Leaving the European Union, another great wrench in my life?

Well here we are: Wednesday March 29th 2017, a day which may well go down in history! One way or another, this day, along with June 23rd 2016, will be a day to remember. If we believe the government, or most of the politicians on both sides of the chamber, it will be a glorious day, as they voted for Article 50 to be “triggered”. This means that today is the official day when this country, the so far United Kingdom, officially declared  its intention to leave the European Union. 

So what do I feel today? Strangely my emotions are mixed. I have always felt more European than British. By that, I mean that I have always felt connected to that continent. This may well be because from a very young age, 18 months or so, I was raised by my German nanny. I guess she would be called an “aupair” today. Lotte was mine. My sister had a Polish aupair, Afra, who married a man from our village and stayed in the UK. Lotte, however, did not stay. She returned to Germany when I was about 5 when I started school. Luckily, I did get to meet her again before she died at the far too young age of 50. I visited her home in Stuttgart, when I was 21. When I was in my forties, I had a breakdown. I suffered from depression for quite a while, although I managed to keep working, I struggled. Fortunately I met a really great counsellor, who helped me to understand my depression. She led me to understand how Lotte’s departure from my life had impacted on my mental well being. It was a wrench and one from which I have never really recovered. Through this I was able to see how much these emotional bonds in very young children can have a continuing impact on their adult lives! I guess I had read about this in theory but this “personal awakening” made me fully understand what this meant.

The connection with another European country continues. My second marriage is to Monika, a German national, who has lived and worked here for over 50 years. We met when we were both teaching in the same school, over 40 years ago. We became friends and later married. My sister is also married to a European citizen! Not sure what any of this signifies but there is a definite connection with Europe!

Now for the EU itself: There is much wrong with the EU. It is too bureaucratic and it is far too supportive of big businesses to the dteriment of workers but it has sustained peace and bonded countries as diverse as Germany and France! Looking at the history of Europe this fact alone seems remarkable. The UK has never really engaged fully in the EU or indeed in the EEC before. The mainstream media has always painted a picture of “us and them” and has constantly referred back to World War 1 and 2. Our football supporters,  all of whom were born after the second of those wars actually sang war songs in Germany the other day at a so called “friendly” football match, makes one proud to be British!!? So our daily papers and, indeed our TV news media has always been neutral about Europe, at best, and, downright anti, at worst! So the vote to leave was, perhaps, surprising in its closeness, given the hostility to Europe and the EU over the years as portrayed in the media. But close it was. 

Those if us who voted to remain a part of the EU and those of us who still feel citizens of Europe, as I do, are branded as traitors and “remoaners”! Today our Prime Minister has asked the Britons to unite. Well let those Britons unite. As a European citizen, which so far my passport declares that I am, I feel betrayed and sad. It feels that today I have lost something special. Another wrench in my life! 

NHS march London March 4th 2017

Feeling very guilty that I am NOT on the march today. The date has been in my diary for some time now. I can’t say I was looking forward to it, as these marches are quite a chore: standing around for hours then missing any speeches as you arrive too late at the finish. One does feel a sense of duty, however and a certain warmth as you are mostly surrounded by like minded souls in aid of a worthy cause.

This one is serious! This government is intent on starving our greatest national asset of millions if not billions and selling off bits and pieces to private companies. We are being ‘softened up’ by the media for charges to be levied on our visits to see a GP and who knows what else. I forsee free prescriptions being withdrawn from pensioners pretty soon. You may feel that is no bad thing as we, pensioners, are rich and have huge houses preventing the deserving younger generation of buying our palaces! Anyway that will soon be a thing of the past too. This government’s policies will soon kill off most of us a sort of government backed euthenasia! Exaggeration? Maybe but just wait and see! This government is supporting companies who refuse to employ people as employees and merely put them on so called ‘zero hours’ contracts which prevents them having to pay on costs such as national health insurance, which is starving the NHS of funds too! Mrs May’s plan to encourage companies to lodge in the UK after we have left the EU by reducing their taxes will further add to the deminution of funds for welfare including the NHS. The slogan,”The NHS is safe in Tory hands” is a lie, fake news, bullshit even!

So why am I not marching? Too lazy, got up late, it might rain, honestly yes all of those but mostly I am struggling to walk too far as I suffer from gout and am suffering with an acute attack just now. This means my left foot is painful and feels like it is on fire. The tablets from the NHS have helped to keep the pain within tolerable limits, a 3 on the richter scale of pain,  but walking long distances or standing for hours is out! So I congratulate all those on the march today and hope it will be widely reported in the media and ensure we keep this hugely valuable asset healthy and well funded. I am not hopeful about any of these things but optimism never killed anyone, yet?

Please if you have read this far, maybe one or two have, donate to those causes who are fighting on all our behalves to keep the NHS in the forefront of our consciousness. It is being slowly dismantled before our very eyes and one day we may well look up and find it gone and we will have to take out a second or third mortgage to pay for any treatment. It may well happen sooner than we think!

You say you want a revolution…

This week, I visited the Victoria and Albert museum to see the exhibition of the 1960’s entitled ” You say you want a revolution, records and rebels.” Apart from it being a very enjoyable nostalgic trip for me…trip in the journey sense that is….actually what was missing was the smell of dope, as I inhaled on a recent trip to Amsterdam, trip in the journey sense again! Where was I ? Oh yes, the exhibition. I would urge you to go but unfortunately it finishes today!

Well I enjoyed it, as I said. As I write this, I am listening to some of the sounds of that era. 1966-1970… Back then, I was 16-20, what an age! We felt hopeful and change was all around us. The skirts were short, the hair was long- both sexes and the music was fantastic, fab even! Yes the dope was good too and, unlike Mr Clinton, I inhaled deeply! The feeling was that things were never going to be the same again. We would be different, so different from our parents. We would not struggle to pay for a house for 25 years. We would not be slaves to the bosses. We would just ‘do our THING!’ and that would be individual but with friends.

The first music festival I attended was a  very different experience. I had been to concerts in theatres to see a variety of groups. Amazingly seing top bands performing in one night at one venue but festivals felt different. The first was held in Olympia, I think and went on all night, December 22 -23 1966, I think maybe it was 1967. I could Google it?  Anyway it was spectacularly different. With a fairground and circus and film shows and great music. Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath being memorable. John Peel showed us his appendix operation scars (sounds gruesome and it was) but it was great!

The next one was held at Woburn in June 1968. I remember it well as one Saturday morning I had to sit my final French literature A level exam. I left the exam room, literally stripping off my tie as I headed for the school toilet and changed into my sailors trousers bought from Lord Kitchener’s Valet in Portabello market, and my paisley shirt, combed out my parting and put on my cuban heels. My friend was waiting with the “passion wagon” outside the school gates….and we were off! The week end was great,  fab even! The bands of course, Tyranosaurus Rex with Marc Bolan before he became T Rex, Donovan, and Hendrix, the last act on Saturday night. We sat around a large camp fire with about 40 or 50 others and smoked a communal joint or two or three as we listened to the dying sound of feedback from his guitar on the stage. It seemed to go on for hours after the close….

The next 1969 Isle of Wight in Wooton. Bob Dylan and the Band as headliners….

But it had to end! For me the end came at the next Isle of Wight festival in 1970. I was already at college and had obtained a job at the festival. I was a shop superviser. Which meant I had to gurad the till and cash up every so often and bag the money. I also helped serve as the crowds kept coming… I don’t remember much about the music although The Doors and Family were particularly good as was Joni Mitchell. What I most recall was the attack on the barriers around the field by French anarchists, I think. Our shop was attacked and torched. I remember being pretty scared as I ran for the back stage area with the takings. It was all pretty cahotic, check out the DVD of the festival and you will see how things developed. It felt frightening as half a million people began to change…fear and fighting. I guess it wasn’t that bad but it felt bad….I sat back stage and listened to Hendrix start his set. I managed to get into the press area to see his set. It was not his best and sadly almost his last ever. He died a week later.

The sixties ended there for me!

….and yes I did struggle to pay a mortgage and worked my guts out to do it….

 

Christmas 2016….

While I know we have a few days still to go before the actual day, it seems Christmas starts earlier and finishes later as the years go by. Time was when the shops started to think about Christmas in December, like the Advent calendar…now Christmas is all year round, with permament Christmas shops in every major city and town, across the country and in many others too. To say that Christmas is big business is now a cliche, which everyone understands. Some say the true spirit of Christmas is forgotten. Not sure what the true spirit is? Is it religious, like the baby Jesus being born in a stable with animals and angels and shepherds and kings and such? Or is it some fat old bloke with a white beard, dressed in red coming down your chimney?,(what does he do if you haven’t got a chimney?). Or is it shopping and buying expensive or even token gifts? None of these seem to fit with my idea of a perfect Christmas, (more in my Christmas future blog!).

So what of Christmas 2016? For me it warmed up spiritually if not physically, with my recent trip to Berlin for a few days, last week! Yes BERLIN, and today Berlin hits the news headlines for something terrible. The killing of innocent shopkeepers and shoppers in the Kurfürstendamm Market was terrible news. News which was made more terrible for me as I was shopping there just last Wednesday and Thursday, having a wonderful time full of the Christmas gluhwein and hot alcoholic cholcolat and Bratwürst and Curry Würst and feeling a warm glow with all the other locals and even more tourists in a few of Berlin’s many Christmas markets. We visited about eight out of the over 60 we were told existed. Of those we visited the one in Kurfürstendamm was our favourite. So much atmosphere and great stalls and, unusually, friendly people. (sorry Berlin but you do seem to have a number of rather grumpy people in your shops and on your buses and trains!)

And now this news, Berlin attacked by terrorists as in France and indeed across the world. No where is immune.

So Christmas 2016, for me will be Berlin, in all its culture and history and its present too! Berlin has seen so much tragedy in the past and the city still reflects that. The devastation after the World War II is still evident in the centre as is the tragedy of a divided city following that war and the tragedy of the wall in 1961. 

The first time I visited Berlin was in 2006 for my wife’s special birthday. As a German, it seemed appropriate to make that trip on her special day. We stayed at the Adlon, near the Brandenburg gate, and were surrounded by all that history. On that visit, it felt as if I had come home somehow. Not sure why, as this was my first visit. But I had heard so much about this place and had always felt drawn to this city, as indeed to Germany as a country. Looking back, Germany and indeed German nationals have played a big part in my life. From the age of two until five, I was looked after on a daily basis by Lotte, my nanny, I guess you would refer to her as an aupair these days. Sounds grander than it was. My mum was a headteacher in a village school and both my sister and I were looked after by “nannies”, Polish in my sister ‘s case, German in mine. At the age of fifty, I discovered how important Lotte was to me in my upbringing, as I underwent counselling and it was pointed out how much I had been effected by the disappearance of Lotte when I was so young!

The other connection, apart obviously from my wife, is my brother-in-law, who was an escapee from East Germany, in the 60’s. Not actually across the Berlin wall but through its train stations on a cattle truck hiding with his bike. He arrived in the West with his bike and in his cycling gear only!  For me he personified all those thousands of successful and unsuccessful people who attempted to cross the borders of a divided country….each one having a unique story to tell.

So Berlin with your heady satire filled cabaret in the 1930’s, a decade whose culture and music, art and indeed politics has always fascinated and astounded me, with your history of devastation and survival, with your determination to succeed and survive often against the odds, today I celebrate your achievements and wish you well. Today in the midst of tragedy you will gain more strength to go on! 

Long live BERLIN, for me the true spirit of Christmas 2016! 

Christmas Past 1987- A very smelly Christmas!🌲😩

It was my first Christmas in the new flat: temporary accommodation following my separation from my first wife. I had been advised by my divorce lawyer to move into a flat to suit my needs, as I had been sofa hopping for a while, having moved out of the house.  

It was a really nice bachelor flat. As I discovered later,  the landlord only wanted to rent these flats for a few months while the tennants searched for more suitable accommodation. My neighbours were both men in the same position as me awaiting settlements following divorce.

This was my first Christmas after the breakup. Fortunately I was not alone. My new partner would be joining me for the festive season. The flat, nice as it was,  was not really furnished to my taste, so I went looking for some decorations to chher the place up. I decided on a real Christmas tree. Dragging it in from the car and planting in a bucket with soil from the neighbours garden, gathered after dark.

All was looking really festive as I welcomed my new partner for the holidays. We settled in for a cosy Christmas, having bought all the necessary goodies for the few days of rest and relaxation. The tree was hung with a few ornaments I had bought from the supermarket. A long string of beads which sparked in the lights and looked very festive. 

On the first evening we noted a rather strange smell, once the tree was lit. At first I suspected the lights. The nose test revealed nothing. Then the soil was suspected, but no real evidence there. On the second evening the smell was worse. It smelled a bit like cat’s wee. So the soil was changed the following morning. The neighbour having gone away for Christmas. That evening the smell was still there and if anything worse than before. Everything on, in and around the tree was tested with the nose. Friends were invited to sniff and track down the odour but to no avail. In the end by Christmas day the tree had to go. Out it went into the back yard, decorations remained strung along the walls. 

The smell remained! Was the tree still giving off the foul odour from the yard? No, the smell was definitely in the room. The following morning all seemed fine. The smell only came once the lights were on. I now suspected the wiring in the flat and asked the landlord to come and see if he could track it down. I was concerned lest the whole place went up in smoke while we were sleeping. He could offer no explanation but he thought the smell was coming from the decorations hung on the walls. This finding offered a new line of investigation. My partner and I sniffed each decoration in turn. With lights off no smell was detected. Once lights were on the smell began to be present.

What was going on?     Well, it took us another day to work it out. The string of beads was found to be  the cause. I went back to the shop where I bought them and discovered that they were made of some sort of plastic which when warm gave off a pungent smell not unlike cat’s wee. Naturally there was no warning from the shop. Maybe in Korea, where I discovered they were manufactured,  it adds to the festive enjoyment. Perhaps in that country cat’s wee is a perfume worn on special occasions? I don’t know having never visited! But I still wonder if people are walking around in Seoul, smelling gloriously of cat’s urine. Nice!🌲🌲🌲🙀

The day after the day after….

I woke up yesterday to the news from the USA feeling angry! Why I was angry I am still not sure. It seems irrational to feel like this about something for which I had no say. So why anger?  I have spent my working life of over 40 years in education, firstly as a Primary school teacher, then headteacher in three different schools and finally as a Local Authority adviser to schools. For the most part, I was teaching in areas which could be defined as deprived in one sense or another. The children were hungry and deprived both physically and culturally. I struggled from my middle class standpoint to understand what their lives were like and how alien the world of schooling was to them. Even the silence of the classroom was a strange phenomenon coming from a home where life was conducted at several decibels above that of a train station at rush hour. With my dedicated colleagues, we tried to show these children that learning coukd be fun, exciting and also self enhancing. The satisfaction of completing a piece if work above initial expectations felt good for both pupil and teacher. We tried and often failed as we watched those lives descend into crime or failure at times and rarely to see success. We tried desperately to bend the system to meet their needs. I have seen that system narrow further and further to one where education has been replaced with training for skills which are no longer relevant in our world. As someone said on the radio this morning, Our leaders are using the politics of the 19th century, the technology of the 20th century to solve the issues of the 21st century. Just as in education we are teaching the skills which were relevant to the 19th century to teach the children, many of whom will live into the 22nd century!

so why anger? Well today the day after the day after, I feel that my career of trying to dispel ‘ignorance’ has been a waste if time as we now live in a world where that ‘ignorance’ is valued above education. This suits the leadership elite, who want to keep the masses ‘ignorant’. Despite the empty promise of social mobility, the leaders do not want mass education,  as it would challenge their position as leaders. So they keep the world of ‘education’ for the elite and offer a watered down increasingly irrelelevant training regime to the masses. God forbid they should ever really be “educated” enough to understand how duped they are.

So I am angry that people like Trump are able to win votes on lies and false promises which they have no intention of delivering….the poor will be poorer and the rich elite will be safer and richer in a world which keeps them in power.

One other thing, as Trump steps into the White House today to shake the hands of a man he does not have the right to even kiss his shoe, will Michelle Obama absent herself? I hope so. No one should greet him as an equal. He is the worst of humanity and should be treated as such….sorry but anger still rules this morning!