ahead and commented with rather a naughty word on facebook. By the time she got to twitter she had managed to be a bit more measured and polite but still very annoyed.

So that her readers would not be offended, Elizannie decided to have a night's sleep before tackling the issue on the blog'o'sphere and will now resume the first person narration before said readers get really annoyed......


I have to declare an interest in this subject because all through my life there has been some family member working for the Royal Mail. At times there have been more than one postmen amongst my family members. So I know all about the unsocial hours and working through bad weather conditions and snappy dogs and snappy letter boxes. But lots of other jobs have disadvantages so we will leave those 'problems' there and concentrate on whether we still need a state owned mail delivery service.

When I was a small child in the 1950s, obviously the importance of the speed of mail delivery differed to the needs of the second decade of the 21st century. But a little recap of what it was like in the 1950s for those who are not as ancient as I!

A brief canter through the history of the postal service since WW2. In the early 1950s, very few homes had a telephone. 'Trippers' to the seaside on a day out could send a postcard home when they arrived and this postcard would usually be delivered by the afternoon mail, before the writer arrived home. 'Local' mail posted in the morning in a town would be delivered in that town  by the afternoon mail [the 'second post'*] There was even a letter and a parcel delivery on Christmas Day. Really urgent messages [good and bad] were sent via telegram. With the growth of the telephone service telegram usage dropped and this service was discontinued by BT in 2003, but in the 1950s and 1960s the telegram boy was not an unusual sight on our streets.
*The second post was finally discontinued in 2001

Until 1968, a greetings card - on condition that it was simply signed 'from whoever' and not sealed, i.e. the flap of the envelope was 'tucked in' - could be posted at a lesser rate than the ordinary sealed letter. In July 1968 'First' and 'Second' class was introduced, which seriously disturbed the sensibilities of a budding Marxist such as me. It was explained as 'first' class mail, costing slightly more, would take priority over the less important 'second' class mail.

Of course in the 60 years since I was a child things have changed. Then very few houses had their own telephone and who would have dreamt that by the end of the century mobile 'phones would be in the majority of the population's pockets and handbags?! The world wide web and email has changed the mode of communications for both personal and business users.

But - and here's the thing - parcels and packets cannot be squeezed through cyber space. E-Birthday & Christmas cards cannot be displayed on the mantelpiece [unless printed out when they tend to fall over..] Surprisingly, people do still write letters - business and personal. Not everyone has access to the internet. So there will always be a need for a delivery service that will cover all parts of the country.

[Break here for 'phone call from Other Half and listen to his diatribe against Royal Mail Privatisation. Repeatedly interrupt with 'I know' a la Sybil Fawlty]

About thirty years ago, monopoly of the delivery of parcels was taken from the Royal Mail and now there are many delivery services of differing efficacy. Due to Other Half's employment, we often have up to three or four of these so called services calling at our door per day. Without being biased [honestly] the best of these is undoubtedly provided by the Royal Mail/Parcel Force and they cover all areas. They may not always be the cheapest but they are the most reliable. The others are so profit-led that they will not deliver to out of the way places or take awkward/unusual cargo. They do not offer a full, country wide service.

A postman pushes a hand cart with a large GPO basket on it along a promenade, 1938. The basket contains mail unloaded from the Canadian Pacific Railways liner Duchess of Bedford at Greenock. Beginning its journey in places such as New Zealand and China, once unloaded, the mail was then sorted in the open air ‘sorting office’ of the Princes Pier before being despatched for delivery across the United Kingdom. (POST 118/851)

A postman pushes a hand cart with a large GPO basket on it along a promenade, 1938. The basket contains mail unloaded from the Canadian Pacific Railways liner Duchess of Bedford at Greenock. Beginning its journey in places such as New Zealand and China, once unloaded, the mail was then sorted in the open air ‘sorting office’ of the Princes Pier before being despatched for delivery across the United Kingdom. (POST 118/851)

Photo courtesy 

So why am I so anti Privatisation of the Royal Mail? Where do I start? Well let's look at the other 'public services' that have been privatised, for a start.

[Break off to answer the door to the Parcel Force man bearing a parcel. Have a nice chat with him including him having a look around our caravan which is parked in the front garden. I kid you not...]

The energy & water companies were ticking along quite nicely as public services when the then Conservative government decided to privatise them. The Government made it sound as if they were offering the electorate a 'get rich scheme'. And who owns most of the shares now? Foreign businesses. And what has happened to the prices now that we have 'competitive' businesses which 'compete' to give us lower prices? Answers on a postcard, posted in a Royal Mail box please.

[I couldn't make this up - I broke off here to check an email which has just arrived. To my absolute fury it is offering me the chance to register an interest in buying shares in Royal Mail. This is really rubbing salt into the wound, especially as I am ideologically opposed to share dealing]

Another 'bad' privatisation example, the bus service. I live in a smallish village and after privatisation we have several companies competing on some of the old routes whilst others - presumably less profitable and/or at 'awkward' times are not covered at all. So we no longer have bus services, we have bus companies intent on making profits.

My opposition to the privatisation of the Royal Mail - if I haven't made it quite clear - is basically that one cannot expect services to always be profitable. My fears are that once the control of the Royal Mail passes into the hands of those who care less about service provision and the welfare of their employees and more about the profit & loss accounts and balance sheets we will see a deterioration in service, a rise in prices and a worsening in employment terms.

The Communion Workers Union has been fighting these plans for quite a while and have issued a statement today which can be read here.

[There is a question still not fully answered about the Royal Mail Pension Plan which has been in deficit which I will leave for another day]

Interesting Links:
The British Postal Museum & Archive

Postal system of the United Kingdom  [wikipedia]