About Me

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Blogging about things that matter to me. Photographing things I love - Instagram @debcyork. Writing about both. Only wine and chocolate can save us… You can also find me on Twitter (@debcyork) and Facebook. If you like four-legged views, try @missbonniedog on Twitter

Monday, 9 October 2017

It Could Happen

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Did you see Who Do You Think You Are? on BBC1 last week?  Fans of the series have been waiting for this last episode for a while but it was worth it.  Unbelievably moving.  Very stark.  None of the happy chat with relations before or after the search.  But it was perfectly pitched in this respect.  Ruby Wax has suffered from mental health issues for twenty years and her search was very much to look for answers about the parental behaviour which she knows damaged her.

Ruby had never been told anything about her parents' history or their families.  She admitted during the programme that only her continuing medication was at that point keeping her calm about what she was finding out.  If you haven't seen the programme, please do click on the link above.  I don't want to spoil it by saying much more except to say that there are both Holocaust and mental health links.

And on a connected note, last week my daughter came home from school in quite a state.  They had been reading The Boy In Striped Pyjamas in English at school and her teacher had decided to show them a film about Auschwitz.  My girl was terribly affected by it and said she had cried in the lesson.  She is only eleven.

If you have read this blog before, you will know that I try to link history to current events and trends.  I am very much in favour of learning the lessons of history, of not turning away from difficult subjects, of fighting back against inequality and so on.  However, the tearful questions which arose from my daughter's experience last week really tested me.  Let me give you a taster:

1)  'The really skinny people were smiling in the film.'
'Well, I think those people were probably being filmed by the American and British liberators.  It sounds like survivor photos.'
'But why didn't we do anything sooner?  Did they know?  How could they not help?'
Can open, worms everywhere.

2)  'Why do I need to know this, to see this stuff?'
I'm sorry you got such a shock and I don't agree it was the right time to show you a film, but it is important that everyone knows about what happened.  It mustn't ever happen again.
'But this wouldn't ever happen again!'
We don't know that.  That's why we should stand up for what we believe in, for what's right.
'Is this to do with Donald Trump? Could he do this?'
What the hell do you say to this, other than try to be comforting whilst worrying about Trump, Putin and the rest.

And so on and so forth.

I do not agree with how this teacher has handled the subject matter and I have told the school so.  However, in some ways I was glad to see the connections being made.  I wrote the other week about not just looking forward in our own lives and the Holocaust is probably the most horrendous example in history of something which should never be forgotten.  The Nazis manipulated public thoughts and feelings in ways which should provide a terrible lesson to us all.  If they could achieve such control using relatively primitive methods of propaganda, what could  - are - those in power doing today?  With all the modern communication methods available to them?

The world is becoming a nastier place for all sorts of people and all sorts of reasons.  And the gaps between the haves and have nots are becoming larger.  A world like that is not why we fought the Nazis.  It will soon be Remembrance Sunday.  Remember those who fought and died but also the reasons why.

Monday, 2 October 2017

No More Guns

Just to say that each time I tried to write a post today - Monday as usual - my phone pinged again with more news from the Las Vegas shootings.  And I just could not seem to find the right thing to whitter about in the light of the awful news.

So I am not posting fully this week.  But I am going to add my small voice to the pleas for gun controls in America.  I just do not understand how anyone can want to live in a place where it is legal to carry a gun openly, where anyone can own a machine gun or worse, where no real checks are carried out on those who own guns.  I understand that you cannot stop people who are very determined.  But I don't think there is any reason to make it easy for people to get hold of whatever they feel like having in their gun cabinets.  

It would take a mighty federal effort now to change the US and it would take a long, long time to change the culture.  But someone needs to be brave and take the initiative.  And I am not sure it is Trump, if you look at his supporters' priorities, backgrounds, etc...

In San Diego last year, we went to a 'sporting goods' superstore, looking for particular trainers for my son.  To our amazement, there was an enormous area devoted to guns and their accoutrements.  Just there, in full view.  Never seen anything like it in the UK and hope never to do so either.  I would not like my children to think such display of killing machines was normal.

As someone said on Twitter today, 'less thoughts and prayers and more action needed this time'.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Look Both Ways

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A little while ago, someone said to me that their life was always about going forward.  They didn't understand why some people either want or need to understand certain events from their past or why those people might still have fears generated by those situations.

I have thought about this a great deal.  Do people focus too much on what has happened to them previously?  Is it self indulgent to do so?  And I must say  I really don't agree.  Whatever has happened to you or around you (especially in childhood) is what has shaped you.  For better or worse. If you think have the ability to only look forwards, then that in itself, it seems to me, is a learnt skill.  A decision not to be affected by events or others.  Single minded yes, but necessarily helpful to those around them.

But if that's how you roll, good for you.  However, I think many (most?) of us have things from our past which we know affect us still.  Whether familial or professional.  Over the years, I have spent a fair amount of time with therapists.  Post-natal depression turned out to be a bit deeper and becoming a parent raised all sorts of questions about my own upbringing.  Even this year, I went to a therapist for a few months because there were things I needed to work through.  I felt I needed to learn in order to go forwards. 

This blog has often tried to think about how the wider past affects us.  I have regularly written about  learning from history.  Quite recently I wrote that I was seeming more political than family history orientated on the blog but that I felt it was justified in these uncertain times.  The thread of family history runs from the past to the future and I feel we have a responsibility to our descendants when it comes to the threat of nuclear war or to the implications of Brexit, etc.

In fact, as I write the news channels are full of the breakthrough of the Far Right in Germany's elections.  Buoyed no doubt by the refugee crises and by the racist, sexist White House occupant.  If ever there was a reason why we must keep looking back in order to move on, this is it.  These people feed on discontent and on each other's bravado and they spread disinformation.  I don't believe we should simply face forwards in our personal lives and I definitely don't believe it in our political lives.  Learn from history.

[By the way, on a lighter 'the past affects us' note, I still have flashbacks to the vile boss I had at one City job and to certain amateur dramatics humiliations, to name but two.  What about you?]

Monday, 11 September 2017

Weather He Exists

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As the rolling news coverage is showing, our planet is undergoing, once again, extreme weather to say the least.  And as ever, Donald Trump's commentary language is about as simplistic as it gets.  The use of the words 'bad', 'good', 'very' are his go-to descriptives for everything though, aren't they?

However, even a greater intellect than Trump (no comment on how difficult it would be to find a person of more intellect - other than 'try the nursery') would struggle to describe something so extreme which they completely deny should be happening.

What puzzles me about the American Right is how you align extreme Christian religion with the denial of global warming.  If you are Creationist, what do you think is happening to the planet?  If you believe wholeheartedly - word for word - in the Bible, you must, for example, believe that Noah was told by God to build the Ark to save the animals 'two by two' (hey, there's a song there) while He flooded the place.

If it is not global warming, what is happening to our weather, our temperatures, our sea levels?  Is 'God' doing this?  And if so, why?  What are we being punished for?

Personally, I think the writers of the story of Noah were telling - a long time after the event - of a situation caused by a some kind of planetary issue.  And in another example, the plagues described as descending on Egypt were to do with extreme weather.  More likely explanations surely?

As a teenager, I was very involved in the Methodist Church.  Many of those who I went to youth events with subsequently entered the ministry or worked for the church in other capacities.  For me, I did greatly enjoy my time and I hope I took a moral compass from it.  I did believe in religion to an extent.  But it was not unquestioning.  And I have never thought that God created the world in seven days, etc etc.  To me, these tales are clearly a way of making sense of history passed down to the writers, of the world around the writers, of the unknown.

Or is there something we, the little people, are missing here?  There is film called 2012.  It is a disaster movie based on the idea that extreme sea level rises cause catastrophic flooding on the Earth. The only humans to survive are those who have places on giant space-ship-like vessels which have been secretly built.  And the places on those ships go mainly to the wealthy and those in government.

I am sorry if this is all getting a bit David Icke for you.  But having now watched fires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes in the space of a week, I am even more terrified by Trump and co's refusal to believe in the need to mend out ways.  By their actual reversal of the measures which have so far been taken - and which never went far enough in the first place.  We, and not God, are most definitely killing our beautiful and bountiful planet.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Educating Everyone

And here we are.  September and back to school.  Only a day late with my first blog...  Hope you have had a good summer.

With the start of the new term, I have been pondering education.  My youngest starts secondary so we are entering a new phase.

Last week, in The Times, there was an article about the three brothers who head up the Harrop Fold Secondary School featuring in the new Educating Greater Manchester documentary on Channel Four.  It was a thought-provoking piece.  Not least for the admission that a school which has been turned around in a remarkable fashion over the last decade - it was once labelled 'the worst secondary school in the country' - is now being held back (strangled) by a £1.5 million debt.  It is not alone in this issue, thanks to the Private Finance Initiative.

Since I had just returned from Carfest, the BBC Children In Need money-raising festival, I was particularly struck by the disparity of expectation in our country.  At Carfest, we had a great time (lucky to be able to afford to participate) and no doubt, millions have been raised over the two festivals this year.  But the enterprise revolves around (duh!) cars.  And most of them are exceptionally expensive cars, owned by billionaires.  Just one of the Ferraris we saw is worth more than that debt at Harrop Fold.  Even if the festivals make a still-amazing £6 million or something, the entire proceeds could not purchase more than three or four of those Ferraris, McClarens, etc.

As I have written before, we do not live in a poor country.  We live in a country where choices are made for us about how our money is spent.  We are then 'persuaded' that these are the right choices and much is made of government debt, 'austerity' needs and so on.

We may talk about the decrease in services, read about the debt in education.  But we are conditioned not  to protest too much.  For example, Harrow Fold is in Greater Manchester.  Where there are two of the richest football clubs in the world.  Each with weekly wages bills that far exceed the strangulating debt of that school.  Indeed their wage bills probably could probably wipe out Greater Manchester's education debt with just one week of donations.

But somehow we believe it is acceptable for these situation to co-exist.  Fans whose kids are at struggling under-resourced schools are paying to watch overpaid, over-privileged footballers and not really questioning the differentials.  And it is not just them of course.  We are all conditioned to believe there is nothing wrong with this gap.  Trickle down economics?  More like 'build a dam' economics.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------And speaking of gaps, I was lucky enough to go got Singapore and Bali this summer.  Apart from the staggering scenery, one thing which struck us was the vast number of Chinese tourists.

We have been consistently informed by the Brexiteers that our route to financial and trade salvation after Brexit lies in the East - China, India, etc (Mr Trump's war not withstanding).  Well, our education system is not even remotely on this page yet.  Our children are still usually given a choice of French or German, possibly Spanish for 'modern languages'.  No thought has been given, on a mass scale, to Mandarin or other such languages.

The amount of people and money flowing from China would seem to mean that our future should indeed be facing East, regardless of whether we are in the EU or not.  But we - and more importantly our children - are definitely not prepared.  Even if we rely on the Chinese to be learning English (a typically arrogant assumption and one of which my small snapshot of well-off Chinese this summer saw absolutely no evidence), there are huge cultural lessons to learn.  We really struggled just on a small tourist scale to deal with the differences in manners and attitudes.

Of course, many UK private schools are apparently teaching Mandarin....

Monday, 21 August 2017

Partition Stories

I started this blog after an increased interest in my family history.  I wanted to write something a bit different to the ‘how to’ family history blogs.  Lately my posts have taken a different turn, according to how I have been feeling about the world in general.  However, my own family history is particularly relevant at the moment.  And in a far more direct way than usual.  It is seventy years this week since Partition in India.

This anniversary has led to a flurry of articles and documentaries, many of which are making use of testimony from the dwindling number of eye witnesses.  These testimonies have attested to the previous reluctance to discuss what happened during Partition.  But over a million people died and at least fifteen million were displaced. Due to arbitrary lines drawn on maps by the escaping British.

My own paternal family were (are) Anglo-Indian, as mentioned on previous posts.  Their community existed on the fringes of ‘real’ British society.  Mostly Christian, mostly European-dressed but not white, they had developed their own way of life.  (The photo, which has appeared on this blog before, is of my grandmother - in white - at school.)  Their numbers were substantial at this point.  A distant relation of mine, Sir Henry Gidney, had even managed to represent them at the independence negotiations in the Thirties.

But when Independence actually came and Partition happened, the British had little sense of what was about to be unleashed.  The terror, the violence, the frantic movement of millions of people.

Anglo-Indians were endangered by their positions as ‘assistants’ to the British.  But on a day to day basis, they were endangered simply by having to live in a country where random and terrible violence could break out at any time.  Watch some of the documentaries currently on iPlayer and you get a glimpse of hell. 

Some of my family left almost immediately.  My grandfather stuck it out until 1949, two years after Partition.  But then he upped sticks and took flight remarkably quickly.  He, my grandmother, her mother and brother and my father were all on a ship within days of being caught in a riot, by all accounts.  Presumably, in waiting, he had had the relative luxury, not afforded to so many, of being able to plan a little as regards money.  They were not supposed to take much out of the country.  I don't know if he planned the destination but since his sister-in-law was already in the UK, it seems there was a choice not to join his own parents and siblings in New Zealand.

Since my father subsequently married an English girl, I clearly have reason to be grateful for this move.  Who would wish themselves from existence after all?  But in reading the many accounts being published at the moment, I can see that my family were terribly fortunate in many ways.  Although I am sure, in leaving everything they had ever known, it didn’t feel that way.  Their lives in India were comfortable and their position was one of relative privilege in some ways, despite the discrimination and resentment against them.

Partition is a word which has been used thoughtlessly for seventy years now.  It makes it sound like it was a kind of natural phenomenon that a country was summarily split by civil servants.  And as the current wave of comment is finally admitting, the event is still not given the notice or importance that should be attached to it.  Younger generations are barely aware - if at all - that Pakistan is only seventy years old.  You could wonder, for example, how much the arbitrary agreement to  Muslim state in India has contributed ever since to the ideas of Caliphate which fuel Islamic extremists.  If it could happen there, why not elsewhere?  State sponsored religious sectarianism, anyone?

I hope you will take the time to read or watch some of the anniversary pieces.  And take a moment to explain it to your children.  Independence was long overdue but its accomplishment was an appalling example of the kind of governmental arrogance and gung ho which still exists in our world today.  The actions of these ‘players’  reverberate amongst ordinary people for generations.  Just ask those desperate people still trying to escape across the Mediterranean.

Friday, 11 August 2017

The Power

A while back, I posted a picture on Instagram of a book chosen by my book group.  It was The Power by Naomi Alderman.  I didn't make it to that group discussion unfortunately but I brought the book on holiday with me and ever since I picked it up, I have been reading frantically.

It tells of a future where women hold the reigns of power in the world.  Where this is normal.  Where men are assumed to be the softer sex.  And of how the world may have become that way.  I won't go into the story - it would spoil it for you.  I am not a book blogger and I am unused to writing reviews.

But occasionally on this blog, I have recommended books and I cannot recommend this one highly enough.  It is a hard read in some places, with descriptions of violence both sexual and otherwise.  But then you remember that in describing the women's violence against men, the author is simply describing the violence perpetrated against thousands of women on a daily basis in our own world.  And suddenly you wonder why we read or watch so many reports of such treatment without being angrier.  It has become commonplace to hear of rape, sexual slavery or women being trafficked.

I wrote, at around the time of Trump assuming power in the US, of the need to stay angry.  For us not to allow the women's marches and protests of that time to fade away.  This book should be read by all women - and preferably men as well.  Not as a vision of what a matriarchal world should be.  But as a call to continue the protest in our own time. 

We are living in a world where Trump can still be elected - and even worshipped by many - despite his distain (far too polite a word) for the female fifty percent of the population.  We are living in a world where an immensely successful female singer can be groped in a public place and then have to go to court to clear her own name (an experience shared by thousands of women of course).  We are living in a world where women are still routinely denied the capacity to choose when to be pregnant.  And so on, ad infinitum.

Read The Power if you have the opportunity.  And then think about what needs to be done now.

[If you can't get the book, look it up on The Writes of Woman.  There is an excellent synopsis plus an interview with Naomi Alderman.  The book won the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction 2017 in June.]

Monday, 24 July 2017

Summer Is Here

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My social media streams are full of parents bemoaning the start of the the school holidays.  Don't get me wrong, I have joined in with this despite looking forward to the end of term.  And it doesn't get any easier as they get older.  You move from needing to entertain them all day every day to them not wanting you around but at the same time, somehow, being unable to let you get on with your own stuff.  For example, I have just done my last solo supermarket trip for a while.  Yes, we can all have everything delivered these days but I quite like to mooch and decide on meals, whilst listening to Audible on my phone.  Goodbye to all that.  For the teen and pre-teen, a supermarket trip is a multi opportunity.  Fleece mum for stuff they don't need, persuade her to buy unsuitable food they don't need.  And to try to kill each other in the aisles, using trolley/bare hands.  Ending with the embarrassing mum at the checkout in whatever way comes to mind.

The same goes for writing undisturbed at home.  Despite a notice on my 'office' (for which read dumping ground) door, my two claim the right to enter and whitter at me whenever they like.  They never do this to their father when he works at home, I might add.  I wondered if he is fiercer but I suspect they just know which side their financial bread is buttered on.  

So, I will only be posting sporadically for the next few weeks.  I know I only post once a week but I do like it to be current and - if you can believe this - give the matter some thought (!).  And my ability to do this during the holidays has previously not been good.  Although this year, both of my children are far more keen on sleeping in than previously whilst I still have to get up for the dog!

I wish you a happy summer, with or without children in the mix.  I will still be posting regularly on Instagram @debcyork and Twitter, again @debcyork.

For the dog's take on the summer, follow @missbonniedog on Twitter!

Monday, 17 July 2017

Persist and resist

As any regular readers will know (if there are any!), I didn't post last week.  I just couldn't seem to summon any energy.  As the summer approached, I had begun to feel I was running on empty.

But then I saw a post by Alan Cumming on Instagram (@alancummingsnaps).  It was in relation to the recent Pride events but his post talked of all the struggles going in the world at the moment.  The racism, sexism, religious intolerance.  Here is a little of what he said:

We live in scary times.  It's hard to maintain the level of outrage with so many outrageous things happening daily, hourly, and the fight can seem exhausting.  the other day a wise woman posited that 'persist' is as important, if not more, than 'resist' as a mantra.

This really strikes a chord with me.  And not just for persistence in the political and social struggles.  I have struggled for many years with depression.  Relatively low level but enough to cause me periods of real difficulty.  I know far better now when these are upon me but it can be hard to regain the upper hand.

But when you hear about the everyday struggles that so many people are dealing with, you feel bad for not coping better with your own somewhat cushy existence.  For example, in The Times magazine on Saturday (15 July), there was a piece about the Fitzmaurice family.  The headline was My husband can only communicate with his eyes, via a computer.  If that doesn't put teenaged tantrums, constant clearing up woes and general 'being fed up' into context, I don't know what will.  Ruth Fitzmaurice has a husband with Motor Neurone Disease and five children under twelve.  (I will definitely be reading her book I Found My Tribe.)

Persistance is something which we often forget we have.  We in the developed world often have such comfortable existences that when we see refugees on the oceans, people displaced in war zones,  people dealing with extreme poverty or illness, it is hard to believe that we ourselves could ever survive such ordeals.  We wonder aloud at the resilience of others.

Because the need for persistence and resilience has been taken away.  We don't have to hunt or gather.  Our problems are of a different nature.  But we, as humans, do have the resilience.  If pushed, we would all do whatever it took to survive for the longest possible time.  Our ancestors performed miracles with a lot less creature comforts around them.

So how about we channel some of that dormant persistence and resilience into continuing the fight for a better world.  And for myself, I will also be channelling some of that into feeling better and into counting my blessings a bit more often (even whilst arguing with the teen and the tween!).

Monday, 3 July 2017

Ping Off

Recently I saw a Tweet about  'app-piety'.  It has stuck with me.

Appxiety (n): sense of dread you feel when you reach for your phone in the morning to see if some horrendous news has happened overnight. (@StigAbell)

This weekend, I was camping with my family and my phone died on Saturday afternoon. I didn't bother trying to charge it until I got home last night.

It was less than twenty four hours but it was lovely. I regret not being able to take photos on the rather windy beach yesterday but other than that, it was a blessed relief.

Generally I like social media. As previously blogged, I have, for example, been learning to use Instagram properly. And I love Tweeting as my dog! (Long story, loads of people all over the world do it so I don't feel like a complete solo nutter (well not much). 'Twitfur' is a hilarious place, I assure you...)

But in a world with so many stresses, I have realised that I need, at the least, to turn off the pinging notifications which come seemingly from every app unless you actively seek out how to stop them. The BBC News app theme tune was beginning to strike dread into me. And I was becoming a bit too interested in how many 'Likes' I had for my Instagram posts.

So many awful things have happened recently. And continue to happen. Bombs, fires, wars, to say nothing of the endless political and social problems in more and more countries. It's not that I don't care. I hope you can tell from browsing my blog posts that I do care. Many things matter to me - probably too much! - and I try to be consistent in my views. It's just that I think we are all suffering from the twenty four news cycle. If you have more than one news source on your phone (as recommended in a previous post, I do admit), you get the same information many times over when it is perceived as important breaking news.  

Clearly we do want/need to know about matters of national importance. But I can't help thinking sometimes that the days when everyone listened to the news at six or at ten but had little access to bang-up-to-date news at other hours must have been quite restful.

Or maybe our ancestors would say they would have loved to have had more news at their fingertips. Imagine how much more of a scandal Henry VIII would have been if his doings were available on a gossip app. Or how different the Home Front would have felt during the Second World War if people could have watched battles live, Tweeted about the Blitz or Facetimed their evacuated children.

We are of our time, I suppose. Our descendants will be laughing at how slow our news cycle is, most likely! But at the moment we all need a break from the ping. A break from the reality of our world at large in order to live in the moment.

This summer, let's switch our phones off at the beach or the park or on a hike. Let's take cameras for photos and compasses for directions. Check your phone at six in the evening while you are on holiday. And turn off those pings so they are not stacking up when you do switch on!

[Excuse the language below but I believe it sums up a lot! And should wish to Tweet my dog, she (for it is her) can be found at @missbonniedog]

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