Armistice Day today. Remembrance Sunday this weekend.
"In May, David Beckham, the
"In May, David Beckham, theformer England football captain visited Helmand Province in Afghanistan where around 9,500 British troops are based. He joined the troops for breakfast, took part in a question and answer session and then visited the camp’s hospital. His visit raised morale and meant a lot to everyone out there. One of the soldiers he met was Private Ryan Hewitt, 18. A few weeks later, Ryan Hewitt lost both his legs, a finger and suffered other horrific injuries when he stepped on a bomb whilst on patrol. His legs had to be amputated on the battlefield and he was airlifted to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. The latest news is that Ryan has impressed doctors with his rapid progress. David Beckham sent a get-well message to Ryan who described it as ‘an incredible boost’."
Picture isn't mine but I like it and it feels appropriate to honour the Iraqi christians being ethnically cleansed - please have a read of this. Ed West is a brilliant political writer. I don't feel I can agree about chalking this up to Tony Blair. People have to be responsible at some point and I feel that Iraq itself needs to take this lead. This is a fine piece. This too is one of the best posts I've read in a while
What kind of a society asks this question? What business is it of the State? And who assigned my gender??
I sometimes feel like we are beyond hope. The West in general.
A certain faction in western society fails to recognise its part in lecturing us all. I eavesdrop unwillingly on liberal conversations that beggar belief at times. Jon Stewart poster boy champion, high priest, of "sensible politics" against an American right wing which "explodes with hyperbole over any liberal move" - the thread of conversation today in the office. Give me a break? This would be the same Jon Stewart who gave a stage to a hate mongering fundamentalist who backed a fatwa against one Salman Rushdie because he wrote a book about Islam. That whole unsavoury debacle in the history of relations with Islamic fundamentalism was a precursor to 9/11 and shapes our pathetic response today. Mr Stewart shrugs when politely challenged by Mr Rushdie. Yet that same Mr Stewart would never contemplate giving the stage over to a Christian fundamentalist who called for the murder of abortionists or say who has appallingly ugly views on gay people which he felt the need to share with us all.
In the West we live in a fractured, broken, weird ugly hypocritical finger waggingly lecturing societies and there are days when I wonder what it is we are trying to achieve. It feels oppressive. Conservative values and Christianity is sneered at, basic family values are old fashioned and unnecessary and if you happen to think otherwise, even mildly so like myself, you find yourself a persona non grata quick enough.. or labeled extreme or a phobe. A word I have come to welcome in that it means I won't indulge the status quo of identity politics. These days social engineering is forced through in legislation in the way that clerical factions could only dream about. I often read atheist and secularist views - they go bat shit crazy at christians and chalk them up along side Islamic fundies deploring the Christian way of life as in some way connected. Really? And so what in the hell have they all got to be so smug about? What's so splendid and balanced and wonderful about secular society?
Society needs and craves a level of decency and community to function brilliantly. It has been at the heart of the western success story. A good number of people enjoy christian faith, they find community in it, they enjoy the shared values that stems from family - which is at the heart of the whole message. They do not broadcast their religious values but they take strength from them (Unless of course they are pushed into a corner). This good natured sense of unity ripples outwards into society. That we have stripped this out of main stream society – and by that I refer to our culture, education and media – means we have lost that sense of community rooted in a shared identity and value based understanding which stretched not just around this country but throughout the West. None of that means you have to have faith to value the result of it. I grew up with an atheists mother and a devout father. It doesn't mean you should have religious beliefs foisted onto you. Equally I grew up with people of different faiths who respected mine and at least valued the conservativism found at the heart of it all. These days as christianity is pilloried out of society, they are to be found adopting burqas and niqabs. A rejection of failing secular society. And frankly when questions like the ones above become the norm in the simple business of applying to be a "London Ambassador" to the Olympics, a volunteer position, I question which intrudes ever more creepily into our lives and carves society up into sections it can judge from some quango pulpit?
Identity politics is about the exercise of overt and legitimate hate. The holier than thou can preach at the plebs and call them ugly names. To generalise about their views. They get to ask them unnecessary questions about their private lives. And treat everyone differently. Then, after decades of agitating and demonstrating and forcing radical agendas where they carpet bombed politics with words like fascist and racist, they stand up there and have the nerve to pretend to be the arbiters of good balanced non extreme political discourse.
Well, WE own property, actually.
We found a place, put in an offer, forgot that the government takes a whopping % in taxes so retracted the offer, offered a lower offer, months of waiting for the bank to get into second or third gear and process our paperwork, a nervous vendor who almost pulled out it took the bank so long, a solicitor (lawyer) who had his head up his arse at times andso got on my ****, a heated exchange with the bank in which I risked all by calling them "lazy bastards" followed by a vendor who moved the goalposts from exchange and completion mid October to exchange and complete end November. Plus of course the $$$$$ that drained out of the bank account. Then to top off the council in East London which runs the borough we are moving into - as you may have heard - recently elected an Islamist as Mayor. Yay! Oh well. Do I seem the kind to sport a burqa? Nah.
In between I've been up and down to the hospital like a fiddlers elbow after discovering a complication from earlier in the year which thankfully has been managed very well (thank you private healthcare!). I also flicked open my blog one day recently to read some ugly troll comments which given their personal nature made me close up shop for a long old while to give me time to think about the intertubes (as Buck calls them). Thank you so much for the emails. I appreciated them a lot.
And here we now are. A man has been round to price up the move. I've been buying new prints, artwork and happily perusing furniture websites. All our current furniture bar a few favourite family items is charity bound - a charity souced through the Council collect it all up the week of our move. How efficient!
It's already November, people. November! This year has flown by. Hope everyone is keeping well? I'm back good and proper to bore you all senseless with my witterings. If anyone is still passing by.
Bit of fun for the kitchen above.
(I really hope you don't think I've come unhinged if I share this with you)
You know how when you have zero expectations of some plans and that because they were made by someone else, you shrug your shoulders and tag along easily enough and it turns out to be a great big huge exciting amazing night out? That is pretty much how I would summarise the last week watching the Pope in town. Historically of course it was a huge affair and utterly absorbing for me as I adore English history. Politically in view of the controversy that rightfully follows the Church everywhere it was a searching questioning kind of political experience. However, connecting with something a frankly almost obscure German man would say was not something I expected at all to happen.
As various stories shared of a decade of drug laced parties will attest to I don't think I am a prudish bore about life but it is no secret I suppose that I find modern culture too brutal and ugly sometimes and society, year by year, a bit of a modern cultural challenge. I have mentioned it a few times here. I am out of sorts with the secular society I find myself living in, contrasted with the more religious, Catholic, one I grew up with.
If you can guess how old I am you will maybe come to understand how recent these huge social changes here are. I, we are literally living through them. If you watched the sweating and the hand wringing of the secularists and atheists here in the run up to this visit you will appreciate the anxious strangle hold they currently have on social and political debate. And let's face it the only religious experience of any major impact on modern British society to have occurred here in my lifetime was an attack on the Underground in which a bunch of people were killed.
So in that last respect, this visit has turned out to be a positive experience of religion and more than that it has brought back into sharp focus very fond memories of a wonderful Convent education from age 5 to 16. I had rejected the whole essence of that experience in my twenties and now because I figured patriarchy was the game in the Church and I would never play along with that.
Or would I.
I found two quotes to share that summarise things right at this moment after listening to this hugely intellectual man speak, and the extent to which I am weighing this all up in terms of value to me as a person, my politics and living here in the UK. (A feels the same way).
The first is a quote from the man the Pope beatified on Sunday - a word I had to look up I was so out of touch with Catholicism. His name is Cardinal Newman:
From Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England (1851) (Lecture 7)
This is what we call an enlightened age: we are to have large views of things; everything is to be put on a philosophical basis; reason is to rule: the world is to begin again; a new and transporting set of views is about to be exhibited to the great human family. Well and good; have them, preach them, enjoy them, but deign to recollect the while, that there have been views in the world before you: that the world has not been going on up to this day without any principles whatever; that the Old Religion was based on principles, and that it is not enough to flourish about your “new lamps,” if you would make us give up our “old” ones. Catholicism, I say, had its First Principles before you were born: you say they are false; very well, prove them to be so: they are false, indeed, if yours are true; but not false merely because yours are yours. While yours are yours it is self-evident, indeed, to you, that ours are false; but it is not the common way of carrying on business in the world, to value English goods by French measures, or to pay a debt in paper which was contracted in gold. Catholicism has its First Principles, overthrow them, if you can; endure them, if you cannot. It is not enough to call them effete because they are old, or antiquated because they are ancient.
The second is a response to me on another blog where I shared how I felt about all this. It knocked me for six and then some:
I am a 40-something professional woman in Ireland. Alison's sentiments mirror mine almost exactly.
Speaking with like-minded friends during and since the Pope's visit, I sense an almost palpable collective reawakening of spiritual consciousness amongst us, not manifested in a dramatic sense, but rather in a shared exercise of questioning, in parallel with a quieter personal quest to re-examine our spiritual dimension and reconsider our lives. Questions that have been spurring me in my own personal quest have been:
Morally, if I do not stand for something, have I inadvertently placed myself in the sorry position of in fact standing for nothing?
Watching the protesters as they align themselves to groupings with whom they share little in terms of morals and human values, and indeed in some cases even collide morally, have I too, by default, allowed myself to become similarly aligned to groupings with whom I morally collide?
Observing the sheer happiness in the faces and personas of the Catholic people whom I saw welcoming the Pope, I ask myself why it is that my own experience of that same depth of happiness remains solidly embedded in the past - in my days as a practising Catholic. Despite living my life as a good, kind and caring person, why has that depth of happiness not manifested itself since I stopped practising and proclaiming my faith two decades ago? Why have I suddenly tasted it again this weekend?
In my secular lifestyle I know where my mental and physical dimensions begin and end. But as a three-dimensional being, where does my spiritual dimension begin and end? And without a fixed and unswerving spiritual reference how can I ever even begin to find out?
Why does life suddenly feel exciting?
Best wishes to others who, like me, are finding that fitting life into just two dimensions is no longer a comfortable fit..
A and I decided to ditch our travel plans to Italy - we didn't fancy the airports, queues and stress. Instead we hired a car, threw a rucksack in it and headed out on the Westway and A40 ...to the Wild West. Out west towards three Shires - Herefordshire, Monmouthshire, Gloucestershire - the border of England and Wales.
We arrived at our destination. A campsite deep in the countryside...
with a small gathering of Sioux Indian tipis... all locally made in the traditional style, alongside Mongolian yurts (Hobbit houses). They inhabit a little 11 acre ancient woodland and grassland valley with views across the Malvern Hills. Silence and acres of woodland, meadows, farmland and the all important Rights of Way through farmland and fields.
and a kitchen with a fridge (0ne per tipi) and ovens, and a clay oven for pizza baking too...and hot showers!
The stunningly beautiful River Wye carves a 25 mile stretch through a valley nestled between those shires. We admired a tiny section from the 16th century Inn, watching a man pull groups of hikers across the river from east to west using a wire and a wooden pont.
The Saracens Head from which we admired the view above. Henry V who fought off the Saracens at Agincourt was born in Monmouth, a small town on the border of England and Wales about 10 miles up the road
We took a canoe down a 9 mile stretch of the calm river in between sunshine and clouds reflecting in the water. I wish we could have taken more pics to truly show it's beauty but being new to canoes we were focused on staying afloat and keeping the camera dry.
With only the sheep to see us get tangled up in the willow tree boughs at the water's edge when we bumped over the shallow "rapids". Bit tricky actually!
The next day we followed the instructions nailed to a tree in the woodland. Ready made tracks originally built for the previous owners huskies sledging practice loop the woodland floor. We followed one round to the Oak tree and out into the top field.
The Oak Tree
The public Right of Way across the farmland. You could hear the seeds on the newly harvested fields "popping" in the warm September sunshine. Not something we hear every day in London.
Hedgerows packed with blackberries, haws, rosehips and overhung with elderberries lined the tiny country lane at the bottom of the fields.
The New Harp Inn under a Horse Chestnut tree, served over 80 different kinds of beers, ciders and a delicious local rose wine. Yes England and Wales make fine white and rose wines these days.
It was lovely trecking back to our Tipi, cosily laid out with sheepskin rugs, a raised mattress and a wood burning stove inside with kettle and mini camping stove for a morning cuppa.
The campsite has a few tables under canvas, with old jam jars with fresh wild flowers, tealights and lanterns. So quiet and peaceful.
Outside we had a firepit and a BBQ and a view into the woodland at sunset.
We took long walks in the countryside and hired bikes to take in the beauty of the magnificent Royal Forest of Dean. Miles and miles of forest and tracks for mountain bikes or a casual ride through. We opted for the latter.
Miles of tall and green. Ancient woodland and tall pines
Fluffy mushrooms and flat wet chestnut coloured ones..
I foraged for berries and collected handfuls of these ....
We parked our bikes up and slurped on some local cider in our picnic cooler
In the evening we walked to the local hamlet for dinner..
The pretty hamlet
The candlelit interior, stone floors and chatty locals
A wonderful dinner, all local produce
Watching A build another fire. He loved building them and I loved watching. Listening to it crackle in the silence around us. An English fairyland meets Sioux Indian living. It was all very perfect really.
We put in an offer on a place in East London. 3.5 months and no questions asked later The Bank just approved our mortgage. 3.5 months! What the hell were they doing? Buying a first pad is stressful.
Oh my God we are finally about to own property. Not the best of economic housing market climates to be announcing that proudly but hell...This feels like a small victory for some reason. Considering the size of the mortgage for the City square meterage involved and the huge deposit they required I am not even sure why it should feel like a victory. Maybe it's the fact that the offer I hurriedly threw out there back in June I later retracted when A told me how much we would owe the government in stamp duty. I went back in with a lower offer and more or less said take it or leave it. They accepted. I then found out that it's a sought after building and I'd got a great deal. Or maybe it's the the thought that we are no longer paying off someone else's mortgage and lining their pockets with rent payments. If this goes through all that is missing is a family. I can't dwell on that for now, it's just too raw. My mind is on furniture. I'm already mentally filling the place with brand new kit.........
Today’s lunch break was, unusually, an enormous irritation.
I made my way to a small boutique style café in Soho which serves particularly interesting vegetarian food - yet another diet direction of late. I looked forward to sitting in this pretty, peaceful little establishment, minding my own business. I arrived early to secure a spot and sat at one of only two high empty tables in the place (it's that cute) and ordered my lovely salad. I watched various people come in and out of the café and order take-away or gaze lovingly at the beautiful arrangement of home-made cakes in the little window. Outside in the background people darted in and out of doors for cover from the ceaseless rain which seems to always decide to wait til lunchtime or home time to put in an appearance. Our Summery weather of late has crashed and died in a spectacularly grim fashion.
Eventually a group of extremely well spoken young women came in. Polished looking. Chatting away. They rather apologetically asked me if I would mind if they shared my table. The seating means you all become best buddies in a heart beat whether you want to or not. Of course I didn’t mind since that was the nature of this little place and assumed the chatter would be low key and banal given our collective circumstances. I hadn’t bargained at all on them discussing in suddenly super obnoxious tones who they had voted for in the ongoing Labour leader elections. As Party members. And why. One of them was American. She listened and questioned her friends about the leadership contest. This went on for some time and for most of it I managed to escape into my food or click on my iphone and text or email friends. Anything to avoid being by default pulled right into the heart of their politics with no way of escape. Eventually however the conversation turned into one where Boris our mayor was a posh cretin and Conservatives are all “disconnected Etonites”. Then to top it all off the American girl chimed in to open up a conversation about how racist Republicans connived to make a big deal of that bloody mosque. For no other reason than they were racist.
You have to appreciate that this was not a conversation at the next table or behind me. This was a conversation into which I was plunged whether I wanted to be or not as though I were one of their group.
I’m sick to death of the assumption in political conversation that everyone these days is a leftist and that right of centre must simply shut up and speak in hushed embarrassed tones or accept Left is the only polite political conversation to be had out loud these days. So that was my opening shot. “Ok I’ve had enough” I addressed them quietly, smiling.
“Just how unfeeling and immature is it to decide for some of the tragic families and co workers of 9/11 victims or anyone else opposed to this mosque’s location what they think? Or how stupid is it to assume that great swathes of people in America, some 60% who are opposed to the location of this mosque are irrelevant racists? Or that their feelings should be automatically chalked up as racist because you say so? What gives you the right to decide that the argument is about banning Islam in NYC? It’s not - even if your dimwitted President decided it should be. It’s quite possibly about tolerance of other people’s feelings outside of your selective leftist groups”. Stumbling over her words to find a retort I decided not to give her the chance and addressed her friends. “Unrelatably Eton eh? I’ve never heard anything quite so moronic as a bunch of upper class newbie graduates from the Home Counties who were undoubtedly funded all the way through University by mummy and daddy indulging the tired old class debate wherein you, ladies, you in particular sporting that whopping great Tiffany’s engagement ring and the Manolos, feel you can better relate to an out of work manual labourer up in Newcastle. Tyne and Wear ladies. That would be the area the Labour Party ruthlessly shafted, whilst pretending to be for the working classes. Before they were outright dumped out of government having left the country up to it's eyeballs in debt. Noone gives a crap who Labour elects as it’s leader. Least of all me”. “Next time you decide to sit this close to someone who can’t leave because she just ordered her lunch and is now wedged in with you lot don’t assume being in Soho means everyone shares the same dim witted liberal point of view. Speak in the hushed embarrassed tones you ought to given the mess your Party made”.
Absolute silence descended on a table full of flushed red faces which I decided not to up and leave as I’d just ordered a cup of tea. After a minutes silence and some mortified looks the conversation moved on to knickers. Thankfully.
I believe what really happens in history is this:
the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him. The practical form it takes is this: that, while the old man may stand by some stupid custom, the young man always attacks it with some theory that turns out to be equally stupid.
— G.K. Chesterton
In between hospitals and heartache, Summer has threaded itself effortlessly into my life and I am so very grateful. One American described this so perfectly today in a piece about enjoying life in Britain.
"British summers rarely deserve the opprobrium that’s so often laid on their short-lived shoulders. Compare them with those in eastern North America: a stupefying, three-month marination in a thundery haze of steamy days and nights that never cool down. Or East Asia’s metropolises, where still swampier conditions reign for fully half the year. I would never trade a London summer for a Toronto, Warsaw or Tokyo one. A good summer day in Britain is one of life’s finest pleasures: dry and warm but rarely scorching. Their very scarcity results in the sort of fevered indulgence you rarely see in California. And at Britain’s lofty latitudes the lovely, near-horizontal evening light, unlike the summer itself, seems to last forever"
It certainly does - even as the evenings are slowly starting to draw out.
We intend to squeeze in some camping. The closest experience I will get to this is Herefordshire and the River Wye. I won't wish it upon us too quickly as that will mean wishing on the end of Summer. We aren't going til September 6th. And between now and then is one big old project that is causing us a fair amount of stress right now if offering up a welcome distraction: Buying our first appartment. The project resides with the bank at the moment. Sigh.
That mosque represents everything that's wrong with the modern world. The perpetually infantilised, rights-enshrined "up yours we're doing it because we can" brigade.
I discovered the pretty statues of Liberty in a Paris jewellery window, standing proud in front of the famous church in St German des Pres which you can just make out in the window. I realise you in America greatly value freedoms enshrined - but I feel the same way about that group of christian nutjobs rocking up to the funerals of dead American soldiers as I do that bloody mosque being built close to Ground Zero. It's obnoxious, selfish and wrong.