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

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Passports for Aliens

Late posting this week, sorry - although looking at the (very early) time, it might still be Monday somewhere.  This could be a bit of a rant.  However, in an effort to steer myself onto safer ground, I have done a little research, don't panic.

Last week, I tried to renew a passport via the Post Office.  It started badly.  I had to go to the city - no local post offices do 'check and send'.  I stood in a queue labelled 'Travel Services' only to be told that a) I needed an appointment and b) travel services was only money and insurance anyway.  Finally at the correct window, I handed over my - if I may say so - immaculate application and photos.  I have had trouble with these in the past, I had thought, triple checking before attempting 'check and send'.  And lo and behold, my application was returned to me.  'Can't send that, it'll come back,' said the assistant.  'Has to be in biro.'

The form had nothing wrong with it other than this.  I had not used a fountain pen.  I had used a black pen of some kind.  But not a biro.  And this was enough to reject my application.  The Post Office maintained they'd had forms returned for nothing more than this and they would not take the risk of me blaming their 'service'.

I'm afraid I did protest rather loudly at this point.  I insisted on a second opinion.  I think quite a lot of the queue behind me were well informed about the issue.  But really, did you ever hear the like?

In trying to rationalise this, I can find no decent reason why a non-biro black pen should be a problem.  Someone I told about it wondered if biro ink was less likely to smudge if wet.  But what are they doing to the forms in that case?  Leaving them stacked up in the toilets?  Letting people put their coffee down on them?  The mind boggles.

Anyway, given how many times I have posted about the refugee crisis, I thought I'd use my passport travails to look at why we have these increasingly sophisticated pieces of ID in the first place.  Unsurprisingly, the history of the passport has been driven by war and conflict.  'Safe conduct' documents issued by monarchs to their diplomats.  The first formal records of travellers during the French Revolution.  Eventually, an Act of Parliament introducing mandatory passports.  The British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914.  Date looking familiar?

My own first passport was as shown above.  Standard from 1920 until the late 1980s, when the red EU passports appeared.  I do remember, though, having a paper 'visitor passport' which you could collect from the Post Office (!) and lasted for the duration of a holiday.  I was also on a 'family passport' of my dad's.  In true 1970s style, he could travel alone on it but none of the rest of us, including my mother, could use it without him in tow.

Last year, we went to Florida.  It was my first time in in the US in nearly twenty years.  I am so used to travelling within Europe (or to places like Thailand where they look you up and down and then put a lovely stamp in your passport), the US entry procedures were quite a shock.  I won't go into it now other than to say it added hours to our journey.  But apparently, a return trip to the States should be easier because they are allowed to keep all my data on record!

Unless I next visit when Trump is President.  Then they may have introduced at least four more stages.  And I may have a completely different passport too, if we 'Brexit' from Europe after the referendum.  Maybe what we go through to enter the US will become standard for Brits entering the EU and for any 'aliens' entering the UK.  Prime Minister Johnson (worrying but Gove would be worse) may start using the term 'aliens' again in everyday language to refer to refugees and others wishing to enter the UK. 

Why would we want this?  Surely freedom of movement is one of the main benefits of the EU.  Yes, it does make it easier for non-EU nationals as well but think what we will lose in return for trying to restrict refugees.  If the Passport Office is lairy of non-biro completed applications pre-Brexit, think what they will put us through if we leave.  And what other countries will be entitled to put us through upon arrival.  We will be aliens.

As a final thought, I wonder if anyone has planned for immigration when we finally get teleporting systems up and running.  Maybe they will make you carry a biro, just in case.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Lessons from Hadrian

This weekend, I spent far too much time ironing.  The only saving grace for this was being able to catch up on Mary Beard's Ultimate Rome: Empire Without Limits on BBC iPlayer.  A fantastic series and for me, a real eye opener.  I was brought up on school days-style Roman history.  All buildings and legions, swarthy Italian invaders and European rulers.  This series has given me a far more 'grown-up' view of Roman history.  And by the time I had reached episode four yesterday afternoon, my head was bursting, spurred on by receiving my DNA Family Finder results last week and finally realising what the 'Mediterranean' portion of that might refer to.

By part four, Mary Beard looks at the reasons for the collapse of the Roman empire.  One of the things which she focussed on throughout was the idea of Roman citizenship being desirable.  She believes Roman inclusivity of people was the key to the empire's success.  They did use slave labour, they did fight the indigenous people but once in charge, they spread their ideas, incorporated local customs, used cultural events/fashion/etc to win people over.  And there was also free movement of people to a large extent.  Their army and administrative legions included people from all over the Roman world.  Syria, Greece, Algeria, France, Spain.  There are Roman Syrian skeletons here in York, for example.

Ms Beard believes the collapse began when the Romans began to 'map' the edges of their dominions. For example, the magnificent Hadrian's Wall across Northumberland in England, as pictured above.  the wall did not just keep marauding tribes out, it drew a physical distinction between who was out and who was in.  No longer did it seem possible to imagine getting on within the Roman world if you found yourself on the wrong side of the wall.  And within the walls, the Romans guarded their resources, technology and culture.

Any of this sounding familiar?  We in the West have permeated the rest of the world with our culture and technology.  (Coca Cola signs in rural India anyone?  Mobile phones everywhere?)  Capitalism has made it seem desirable to be like us.  We have maintained relative peace so it seems safe and, for the most part, the majority have enough to eat, clean water, shelter.  But now there are perceived to be mass threats on our borders, we want to build walls again.  Quite literally if one looks at the barriers to refugees in Europe, Trump's proposed Mexican wall in the USA, the Israeli wall in Palestine - to name a few.  The Communists attempted to maintain their East European 'walls' by convincing people that the West was corrupt.  All they succeeded in doing was making their citizens desperate for access to Western culture and technology, freedom to travel and self-aggrandisement opportunities.  China has done a slightly better job of giving to its people whilst maintaining its walls.  But only through repression and censorship.  Political and cultural firewalls.

My DNA test shows that I am only 46% British Isles.  There is the expected Indian percentage from my father but there are strong points in central Europe, the Mediterranean plus Afghanistan and towards Myanmar/Thailand.   A tiny indication of the movements of the peoples of this Earth over thousands of years.

Walls do not improve our situation.  Isolationism is not the answer.  If we DNA tested every person in the West, we would be extremely hard pushed to find anyone who has not benefitted from human migration.  The art, as the Romans proved for so long (but ultimately not long enough0, is to embrace diversity and work for common goals.

[Mary Beard's latest book, SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, is now also available.]

Monday, 16 May 2016

Work Together

I had been preparing another post on the refugee crisis after watching a report on last night's evening news.  It focussed on some of the Syrian women trapped on Lesbos with their small children.  I was horrified by the imagery which was conjured by their words.  One woman told of how she made it to land from a terrifying dinghy voyage only to find that her husband had been crushed to death in the bottom of the overcrowded vessel.  She was young and had three children.  She had nothing of her husband's to remember him by and she had no idea what was going to happen to her.  I have said it before on this blog but I will say it again:  how desperate do you have to be to risk such a journey with small children?  How can any of us in the West really imagine what it must feel like?  None of our histories are immune from people migrations throughout the ages.  We all have a responsibility to help.

Then, as I was driving today, I happened upon the speech being made by Angelina Jolie Pitt on the BBC today.  It was part of a series of programmes for World On The Move Day and she expressed very eloquently exactly what I would have hoped to say.  Her speech and knowledge in the question sessions afterwards were very impressive.
I highly recommend listening to the programme. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-36303688 for the article on the news page and http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07bqjgq to listen.

There is also an excellent series on The World At One on BBC Radio 4.  I have listened to it as often as possible and it really brings home the realities of life as a refugee.  A correspondent has been following the Dhnie family  for some time and reports regularly on their progress.


Monday, 9 May 2016

Access Required

Once again I find myself blogging about the importance of history's details.  The need to look at the bigger picture.  This morning, there is an article on the BBC news website about the Women's Voluntary Service.  It is called The Army Hitler Forgot and it relates to the archives of said service (now the Royal Voluntary Service or RVS).
Set up in 1938, the volunteers undertook a huge range of tasks to keep the country going during the war.  From knitting with dog hair (!) to organising new homes for those bombed out to teaching mending to the Army. 
There is now a project called The Hidden Histories of a Million Wartime Women which aims to digitise the 300,000 diary entries in the archive's collection.  This archive, according to UNESCO is comparable to Charles I's death warrant or the Doomsday Book.  How amazing is that?
But as ever, cash is needed to continue the project and give public access.  Many of our smaller genealogical archives are being digitised by companies such as Ancestry and whilst these are excellent services, they are not a) cheap or b) freely available to all as something like this absolutely should be.
The RVS need to raise at least £25,000 for digital access to progress.  There are so many worthy causes in the world.  Too many.  But in terms of the amounts spent on weapons, insane fashions or cars, private jets or rare paintings, £25,000 is a relatively small amount, isn't it? 
A quick Google, reveals that in recent years a number of paintings have sold for over $150 million each.  The most expensive was a Gauguin at $300 million.  So that's one person or company.  Buying one item.  For them alone to enjoy.  For $300 million.
There is a crowd funding account on Kickstarter for this project.  If you can donate, brilliant.  But more than that, please share this blog or the BBC article and question why someone cannot sacrifice a couple of couture gowns or a portion of a week's crazy salary to ensure this archive is saved. 
Memories like those contained in these diaries are irreplaceable.  More than that, though, everyone should be able to see them and to realise what these women did.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Express Yourself?

This morning Twitter, Facebook, the papers, the TV are full of pictures from the 'Met Ball' in New York. As with the Oscars, this so-called ball appears to be a large and commercial catwalk and very little else.  I can't imagine what the pressure over outfit choice must be like, especially for those lower down the celebrity pecking order and hoping to be noticed for all the right reasons.
So I am confused as to what to think about Madonna's Met Ball get-up last night.  Madonna has always gone out to shock and I suppose her garb was nothing new. It's just that I am worryingly uncomfortable with someone of her age dressing like that.  I say worrying because I firmly believe in a person's right to be how they want, dress how they want etc.

However, between the weirdness (to say the least) of the outfit and the contortions of her strangely altered face, one could not help wishing that she was not a little more willing to head a little more into 'elder statesperson' territory and have a little more dignity.  She has surely nothing left to prove to anyone.  And given the apparent rift between her and her son, you can't imagine she has done much for her son's frame of mind.  Teenagers do not like to be embarrassed by their parents.  They don't even like you to dance in public let alone get your bottom out for the world's press.

I would believe the same about any star who behaved like this.  Male or female.  But I suppose the sad fact is that it is fine for the Rolling Stones and other males to carry on with craggy faces and slack necks.  Women feel they have to continually prove their bodies remain unchanged.  I got so sick of the word 'showcasing' being used in tabloids describing some female celebrity out and about in a low top or a short skirt.  But when I thought about this, really isn't that what these people are doing?  They want to make a living from looking good.  They may want to be good actors but Hollywood will not let them just act.  They have to be like models, to compete with models' for product endorsements and to defy both age and gravity with their faces and their bodies.  The same goes for ageing popstars (see Kylie's permanently surprised expression).

Wouldn't it be far more radical, therefore, for Madonna and others to embrace their ages?  To dress well and to not care what others think rather than treading water, frantically trying to remain 'edgy' and 'shocking'?  Wouldn't that be a better example?  Saying, I don't have to dress like a twenty year old to make music still.

I guess there isn't much of a family history link with this post.  But one thing from history - after the French Revolution, a number of the most famous women in Paris took to going to the opera and theatre completely topless except for a diamond necklaces.  So Madonna and others have a way to go yet...