Elemental

Last week we saw what happens when you don’t take climate crisis seriously. In London we were rain bombed, when goodness knows how many weeks worth of rain fell on the capital in just one day.

This week’s photo challenge is elemental. It seems appropriate. Continue reading

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Horror and Humanity

Sober times here in the UK; a wave of terrorist attacks, the latest last night when someone driving a van, another hired one, deliberately ploughed into a group of people outside a mosque in London. An ordinary man, say his Muslim neighbours, friendly; their kids played with each other; no reason to suspect he might be planning murder.

I struggle to understand what turns people into terrorists, what makes people decide it is alright, even a duty, to kill others in the name of their cause. The heat of the moment, anger, reaction I get. I understand the rage, grief and frustration that sent crowds to the Kensington and Chelsea Council offices in the aftermath of the inferno at Grenfell Tower. No, correct that, I can approach understanding those feelings, but I was not in that fire. I did not lose friends, family, pets, everything I hold dear in something which seems to have been wholly preventable. The eye witness accounts are stomach churning. The horror, at this distance, overwhelming, so no, I cannot imagine how it must be for people who witnessed this first hand, who escaped, who survived and today look up at that ghastly ruin. How they feel, how they will survive, how they sleep when fear and flashbacks must surely colour their every moment. There was a newspaper report today, i carried a story about survivors meeting Mrs May at Downing Street and how she ‘welled up’ hearing their accounts, showing a different woman from the expected caricature of the Prime Minister, according to Mark O’Donoghue, Dean of Kensington.
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Laughter, the Best Medicine

This time tomorrow the polls will be about to close, and the country’s fate will be sealed for five years. Pray god it’s not a Tory landslide. Mrs May has not had a good election campaign, but while television is required to be balanced in its reporting, newspapers are not. The headlines of the Mail and the Express make me wonder if we are on the same planet, let alone if we have been listening to the same speeches or reading the same manifestos.

On the other side of the pond, in the wake of the terrorist attack at London Bridge, that great savant Mr Trump has been making unwarranted accusations against our elected London mayor, Sadiq Khan. Trump seems to be under the impression that Sadiq Khan is a threat to democracy. I’d say the boot is on the other foot.

Having been pretty uninspired by the leaders of the three main parties at the start of the election campaign, I am surprised to find myself increasingly impressed by Jeremy Corbyn. I have to pinch myself every now and then as this seems so unlikely.  I am hoping that the votes for the Lib Dems, Labour and Greens will be enough to halt the Maybot in her tracks, or at least severely hobble her. If David Davies and IDS lose their seats, I may have to do a conga around Parliament Square. Don’t hold your breath.

If Friday finds us with a Tory majority and a strong opposition, I may still open the champagne. Opposition is vital in any democracy, and Theresa May’s calls for unity fail to disguise the fact that she would prefer a weak opposition, or preferably no opposition at all. This is a frightening prospect in any country, and her further statements that human rights could be suspended in certain circumstances should strike fear in the hearts of anyone who thinks even for a moment what that implies.

But May’s stance on human rights has always been shaky. So devout Tories as well as others who think she is a *strong* leader, offering a *stable* government, may not bother to consider the implications. Perhaps if they were to find themselves imprisoned without trial, waterboarded, deprived of their citizenship or deported without explanation, they might think otherwise. A lack of imagination is as dangerous as a lack of empathy. Continue reading

Play For Today

My parents weren’t theatre goers. They had neither time nor money, though my father attended music concerts in his youth, and as a pupil midwife my mother enjoyed London’s West End theatres courtesy of free tickets left at the nurses’ home. I got the bug for watching plays via the BBC. There used to a programme called Play For Today. Every week, on Thursday night, I think, there was a new play written for television by writers that included Dennis Potter among others. It was magic. My sister loved the Regents Park open air theatre and introduced me to that, and I became a supporter of my local theatre in Guildford, where five minutes before curtain up for 50p I could get a seat in the house.

Unsurprisingly, in London theatre has been a constant since I moved here.

My friend Tony and I went to see Twelfth Night last night at the Globe. Last year we were blown away by Emma Rice’s Bollywood Midsummer Night’s Dream, and as this is to be her final season at the Globe, we wanted to see Twelfth Night as she has directed it too. I bought tickets as soon as they became available and have been really looking forward to this production.

Most of the audience were enraptured. We less so. After Malovolio had blown his whistle for the sixth time, I wanted to leap on the stage and take it away from her (a female actor is playing the part of the male steward, whereas up river at the National, a female actor is playing Malvolia, the steward’s gender having been changed).

It was a less than subtle production. Emma Rice seemed to have decided to throw everything at this one, and for me it was a case of less would have been more. There were bits I loved; the shipwreck, Antonio rowing through the groundlings in his boat Bewitched, some of the music. There was a lot of music. At one point in Act I, we wondered if the play had been turned into a musical. Twelfth Night is a light, frothy sort of play, to my mind it didn’t need, or deserve, to be whipped up further and half a ton of cherries put on the top.

It’s part of the Globe’s 2017 Summer of Love season. Ironic in more ways than one, but with the upcoming general election on my mind, it’s the disunity on painful display across my country, the distinct lack of love among our separate parts that seems most obvious this summer. The talk is all of a Tory landslide, Labour wiped out, Theresa May measuring up for new curtains at Number 10 and settling in for a long stay. Some of her admirers speak of her as the new Margaret Thatcher, a divisive politician to the power of n, and although Mrs May says she is no Margaret Thatcher, her constant harping on about unity while spelling out policies that obviously divide, punish the metropolitan communities who so stubbornly don’t vote Tory, and reward the Home Counties and shires who do, reminds me of Thatcher’s little speech when she quoted St Francis.

But for those of us who remember the days of Thatcher as leader, and I do with a shudder, we know that unity was the last thing she achieved. My country was riven. There were riots across the country. Greed and ostentatious wealth were praised, poverty was obviously the fault of not believing in Mrs T strongly enough, of being feckless enough to think the weak and the vulnerable were deserving of respect and dignity, of working in the public sector. Continue reading

Give Me Strength

The general election, which will take place 8th June, fills me with gloom. Truth, as we have been made so miserably aware in the past twelve months, is usually an early casualty in a political party’s electioneering. What many forget is that language is used to manipulate our responses, just as it is in slick advertising campaigns because we are worth it. Though that should probably be because we are receptive to positive sounding messages that are endlessly repeated.

I have been quiet about the election here in the blogosphere, but Twitter has seen me splutter a few times. None of the three leaders of the main parties give me hope. I certainly wouldn’t want any of them to be looking after my granny. If leaders are only interested in the powerful, the vulnerable tend to get a bad deal. Theresa May’s mantra of strong and stable leadership/government, a phrase never examined or explained on any programme I have watched, has already entered the public consciousness. Voxpops reveal average Joes and Josephine saying they think May is strong. Nobody asks them to define that strength, or to ask them which other current leaders would come under the same heading. My gut feeling is that Putin sees himself as a strong leader, and certainly Mussolini, Hitler, Mao and Stalin all fall into the category. Strong in political terms means powerful. Powerful does not necessarily mean wise, just or fair. Not that it’s just the politicians who like this muscular language. Another voxpop found pro May voters in Essex saying they thought May would ‘fight’ to get us a good deal in Brexit. If this is a fight, who started it? Not the other members of the EU, that’s for sure.

Aggressive posturing, sabre rattling is all the rage, with a number of politicians from various countries apparently keen to join in and talk tough. Trump has been doing it for months, though did anyone else see the completely vacuous drivel spouted by Ivanka when questioned about her new role? All accompanied by hair flicking and smiles. Meanwhile her father, having said he would not be interfering in foreign affairs has apparently had a look in the toy box of weaponry at his disposal and exploded a bomb so big people thought it was end of the world. North Korea’s Dear Leader has stated he is ready to defend the country, though I somehow can’t quite see him crawling through scrub in camouflage gear.
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One of the Fifteen Per Cent

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

Euro

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.

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