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, 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?

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*with apologies to Citizen Smith fans!

Monday, 12 June 2017

Democracy In Action

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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...)

Monday, 5 June 2017

For The Many Not The Few

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This weekend we have once again, in the UK, seen the best and the worst of humankind.  Another appalling attack but amazing stories from those who helped with the aftermath.  Along with a wonderful concert organised by Ariana Grande to benefit those hit by the previous attack, just twelve days before.  It is hard to find the words to describe how this rollercoaster of events makes us feel, isn't it?  

We want to know what happened during the attacks but we are scared and upset by the media coverage.  We enjoy the concert but feel dreadful about the reasons it has been put on and guilty that so many will not have seen it because they've lost their lives.  We know that those who carry out the attacks must feel angry and desperate in order to do such things but we cannot condone their methods.  We want to be tolerant of all religions and sections of society.  But it is difficult not to be fearful of what might happen next.

And on top of that, we have to vote in an election this week.  An election which has been called on the back of another kind of huge division within our country.  With an electoral system which does not make most of us feel that our votes count.

I believe we must still very definitely vote for the benefit of the many and not just the few, though.  We must not vote for a party which will destroy our health, social care and education systems just because they might appear to talk tougher about security in the wake of the recent tragic incidents.

These hideous attacks are carried out by the very few and they affect relatively few (although that is not to in any way lessen the awful suffering, I know).  The emergency services are already stretched by such incidents.  What will it be like if the NHS has been allow to crumble and we are still dealing with such events?  And how will we begin to talk to the coming generation of disenfranchised and frustrated young men and women who will carry out future attacks if they cannot receive decent education, social support?  To say nothing of the funding needed for community policing - not just firearms.

Now, more than ever, we need a cohesive and supportive society.  One which benefits as many of us as possible.  It is ordinary people who are bearing the brunt of the attacks, it is state-funded services which are dealing with the aftermath.

I sometimes include an element of family history in my blog posts.  This is not one of them.  But it is, once again, about the world our descendants will face.  And we must take that responsibility seriously.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Holiday Freedom

I am not writing a full post today as I am in London with my children.  But in the light of the awful events in Manchester a week ago, I wanted to reiterate what I wrote on Instagram last week.  

We will not be defeated by people who are so far in the minority that they can only perform cowardly acts like  the Manchester bomb in order to be noticed.

I did think twice about our trip to London.  But only fleetingly, in a 'I have to do the best for my kids' kind of a way.  The parents of those children who were killed last week have set an amazing example.  We have to carry on.   Carry on as if these evil people do not exist as far as we possible can.

Yesterday we were in Covent Garden, we went to School of Rock, we went to the Sky Gardens.  Today we will be at the O2.  And as we trooped out of School of Rock in particular, still singing the songs, I thought of the excited concert goers last week.

But continuing to live our lives, with enjoyment, is a proper (insert your own rude hand gesture) to the terrorists.

Enjoy the Bank Holiday if you are in the UK.  But wherever you are, go to your waited-for events.  Be it concerts, festivals, marathons, theatres, parks,whatever.  In free societies, this is what we do.

Monday, 22 May 2017

The Services Demographic

So I had planned to whitter on about the 'dementia tax' in this post.  And now this morning there has been a U-turn apparently.  

I am not surprised the U-turn as come on the care side.  At university in the early Nineties, I earned my beer money working on political surveys to analyse the membership demographics of the Conservative and Labour. parties  It was a slog of a job because there was no technology for looking at the answers.  So big thick surveys were posted out and then we all worked to code the answers by hand, reading each and every returned book.  Various work came out of the projects but the main one about the Tories was a book called True Blues by Paul Whiteley, Patrick Seyd and Jeremy Richardson.  My memory of the work is largely composed of continual amazement at the great age of most of the Tory members.  Crabbed handwriting became our speciality.

And I don't think their demographic has really changed all that much.  I don't propose to analyse the reasons for that - it is far too complicated for this little blog post.  But I was amazed at the arrogance of the announcements last week.  It really felt like the Tories were so over-confident of winning the election, they were prepared to finally say what they really though about social care, school dinners, etc.  No tiptoeing required anymore.  And no numbers to back anything up.  Just 'this is how it is'.

For a key part of their core support though, care for the elderly is a huge issue - be it for themselves or for relatives who are already struggling to provide care.  Free school dinners are also one of the few benefits which are not means tested.  No matter how much tax you do or don't pay, your children are entitled to the meals. 

Whilst I entirely agree with the arguments by Jamie Oliver and others about the future saving to the NHS from keeping our children healthy, I don't believe there will be a U-turn on school dinners.  They don't want the NHS to be saved.  They want it to creak slowly to its knees so they can say it is no longer fit for purpose.  Neither will there be a change on university tuition fees.  Because the Tories see no electoral benefit to themselves.  They let the Liberals fall on that sword.

What needs to happen in these last weeks of campaigning, aside from encouraging people to actually use their votes?  Well, I think we need to be talking about how policies will actually affect people.  You may be safe for now from a 'dementia tax'.  But you are only safe while the Prime Minister has taken it off the table in order to get your vote.  Clearly, policy work has been done on this issue and a large Conservative majority will mean they could bring all sorts of things out of the cupboard in the next five years.  

Voted Conservative all your life?  Well, during most of this electorate's lifetime, there has been an NHS, social care, public funded education.  Think about your life without those things.  Your grandchildren losing free meals, your own future care uncertain, the NHS unavailable as you age.  Your children working until they are seventy.  Your grandchildren stressing about having to get into grammar school.  Starts to look a bit different doesn't it?  The last massive Tory majority privatised anything they could get their hands on.  Now they want to get their hands on the last bastions of the post war consensus.

This is not about True Blue or True Red.   This election is about the future of our services.  It is not too late to make that decision.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Defence Spending

Despite the mass cyber attack, I currently (touch wood) seem to be able to use my laptop.  I am late working on it today but at least it is usable.  I hope you have survived the virus so far.

Whilst travelling to the hell hole which is Ikea earlier (I now go alone and beg strangers for help in lifting stuff rather than take my husband and plunge towards divorce at Aisle 1 of the warehouse), I was listening to the radio.  I think it was the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 but anyway, the talk was of how surprisingly unsophisticated the WannaCry cyber attack has been in its components.  Experts believe plenty of 'cyber gangs' are capable of much more.

In other words, at least half of the National Health Service has been brought to its knees by amateur attackers.  Showing the experts how easy it is to break the outdated systems.  Causing chaos for millions.  Spreading it around the world in a flash.

Operations cancelled, patient details inaccessible,  thousands of appointments not possible.  The list of trouble is endless.  Paper records are no longer kept.  In most surgeries, you don't even check in for your appointment by talking to a human being anymore.  You use a touch screen arrival system.

Then it took an amateur IT researcher to crack the virus and stop it spreading.

So could someone please explain why defence spending is to be 'ring fenced' if the Conservatives win the election?  And why successive governments - of all persuasions - have clearly not spent enough on the infrastructure of the NHS?  We knew there was not enough being spent on staff and treatments.  Now it turns out that the systems are so poor, the whole service could be broken by what may turn out to be a bunch of chancers.  And what does this mean for public services in general?  Is enough being spent to prevent us losing access to power stations?  To stop someone hacking air traffic control?  etc etc.  Of course, most of the other UK services have already been privatised.  How do we know if these companies are spending enough on their defences?

My family, like most, has benefitted from the NHS over the years.  In fact, being blunt, none of us were born in private hospitals so it is a fairly safe assumption that without the NHS, some of us would not even have made it.  You only have to watch a drama like Call The Midwife to get an idea of conditions for many people at the time of the NHS' inception.

At least a million people use the NHS every day.  This apparently unsophisticated cyber attack needs to be the final straw, the final wakeup call for our government to protect and enhance it.  All of it.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Perfect World?

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I have recently discovered the joys of Instagram.  Yes, much later than most people.  Especially those younger than me who are now onto something else which hasn't even hit my radar yet.  But never mind.  I am enjoying discovering this visual brand of social media all the same.  I have not made my account private (@debcyork if you are interested) because I thought it would be interesting to see what kind of people might 'like' my pictures.  

So far, I have posted mainly pictures from dog walks and pictures of food.  I tried one 'fashion' kind of picture but it made me terribly uncomfortable!  The temptation, of course, is to copy the methods of those trying to make a living from Instagram and to make your photos look as perfect and gorgeous as possible.  To say nothing of your life itself.  And following all the people who do make everything look easy, perfect and beautiful does make you a little too aware of how unperfected, difficult and annoying many aspects of your own life are.

For example, tomorrow is my birthday.  After watching a number of make-up tutorials - as advised by my daughter - I have settled on some apparently much needed up-to-date make-up as one present.  I have also been seeing endless pictures of women in 'Bardot' tops roll by on my photo stream.  You know, those off the shoulders, stretchy tops.  So I determined to ask for one of these as well.  Worrying about what I would end up with if the family were left to purchase this item without guidance, I have spent some time on trying on these garments.  In a wide variety of shops.  And almost none of them were even vaguely flattering.  I have finally found one.  But now I am left wondering how all these Instagrammers keep their chests in place under said tops...

I do wonder what someone like my ancestor who went to India with the army in 1804 would have put on Instagram if it had existed.  If there is a human desire to say 'it's fine' and 'having a lovely time' whatever is happening, it would be funny to see what he would have posted.  If he followed twenty-first century human behaviour, presumably it would be pictures of fabulous scenery, unusual animals, beautiful girls/boys and amazing food.  Ignoring the illness, the appalling living conditions and the general nightmare of soldiering in that age.  So we would be no wiser about how they managed even if we had access to such material.

All very frivolous.  But I do have a more serious point.  It seems to me that the more difficult and worrying our world becomes, the more we retreat into the pursuit of 'perfection' - that is, perfection as dictated by a relatively small number of our planet's inhabitants.  Whether it be huge caterpillar eyebrows, equally huge bottoms or thick make-up for women.  Or triangular body shapes, endless workouts and recipes for protein rich foods for men. ( Or a mixture of both for everyone.)  We all want everyone to believe we are doing brilliantly at everything.  Looks, decor, fitness, reading, crafts, cooking and eating, you name it.  Never was the campaign for better awareness of mental health issues more needed.  It is ok not to be ok.

Monday, 1 May 2017

The Latest Phase

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So here we are in May already and Twitter this morning has a thread about 'what would you tell your 1997 self' in honour of the twentieth anniversary of the Labour win in 1997.

I have been pondering this as I dealt with kids, dog, general household stuff.  The treadmill of modern family life does get me down and May 1997 would be a nice time to tell me not to bother.  I wasn't engaged until later that year.  But I really could not think of any major thing I would tell myself to do differently.  Life has had many ups and downs in the last twenty years but I firmly believe they all make you what you are in the present.  I am quite sure many people do not like me in the present but at the moment, I think I quite like myself and my place in the world.  Which is really all that matters.  

On the smaller life decisions, there are plenty of things I wondered if I would change. Avoid certain alcoholic beverages; avoid various people; refuse certain jobs or take others; not wear certain outfits; check my daughter's hamster cage door every night (!); not get on that horse a fortnight ago (my ribs are still agony.)  

Surely, though, these things all add up to what you are right now?  My parenting mantra has generally been 'it is a phase, it will pass'.  This can be applied as equally to endless re-runs of Thomas the Tank Engine causing you to lose to your mind as to stroppy teenagers who think they know everything about the world because they watch YouTube and you don't. 

After my blog last week, a friend commented that the blurb on this blog is now a bit misleading as I seem to have got more political.  The family history element has been edging out.  And I do agree, looking at my 2017 posts.  I no longer tag it on Twitter for #familyhistory because I wasn't sure how relevant it is.  I have been wondering how to 'rebrand'.  But have got no further forward than wondering.  Family history is still a major part of my life and my writing.

So maybe this is a writing phase.  It is a time when I feel more political.  My family history is half-based around emigration and immigration.  I have a grandfather who was a conscientious objector in the Second World War.  My children have a half-Irish heritage.  I would be letting this history down and letting our descendants down if I do not campaign again against nuclear weapons, say what I think about Brexit, encourage people to use their votes.

I can rebrand the blog - and probably will change the blurb if I can get my head around what it should be trying to say - but according to the system (and I am not the best at doing the stats on Blogger!) more of you are reading my stuff than before so I am hoping my tone is reaching someone.  I would really welcome your comments though.  It might help me come to some conclusion!

Monday, 24 April 2017

Last Chance Saloon

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My dear departed father-in-law was an Irish Catholic immigrant who ended up as a Conservative mayor.  As you can imagine, it was difficult for a Methodist Leftie to find things in common with him politically.

However, one thing we definitely agreed on was the need for each and every person to use their vote. And never has this been more important.

Last week, typically on the day after I post (thanks for the heads up, Theresa), a 'snap election' was announced for the UK.  This meant the government had to get the backing of Parliament for calling an election before the standard five years was up.  (The five year term is a relatively new measure.  When I was a researcher at Westminster in the 1990s - pre even Blair! - we lived in a state of battle readiness because you could theoretically have to fight an election at any time.  Doesn't look like the legislation has made much difference to this but anyway.)

And here we are, a week later.  The parties are all on the 'campaign trail', the press coverage is as one might have predicted and the general population seem utterly defeated at the thought of having to vote again.  I myself even tweeted that I despaired at what this election would achieve apart from another five Tory years instead of three.

However, in thinking about what to post on this blog in the throes of such apathy, I have come to the conclusion that, more than ever, we have a duty to  vote.  And those of us who do not agree with Brexit have a duty to do more than that if we are in so-called 'safe' constituencies for Brexiteers.  Even if you suspect your vote won't count for much, you should still vote.  I have spent years having my vote cancelled out by my opposing husband's.  It is a small victory if he forgets to go.  But I still vote.  People died, and are still dying around the world, for the right to vote in a free election.  The least we can do is to exercise our right.

But more than this, if you oppose Brexit, look at the lists of places where there is a chance of removing a Brexiteer.  And send money.  Go and help campaign.  Ring people you know there.

Last June, the unthinkable happened.  And as I have posted before, I believe it partly happened because people who usually feel disenfranchised, by the 'first past the post' system and by being ignored by Westminster, were led to believe they were voting to actually make a change.  The implications of this change were never properly explained to them by either side. 

This is the last chance to make our voices heard before we are taken out of the EU.  If we can't remove the Tories - but I believe we could - we have a responsibility to make the process of Brexit as difficult as possible for the hardliners to achieve.

Our ancestors fought for democracy.  We now need to fight for our descendants.