A Sorry State

europe

I know I’ve nailed my colours to the mast on a previous occasion but despite eschewing political views generally I’m posting this week in a brief return to the UK’s most bitter, divisive and hackneyed topic of leaving the EU.

It will be no surprise to regular readers to learn that we are Europhiles, Husband and myself. We make frequent and lengthy trips to Europe and have done for many years. These expeditions are for leisure purposes but I’d have to include education within the leisure definition, since discovering hitherto unvisited places, viewing landscapes, towns, villages, architecture, galleries, learning history, seeing what is grown [and what grows!], how people live, where people live, what they grow in their gardens, what is in the shops, meeting people and conversing [or trying to]- these benefits are more compelling than any sun-soaked Spanish beach can be.

We have grown addicted to exploration of our near neighbour countries. Is there any other continent as divers as Europe? Our cultures, cuisines, music, languages, customs and even weather systems are vastly different and this is what makes it a magnet for tourists from other continents.

Yet the EU knits countries together without loss of culture, language or any other individualism. Together the countries are stronger. Together they can work towards shared goals, combat human rights atrocities, be a louder voice on the world stage. They can deal better with mass migrations using a coordinated approach and consider difficulties over climate change or environmental problems.

So about half of the UK population has been duped into believing that this benevolent organisation is bad for us. They have been fooled by a few meddling, bullish, selfish individuals who are interested only in the furthering of their own careers at the expense of the greater good and by the gutter press whose main aim is to peddle hatred and spread jingoism.

The process of leaving has been left to an inept, disorganised and disjointed government who’ve no clue how to progress except by ‘carrying out the will of the people’. But we can surmise from their hints about stockpiling that things are not going well.

Marvellous.

This summer, as we experience one of the worst droughts since records began and know that our own food production is bound to be reduced we learn that supermarket stocks should be reserved and that shortages are going to be a certainty. Add to this the likelihood that ports will struggle to process imports and that those firms large enough to re-locate are beginning to do so [eg financial institutions to Germany]. Add again the numbers of immigrant workers quitting in droves, leaving horrendous voids in National Health Service personnel, the agricultural workforce, hospitality and elsewhere.

So there you are. The future looms, stretching away in a long queue for dwindling bags of potatoes or a desperate trawl through the internet for ever scarcer blood pressure tablets. Meanwhile triumphant Brexiters delight in goading ‘put up and shut up’ style posts, calling those of us who are heart-sick ‘remoaners’. These are the very people who will be squealing like stuck pigs at the empty shelves in the supermarkets when it happens.

If there were a way to buy EU citizenship I would be doing it-but I can only claim a Maltese great grandmother in my heritage, which I don’t suppose will do. I am so very sorry, Europe for the ignorant foolishness of my country. Please may we continue to visit?

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Spying in Salisbury

You could not, as they say, make it up. Gentile, refined, sedate, medieval, touristy cathedral city Salisbury has been the unwitting scene for a clandestine but audacious attempted murder of an international spy.
This is a bizarre story. We are used to the spy yarns of fiction. They are the tales that have informed we lay people over the years. We think of The Third Man, staged melodramatically in a post-war, crumbling, gothic Vienna or of Le Carré novels such as     The Spy who came in from the Cold, set in the cold war era of the 1960s with brooding double agents and East German backdrops. Or our experience of spies may be based upon James Bond, whose daring exploits, car chases, gadget-ridden confrontations and glamorous lifestyle has become increasingly divorced from reality.
On a serious note, the use of a lethal nerve poison in a public space is a frightening prospect and who is to know what the effects on the fellow diners at Zizi’s restaurant have been? I think, ‘I’ll never go to Zizi’s restaurant again’ and then of course  I realise that I have never been to Zizi’s and never will, since there is a plethora of beautiful, cosy independent Italian bistros to frequent.
As the substance is Russian made it is safe to assume that the attacker is Russian, particularly since so are the victim and his daughter. How should we respond, then to this outrageous assault in poor, provincial Salisbury? Should we, it was suggested, boycott the football world cup? I’ll admit to finding this idea hilarious as a] Who would care if little old England was not there and b] The absence of our national team [whose track record at world cups is less than exemplary] serves a useful purpose in terms of face-saving for we English.
So now our government has slung out a number of Russian diplomats-those deemed to have been conducting espionage and perhaps, amongst them, the attacker him or herself? The Russian government [Putin] has responded by holding up their hands and saying, ‘What, us?’ The next action will be expulsion of British diplomats from Moscow. Wonderful. Back we go into a cold war. We are advised against travel to Russia in case we are ‘harassed’. ‘Does this mean,’ I ask Husband, ‘that a visit to St Petersburg must be crossed off my list?’
Personally, I’m all for ousting Russian property investors from our little land. Goodness knows we’ve enough need of the housing. I’d love to think that all those homeless people displaced by the Grenfell fire and those in sub-standard accommodation could reside in the glitzy towers that lie empty in the capital. I doubt, however that the government would have the backbone to requisition the properties.
I am sorry for the terrible toll wrought on the victims of the crime and hope that they will be able to recover; but at the same time I’m intrigued by the story and to learn how the repercussions might play out.
In the meantime I’m off to persuade Husband to build a bunker in the back garden…

A Struggle too Long

One hundred years ago in the UK women got the right to vote. There! None of us can really imagine what a hard struggle it was to gain this crucial entitlement, but some brilliant, brave women strove for it and got it and we must never take it for granted.
There have, of course been many ‘watershed’ moments along the path to equality of gender but the most important thing to remember is that the path has not yet reached its destination. That is to say, women still have a long way to go before they can live lives as free and as privileged as men.
It seems to me that the principal reason for true gender equality taking such a long time to achieve is that, having enjoyed the benefits of privilege for centuries many men [not all] are unready and unwilling to give them up and the very fact of them being in positions of power and wealth [in boardrooms, for example] is self-maintaining.
You have only to glance at the vitriolic comments following any article on inequality to see how reluctant many are to surrender the superior lifestyles, the casual attitudes to degradation, the enhanced salaries and all-round benefits of not being a woman.
Here in the UK some areas are gradually improving. The number of women members of parliament has increased slowly over the years, although in 2017 the ratio was still 70:30 per cent in favour of men. There are some women cabinet ministers. The prime minister is a woman [although it is a downright shame that the only two women prime ministers in UK history are both from the political right].
But on the whole progress is slow. That even within the ongoing ‘me too’ campaign, an organisation [The President’s Club] sees no shame in staging a men-only night of debauchery in which women are paraded and objectified demonstrates how little men of certain wealth, status and notoriety care or notice. And until men [mainly white and older] begin to sit up and take notice and understand that they should not abuse their power in this way gender equality will continue to be an uphill slog.
Then in the wider world, daily, systematic abuse of women continues, with underage marriage [still legal in a number of US states], rape as a weapon of war, slavery and traffic endemic in many countries, repression and deprivation of rights rife in still more.
I had my own brush with the equal pay issue over 40 years ago when a student, working a summer job, nights in a soup factory, where we students manned machines packing powdered soup. Six or seven of us would work at the machine, moving place every hour in a non-discriminatory way. When I discovered the male students were paid more each week and asked why I was told that they ‘might be required to lift something’. Were they ever? What do you think?

Let It Be

In 1970 The Beatles famously ended their brilliant association with the song, ‘Let It Be’. Letting it be by then would have been the only option, since the differences between them had become more influential than the similarities. But though tragic [for those of us who’d grown up with them at least] it was a wise decision to split and the song really did underline this with Mother Mary’s words of wisdom.

As I get older I find that ‘Let It Be’ becomes more and more of a mantra in my life and gets applied to almost everything I do or say.

Those friends whose response to invitations, messages and contact is sluggish? Let It Be. Get some new friends-or spend more time in the company of more responsive acquaintances. The musical instrument you have striven to coax, cajole, nag and bully your child to practise? Let It Be. Let them pursue the football, pony riding or art club they’d be more likely to enjoy. The climbing rose that you’ve attempted to persuade up and around your pergola about twenty times? Give it up. Plant a durable and exuberant honeysuckle that will not be riddled with black spot and chewed to death by aphids.

We might all lead safer and happier lives if some of the world’s politicians had this ‘zen’ attitude to their policies and reactions. Imagine Korea’s esteemed [by his subjects held at gunpoint] leader posturing and showing off his missiles to be met with the studied indifference a sensible parent gives a tantrum-ing toddler . Oh I know it would take nerves of steel, but with nobody to react to his lunatic threats where would he be? Of course there is still the matter of the continued horrific treatment of the citizens of beleaguered North Korea, which must never, ever be left to let it be…

And if only each new education minister could let it be! Teachers and children could simply get on with the process of their education without constant interference and meddling.

We are in Brittany with our lovely camper van. Let it be is compulsory for this kind of travel. We do have a mirror in the van [Husband uses it for shaving purposes] but other than glancing into it occasionally when dragging a brush through my hair I find looking into it unnecessary-and undesirable. I don’t let personal hygiene be, but the neglect of make-up and grooming products is a very restful state. Strangely, many people’s inhibitions seem to flee on sites and ‘aires’. I’ve seen women in hair curlers and quilted dressing gowns outside their vans in the early mornings cleaning windows and sweeping out; and while this is an admirable pursuit of ‘let it be’ I feel that an absence of curlers and robe would adhere to the principal more strongly.

Of course a day will come when the ultimate ‘Let It Be’ will need to be applied, as it does to each and every one of us-one of the two life events we all have in common. You hope that when this time comes you can meet it with dignity; and maybe the ‘Let It Be’ principal is just preparation for it.

 

OI!

I’ve coined a new phrase, or perhaps identified a character trait, or at least christened a well -known characteristic. I call it the the OI factor. Reader, you will know someone with the OI factor. In fact you may, like me know several persons with this unfortunate and debilitating feature of their personality.

OI stands for opinionated ignorance. Myself, I know a number of people with this affliction. One is a near neighbour. I am safe to mention it since the person is unlikely to read this blog, but were he to dip into ‘Anecdotage’ and read this post he would not recognise himself. He indulges almost daily in a selfless mission to help all of us, his neighbours, with advice on how to improve our gardens, enhance our houses and live our lives. He is a deep well of ignorance about what we should drink and which supermarket we patronise. Apparently we don’t have enough pictures on our walls. He has even been known to provide me with top tips regarding doing our laundry. [I should wash everything on a thirty five minute cycle and must not ever iron items.]

Another of the afflicted can be found at the local pub. Rather than holding forth on a broad range of advice subjects, however he tends towards labouring his point whilst increasing the volume of his voice; many of his views [in an uncanny similarity to Neighbour] concern the upgrading of our home.

There are also members of our family who have the OI factor. On the increasingly rare occasions when we meet, one of my own siblings [again there is no danger of his reading this] likes to pass his opinion on the subject of camper vans, a topic which regular visitors to Anecdotage will know is not only dear to Husband and my hearts but is one that, after six or seven years we may know a little about ourselves. But Brother considers himself to be an expert, despite having never in his entire [seventy year] life experiencing a single journey in a camper or a motorhome. He is a devotee of cruising, the mechanics of which I confess to knowing nothing at all about apart from having watched the antics of a ‘tender’ coming and going in a fjord to take the passengers into a gift shop and return to the eyesore that was their ship, and having undertaken a few lengthy ferry crossings [and very tedious they were, too].

Here in the UK we are experiencing an explosion of OI factor all over the media as the dastardly election approaches. There is a veritable glut of OIks blabbing about how we should all live our lives and pretending to know how other’s lives are lived. It all reminds me of Margaret Thatcher earnestly telling a reporter she knew how the other half lived because she ‘didn’t even have living-in help any more’…

I’m ready for a quiet, soothing blanket of self-deprecation; a refreshing confession of ignorance, some heart-warming humility but feel this is unlikely to occur any time soon.

 

 

 

 

There are members of my family [distant geographically].

No News would be Good

Maybe it’s because we are submerged in a waiting limbo or maybe because in other circumstances we would be away in foreign fields that I’ve become impatient to the point of fury with many of this month’s stories and trends. Here, in no particular order are some of the worst:

  • Brexit or Bremain

Not a day passes without a debate, an angle, a row or a ‘celebrity’ opinion for one side or the other. Even Facebook contacts are pushing their particular views [many, I fear culled from a certain tabloid rag]. The fact that it is not known for certain what will happen should we stay or should we go deters no one. Personally I have never been in any doubt about what Britain should do but it is one opinion I won’t be boring anyone else with [I’m not promising not to bore over other stuff].

  • The American Candidates

Yes, Donald Trump represents everything intolerant, bigoted, illiberal and reactionary. Yes, we can’t understand how he got into this elevated position. We would hope that America comes to its senses. Enough said.

  • Leicester City Football

I accept that being a football refusenik may have influenced my descent into ennui regarding what the sporting press call Leicester’s ‘fairytale’ success, nevertheless, surely the eulogising, analysing, filming, interviewing and repetition must be boring the undies off even the most die-hard Leicester fan? The only, tiny morsels of interest in this story are the bits about the manager [who should be cast as the cat stroking baddie in the next Bond film, so sinister-sounding is his accent] treating the players to a pizza making class or the team being bought beer and doughnuts. And if I have to hear their accomplishment described as fairytale one more time I’ll have to throw the TV from the window, rock star style. I presume the team members don’t object to being described as fairies, although there are certain [non-PC] connotations to the word…

  • Political In-fighting

Years ago [yes, yes I realise I’m coming over all ‘old bid’] politicians had lofty ideals. I’m sure there was a notion of serving communities and all that. Think of Aneurin Bevan and the start of the National Health Service. Is anyone else tired of spiteful niggling and back-biting and racial slurs? How good it would be to hear some real policies, some ideas about how society and quality of life might be improved for everyone. Is it too much to expect? Yes-obviously.

  • Beyoncé

How come I am unable to scroll down more than a centimetre of the Guardian website without having to accelerate past some new article about her? I’m sure that fans of Beyoncé are beyond delighted to be able to devour every, minute crumb of information about what she wore [or didn’t], sang, earned or had for breakfast but I’m sceptical as to whether your typical Guardian website reader is a Beyoncé fan. Maybe someone can enlighten me.

 

Here endeth this week’s rant-

The Birth, the Nation and the Aftermath

By the time you read this it will all be over. It has been growing for almost a year-starting very small and developing during the days, weeks and months.

In the beginning nobody could predict what the outcome would be-who specifically it would be. The nation is divided. Some are actively involved and interested, keen to know the outcome; others harbouring a fervent wish for it all to be over, although I suppose none more so than the protagonists.

The journalists have massed in the usual fever of enthusiasm, camping out on doorsteps, interviewing the public, attempting to summon something-anything-that can conceivably be imagined as ‘news’ and succeeding-as always-in producing only conjecture.

STOP PRESS: Baby Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana has arrived.

Elsewhere in the news, the UK has held a general election. Elections are a gift for the press. Not only is there a protracted build-up, providing infinite opportunities for fevered speculation but an aftermath in which results can be examined, discussed, regretted or celebrated to the point of mortality.

You can analyse and dissect as much as you like, bringing it all down to this or that policy- immigration, housing, health or education, but to me it is much simpler. I think of political philosophy as a circle. At one end of the diameter are those who are self-seeking and wish to line the nests of themselves and others at the expense of someone-anyone-worse off themselves. Perhaps this is an ingrained, natural human characteristic, linked to a survival instinct. Who knows? At the opposite end of the diameter are those who seek to suppress their innate desire to stuff everyone else by wanting equality of wealth, health and happiness for all alike.

Around the circle lie the various ‘shades’ of these two beliefs. Everyone has a place around the circle, maybe nearer to the self-seekers, maybe next to the equality lovers.

Strangely, it appears that both extremes can lead to dictatorships. This is demonstrated repeatedly in history all over the world; and dictatorships do not usually lend themselves to majority happiness.

As one meagre vote among an entire nation’s, it seems hopeless to expect to make a difference, but that one vote is the one and only little speck of decision we have as individuals so we must apply it, hopeless or not. Here where I live there will never be a change and yet I exercise my right to vote, placing my pencil cross each time against a no-hoper who best represents my views.

It is now all over bar the inquest, the result a dismal endorsement for the self-seekers. Some will be happy, many depressed. We brace ourselves for another five years and hope for better-next time.