One of the Fifteen Per Cent

This mural on the south west end of Waterloo Bridge makes me sad.


Nine months on, Brexit is still something that makes me feel bereaved. Maybe it always will. It felt like a knife turning in a wound when the letter triggering article 50 was delivered to the EU. The same week that letter was written, Nicola Sturgeon announced she would be calling for second referendum on Scottish independence. That call has now been endorsed by the Scottish parliament. Sturgeon’s critics shrugged and rolled world weary eyes. Of course she wants another referendum they said, the Scottish Nationalists are party with just one goal. which is by and large true, and it certainly would have been a big surprise had the Yes vote won by a narrow margin and the Scots Nats wanted a second referendum just to make sure the country hadn’t changed its mind.

Teresa May’s rebuke about disunity, and  Scotland’s foolish notion of leaving the UK, her greatest trading partner, caused some hollow merriment, as that is exactly what she and her sidekick David Davis are determined to to do taking the UK out of the EU. Continue reading

Ten a Day? No Problem!

On this side of the pond a week or so ago there was a fair amount in the news about something other than Brexit or Donald Trump. Wow what a relief. Let’s forget for a moment that Article 50, something of which I was blissfully ignorant this tinme twelve months ago, could be triggered this week, with David Davies, a politician I trust marginally more than Donald Trump, though it’s a fine line, arguing that MPs should put their trust in Mrs May and let her negotiate without caveat, let, or hindrance from Parliament.

Let’s forget that this country’s (by which I mean the UK, the whole damn fine divided lot of it) finest achievement, the National Health Service, is being brought to its tender knees by cynical bastards who make its work impossible and then denounce it as failing. Let’s forget that this monumental, pioneering institution that has radically improved the health of people lucky enough to live in the UK was created at a time that made our current period of austerity seem laughably luxurious and tell people we, one of the richest countries on planet earth, cannot afford to uphold and defend the NHS’ principles, but we can afford to pay millions to leave the EU, our most important trading partner.

Governments, at least those here in the UK, speak with forked tongues. They don’t want us to smoke, but raise huge revenues on taxes on tobacco. A packet of twenty cigarettes here costs a staggering £10. They want us to be frugal, to be financially responsible, but the economy is driven by consumer spending. They want us to be healthy, to make sensible decisions about our food, yet encourage farmers to cut corners in animal husbandry, be market led, use pesticides and goodness only knows what.

Previously we were encouraged to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. That’s now been doubled. From the reaction in even serious papers like The Guardian, you’d think this was a totally outrageous, ridiculous idea. This is a fairly typical example. OMG, do I have to deny myself Diet Coke, crap food that makes me fat and is full of additives, chips, sugary cereals, and eat green vegetables? Nobody wants to do that.

Well, actually, yes, some of us do. That article left me feeling alienated; adrift even. I grew up in the UK and I love vegetables. I have always loved vegetables. I did not have to be force fed spinach/cabbage/cauliflower, they are delicious. My sister and I used to fight over the cauliflower stalk – sweet and satisfyingly crunchy, we would hover by my mother as she prepared meals waiting for the moment to pounce. My cucumber habit as a child was so strong I had to buy my own so that family would not have a cucumberless salad. I spent pocket money on mushrooms, on lettuce plants, on strawberries, peaches and apricots. Continue reading

Send Me to Coventry

It’s book group tonight. I have missed the last two meetings. In January I was at the panto, in February I was in Ireland. Just as well I haven’t doublebooked myself this month as the book was my choice. It’s a novel by Sarah Moss called The Tidal Zone. I believe I wrote about here when I first read it last summer. It was my book of 2016, and it’s definitely in my current top ten of all time favourites.

The novel is written from the viewpoint of Adam, a stay at home dad and part time academic. I’m not going to go into the plot of the whole novel, just say that Adam’s current academic project is researching the rebuilding of Coventry cathedral which was lost in the bombing of the Second World War.

The writing is luminous, the descriptions of how the cathedral came to be rebuilt through the passion and vision of its architect Basil Spence, breathtaking. The project was an act of faith, and finishing the novel I knew I needed to make the long neglected trip to the Midlands to see it.

I went on Tuesday. Somehow I had imagined all of Coventry to have flattened during the war, so the streets and buildings that survived were a welcome surprise. I took my time, made my way across the city, circled the cathedral’s exterior, ate the lunch I had brought with me in sunshine. The glimpses of the jeweled glass I had seen through an open door on the north side were enough to tell me I shouldn’t be disappointed.

Whether I should have loved it so much had I not read The Tidal Zone I don’t know. Certainly passages from the novel echoed in my head as I walked around, the way Spence wanted the cathedral to reveal itself gradually, so that the glass in all its gorgeous glory is only appreciated as you move from west to east.

Continue reading

Beautiful Belfast

I rarely have the chance to mooch about Belfast alone, and when I do I am struck by the buildings that speak of the city's past wealth and importance. Take this one for example. My little Olympus doesn't have a great zoom, so it's hard to appreciate all the details. It was the Scottish Provident Building, and has any number of references to Belfast and the things that made the city and surroundings: ship building and related industries, spinning, printing.

It overlooks City Hall which is pretty impressive in its own right. Note the statue of Queen Victoria. Surely the most memorialised monarch that ever lived.

The Courthouse is also something of a statement.

I like the statue of the Speaker.
I was aiming for Big Fish. It's more than a while since I have been up close to it.
When Mother saw the Harland and Wolfe gantries from the window of the 'plane her to excitement was palpable. To her, and to so many returners, they were and remain a powerful symbol of home.
Like London, Belfast grew to importance as a port, so the river plays a central role.
Nearby there are buildings that remind us of past trades.
The shopping arcades hint at a time of gracious shopping, when the democracy of pound shops and Lidl was not even dreamed of.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Repurpose

This week’s photo challenge Repurpose is one that presented me with many opportunities as my home is full of inherited items, things my father made out what he had to hand in the years following the Second World War, trunks masquerading as tables, and my mosaics which are largely made from broken china and found objects.

However, the plan was to go and see my cousin Russell’s beautiful bench, which is made partly from recycled plastic, and to which I included a link a couple of posts ago. Due to the weather forecast, the plan was postponed, so no pictures after all.

So I decided to post a picture of this:

It’s a panel from a ceiling that I found one day in a skip in London’s West End about twenty years ago. As you see, it houses all sorts of treasures. It’s a well used and well loved item in my home.

Twenty Years in the Making

Having not opted to ay for WiFi during the flight, this post will be published sometime later today. For now, it’s less than two hours until we are due to land, and it am increasingly excited, and even rather emotional about meeting my old friend on her home turf.

This journey began, though I didn’t know it then, twenty years ago when Vicki and I worked alongside each other in overlapping but quite different rôles. We got on, which was just as well as the management wasa shambles, and those of us further down the food chain were taking the flak. At least I had others doing the same work as I was, Vicki was on her own, and she became the scapegoat for many failed and failing management decisions.

The list of tasks for which she was suddenly deemed solely responsible became as long as the London telephone directory. It took its toll. Her husband, initially sympathetic, started to glaze ver when she talked about what was going on at work. She’d come round to mine, and while I made meals, she told Cat her woes. As I’d been telling him mine too, he was well on the way to completing the hours needed to be a counsellor, though I don’t know who his supervisor would have been.

Things got worse and eventually we both quit. I baled first. Vicki headed back to Melbourne telling me I must visit, and me saying yes of course I would.

Time passed. I had increasing responsibility for Mother, and long haul was not on the cards. Cat died. Vicki drank a toast to his memory and mourned him almost as much as I did. Her marriage came to an end. I can’t recall whether it was Mother or her husband who died first, but her parents and sibling also needed support, so our hands were pretty full. Continue reading

A Day in Singapore

So here I am with an almost empty bottle of water and a half peeled satsuma bought in Marks and Spencer on the Walworth Road, banished from my room before I got back into it by a smiling maid who says she needs forty-five minutes to finish the room she’s doing now and then mine.

I’ve opted for an outdoor seat. Air con is all very well, but after spending most the day thus far walking about in 88% humidity and sheltering from a sudden but predicted thunderstorm, this almost feels cool.

The view from here

I like Singapore. I like it a lot. It enjoys London’s diversity with a sunnier, more relaxed temperament. By relaxed, I don’t mean laissez faire. Everyone seems to be working terrifically hard, but quite happy about it. There’s a lot of smiling. The hotel staff have been superb. I was given maps, they were drawn on, bus routes inked onto the streets; my boarding pass was printed, every question I have had so far has been patiently and conscientiously answered. The manager came to my room to reset the safe which wasn’t working. She chatted, and I mentioned I hadn’t had breakfast as the choice was a vast buffet or nothing. I just wanted something small, a cup of coffee and a croissant or equivalent. The next thing I know she’s back in the room with a cup of coffee and two small croissants. She also gave me her card in case I got lost as I told her that my sense of direction is not the best. So forget the bathroom, I would , come back to this hotel happily. I feel like a welcome, valued guest.

There’s a huge prison complex, I discover, just a couple of miles from the hotel. A big sign outside says Captains of Change. Rehab, Renew, Restart. You’ll never see that outside Pentonville or Wormwood Scrubs. The size of the prison is something of a surprise. Apart from one bit of graffiti and some litter that is negligible when you compare it to what blows along the average street in London every day, I have yet to see evidence of anti-social behaviour. The only hints are in the frequent notices – Pick Up Your Dog’s Poo being my favourite so far – and threats of fines or even the death penalty for those who disobey. I can only surmise that enforcing these notices is something of a priority, but all the same, not everyone in the prison complex can be a repeat Dog Poo offender. Though now I have mentioned dogs, I am wondering if Singapore’s dark underbelly includes the dog meat trade and the horrific cruelty that perpetuates. And if it does, then I very much hope the rehab works, nd is not just an airy fairy wish.

Not much sign of rebellious youth either. I have seen a couple of boys with those mega black ear studs that don’t so much pierce a lobe as dig a tunnel through it. Maybe the prison complex is full of teenage rebels. I’m told that chewing gum isn’t on sale to stop people from leaving it stuck to the pavement. Now that is an idea I should happily see replicated at home. I am now very curious about social structures here, and if Singapore dies have a dark side.

Continue reading

Of Freecycle, Political Pontificating, the New Everyone, and Thank Goodness for Artists Like Yinka Shonibare

When Freecycle works it’s brilliant. When people who say they want your stuff then start faffing about and saying they can’t come at the time you’ve arranged, it’s a pain.

Last night I put two items up. For one, the texts came thick and fast. I offered it to the first person who gave the information I asked for, and could come at one of the times specified. The other had a similar quick but more muted response. Great. Both items to go tonight.

Then I got a text from the first person saying she had to work late and couldn’t come. No worries, I replied, there are others waiting. That’s when the faffing began. People saying they could come at times when I shan’t be here; people giving me more details about their home lives than I could ever want to read. I crossed them off the list and went to the next person. Hurrah, a responsible man who turned up when he said he would, was polite and pleased to get a second hand digital photo frame that I had given to Aunt several years ago. He’s going to give it to his mum with a USB full of photos. Brilliant.

In the meantime I texted the person who was to collect the other item and asked them to confirm they would be here between six and seven. Oh no, came the reply, I have to work tonight. I can come tomorrow lunchtime. Had I not texted I presume she wouldn’t have bothered to tell me at all and I should have been hanging around wondering when I could start making the dinner. I didn’t feel up to more texts, so I shall readvertise in a week or so and hope I get someone reliable.

On the news I saw snippets of Theresa May’s speech, and learned that UKIP has yet again gone beyond and below anything considered normal in political behaviour. Under a banner saying The Party That Works For Everyone the various speakers at the Tory party Conference are redefining what everyone means. And it seems to exclude a lot of us: Remainers; foreigners who have unsportingly been taking those jobs people armed with a British birth certificate won’t touch with a barge pole; people who want evidence and facts in debate rather than post-truth politics. Someone, I don’t remember whom, talked about putting the needs of the indigenous people of this country first. That’s going to be tricky. I’m not sure there are any indigenous people here. They must have disappeared around the first ice age. The Queen, whose European heritage makes my own seem quite tame, may be looking to relocate somewhere on mainland Europe where us mongrels are more welcome. Continue reading

Bingeing on Rio

The time difference is a bit of a problem, but last night and tonight I am having a bit of a binge on the Paralympics at Rio 2016. I didn’t see enough of the Olympics, though I managed some of the cycling and the athletics and was stunned that Jess Ennis Hill’s silver was reported as a failure. Gimme a break. She was amazing. Did you see that final sprint?

Still, the Olympics are just the warm up act for the Paralympics where amazing is standard, gobsmacking is every day. I saw the new golden girl of swimming Ellie Robinson come out looking like ET in an oversized coat, owning the start line and winning gold in her first race while the crowd went wild. Tonight she’s up against the other golden Ellie, Ellie Simmonds whose performance at London 2012 inspired Ellie R to take up swimming. Ellie S is only 21, but Ellie R at 15 makes her seem almost old. Ellie Simmonds is inspirational. There is definitely a career for her when she ceases competitive swimming. She was in a television programme recently, learning to dive in the ocean. It was a surprise to learn that she had a fear of open water, a fear she overcame and achieved her childhood dream to swim with dolphins. She is such a warm person, radiates integrity and positivity. No wonder she is is so respected and admired by paralympians and others the world over.

Channel 4’s coverage is outstanding, it celebrates but also has fun. Try this.

Hannah Cockroft is racing tonight too. I shall be on the edge of my seat. I need some words other than amazing, but I am amazed. Ali Jawad could make me watch weightlifting, though possibly only if he is competing. Johnny Peacock has done it again, and when David Weir races this week I shall be holding my breath. All these athletes are articulate, funny, the sort of people you want to meet, people you look up too. Depressingly at the same time as we watch the Paralympics, seeing mind-boggling achievements, people defying what should be physical disabilities that limit their ambition and setting standards that cast all of us into their shadow, non-sporting disabled people in our communities are often attacked, bullied, demonised. The government takes away their benefits and makes lives that are already challenging that much harder. Using public transport is fraught with difficulties; often because of careless attitudes by staff who deem the journeys of the disabled as less important than those of able bodied travellers. The Paralympics helps educate society about what disability means and to see the people behind the disability. At least that’s what one hopes.

I can’t find the trailer where they mix footage with animations, where Johnny Peacock trails peacock feathers, Hannah Cockroft whips up a tornado and David Weir turns into werewolf, but I did manage to get this one.

So enjoy, and join me on a binge at Rio.