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This post from Tina Frisco certainly made me re-evaluate my response to last year’s referendum result in the UK. Am I motivated by anger or by a genuine concern for those I believe will be most harmed by the consequences of implementation of the result? Or by hatred for the men who used their influence and their persuasive lies to swing the result that way?
If I’m honest, I have to say ‘all three’ and I hope I’ve made that clear in my many posts on the subject. I hope, too, that my hatred of the promoters of the ‘leave’ cause is directed, as Tina asserts it should be, not at them as human beings but at the things they stand for.
In witnessing their behaviour and the unfolding outcome, I hope I can say, like Tina talking about a similar phenomenon in the USA, that “I am grateful . . . for the opportunity to experience, profoundly and relentlessly, that which I never want to become.”
Please read the post and be inspired.
Easter 1916 is a key date in Irish history. A watershed moment of enormous significance to the nation. The attempted revolution on that date failed, but the brutal treatment of its leaders gave a renewed impetus to the campaign for Home Rule. The compromise that was reached with the majority Protestant population in Ulster was not popular in the rest of the Island, and led to a bloody but mercifully brief civil war. The centenary of the 1916 rising last year was the inspiration for a programme promoting creativity in all its forms across the nation in the five years that echo the years between the rising and the establishment of the Republic.
A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure of attending an event that could not have happened except through the support of the programme: the world premiere of a new work by Belfast born composer Ian Wilson. Composed in collaboration with people involved in agriculture and nature conservation in the Irish Midlands, as a celebration of the importance of pollenators to the human food chain, Thresholds consists of a collage of recorded sounds and speech, overlaid by live performance by solo saxophone. British saxophonist David Roach, who performed the solo, has worked with Wilson before.
But that is just one of thousands of initiatives across all aspects of Irish life for which Creative Ireland is the inspiration. Take, for example, this article from the Irish Times, which describes how merging creativity with technology is generating incredible opportunities for young people.
Sometimes it seems that technology is driving the human race into a dark and dangerous place. I am a firm believer that creative thinking can ensure that human scale solutions will be found to the problems that scare us, just as they did in the past, and just as the young people of Ireland are demonstrating and will continue to demonstrate between now and 2022, the centenary of the formation of the Republic.
If you found this piece of news heartening, and would like to take part in this blogfest, sign up in the WE ARE THE WORLD Blogfest Linky List below and please help spread the word on social media via the hashtag #WATWB.
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I’ve been a volunteer with a local cancer support charity since the spring of 2010. I mostly work in the garden there. But in 2013 I trained to lead groups of walkers on a programme called ‘Strides for Life‘. Too many of my friends at relatives have been afflicted by this disease which takes lives at random. It’s good to be involved with people who help those recovering from the illness, and family members struggling to come to terms with the fact a loved one has it.
This is first time I’ve participated in the Open Book Blog Hop. You are welcome to have ago. The idea is you blog about the week’s subject – My Favourite Charity this time around – then click the blue button to post a link to it. To get the button, follow this link.
1. Link your blog to this hop.
2. Notify your following that you are participating in this blog hop.
3. Promise to visit/leave a comment on all participants’ blogs.
4. Tweet/or share each person’s blog post. Use #OpenBook when tweeting.
5. Put a banner on your blog that you are participating.v
I was given this book by a stranger. Not a complete stranger as I almost wrote, for we had met twice over breakfast. Allow me to explain. If you saw my posts from the first couple of days in June you will be aware that I spent a few days in North Kerry taking in some of the events of Listowel Writers’ Week. We stayed in a small bed and breakfast establishment just outside Ballybunion. The other guests at breakfast on Thursday and Friday morning were Andrew, a professor of English from Santa Clara University in the last days of a six week sojourn touring around Ireland. In the course of conversation he revealed that Emma Donaghue’s father had been one of his professors.
The other guest at breakfast on those first two days was a lady named Elaine, down from Dublin for a few days. On Friday morning we talked briefly about the book shops in Listowel and the importance of independent book shops generally.
Saturday morning she had departed before we arrived in the small dining room. Andrew handed a paperback book to me, saying that Elaine had left it for me. A surprising and delightful gesture. I’m truly sorry that I did not have the opportunity to thank her. More so now that I have read it.
Kalanithi’s family migrated from India to New York and thence to Arizona. They were a medical family but young Paul was more interested in literature than medicine. On obtaining a degree in English literature he realised his quest to discover the workings of the mind: the way it defines our personality and the way we relate to our fellow beings, required an understanding of how the brain functions. This, in turn, led him to neuroscience. Becoming a neuro-surgeon, he completed his residency and was ready to become head of his department when he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
As a septuagenarian I am well aware that I have an ever reducing amount of time left. At the same time it is important to remember that death can arrive at any time. When I was in my teens three contemporaries lost their lives in tragic circumstances – a drowning, an accident with a shot gun and a motorcycle accident. Over the years since, too many friends have been taken by cancer. And yet there are people whose abuse of their bodies in their twenties ought to have finished them off decades ago but they are still living life to the full in their seventies.
Nevertheless, to be told in your mid-thirties that your life is about to end must be devastating. Kalanithi still harboured a yearning to write. In remission following treatment he is faced with a decision: have I long enough to go back to the work I love and that is changing lives or only long enough to write my book?
To say more would be to spoil the book for other readers.
There is medical jargon here, including words used in the USA to define the various levels of seniority in the profession that have different titles on this side of the Atlantic. It would have been helpful to have had a glossary. This, however, is a minor criticism.
People talk a lot about “bucket lists”: the things you’d like to see and do before you die. Too often these take on a selfish tone with a desire to see some of the wonders of the world, whether created by ancient civilisations: the Pyramids, say, or Machu Pichu; or by nature such as Ayer’s Rock or the Grand Canyon. Kalanithi’s book reminds us that it is what we leave behind us that is most important; what we’ve achieved, not where we have been or what we have seen. Life, he tells us, is essentially about striving. I would add that there are, in this 21st century world, far too many who are more concerned to avoid that struggle than to take part. Kalanithi was not one of those. He epitomises the work ethic that characterises Indian as well as the best of American and European culture. As such, his story is one of the most inspiring you are ever likely to read.
I don’t generally give much credence to conspiracy theories. But in these times of “fake news” and “alternative facts” it’s becoming increasingly difficult to avoid them. George Monbiot is a journalist and commentator that I trust. He references all his claims to well documented real facts. So when he writes about a long term plan to undermine the European Union and promote the agenda of corporate America I believe him.
And the tragedy is that, in order to achieve their aim, this small but powerful group have conned the most disadvantaged citizens of both Britain and America into supporting their aim through the kind of deception of which the late Paul Daniels would be proud. Misdirection and sleight of hand were used in Britain to convince people living in its most deprived communities that their best interests would be served by divorcing themselves from the international body that has provided peace, prosperity and slow but steady advances in human rights over the last 40 years.
The same droit de main was employed by Donald Trump to convince the residents of rust belt USA that he would “clear the swamp” and bring jobs back to the homeland.
Of course, there are conspiracy theories at the other end of the political spectrum, too. A shocking number of Americans still believe that global warming is not the result of the burning of fossil fuels. Encouraged by the same think tanks that Monbiot exposes in his Guardian article, they choose instead to believe that, along with LBGT rights and Obamacare, it is all part of a left wing plot to bring about the Socialist takeover of America.
If history tells us anything it is that the last 150 or more years have witnessed an incessant battle between those who want to see the greatest good for the greatest number and those who want to use the advance of knowledge as a tool for their own enrichment. In Britain the former was traditionally represented by the Liberal and Labour Parties, backed by the Trade Union and co-operative movements, whilst the latter was always the motivating force of the Tory Party. In America, the Democrats, backed by the Labor unions, on the one hand, and the Republicans on the other, fulfilled similar roles.
Differences within each of these political movements were concerned more with the pace of change than with the direction it was taking, with moderates tending to favour gradual progress, fearing the damage that might be caused by too rapid an advance.
Education and the value of work
Fundamental to both ends of the political spectrum is a belief in the importance of education and the value of work. The difference is that the right seeks to keep down the cost of labour; not just the rates of pay, but the additional cost of providing training, health care, holidays, pensions, protection from potential work place hazards and sick pay. It also abhors attempts to protect consumers from any possible harm that might arise from the use of the products of labour, including over-pricing. The left campaigns for better pay and conditions for workers and greater protection for consumers.
By taking the lead in establishing rules and regulations that address the concerns of workers and consumers, the European Union is seen by the right as placing obstacles in the way of business success. The Obama administration in the USA is viewed similarly by Trump and the GOP.
And yet UKIP in the UK, and Trump in the USA, managed to convince people, not only that these regulations were responsible for the loss of traditional jobs, but also that both Brussells and Washington were in thrall to corporate lobby groups. You might be excused for concluding that these claims are mutually exclusive. In fact they are not. It is, rather, a question of which trend holds supremacy at any given point in time. Labour unions and human rights activists lobby for greater regulation whilst bodies representing big business lobby against such advances.
But corporations respond to increased regulation by moving manufacturing to less well regulated jurisdictions, thereby reducing their costs and destroying the traditional jobs of British and American workers . Meanwhile significant numbers of people from those jurisdictions choose to move to the US and the UK in order to take advantage of the many benefits available to the citizens of those countries. Employers in UK and US are happy to give work to foreigners who, being used to poor working conditions, are happy to turn a blind eye to minor infractions of those regulations that protect their British and American counterparts.
Sooner or later, however, as prosperity spreads to those less regulated jurisdictions, similar regulations, protecting the rights of workers and consumers, will be introduced. That is the only way that jobs might return to deprived communities in the North of England or the American rust belt. Removing the hard won rights of workers and consumers, the inevitable consequence of Britain’s exit from the EU and Trump’s plethora of EOs, will not do it.
A century and more of progress in human rights has been accompanied by advances in science and engineering that have served to reduce the need for manual labour in most traditional industries. An age in which machines did the work and men enjoyed greater leisure has been predicted since before I was born 75 years ago. And yet the number of people in employment has continued to rise throughout that time (see here for the latest UK employment figures and here for those for the USA). So I have even less faith in the possibility of such predictions coming true than I have trust in conspiracy theories.
There can be no doubt, however, that the nature of work will continue to change, as it has done throughout history. And governments wishing to keep pace with that change need to focus on education and training so as to equip their citizens to meet the challenge.
Notwithstanding any conspiracies dreamed up by big corporations, I remain optimistic that science and engineering will confound the worst predictions of the world’s pessimists. After all, one of the most successful and wealthy corporations the world has ever known – Microsoft – was a tiny operation 40 years ago and no-one back then, except, perhaps, it’s founders, could have imagined the technological revolution for which it has been responsible, or the nature of the hundreds of thousands of of jobs it has created.
This was written in response to a prompt from our writers’ group: “It throbbed and vibrated”. I think the person who came up with it had in mind something in the ‘weird science’ genre. My take on the phrase turned into a tribute to my dad and, by extension, all those who have given their lives in the name of freedom. I didn’t initially have the significance of 11th November in mind.
The engine throbbed and vibrated. Uncle George released the clutch lever and set off at a fast pace behind the mower with its sputtering exhaust, the sound uncannily resembling the word ATCO emblazoned on the fuel tank and on the guard shielding the chain that drove the heavy roller at the rear. I trotted behind, savouring the aromas of newly cut grass and spent fuel.
Uncle George was not really my uncle. The only connection between us was that his son and my father had been fellow crew members on a Lancaster bomber shot from the sky over the German industrial city of Mannheim a number of years before. Mum had tried to contact the families of each of the crew members and George’s wife had responded. She and my mother became lifelong friends. We spent summer holidays at their home in a small town a short distance from Swansea.
George was green keeper at the local municipal park. He was also a former champion bowls player. No-one could possibly have lavished more care and attention on the bowling green at the centre of the park. On this occasion, which was to be repeated many times, I had accompanied him to work. The grass of the green, already perfect in my young eyes, needed to be pristine ahead of a bowls match set to take place later that day. The flat square lay in a depression formed by half-metre high banks, these latter separated from the green by a shallow channel that, I suppose, formed a part of the drainage system for the green.
The green was mowed in at least two and sometimes three different directions, brushed and rolled to ensure nothing could interfere with the travel of the shiny wooden spheres when players rolled them from one side to the other, aiming to have the bowl stop as close as possible to a small white ceramic ball without actually touching it.
Looking back, I imagine that the throbbing and vibrations emitted by the two-stroke engine of the lawn mower were as nothing in comparison to the conditions endured by George’s son, my father, and the five other members of the bomber crew as they headed through the dark night skies from their base in Eastern England to various cities in the industrial heartland of Germany. The drone of 4 Rolls-Royce Merlin engines straining to carry the weight of the aircraft and 16 tonnes of high explosive would have formed the background, but there would surely have been plenty of vibration from the air frame shuddering and throbbing through the rudimentary seating into the young men’s bodies.
A typical sortie would last at least 5, sometimes 7, hours, commencing any time between 10pm and midnight. Five, six or seven hours of noise and vibration. Hours, I can only imagine, of sheer terror as they wondered, on the outward leg, what awaited them as they crossed into enemy air space. There would, I am sure, have been plenty of thumping from anti-arcraft shells exploding around them and the ever present threat of attack from German fighter aircraft.
Their role, as pathfinders, involved them arriving on scene ahead of the main force to drop flares in order to illuminate the target. They would then drop their own bomb load and hang around photographing and noting the damage before being the last to leave the area. Sounds to me like the most dangerous of operations. Little wonder that so many failed to return.
It’s more than twenty years now since I acquired a set of the operations record book pages for the squadron for the period leading up to my father’s last sortie. Reading some of the entries whilst preparing for this piece I came across the following entry for one of the crews, describing an aborted mission that took place on the 25th May 1943.
The intended target was Dusseldorf. One of the aircraft took off at a quarter to midnight and was back at ten to two the following morning. They reported that the operation was abandoned after dropping four of their bombs. Starboard inner engine unserviceable and airscrew control for port inner. Jettisoned 2 x 2000 HC safe … 1 x 2000 HC dropped live off Dutch coast (fusing box failed). 1 x 2000 HC hung up on the jettison.
They landed at a different field from the one from which they had taken off. I can’t begin to imagine the heart pounding as you limp home on two engines, trying desperately to off-load 8 tonnes of unused bombs in order to lighten your load.
The aircraft flown by my father’s crew that night also returned early (at a quarter to three) owing to excessive petrol consumption. Having dropped 4 bombs on target, they bombed successfully Haamstede airfield. Looking at the map, I see that this is on the Dutch coast, west of Antwerp.
On 17th and 18th of November there was a slight change in routine as they took off around 5pm bound for Manheim. On the 17th they were home at ten to eleven. On the 18th they failed to return. It was the last trip in their operational tour. Their captain, a Canadian, had joined in April that year and between 4th May and 18th November they completed 30 missions – over 150 hours of throbbing, vibrating terror.
Getting back to the lawn mower, I have to say that I have always envied those who spend summer days behind, or seated upon, lawn mowers. It seems like an ideal occupation for someone who loves the outdoors. Those aromas, of fresh cut grass mixed with petrol; the ability to move across an area of rough grass, leaving behind broad bands of light and dark green, holds a fascination that has never left me. And it’s a long way from the terrors of war.