Under the Same Sun

Westie Puppy is back in her Belfast home and thriving. MasterB has not been outside for two days. The birds are emptying one of the four feeders in the garden and ignoring the others.

Half past five tonight and it was still light. It is spring. The evidence is all around us in the shape of daffodils, snowdrops, crocuses. New shoots pierce the earth. Trees are in blossom. Neighbours are turning the earth in their gardens and planting small purchases made at flower nurseries. I went out without my gloves.

Today is St David’s Day, 1st March, just over two weeks to go before Ersatz Paddies take to the streets wearing dubious hats and swearing allegiance to Guinness. When I was a child being Irish was unfashionable. Actually, it was more than unfashionable, it was social leprosy. I remained largely ignorant of this due to Mother’s relentless programming. My sister and I were brought up to believe our half-Irishness was a miraculous bonus, something of pride and joy. Similarly being the daughters of a working mother when girls we knew at school had mothers who mainly stayed at home. How I looked down on them. I’m sure the feeling was mutual.

I was around twelve when the penny finally dropped that I was doubly socially inferior as far as many of my classmates and their parents were concerned. At Mother’s funeral one of my cousins, the one who the rest of us see as being fantastically and unaccountably right wing, queried my description of Mother as Irish. It’s how she described herself, I replied. Another cousin said Mother would have called Derry Londonderry. No she didn’t, I said, hearing Mother’s voice in my head saying she came from Co Derry.

A few years ago Cousin and I deposited our grandmother’s autograph book at the Linenhall Library in Belfast. Much as we valued it, it seemed to have a significance beyond our family. It’s clear that my grandmother and her friends all considered themselves uncomplicatedly and proudly Irish. There are many patriotic entries for St Patrick’s Day; verses, pressed shamrocks, pen and ink drawings of harps. My grandmother signed the Ulster Covenant. Look online and you can find her name. I am guessing that post Partition she may have called herself British, but I don’t know. By then she was married and trapped in a cycle of pregnancy and increasing hardship, leading to her premature death in 1927. Continue reading

Death and the New Year

There's a piece in today's paper describing 2016 as the Year of Death, especially the deaths of those who died too young. Admittedly Debbie Reynolds wasn't in the first flush of youth, but waking up to read that she had died just a day after her daughter Carrie Fisher, was shocking.

I saw Star Wars back in the day. I became aware of Carrie Fisher, but I can't say I followed her career. It is only in recent years when she has been a regular and extremely entertaining guest on Graham Norton's shows that I have taken any interest in her. She came across there as funny, self-aware, warm and almost unforgivingly honest. Graham Norton obviously loved her, and there was always a relaxed rapport between them.

The Year of Death began with Aunt, who died 14th January. In the same week Alan Rickman and David Bowie died. Both were people I admired, but it's fair to say it was Aunt's death that affected me, and continues to affect me, the most.

The other death that made the greatest impact on me was that of Jo Cox, murdered by a right wing extremist in the run up to the referendum. The reverberations of her death are still echoing, and will continue to echo as we go into 2017.

The referendum question was a simple one of stay or leave, but the far right immediately seized on it and hijacked the out vote as one for anti-immigration, nationalist policies. Shamefully, the Tory government in the shape of Theresa May, immediately responded by pursuing these lines, doing the work of the far right for them, making speeches that encourage disunity, saying people are right to fear immigrants accepting lower wages and thus taking 'their' jobs. (Surely it is the buying public wanting ever cheaper prices, and bosses seeking a labour market who will accept less pay that is to blame here.)

If I have followed the arguments correctly, the Tories are worried about UKIP's share of the vote, and are clothing themselves in these ugly arguments to retain power. In this they are supported by various newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch and the Daily Mail, a paper that continues to describe Jo Cox' murderer as a person with mental health issues, rather than the white supremacist he has been shown to be.

The Tories are playing a very dangerous game. This is appeasement. You give the far right a bit of what it wants, use its rhetoric, and think you can rein it in, contain it. Not so distant history shows this does not work. Having taken one bite out of democracy, the far right is unlikely to declare itself satisfied. It will come back for more and yet more. It will flex its muscles, strap on the metaphorical knuckle dusters, behave like a bullying colossus, all the while claiming it represents ordinary people. Continue reading

Christmas Eve 2016

Christmas Eve, the candles are lit, fairy lights twinkle, the choir of Westminster Abbey sings carols quietly in the background, the Christmas cards from friends and family deck the sideboard, tops of paintings, and book table, MasterB is paying misdirected carnal attentions towards his newest toy, a yellow feather boa that Octavia brought him from Melbourne.

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Little Innocent

I know there’s a term for this, people who are turned on by inanimate objects such as lamp posts or handbags, which though odd and somewhat disturbing, is probably no less odd than people who develop phobias about inanimate objects such as lamp posts or handbags. How common a condition these lusts are in cats I don’t know, and why this toy should have sparked such desires in MasterB I have no idea.

I’m spending the evening at home, just me and MasterB. This morning was work, last night nibbles and drinks here with some neighbours. I should have asked more people, but the flat is small and there’s limited seating. Reinhild came before joining her husband at the theatre; my lovely neighbour Lawrence who broke the news to me that he is moving in a month; Charlie (Mr Celia); B&J: Celia a bit later.

Charlie’s arrival was the signal for MasterB to go into hiding. He’s accepted Lawrence, but is deeply suspicious of Charlie. J was bereft. I have a feeling my invitation was only accepted as she wanted to see Himself again. It is a humbling experience to be less socially successful than one’s cat. She tried coaxing him out with biscuits, no luck. Eventually I opened the drawer in which he had secreted himself under the bed and he hopped out. Little Star, he not only conquered his fear of Charlie, he actually rubbed his face against Charlie’s feet, and spent the rest of the evening with us.

December has passed in a blur, hence the lack of blog posts and comments. I finally downloaded my holiday pictures, and looking at them has brought details of my trip flooding back. I probably say “when I was in Australia..” annoyingly often, and I know I should like to return there. Equally I should like to return to Singapore.

Here and in the US, as well as other countries in the west, we are increasingly seeing the politics of division on the rise; there is much talk about our differences, less about our similarities. More in Common became a rallying cry in the wake of the murder of MP Jo Cox by a right wing extremist. In Singapore I saw diverse communities living together in harmony. As a white westerner I was just another ethnic minority, accepted and welcomed. When I looked online at reasons why the crime levels in Singapore are so low, I found articles citing the heavy penalties for anti social behaviour: ten year prison sentences for graffiti for example. The slip of paper handed me by immigration when I entered the country warned of the death penalty for drug smuggling. But it didn’t feel to me as though Singaporeans were only behaving because they feared the consequences of stepping out of line, and I reckon there must be more carrot than stick that makes this society work. People seemed to have a real pride in Singapore, they wanted me, a vistor, to feel welcome. When the rain poured down I was offered the shelter of an umbrella to cross the street; people smiled at me and I smiled back.

One of the things that caught my eye was the Art Connector, a series of seats celebrating fifty years of independence, and all quoting lines from the National Pledge which says, in the four official languages of Singapore; English Chinese, Malay and Tamil:

We, the citizens of Singapore,
pledge ourselves as one united people,
regardless of race, language or religion,
to build a democratic society
based on justice and equality
so as to achieve happiness, prosperity
and progress for our nation.

The Art Connector

The Art Connector

Continue reading

Big Small World

Late again, and again no photographs, but I have to post tonight as it is my last night in Australia. This time tomorrow I shall be in Singapore. By Tuesday I shall have travelled back to the northern hemisphere and be heading home.

I struggle to believe I am on the opposite side of the globe to London. There have been so many similarities between here and home. It's the differences that catch you. Or at least they catch me. Growing up in a post imperial world, the idea of empire meant little to me. Sometimes there were references, usually ironic, to when the maps were red showing the extent of British Rule. It all seemed a very long time ago. Continue reading

#moreincommon

It seemed people didn’t want to leave. I had been working and so unable to be in Trafalgar Square this afternoon, but I wondered if there might be some remnants of what had been going on, so I walked down from Green Park to have a gander. As I turned the corner towards the National Gallery I could see the flag still flying at half-mast, and a number of police in hi-viz jackets standing looking relaxed.

The screen caught my attention.

Thank-you

Thank-you

People talking quietly; some on their own looking thoughtful; some huddled together silently.

MORE IN COMMON

MORE IN COMMON


Hope

Hope

Today I pledge...

Today I pledge…

Continue reading

Jo Cox 1974-2016

Like many people I have been on Twitter this evening, and on the internet. I have watched the news obsessively. The first I knew of the shooting of Jo Cox MP was when I picked up my ‘phone early this evening and saw an email from a newsfeed saying there had been reports of an attack on an MP.

Jo Cox was one of the few MPs in the House of Commons who made you feel every word she said was genuine. She was bright and funny, serious and committed. I am sure I am not the only one to have noted her as a future leader of the Labour Party, and a future Prime Minister.

For all my news scanning and watching, why she was killed is still unclear. There are reports that her killer suffered from mental illness, that he was normally a gentle person who did work in other people’s gardens for free. Other reports say that he shouted “Britain first!” before pulling the trigger on his home made gun. Continue reading