"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, 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]

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Tom Lehrer and I

The wonderful, multi talented American singer-songwriter, saatirsit, painist and matematician Tom Lehrer commented on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger in 1973 that it 'made political satire obsolete'.

I am reminded of this when trying to write a blog linking the large arms fair at the Excel centre in London this week, the American Secretary of State John Kerry, arriving in London yesterday to call for support for intervention in Syria after their alleged use of chemical weapons and the latest news that Russia seems to becoming the peace broker.

So rather than write I will listen to my old Tom Lehrer CDs and reflect on how the world has changed [?] since I first heard them.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Write an essay detailing what you did in the holidays

When our children were small, Other Half used to comment that ours was probably the only home were Mum was crying because the kids were going back to school the next day and the kids were excited. Leaving that conundrum aside, many children will be facing the above written question in the next few days, maybe in a foreign language, in an attempt to ease them and their teachers back into school routine.

However, holidays are important. Time to spend with families and other friends to those of term time, different places to see - maybe only a bus ride away but still away from the norm. Different things to do - or maybe the same old things but in a different place. Jam sandwiches as a child but made by my maternal Grandmother tasted so different!

Most of the school holidays this year Other Half and I spent in our little tin hut, on a cliff in the West Country with family and friends. We camp out very often with the same 'crowd', some of whom we may only meet up with once a year. Grandchildren came and stayed, played and left again. Some asked for different things and played different games. We tried to show them things and were taught things by them and our friends. Friends came and went, some did not make it this year whilst others arrived joyfully after a gap of a couple of years. We all returned home dirtier, older and maybe a bit wiser.

I learnt that jumping on bouncy castles creates a very strange feeling in one's tum.
I saw that some children cannot bear even to drop a ball in a competitive game whilst others loved just to join with others in the fun. [This attitude seems to continue in adult children. Especially little boys of about 35 or so]
I found it possible to ignore politics when the strain became too much and a cream tea was on offer, but not the threat of another war in the Middle East.
I watched Mums smooth over many a dispute between toddlers to teenagers. As with the awareness of war, Mums can never relax their vigilance. However - waiting awhile until the dust settles often means that quarrels are forgotten and the game continues in another way.
I realised that however happy one is, the death of a dearly beloved uncle, however elderly and expected, can still break one's heart and necessitate time alone to think about him and give thanks for his life.
I enjoyed the quiet times chatting with old friends just as much as the rowdy times being ever so silly and laughing a lot. The company is the main thing in both instances.
I noticed how different we all are. Children and adults, brothers and sisters, parents and childrens - we all have differents likes and dislikes and with fixed views even at two or three years old. Trying to change another's views is so often unnessary - there is usually the space to accomodate all - or that bane of children and parents: 'Share'!
I understood that there can be as much joy in small things that don't cost much as in huge presents. Watching the face of one of my grandson's on a trip to a [free] museum as he became interested in an artefact was a treasure that could not be bought!

Maybe some of our politicians and leaders should watch children at play and learn a few things from them. It can't be worse than the way the politicos are acting now, surely?

Just a few random thoughts, and I am still sad when the [grand] children go back to school.

Photo courtesy: http://www.oldclassiccar.co.uk/forum/phpbb/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=9907&sid=8db1042267ce03e2494f9406df37d1d1