Tag Archives: Britain

A sermon for Truth Telling Sunday 2020

I was informed by text one September 11th that if I were a good Catholic (instead of a proudly wicked nonconformist) that I would know this day was St Clara’s day – patron saint of journalists and those who write for the truth to be known. Now, I note that there are several St Clara or Claires, but I don’t really care who this saint is and when her day is. I just love what she stands for. As a writer and a truth teller, I was pleased that the church [no big C], which I disapprove of more than ever, has given a day to at least one saint who upholds truth telling and speaking out.

The irony is not lost on me. As I began preparing for this, I watched the Anglican church come out of lockdown and the local diocese’s ordinations. I was aware of acute discrepancies between what the candidates swear to do and be, and what actually happens. The church has conformed to covid controls, and made its own – one in particular was unworthy of its inclusive church pretensions because of its disability discrimination regarding masks and toilet use. Yes, it is the exact opposite of all you’re supposed to stand for. And yet, head touching of multiple candidates was still allowed, because zapping with authority and the apostolic succession is so important to conformist churches.

I noted the church’s use of [no sainting here] Peter’s phrase – the ‘royal priesthood, holy nation’ that I was used to crooning in the 1980s. As a nonconformist, it had never occurred to my younger evangelical self that this quote from 1 Peter 2:9 could mean that the priesthood of any established chain, such as Anglicans, Catholics, or Orthodox, is royal and passed like a bloodline, Reiki master style, or something out of the Da Vinci Code. ‘Royal priesthood’ seems much more of a feature of the old Jewish religion than the new Christian Way that was offshooting from it. ‘Holy nation’ feels like a reference to the Jewish people. Writing as and to those familiar with Judaism, Peter’s words, for me, say: I am equating this new kingdom of God with what we are used to. He also seems to say that Gentiles are included in what had been a closed camp. All believers belong to the holy nation now – it’s not about ethnicity and geography any more. Amen!

But I’m aware of Peter being misused and also that he deliberately took mantles not given to him. I again mention Lauri Ann Lumby’s understanding of Peter in her novel, Song of the Beloved: a Gospel of Mary Magdalene, which draws on extra canonical sources and her own considerable knowledge. I have great respect for Lauri’s work, and she is not alone in the opinion that Peter’s version of Jesus – along with his brother James – is a skewed one, which suits people trying to build another hierarchical ownership system, just like the one they broke away from.

I am seeing this thread in British history, which I hope is meaningful and transferable for all my readers/listeners, wherever you are. I’d like to take 4 points from it and weave these questions:

1) How do we please God? 2) How do we please our rulers? 3) How do we live well? 4) How do we recognise one who lives well and pleases God and his ruler? (They probably do say ‘his’).

And the answer for each is the same – for them. It is not the same for me.

The traditional answer to those four questions is:

For 1-3: keep the law; and 4 is – by ease, wealth and status in their lives.

For the traditionalist, 1&2 are entwined: God leads via those he ordained, in a hierarchy, whose status shows the favour found with God. Hear my duck noise!

Let me start with the Roman empire, which links Jesus and the early church’s day, and the first stop in my land’s history. When I’ve heard historians speak of Rome, it’s often with some admiration. Not: here was an atrocious, hard, ruthless people who ruled much of Europe, the Middle East and even parts of Africa, and tried to squash our indigenous way of life – and charged us for it, calling it ‘protection’.

We seem to admire the people who were organised and tactical fighters with shields that tessellated, who built straight roads and our first towns and lasting buildings. Because they had underfloor heating, we somehow think that if they were technologically ahead, that these people are worthy of our respect. Because they did what we did – rule a vast area with might and wealth, supplanting natives – we quite like our Italian tin and brush hatted not quite friends.

There was a TV and book series: What The Romans Did for Us. It extended to the other eras which I’m going to visit.

My answer to what these people did for (or to us) is similar for each:

They introduced hierarchy and homogeneity (and yes, hypocausts).

Forts and towns followed a pattern; soldiers followed a pattern; residents followed a pattern. It’s called the laws of the New Leadership. Do as you’re told and you may live, even thrive. We’ll rename your geography, bring our uniforms, language, gods.

I note Rome’s own gods, and how Christianity and Judaism often portrays its One True one. Please God (in both senses). God needs obeying and placating. Give up something to him/her. A sacrifice, a present. Praise him; make a promise of allegiance. Offer yourselves. If you want something, a certain outcome in war for example, you must follow these guidelines. If you don’t get what you wanted, your god is displeased. You must work out why and ameliorate before you suffer more.

Another irony is that Rome, who persecuted Christianity, became its headquarters. And Christianity advanced in the way that the Roman Empire did: spread and conquer. Accept this system or die. Even in less aggressive forms, there is something tactical and militant about mission. The Church of England’s tagline is: “A Christian presence in every community.” I’d once have found that comforting, but it now sounds ominous. There’s a sense of ownership of their patch, even of nonworshippers. When a new couple told a minister that they’d just moved into the parish, the minister said, “So that means we own your soul.” It’s just what some churches think.

The were 2 different styles of mission in Britain: one from Ireland, starting at Iona; and one from Rome, starting in Kent. One wanted to supplant the extant Pagan beliefs; the other incorporated them. Whilst I critique both, it’s my understanding that the Celtic way was a less authoritarian and more egalitarian form of faith. Sadly, the Celtic way lost out. Their military leadership may have receded, but Rome found a new way into Britain. Now the church – considering itself worthy of a capital C [snort] – had councils, and made decisions about the Good Book and what was considered acceptable belief. In Northumbria, the Roman way won in another council – the synod of Whitby – and the Celtic church was superseded.

Yet it’s not forgotten, and like Mary Magdalene, it’s enjoying a resurgence.

My next stop is 1000 years on from the Roman invasion. I’m intrigued that when they left four centuries later, Britain returned to its Celtic ways. I’ve seen reconstruction pictures of Canterbury and Colchester – large walled Roman towns – lying in ruin with thatched huts and pigs running round in gardens, where once side by side houses of tile and brick stood. Towns were abandoned with the cessation of the military and central administration.

But then new invaders came, with almost the same name as those in AD 43.

They even copied the architecture of Rome, which is knowns as Romanesque.

Another group from continental Europe, this time from the North.

They had the same game plan: conquer in battle, claim the capital, and then start building – motte and bailey castles instead of milecastles, replace churches with bigger ones, our style. Claim Pagan holy spots with sites of our own.

As I read about Dunfermline in Fife, I was sad to realise that a famous Queen – Margaret – and her son, David, did Scotland what I think is a disservice. Margaret was sainted for her piety, which really meant that she set up monasteries. Both she and David had spent time in England, and they took what they found there to their homeland, instead of the preferable reverse.

Much like at Durham, the largest church yet seen was built on the site of a simpler, older one; and a palace complex was mixed in with the monastic accommodation and leadership. (David did the same at Edinburgh). Kings started being buried at Dunfermline abbey, as they were at contemporary Westminster. It tied secular and sacred power together; it made a statement via a building, towered in both senses. God is mighty, we are mighty. Masonry might costs. You might want to think about that when visiting, and contribute whilst you contemplate how vast and untouchable God is in the long dark space where words of another tongue will be said amidst flashes of colour and smelly mist (what the Welsh call incense). Hence God is mysterious, and those who enact his mysteries are to be revered because of the glorious robes they wear, the words they utter that you don’t understand, the ceremonies that they do – although they’ll be behind a screen, and you can’t see.

Just like the Jews had wrongly taught that God’s name is unsayable – lest its power be accessed by all; just like the Bible wasn’t in the common tongue and could only be read by priests; now they said: God is at the altar, and the altar is very far away. You won’t be able to get to the High one (of course, there are hierarchies – the ones in the nave you use aren’t as holy as the one up the far end for the important people, where all the gold is).

As a cathedral lover, I’m struck by how reprehensible this view of God is, and how unlike the New Testament, and the God of my understanding.

Margaret introduced the Benedictine Rule (note the word, it’s true in both senses) – more Italian monopoly, like the board game, for this was the predominant monastic system which also was about hegemony and homogeneity. These buildings had a set shape, as did their service patterns, and their trappings of worship, familiar today but alien and offensive to those of nonconformist and Celtic understanding.

Thus queen and king imposed a foreign way which was part of the conquerors’ world, to a place that wasn’t even conquered. This was the era of private ownership. This was the time that both Scotland and England had a unified single sovereign each over the whole land, which had hitherto been a group of tribal kingdoms. I note that early abbots and bishops were Norman or Italian – thus preserving and imposing the nationality and ways of the incoming nation.

They brought back walls, in all senses. They brought in feudalism.

So what did the Normans do for us? They reintroduced a system, secular and sacred. They were even prepared to fight so-called holy wars to defend territory from other would-be acquisitive and not dissimilar religions of the book with theocratic rule and proselytising tendencies. Now sacred and secular were really muddled.

My next stop is half a millennium later. At last rid of being someone else’s empire, we began to make our own, which continued for half a millennium. The Church – for there was but one way allowed to worship God – badly needed reform, as much of Christendom recognised. But we didn’t really reform here, we just changed its name and its head. It drowned all music but its own, including adherents to the extant version, and those would-be more radical reformers. This was an opportunity to reset, to develop anew, but it was missed. Hitherto church wealth went into private hands. You might call it redistribution, but it was just another group having unequal power, another group who felt that conformity and homogeneity – and surveillance – lead to safety. You can have the Bible in your own language, and services, but there are only state approved ones. Anything else is forbidden, and will be punished. Whereas Britain now stood alone from continental rule, it was making itself insular and ruled by another tyranny. (Familiar?) Whereas those powerful rich monasteries might have been corrupt and unaccountable, the real issue was that they didn’t answer to bishops or the king, and they also preached to the community, things which might have given the populace freer ideas. However, despite further attempts at tightening and persecution, by the end of the next century, new Christian groups prevailed and had at last a modicum of freedom…

But it took until my last stop – the 19th Century – for full emancipation. Catholics and Unitarians had to wait until Regency times to practice legally; under George IV, Celts were freed to speak their language and wear their dress, and the first new university in England was founded, finally ending the stranglehold of Oxbridge. That same decade – the 1830s – the Reform Bill was passed; and our Houses of Parliament were burned. By the end of the century, under Victoria, we had a new set. And what did they say? We are the head of an empire, with buildings which reflect the start of it. We are a wealthy nation, thanks to our expanded territories and industry. We try not to think about the inequalities in our land. Some of us do, and we call the generous endowments ‘philanthropy’ – but how much love of fellow humans is there really in these foundations? For it means that rich individuals, church, and state control more – education, welfare, health – whilst puffing up the name of the endower, as medieval sponsors did with their fat cat tombs and almshouses (read: get out of Hell card). Look at the offices, banks, town halls of this era, and how the railways stations and factories have cathedral-like qualities, which say: we are proud of where we’ve come from and where we will go.

What can I say of the Victorians? Another opportunity missed; a time of two halves. A time where technology and growth were put before equality, and attempts at righting the balance were avuncular and patronising at best; a time when dangerous new health practices were begun. Hysteria is homogeneity, and straight jacketing is metaphorical. Yet it was also a time of broad spiritual resurgence.

The next century soon started breaking down the strata so proudly preserved by the Victorians and ensuing Edwardians. The Empire fell apart; women got the vote and increasing equality. Conservatism was shaken by left wing ideas and flower power. Welfare was born, of the non workhouse variety. Yet as improvements seemed to be made, strictures tightened elsewhere, and ominious new structures were created.

The 20th Century was a roll towards the Age of Aquarius – or God’s New Kingdom. Still the prevailing beliefs are that hard work and productivity please your rulers and your God, and each other; that sacrifice is at the heart of life as much as faith; that rule keeping is right action, endorsed by the judiciary as much as Judaeo-Christian belief; and that wealth and health are signs of God’s blessing – in the New Age thinking as much as the Prosperity Gospel. Hence, we’ve not moved far.

And we need to – for it’s not truth. God is love, not fear; love does not need placating. God doesn’t care about status – She rather likes upending that value.

Shaken pillars are now being dismantled. We are at a very exciting time, a real watershed moment. I’ve often wondered how close to those previous moments – when an army is coming, when new scary laws come in – are the times we live in. Would we recognise it and what could we do? Not live another 400 years in their thrall, that’s something I’m certain to not let happen. And although we must be responsible with what we say, I’m aware that so-called alternative or conspiratorial ideas are being censored, whilst newspapers – yes, even you, Guardian – are not truth telling. (And yes despite a crap attempt at a dissemination website, I note that there’s a correlation between Gates funding and how outspoken you are.) We need truth tellers, so thank you to all those websites and other channels who have spoken out – but mind that you don’t keep us in fear. I’m wary of double agents.

I am practising truth telling, as I hope I always do, in my blog and elsewhere; but truth telling also means speaking positive truth, and I hope that when I call into question and affirm our worth and sovereignty, that my readers and audience feel empowered, as I do writing and speaking it.

I’m seeing lots of links, and that the things I write about – from tipping to television licences to antiterrorism to tracing and testing – all have a similar undergirding. There is an imbalanced contract, where the few are not really giving us a service, but tacitly expect us to serve them. There is a cost to the ‘service’ – which is fiscal, and/or compliance. It’s time that we woke up from the deep state, deep church (I note that the Anglican church is one of the world’s richest ‘endowers’ – a corporation set up in 1948.) We are not in bond, we are free.

Sept 12th is St Elspeth’s day, according to role playing. She watered through a long drought, knowing that plant was not what it seemed. There’s also a warrior Queen Elspeth who fights injustice. I hope that I embody both. Whether your birthday is around now – and I’m aware of two local people in office I’ve mentioned in this blog with a birthday whose behaviour clashes with the saint of that day – this is a time for you to start truth telling, standing in your truth, and making sure that history won’t look back on this era as a going back to what was worse, or allowing the advancement of technology or keeping us safe to really be about the advancement of the interests of the few. Let us move back and forward, to the best of what was, and innovate something we’ve not yet dared try, and push out of this broken, fear based system for once and for ever.

Listen here: https://yourlisten.com/BetweenTheStools/a-sermon-for-truth-telling-day

I’ll have more to say on all this.

The next sermon is the last Sunday of the month for something harvest and equinox

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The Gene Jeanie – police (de)programming

I contine my police reform series: see the tag cloud to the right.

I want to share my police history: not my own record, but how they tried to do a Miss Jean Brodie on us as children.

Give me a girl of an impressionable age, and she is mine for life.”

Police came into my primary (first) school to teach us about safety (Jean’s heidie would approve), using the stories of Minnie Mole and some more realistic videos to instil care in road crossing, avoiding pylons, and what I later realised was paedophilia. (The latter worked: I am proud to have told the Duke of Edinburgh that I don’t speak to strangers). We had a class visit to the police station where our fingerprints taken (I’m cynical enough to wonder if they were retained) and we were handcuffed and put in cells for ‘fun’ and were implicitly told, don’t have this done for real.

I had the excuse to watch British cult children’s television – not as much fun as I hoped. I found these cartoons and animations boring, but there was another kind of boring, of the drilling kind – the installation of values. The gentle paeans to idyllic English life taught us that police were part of the community; perhaps a little stiff and severe (and even thick), but that they were on our side.

Like the local constables who had came into school, these programmes (interesting word) taught us that our Bobby was an avuncular counterpart to Auntie Beeb, the national broadcasting corporation who made many of the shows we watched. (It also created Gene Hunt, contemporary bully cop).

American imports criticised the police more: Top Cat and the Dukes of Hazzard were constantly outwitting their cops, and that the latter set were corrupt. CHIPS tried to make these hard hated highway patrols into cool heroes both sides of the Atlantic. But I saw through the mirror glasses.

I think there’s literally been a game of good cop/bad cop between Britain’s police and America’s.

I grew up being encouraged to think that this country was just and safe and sane; and that our police were like my description of a city gate in my novel: a burly but friendly doorkeeper.

Recently, I posted my change of view on city walls. My police views altered some time ago.

In some shops here, there are lifesize cardboard cut outs of police officers. These really say: we haven’t got security staff here, but we want you to feel the presence of the law, should you be tempted to thieve. I was dismayed to see a child told: there’s a police officer, so you’d better be good. Even though he was as flat as Mavis Cruet under one of Evil Edna’s spells (in Will O’the Wisp, a cartoon about a fat fairy and a wicked witch in the shape of a walking television set).

Police are the inverse Santa.

Police didn’t come into my later schools, when we were capable of committing crimes, but I began to learn of police in other ways. I knew that to report assault could mean a second ordeal at the hands of law, where finding evidence was more important than thinking what it felt like to suffer.

I knew firsthand that police were given quotas of motorists to stop on their shifts.

The most shocking thing I learned was also direct, from the wife of the officer involved – here in provincial England. She boasted to colleagues about how her aspirant husband had publicly decrutched a woman on suspicion of drugs.

Whether he found them or not is irrelevant. This is abuse, rape, of the most despicable kind.

Drug users are still people; their human rights are not waived. This breaks several, and other rules.

I can recall the details of the persons concerned and when I was told.

Such a person should not be ‘serving’. If one abuses someone supposedly in your care then you should step back and make amends. Especially if this wasn’t an isolated incident, you should be considering whether you should still hold that job, or if even your pension at public expense is appropriate. The answer is no.

Throughout the following years, I have read so much about police brutality. I’ve had OK encounters with police, and even had them apologise to me. But I’ve also had angering encounters, and others I know have built up a resentful view of the police from their experience.

The pettiness, the unhelpfulness, the insensitivity, the overkill reactions, the got’cha mentality.

And this is not to violent crime, but minor misdemeanours.

This is a point I’d like to stress: much of policing isn’t about real safety and the crimes that we would unamimously consider obviously wrong.

I also query how helpful they are when violence does occur.

I am aware of course of those who have been brutalised and traumatised by the police, and that many have been actually killed by them.

So I’m wanting to ask: what are the police for, and what should they be for?

What good – in the moral sense – do they actually do?

If the police were more like the officers of Trumpton and Rupert the Bear – the community worker we could rely on for any problem and felt relieved to see – would police be worth keeping and even increasing (as opposed to the calls to defund if not abolish, which I support)?

This would be much preferable, although there is an intruding side to this sort of police too. Are they best placed to take on the matters which are given to them? There is an ever widening remit, and I especially worry about so-called mental health being entrusted to the police.

But we know that police are not really about safety, but conformity. Law and Order means: do what you’re told; comply.

On one level, I feel sorry that police are constantly being asked to enforce changing and perhaps obscure rules that they don’t make without having much freedom to question them. But I am concerned that police, who I think are encouraged not to be thinkers, and certainly not to publicly raise their views, are the method in which these undemographic rules are transacted. And they also expect the same military model of compliance from us that they receive in their own ranks.

Much of police life is about meeting targets, telling people off for whatever they’re told to tell us off for. So police are thinking: ‘is anything wrong here? Do I see the breaking of a rule?’ before: ‘can I help?’ and, moreover ‘is anyone in danger, and am I the right person to handle this?’

Police talk into radios and begin procedures, perhaps without asking the ‘victims’ what they’d like to happen; we’re encouraged that all emergency services are systems to be complied with and to enter without choice or question. Of course we do have a choice, and should question.

The mindset that’s comfortable to burst into a violent situation is perhaps not the same person who can comfort a victim. Police often come in larger groups and use more force than is necessary, which causes more distress – and advertising. It’s tempting to wonder if a show of strength is more important to them than the problem. I am always concerned by solving and fixing mentality. Their blazing sirens – now that dreadful wail – their aggressive door knocks, their outfits (notice the change in uniform) all say: we’re tough, fear us. This is not discretion!

Whereas it’s tempting to believe that Britain’s police have worsened with their changing dress, I note that the old Bobby tall hats, smart buttons were worn by those who force fed Suffragettes and broke up pickets and rioters in the last century – whilst Chigley’s whistle called the stop motion factory workers to dance and gentle steam engines onto the tracks. I had to wait almost three more decades before I understood the truth of how our police and army had behaved in contemporary political situations that I was only dimly aware of from school.

Policing involves them having power over us. Their asking our name and address gives them knowledge which they will not reciprocate. I’ve known them to hide the identifying number on their epaulettes when they misbehave. They (wrongly) believe they have the power to make us stop our walk, our vehicle, ask for proof of who we are, ask what we’re doing, to look at our belongings, even bodies, and take them (or us). I’ve already commented on the ironic disparity of this, but I again say

NO TO STOP AND SEARCH

Why do they ever need to do this, except to instil in us that we, the citizens who pay for them, are under their control, and that they are the visible arm of those in power – and we don’t have any.

In a book called Londoners by Craig Taylor, a Metropolitan police officer said of arresting and searching: take away someone’s liberty for a few moments and they’ll soon see who’s boss. What needs taking away is that officer’s badge. Clearly, he has no business in policing and this quote should be an embarrassment to the Met. It proves searching isn’t about safety, but status.

I don’t look to stats to see if crime rates lower because of stop and search, because I believe in qualitative first and I know that stats are malleable. It’s because of our broken systems that we require proof, and perhaps police forces feel that by doing something proactive that they can count and we might see that they may have a measurable way in reducing crime.

I note the assertion that these powers are in fact a legal fiction – ie something presented to be true, but which is not. I’ll write more about this anon, but we do have the right to stand up to this fallacy.

I hate the notices: plain clothes police operate here…. we are watching you…

Is that meant to scare the would-be vehicle thief, the pimp and kerb crawler, or are those eyes next to the black and white chequer really meant to scare us all?

Eyes worry me as they are not necessarily under helmets (or the newly favoured bully boy caps).

Nor even under unidentified unhatted fringes – I am not sure that plain clothes police are ethical – for surely it clashes with their ethos of being recognisable and transparent?

The watching eyes could be far away, from the many cameras – I’ve noted a new literally all-seeing sort appear since lockdown. In Jersey during that period, police said: no need to report on your neighbour (amen) – we’ve a pretty good idea of what’s going on.

Is this meant to comfort us?!

A friend suggested that the civil liberties abuses come from the firms who make security technology as much as the police. I’m deeply concerned about what they try to sell as desirable ‘solutions’ – what is the real problem?

Inequality. Fearful controlling governance that thinks that they must know what we’re all doing to feel any security of its own. That is a weak and immature way of ruling; such stifling leads to eruptions and to loss of relationship, and ultimately, to loss of power – theirs.

Recent months have exemplified the auntie-authoritarian gamut of our rulers.

This lockdown has been: get in your room so that you’re safe. (And we’ll make some changes to the house whilst your door is closed). Now you may step out, carefully, on the markers provided. Wash your hands and cover your face. Let us know who you’re with and where you are.

And this says so much about how we’re treated generally. We’re expected to look away whilst the experts work out what to do, and to trust them, even though we know we’re stifling in our rooms. Note that confining to rooms is the way that much of the world has historically dealt with people that it doesn’t want on the loose, people they want to ‘exclude from society’ and have most rights taken from them.

And note how many so called offences are politically motivated, and that we wouldn’t consider many people who’ve been caught and convicted by police as wrong or dangerous. If they are, we might wonder how shutting them up and bullying them at public expense ameliorates at all.

As this is a thesis length issue I’ll need to return to, I end by asking these questions:

  • Is safety something to bully us over?
  • Is stopping us and punishing us over arbitrary and changing rules something we want to pay our police for? Is this a worthwhile use of public funds?
  • Does anyone have the right to random shows of strength in the name of something nebulous and arcane – namely terrorism, and now health?
  • Do the police have the moral right to violently hold us against our will, to throw us down, bind us, humilate us, take off anything and go into anything?
  • Is it right that this group is given wider powers and remits, when often their mindset and training is inappropriate to the task?
  • Should law keeping be done by those who have little understanding of those laws?
  • Should we allow enforcement to be done by those whose profiles often include people who enjoy having power and authority, enjoy chase and catching, and who have aggressive and even psychopathic tendencies? (Note how many enneagram type 8s are in policing)
  • Why do we support a group infamous for prejudice and which often isn’t very effective?
  • Should we accept that a group of society can break the very rules they’re here to enforce and have greater liberty than the rest of us?

Clearly, these are rhetorical: the answer in each case is a clear NO, NON, NU.

In a future post, I’ll think about what we could do instead… and then, what they could do instead.

In the meantime, let’s be aware that current policing is ultimately about giving our power away, and they should not and cannot take it. You do not have power over those whom you serve.

I remind that the police are here to serve us, the people – not the other way round.

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Snow in Britain: what our response really says about us

cleareI soon left a website that called those who comment about our inability to cope with snow ‘pub bores’, and editors who publish on the subject ‘lazy’. It wasn’t alone in claiming that we can’t afford nor warrant the preparations necessary, that other countries struggle with snow too, and the ones which we perceive as doing better with worse weather are not to be compared with us. I think these articles are designed to make a point, and are themselves lazy and boring.

Why do we accept these cancellations and inefficiencies – especially those that put us in jeopardy?

Fed up of the scaremongering and negativity, I want to present a different view, one which thinks about deeper aspects than how many inches of cold white stuff has fallen.

British winter is a time of disappointment and uncertainty because we can’t cope with the weather that is actually a normal part of our annual pattern. Got a birthday, a wedding, a special holiday or event about now? Do you dread it not happening, or being spoiled? I saw a major venue shut last night for “heath and safety” – and it hadn’t even snowed properly yet, nor would it til some hours after they closed. One long distance train network is running a “good service” while another isn’t running any local trains – is any alternative being provided?! When we had early snow in 2010, one church cancelled its evensongs for 4 months. The snow was gone within days.

So this makes a climate of fear: beyond how we feel about snow itself, that not only  equates snow with hazards, but that third parties will make a decision that forces you to relinquish your plans. You may be prepared to go to work, honour your social agreement, holiday, or event: but someone else will cancel the transport, close the venue, start refunding, or pull out.

Disappointment is hard to quantify.

I note the following though: we just had Valentine’s day. If this weather had arrived two weeks earlier, would the Romance industry have cancelled at this lucrative time? I suspect the restaurants would have stayed open as usual, and expected their manipulative bookings to be honoured.

If there was a football match, or another big sporting event, we’d carry on.

“Carry on” is of course a famous slogan that we’ve rediscovered and over use, from the last world war. So how can we continue functioning as a country when we’re being subjected to air raids, and not when actually relatively moderate snow falls?

The answer may be that continuing whilst being attacked during the last war shows our enemies our resilience; it says your bombarding campaign to destroy our spirit and our infrastructure hasn’t and won’t work. (Meanwhile, we’ll carry on doing the same to you). Yet the same people are huddling at home in cold weather, showing that our calm and resilience is selective.

Those who cite money as a reason why winter can’t be managed properly are also being selective. These closures cost. If you’re a business, not having enough customers or staff affects you. When a city can’t really function because its services are taking the day off, it matters. If students are getting behind because of the amount of tuition lost to snow days; if parents have to take unpaid leave to look after their children when schools send them home; if communications like the postal service break down…

Even from the point of view of those basing their arguments on the economy, the counter argument is stronger. Make things run, and we all get paid, get our needs met.

But it isn’t just down to money. This is so often where we go wrong.

Snow can be not only a time of poverty, but loneliness. These months can seem very dull and isolating, as well as being time of fear about affording our bills when we’re made to be at home more. Some fear not being able to get supplies as well as companionship.

But there’s no need for that.

We seem very disorganised. For instance: grit bins are not evenly distributed. There should be more of them and smaller, in rural areas as well as urban. Often no-one’s making the effort to go round their neighbourhood with grit, all assuming someone else will. The councils claim  that their ever decreasing budgets preclude doing so, or taking other measures.

But how much is safety worth? It’s not just trunk roads cleared, or trains to the big cities we need. People are afraid to get out of those cars and trains onto icy pavements, even a short distance. It’s why the assumption that those who live in walking distance of the workplace are expected to go in is cruel.

In some places in Britain, different councils are responsible for pavements and roads. So one will come round with gritting lorries,  but the pavements are too icy to walk on. And then pedestrians use the road…

We shouldn’t ground our older folk, or make people of any age feel that they’re risking a strain by venturing out. Some idiots have even encouraged the notion that you’re liable for litigation if you do the neighbourly thing and clear the snow, because if you don’t do it right, and someone gets hurt…. I’d countersue and make that litigant ashamed. We need to look out for each other. We shouldn’t need official organisation or to just do what is right.

But councils do have a responsibility, and they, like central government, are selective as to what they spend on. They find large amounts for unneeded and controversial big roads; high top end salaries; enforcement and military.

And as for other countries: yes they do laugh at our feebleness. I know because I know people in them. They do carry on, with greater snow fall.

Snow scaring is an example of selective values, of fear mongering, of control, of lack of coordination and real priority. Safe and happy citizens are far more important.

I had a lovely walk today. It was meant to be the coldest for some years, but I wasn’t feeling it. The deep snow made walking easier. The world was peaceful, slower, and rather nice to look at. I thanked supermarket staff for making it in to help us ensure we could have our supplies and keep going. And yes, I put out some grit down where I could see ice forming. And I’ll be going out as usual, seeing the best in all aspects of the natural cycle of our year.

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1549 Kett’s Rebellion

During my Robin Hood phase, and unable to get to Sherwood Forest, I went to Nottinghamshire, and then to woods where other rebels gathered. Those woods have just been the backdrop to a play on the anniversary of that gathering, in Norwich.

And again, I’m led to decisive historic moments and battlers for justice. I haven’t forgotten Eliot’s Dorothea and Will – the more gentle kind of battlers – and I’ll pop up my article on their story shortly. I’m also returning to that famous forest so they’ll be more about Robin et al too.

But let me stay with Robert Kett – perhaps a name you don’t know, unlike Robin, or Boudicca, or Braveheart – our best known British freedom fighters, who’ll need little explanation, wherever you are reading this from. But Kett has much in common with all these. Perhaps he is Norfolk’s Robin. And let me link Kett, as the play did, with our current climate.

I’m not going to analyse the pantomime-like play, but its theme. The oft sung song reminded us that although the setting was nearly 500 years ago, it ‘could be any time’ – and ours. The mayor was doing a David Cameron impression. The mean ‘nobs’ all from the same school administered cuts to welfare and bullied plebs in a very familiar way.

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The piece of news that I’m most thinking about from the last few days is the police shootings in America. I feel a little intrepid to comment, for it’s emotive and needs to be expressed well.

What I will say is that the  events at the Dallas protest turned the focus from the shootings by the police to the shootings of the police. I note that there was 1 officer for every 8 people at that demo, which is heavy. And that the demo which followed involved the police using smoke against the people.

The brutality of the killings – and sorry ‘fatal shootings’ won’t do – and the disproportion of the police’s reaction to the situations – over motor offences! –  has made me livid. I join those (isn’t that the whole world?) calling for justice and the curtailing of armed police and this heavy, ugly way of dealing with the public. A public who pay for the services of those who should be keeping us safe – but instead are unjust instruments of the establishment, and from whom we can be in danger.

I think many of us must feel that our growing resentment for the police, wherever we are, has been augmented by these shocking not even lone incidents.

I abhor that black people were the victims of these killings. It wasn’t hard to learn the names of the most recent ones – Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. But I noted that the day before, two more American young men were killed by the police, yet they are less talked about – I struggled to find their names. These both were from Latino heritage. It is significant that they too aren’t white – but also that the African Americans garnered the greatest attention.

Surely ‘Black Lives Matter’ should be ALL lives matter? I hope that’s a given.

There’s also a lesser known “Brown Lives Matter” movement.

I felt a huge de ja vu last night at the play, watching the king’s forces rush to stop the rebels in Norwich, who were slaughtered in battle or executed. Like the events of recent days, the aggrieved side, however we might understand their aggrievement, did things to their aggressors which I couldn’t condone.

But I did note that Kett’s army took England’s second city for a time. I know Bristol and York will want to squeal at this point ‘We were England’s second city!’ Can’t we share that title? But isn’t the point not a petty division (watch for those) but the empowering thought that people can hold a major city from the establishment.

Did the people of Norwich in 1549 feel any safer with the mob at the helm; was that their definition of democracy?

When I look at all those iconic historic symbols of independence, there’s a sadness that their effects were not only curtailed, but that were are still facing those issues, centuries later.

But did they fail? Should we give up trying to change the fact that, as the chorus sung last night “the many serve the few” and that the rich and powerful’s minority interest continue to crush everyone else?

No and no I do not. I do take hope from the fact that these names of freedom fighters are remembered and commemorated. We’re not cheering the mayors and earls who routed Kett’s group, we remember him.

Last night, we lit a beacon on a hill overlooking the city to not only remember the 3000 killed and hundreds hung in Kett’s rebellion, but all those who have struggled against oppression and still do – and feel under it. It was an exciting moment, to see the flames sweep in way I’ve never seen fire do before, to join with cheers and a banner.

Although not mentioned, we were asking and committing to the kind of world that Robin Hood, Boudicca, Braveheart and Robert Kett stood for coming into being. We are wanting a world which is against austerity, against unfair private ownership, and where the brutality of police and other law enforcers (what a phrase!) and the prejudice behind these recent incidents is history. We wish for justice and for reform – the sort that Will Ladislaw of Middlemarch wanted, the peaceful kind.

There was irony that I realised that no-one other than those at the play could see the beacon, despite its prominent position. Even knowing where to look, as I left Kett’s Heights I could just make out a tiny orange glow between trees.

It was also ironic that given this was a play about power to the people, the city council had to give permission for the beacon to be lit. A council that has many failings – lack of accountability and support to the vulnerable and providing basic reliable services; making heavy licensing laws which involve police in civil liberty abuses – but which also hung its flag at half mast for the recent homophobic shootings in Orlando.

Robert Kett, like Robin of Locksley, was one of the rich who instead of squashing the poor rebelling at his gate, joined and led them. In the play, the Mayor changed sides and opinions.

Out of the many warrior princes and princesses I admire, there is one who comes to mind who insisted on never killing, never using unreasonable force, and who stopped wars with love. She saw that forgiveness and change were more powerful than routing enemies. She saw too that the most powerful way to create change was through mind changing – and I add, heart changing.

I refer to my last post and that wonderful quote of Caroline Lucas, ‘where hope is powerful than hate’ – even when we feel we have a just cause; and that healing and uniting communities is more important than demarcation of difference, even self defining; brothers (and sisters) before otherness.

And as Kett’s county’s police motto says – we all need to feel our police’s priority is us.

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naughty guides and days out have a new home

I’ve started another blog for these. There are links to similar posts around the web on previous articles on this one:

https://elspethr.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/my-travel-writing/

https://elspethr.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/naughty-guides/

I’ll keep my other posts on travel and heritage on here – eg churches, a sense of place, and musings on a couple of Essex cities – and the Elephant grey bottom post. (you’ve noticed the search box and category filter on the right?)

but I’m going to start updating the Day Out With Elspeth series and putting these all together.

They now live at http://elspethsnaughtyguides.wordpress.com/

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My Proposed Austerity Law Cuts

Those who endorse David Cameron’s latest rounds of proposed cuts show themselves to be ignorant and are being tools of the government’s propaganda. It’s so harsh and ridiculous that it barely requires or deserves comment, except to show how far removed the government is from people, and how cruel. This idea of feckless shirkers – certainly for most – is utter rubbish; and comes from the financially secure, or the unambitious, and those very much part of the system. Anyone who cares what they do and doesn’t fit the drop down menus at the job centre might find that work-finding is rather more difficult, and the greater the cuts, the less jobs, the less funding, and yet higher debts…

I’d like to pass a law that all prime ministers and their cabinet who have been in power for over 2 years and who weren’t elected, and who damage the country, should resign with immediate effect and no severance package. I suspect the public would support that in droves. And perhaps Cameron might have to face his own austerity messages.

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Princess Dianas

When I changed my viewing and research from the British Royals to Wonder Woman, I was expecting a complete change. But Wonder Woman is also a Princess Diana, and politics as well as changing roles for women are key to both subjects.

Although one is blonde, one is dark; one is real, one is fiction; one is immortal, one died young, these women do have certain qualities in common:

Compassion

empathy

immediate and genuine rapport

beauty – from within as much as pleasantly aligned features –  but not an object

respect

tall – about 6ft (though Lynda Carter needed 3 inch heels to be that height)

national representative

an outsider

One was an English born aristocrat who became the wife and mother of heirs to the throne of the same country, and one was born on a secret island and took on America as her adopted country. But both had to get to learn the ways of a new world.

But Diana, Princess of Wales was more complicated and with conflicting qualities. Even those who were fond of her don’t deny a darker side. She said that her own suffering enabled and fuelled her to reach out to others.

In the TV series, Diana Prince has no emotional breakdowns and her problems do not seem very menacing or last long; but contractions have existed in all manifestations of Wonder Woman since her invention 70 years ago, and these are used more in comic story lines. But Lynda Carter said that she played Wonder Woman with a vulnerability, and that’s what made her  – and the other Diana – so appealing.

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No axes, no strikes – listen to Hegel

I am very much opposed to the cuts that the government are attempting to put into place.

But I am also opposed to the response and remedy to them.

I am nonplussed as to why a general strike is being proposed. You will make those suffer whom you have pledged to support. Striking is like hostage taking: make a third party suffer so much that the first will do what you demand. Without food, energy, water, money, or even able to enjoy anything as it will all be closed down – how will any one benefit?! Some may even die in your attempts to save them.

I have just heard a speech asking for strong leadership – and then talk of trade unions. Trade Unions are not the alternative government, any more than a military leadership. It was the trade unions dictation that caused Thatcherism to rise.

I am not happy to be seen standing with those that cheer at her death. While I shed no tears for Margaret this week, I will not be rejoicing at an old, ill woman’s demise. I think the Independent’s editorial this week was spot on – that we should be using our energies in far more positive ways, to stop her legacy continuing, not to denigrate her.

I am against party politics, in that councils and governments should not be comprised of ruling parties all adhering to a group agenda who choose their cabinets, not the people. Our current voting system makes it hard for independents to get in, when we need more of these. It also means wasting too much energy on being elected before any good can be done. The low percentage of voting turn out is because many feel parties are too similar – yes, even the Greens.

Though I am for a system which champions the poor, not I do not want a reverse of the current system. Otherwise we are in for a history that is a game of ping pong between right and left, rich and poor.

We should embrace all people as part of our society, and not shun our opposite. Rich people can be philanthropists and finance good projects. They are not all bankers and toffs, but people in arts and sports, and some of those give pleasure and important contributions to the world. I am not for making enemies of the rich or Tories. Nor am I for a remedy which supports only one ‘class’ and type of person – hence I am not for those for the ‘workers’ only, making narrowly defined labour our raison d’etre and mode of worth.

Hegel the philosopher spoke of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. We have had enough of theses and antitheses; we now need to move towards synthesis, in peaceful, ethical way.

My suggestion is to lobby those who would implement the cuts (eg your local council and landlord associations), and also other bodies who many left wing extremists demonise – the house of Lords and the Royal family. If you think they are not in touch with ordinary people – and you’d be surprised, I think – make sure they are. They have more influence than we are led to believe – let them use it for good.

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Winter is Coming

My last piece on my first impressions of Game of Thrones was somewhat cynical. I still stand by many of my comments and feel more strongly against the disgusting sexual abuse by men  – what I read of season 2 and poor Ros the Pros made my blood boil! But I have been wondering about my final premise – to read it like a myth. Whether intended or not, it makes a story into something meaningful and empowering, and rather topical.

 

The watchword of season 1 is “Winter is Coming”– a phrase meant to frighten those younger characters who had never known what real hardship is. Just as I watch this, Britain has brought in a new round of austerity measures. The media are making their own ‘winter is coming’ clarion call, adding a bass note to the government warnings about cuts as savage as the Dothraki. We are encouraged that there are threats from fearful outsiders, just like those from over the Wall and across the Narrow Sea.

 

Winter is Coming means get ready – as those wise disability benefit claimants who have renewed before the new harsher rules came in. It doesn’t mean just brace yourself, but to prepare. In metaphorical winter, it is not a case of endure it and see if you come through: unlike a season, we can affect whether winter comes and do not have to accept it.

 

I am encouraged that so many characters in Game of Thrones are disadvantaged, yet no-one gives in. They turn disaster into opportunity instead of cowering and resigning themselves.

 

Tyrion the dwarf advises to wear one’s disadvantage like armour. He doesn’t languish saying: my family don’t love me, my father is ashamed of me, I’ve only ever been with women I’ve paid…. I will be lonely and an easy target so I mayaswell just die. He twice states his love of life. He knows he is not a strong fighter, so he trains his mind instead by constant reading and uses his wit to help save him. He has a soft spot for others whom society rejects; he designs a saddle so “cripple” boy Bran can ride a horse. Although he cannot play as he did, Bran relishes that he can still look at the world and enjoy that.

 

When Daenerys is sold to a violent warlord by her controlling brother, she could have felt her world was over. But she not only ends up with a loving marriage, but a loving people, and she becomes the leader her brother dreamt of being, learning her powers and realising her potential. She is empowered through loss, transformed through tragedy and treason.

 

Arya names her wolf for a queen she admires and takes after. When her father is killed before her and she’s rounded up by a rough man, Arya must have also feared for her life. But by disguising her as a boy and taking her to the Wall, Arya is made safe from Queen Cersei and avoids the arranged submissive marriage she dreads. Her ‘dance’ teacher Syrio taught her to tell death “not today;” even bravely when he realised it may call for him, he saves her and imbues courage and a buoyancy in her that will keep her going. Arya tells her father that Syrio said, “every hurt teaches us a lesson, every lesson makes us stronger.” I think I might make that my sigil and motto.

 

Jon Snow is so fed up of being the half acknowledged bastard son that he goes to the Wall to join the Night Watch of brothers. As a nobleman with sword training, he looks forward to military duties – only to be relegated to manservant. But his friend Sam points out that being a steward to the chief commander has huge advantages and opportunities.

 

This is what Game of Thrones.net says of Sandor, the Hound:

Once Sansa has lost everything, he tries to show her the lessons he had to learn alone: how to survive, how to keep going when dreams are dead. He tries to protect her and help her to protect herself.

 

Even a slimy character (Ser Petyr) has something worth hearing: “Only by admitting what we are do we get what we want.” It seemed to refract some spiritual manifestation and growth books I read recently.

 

I realised that life in Westeros can feel more akin to our current world, especially in the countries with so much violence in them at present. Many countries have leaders who want power for its own sake, not to lead for the good of the people. Houses may not be about blood families, but about other alliances which means you help your own, at cost to others and regardless of ethics. As Cersei tells her son, when you are in power, you can create the realities that will be circulated and believed. But the truth will be revealed and karma has a way of dealing out justice.

 

What follows winter is coming in Game of Thrones…? The fight back*, not simply being crushed by undemocratic tyrants with dubious justice systems. And those who seize their power and treat their people cruelly never keep their seat.

 

*I am not suggesting for a moment it ought be a violent one; I am against taking up arms

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Why is Chelmsford a Jubilee city?

I’m revising my views on Chelmsford and I shall write my updated thoughts on my other blog: Elspeth’s Naughty Guides: Travel and Heritage with wickedness.

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I do not wish to denigrate Chelmsford and the other places mentioned; rather, I just want fair praise and description and for the appropriate places to win the prize.

It seems a rather random way to get city status – to wait for a queenly anniversary. Cities used to be defined by having a cathedral. New cities in the 1800s were substantial in some way – the ones with weedy upgraded cathedrals had grown large with grand civic buildings and an obvious hub. But not later in the next century.

Grimy markety Lancaster got city status ahead of much larger towns in the titular county in the 1970s. Then Sunderland, who did not have a cinema till 2005, was appointed one – a poor shadow of nearby Newcastle who has righty been one since the 1880s and would have been reasonably called so since medieval times.

Much of the would be city list vying for the Diamond Jubilee honour are largely similar grubby towns (Milton Keynes, Corby, Middlesbrough, Reading) trying to perk themselves up and get attention. I noted Ipswich didn’t go for it this time. Although I have said in the past that Ipswich lacked the necessary dignity and distinction, I would gladly have seen it endowed with city status over those who did win.

Yes, neighbouring Essex too has always been without a city, even though it and Suffolk are old and historically among the most populous counties. Essex put in three bids for the Jubilee competition – Regency pleasure ground Southend with its new cultural pierhead attraction; Colchester, who has always been capital of Essex to me; and Chelmsford. I do not understand why Chelmsford ever got county town status: the drab market town turned City commuterville whose claim to long history was that the Romans passed by and dropped a few pots, whose cathedral is significant as a parish church, but who has little else is of interest save the Marconi radio factory and Shirehall.

I visited Colchester again this week and Chelmsford this time a year ago. I have only been to Chelmsford because of need, never pleasure. Each time, I walked by the river to fill time and because of nowhere else to go. It just feels like a suburb of London, perhaps having the attraction of greenery around it. The only thing over Colchester that Chelmsford has is that a theatre shows art house films sometimes. Yes I walked thoroughly; I went to to the far flung Museum along older Moulsham street (an attempt at independent shopping) and found the stone bridge, and I noted the regency Quaker Meeting House. And I still struggled to fill my day.

But Colchester was not a camp stop or staging post for the Romans; it was a large town, whose walls are still existing. It has several churches and two ruined priories. It has the largest castle the Normans built. It was home to Dutch refugees (these settlers had good taste in where they chose) whose homes still grace the town, in timber and bright colours.

In East magazine, a local shop manager was asked what he likes to do in Chelmsford. I noted that several answers were outside of the town – including his own home. I looked up Chelmsford and Colchester in the latest Pevsner guide. The late Sir Nik begins the Chelmsford entry with a derogatory sarcastic quote. He starts Colchester’s by saying it’s rightly the focal town of the shire. I’ve listed its assets in other articles. But I think that Firstsite gives a clear message: Colchester is not an ickle backwater. We are not part of London. We have a significant cultural venue; we take architectural risks and make sure all our treasures are not just in the past. Chelmsford has no new significant buildings, no castle, no Dutch quarter equivalent, and no vast proud town hall; no arts centre, no producing theatre, no Jumbo watertower (though it does have a viaduct), no town centre museums (Colchester has five, plus other galleries). Even if Colchester does not fully fill my criteria as a city, it is way above its neighbour which merely has the county council offices in them.

It seems that the title of city now actually gives little – no extra benefits or funding for the borough. I continue to see Chelmsford as a town and Colchester as Essex’s leading conurbation – a word which sums up its rival: just a clump of houses with a river through them and a mediocre shopping centre.

I must end with the MP of Milton Keynes’ words on hearing they had been unsuccessful. He claims they are a city anyway, no matter what Westminster says:

“…there’s a saying that if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck it probably is a duck.”

True, you should hear my definition of a duck. It isn’t flattering!

See my next article sticking up for the 2nd Marconi factory

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