All posts for the month June, 2016

Living in Limbo

Published 27/06/2016 by damselwithadulcimer

The  British Eurosceptics spent years whingeing about the evils and disadvantages of being in the Common Market, later the European Economic Community and then the European Union. If you feed your country enough lies and propaganda some of it is bound to stick, only we hadn’t realised the extent of the belief until a little over half of the electorate (or at least those who went to their polling stations on 23 June) voted to leave the EU. They viewed our membership through the prism of a half empty glass, and negative emotions are dangerous and harmful.

The fallout from Brexit has been unfathomable. Although we were warned that the Pound would plunge and take the FTSE with it, that foreign employers would pull out of the UK and jobs would be placed at risk, the two former journalists running the Leave campaign ran roughshod over the advice of the economists and financial institutions, whose expertise they dismissed with a withering ‘the country is sick of experts’. They fanned the flames of racists and xenophobes, who claimed that they wanted to take their country back. Back from whom? Back from where? This scepter’d isle sits where she always has. There were never any invaders lining up at our borders and ports. And even Nigel Farage’s poster of desperate refugees trying to enter Croatia-Slovenia last year, fraudulently making them appear as if they were in a long queue to enter Britain, was soon debunked for the Fascist lie that it obviously was.

Nick Cohen, writing for The Guardian, pointed out that Boris Johnson has been sacked in the past for lying, both to readers of The Times, and to Michael Howard, who was once the Conservative party leader: During the referendum campaign Johnson was also taken to task for spinning the myth of the £350m that this country was reputed to have sent to the EEC on a weekly basis. He tried to answer the accusations with his usual bluster. However, on Friday morning, once the referendum result was known, Farage openly admitted on television that this had been a ‘mistake’, and the same amount of money, that they had promised to the NHS, would not be remitted.

The country may now be in an uncertain financial mess, but the other campaign that has, divided the UK (and still continues to do so) was immigration. This has been fermenting for a long time, frequently whipped up by the right wing tabloid press, and encouraging people to believe that migrants were coming here, either to take their readers’ jobs, or to claim benefits that the local population were unable to access. There have even been reports in the media of British people turning on those they perceive to be different, harassing them and venting their xenophobic vitriol on them. Apparently some Brexiters seemed to think that a vote to leave the EU would mean foreigners being immediately repatriated. And by ‘foreigners’ they mean people with different accents or different skin colours, even if they were born here.

What is going on? I only know of the 1930s from the history books, but uncertain financial markets, fascism and xenophobia led to the slaughter of millions of people, and I’m not talking about war combatants. Human nature needs a scapegoat, but we can’t turn on our fellow human beings and blame them for the mess we are now in. We have a long record of successfully absorbing migrants, even when they have been invaders or conquerors.

The Romans, Angles, Saxons, Danes and Norman French have all breached Britain’s walls, but we survived. We have not been invaded since 1066, although there were threats in 1588 and during the Second World War. However, we have also provided asylum for those in need: Huguenot French seeking religious freedom, the Irish trying to escape the potato famine, Jews starting new lives away from the Russian Pogroms, and Ugandan Asians, who were expelled by Idi Amin from the country that was their homeland. We provided safety for the more than 9,000 children escaping Nazi occupied Europe and who came here on the Kindertransport between 1938 and 1940, many of whom have gone on to pay their adopted country back in numerous different ways.

Since the Soviet bloc began to disintegrate in 1989 and more Eastern European nations have joined the EU, we have been a magnate for those seeking to improve their lives. Current estimates are that around 2 million people from other European countries have now made Britain their home. We must also not forget that we once had an Empire and members of former Commonwealth countries have also had the right to move here. Their numbers are estimated at around 2.5 million since 1952.

We cannot change human nature, but we can try to calm down and look at facts calmly and realistically. In the early seventeenth century several playwrights were called on to make changes to a play about Sir Thomas More. Experts have confirmed that Shakespeare’s hand is the one that is apparent in the scene where Londoners are baying for the blood of immigrants who they believe are threatening their jobs and livelihoods. He turns More into a skilled orator, pointing out to the mob exactly what they are doing and suggesting they turn the tables and put themselves in the shoes of the migrants. He urges them to imagine themselves as strangers in a foreign land. Shakespeare may even have been referring back to the Bible: ‘The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’[1] Perhaps some of the inhabitants of these islands should take these words to heart.

On top of the above problems, the state of limbo is incredibly unsettling. The referendum polling stations closed a little over four days ago and several hours later David Cameron tendered his resignation. The country has no Prime Minister since David Cameron tendered his resignation on Friday morning and more than half the shadow cabinet have resigned while Jeremy Corbyn still clings to power. And yet Boris Johnson, the man who most of us believe campaigned to leave the EU in an attempt to build his own political CV and achieve his ambition to become Britain’s Premier, appears to have gone to ground. The Brexiters don’t appear to have a plan (at least not one that has been shared with the country) to proceed, Article 50 (the initial step to triggering our formal withdrawal from the EU) has not been invoked, the UK has lost its treasured AAA credit rating, and we are left in a limbo of no-man’s land. And to add insult to injury, the England team has gone out of football’s European cup. Is this really happening or are we all living in some kind of shared parallel existence from which we will wake up to find that it’s all been some kind of horrible dream? What was that slogan half of the country was chanting last week? I think it was something to do with taking back control. Sorry, I think I’ve missed something. We have never been more out of control.

Winning the referendum is the equivalent of drinking from a poisoned chalice, not least because it toppled Johnson’s former friend and schoolmate, brought the above problems with it (and we were warned), and could well precipitate the dismantling of the United Kingdom and a possible further fracturing of the European Union. The Great seems to have fallen out of Britain.



[1] Leviticus 19:33 The Jewish Study Bible (Second Edition 2014) Oxford University Press (eds Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler

Has the World Always Been this Nasty?

Published 22/06/2016 by damselwithadulcimer

A young politician is murdered, probably because of her political views, and a husband is left to bring up their two young children without their mother. Fifty Americans are murdered in a nightclub just because they are gay and have possibly offended a radicalised Muslim. The gloves are removed in the UK referendum debate: truths are distorted, lies are peddled and foreigners are blamed for the country’s woes in thinly disguised xenophobic and racist slurs. Back across the pond Donald Trump demonises Muslims and declares (if he becomes President) that he will get his southern Mexican neighbours to build a wall to keep them out of the United States. Locally in Harrow my bus was on a diversion, much to the rage of a man who let rip with a stream of swear words, used both as nouns and adjectives (believe me his vocabulary was very restricted) and threatened to drag the bus driver off by his beard.

Why are we being so cruel and mean to each other?

As a baby boomer growing up in 1950s Britain I was given a certain set of values, albeit slightly Victorian. However, they have remained with me to this day. I try to have and to show respect for other people and retain an awareness that others share this planet with me. This is not about halo polishing, but I volunteer with others less fortunate than me, and I feel better for it. This world has given to me for more than 60 years and I want to return some of that goodness when and where possible. I hope that others may do the same for me as I get older and may need their support and friendship.

Why show anger? It’s a negative emotion and only succeeds in breeding more ill feeling and certainly doesn’t make you feel good unless you deal with it swiftly and move on. Nothing diffuses rage better than smiling at the person exhibiting the gloom and cynicism of that feeling. Try it next time somebody turns their fury on you.

As a Jew I’m constantly aware of the concept of Tikkun Olam – literally ‘repairing the world.’ We are urged to make our planet a better place by performing acts of loving kindness, becoming involved in charitable works and having a strong sense of social justice. You don’t have to be Jewish to have a similar attitude to the world: you can help anybody, anywhere and donate as little or as much time and energy as you can spare. Until you try you have no idea how much people appreciate even the smallest acts of kindness. Making them feel better is infectious and makes you feel good about yourself. I know that warm, fuzzy glow is a bit of a cliché, but it’s true. Try it yourself and see.

This afternoon an email dropped into my inbox. It came from Hope Not Hate, a movement that was originally set up to combat racial hatred and divisions. The founder, Nick Lowles, is urging us to carry forward the legacy of Jo Cox, who was murdered last week and who I referred to above. In the aftermath of her death family, friends, colleagues, constituents and strangers have all come together to grieve for her loss, but also to emphasise her goodness and desire to make a difference. She was that rare breed of politician who wanted to help others and not to feather her own nest. Hope Not Hate is asking us all to Love Like Jo. I can’t think of a better sentiment, especially on the eve of a cruelly divisive referendum campaign. Tomorrow we will cast our votes and decide whether or not to continue as members of the European Community. Before the polls open we can all pledge to Love Like Jo.

Love Like Jo

Image courtesy of Hope Not Hate

We never forget our loved ones

Published 16/06/2016 by damselwithadulcimer

If you’ve followed my earlier posts you will be aware of how my sister and I cared for our mother as she gradually declined and succumbed to COPD and vascular dementia. The lady who had insisted for years that she wanted to be cremated, had a change of heart in her final months and decided that she wanted a traditional Jewish burial when her time came to join her ancestors.

As Jews we followed the demands of a funeral as soon as possible after death. We sat Shiva, (the Jewish practice of mourning the passing of a close relative in a family home, whilst friends and family visit to pay their condolences, and a Rabbi attends to lead prayers in the evening), although only for one night and not the customary seven.

We also carried out the practice of erecting a headstone over our mum’s grave, but not until at least nine or ten months had passed. This is so the ground has a chance to settle. We gave the tombstone a great deal of thought, finally deciding on a colour that we thought mum would have liked, and choosing one that was not too high as she herself never grew beyond 4 feet eleven inches. In addition we took a great deal of care over the wording on, and the design of, the memorial monument. Apart from the traditional Hebrew lettering, we chose the epithet, in English, ‘To live in the hearts of those we love is not to die’. This has rung true more and more over the last year or so.

Mum is often in my thoughts and it’s hard to stop myself short when something happens and I would love to pick up the phone and tell her about it. She used to say the same thing to me in respect of her own mother.

My cousin recently reminded me that it was 45 years since her father, my uncle and mum’s brother, died. Returning to the Jewish religion, we mark the annual anniversary of the passing of loved ones, but we commemorate the date according to the Hebrew calendar. This is known in Yiddish as the Yahrzeit, literally the season. When the date comes round we light a memorial candle on the evening before the actual day (Jewish days begin at sunset the previous evening) and this candle burns for 24 hours. My uncle’s candle has now finished burning. I also asked the Rabbi to read out his name during the Shabbat service on Saturday morning, which is done on the closest Saturday to the Yahrzeit.

My awareness has now been brought to the death of my own father 34 years ago, the date of which will be commemorated at the end of this month. Once again his name will be read out before we recite Kaddish, the prayer for the dead that is chanted both at funerals and Saturday morning and festival services, as well as on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), that most sacred of the High Holy Days, a time spent repenting and fasting. Included in the service is a portion known as Yizkor (a Hebrew word meaning ‘remember’). When I was a child my mother used to send me out of the Sanctuary for this section of the prayers as my  parents were still alive. Now that they are no longer with me, I remain, remember them, and grieve for what I have lost.

My own Liberal Jewish congregation also offers an alternative ‘spiritual and meditative experience’ to the Yizkor prayers on Yom Kippur. This is a much more intimate and inclusive occasion, and one which brought back the memories of mum’s death with deep poignancy when I took part last year for the first time since she had left us. Perhaps I should also mention that the Hebrew date of mum’s passing was on Kol Nidrei, the evening that commences before Yom Kippur, but which signals that the Day of Atonement has begun. So not only do I remember my mother at that holiest time of the Jewish calendar, I can never forget that was when she died too.

Therefore Judaism provides reminders of those who have passed, but who remain forever in our hearts.

To blog or not to blog

Published 08/06/2016 by damselwithadulcimer

For months I’ve been acutely aware that I’ve neglected my blog. Why pay for a domain name and not post? Life seems to be so busy with family, volunteering and continuing to work part-time. Not to mention the prevarication brought on by just sitting at your laptop, reading emails and posts, responding to them and then uploading items that you think will interest others. What on earth happened to all the leisure time we were promised for the 21st century? Or perhaps it’s more a case of employing better time management skills.

Six months ago – I can’t believe we’re almost halfway through 2016 – I realised that I’d allowed myself to fall into some kind of semi-hibernation. Mum had been gone for well over eighteen months, and it seemed to be taking a long time to adapt to a life that didn’t involve worrying about, and caring for, her; a period spent constantly on tenterhooks, wondering when the next phone call would alert me of another fall, or an urgent summoning of the paramedics.

So, since the beginning of this year I have made attempts to get out more into the world, or more precisely to go to London, on my doorstep. Of course I’ve kept up with friends (well, to a certain extent) and continued with my volunteering, almost as if I need to care for others as I no longer have mum. But I’ve also made a point of visiting more galleries and exhibitions, especially when I realised that I was paying annually for my Arts Pass card, but never using it and therefore not saving myself the money that I could. I’ve got partially involved with a theatre going group, so am able to see plays about once a month, and now actually have others to chat to during the intervals. But I’ve also managed to get myself back into reading: my first and forever love. If I’d never acquired a passion for reading I would never have improved my own writing skills.

Currently I’m working my way through Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. With only about 100 pages to go before I finish the final book, The Story of the Lost Child, I’m in an ambivalent state. I can’t wait to get to the conclusion, but will also feel bereft to have reached the end of a saga, spanning some five decades, that examines the friendship of two young girls as they grow and mature into older women, as well as painting a broad sweep of Neapolitan life with its background of politics and social change.

So the evolving Sandra is now going out to meet one of her daughter’s for a bite to eat, and will then be attending a thank you party for one of her volunteering groups. I promise to come back very, very soon.