About Me

My photo
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

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Protest, protest, protest

If there is anyone still out there checking on my blog, you will know that I have not written for months.  This was not intended but somehow seems to have continued far longer than I would have wanted if it had been planned.  I am not even really sure why!  But I am back and ready to start spouting my stuff all over again.  I haven't stopped reading, Instagramming or thinking since I last blogged.  I have a whole load of subject matter to whitter about, don't worry.

The above is a screenshot from Facebook.  It is utterly horrifying if you just read the list and compare it to the news coming out of the US.  And the news from other places too.  Italy for one.  One article which has spurred my return to blogging was by Fintan O'Toole in the Irish Times.

In this piece he argued that far from being an off-the-cuff tweeter/policy maker/speaker, etc, everything which Donald Trump says or does is carefully calculated to see what he can get away with.  It is not aimed at the more liberal press or at people who would never vote for him.  He is only concerned with maintaining his ratings with the voters who brought him to power.  For example, the use of the abhorrent term 'infest' in a tweet about immigrants.  Widespread disgust was reported.  But Trump's approval ratings with his core supporters went up and the (to him) important far right news outlets (Fox etc) loved it.  O'Toole says that 40% of voters is the typical starting point for Fascism.

I have also re-read The Handmaid's Tale this year.  Margaret Atwood's scarily worrying novel of a fascist future.  If you haven't read it, do so.  (Or watch the excellent TV adaptation.)  And marvel/quake at how many elements of it would appear to be coming true, three decades after it was written as fiction.  No wonder this was one of the books being widely shared after Trump took power.

We live in frightening times.  As the mother of two teenagers, I am chewed up by thoughts of their futures.  Trump is, in my humble opinion, on track for a second term - that's six more years legally.  But with a Supreme Court nomination to come, could we see a move for more?  Brexit is going through regardless (note 'fraudulent elections' on the above list - a nice little trial run there with the Brexit referendum).  Countries like Italy are turning to the far right.  And as for Russia...

I leave you with a couple of quotes I have found during my reading this few months.  Read them and weep.

Make the lie big, keep it simple, keep saying it and eventually they will believe it. - Goebbels

The perfect dictatorship would have the appearance of a democracy but would basically be a prison without walls in which the prisoners would not even dream of escaping.  It would essentially be a system of slavery where, through consumption and entertainment, the slaves would love their servitude. - Aldous Huxley

But when you have wept, remember...

The need for protesting will never end. - China Achebe

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Making the Connections.

There have been a number of news stories which have been sort of coming together in my head in the last week or so.  The first was about Elon Musk's car going into space using reusable rockets.  The second was the story in The Times magazine which saw an undercover reporter working at an Amazon warehouse.  Thirdly, I saw a report about the treatment of women in 'Silicon Valley'.  And finally, apparently a great many billionaires - especially from Silicon Valley - have decided to prepare for the coming apocalypse by buying huge tracts of land in New Zealand.

Can you see the link?  Abuse of wealth and power by the mega-wealthy?  I had been musing about how I really have problem with private space exploration after I saw the SpaceX flight.  I don't think we, the human race, have done anywhere near enough to further our exploration of space.  I don't think governments spend properly on it either alone or with others.  But to see a private company able to achieve so much in such a short amount of time and for lower outlay?  Frankly it is frightening.  It smacks of the trade beginnings of colonialism and look where that got us.  It also made me think that only billionaires and their friends will have the power to escape if something terrible happens on Earth.

And then I read the story about the way many of these geeky entrepreneur billionaires behave towards women and I got more angry.  The general gist of the article was that, prior to their financial achievements, these Silicon Valley men had had little or no success with women.  Therefore sex parties, coercion and harassment are now the accepted norm if you want to be part of their  scene - both social and business.  Women are damned if they go to the parties as an attempt at networking - women have a tiny percentage of start-up capital there - but damned if they refuse.  For example, a women seen at a party is then subjected to slanderous gossip and harassment from colleagues.

When you add this to the stories about billionaires buying citizenships and land in New Zealand, investing in 'seasteading' (artificial ocean islands), having private jets on standby in case of nuclear war, etc etc and a whole lot of even creepier stuff about how they regard themselves as a race apart because of their 'superior intelligence', it gets really worrying.

But to finally add that many of them - of whatever nationality - are running companies with appalling conditions like those in the Amazon distribution centres, you can see a picture of people who think they are above the current governance of our planet.  Who believe they will be leading - or their descendants via supermodels will be leading - some kind of evacuation eventually.  Whilst blinding the rest of us 'inferior' humans with fake news about what is actually happening.

I'm sounding all David Icke, I know, but these are stories which have been in the mainstream press.  Not Facebook or Buzzfeed.  Actual reporters for once.  We need to start making the connections.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Home Sweet Home

Not posted in a while.  Been lots happening both personally and in the news of course.  But despite starting two or three posts, I just wasn't feeling it.

However, today I went for a short drive around the area where I used to live.  So I thought I would briefly muse on that.  I have very rarely gone back since I left home completely.  It is not a particularly nice town and I had little attachment to any friends who had not also left.  Maybe one or two but that was it.  My parents divorced a short time after I left and that was that.  House gone, no need to visit the place.

There were a couple of things which really struck me today, in the suburbs where I was brought up.  The first was the complete de-greening of the place.  Nearly every lawn where we had played has been turned into a double driveway.  Many trees and hedges have vanished.  And a lot of grass verges have been co-opted into people's properties - and therefore their driveways.  It wasn't a posh neighbourhood but I remember it as leafy and pleasant.  It was rather odd to be confronted with such mass environmental change and it worries me to think how many other places are now the same. 

The other very clear situation was house building on a large scale.  Developers have finally managed to get access behind some of the classic 'ribbon development' roads on the outskirts and are taking full advantage.  But none of it looked to be 'affordable housing'.  And I could not see how the infrastructure is going to manage.  New schools and roads will be desperately needed from what I could see.  And the huge swathes of fields which have gone was quite shocking when you had not been there for such a long time.

It all appeared to be a microcosm of the sorts of issues facing many towns in the UK.  Not enough housing for those on lower incomes, lack of investment in everything needed to sustain modern life apart from these houses, the one hospital is on the other side of the town.  And the car is king.  It is already king in the existing estates and will have to be king on the new ones because you will not be able to get anywhere without one. The only public transport is buses.  Similar issues are happening where I live now.  

Once again on this blog, I must go back to 'this is not a poor country'.  We have money.  It is just not being spent properly.  Theresa May leapt to the defence of the NHS when Trump attacked it.  Brilliant.  Now spend some money on it.  Ministers pondering on the housing crisis - sink estates, hundreds of people in B&Bs, the issues following the Grenfell tragedy, etc?  Cancel Trident and spend the money on houses - council houses.  As for the environmental changes I saw, I don't see how, at present, we can escape from the car trap.  Homes are built further and further away from facilities but there is no other transport.  Many houses accommodate at least two working adults.  Unfortunately, it is the green in our lives which is having to give way.

Actually, I lived in that place for so long that I remember there being fields in places which are now thirty to forty year old estates.  Change has to happen.  Of course.  But I don't think nearly enough thought is being given to the planning situation now and that is something which should worry us all.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Alien Lifestyles

Image result for uss enterprise

Imagine we have finally managed to get off this planet properly.  Like in Star Trek.  Long range ships with gravity and all that good stuff.  What would we think if we found a planet where one percent of the ruling beings had control of eighty two percent of the wealth available?  (The total population of that race being 7.6 billion.)  With forty two of those beings having the same amount of wealth as the 3.7 billion poorest.

Wouldn't the Starship Captain report in their log that the planet seemed a trifle unfair and undemocratic?  And what would our explorers think about extreme poverty over huge swathes of another planet?  Lack of awareness of environmental damage being caused by the population, threats to use horrendous total wipeout weapons.

I think human explorers would be quite judgemental to say the least.  Yet here on Earth, right now, the number of people controlling 1% of all our wealth has actually got smaller, according the latest Oxfam wealth report.  The world's richest man increased his fortune by $6 billion in the first ten days of 2017 (Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, in case you haven't guessed).  Yes, in just ten days.

I wrote about the last Oxfam report on this blog.  Unsurprisingly nothing has changed much in the year since.  Other than the gap widening between wealthy and poor.  But once again I must also rail against our capacity for accepting this as 'the norm'.  We are being conditioned to see huge wealth for the one percent as nothing to be concerned about.

Yesterday saw the first anniversary Women's Marches.  I am so glad that momentum is being kept up on inequality and abuse.  Now we need the same momentum on redistribution of resources.  And on democracy.  The 'show' of democracy is often a front for the purchase of elections - whether by candidates or parties, media tycoons, oligarchs or whatever.  Electoral systems work against the voters.  And in many countries, there is not even an attempt to have democratic participation.

Again, let's think what we would be trying to impose on planets we discovered.  'Yes, [alien race yet to be identified] you must live in this way - so much more beneficial for all, so much fairer.'  Because obviously telling other people how to live has worked so well on our own planet.  

And we should not forget that currently it is the super-wealthy who are investing in space travel.  Unless we take action, maybe in decades to come the Oxfam report will be that one percent of the population now lives off planet whilst the remainder are struggling with smog, skin cancer and lack of natural resources....

Monday, 15 January 2018

Plot Predictions

Thirty years ago I was doing Economics 'A' Level. Thirty years!  A good few lessons were devoted to ‘the ageing population’ and the looming pension, health and social care crisis in the UK.  I remember being shown predictions for, well, about now actually.  I remember thinking 'my own parents will be retired'. 

Let’s just say that again. Thirty years ago students were being taught about a well-documented and researched certain future event - our working population would not be able to provide for the increasing number of aged people. This was not hearsay or a teacher cutting an article out (remember that?!) from the press. It was part of our syllabus. 
A couple of years later I found myself in a British Politics lecture at university. One of the main themes was the excellent continuity our civil service provides.  The whole ‘Yes Minister’ culture of gently steering whichever party happened to be in government.

But where have we been steered to? Thatcher fell during my first year at Uni (oh the hangover after that) and huge damage had been done in terms of council housing, benefits, etc.  But there was still time for someone influential to say hang on, we are teaching about a looming crisis. How are we doing to deal with said crisis?  Sad to say, after John Major's floundering, Blair’s New Labour seem to have made little dent on social care, council housing, the NHS.  They went for private finance initiatives. And then the banks had their own crisis.

To say nothing of the feeble coalition years and the recent Tory disasters.  Simplified version?  Yes.  But the fact remains that this was expected to happen yet still we have hospital beds clogged with elderly people who desperately need full-time care.  In the midst of what may well turn out to be the worst winter in seventy years of the now teetering NHS.  

Thousands of people still have no real idea how they will fund their retirement.   Many probably don't realise how bad things are going to be.  Retirement ages have been increased but there have been decades of mismanagement.

We are in 2018. With a broken social care system, a breaking NHS and pension problems a go-go.  All predicted.  At least six Prime Ministers and thirty years ago.  Something has gone badly wrong with our system of government.

Monday, 8 January 2018

More Action Required

Image result for 2018

For this first post of 2018, there is so much I want to write about, I might burst.  So many subjects  which I have previously covered are still at the top of the news agenda and not for good reasons.  
  • There is no resolution in the Middle East -  thanks in no small measure to Trump.  He makes everything worse.  An expected outcome.  But somehow even worse than we feared.
  • The NHS is buckling under the weight of the social care crisis, budget cuts and systemic issues like GP changes, staffing, etc.  No change.  In fact - again - worse.
  • It is a year since the women's marches and there has been some progress thanks to women speaking up.  But how much has actual change permeated?  Very little.  We are only seeing the visible, brave tip of the iceberg with those women who are going public on harassment, pay inequality, discrimination.
  • There are more people in the UK using foodbanks than ever before.  A disgusting statistic for the year 2018.
  • A news programme the other day was quite seriously discussing the likelihood of nuclear war with some expert or other.  I was so horrified, I didn't register the details.  As I have written before, how did we reach a point where this is a normal discussion again???
  • Our pathetically poor representation of what a female Prime Minister should be has placed serial misogynist Toby Young in charge of the new Office for Students.  Yet another reason for Theresa May to be ashamed of her record.  
  • Only a year until we 'Brexit' apparently.  And we are absolutely none the wiser as to the consequences for any areas of our lives.  Other than getting blue passports again obviously.  Don't.  Just don't.
And yet there can be some hope.  
  • At last night's Golden Globe Awards, during her fabulous (in so many ways) speech Oprah Winfrey made some very powerful points about the importance of the press, of investigation.  Despite the distortions of social media, there are truths to be told.  The Watergate journalists had no access to Google or Twitter.  But they managed to prise out the truth and bring down an administration.  It can be done.  We have to chip away and ignore the distractions.
  • In 2017 Rose McGowan began the Hollywood backlash by standing up to one of its most feared moguls.  The movement continues to spread.  Time's Up!
  • It is not inevitable that the NHS should collapse.  It is staffed by amazing, dedicated people and situated in a 'first world' country with plenty of money.  Protest, protest, protest.  On social media, by email or snail mail.  March if you can.  But protest
Let's make 2018 a year of more action.  We want a decent NHS.  We don't want nuclear war.  We don't want men to believe that harassment is 'a bit of harmless fun'.  Whatever the issue, we have to stand up and be counted.  This year,  it is one hundred years since the end of the 'war to end all wars' definitely didn't end all wars.  But no-one has pushed the nuclear button since 1945.  An achievement which must be defended.  It is also one hundred years since women got the vote.  But there is so much more to do.

Start small.  Here are some ideas:

  • Send a postcard every week to your MP asking about the same one issue.  NHS, fracking, food banks, you decide.  Don't be fobbed off with a standard letter back.  You need only write one sentence a week.  The address for all MPs is House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA and a book of 25 plain postcards is £2 on Amazon.  [You can do the same in other countries of course!]

  • Don't follow Trump @realDonaldTrump on Twitter.  If you want to see his madness, unedited, follow @UnfollowTrump.  They retweet his stuff without you adding to his followers and therefore his ego.

  • We all have coats in our cupboards that we don't wear and keep 'just in case'.  Imagine not having one at all.  There are lots of places focussing on coat donations this winter - for both UK and refugee people.  Google for a local organisation.  Or simply hand it to a homeless person.

Wishing you an active and fulfilling 2018. XXX

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

So This Is Christmas

Image result for christmas

I recently remembered a relative from childhood.  You know how sometimes an event or person is entirely forgotten until something jogs your memory?  Well, this was a great uncle.  

As a child, he was very puzzling to me.  I knew he had lived with his mother but she died when I was a toddler.  (I have no memory of her other than the gates of the hospital where she died - an enduring memory which I cannot account for at all.)  He had stayed in their home and we would occasionally be taken to visit.  The house was a small terrace and I remember mostly just perching on an uncomfortable scratchy sofa while I waited for my parents or grandparents.  Although he was a bit of a hoarder so any rogue trips upstairs were always filled with danger and fascination.  Piles of stuff to clamber over even to reach the landing.  Stacks of empty margarine tubs in the bedrooms.  That sort of thing.

At Christmas times, however, this great uncle would become a very different presence.  He had a physical disability with one leg.  This had been exacerbated by poor treatments, I believe.  I remember issues with getting him in and out of cars, which chair he would have and so on.

But it was his personality which endures in my memory.   There were long-festering resentments towards my grandparents.  He said awful things to everyone.  He was rarely pleased to see us children.  There was always tension in the run-up to a visit.  What mood would he be in?  Would he come at all? (He specialised in last minute decisions, to try to spin the attention out.) Would he behave if he did come?  I recall being ushered upstairs with my brother whilst the great uncle was dealt with.  I seem to think he once even physically went for my grandfather as grandad was driving him home after another disastrous lunch.

He was one person.  A person who had chosen his own path yet still preferred to blame everyone else for its direction.  Yes, he did have problems and he did have a disability.

Yet somehow he dominated family events like Christmas.  It is important to welcome family members at such times.  But bad behaviour should not be tolerated if there is no reason other than sheer bloody-mindedness.  In our busy lives, all family time is precious. 

Later we discovered that one of my grandmother's mental health problem 'triggers' was her brother.  And thinking about him now, I am not surprised.  I completely relate to it.  It is surprising and upsetting just how much damage one person, determined on being 'difficult', can cause.  He could have been grateful for so much.  So many people have nothing and no-one.  Just yesterday, I met a homeless man who was sitting on the street in freezing conditions.  I stopped to talk and give him food.  His manners were impeccable.  He even wished me a Merry Christmas as I went guiltily away, back to my warm home.

I wish you the best of Christmases.  We all have things and people to deal with at these times.  'Tis the season to be kind and inclusive.  But not at the expense of our own peace of mind.

See you in 2018. xx

Monday, 4 December 2017

Happy Holidays

Not blogged for a few weeks (apologies to my regular reader!).  Been trying to write a satire based on Brexit but since the situation daily becomes more farcical ‘in real life’, this has proved to be rather difficult (as I write, I think we are up to £57 billion for the ‘privilege’ of leaving).  I also wrote a ‘tall tale’ for my writing group - about Melania Trump being a robot.  Only to find, two days later, that it was not so tall - the press were speculating on her use of a body double.  What the hell is happening to the world?!!

Anyway…  just over twenty years ago, I was working for an American investment bank.  My first Christmas there, I received a package from the partner in charge of our department.  As did everyone else.  The label said ‘Happy Holidays’.  I remember commenting on it to my boss.  She and the partner were both American and she explained that he was Jewish and that in the US, this was the more inclusive way to wish people ‘Merry Christmas’.  

[I also remember being told to take down a small picture of Chandler from Friends from the wall of my cubicle.  She said if I was allowed to have that, it would encourage men to have scantily clad women on their walls.  Still not sure what I think about this.  The feminist me agrees.  The me which had to live with the awful things she said and did to me thinks ‘you always were a mad cow’.  Sorry.]

But in the last week, Trump has begun to make a big deal out of not using ‘Happy Holidays’.  He claims to be be restoring Christmas.  It was apparently a campaign pledge - a defiance of politically correct language.

And I think, in essence, this action sums up what we are dealing with in the White House.  It is petty in the extreme.  It immediately announces a complete lack of inclusivity for anyone who does not celebrate the proscribed Christian festival.  And it is designed to appeal to the section of the electorate who gave him the presidency.  Trump believes that as long as he keeps his core supporters happy, he can disregard the opinions of everyone else.

In the UK, we haven't adopted ‘Happy Holidays’ in the twenty years since it first puzzled me.  But maybe we should.  Maybe we should all be tweeting it to @realDonaldTrump  It is not a new phrase.  It is a well-established part of US inclusivity.  And it may seem like a little thing but as I have discussed before, the Nazis started with the little things and look where that led...

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Leaving A Dent

Image result for future

Helen Dunmore, who sadly died this year, wrote an afterword for her last novel Birdcage Walk in which she talks about her interest in how very few people make any mark on history.  History as future generations will know it is written by a privileged few who all have their own spin to put on events.  The vast majority of us will have to be content with having been a part of the big picture, despite huge output on social and other media types.  Hardly any people stand the test of time and are remembered.  Even people who may have been mildly famous (or infamous) for a period often are forgotten by the next generation.  Wouldn't it be interesting to see, in a century, if anyone knew what Instagram had been?  Who Beyonce or Taylor Swift were?  Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep?  Which books had stood the test of time?  And as for politicians, well, each UK Parliament has 650 Members.  How many of those will leave a dent where they sat?  Even in their constituency's history?

There was an article recently about the imminent return of Peaky Blinders - can't wait - and apparently a new major character will be a female trade unionist and political activist named Jessie Eden.  She was a real person.  Who achieved amazing things.  But how many people will have ever heard of her before now?  Well-known and influential at the time.  But part of a much bigger picture of discontent and unrest in the Twenties and Thirties therefore consigned in accounts of that period to a footnote if she is lucky.

Banding together is more powerful in any situation.  That is not to say that one person should not do or say what feels right to them.  Look at Rose McGowan recently.  Someone has to start each ball rolling.  But if we are to make a real mark, leave a proper dent, it seems to me that the best way is to find like-minded people and work as one.  

Monday, 23 October 2017

The Language of Women

Image result for suffragettes

I have been wanting to write about the Harvey Weinstein scandal and its implications since the news broke.  But it has taken me a while to consider what I thought I might add to the debate.  There has, understandably, been a huge amount of comment around the revolting behaviour which has finally been made public.

In discussion with a friend last week, I was saying that I had no experience of such treatment.  But then as we talked, we realised that we both could name many times when our gender had been used to make us uncomfortable or afraid.  For example, I worked on London trading floors in the Nineties.  Barely a senior woman in sight and you were forced to push between lines of blokes to deliver any message or file.  They would push back on their wheelie chairs to intimidate you.  My friend and I could both name times when we had been groped at bars, shouted at in the streets, felt unsafe to be somewhere, etc.  Imagine if a woman grabbed a man's crotch whilst queuing for a drink or screamed about his trouser bulge from across the street?

Earlier this year, I blogged about Naomi Alderman's book The Power.  It tells of a world where women are in charge and I commented on how shocking the anti-male violence seems in the book yet the author is describing little that is not, in our world, being perpetrated against women.

And I think this is one of the most telling points with the Weinstein scandal.  Men like him - and lets be fair, he is hardly even the tip of the iceberg - have felt able to continue their activities because the world is still so skewed towards the idea of the inferiority and subjugation of women.

Last week, I watched a documentary about the suffragettes.  It really struck a chord when it talked of the disgusting language which the press and politicians of the time felt able to continually use about women.  Many of us know of the force feeding and other violence towards the suffragettes but I had not realised quite how appalling the anti-suffragette campaign had been in other ways.

We live in a world where the press cannot be as overt as they were then about their hatred of equality for women.  But every day women are written about and spoken of as inferior to men.  It is completely ingrained.  Criticism for working or for not working.  Comment on signs of ageing, shapes of bodies. The deification of motherhood but the insistence that you should snap back into physical and mental health after giving birth.  After I watched the documentary, I looked at the Daily Mail website - a loathsome place but I braved it for research purposes.  Here are some examples of the language used about photographs of female presenters and actresses going about their daily lives:

'putting on a leggy display' - wearing shorts in a hot place
'packing on the PDA' - giving their partner a peck on the cheek
'flashes a glimpse of' - a photographer has managed to get an upstart or down top picture
'steps out in racy...' - wearing a strappy top
'showcasing her...' - dressed in something figure hugging, short, etc.

And so on, ad infinitum.  It is considered acceptable to comment on female presenters' or journalists' ages, outfits and bodies even though they are doing the same work as their grey-suited, ageing male colleagues.  No-one takes to exception that we have only ever had two British female prime ministers and language is used about them which would never be used about males.   Look at the questioning suffered by female politicians about their life plans and intentions.  And as for women in business or positions of responsibility?  Can open, worms everywhere.  And these worms are not turning.  We are not breaking the ceilings because they are not glass.  They are institutionalised, conditioned, brainwashed steel.  In other blog posts, I have mentioned to need for us to stay angry.  The Women's Marches were a start, the brave women speaking out about Weinstein and others are another step on a long road.  But a road which must be travelled if we are to do right by the next generation.  Our ancestors fought for the vote, for equality.  They achieved a lot.  But so much more remains to be done.