Archive for June, 2008

A lazy post

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

This week I have:

added a link to a blog by Nathalie D’Arbeloff who won the Mary Stott prize awarded by the Guardian. She asks where the older women geeks are so I felt that it was only fair to put in her link. She’s an artist and writes about stuff a bit like me – rather random or if you prefer, far ranging but with lots more pictures, obviously. She says she’s a geek as well – I leave the tech to others but am fortunate in my contacts.

saw the 39 Steps at the Oxford Playhouse which is completely terrific and funny and I recommend if it comes to a town near you.

thought about the wonderful Mary Stott whose prize Nathalie D’Arbeloff won and the story that I’ll post about her another day.

joined Facebook finally (now it’s not as fashionable as once it was) and agreed that just as I don’t drink in the same pub as my sons (unless we’re all together) neither will I touch their pages.

been shocked to discover that Jacques Brel, who is one of my very, very favourite singers is also a favourite of Alastair Campbell, one of my very unfavourite political people.

met old friends for lunch by arrangement and one by serendipitous chance and been pretty glad that not all communications are digital.

Not written on anything properly.

Someone to watch over EU

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

I’m quite a keen European and I’m sorry that the Irish referendum has turned down the Lisbon Treaty. I’m not for a second denying that the EU has many, many faults, one of which I would suggest is their failure to make clear what the Treaty involved.

I used to accompany a group of journalists to Brussels on an annual visit for briefings by the Commission, MEPs and journalists based in Brussels. The last time I was there the big issue was communications between Brussels and the citizens of the EU, several of whom had cut up rough about the Constitution and enlargement. Doesn’t seem to have done a particularly good job in the case of Ireland, and probably elsewhere. But I am still wedded to the ideal of Europe and keep in my mind all its huge potential and dread the idea of the UK leaving the community. It’s a pity we don’t hear more about the positives – although I heard David Milliband some weeks ago giving a robust and clear defence on the Today Programme. Meanwhile, Will Hutton has said it very well in today’s Observer. Buy that man a drink.

Then I saw it, now it I don’t!

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

I went to look up my quote from The First Post a few days after posting and hey – it had disappeared. So, as I am reminded by my publisher husband, I should have added that it was downloaded on Sunday 8 June. I didn’t make it up – really.

I’ll still have Paris

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

I remember when the UK joined what was then the EEC (European Economic Community) and the New Year’s party when we cheered our accession. Three years later I spent the 1976 New Year in Paris about to start work in a French hospital thanks to the recognition of nurse qualifications across the community. Although I was often very homesick in Paris I loved France, loved the city I lived in and finding out how ex-pat communities live. I was enchanted by the railway stations with the destination boards saying Milan, Rome, Barcelona, Zurich, realizing I could just get on a train and get out in another country’s capital. I am so glad I learnt fluent if imperfect French.

Exploring Paris, I saw the bullet marks in the walls of the Ecole Militaire and the plaques on the walls where a citizen of that city had been shot and died. My colleagues told me of landladies who wouldn’t let apartments to Germans and they pointed out a building near to our hospital which had been an infamous HQ of the Gestapo. Living in a city that had in living memory been occupied by a foreign force opened up my mind, but living there with people of my generation from all over Europe and beyond opened it further.

Among my colleagues was a young woman, like me about 25, who had fled her home country of Chile. She was called Marta and she was a nurse. Her boyfriend, a doctor had been arrested by the regime and she had left for her own safety. She told me of a surgeon, arrested at the table as he operated and dragged from the theatre. She told me how much she missed her mother and how much she worried for her. One day, Marta told us she was going home because her mother was ill. We worried for her, although with an imperfect vision of quite what was happening in Chile. Communications in the mid 70s were obviously much more limited than now. She told us she would be back in 6 weeks but she wasn’t. And although the hospital enquired at the Embassy and wrote to her home address we never heard from her again. I like to hope she simply decided to stay at home and grow older with her family. Whatever did happen to her, my loathing of Pinochet’s dictatorship has never faded.

The experience of working and socialising with people from so many other countries gave me a lifelong interest in countries and people outside my own (although sadly I have hardly travelled at all), And the contrast of the benefits of peace which allowed me to work in Paris whilst my colleague had to seek shelter because of internal war in her own country made me an enthusiast for the EU which has helped maintain peace for more than 50 years to a point where war – actual physical, destructive, killing war – between members of the EU is unthinkable.

No hiding place

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

A few weeks ago I was a little concerned when a creature dressed in the distinctive plumage of his class passed me on my way back from work to my south of the river home. I was pretty certain I’d spotted a member of the Bullingdon Club, a notorious group which has had more publicity that in probably deserves because Dave Cameron and Boris Johnson were both members. Only the very wealthy students get invited to join –the “uniform” which includes a pink tailcoat costs north of £3000.

When I looked up Bullingdon club I found the Wikipedia entry which covers it rather well I thought

“The Bullingdon Club is a socially exclusive student dining club at Oxford University, without any permanent rooms, infamous for its members’ wealth and destructive binges. Membership is by invitation only, and prohibitively expensive for most, given the need to pay for the uniform, dinners and damages”

More wordy but perhaps more informative is The First Post about David Cameron.

“At Oxford, he was a member of the Bullingdon Club, which is pretty much the embodiment of the very worst of the public school character: an arrogant contempt towards the “lower orders” (porters, waiters, scouts); a yobbish criminality; and a wallowing in utterly undeserved and unmerited privilege. It’s viciousness tempered by cretinism, and the strongest argument for class war I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen a few”

Imagine then my feelings when last week the peace of a summer night was breached by drunken singing. It’s not the singing I object to – I’ve always been a south of the river type and happy to be lulled to sleep by the reassuring sound of police sirens, foul language and breaking glass. Rather it was a line of tuneless song carried clearly through the limpid night – “we don’t give a fuck what you think – we are the famous Bullingdon”.

Oh damn. There goes the neighbourhood.

..still hanging on

Friday, June 6th, 2008

Alright, now I am quite interested in the US elections. And Hillary is hanging on in there. Strangely enough, I can understand this apparently odd response to Barak Obama’s win. Hillary has been in this for the long haul and giving up on the dream, acknowledging it is over is almost unbelievably difficult.

The night of the General Election in 1992 was one of the most emotional of my life. Just before midnight on 9 April I had been at Woolwich Town Hall for the count, supporting Rosie Barnes, the SDP MP for Greenwich. We all of us knew that this was the end whether Rosie won or otherwise. There were only two people from the SDP defending seats, David Owen was not standing, the party was truly over. My head knew it but my heart had much difficulty in actually understanding that the cause that I had devoted most of my free time to for over 10 years had gone.

I was at the Town Hall to oversee the vote counting. And of course one began to get a feel for the way the vote was going. The atmosphere was almost volatile with supporters of the other parties hustling, spitting and swearing at us and as it became more apparent that our woman had lost we became more obdurate in response. When Rosie arrived we gathered round her, she looked at us and asked how it was going. We just shook our heads slightly and I remember her saying “oh well, never mind”. After the announcement, she gave a terrific speech, brave and gracious against a background of belligerent noise. A Conservative swore aggressively at a female colleague of mine. We cheered and screamed wildly and until my throat was raw.

After the count, we went back to our HQ in an old shop where all the supporters were gathered having watched the count on TV. I got back a bit before Rosie and her agent. We determined we would give her the most rousing welcome home. She had told her agent she would not cry. She walked in, we cheered, she started to speak and got as far as “well everyone” before she choked to a halt.

I have never experienced an evening like it. The wild, friable mood swinging from tears to laughter in seconds, and the desperate need to hang on to the community we’d built up over years, people who spoke the same language and had shared the disappointments and kept on going. Over the years we’d all seen our friends’ bemusement at our passion for politics which took us out on miserable Sundays to walk around the council estates, our descent into dullness as we obsessed about electoral systems and national insurance reform.

You don’t give that up easy. I bet there’ll be a few tears at Hillary’s party this weekend. And if they have the same sort of hangover that I had all those years ago, it will, at least be one thing they remember.

Hanging up her dancing shoes?

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

So, it looks like Hillary’s going to be handing in her pass after today’s primaries.

Politically minded friends keep saying how absolutely riveting the competition for the Democratic nomination has been. Which it has of course but which I’ve found very unsettling. I don’t have a deep enough knowledge of the US political scene to really comment but on a visceral level I really, really wanted them to choose a woman as a Presidential candidate. And I’ve found, perhaps because I have looked, a faint sour taste of misanthropy in some of the reports I’ve read from both the US and less so in the UK press.

I can’t say I’m sympathetic to the Clinton’s very close relationship with the Saudis. I remember a fair amount of the early White House problems when Bill was first in post as President when Vincent Foster committed suicide and the whole Arkansas old boys business. I also can remember wanting change from the tired and cynical established politics of Nixon and I know that if I were in my 20s I’d be looking for Obama, with hope, to bring about a better world.

Whether it’s just age or wisdom I couldn’t say but now I think that the mess that the new President will take over needs experienced hands – as Hillary emphasized, she can hit the ground running on taking office. But the truth is that I’m just partisan. I want to see a woman President and I hate the way that Hillary has been labelled (and often by women of course) as only succeeding because she was the President’s wife.

She is immensely skilled, knowledgeable and talented. I imagine she is also cunning, devious, manipulative and ruthless. That’s right. It tends to come with the territory and just being youthfully untouched by long-term politics doesn’t make you right or necessary capable, although it probably does make you more attractive.

When Margaret Thatcher was first Prime Minister, the late Jill Tweedie, a wonderful journalist wrote that although she was against much of what the new PM stood for, she couldn’t help but be thrilled when she heard the commentators refer to the PM as she who would be selecting her cabinet.

Me too.