Wednesday, 17 April 2013

A Quick Birthday Rant

A quick birthday rant

At the grand old age of 47, a pretty nondescript sort of age, I decided that today I would spend my time reflecting, meditating, thinking and not thinking. As I sat in quiet contemplation, before going out to meet some of my friends and spending some birthday money, I received a phone call. Thinking it was possibly one of my lovely friends or family who wished to speak to me, I answered the phone full of charm and contentedness.

Sadly it was just British Gas trying to convince me to do something that is allegedly of benefit to me but in reality is more beneficial to them. Thank you Mrs Thatcher. THIS is part of your legacy!

The conversation went as thus.

British Gas: Is the Mister of the household available? (Please note it was very near asking for the mAster of the household).
Me: No, I’m afraid he’s not.
British Gas: Is it him that deals with the gas?
Me: Yes, he just about manages me, thank you very much.
British Gas: Oh? Er……
Me: Oh indeed, and despite my hair being blonde and the fact that I haven’t got a willy, I do know how to talk about gas and electricity. In fact, I’m pretty good at both.

And then I switched the phone off and calmly replaced it in its cradle.

The thing is, I really resent this.

Last month, there was a flow of water coming up from my next door neighbour’s drive; spurting water out of orifices that previously didn’t exist. After a day of this, and seemingly no action whatsoever, I contacted the water board using a telephone number that was on my bill.

I got through to a charming young man who asked me for my name and my account number. I duly gave them to him, despite it being a total irrelevance to the call. I explained that I wanted to report a leak but couldn’t locate the emergency number. He then asked if I minded being put on hold.

On his return he said that he didn’t think he could talk to me any longer because the account number I had given didn’t correlate with my given name. I then offered him the possibility of an alternative name, i.e. my husband’s name.

“Ah yes!” he said, “That’s the name on the account!”

So I politely asked if I could now talk to him. His response was that it wasn’t possible to do so due to the fact that my name wasn’t on the account but I could have my name added if that is what I would like. I said that is exactly what I would like, thank you very much. His response, of course, is that I couldn’t do this without my master’s permission!

I fully appreciate these companies need to follow their blasted rules, and contrary to certain opinion, I do respect their need to operate a system that is safe, secure and mindful of privacy. However, it wasn’t as though I was asking for some monetary rebate to be made out to me. All I was doing was trying to report a leak, and even if I had been phoning to discuss a possible change to the payment system, I couldn’t do that without the “man of the house” giving me permission.

So much for equity – let’s say thank you to Mrs T again because she did SO much for women’s rights, didn’t she?

In the past, when I have been supporting a friend with regard to utilities and other such mundane activities, I’ve actually had to pretend to be their partner in order to get over the first hurdle. Even then, in the majority of cases, I’ve had to pass the phone to my friend to confirm that I’m allowed to negotiate standing orders, direct debits or even ask for a quote for house or car insurance with his permission. Again, I understand protocols but sometimes, it just seems that the little woman has a much smaller and less important voice than the male counterparts. I appreciate also, that if I was single, my rights to speak about such matters, would be recognised.

At the grand old age of 47, I am a human being in my own right, whether my name or someone else’s is on the bills that come to MY home. I’ve contributed to the family income for over 20 years and I really, really resent being treated as a second class citizen because I haven’t got a willy. I’m a human being in my own right irrespective of whether I am married, single, co-habiting, divorced, widowed or a dim-wit moron who doesn’t know how to talk on the telephone to these services.

Perhaps someone ought to tell Sid all of that!

And now, for something completely different, I shall return to the delights of my birthday gifts – CDs of Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones which I was thoroughly enjoying listening to before this happened.

Anybody seen my baby?

Saturday, 13 April 2013

A Child From the Thatcher Era

The title: I can't bring myself to call myself one of Thatcher's children. I don't want that sort of association.


On the 3rd May 1979, we had a bereavement in the family. My pet hamster decided to choose this day to depart from the world. My father immediately suggested that Humphrey had made a sensible choice. Not even a hamster should have to endure life under Margaret Thatcher.

At the time, I had just become a teenager and my views on politics were largely influenced by my parents and the many discussions we had throughout my childhood that ranged from crises in the Middle East to mismanagement of local politics from our Conservative local Councillor neighbour who lived across the street.

We hear about the legacies that people would like to leave to their children, so often in monetary terms. I will never receive a financial legacy from my parents because they never had much money, despite my father being a head teacher, and I hope my mother lives long enough to use all the equity in her existing house to sustain her into old age. However, one of the greatest legacies they have left to me started when I was a toddler – that is the gifts of political thought, empathy and discussion.

Politics was an integral part of our family life. At some point during the War of Attrition between Egypt and Israel at the end of the 60s, I walked into the kitchen to see my mother bent over the radio listening to the most recent atrocities in that part of the world. Deep in thought and restraining herself from crying, she continued to listen to the report of murder, destruction and annihilation – and I silently joined her. To a four year old girl, carefully ensconced thousands of miles away, this world of violence was incomprehensible, and I turned to her and said, “Don’t they realise that they’re killing each other’s brothers and daddy’s?”

And there was my first political statement – full of unreasoned hope and ideology with a strong sense of compassion that has essentially shaped the next forty plus years of my life.

Discord to harmony, error to truth, doubt to faith, despair to hope – I thought my father would explode. He wasn’t an angry person. He rarely became over-heated or aggressive and yet here he was on the 4th of May 1979, getting out of his seat and waving a finger at the television shouting, “How dare she!” as Thatcher quoted from the Prayer of St. Francis on the steps of 10 Downing Street.

“She’ll destroy this country!” was his next prophetic statement, but even he had no comprehension of the extent of such a comment.

So how was Thatcherism for me?

A friend of mine recently said that she was “too young to appreciate her [Thatcher’s] politics at the time”. Although I understood what she meant, I recounted her words with astonishment because this friend is exactly the same age as me, and I was painfully aware of Thatcher’s politics at the time – from the moment she got out of the car in Downing Street in 1979 to the time some eleven years later when she stepped tearfully back into the car to be driven away.

Yet I was one of the lucky ones. My parents were both employed in public sector jobs that were relatively secure. I wasn’t living in a mining area, blighted and scarred by the civil and class wars that became an integral part of my latter teenage years. My brothers didn’t go off to fight in a seemingly pointless war on the other side of the world. I wasn’t a member of an ethnic group who would be victimised and abused as some sort of scapegoat for the state of economic decline in the country and I didn’t have my sexual choices deemed to be unfit for “promotion” under the Clause 28 agreement.

However, my childhood and my early adulthood was still drastically affected by the rise to power of this woman, and with careful and considered thoughtfulness on the part of my parents, I was never allowed to ignore the impact that Thatcher and her policies were having on people in this country and globally.

At this point, it’s also worth mentioning the importance of creativity and the expression of others. On first reflection, Thatcher herself may not have had a direct bearing on my life that influenced the choices I made. On second reflection, her attitude, behaviour and mentality did have a significant and direct bearing on the choices I made in life. Yet others who creatively displayed their heart-felt concerns about what she was doing to the country were the first to impact on my thoughts during Thatcherism.

Alan Bleasdale is one such person. Thirty years on and I am still deeply affected, even wounded, by the portrayal of hopelessness that was shown through the characterisation in “Boys from the Blackstuff”. The despair on the face of Angie Todd, played by Julie Walters, as she saw her husband – brilliantly portrayed by Michael Angelis, disintegrate in front of her is an incredibly strong memory, as is the removal of Yosser Hughes’s children, kicking and screaming, as they were taken away by social services from a man whose sanity had failed him in the depths of overwhelming despondency. Whilst these particular characters were fictional, there were real living and just about breathing people who were far from fictional, attempting to survive as Thatcher and her policies destroyed their lives, their living and their communities. That wasn’t fiction.

Peter Fluck and Roger Law, together with the rest of the Spitting Image masters, managed to satirise with such accuracy that the caricatures almost became the people that they were mocking. From my student accommodation, I remember with absolute clarity the stunned silence that befell the room when the final moments of the 1987 General Election Spitting Image Show occurred – “Tomorrow Belongs to Me!” In that instance, we knew that we had another four years of that woman, and it felt like a real kick in the teeth, no a kick in the heart and the soul. The despondency I’d witnessed a few years before watching a television drama came flooding back. The nightmare was continuing, and I just couldn’t understand why people couldn’t see!

In 1982, I started my O-Level course and had the ‘pleasure’ of reading Orwell’s “1984” for my English Literature coursework. Simultaneously, I was studying Stalin in history. Both of these extreme dystopias were evident in my life too. Even a pathetically na├»ve youngster such as me could see some synergy between what I was learning and what was happening in my country – and it chilled me to the core.

I can remember distinctly sitting in a mobile classroom (the 1930s school was falling down and has only just received funding from the disestablished Building Schools for the Future funds to rebuild on the neighbouring field – the one that wasn’t sold off for the quick buck of housing) when there was a scurry of activity coming from the sixth-form block. At the end of the lesson, we went to find out what was happening, and it transpired that one of the British ships beginning with ‘A’ had been attacked in the Falklands. Fatal injuries were reported. Confusion and concern was paramount. Our friend Richard was on board the “Ardent”  or the "Antelope" and his twin brother had just heard about the attack on the news.

The futility of the Falklands conflict (I won’t grace it with the Hawkish term war) had already been a subject of intense scrutiny in our household, and here was that futility personified, living and breathing in the form of a friend called Richard who could easily have been dead in a far-off land. The next few days were excruciating as we awaited news. The outcome was positive. Whilst he had been injured during the explosion, he was alive but many weren’t.

And many were alive but barely living. You couldn’t possibly grow up in the West Midlands without seeing with your own eyes what the unbearable truths of Tory policy were doing to our people. The long and abandoned factories of Darlaston and Wednesbury could just about be seen from certain parts of my school. My uncle, who’d spent a lifetime working in the Rubery Owen – the ironworks, was given a list of people to speak to prior to its ultimate demise; a year short of its centenary of production. It was his job to go and tell them that their services to the company were no longer required. With the job completed, he walked back to the management rooms and was then told to add his name to the top of the list of redundant workers. He still talks of that moment today.

By the time I was 18 years old, the Miner’s Strike was in full flow. For my 18th birthday, my parents hired a minibus and my family, together with a few friends, travelled to North Wales for a breezy day by the sea. One of these friends was a history teacher at my school by the name of Alun Thomas. It was this man from the mining valleys of South Wales that was driving the minibus when we were stopped by the police as we travelled back to Walsall. One look at this stocky, dark haired and obviously welsh man was enough for us to endure a series of questions to ensure that we hadn’t just driven down from Nottingham or Sheffield – and if we had? Was that suddenly a crime? Secondary striking was – yet another infliction on our civil liberties.

The strike continued and again, the visual memories from that time continue to haunt, particularly this week. I remember travelling to Wales and seeing the lines of army vans with metal grids over their windscreens, transporting the scab coal to the steelworks in the North of the country. Police vans escorted them on their journey as striking miner’s draped their banners over motorway bridges proclaiming their rightful protestations. And as for those television images of civil war between miners and police in Yorkshire, well I wince at the thought. It’s just too painful.

I did my small bit, the only thing I could do. Spending a year on the dole myself as one of the “One in Ten” that UB40 used to sing about, I travelled to that groups home town every Monday to study in the Central Birmingham library. At the bottom of the station slope in New Street, stood a miner with that infamous bright yellow “Coal not Dole” sticker. From my ‘income’ I donated a pound each week into the donation bucket at his feet. I wonder where he is now.

Onto college and I became embroiled in student politics and proudly marched amongst the 120,000+ crowd in November1985 as we took to the streets to protest about Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment and our government’s refusal to participate in economic sanctions against Apartheid. The Commonwealth countries took a vote. The outcome was a resounding plea to commit to sanctions with 49 voting for sanctions and 1 against. Thatcher couldn’t agree with the consensus. When asked about her unbelievable stance with such a unanimous conclusion, what was her response when asked how she felt about being the only person to vote against sanctions? “I feel sorry for the other 49!”

How can a person be so blind to injustice and unfairness when all about them are united? Her truth was her truth and she was going to stick to in spite of any argument or debate put to her. When even some of her political or ideological allies were trying to explain the error of her ways, she vehemently and steadfastly refused to consider for one minute that she might just be wrong. Ultimately, of course, she was proved wrong. Sanctions worked.

She was wrong about other things too. London needed a local government. The power of the Inner London Education Authority and the Greater London Council intimidated her, so she stamped on them, because she could. Like a rabid dog who tastes blood for the first time, her thirst for further political dominance was seemingly unquenchable. Not satisfied with ruining the lives of so many miners, she paired up with her great pal Murdoch to smash the unions once more. Of course, new innovations meant that the press had to change but it was the manner in which it was done that was so devastating and thoughtless, and let’s not forget that there’s a wealth of evidence that the mines could have been financially viable, if you had the will and the nerve to stay in the game and look at the bigger picture.

There are many other memories of Thatcher and what her policies did, including the delights of training a fascist dachshund to bark at the mere mention of her name, but this piece of writing is too long already. We could all write books of our personal recollections and why we feel so passionately about the harm this woman did, and they are all relevant and pertinent even if only to ourselves. Thatcher wounded and killed people through her policies. Let’s not shy away from this fact. People died. They lost their lives because of her policies. As I said, I was one of the lucky ones. But I lost something too.

I lost my political party.

I appreciate this is just my personal opinion and one that would be staunchly debated amongst my socialist friends and family but with the Jack mentality and the dismissal of society and communities (only individuals and families) she took away the normality of togetherness, of empathy and of equality. No wonder she wasn’t fond of the French with their national slogan of “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite”.

She pushed party politics to a middle ground that is a void of nothingness with no reason or conviction. That’s not to say her own politics was embedded in “middle”-ness. Far from it! But overcoming the philosophy of Thatcherism meant that an utter dilution of justice and fairness ensued, under the premise that anything was better than a continued diet of Thatcherism.  Because of this, I have felt disenfranchised for most of my adult life.  It will take further writing to explain this in detail but her statement that one of her greatest achievements in life was the emergence of New Labour is not funny. Let’s remember, she had no sense of humour by her own admission.

As Glenda Jackson so brilliantly said, “everything I had been taught to regard as a vice - and I still regard them as vices - under Thatcherism was in fact a virtue: greed, selfishness, no care for the weaker, sharp elbows, sharp knees. They were the way forward.”

And it’s this that not even my insightful father could see, as he shouted at the television about how this woman was going to destroy the country, which makes me so despondent. Yes, she was radical. Yes, she shaped society – and she never said it didn’t exist, she just didn’t believe in it.

And now for a final comment.

At 10.50 on Monday 8th April 2013, I was sitting in my brother’s house doing some work when I saw him charging through the garden with his fist victoriously raised in the air. I rushed out to him and all he had to say was “She’s dead!”

Instantaneously, I knew who he was talking about and exploded into a fit of multiple “Yes’s” as my bemused children looked on. Expletives followed, as did a question of confirmation as to whether it was true because the news still hadn’t materialised on the television. I concluded with the comment that Madiba had outlived her – which was one of my greatest hopes and something that had caused me unnecessary concern over the Easter weekend as Mandela resided in hospital.

For a few hours, with tweet and television viewing, my elation continued, and I’m not massively proud of this feeling. However, by the end of the evening, I was calmer and a little sadder. Throughout the day, I’d been remembering all the reasons why I disagreed so vehemently with Thatcher and why I despised her policies, and a touch of hopelessness crept in. Laurie Penny, writer for the New Statesman and the Guardian, had written “Thatcher has died. Her legacy lives on. Sympathies to her family, and to the families of all who suffered because of her leadership.”

My legacy from my parents was my political persuasions that were and still are steeped in a sense of justice and a belief in humankind. The best way to secure Thatcher’s legacy is to do nothing and to accept what Glenda Jackson said about vice and virtue as merely being the way of the world. It isn’t. If all those who feel passionately enough about this unite, then we collectively ensure that the legacy of Thatcher dies with her.

United we stand, together we will not fall.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Whine and Wonder

It is the second of December and I am sitting in my front room looking out of a somewhat dirty window onto the most glorious display of Winter Sun. The chair under the wisteria is smoking a vapour of cold mist, and the grass is glistening with moisture and sunlight. The sky is totally clear and there seems a little bit of hope in the world this morning.

So I will get the whining out of the way so that I can look out of the window some more and enjoy the rest of the day.
My last blog mentioned the nuisance that I have recently endured with BSkyB and Virgin. Having spent yesterday hearing my friend’s frustration with Virgin, I am beginning to worry that I may have jumped into another fire of devilish corporatism, but then I knew that I would. It was just the lesser of two evils. If you want to watch television, have a phone call and have fast internet access, then there are a few organizations that have got the entire market sewn up.
C’est la vie.

But it doesn’t stop with this form of media.
I am increasingly frustrated by the total monopoly in our lives that we simply accept without question because these careful bods have ensured that there really is no alternative.
Take Bill Gates. You have to admire his prophetic deliverance regarding the internet. He had the foresight to see that we were going be reliant on his products, and once we were all hooked, then the inflation could begin.
That is how capitalism works.

But Bill, I’ve been very loyal to you. Doesn’t that deserve some sort of gratitude?
I’ve never had a pirate copy of any Windows/Microsoft product. I’ve loyally typed in the codes for all systems so that I can run along and get on with writing, reading and creating.
Surely, there could be some thanks for that.

But no. I wanted to purchase Microsoft Publisher because, having tried alternatives to no avail, I needed a desktop publisher. I am fortunate in that I have more than one or two computers in the house. In fact, there are five.
Now I am setting myself up in business and I would really like to be able to design something on my laptop and then print it off on the computer. I have not connected my laptop to the printer. So the only way of getting my business cards printed is to transfer them to the computer that is connected to the printer. Only I cannot do that because that computer does not have the required software.

I bought the Microsoft product but it only has ONE license. One license for ONE machine. Not ONE license for a household or a business.
How fair is that? So in order for myself, my business partner and my desktop computer to have access to this all important piece of software, I have to pay £300.
It’s not fair.
The only consolation is that at least Bill Gates is altruistic and pumping considerable amounts of money back to where it is needed to educate and nurture the lives of those less fortunate through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Right, that is the whine out of the way.
Now to something more positive, honestly.

The last few weeks, I have been somewhat miserable. That is an understatement. I have been feeling incredibly bereft, lost, voiceless, paralysed.
It happens sometimes. It happens in a moment, and it lingers, and then it is gone only to return when you least expect it, sometimes to such an extent that it pierces dramatically into your mind and your heart, painfully.
It hurts. I hurt. Such a simple word; hurt.

It is so strange. I love music. My life without music really would be bereft. Music, like other essential things in life, gives me a lift that I cannot really explain. It hits a nerve, a feeling. It fills my soul with every intonation and every beat. Isn’t it a marvel that there are only a certain amount of musical notes, and yet you get this huge array of sounds – the magnitude and variety of which is almost inexplicable.
How can you get such different sounds from essentially twelve notes? I have music books stacked on my shelves inviting me to play all sorts of different music. I have more shelves filled with CDs that have their own mark, their own form of creativity with these twelve notes arranged in so many different ways.

But it is not just twelve notes. It is the combination of those twelve notes into chords (36), into melodies, all kinds of juxtapositions. And then there are all the different musical instruments putting different sounds into our ears, and then there is the combination of the instruments; the harmony of the sax and the guitar, with the emphasis of the drum beat that all combine with the strength of a leading voice.
Bloody marvellous.
It is mind- blowing when you really sit down and think of the simplicity and the ultimate, incredible complexity of composition.

With songs, there is the addition of lyrics to consider.
Language is similar to music composition. We have twenty six characters in our alphabet that make up millions and millions of words, in different languages across the globe.
Arranging these words to match music provides even more combinations.
Is it infinite?

A few weeks ago, I listened to a really interesting story about plagiarism
It featured the case of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” and its similarities with “He’s So Fine”

Yes, it sometimes happens that there are similarities between songs, and often the artists may not even realize that they are plagiarizing because the music that they might have heard sometimes creeps into our being almost without trace. Such is the subliminal power of that combination.

But returning to music, and how it affects me.
There are times when the effect of music is so dramatic that I can not physically bear to listen to it. Is that a strange statement for someone who feels a desperate need for music in her life? It is the same with other joys. I cannot even begin to think about them when I am feeling so bereft, and yet it is precisely these essentials in life that would make me feel so much more complete.

Music affects me, hugely.
Last night, I sat in a bar and listened to live music and I felt more myself than I had done in months. It was an amalgamation of things, and it certainly did not mean that everything was perfectly wonderful in my life, but for that moment, I was lost in the music – the brilliance of a few men standing on a stage and creating the most excessively comforting sounds from their guitars, harps, drums and voice –not forgetting the wonderful clear sound from the female vocalist.

But music does sometimes make me want to roll up in a ball and weep, not always in a sad way. Sometimes, I am just completely overwhelmed by the whole magnificence of it all. It takes my breath away. I am speechless in admiration for these wonderful human beings who have given the rest of us so much without realizing precisely what they are giving.

So, for many months, music has been missing in my life, and I have missed it. I have avoided it. It is a shared love that has felt unshared recently. And I have resented that.

But music is also so uplifting and personally, I think it is vital to the wellbeing of everyone who has the physical capacity to listen.
I have seen my children respond to music in such an amazing way too. I love hearing my son waking up and within minutes of doing so, he has broken out into song. The rest of the family are not so delighted by this, but isn’t this how we should start every day – full of music, and today, full of sunshine too.

Right now, I want to scream from every corner of the room to anyone who is prepared to listen that I need music and other joys in my life. I am going to re-embrace them all given half the chance but for now, I am reveling in my new technology that allows me to add a Spotify account onto my television. I have been blasted with Lennie, George x3, Bruce, Eric and various others this morning; different sounds, different languages, different tunes, different instruments, different words –all combining to make my heart miss a beat and then retrieve it with a slow-down and meditation on the most perfect things in life.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

British Capitalism and Monopolies in Reality

I’ve had enough of Rupert Murdoch. I had actually had enough of Rupert Murdoch before I signed up to his television package eight years ago, and it was only a ‘need’ to have sport programmes for the family that I signed up in the first place.
I regretted it almost instantaneously but at the time, there was no alternative.
And there still is very little alternative.
There is certainly not an excessive amount of choice out there.

Having spent some time considering the alternatives and my general unease about giving Murdoch and his organisation over £70 of my money monthly, I finally decided to take the plunge and move away from Sky to another television package.

As I said, the alternatives are not massive and they too are caught up in a whole vastness of monopolies and capitalism.
Virgin Media is not a co-operative. It is not a ‘not-for-profit’ organisation. It is out there to make as much money and become the alternative force in multimedia to the entire Sky product. But as far as I am aware, Richard Branson has not sunk to the levels of human degradation and total disregard for people in order to make a fast buck in the way that Murdoch and his lackeys have.
So I decided to switch my allegiance to Virgin once they had bombarded me with their adverts for their new TiVo box and multi-media packages.

Not only that, but they were also offering me a great deal on the telephone system and an internet speed that paled the existing service into insignificance.
The notion of being able to download films and get to pages with the blink of an eye, certainly seemed appealing.

I signed on the dotted line and was assured by Virgin that they would contact both BT and Sky to cancel my subscriptions and terminate the existing contracts.
Virgin kindly sent a proforma letter to me that I was to send to Sky, and they contacted BT to say that they were taking over the existing telephone number.
So far so good for a busy woman who does not want to be spending important time on the telephone to people who would be trying to persuade me to stay with their beloved product.

But of course, life is never that simple.
Having sent the letter and trusted Virgin to do the business, I waited to hear from Sky and BT.
Nothing happened.
So I contacted both companies to try and find what was happening.

I shall start with BT, and I managed to get in touch with a wonderful woman who was disappointed that I was leaving BT. She asked why and I explained that it was nothing to do with their product. It was just that the organisation could not offer me the multi-media package that Virgin was offering and I was rather desperate to leave Mr. Murdoch well alone.
She understood and then went on to explain that unfortunately BT did not have the ability to match either Virgin or Sky due to their technological programme being somewhat behind the times.
Perhaps BT should have been a little more forward thinking when these other two organisations got themselves sorted. Perhaps BT, as an established favourite amongst the great British Public and a one-time monopoly organisation should have made contact with another trusted favourite, the BBC, to sort out something that would appeal to the many who did not want to pay vast amounts of money each month to capitalists.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I explained to the woman at BT, that I did not think I was the only person in the country that wished to leave Sky and that I felt their organisation were being penalised a) for not being progressive enough to offer a viable alternative and b) for the inexcusable and loathsome way in which Murdoch’s empire operated that was leading people to move away from his organisations in droves, and thus leading them away from BT by default.
I suggested that my comments be passed on to management, and I am sure they are already tracking the loss of business due to this very situation.

Of course, there may not be that many people who are leaving Sky but there was reports in the newspapers, at the height of the phone-hacking scandal and the delightful demise of the News of the World, that people were beginning to vote with their feet and veer themselves away from the various products that News International and Murdoch were involved with.
I know of people who have chosen not to buy “The Sun” or “The Times” having spent years of giving allegiance to these newspapers.
Whether there be droves leaving Sky or a few principled people such as myself, there is certainly change and with the excessive pitching in certain newspaper outlets, such as WH Smith, of the free “Times” with every chocolate bar you buy, I am confident that News International are worried enough about the drip effect becoming a cascade of disaffected customers.

So my next phone call was to Sky.
Oh dear, oh dear.
I wasn’t surprised by the jolly Scottish man showing both amazement and capitalist sorrow at my suggestion that I would like to cease my subscription to the service. I fully anticipated the tirade of persuasion that was about to come my way. I had decided I was going to remain resolute and not get into a heated discussion about the whys and wherefores of remaining with Sky.
I had not, however, banked on the excessive persistence and the corporate doggedness in which this person perpetually tried to argue me out of my principled decision.
It was appalling and verging, no not verging – it was intimidating bullying of an aggressive nature, made even worse by the ‘oh so polite’ manner in which it was done.

I started the call by stating that I had written to the organisation to tell them of my plans to terminate my contract with them. The man informed me that they did not accept letters of cancellation and everything had to be done by phone contact; something that my friends at Virgin had not entirely explained to me.
I was then asked for the first time why I had made the decision to terminate my contract.
I explained that I did not wish Murdoch to receive my money.
“Oh is this because of the phone hacking thingy?” was the dismissive response.
I explained that this was part of my reason but my main problem with Murdoch was the monopolisation of the industry and the fact that for many years, there had been no alternative to his services. I now felt as though I had a viable alternative and I was going to use my democratic right to choose what suited me the most.

“You do realise” was the patronising response, “that Rupert Murdoch is no longer the primary share-holder in Sky”.
I explained that I realised this was the case but I did not want to be involved or give my money to any organisation that was influenced by this man and any of his companies.

To cut an extremely tedious story short, the conversation went on for a further twenty minutes with this man constantly trying to persuade me to change my mind, including a time when he offered me £250 discount on my phone line and broadband rental for a year. I explained once more that as I was leaving Sky for ethical reasons, I was not going to be responding to the sort of blackmail of financial incentives to persuade me to stay.
Some people just don’t get it, do they?
He even explained to me, as though I was a complete imbecile, that should I choose to buy a Sky package through Virgin, I was still going to end up paying Murdoch some money, even though he had already stated that he was no longer the primary shareholder, and that if Virgin had really wanted the Sports deal or film packages then they could easily have bought the packages during the bidding process where Sky won their rights.

At this point I laughed at the total lack of understanding that was taking place here. I explained that this was precisely the sort of monopoly that I found so disgusting, and that Virgin or BBC or ITV or any other television/media organisation could not possibly compete with the might of BSkyB, which is precisely why I did not want them to have any more of my money in the hope that with a mass exodus from their indoctrinating business, the bidding playing field might eventually be levelled to the point where other media companies had a fighting chance of competing with BSkyB.

After a prolonged battering, I politely yet assertively pleaded with the man to cease with his tactics and press the button on the computer which finally freed me from the stranglehold of BSkyB.
He did so and we said our goodbyes.

I can be, when the time is right, an assertive human being. I had made my decision and I was not going to be persuaded by any sort of bribe or incentive that this man was going to offer me. Others, however, may have felt that either the incentive was too good to turn down or that they had no fight left in them and would succumb to the bullying methodology of this organisation.
I do not hold the person on the telephone responsible, although he does have a mind of his own and should be a little more socially intelligent to empathise with people and realise when the time is right to persuade and when it most certainly is not.

And here lies another issue with capitalism. Where is the human face? How often does it get subsumed into the cogs and wheels of these grand organisations that respect neither the wishes of their customers nor the humanity of their employees?
This man was a faceless automaton. He was following company rules, but could he honestly have crawled into bed last night with a feeling of purpose and a comfort that he had perpetually battered an unknown woman with his company line on how her life would be a complete misery without his companies influence in her life?
This is an extremely unintelligent way of operating and is indicative of so many organisations the length and breadth of the country and beyond, who are so desperate for our custom to further their own desires without a single consideration of what people are saying and doing in order to say, enough is enough.

Enough is enough. These large organisations need to be told that we, the people, will not be dictated to. We will endeavour to find alternatives and we will not all be bribed with financial incentives to keep their vile companies on an untouchable pedestal.
We will no longer listen to their lies or their deceptive methodology and we will certainly not be bullied into doing things in order to comply with the norm.
If enough people chose to stop buying “The Sun”, if enough organisations stopped funding such rags by taking their advertising business elsewhere, then these large conglomerates would have to look at their ethical business practices.
Has News International learned anything from the recent disclosures? Are they not still desperately trying to protect those people at the top, providing them with enough money to keep their mouths closed?
Did they stop hacking phones and sneaking in peoples’ bins once the y had been caught out, fined and employees sent to prison?
I don’t think so.

It was only when there was such public outcry that actually started to effect the fiscal position of the company that they did anything.
If enough of us turned around and said, “Enough is enough” and walked away from the contracts that BSkyB have tethered around our necks through a distinct lack of alternative, then we could bring these organisations to their knees and prevent the despicable monopoly that enables them to go about their business in their inhumane manner.

I am not suggesting at this point that any of the “Big Boys” are any better than the other. If I find that Branson is doing something as distasteful and despicable as Murdoch, then I may well have to change my provider once more but hopefully, by then, the likes of BT and the BBC will have got their act together and worked out an alternative that might appeal to people such as myself who are even willing to pay a little bit more in order to get services, such as sport and quality reporting, back in the public sector domain where they should be.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Anna Scher, Learning, Pacifism and Depression

Anna Scher

I have just listened to Desert Island Discs. I love listening to DID; always have done so, and I know I have commented on this blog before about the competence and compassion of the current presenter.
Kirsty Young comes across as a thoughtful and empathetic person who puts her guests at ease and enables them to discuss some often painful experiences in their lives.

Today was no exception.
Her castaway this week was Anna Scher, a drama teacher who has incorporated a pacifist philosophy into her teaching, a women who seemed to have the real interests of her individual students at the forefront of her mind, a woman who wants young people to learn that their own glory and career is nothing in comparison with the need for a peaceful world order.

She has had a string of successful students passing through her doors, and I am sure there are an equal amount of struggling thespians who have not hit the heights of the likes of Kathy Burke, for instance (who incidentally was on Marcus Brigstocke’s “I’ve Never Seen Star Wars” this week).
However, there have been successes and Anna Scher appears to be one of the reasons for these actors prosperity, in the widest sense of the term.

A theatre school is a strange place, I have always thought. The hoards of folk to emerge from the Sylvia Young School or the newer version of the Fame Academies all seem to have one thing in common; a complete belief in themselves. However, as I said before, we only hear about the successful ones, and some of them are clearly good enough actors to make us think that they have a total belief in themselves. There must be plenty who do not make it, and if they are not good enough at acting and have only really been trained to do that one thing from an early age, I wonder what happens to these young people and what sort of state of wellbeing they are in at the end of it.

This is an all too familiar theme. It is not really very different to the sort of schooling that Michael Gove is trying to create, i.e. that we expect our young people to be proficient in academic studies and those who do not make the grade, literally, are deemed as defunct, lesser people, failures – by the age of sixteen.
What a tragedy, what a criminal act of indifference, what an assault on the rights of each and every child.

What I found interesting about Anna Scher was her approach to teaching that seemed to have the child at the centre. She was, and is, concerned about preparing them with the skills of the trade but she also seemed to be equally determined to ensure that many of their other needs were met too. Her final track, for instance, was one that she uses at the end of lessons to ensure that the students depart on a high note with positive criticism from the peers.
“Compliments on your kiss” – Red Dragon.
That is precisely the sort of thing we ought to be complimenting people on; not just their ability to cram facts into their heads and regurgitate according to the doctrines of academia but to concentrate on the things that actually mean something to our young people, and adults alike.
“So, you have a Baccalaureate full of A stars but my, you can kiss!”
Which of those compliments would satisfy you the most?

Her starting point for every lesson was also upbeat, encouraging, willing. Her chosen record for this was “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison. I cannot remember her exact words but she said it was melodic, full and uplifting. It gave her students energy and vivacity.
That has to be a good way to start anything; a day, a lesson, whatever.

But the most striking thing about Anna Scher’s schools that appears to be different from other within the genre is her determination to insist that all students should partake in Peace Studies.
At one point, when she had had to take some time out of her role through illness, the governors of the school appointed a new principle or head teacher. With Anna out of the way, they disregarded this notion of peace lessons, claiming them to be unnecessary. This was theatre school and that is what they should be concentrating on, not this purple patch of pacifism. Where did that fit in to the greater goal of refurbishing the cast of Eastenders?

Anna Scher was resolute. She felt that the peace lessons were an absolute necessity and now she travels the world with her lessons, ensuring that people consider the words of people like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King and that they don’t just listen to these great speeches but incorporate them into their lives, their thinking, their philosophy.
What Anna Scher seems to be saying is that whilst her aim is to support young people into the world of stage and screen, there has to be an underlying learning about the world too. There has to be, in any curriculum in any school, whatever their supposed primary purpose, the desire and function of educating children and young people to be empathetic whilst simultaneously developing their own passions, creativity and wellbeing.
Now that is an intelligent sort of approach to teaching and learning, in my opinion.

My final comment about Anna Scher is regarding her debilitating illness.
She suffers from depression.
She described its symptoms with horrifying accuracy. Anyone who has suffered from depression or has been close to someone with this illness may well have shuddered as she explained the lead weight that hangs around obtrusively, determining whether you will yourself out of bed or not. Anyone who has known depression will have empathised with what she said about how all-consuming depression can be, often without any obvious determining factor.
When there is a determining factor and the sufferer is faced with knowing what the cause is and the inability to do anything about it, then the depression can spiral into something deeper and more tragic, and it is only the person at the centre, the one who is suffering the illness itself that can draw themselves out of this void, though help from others is usually gratefully received.

Depression is awful.
And yet, in the most bizarre of ways, there is something that I personally find comforting about listening to others describing their experiences. It makes one feel less alone, for certain, but it is greater than that. It makes one realise that there are possibly some positives for those who are susceptible to this illness.
This may sound strange and hardly a comfort when you are at your lowest point, but I do wonder whether those who suffer from depression do so because their levels of empathy are such that they can see the problems of the world before many others have got up to draw the curtains.

I am not suggesting that all depression is the same and I am certainly not suggesting that all depressives are full of empathy. Sadly, that is one of the qualities that so frequently disappears with the onset of a bout of the illness but perhaps the incidents of depression in these cases are the body’s response to an overload of empathy!

Anna Scher appeared to be an extremely empathetic person who has episodes in her life where the extent of woes subsumes, so that for all her empathy and for all her self-knowledge, this illness creeps in and whacks her where it hurts the most.
There are many who suffer from depression who have plenty of knowledge of what to do when it comes upon them and yet still fall foul of its effects. It is not a simple illness and it cannot be eradicated or placated simply either.
We all hope that we can live in the now and accept our world and our ways and be demonstrative in doing something positive for the world and for ourselves, but sometimes, just sometimes, everything seems a little impossible.
And sometimes it is good to hear that successful, empathetic, creative and passionate people understand and experience that too.

So, back to Desert Island Discs. Robert Hardy next week. I hope that is not going to be a disappointment. I wonder if that particular thespian will demonstrate the kind of empathy and thoughtfulness that this week’s castaway has implied.
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
                    When You Are Old
    WHEN you are old and gray and full of sleep,
    And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
    And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
    Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
    How many loved your moments of glad grace,
    And loved your beauty with love false or true,
    But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
    And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
    And bending down beside the glowing bars,
    Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
    And paced upon the mountains overhead
    And hid his face among a crowd of stars

Friday, 4 November 2011

Is Iran our new Armageddon?

Another brilliant and utterly terrifying piece of writing has appeared in the newspaper today.
Simon Jenkins ponders over the possibility of a strike against Iran and the implications for world peace, its similarity with the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the possibility of a complete world breakdown where all out war is declared between so-called Christian and Muslim countries.

The most terrifying thing of all is that this is not the ramblings of a mad pessimist with a “World is Ending” placard around his neck. This is something that could be a reality within a matter of months if the Hawks around the world thrash headlong into their tunnel of tyranny, oblivious to the fact that the total lack of democracy that they claim to be rescuing the world from is an inherent part of their own being.

In another article, Susannah Moore discusses the role of the occupation in establishing true democracy within our society, and she makes an obvious yet realistic point.
“Despite the million-long queue that was the anti-Iraq war demonstration, the politicians knew best and took us into battle”.

But Jenkins makes a clear statement regarding the comparisons between Iraq and Iran. There are huge differences in the two countries and the regimes of governance. Iran is not Iraq, despite the foolish in the west thinking that because of the phonetic similarities they are one and the same bar the ‘notes’ and ‘queries’.
“Iran is not a one-man, two-bit dictatorship, but a nation of 70 million people, an ancient and proud civilisation with a developed civil society and a modicum of pluralist democracy”.  
 He continues to say that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
 “leads a country which, like Pakistan, Britain or Israel, craves status, prestige and a vague sense of security that these unusable weapons seem to convey”.

This is scary. This is entering into another paradigm completely, albeit veiled in the usual form, as Jenkins puts it.
This is how it would go.
“It is declared exclusively aerial, with missiles and unmanned drones deployed against nuclear and military targets. The airmen will promise, as they did in Belgrade, Baghdad and Benghazi, that bombing can do the job unaided. The enemy then digs in and fights back, the tempo of attack has to mount, and ground forces are sucked in.

We read that there are, as yet, no plans for a ground attack on Iran, though "a small number of special forces" may be required, as was required eventually in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. The mission will creep from wrecking Iran's nuclear capability to ensuring it cannot be rebuilt, and then to securing regime change and "freedom". We have been there so often before. The logic of war tends towards totality, without which no victory can be declared.”

Jenkins continues to say that every politician who is even beginning to contemplate such an attack should be locked in a room with paper clippings from the last decade of useless and futile fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan – to what purpose and what original intent?
He states that trying to prevent nuclear development in Iran is both futile and hypocritical. Why should a ten-a-penny nation such as the UK have the right to develop nuclear arms compared with a ten-a-penny nation of the same size and the same history of grandeur just because they are buddies with the big boys.
What is going to happen if China finally does decide to call the shots and fully embrace its position as the world’s most dominant country, supporting the Iran’s of this world in direct dissent to the old powers of the west? Has anybody considered this at all?

What worries me is that we are in a very precarious position with people cramming to retain the small amount of power that they have. The people in charge of nations are in a tenuous position and they want to make their mark. Look at the piffle that was spoken after Gaddafi’s death by a man so keen to make his mark on the world stage, emulating his predecessors without learning valuable lessons from their mistakes.
“I’m proud of the role that Britain has played in helping them to bring that about” stated our Prime Minister regarding the regime change in Libya, and then there was that excruciating self-congratulation when Sarkozy and Cameron went to Libya before the demise of the Colonel.
These men are struggling with power within their own country; one is the leader of a tenuous coalition, the other at the end of his presidency with decisions to be made as to whether he should continue for a second term in office. Wouldn’t a massive strike against the evils of the madman in Iran do them both rather nicely?

Of course, there is another man that is also seeking re-election, and this is a rather more sobering and worrying issue.
He bagged the ‘Big One’ earlier in the year by the US attack and eventual killing of Osama bin Laden but even that may not be enough to secure Obama a second term in office, according to the latest ratings. Meanwhile, the Republicans are chanting about their foreign policy at their various congresses pre-choosing the candidate to stand against the president. They want something big, and their over-open mouths are spouting the sort of fearful traits that Jenkins is commenting on in this article.

I am genuinely frightened.
Could Obama be that stupid, that desperate to maintain his reins on power, knowing that should he be successful, he could bring about considerable change with the mandate of a second term? Surely this man is too intelligent to madly pursue such an apocalyptic fight?
But then he is a leader of a nation; a nation whose citizens have little grasp of global politics, who elected and stood by the Reagan’s and the Bushes of this world, who resolutely believe that their way is the right way and all should comply, who have no understanding or interest in other cultures, whose empathy gene is sorely lacking.
Somehow, Obama and his spin doctors are going to be concerned about these people and what can possibly done to win them over, in order to get the election in the bag and thus be able to get on with the social change that they believe is necessary.

After all, “It’s the economy, stupid” as Big Boy Bill so rightly emphasised throughout his campaign to the White House. Americans, like us, are suffering at the moment, and despite the huge and mindless contradiction of spending money of warfare as opposed to welfare, our daft nations seem to accept this without thinking of the consequences both internationally and at home.
Every penny spent to blast a Taliban mound in an impenetrable wilderness is a penny taken away from young people in our schools or sick people requiring life-enhancing or life-saving treatment in our hospitals.

We are bombarded with news about how we are all facing economic catastrophe and still our politicians consider the expense and the stupidity of obliterating yet another nation with a blast of power in the hope that, in the longer term, they will all conform to this alleged process of democracy that seems to be working for us.
Guess what? It isn’t working. Refer back to the comment that Moore made about the march against the war. How did our so-called democracy work then? How does our so-called democracy work now when the majority of the people did not vote for the government that we currently have to endure?
Is this really what we want for other nations, all in name of oil, I mean making the world safe through getting nuclear weapons away from mad dictators?

I have a theory which Jenkins alluded to. Our nations feel as though they have been successful, although there are still soldiers being killed with infinite regularity in Afghanistan and all the Taliban have to do is hang in there until we are finally fed up of banging our heads against a brick wall just as the Russians did two decades before us.
‘We’ toppled Saddam. We got rid of Gaddafi. We killed bin Laden. We take the credit for the uprisings in Tahrir Square. We believe that it was ‘our’ intervention that made Egypt and Tunisia look towards a system change.
We think that Israel is reasonable because they have an elected parliament, all done properly according to the law of the western world.
We think, because of all of this, that we can get any change in any country that we like, without paying any attention whatsoever to the mess that is still happening daily in Afghanistan or the history of Korea and Vietnam.

And whilst pondering on the prospect of intervention, we have increased rates of child poverty within our own ‘fair’ society with money oozing out of every orifice to protect the Christian domination of the world whilst our hospitals, schools and services run down the drain through lack of forethought and investment.

Who the hell do we think we are?

Yes, it concerns me that Iran has weapons of mass destruction but no more than the concern that I have that Britain has them too. William Hague may have mellowed with age but a forcefulness of the ultra-right together with the highly feasible prospect of Obama being deposed in the US could easily send our foreign policy down an even more dangerous road than the one that so many opposed on the streets of London a decade ago.
And still nobody seems to mention the finances involved.

Recently, I was listening to an interview with one Simon Mann talking about the attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea. He has written a book about the events called “Cry Havoc” and there is a very interesting piece of writing in the Independent about this from earlier in the week.

As I was listening to Mann, with his SAS history and his connections with Sat-Nav Savvy Mark Thatcher, I contemplated precisely how much our government knew about this regime change pursuit. Clandestine efforts to change the world don’t usually happen without major backing that would go well beyond Thatcher’s money. And if you read the article above, it certainly suggests that Downing Street knew plenty about Mann’s work and positively embraced his mercenary madness when it suited their needs.

We don’t get to hear about the work that goes behind the suggestions of invasions or regime changes in places like Iran but you can be sure that they are taking place, and it is only when there is a possibility or an inevitability of it happening that the powers that be start leaking the thought into the public domain to prepare them for the actuality.
This is what really scares me.

As some of the comments at the end of Jenkin’s piece suggest, this is very bad news indeed, and buried somewhere on page 41 of the paper is not where it should be.
But then there is so much going on in the world at the moment that a frightening futuristic piece is probably more than most people can bear.

Ignore this at our peril though.
We have seen that no amount of people marching through the streets of the capital will make the blindest bit of difference to a government who feel as though they have a legitimate mandate to govern, and for all the cries of injustice and for all the pleas to concentrate spending on affecting change in this country will fall on the deafest of ears if there is a glimmer of possibility that an all-out war would firmly place these old Etonians in the history books.

That is, of course, if there is a world left to read those books..... or kindles, indeed.

And all in the name of religion?

Life in a Day

I read the news today, oh boy. More holes in Blackburn, Lancashire.
More holes than the finance available to fill them.
More disasters, more horror.
No money, no jobs.

No hope?

The world is not a pleasant place right now. Not for me, probably not for you either.
And yet I refuse to give up.
Persistent little idealist that I am.
I have to believe that something good is going to happen soon and people around the world will realise the error of their combined ways and do something about injustice once and for all.
As I said, I’m a dreamer.

I cannot live without hope of improvement and a vision of a world where people finally realise that they need to respect one another, be honest with one another and stop all the unnecessary fighting, both globally and within our own little insignificant lives.

People say that they feel edgy; standing on the edge of a precipice. There’s excitement, anticipation and trepidation, intermingling together, concerned yet intrigued about the unknown. The trouble is one doesn’t know which direction the fall is going to go; down into the depths of despair or walking on a solid pathway further up the mountain to see the real wonderment of the world – the ultimate truth.

Every day, people live with this, though some still cannot see that they are on a pathway.
Every day people wake in the world and walk or talk or sit or stand and live their lives oblivious or engrossed in the world around them.
Every day, people live and we know nothing of their lives. We cannot even envisage what it must be like to be in another person’s mind.
We are all such individuals and yet we are simultaneously connected by an invisible thread that binds us together, only we choose too often to dislocate this, keeping ourselves to ourselves, unable to see that the thread needs strengthening and uniting if we are going to make the changes to the world that ought to happen.

Loving kindness is what is needed in this world. Compassionate economics, thoughtful politics, concern for oneself and others that are so significant in one’s lives, empathy for those we don’t even know.
And still we disregard at the ultimate expense of ourselves and our wellbeing.

It’s strange one this. The ego is vital and essential. If one is to live life to the full one has to look after oneself. There is some merit in thinking about yourself before all others. You are the only person who knows what you want, what you need and compromise can take so much of yourself.
Yet, the most selfish of people are missing the absolute benefit of giving.
Those people who followed the Thatcher vision of containment, thinking about their needs above all others, are so naive. If only they could lift their heads and see that if they truly value themselves above all, if they really want a truly contented life then they can only achieve this through the relationship and interconnection with others – known and unknown; through giving, through caring, through lovingkindness.
But of course, this is just my opinion.

I think about the most selfish moments in my life, and what have they actually given me? Yes, moments of brilliance in being free to do exactly what I want but ultimately, do they really provide the complete state of serenity that I want and need? Does selfishness really give me the same feeling of wholeness that I have when I am doing something for others?
I like giving. I selfishly like the feeling I have when a recipient values the things that I have done.
So perhaps I am no better than those whose aim is me, me, me.
In giving, I find me. I find myself.

Can we really live in a vacuum, oblivious to the lives and needs of others? Can we shut ourselves away and shield ourselves from the suffering of others? Can we switch the television off as soon as we see suffering and bloodshed? Can we ignore the plight of the many for the whims of the few?
Can we keep still and tunnel our minds without ever looking out and seeing the darkness in our world?
Can we keep still and tunnel our minds without ever looking out and seeing the lightness in our world either?
There’s a crack in everything – that’s where the light gets in.

If we are ever going to move on in life, we need to look and consider and empathise and wonder, and we simply do not do enough of this.
We walk away from the lives of others. We do not want to be witnessing things that we cannot cope with nor do anything about, and yet they are still happening.
Things unspoken don’t disappear. Feelings unmet do not vanish. Hurt remains.
And all we can do is turn away in the hope that they will diminish with time or a lottery win will take the pain away. We will give time and money and consideration as soon as we have more for ourselves. But do we actually do this when we do find ourselves with surplus to our need?

Last night, I watched a remarkable film about people throughout the world on a set day in 2010.
“Life in a Day” was an amalgamation of YouTube clips that had been carefully selected by an editing committee from the thousands sent in from around the world.

They film looked at what was happening in peoples’ lives on a typical day in a year, in a lifetime, in our world.
The director Kevin Macdonald says that the film focuses on a single day because “a day is the temporal building block of human life – wherever you are”.
Us humans like sets. We like patterns and order. It makes us feel comfortable. Night follows day and so the pattern goes on, and whilst we live in this ordered chronology we are comforted by its sameness. So perhaps we don’t attempt to widen our sphere and look towards the lives of others.
We contain. We keep in our box. We live in our self-designed box after all.

But sometimes, we allow ourselves a glimpse at the outside world, to places that we are never likely to venture, into the lives of people that we are never likely to meet.
This film allows us to be voyeurs because that is what we are. We may think we want to be alone and isolated with just a few people around us as part of our lives but we are communicative animals by instinct. We want to see. We want to look and we want to think about what we have seen.
We want to touch and be touched by the lives of others.
If only we can be bothered to look, we can learn so much and gain some insight into the whole spectre of human potential.

The film looked at birth, at death, at suffering, at honesty, at amazement, at friends playing together, at peoples’ hopes. It said nothing and said everything. There was the unusual and the normal. There were lives lead with huge tragedies and complete chaos. There were lives lead where there were seemingly no real worries. There were people absorbing the wonderment of the world and there were others steeped in religious doctrines and rituals, unable to break free.
There were children learning and adults instructing. There was joy in the simplest of creations and bewilderment at the magnitude of the immense.
There, in this film, was life and yet.........

......... I wonder.

I wonder how many people watched this film and felt.
I wonder how many people watched this film and thought.
I wonder how many people watched this film and imagined.

Because in order to live fully, these three things are what we should be doing, and we should be mindful of when we are doing them and what affect it has upon us and upon others.
How many people felt a spirituality in watching? How many people could even begin to explain what this feeling was? Did it need explaining?
How many people live their daily lives with spiritual intelligence in mind?
How many people watched this film and thought that there is a glimmer of hope in this hopeless world of ours? There may be no money to fill those holes in Blackburn but is that really the most important thing in our lives?

I watched and was fascinated. I’m probably a bit of an anthropologist at heart. I am certainly a voyeur by choice. I like people and humankind, even if many of them are fuckwits.
Yes, I did feel a spiritual wellbeing in looking at the lives of others. I felt uplifted and enlightened.
Some of it was a little tedious and there were times when I wanted to turn away but in the main, it was a good film to consider and think and imagine and feel.

So what was I doing on 24th July 2010? What would I have been able to contribute had I had my wits about me? Was I thinking, feeling, imagining on that day? Was I using my head and hand and hearts?

I woke early. I drove to the beach; a strange place at the end of a dilapidated council estate.
The sun was urging its way through the clouds. I stepped onto the sand and looked at the strange vista in front of me; open sea brushing its way towards me, a natural beauty smothered by industrial necessity. To my right was a city emerging from the mellow hills, sitting alongside a harbour, waiting to spring to life. To my left was a vast steelworks, billowing out white clouds and transparent gases that may or may not have been invading my lungs.
I was alone, despite the two beach cleaners operating some large and monstrous yellow machine that was whipping up the collected flotsam and jetsam.
I was alone and contented whilst missing loved ones.

I sat down in a cafe on another beach, eating breakfast with my children.
I sat on a beach reflecting, writing, thinking, wondering.
I sat in a chair emailing, loving, wishing.

Saturday 24th July 2010, I was happy. I was loved. I was giving and I received so very much.
How many people in that film can say the same? And what would they say now? Were they in the same place on Sunday 24th July 2011? Are they and I as loved? How had their lives been changed and shaped during the succession from one day to the other? How was the wider world coping? Was there any further progress towards that eradication of injustice that I hold so passionately?
And what of 24th July 2012 and years after that?

I read the news today, oh boy.
It’s not good.
Greece is in turmoil with indecision and that ever-obvious procrastination of the depressed. There is worldwide symbolic demonstration about the inequity of life. There is global monopoly to protect the monied. There are selfish governments thinking only of themselves and their retention of power.
There’s wars in abundance – to the point that they rarely get mentioned these days. There is a bubble of angst bursting forth in Syria. Have we forgotten this country because their leaders are not as well known as the Gaddafi’s?
There’s a pathetic inability of our leaders to act intelligently to make this world of ours a better place.

But there’s also hope. The people in that film live their lives in all manner of impoverishment. As do so many of us.
But we still go on and we resolutely refuse to give up on the idea that crack of light will eventually become a pool of utter brilliance and the ultimate truth of human kindness will prevail.

As I said, I am a dreamer.