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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, 31 October 2016

Victorian 2016

Recently I have been watching BBC2's The Victorian Slum on catch-up on iPlayer.  It follows a group of people who have volunteered to live in a mock up of a slum and each episode has followed a different decade.  1860s onwards.

I highly recommend the programmes.  A number of the participants have actually traced that they had relatives who lived in such areas but all of the people have been very affected by what they have experienced.  One man, for example, volunteered to give up his prosthetic leg and to manage with a peg leg for the entirety of the experiment.  

The programmes have introduced immigrants at the relevant points (Irish escaping the famines, Jews escaping the pogroms in Russia) and have also given social history asides via a presenter.  The sick, the old, the disabled stood no chance of making enough money to survive.  The debt cycle was never-ending.

And looking at the reactions on Twitter, I think many viewers have drawn similar conclusions to me.  

Namely, just how close are we to such appalling circumstances being repeated now?  By the 1870s, there were people actually campaigning to take away such poor relief as there was, despite cities over flowing with people in need.  There was a strong belief in the idea of the deserving poor versus the feckless, undeserving poor.  Racism was endemic.  And all of the available assistance was presided over by 'boards' of white middle class men who sat in judgement over those forced to go cap in hand in order to survive.  All sounding a bit close to 2016, isn't it?

Here in York, an initiative took off last year called Xmas Presence.  It started as someone's attempt to provide a really good Christmas Day for a small number of people who would otherwise be alone and  ended up as a fantastic event, with food, drink, gifts, entertainment and many local people involved - as helpers, providers and guests.  It will hopefully be even bigger this year.

This week, someone wrote to our local paper complaining at the use of 'Xmas' instead of 'Christmas' in the title of this initiative - 'what a pity the title is another step towards losing the real meaning of Christmas'.

Ian Donaghy, the amazing founder of Xmas Presence, wrote a wonderful reply about inclusivity, ending that he wondered what Jesus would think of the work being done.

We are still battling with the idea of 'deserving poor v undeserving'.  Our media endlessly promote these ideas.  Whether it be attempts to dehumanise the refugees stranded in Calais or the 'can't pay, we'll take it away' style of reality television (such programmes are far too close to the wealthy Victorians' sightseeing trips into the slums for my liking).  Our government is constantly attacking the welfare system and underfunding the NHS and is now making a concerted effort to break equal education.  When Brexit finally takes place,  many of the laws which currently protect our remaining rights will be up for grabs.

I think Jesus would be delighted at Xmas Presence, of course.  But he would, and we should all, be appalled at what is happening in our society.  And our Victorian ancestors would be amazed that so many fundamentals haven't changed.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Beat the Uncertainty

Every day at the moment seems to bring some new hit of bad news or prediction of future problems.  It feels almost overwhelming.  India Knight wrote recently in The Sunday Times that Strictly Come Dancing was providing her with the only light relief to be had at the moment.  All sequins and sparkle and fluff but she would take her respite from the news where she could get it.  And I quite agree.

Sometimes I long for a time travelling device.  I have always wanted to go to the past before now, should I get such a machine.  But now I just want the US election over, Brexit done in whatever manner.  The uncertainty is horrendous.  I want to visit, say, 2020 and just check what has happened.  So I can mentally prepare myself and my family for whatever is going to happen over the next four drawn out years.  To say nothing of knowing what has taken place in the Middle East, Russia, etc.

Normally I say to my children that they should not be wishing time away.  And I do still stand by that mantra.  We should live in the moment and enjoy life to the best of our ability.  Enjoy the small pleasures.  The trouble at the moment is, it is increasingly hard to enjoy the small things when such huge beyond-our-control decisions loom over us.  Booking a holiday?  Oh, well it might cost you twice as much as you thought by the time it comes round but hey, that's Brexit-land for you.  

And it is not just the small pleasures.  It is the everyday life decisions which are being affected.  Education, employment, future finances, care for the elderly, the health service.  Thanks to the selfish decisions made by arrogant politicians, our country has been thrown into indecision and chaos.  And it is worsening day by day.

I have often wondered what it was like for my family in India during the time preceding Partition.  The uncertainty, that is.  Partition led to one of the biggest mass movements of people ever seen and also to horrifying violence.  Its 'design' was mainly based on decisions by ill-informed, arrogant politicians and civil servants.  Sounding familiar?

Sick of the uncertainty as I am though, I do actually believe it is vital to remain engaged in what is going on, no matter how painful.  There is little political opposition of worth in the UK at present.  It is up to all of us therefore to keep up the pressure for transparency (and common sense!).  Much as it is tempting to sink in the mire of bad news, we should be making our voices heard as loudly as we possibly can rather than admitting defeat.

Monday, 3 October 2016

The Curious Case of Kim K

Image result for kim kardashian

In a world where thousands of people are dying everyday in unnecessary wars, where the resources of the planet are far from equally shared and where we seem to have a major leadership crisis, apparently one rich (mainly naked) woman being held up and robbed at gunpoint is worthy of major news items on all media sources this morning.

Kim Kardashian.  That juggernaut of celebrity for celebrity's sake has been robbed - but not harmed - in her hotel room in Paris.  Twitter is divided between her fans saying 'she is a mother, wife and daughter' like anyone else and many from the US pointing out how many black people are being shot on a daily basis in the States.  Interestingly for a UK person, many US tweeters are also saying how they too have experience of gunpoint robberies and feel sorry for it to happen to Ms Kardashian/Mrs Kardashian-West (or whatever she calls herself).

How have we reached this point?  The woman has been in Paris for 'fashion week', although wearing less and less clothes every day.  Her every move is followed by an enormous press pack and millions on social media.  But I just don't understand what she 'does'.  She became famous for a 'reality' TV programme and a sex tape but has accumulated vast wealth.  But she makes no attempt to use her 'power' for good.  Other than a brief self-interested dabble in Armenian politics and history (funnily enough for this blog, her family tree is Armenian connected), she does not seem to comment on anything contentious. Let alone encourage her millions of followers to help society in any way.

In the days before social media, Princess Diana made a conscious decision that if she was to be followed by a massive press pack for the rest of her days, she would at least give them some issues to think about while they were trailing after her.  Via their coverage, she was able to raise world issues such as the landmines crisis by barely uttering a word.  Of course, the irony is that she died trying to escape the press pack.  In Paris.

But that sad fact aside, I think we should now hope that this experience will cause Kim Kardashian to finally say something of use to the world.  She could now properly make a statement about the effects of gun crime.  Apparently she is traumatised - as you would be - by the experience.  Her cameras (and where were they at the time...?) should record the effects of the trauma.  And then she should begin to strongly campaign for gun controls in the US and put her influence to good use for once.  Rather than to sell stuff or show off her quite bizarre backside.

And if she wants to perform a service to the world rather than just the US, she should link her gun control campaign to a plea for people not to vote for Donald Trump.  

Imagine.  Kim Kardashian saves the world.  Now that would be a headline.