About Me

My photo
Blogging about things that matter to me. Photographing things I love - Instagram @debcyork. Writing about both. Only wine and chocolate can save us… You can also find me on Twitter (@debcyork) and Facebook. If you like four-legged views, try @missbonniedog on Twitter

Monday, 11 September 2017

Weather He Exists

Image result for global warming

As the rolling news coverage is showing, our planet is undergoing, once again, extreme weather to say the least.  And as ever, Donald Trump's commentary language is about as simplistic as it gets.  The use of the words 'bad', 'good', 'very' are his go-to descriptives for everything though, aren't they?

However, even a greater intellect than Trump (no comment on how difficult it would be to find a person of more intellect - other than 'try the nursery') would struggle to describe something so extreme which they completely deny should be happening.

What puzzles me about the American Right is how you align extreme Christian religion with the denial of global warming.  If you are Creationist, what do you think is happening to the planet?  If you believe wholeheartedly - word for word - in the Bible, you must, for example, believe that Noah was told by God to build the Ark to save the animals 'two by two' (hey, there's a song there) while He flooded the place.

If it is not global warming, what is happening to our weather, our temperatures, our sea levels?  Is 'God' doing this?  And if so, why?  What are we being punished for?

Personally, I think the writers of the story of Noah were telling - a long time after the event - of a situation caused by a some kind of planetary issue.  And in another example, the plagues described as descending on Egypt were to do with extreme weather.  More likely explanations surely?

As a teenager, I was very involved in the Methodist Church.  Many of those who I went to youth events with subsequently entered the ministry or worked for the church in other capacities.  For me, I did greatly enjoy my time and I hope I took a moral compass from it.  I did believe in religion to an extent.  But it was not unquestioning.  And I have never thought that God created the world in seven days, etc etc.  To me, these tales are clearly a way of making sense of history passed down to the writers, of the world around the writers, of the unknown.

Or is there something we, the little people, are missing here?  There is film called 2012.  It is a disaster movie based on the idea that extreme sea level rises cause catastrophic flooding on the Earth. The only humans to survive are those who have places on giant space-ship-like vessels which have been secretly built.  And the places on those ships go mainly to the wealthy and those in government.

I am sorry if this is all getting a bit David Icke for you.  But having now watched fires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes in the space of a week, I am even more terrified by Trump and co's refusal to believe in the need to mend out ways.  By their actual reversal of the measures which have so far been taken - and which never went far enough in the first place.  We, and not God, are most definitely killing our beautiful and bountiful planet.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Educating Everyone

And here we are.  September and back to school.  Only a day late with my first blog...  Hope you have had a good summer.

With the start of the new term, I have been pondering education.  My youngest starts secondary so we are entering a new phase.

Last week, in The Times, there was an article about the three brothers who head up the Harrop Fold Secondary School featuring in the new Educating Greater Manchester documentary on Channel Four.  It was a thought-provoking piece.  Not least for the admission that a school which has been turned around in a remarkable fashion over the last decade - it was once labelled 'the worst secondary school in the country' - is now being held back (strangled) by a £1.5 million debt.  It is not alone in this issue, thanks to the Private Finance Initiative.

Since I had just returned from Carfest, the BBC Children In Need money-raising festival, I was particularly struck by the disparity of expectation in our country.  At Carfest, we had a great time (lucky to be able to afford to participate) and no doubt, millions have been raised over the two festivals this year.  But the enterprise revolves around (duh!) cars.  And most of them are exceptionally expensive cars, owned by billionaires.  Just one of the Ferraris we saw is worth more than that debt at Harrop Fold.  Even if the festivals make a still-amazing £6 million or something, the entire proceeds could not purchase more than three or four of those Ferraris, McClarens, etc.

As I have written before, we do not live in a poor country.  We live in a country where choices are made for us about how our money is spent.  We are then 'persuaded' that these are the right choices and much is made of government debt, 'austerity' needs and so on.

We may talk about the decrease in services, read about the debt in education.  But we are conditioned not  to protest too much.  For example, Harrow Fold is in Greater Manchester.  Where there are two of the richest football clubs in the world.  Each with weekly wages bills that far exceed the strangulating debt of that school.  Indeed their wage bills probably could probably wipe out Greater Manchester's education debt with just one week of donations.

But somehow we believe it is acceptable for these situation to co-exist.  Fans whose kids are at struggling under-resourced schools are paying to watch overpaid, over-privileged footballers and not really questioning the differentials.  And it is not just them of course.  We are all conditioned to believe there is nothing wrong with this gap.  Trickle down economics?  More like 'build a dam' economics.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------And speaking of gaps, I was lucky enough to go got Singapore and Bali this summer.  Apart from the staggering scenery, one thing which struck us was the vast number of Chinese tourists.

We have been consistently informed by the Brexiteers that our route to financial and trade salvation after Brexit lies in the East - China, India, etc (Mr Trump's war not withstanding).  Well, our education system is not even remotely on this page yet.  Our children are still usually given a choice of French or German, possibly Spanish for 'modern languages'.  No thought has been given, on a mass scale, to Mandarin or other such languages.

The amount of people and money flowing from China would seem to mean that our future should indeed be facing East, regardless of whether we are in the EU or not.  But we - and more importantly our children - are definitely not prepared.  Even if we rely on the Chinese to be learning English (a typically arrogant assumption and one of which my small snapshot of well-off Chinese this summer saw absolutely no evidence), there are huge cultural lessons to learn.  We really struggled just on a small tourist scale to deal with the differences in manners and attitudes.

Of course, many UK private schools are apparently teaching Mandarin....

Monday, 21 August 2017

Partition Stories

I started this blog after an increased interest in my family history.  I wanted to write something a bit different to the ‘how to’ family history blogs.  Lately my posts have taken a different turn, according to how I have been feeling about the world in general.  However, my own family history is particularly relevant at the moment.  And in a far more direct way than usual.  It is seventy years this week since Partition in India.

This anniversary has led to a flurry of articles and documentaries, many of which are making use of testimony from the dwindling number of eye witnesses.  These testimonies have attested to the previous reluctance to discuss what happened during Partition.  But over a million people died and at least fifteen million were displaced. Due to arbitrary lines drawn on maps by the escaping British.

My own paternal family were (are) Anglo-Indian, as mentioned on previous posts.  Their community existed on the fringes of ‘real’ British society.  Mostly Christian, mostly European-dressed but not white, they had developed their own way of life.  (The photo, which has appeared on this blog before, is of my grandmother - in white - at school.)  Their numbers were substantial at this point.  A distant relation of mine, Sir Henry Gidney, had even managed to represent them at the independence negotiations in the Thirties.

But when Independence actually came and Partition happened, the British had little sense of what was about to be unleashed.  The terror, the violence, the frantic movement of millions of people.

Anglo-Indians were endangered by their positions as ‘assistants’ to the British.  But on a day to day basis, they were endangered simply by having to live in a country where random and terrible violence could break out at any time.  Watch some of the documentaries currently on iPlayer and you get a glimpse of hell. 

Some of my family left almost immediately.  My grandfather stuck it out until 1949, two years after Partition.  But then he upped sticks and took flight remarkably quickly.  He, my grandmother, her mother and brother and my father were all on a ship within days of being caught in a riot, by all accounts.  Presumably, in waiting, he had had the relative luxury, not afforded to so many, of being able to plan a little as regards money.  They were not supposed to take much out of the country.  I don't know if he planned the destination but since his sister-in-law was already in the UK, it seems there was a choice not to join his own parents and siblings in New Zealand.

Since my father subsequently married an English girl, I clearly have reason to be grateful for this move.  Who would wish themselves from existence after all?  But in reading the many accounts being published at the moment, I can see that my family were terribly fortunate in many ways.  Although I am sure, in leaving everything they had ever known, it didn’t feel that way.  Their lives in India were comfortable and their position was one of relative privilege in some ways, despite the discrimination and resentment against them.

Partition is a word which has been used thoughtlessly for seventy years now.  It makes it sound like it was a kind of natural phenomenon that a country was summarily split by civil servants.  And as the current wave of comment is finally admitting, the event is still not given the notice or importance that should be attached to it.  Younger generations are barely aware - if at all - that Pakistan is only seventy years old.  You could wonder, for example, how much the arbitrary agreement to  Muslim state in India has contributed ever since to the ideas of Caliphate which fuel Islamic extremists.  If it could happen there, why not elsewhere?  State sponsored religious sectarianism, anyone?

I hope you will take the time to read or watch some of the anniversary pieces.  And take a moment to explain it to your children.  Independence was long overdue but its accomplishment was an appalling example of the kind of governmental arrogance and gung ho which still exists in our world today.  The actions of these ‘players’  reverberate amongst ordinary people for generations.  Just ask those desperate people still trying to escape across the Mediterranean.

Friday, 11 August 2017

The Power

A while back, I posted a picture on Instagram of a book chosen by my book group.  It was The Power by Naomi Alderman.  I didn't make it to that group discussion unfortunately but I brought the book on holiday with me and ever since I picked it up, I have been reading frantically.

It tells of a future where women hold the reigns of power in the world.  Where this is normal.  Where men are assumed to be the softer sex.  And of how the world may have become that way.  I won't go into the story - it would spoil it for you.  I am not a book blogger and I am unused to writing reviews.

But occasionally on this blog, I have recommended books and I cannot recommend this one highly enough.  It is a hard read in some places, with descriptions of violence both sexual and otherwise.  But then you remember that in describing the women's violence against men, the author is simply describing the violence perpetrated against thousands of women on a daily basis in our own world.  And suddenly you wonder why we read or watch so many reports of such treatment without being angrier.  It has become commonplace to hear of rape, sexual slavery or women being trafficked.

I wrote, at around the time of Trump assuming power in the US, of the need to stay angry.  For us not to allow the women's marches and protests of that time to fade away.  This book should be read by all women - and preferably men as well.  Not as a vision of what a matriarchal world should be.  But as a call to continue the protest in our own time. 

We are living in a world where Trump can still be elected - and even worshipped by many - despite his distain (far too polite a word) for the female fifty percent of the population.  We are living in a world where an immensely successful female singer can be groped in a public place and then have to go to court to clear her own name (an experience shared by thousands of women of course).  We are living in a world where women are still routinely denied the capacity to choose when to be pregnant.  And so on, ad infinitum.

Read The Power if you have the opportunity.  And then think about what needs to be done now.

[If you can't get the book, look it up on The Writes of Woman.  There is an excellent synopsis plus an interview with Naomi Alderman.  The book won the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction 2017 in June.]

Monday, 24 July 2017

Summer Is Here

Image result for holiday

My social media streams are full of parents bemoaning the start of the the school holidays.  Don't get me wrong, I have joined in with this despite looking forward to the end of term.  And it doesn't get any easier as they get older.  You move from needing to entertain them all day every day to them not wanting you around but at the same time, somehow, being unable to let you get on with your own stuff.  For example, I have just done my last solo supermarket trip for a while.  Yes, we can all have everything delivered these days but I quite like to mooch and decide on meals, whilst listening to Audible on my phone.  Goodbye to all that.  For the teen and pre-teen, a supermarket trip is a multi opportunity.  Fleece mum for stuff they don't need, persuade her to buy unsuitable food they don't need.  And to try to kill each other in the aisles, using trolley/bare hands.  Ending with the embarrassing mum at the checkout in whatever way comes to mind.

The same goes for writing undisturbed at home.  Despite a notice on my 'office' (for which read dumping ground) door, my two claim the right to enter and whitter at me whenever they like.  They never do this to their father when he works at home, I might add.  I wondered if he is fiercer but I suspect they just know which side their financial bread is buttered on.  

So, I will only be posting sporadically for the next few weeks.  I know I only post once a week but I do like it to be current and - if you can believe this - give the matter some thought (!).  And my ability to do this during the holidays has previously not been good.  Although this year, both of my children are far more keen on sleeping in than previously whilst I still have to get up for the dog!

I wish you a happy summer, with or without children in the mix.  I will still be posting regularly on Instagram @debcyork and Twitter, again @debcyork.

For the dog's take on the summer, follow @missbonniedog on Twitter!

Monday, 17 July 2017

Persist and resist

As any regular readers will know (if there are any!), I didn't post last week.  I just couldn't seem to summon any energy.  As the summer approached, I had begun to feel I was running on empty.

But then I saw a post by Alan Cumming on Instagram (@alancummingsnaps).  It was in relation to the recent Pride events but his post talked of all the struggles going in the world at the moment.  The racism, sexism, religious intolerance.  Here is a little of what he said:

We live in scary times.  It's hard to maintain the level of outrage with so many outrageous things happening daily, hourly, and the fight can seem exhausting.  the other day a wise woman posited that 'persist' is as important, if not more, than 'resist' as a mantra.

This really strikes a chord with me.  And not just for persistence in the political and social struggles.  I have struggled for many years with depression.  Relatively low level but enough to cause me periods of real difficulty.  I know far better now when these are upon me but it can be hard to regain the upper hand.

But when you hear about the everyday struggles that so many people are dealing with, you feel bad for not coping better with your own somewhat cushy existence.  For example, in The Times magazine on Saturday (15 July), there was a piece about the Fitzmaurice family.  The headline was My husband can only communicate with his eyes, via a computer.  If that doesn't put teenaged tantrums, constant clearing up woes and general 'being fed up' into context, I don't know what will.  Ruth Fitzmaurice has a husband with Motor Neurone Disease and five children under twelve.  (I will definitely be reading her book I Found My Tribe.)

Persistance is something which we often forget we have.  We in the developed world often have such comfortable existences that when we see refugees on the oceans, people displaced in war zones,  people dealing with extreme poverty or illness, it is hard to believe that we ourselves could ever survive such ordeals.  We wonder aloud at the resilience of others.

Because the need for persistence and resilience has been taken away.  We don't have to hunt or gather.  Our problems are of a different nature.  But we, as humans, do have the resilience.  If pushed, we would all do whatever it took to survive for the longest possible time.  Our ancestors performed miracles with a lot less creature comforts around them.

So how about we channel some of that dormant persistence and resilience into continuing the fight for a better world.  And for myself, I will also be channelling some of that into feeling better and into counting my blessings a bit more often (even whilst arguing with the teen and the tween!).

Monday, 3 July 2017

Ping Off

Recently I saw a Tweet about  'app-piety'.  It has stuck with me.

Appxiety (n): sense of dread you feel when you reach for your phone in the morning to see if some horrendous news has happened overnight. (@StigAbell)

This weekend, I was camping with my family and my phone died on Saturday afternoon. I didn't bother trying to charge it until I got home last night.

It was less than twenty four hours but it was lovely. I regret not being able to take photos on the rather windy beach yesterday but other than that, it was a blessed relief.

Generally I like social media. As previously blogged, I have, for example, been learning to use Instagram properly. And I love Tweeting as my dog! (Long story, loads of people all over the world do it so I don't feel like a complete solo nutter (well not much). 'Twitfur' is a hilarious place, I assure you...)

But in a world with so many stresses, I have realised that I need, at the least, to turn off the pinging notifications which come seemingly from every app unless you actively seek out how to stop them. The BBC News app theme tune was beginning to strike dread into me. And I was becoming a bit too interested in how many 'Likes' I had for my Instagram posts.

So many awful things have happened recently. And continue to happen. Bombs, fires, wars, to say nothing of the endless political and social problems in more and more countries. It's not that I don't care. I hope you can tell from browsing my blog posts that I do care. Many things matter to me - probably too much! - and I try to be consistent in my views. It's just that I think we are all suffering from the twenty four news cycle. If you have more than one news source on your phone (as recommended in a previous post, I do admit), you get the same information many times over when it is perceived as important breaking news.  

Clearly we do want/need to know about matters of national importance. But I can't help thinking sometimes that the days when everyone listened to the news at six or at ten but had little access to bang-up-to-date news at other hours must have been quite restful.

Or maybe our ancestors would say they would have loved to have had more news at their fingertips. Imagine how much more of a scandal Henry VIII would have been if his doings were available on a gossip app. Or how different the Home Front would have felt during the Second World War if people could have watched battles live, Tweeted about the Blitz or Facetimed their evacuated children.

We are of our time, I suppose. Our descendants will be laughing at how slow our news cycle is, most likely! But at the moment we all need a break from the ping. A break from the reality of our world at large in order to live in the moment.

This summer, let's switch our phones off at the beach or the park or on a hike. Let's take cameras for photos and compasses for directions. Check your phone at six in the evening while you are on holiday. And turn off those pings so they are not stacking up when you do switch on!

[Excuse the language below but I believe it sums up a lot! And should wish to Tweet my dog, she (for it is her) can be found at @missbonniedog]

Image result for bbc breaking news fuck what now

Monday, 26 June 2017

A Normal Family

I really don't know where Monday has gone this week and I don't like to not post anything.  So I would recommend reading a current article from The Guardian as it says quite a lot that I agree with and would have mused on further if I had not been too frantic to sit and get it onto the screen!  Click on the link to see the article.

Zoe Williams is writing about Prince Harry's wish to either not be royal or to have the royal family altered substantially.  I think the debate also makes you wonder what constitutes a modern family these days, whether you are royal or not.  We camped at the weekend with eight other families.  All long term couples but not all married.  One divorce amongst us and sadly one spousal death too.  Children ranging from seventeen to five, all with different outlooks and abilities.  But we all consider ourselves fairly normal.  Mainly, I think, because we are relatively like-minded.  Our normal is not 'normal' for others though.

I am sure Prince Harry would not consider being on benefits or queueing to use NHS facilities as what he would want from 'normal' for a start....

Normal blog 'service' resumes next week!

Monday, 19 June 2017

Kensington Revolution

This week we have been dealing, in the UK, with the awful tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire.  I send my heartfelt sympathies to all who have been affected in Kensington and huge admiration to all who have helped in the rescue effort and the continuing aftermath.  

If you look online, there are hundreds of articles and reports and comment pieces about this appalling event.  Many have excellent insights and background information.  I won't mention anything particular but following last week's post about getting out of our informations 'bubbles', I would highly recommend reading press and comment from all sides of the political spectrum.

Interestingly, none have attempted to deny that lack of funding is a major cause of the situation on such estates.  (And even the most virulent Right wing papers appear to have slightly toned down their anti immigrant rhetoric, given the backgrounds of many of those who have died or been affected.)

Back in April I wrote a blog post called Doing The Numbers in which I looked at the huge money amounts which are bandied about when referring to football, films etc whilst we in the UK are constantly being told that money for hospitals, schools and housing is not available.

I argued that we are not a poor nation and that lack of funding for services is a political choice not a necessity.  Tragically, events like this tower block inferno bear this out in graphic detail.  Underfunded hospitals and emergency services are left trying to rescue some of society's poorest people from underfunded and clearly dangerous housing.

There is no excuse in a country like ours for money not to be spent where it is needed.  Our health  and social services, schools and emergency workers are looking after all of us in some way.  Only a tiny percentage of the population have a private GP for example.  No-one, to my knowledge, has a private ambulance, fire service or police force on private 24/7 standby.  And even if you could prove that you never touch public services in anyway (impossible but hey, give it a go if you have the money.  Good luck with rubbish collection, using the roads, etc.) who do you think looks after and educates all the people who you rely on to serve you, clean for you, blah  blah.

It took until 1918 for even most of our male ancestors to get the vote to say nothing of the women.  Austerity is a political choice which has been forced upon us.  It is not a necessity.  Hopefully the Grenfell Tower will begin a chain of events which will result in people finally understanding this.  We should not just accept what we are told.  The increase in the young vote was heartening earlier this month.  We need to keep that momentum. 

Kensington Popular Front*, anyone?

Image result for citizen smith

*with apologies to Citizen Smith fans!

Monday, 12 June 2017

Democracy In Action

Image result for facebook

I had looked at the UK exit polls in disbelief before I went to bed on Thursday night and was amazed by the result on Friday.  I won't witter on about it.  But I would like to say how bizarre our British electoral system is.  To see such a massive change in Labour's fortunes and still be so far away in terms of seats in Parliament is, well, absurd to put it politely.  Yet it is so much better than feared, I can't bring myself to moan too much about even that.  I had feared we would not have a change of government again until my eldest was old enough to vote!

Anyway, at the weekend I attended the Democracy Focus Day at York Festival of Ideas.  It had been planned well in advance of the General Election being called but of course could not have been more timely.  They already even had the [now re-elected] York Central MP Rachel Maskell on a guest panel.  Impressively, she still made it.

The first session was fascinating and involved threats to democracy.  It was terrifying.  The ways in which modern warfare now includes use of social media and so on to shut down protest or to stir it up.  The Russian takeover of Ukraine was used for many examples.  But Trump and his ilk also figured, as did the possible breakdown of the EU.  (Comment if you would like more details.)

The second session was centred more specifically on how social media influences democracy.  And much of it was very close to things which I have mused on in blog posts over the last twelve months. 

So I would like to share with you a 'Post-Truth Survival Kit' from the keynote speech by David Patrikarakos, a writer for The Daily Beast and Politico amongst others.  He referred, as I have, to our increasing tendency to be in a news bubble.  Surrounding ourselves with news and views from people who we are generally in agreement with.  And having this reinforced by social media like Facebook which start to push more of things which they have noticed you already Like.  This is David's advice:

1)  Go out of your way to friend of follow people that don't necessarily agree with your worldview.

2)  Go directly to the websites of trusted news sources - or better still, buy the newspaper itself.  Read all its reporting.  Don't cherry pick articles with a slant that appeals to your pre-existing beliefs.

3)  Read articles from publications whose political views you DON'T agree with.

4)  Read books.

5)  Mistrust the mob.

6)  Log off!!!

How do we get more people to follow this advice?  It is hard to engage with those we disagree with, even if it is just reading.   But actively engaging brings the fear of trolling and abuse.  We must be brave though.  Social media played larger part in last week's election than ever before.  And as another panel member said, it is just the beginning.  It is not going away.  It will just get more sophisticated.  We must make it work for us.  

(And by the way, when I advise you to 'Log off!!!', I mean after you have read my blog and checked my Instagram obviously...)