About Me

My photo
Writer and family history addict. Follow me on Twitter @debcyork or find me on Facebook. Subscribe to be first to see new posts. And for a different view of my world, follow @missbonniedog You can see my latest flash fiction story at https://brilliantflashfictionmag.wordpress.com/2016/03/22/springtime-writing-contest-results/

Monday, 27 March 2017

No Minister

It is a strange week to be a UK blogger with pretensions to comment on current affairs.  There has been a terrorist attack in London and this Wednesday the process for Brexit will actually start.  I send all love and sympathy to those affected by the attack last week.  Any lives lost is too many.  However, I suppose we should be very thankful that it is twelve years since a major attack succeeded and very grateful for the professionalism and sacrifice of those who dealt with the events of last week.

And in a way that links to my thoughts about the Brexit 'triggering'.  I did not vote for Brexit and I greatly resent that such a momentous, complex decision has been made on the basis of one vote.  However, since our government are determined to stand by that one (very close) vote and exit the EU, I believe we now have to fight for the details of that exit.  

The British civil service is one of the major factors which has kept our country from stumbling into extremism.  With a big enough mandate, the elected government can push through what it wants in Parliament - as long as it keeps its own MPs happy.  But the detail of how things are actually implemented and what they mean further down the 'food chain' is very much influenced by what ministers are told is possible or by how civil servants interpret the demands of ministers.

Yes Minister, the 1980s sitcom about the civil service, runs very close to the bone.  (Sort of how I might prefer my husband think it was his idea to book a holiday - but on a much grander scale!)

I do not doubt there are civil servants at all levels who supported Brexit.  I should imagine dealing with EU law and institutions is very frustrating for a start.  And I myself did not vote Remain because I think the EU is perfect.  Far from it.  But I would have preferred to be working for change from within the grouping.  The loss of so many protections and freedoms in order to be free of bureaucracy was, in my opinion, too high a price to pay.  Especially for future generations.

The close protection officers who whisked Theresa May out of Parliament last week would have done so whoever was Prime Minister.  Our security services continue to perform their functions whichever party is in power.  In the same way, other civil servants keep government ticking over through elections, reshuffles, etc.  A short while ago, one of the newspapers saw fit to publish outlines of the plans for when the Queen dies.  They are drawn up according to past history and long experience.  To be implemented by the occupants of ministerial offices, regardless of party loyalties.

And now we desperately need our civil service to step up for the Brexit negotiations.  It is their job to be politically neutral and to do the best for our country.  Ministers are too driven by the big pictures, by election results, by social media.  What we need for the next two years is people who will focus not on their own concerns but on what is best for our future.  They may not have long experience of this issue.  There was apparently very little contingency work done before the vote.  But they do know how to get things done despite the politicos.

Some commentators have said the gates through which the attacker arrived at Parliament last week were a security weak spot.  In part because ministers and members insisted on to being able to get through quickly by car. 

The government's majority in Parliament means that 'No Minister' needs to be heard far more often and more firmly as we enter these talks.  Or who knows what will be let through in the interests of government supporters.  

Image result for yes minister

Monday, 20 March 2017

Ninety Years of No Change

Chuck Berry

This weekend, Chuck Berry died at the age of ninety.  His music was not my era but of course we all generally know who he was and have danced to his music.  Without his emergence, popular music ever since would have been very different.  And no matter someone is very old when they die, their loss is deeply felt by their family and friends.

I must admit, I actually had no idea he was still alive.  The grand age of ninety is still quite rare even in these days of life-extending medicines and treatments.  But if you think about what has happened in the world since Chuck Berry was born in 1926, the mind truly does boggle.  (His own life was quite a rollercoaster too but that is another story.)

In 1926, it was less than ten years since the Great War (they didn't know it was the First World War, of course).  The Wall Street Crash and the Depression had not happened.  The Second World War was yet to come.  To say nothing of the Cold War, the end of the Cold War and everything in between and after those.  This is not the place for a massive timeline.  But if we think about technology - few phones, no television, primitive radio and don't even think about computers and all they have brought to the world - we can see just a tiny bit of what has changed so dramatically in less than a century.

And yet.  Once again in this last week, we are being told of catastrophic famine in African countries.  The Middle East is a battleground.  Russia is showing signs of aggression and empire building.  Resources are very definitely not shared equally.  Millions still live in relatively the same conditions as their 1926 ancestors and millions have little expectation of living anywhere near as long as Chuck Berry did.

For example, according to Oxfam:

Just 62 people, 53 of them men, own as much wealth as the poorest half of the entire world population - or 3.6 billion people - according to a report released by anti-poverty charity Oxfam. And the richest 1 percent own more than the other 99 percent put together.17 Jan 2016
This was the situation in 2015.  I can't imagine it has changed much.  Click here for the list, if you can face looking at it.  It is depressing reading.

Isn't it a terrible indictment of our world that actually so little of real importance has changed in ninety years?  Food, health, shelter and peace for all.  Fairly fundamental requirements for a race, wouldn't you say?  But precious little chance of any of them being achieved across the board in the near future.  We can only guess at the state of the world in another ninety years time but humans'  track record so far is appalling.

By the way, the President of the USA in 1926, Calvin Coolidge, seems to have been a tad more sensible than today's incumbent (not difficult but whatever).  He wrote:

The words of a President have an enormous weight and 
ought not to be used indiscriminately.

Imagine his horror at the tweetings of Trump....

Monday, 13 March 2017

Not Endangered Enough

This weekend, there was a furore over remarks made by John Allan, the chairman of Tesco - apparently the UK's biggest retailer.  At an event aimed at encouraging more women and ethnic minorities into the UK's boardrooms, he apparently said 

“For a thousand years, men have got most of these jobs, the pendulum has swung very significantly the other way now and will do for the foreseeable future. If you are a white male, tough – you are an endangered species and you are going to have to work twice as hard.”

The headlines which were drawn from this were 'Tesco Chairman says white men are an endangered species in the boardroom'.  Accompanying reports construed the remarks as complaints.  From a white man who is one of twelve Tesco board members - nine of whom are white men.  Mr Allan's reposte to the criticism was that in the context of his speech - to an audience he was trying to encourage to aim for board level - he was actually supporting women and ethnic minorities.

What puzzles me, though, is how in 2017, we are only just finding white men in board rooms to be an endangered species.  It is almost a century since women got the vote.  It is over forty years since feminism really began to ramp up the pressure.  And yet at the UK's biggest retailer, there are still only three women board members - despite what must be a huge female clientele.

Why are we not angrier?  Why are white men only now endangered?  Why are they, well, not extinct but still appallingly dominant?  And as for ethnic minority representation...  

It is over twenty years since I started a job at the House of Commons.  I worked for one of just sixty female MPs.  It was a rampantly male environment, despite the departure of Thatcher only four years before I arrived.  It is nearly twenty years since I worked for a very well known investment bank.  Which still has not had a female leader, to my knowledge.  We currently have only our second female Prime Minister.  Not exactly vocal about women's place in the world though, is she?

I have written before of the need to stay united.  The Women's March must not be a moment.  It must be the start of something new.  We should be furious about wages and job prospects as well as about our right to abortion, contraception, personal safety.  Until women have more political and financial power, campaigns for other rights will revolve around trying to convince white men to do what we want, behave how we want.

Our ancestors, near and far, would be horrified at the lack of progress.  

Mr Allan was, it seems to me, trying to make a poor joke about how men should be worried for their positions in the coming years.  Actually, the issue is how this this 'joke' is still even relevant when it comes to numbers and representation.  Thanks to his own high profile, he has (unwittingly) called attention to the disgrace of the last hundred years.  How did it come to 2017 and men are only just endangered in the boardroom...

Monday, 6 March 2017

Ageism and the Age of Racism

I am coming to the end of a fortnight with my mother in law.  I will not bore you with the details - believe me, we would be here a while - but it has certainly focussed my mind on the many issues with how we are dealing with our ageing population.

Last week, we were told that the average life expectancy in the developed world will soon be ninety.  Whilst this is amazing, it brings with it a whole new raft of problems.  When I was sixteen and studying A Level Economics, I remember being told that in thirty years time, we would have all sorts of issues with not enough revenue or working-age people, pension deficits, etc.  And here we are in the midst of what was clearly so predictable that our education system was teaching it as fact.

Why are we not putting more energy and resources into dealing with this problem?  Besides it, immigration pales into insignificance as a 'problem'.  By the time my kids are their dotage (unless Trump has blown us all to kingdom come by then), life expectancy may well be nearing a hundred for the lucky majority.  Who will look after them?  Robots?

We have a responsibility to those who have worked and put into the system so far.  And we have a responsibility to future generations.  Our care system is broken.  Our precious National Health Service is at breaking point.  Despite the best efforts of very devoted staff.  Despite quite frankly a huge number of hard working immigrants who keep it from grinding to a halt altogether.

None of the people who voted for Brexit in order to get rid of immigrants seem to have thought about the many people who undoubtedly keep their lives running at the moment.  They certainly have not joined the dots to think about the future.  This is not just happening in the UK either.  The part of the world which has been clever enough to develop medicines and technology with its disproportionate wealth is now trying to pull up the drawbridge to those who provide the nuts and bolts of its privileged existence.  It's not just health. As another example, on a recent UK hotel break I worked out that if only the British-origin staff were available, there would be just one waiter, a maintenance man and a deputy manager from what I could see and hear of the staff and their accents.  Of course, if Trump, Le Pen and others have their way, we will not be able to welcome people from other countries to help us plug these gaps.  

Mind you, if you look at Nazi history, it was a relatively short step from restricting the Jews and others to 'solving the Problem' with killings.  Maybe we should also be worrying about the threat of ageism as well as the rampant racism and sexism from these people.  

Monday, 27 February 2017

Marketing The Future

I took the above photo in a branch of Claire's Accessories last week.  [Bless Claire's for the service it provides to tweenies and teenagers everywhere.  All their favourite tat under one convenient roof.  And at twice the price of the nearby market stalls.]

The picture shows the cover of a notebook but there was a whole range of stationery and accessories bearing the same slogan.  And I was terribly struck by the juxtaposition of this marketing with the likely future facing the shop's target market.

British children are going to lose their rights as European citizens.  They may still Dress Italian but it will cost more to buy the stuff or to visit Italy.  To say nothing of the passport queue when they reach their destination, while the rest of Europe streams through to claim their baggage and hire their cars.

Speak French?  Well, my son has to choose GCSE options shortly.  I am encouraging the taking of a language but I begin to wonder whether Chinese or Russian might not be of more use - not that our school can offer either.  None of our children will have an automatic right to work in France, holidays there will be more expensive and if our government is to be believed (hhhmm), we will be striking deals with India, China, anywhere but Europe.

And Dream American?  They have spent their childhoods bombarded with American TV programmes and You Tube 'stars'.  But now they are being daily faced with Trump and all he has brought (!) to the world.  They see and hear the news.  (Real news, incidentally.)  My children also saw the downside of the American Dream in California last year.  Streets and streets of homeless people living in tents in San Diego.  The already tight security at the Tijuana Mexican-American border.  The sleazier side of LA.  And that was before Trump even took over.

So what should we be telling our children?  How should this marketing look, if we really have to have these sorts of slogans for children to aspire to?

Dress How You Like
Because It Is No-One Else's Business and You Don't Need to Look the Same as Everyone Else.

Speak Up For People Who Cannot Speak For Themselves
And Speak Kindly to Everyone

Dream Of A World Where Democracy Actually Works
And Where Everyone has An Equal Share of Our Planet's Resources

Not exactly catchy but far more realistic, don't you think?  I will be contacting Claire's forthwith...

[P.S.  I find that more and more I am blogging about current and possible future events.  I do still very much work on genealogy and family history.  However, I feel very strongly that our descendants' futures are now in the balance in a way which we have not seen for decades.  And sacrifices made by our ancestors are going to be torn up if we are not careful.]

Monday, 20 February 2017

No Time for Melt Downs

Image result for information overload

Last night, I had just sat down to watch the new BBC series SS:GB when I heard weeping from upstairs.  Somehow, in the space of twenty minutes, my daughter had worked herself into a complete meltdown about all manner of 'what if' scenarios.  Any of us dying or having accidents, grandparents dying, losing all our money, flooding, something happening to the dog.  Failure at SATs (don' get me started).  And Donald Trump starting World War Three.

Needless to say, I haven't yet managed to watch SS:GB.  But I was struck by the irony of dealing with such a stream of nameless but very real worries when I was supposed to watching a dramatisation of one of the ultimate 'what if's' of recent history.  What if the Germans had won World War Two?  According to this series, the British lost the Battle of Britain and things go from there - that much I saw.  Terrifying as we did come very close to this being the case.

Matt Haig, an amazing writer who I follow on Twitter, recently commented that his day now consisted of regular breaks to stop and worry about racism.  And I know what he means.  Despite the fact that in our day to day lives, we can do nothing to influence world politics, there is still a sense of worry hanging in the air.  What hideous thing will happen next?  What will the next newsflash bring?

I have been listening on Audible this week to The Romanovs by Simon Sebag-Montefiore (a history of the imperial family of Russia).  I have just reached the last chapters - an assessment of Russia's part in the World War One .  I did 'Causes of the First World War' at A Level.  It is an unbelievably complicated subject for historians and it has been fascinating to hear it from a Russian point of view.  But I have really had to stop myself from going into my own private meltdown.  So much of it still resonates today.  The machinations.  The awful influence of strange and difficult personalities.  The decades-long slide into war.  The national aims of the countries.

We 'ordinaries' are deluged with more information than our counterparts had a hundred years ago.  About people, organisations and possible outcomes.  There is a lot we still don't know but we are definitely exposed to more.  

We must try not to melt down in the face of this.  Yes, it is important to live our lives as best we can and to enjoy every day.  No, we don't know what will happen.  But we do need to use the resources available to make our views known.  All nations are still plagued with elites who wish to control our destinies.  History has many examples of ordinaries being used as cannon fodder.  Let's not let our generation or our children join that list.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Share, share, share

Related image

So what to write about in the face of seemingly endless new political crises?  And endless awards ceremonies too.  Don't get me wrong, I love a good look at the frocks for the Oscars but the build-up to that seems to be longer every year.  As do the arguments over the bias/winners/losers/participants.

Cinema is something I love.  One of the few things to survive parenthood too.  Initially, the cinema seemed a dreadful luxury - paying a sitter to go and see a film cost more than the actual tickets.  But then one of my pre-natal buddies and I struck a deal.  Take out membership of the local independent cinema (it serves alcohol - what's not to love).  Make a pact to go whenever possible.  All George Clooney and Brad Pitt films would be seen, regardless of reviews - this condition has since been amended to include Jamie Dornan and Ryan Gosling.

Once the children were old enough to go to the cinema, it was (eventually) bliss.  There were a few false starts ('Oh no! Dark, Mummy!  Really dark!').  But mainly, film has been something to share with both of them.  New films to look forward to.  Details to pick over afterwards.  (Although I have been known to nap during some of the more obscure Disney epics.)

And don't we all need things to bond over?  Whether it be a viral video from YouTube, a set of jokes, a book or a shared meal, film or outing.  I do always wonder what it must have been like in, say, Regency times.  when news travelled so slowly and books were not easy to come by.  I always love the Back In Time programmes which explore ordinary life in different ages.  I have posted about them before, in fact.

However, in these darkening times, commonalities are more important than ever.  The more people who see, for example, the US Saturday Night Live sketches of Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump, the better.  Ridicule is a powerful weapon.  On Twitter, Right wing commentators are saying that such satire is simply being performed because 'the liberals' are angry at having lost the election.

But here's a thought.  Maybe if more people had laughed at Hitler's posturing, poked fun at Mussolini, been able to share videos of the ridiculous rallies with added comedic commentaries, possibly their vile messages would have been diffused.  If not diffused then at least had a light shone upon them sooner.

[And by the way, with reference to my post last week, I have just rematched another episode of The Nazis: A Warning From History.  It talked about Hitler's refusal to deal with paperwork, his lack of concentration or interest in policy and his indolent approach to government...]

Monday, 6 February 2017

A Warning From History

I am starting to rewatch a series which I first saw a while ago.  Called The Nazis: A Warning from History, it is an excellent, if horrifying survey of the roots of Nazism and its terrible consequences.  It was first shown twenty years ago.  I don't think it is any coincidence that it is back on BBC iPlayer but I am grateful it is, however it got there.  Frankly, it should be required viewing for all adults on the planet.  Do watch it if you can.  (It used to be available on DVD too, if you cannot access iPlayer.)

There have been many mentions of Hitler and Nazism in relation to what is happening in America and Europe at the moment.  And obviously, the exact conditions which led to the rise of the Nazi party were unique and could not be repeated action for action.  But the polarisation of politics is being repeated.    Just ask the French.  Scapegoats are once again being found - immigrants, immigrants and more immigrants.  Appeasement is hovering around.  Holding  hands with Trump, Theresa May.  Really???  Bad for our country and appalling for feminism.  And our judiciaries and democratic institutions are under attack - don't get me started on examples for this.

This blog is often about lessons to be learnt from our history.  Fifty four million people died as a result of the Second World War.  Scariest lesson ever, surely.  What about the following, if you need more:

  • The Nazis, in their early days, promised to strip the Jews of their German citizenships and possibly expel them from the country.  Ringing any bells with 'it is not a ban'? 
  • Their slogan included 'Germany First' and 'Germany Awake!'  
  • Hitler Youth members talk, during the programme, of 'World Jewry' which wanted to 'rule the world'.  The message pumped at ordinary Germans was that it was morally okay to remove the Jews from public life because they were not innocent of any wrong doing.  They were part of a worldwide conspiracy.  Anyone thinking about the terror claims of the Trump government?

I have felt bizarrely proud to see the continuing protests at what is going on.  I can't help worrying though that things are going to have to escalate a whole lot more before any real changes can come about.  The quote below refers to America but is just as true when it comes to Brexit or to the ambitions of someone like Marine Le Pen.

Keep up the pressure.  Protest as much as possible in as many ways as possible.

Image result for quotes about nazis

Monday, 30 January 2017

A Life like Melania

After a weekend of more turmoil caused by Donald Trump' administration, I wondered if I should find something else to write about today.  I actually have an idea for a different post.  But I strongly feel that in the current world political situation, numbers of voices are everything.  We must stand up and be counted or watch our nations slide back to the Thirties.  If we get bored with talking about it all, we will fall into a lethargy which will perpetuate Trump's regime and allow Europe to slide too.

So here is a voice, a thought.  Yesterday I saw a photo of a protester in New York.  Her sign said 'Without immigration, Trump would have no wives'.  Strictly speaking, he would have had Marla Maples and one child but you get the point.

Nothing has really been said about the fact that the new First Lady is an immigrant though, has it?  Not nasty stuff in the mainstream media.  (That I can find anyway. ) And this, it seems to me, is because in a civilised multi-cultural society, we don't comment on such things.  A person's background does not define them.  My children have acquaintances with parents from various countries.  Some of these children themselves were not born in the UK.  My husband and I both have immigrants in our family histories.   No Western country is 'pure bred' despite the Nazis' best efforts.

Melania Trump only became a permanent US resident in 2001.  Probably less time than a lot of the people currently fearing for their residencies simply because of their religion.  She is the first foreign-born First Lady since 1825.  But in normal circumstances, who cares?  She went to the US to make a home and a new life.  Without commenting on who she chose to make that life with (!), we can definitely say that she was entitled to do so.  But so are others, regardless of religion or colour or sex.  Those things shape us and contribute to our identities but should never be a factor in where we can go, who we can see or what we can do with our lives. 

As I said last week, we need momentum now.  Keep protesting, keeping sharing the petitions and the latest news, keep fighting back.  Our ancestors knew right from wrong and they fought the Nazis.  It is a short step from banning people and curtailing their rights to imprisonment or worse.  It has happened before and must not happen again.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Bubble Momentum

Image result for womens march

We were told, after Brexit, to get out of our bubbles.  Apparently, we were all only preaching to the converted.  Both in person and on social media.  Looking at my own posts, I definitely felt this to be true on social media.  I had shared and shared stuff in favour of Remain.  But actually I was just exchanging stuff with like-minded individuals.  Not changing anyone's mind.  

I always worry about tweeting something which accidentally attracts mass vitriol.  I don't know who I think I am going to reach, in that vast twittering ether but anyway.  I have, however, been making a point of reading more of the 'opposition' social media traffic. It is mostly, in my opinion, horrific.  The opinions being expressed are the antithesis of my own feelings.

But it is quite clear that many of these people are just as well organised as the more liberal-minded of us.  And their lack of empathy for others means they are far more likely to use the most appalling language and to express the most outrageous opinions on social media.  A mass of shock jocks, vying to cause the most offence.  Led by Trump, whose position gives permission for such behaviour by others.  People who believe in fairness and honesty are more reluctant to offend in my experience.

Some of the tweets and other pronouncements rejoicing at the end of Obama's presidency and the installation of Trump have been sickening in their ferocity.  I am not for a minute suggesting fighting fire with fire.  But the opposition does need to organise.  The same needs to happen in the UK.  It is not just about lack of effective political opposition anymore.  It is about developing a presence, a language which will appeal to those tempted by racism, sexism, etc.  Piers Morgan and Katie Hopkins, for example, are despicable but their voices are being heard.

The Women's Marches this last weekend were angry enough and well organised enough to be a start.  Momentum is now the key.  In the US, Trump forms a focus for the anger.  In Europe we need to turn our focus onto the Far Right and organise before it is too late.  Trump is in power and it is going to take quite something to unseat him.  In Europe we have an opportunity to prevent his like from gaining power in the first place.  And that means coming out of our bubbles fighting.