About Me

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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, 4 December 2017

Happy Holidays

Not blogged for a few weeks (apologies to my regular reader!).  Been trying to write a satire based on Brexit but since the situation daily becomes more farcical ‘in real life’, this has proved to be rather difficult (as I write, I think we are up to £57 billion for the ‘privilege’ of leaving).  I also wrote a ‘tall tale’ for my writing group - about Melania Trump being a robot.  Only to find, two days later, that it was not so tall - the press were speculating on her use of a body double.  What the hell is happening to the world?!!

Anyway…  just over twenty years ago, I was working for an American investment bank.  My first Christmas there, I received a package from the partner in charge of our department.  As did everyone else.  The label said ‘Happy Holidays’.  I remember commenting on it to my boss.  She and the partner were both American and she explained that he was Jewish and that in the US, this was the more inclusive way to wish people ‘Merry Christmas’.  

[I also remember being told to take down a small picture of Chandler from Friends from the wall of my cubicle.  She said if I was allowed to have that, it would encourage men to have scantily clad women on their walls.  Still not sure what I think about this.  The feminist me agrees.  The me which had to live with the awful things she said and did to me thinks ‘you always were a mad cow’.  Sorry.]

But in the last week, Trump has begun to make a big deal out of not using ‘Happy Holidays’.  He claims to be be restoring Christmas.  It was apparently a campaign pledge - a defiance of politically correct language.

And I think, in essence, this action sums up what we are dealing with in the White House.  It is petty in the extreme.  It immediately announces a complete lack of inclusivity for anyone who does not celebrate the proscribed Christian festival.  And it is designed to appeal to the section of the electorate who gave him the presidency.  Trump believes that as long as he keeps his core supporters happy, he can disregard the opinions of everyone else.

In the UK, we haven't adopted ‘Happy Holidays’ in the twenty years since it first puzzled me.  But maybe we should.  Maybe we should all be tweeting it to @realDonaldTrump  It is not a new phrase.  It is a well-established part of US inclusivity.  And it may seem like a little thing but as I have discussed before, the Nazis started with the little things and look where that led...

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Leaving A Dent

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Helen Dunmore, who sadly died this year, wrote an afterword for her last novel Birdcage Walk in which she talks about her interest in how very few people make any mark on history.  History as future generations will know it is written by a privileged few who all have their own spin to put on events.  The vast majority of us will have to be content with having been a part of the big picture, despite huge output on social and other media types.  Hardly any people stand the test of time and are remembered.  Even people who may have been mildly famous (or infamous) for a period often are forgotten by the next generation.  Wouldn't it be interesting to see, in a century, if anyone knew what Instagram had been?  Who Beyonce or Taylor Swift were?  Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep?  Which books had stood the test of time?  And as for politicians, well, each UK Parliament has 650 Members.  How many of those will leave a dent where they sat?  Even in their constituency's history?

There was an article recently about the imminent return of Peaky Blinders - can't wait - and apparently a new major character will be a female trade unionist and political activist named Jessie Eden.  She was a real person.  Who achieved amazing things.  But how many people will have ever heard of her before now?  Well-known and influential at the time.  But part of a much bigger picture of discontent and unrest in the Twenties and Thirties therefore consigned in accounts of that period to a footnote if she is lucky.

Banding together is more powerful in any situation.  That is not to say that one person should not do or say what feels right to them.  Look at Rose McGowan recently.  Someone has to start each ball rolling.  But if we are to make a real mark, leave a proper dent, it seems to me that the best way is to find like-minded people and work as one.  

Monday, 23 October 2017

The Language of Women

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I have been wanting to write about the Harvey Weinstein scandal and its implications since the news broke.  But it has taken me a while to consider what I thought I might add to the debate.  There has, understandably, been a huge amount of comment around the revolting behaviour which has finally been made public.

In discussion with a friend last week, I was saying that I had no experience of such treatment.  But then as we talked, we realised that we both could name many times when our gender had been used to make us uncomfortable or afraid.  For example, I worked on London trading floors in the Nineties.  Barely a senior woman in sight and you were forced to push between lines of blokes to deliver any message or file.  They would push back on their wheelie chairs to intimidate you.  My friend and I could both name times when we had been groped at bars, shouted at in the streets, felt unsafe to be somewhere, etc.  Imagine if a woman grabbed a man's crotch whilst queuing for a drink or screamed about his trouser bulge from across the street?

Earlier this year, I blogged about Naomi Alderman's book The Power.  It tells of a world where women are in charge and I commented on how shocking the anti-male violence seems in the book yet the author is describing little that is not, in our world, being perpetrated against women.

And I think this is one of the most telling points with the Weinstein scandal.  Men like him - and lets be fair, he is hardly even the tip of the iceberg - have felt able to continue their activities because the world is still so skewed towards the idea of the inferiority and subjugation of women.

Last week, I watched a documentary about the suffragettes.  It really struck a chord when it talked of the disgusting language which the press and politicians of the time felt able to continually use about women.  Many of us know of the force feeding and other violence towards the suffragettes but I had not realised quite how appalling the anti-suffragette campaign had been in other ways.

We live in a world where the press cannot be as overt as they were then about their hatred of equality for women.  But every day women are written about and spoken of as inferior to men.  It is completely ingrained.  Criticism for working or for not working.  Comment on signs of ageing, shapes of bodies. The deification of motherhood but the insistence that you should snap back into physical and mental health after giving birth.  After I watched the documentary, I looked at the Daily Mail website - a loathsome place but I braved it for research purposes.  Here are some examples of the language used about photographs of female presenters and actresses going about their daily lives:

'putting on a leggy display' - wearing shorts in a hot place
'packing on the PDA' - giving their partner a peck on the cheek
'flashes a glimpse of' - a photographer has managed to get an upstart or down top picture
'steps out in racy...' - wearing a strappy top
'showcasing her...' - dressed in something figure hugging, short, etc.

And so on, ad infinitum.  It is considered acceptable to comment on female presenters' or journalists' ages, outfits and bodies even though they are doing the same work as their grey-suited, ageing male colleagues.  No-one takes to exception that we have only ever had two British female prime ministers and language is used about them which would never be used about males.   Look at the questioning suffered by female politicians about their life plans and intentions.  And as for women in business or positions of responsibility?  Can open, worms everywhere.  And these worms are not turning.  We are not breaking the ceilings because they are not glass.  They are institutionalised, conditioned, brainwashed steel.  In other blog posts, I have mentioned to need for us to stay angry.  The Women's Marches were a start, the brave women speaking out about Weinstein and others are another step on a long road.  But a road which must be travelled if we are to do right by the next generation.  Our ancestors fought for the vote, for equality.  They achieved a lot.  But so much more remains to be done.

Monday, 9 October 2017

It Could Happen

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Did you see Who Do You Think You Are? on BBC1 last week?  Fans of the series have been waiting for this last episode for a while but it was worth it.  Unbelievably moving.  Very stark.  None of the happy chat with relations before or after the search.  But it was perfectly pitched in this respect.  Ruby Wax has suffered from mental health issues for twenty years and her search was very much to look for answers about the parental behaviour which she knows damaged her.

Ruby had never been told anything about her parents' history or their families.  She admitted during the programme that only her continuing medication was at that point keeping her calm about what she was finding out.  If you haven't seen the programme, please do click on the link above.  I don't want to spoil it by saying much more except to say that there are both Holocaust and mental health links.

And on a connected note, last week my daughter came home from school in quite a state.  They had been reading The Boy In Striped Pyjamas in English at school and her teacher had decided to show them a film about Auschwitz.  My girl was terribly affected by it and said she had cried in the lesson.  She is only eleven.

If you have read this blog before, you will know that I try to link history to current events and trends.  I am very much in favour of learning the lessons of history, of not turning away from difficult subjects, of fighting back against inequality and so on.  However, the tearful questions which arose from my daughter's experience last week really tested me.  Let me give you a taster:

1)  'The really skinny people were smiling in the film.'
'Well, I think those people were probably being filmed by the American and British liberators.  It sounds like survivor photos.'
'But why didn't we do anything sooner?  Did they know?  How could they not help?'
Can open, worms everywhere.

2)  'Why do I need to know this, to see this stuff?'
I'm sorry you got such a shock and I don't agree it was the right time to show you a film, but it is important that everyone knows about what happened.  It mustn't ever happen again.
'But this wouldn't ever happen again!'
We don't know that.  That's why we should stand up for what we believe in, for what's right.
'Is this to do with Donald Trump? Could he do this?'
What the hell do you say to this, other than try to be comforting whilst worrying about Trump, Putin and the rest.

And so on and so forth.

I do not agree with how this teacher has handled the subject matter and I have told the school so.  However, in some ways I was glad to see the connections being made.  I wrote the other week about not just looking forward in our own lives and the Holocaust is probably the most horrendous example in history of something which should never be forgotten.  The Nazis manipulated public thoughts and feelings in ways which should provide a terrible lesson to us all.  If they could achieve such control using relatively primitive methods of propaganda, what could  - are - those in power doing today?  With all the modern communication methods available to them?

The world is becoming a nastier place for all sorts of people and all sorts of reasons.  And the gaps between the haves and have nots are becoming larger.  A world like that is not why we fought the Nazis.  It will soon be Remembrance Sunday.  Remember those who fought and died but also the reasons why.

Monday, 2 October 2017

No More Guns

Just to say that each time I tried to write a post today - Monday as usual - my phone pinged again with more news from the Las Vegas shootings.  And I just could not seem to find the right thing to whitter about in the light of the awful news.

So I am not posting fully this week.  But I am going to add my small voice to the pleas for gun controls in America.  I just do not understand how anyone can want to live in a place where it is legal to carry a gun openly, where anyone can own a machine gun or worse, where no real checks are carried out on those who own guns.  I understand that you cannot stop people who are very determined.  But I don't think there is any reason to make it easy for people to get hold of whatever they feel like having in their gun cabinets.  

It would take a mighty federal effort now to change the US and it would take a long, long time to change the culture.  But someone needs to be brave and take the initiative.  And I am not sure it is Trump, if you look at his supporters' priorities, backgrounds, etc...

In San Diego last year, we went to a 'sporting goods' superstore, looking for particular trainers for my son.  To our amazement, there was an enormous area devoted to guns and their accoutrements.  Just there, in full view.  Never seen anything like it in the UK and hope never to do so either.  I would not like my children to think such display of killing machines was normal.

As someone said on Twitter today, 'less thoughts and prayers and more action needed this time'.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Look Both Ways

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A little while ago, someone said to me that their life was always about going forward.  They didn't understand why some people either want or need to understand certain events from their past or why those people might still have fears generated by those situations.

I have thought about this a great deal.  Do people focus too much on what has happened to them previously?  Is it self indulgent to do so?  And I must say  I really don't agree.  Whatever has happened to you or around you (especially in childhood) is what has shaped you.  For better or worse. If you think have the ability to only look forwards, then that in itself, it seems to me, is a learnt skill.  A decision not to be affected by events or others.  Single minded yes, but necessarily helpful to those around them.

But if that's how you roll, good for you.  However, I think many (most?) of us have things from our past which we know affect us still.  Whether familial or professional.  Over the years, I have spent a fair amount of time with therapists.  Post-natal depression turned out to be a bit deeper and becoming a parent raised all sorts of questions about my own upbringing.  Even this year, I went to a therapist for a few months because there were things I needed to work through.  I felt I needed to learn in order to go forwards. 

This blog has often tried to think about how the wider past affects us.  I have regularly written about  learning from history.  Quite recently I wrote that I was seeming more political than family history orientated on the blog but that I felt it was justified in these uncertain times.  The thread of family history runs from the past to the future and I feel we have a responsibility to our descendants when it comes to the threat of nuclear war or to the implications of Brexit, etc.

In fact, as I write the news channels are full of the breakthrough of the Far Right in Germany's elections.  Buoyed no doubt by the refugee crises and by the racist, sexist White House occupant.  If ever there was a reason why we must keep looking back in order to move on, this is it.  These people feed on discontent and on each other's bravado and they spread disinformation.  I don't believe we should simply face forwards in our personal lives and I definitely don't believe it in our political lives.  Learn from history.

[By the way, on a lighter 'the past affects us' note, I still have flashbacks to the vile boss I had at one City job and to certain amateur dramatics humiliations, to name but two.  What about you?]

Monday, 11 September 2017

Weather He Exists

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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.]