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, 15 January 2018

Plot Predictions

Thirty years ago I was doing Economics 'A' Level. Thirty years!  A good few lessons were devoted to ‘the ageing population’ and the looming pension, health and social care crisis in the UK.  I remember being shown predictions for, well, about now actually.  I remember thinking 'my own parents will be retired'. 

Let’s just say that again. Thirty years ago students were being taught about a well-documented and researched certain future event - our working population would not be able to provide for the increasing number of aged people. This was not hearsay or a teacher cutting an article out (remember that?!) from the press. It was part of our syllabus. 
A couple of years later I found myself in a British Politics lecture at university. One of the main themes was the excellent continuity our civil service provides.  The whole ‘Yes Minister’ culture of gently steering whichever party happened to be in government.

But where have we been steered to? Thatcher fell during my first year at Uni (oh the hangover after that) and huge damage had been done in terms of council housing, benefits, etc.  But there was still time for someone influential to say hang on, we are teaching about a looming crisis. How are we doing to deal with said crisis?  Sad to say, after John Major's floundering, Blair’s New Labour seem to have made little dent on social care, council housing, the NHS.  They went for private finance initiatives. And then the banks had their own crisis.

To say nothing of the feeble coalition years and the recent Tory disasters.  Simplified version?  Yes.  But the fact remains that this was expected to happen yet still we have hospital beds clogged with elderly people who desperately need full-time care.  In the midst of what may well turn out to be the worst winter in seventy years of the now teetering NHS.  

Thousands of people still have no real idea how they will fund their retirement.   Many probably don't realise how bad things are going to be.  Retirement ages have been increased but there have been decades of mismanagement.

We are in 2018. With a broken social care system, a breaking NHS and pension problems a go-go.  All predicted.  At least six Prime Ministers and thirty years ago.  Something has gone badly wrong with our system of government.

Monday, 8 January 2018

More Action Required

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For this first post of 2018, there is so much I want to write about, I might burst.  So many subjects  which I have previously covered are still at the top of the news agenda and not for good reasons.  
  • There is no resolution in the Middle East -  thanks in no small measure to Trump.  He makes everything worse.  An expected outcome.  But somehow even worse than we feared.
  • The NHS is buckling under the weight of the social care crisis, budget cuts and systemic issues like GP changes, staffing, etc.  No change.  In fact - again - worse.
  • It is a year since the women's marches and there has been some progress thanks to women speaking up.  But how much has actual change permeated?  Very little.  We are only seeing the visible, brave tip of the iceberg with those women who are going public on harassment, pay inequality, discrimination.
  • There are more people in the UK using foodbanks than ever before.  A disgusting statistic for the year 2018.
  • A news programme the other day was quite seriously discussing the likelihood of nuclear war with some expert or other.  I was so horrified, I didn't register the details.  As I have written before, how did we reach a point where this is a normal discussion again???
  • Our pathetically poor representation of what a female Prime Minister should be has placed serial misogynist Toby Young in charge of the new Office for Students.  Yet another reason for Theresa May to be ashamed of her record.  
  • Only a year until we 'Brexit' apparently.  And we are absolutely none the wiser as to the consequences for any areas of our lives.  Other than getting blue passports again obviously.  Don't.  Just don't.
And yet there can be some hope.  
  • At last night's Golden Globe Awards, during her fabulous (in so many ways) speech Oprah Winfrey made some very powerful points about the importance of the press, of investigation.  Despite the distortions of social media, there are truths to be told.  The Watergate journalists had no access to Google or Twitter.  But they managed to prise out the truth and bring down an administration.  It can be done.  We have to chip away and ignore the distractions.
  • In 2017 Rose McGowan began the Hollywood backlash by standing up to one of its most feared moguls.  The movement continues to spread.  Time's Up!
  • It is not inevitable that the NHS should collapse.  It is staffed by amazing, dedicated people and situated in a 'first world' country with plenty of money.  Protest, protest, protest.  On social media, by email or snail mail.  March if you can.  But protest
Let's make 2018 a year of more action.  We want a decent NHS.  We don't want nuclear war.  We don't want men to believe that harassment is 'a bit of harmless fun'.  Whatever the issue, we have to stand up and be counted.  This year,  it is one hundred years since the end of the 'war to end all wars' definitely didn't end all wars.  But no-one has pushed the nuclear button since 1945.  An achievement which must be defended.  It is also one hundred years since women got the vote.  But there is so much more to do.

Start small.  Here are some ideas:

  • Send a postcard every week to your MP asking about the same one issue.  NHS, fracking, food banks, you decide.  Don't be fobbed off with a standard letter back.  You need only write one sentence a week.  The address for all MPs is House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA and a book of 25 plain postcards is £2 on Amazon.  [You can do the same in other countries of course!]

  • Don't follow Trump @realDonaldTrump on Twitter.  If you want to see his madness, unedited, follow @UnfollowTrump.  They retweet his stuff without you adding to his followers and therefore his ego.

  • We all have coats in our cupboards that we don't wear and keep 'just in case'.  Imagine not having one at all.  There are lots of places focussing on coat donations this winter - for both UK and refugee people.  Google for a local organisation.  Or simply hand it to a homeless person.

Wishing you an active and fulfilling 2018. XXX

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

So This Is Christmas

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I recently remembered a relative from childhood.  You know how sometimes an event or person is entirely forgotten until something jogs your memory?  Well, this was a great uncle.  

As a child, he was very puzzling to me.  I knew he had lived with his mother but she died when I was a toddler.  (I have no memory of her other than the gates of the hospital where she died - an enduring memory which I cannot account for at all.)  He had stayed in their home and we would occasionally be taken to visit.  The house was a small terrace and I remember mostly just perching on an uncomfortable scratchy sofa while I waited for my parents or grandparents.  Although he was a bit of a hoarder so any rogue trips upstairs were always filled with danger and fascination.  Piles of stuff to clamber over even to reach the landing.  Stacks of empty margarine tubs in the bedrooms.  That sort of thing.

At Christmas times, however, this great uncle would become a very different presence.  He had a physical disability with one leg.  This had been exacerbated by poor treatments, I believe.  I remember issues with getting him in and out of cars, which chair he would have and so on.

But it was his personality which endures in my memory.   There were long-festering resentments towards my grandparents.  He said awful things to everyone.  He was rarely pleased to see us children.  There was always tension in the run-up to a visit.  What mood would he be in?  Would he come at all? (He specialised in last minute decisions, to try to spin the attention out.) Would he behave if he did come?  I recall being ushered upstairs with my brother whilst the great uncle was dealt with.  I seem to think he once even physically went for my grandfather as grandad was driving him home after another disastrous lunch.

He was one person.  A person who had chosen his own path yet still preferred to blame everyone else for its direction.  Yes, he did have problems and he did have a disability.

Yet somehow he dominated family events like Christmas.  It is important to welcome family members at such times.  But bad behaviour should not be tolerated if there is no reason other than sheer bloody-mindedness.  In our busy lives, all family time is precious. 

Later we discovered that one of my grandmother's mental health problem 'triggers' was her brother.  And thinking about him now, I am not surprised.  I completely relate to it.  It is surprising and upsetting just how much damage one person, determined on being 'difficult', can cause.  He could have been grateful for so much.  So many people have nothing and no-one.  Just yesterday, I met a homeless man who was sitting on the street in freezing conditions.  I stopped to talk and give him food.  His manners were impeccable.  He even wished me a Merry Christmas as I went guiltily away, back to my warm home.

I wish you the best of Christmases.  We all have things and people to deal with at these times.  'Tis the season to be kind and inclusive.  But not at the expense of our own peace of mind.

See you in 2018. xx

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.