November 21, 2011

My new urban life

Filed under: Canal,Oxford,Politics and history — Duchess @ 10:17 pm

Agenda 21 mooring sign

Way back last summer I started to blog about how I had a new mooring.

“These days,” I wrote, “when the British Waterways inspector strides down the towpath in formal dark trousers and white short-sleeved shirt with navy epaulettes (which I guess someone in HR thought made their employees look proper nautical), I neither duck out of sight nor race out to offer him coffee and biscuits, my former alternating strategies for dealing with Pangolin’s semi-legal mooring status.  Now I don’t care when I see him tapping my license number into his hand-held electronic thingy.  He can whistle for a biscuit.”

It seemed a promising enough start, though a little unkind, and not, in fact, even true, strictly speaking.  I wouldn’t have denied the BW guy a biscuit, if I had expected him.

I’ve seen Richard (we are on a first name basis now I know how many sugars he takes) only once since I moved the boat nine miles south to just inside the Oxford city limits.  It was one of the few hot days of the summer, and I was trying to turn the clumps of nettles, brambles and ivy that line the towpath into a garden.  Every time I stuck my spade in the ground it hit rubble.

I was resting on my shovel and surveying the mound of rocks I had uncovered when Richard appeared with his epaulettes and electronics.  I glanced nervously at the rocks.  The BW rules say that I am not to alter the mooring in any way, and my biscuit tin was empty.

“I do 15 miles,” Richard replied, in response to my surprise at seeing him this far south – I thought it would be someone else’s patch — then, nodding at my boat, “I heard you moved down to Agenda 21.”  He glanced at the mound of rocks and added reassuringly, “You’ve got to make the environment friendly, don’t you?  Well, friendly to yourself, at the end of the day.”  Then he looked only half expectant before he said cheerio and headed down the towpath.  Three more miles to Oxford centre and the end of his shift.

That’s a simple enough story to relate, but I got exhausted thinking I had to explain the Byzantine rules of how British Waterways allocates moorings (in theory and in practice), how I went from squatter to semi-legal to legal, and what on earth is Agenda 21.

My exhaustion lasted all summer and well into the fall, but now I think I can explain it just one, two, three:

1. In the Old Days, when we were all Socialists, there were waiting lists.  I came to England in 1979; there were waiting lists for a telephone, for a cooker, for a car.  Thirty-some years later waiting lists were long since abandoned for almost everything, except moorings and medicine.  I think they just forgot about moorings.

2. As soon as Pangolin changed hands, her moorings were forfeit. I went on the waiting list and squatted sanguinely; it probably would have been my turn eventually if some wise guy civil servant hadn’t spent too much time on eBay getting bright ideas: as we are all Capitalists now, why shouldn’t the government throw out the lists and auction moorings on the internet instead?

3.  Meanwhile, I made a deal with Purple-Haired Emma to sublet her mooring while she went off cruising.  Subletting is not allowed, but “berth sitting for short periods” is, which Emma and I decided was much the same thing. I was well into my second year of the “short period” when the Agenda 21 mooring came up for auction. I probably could have carried on for another decade or two plying inspectors with biscuits, but I never knew when Emma would want her spot back, and anyway, I am mostly naturally law-abiding.  After four and a half years, I really wanted my own space. As is the way with auctions, I bid a little more than my absolute top price.

Which just leaves me to explain Agenda 21, an action plan that came out of the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio.  Right around the time of the summit, some developers wanted to buy the Oxford boat yards, throw out all the boaters, fill in the basin and build flats.  There was a great big fight that went on for almost a decade.

In the end the boat yards did close and the flats got built, but the boaters weren’t evicted: a long stretch of residential moorings was allowed along the canal, from the centre of Oxford to the Ring Road on the edge of the city.  The moorings were designated Agenda 21, in honour of the summit’s by then nearly forgotten plan for sustainable living. Ever after, anyone joining these moorings had to agree to “respect and take up” 10 “aspirations” and “abide by” another 6 “guidelines”.  (I’ve copied them below.)

Despite a lamentable failure to embrace the subjunctive, the original drafters of these aspirations and guidelines meant well, though I am not sure they were a lot more careful of their science than they were of their grammar.  Diesel engines and coal fires, almost universal fittings on canal boats, are not environmentally friendly.

Another ten years on, a good crop of nettles growing up the side of the boat and a clandestine electricity feed seem the most obvious mark of an Agenda 21 boater.

Pangolin has neither! (though I plead guilty to the whopping great diesel engine and the coal fire).  Nevertheless, I am willing to do my best toward the aspirations and the guidelines:  I haven’t recently threatened anyone with violence or persecution, or ever thrown ashes in the canal, and I stand ready to respect any vole or Interested Scientist who should happen by.

In the meantime I grow flowers and feed the birds.  As the BW guy said, You’ve got to make the environment friendly to yourself, at the end of the day.
The Aspirations:

Energy and natural resources are used efficiently.
Pollution is limited to levels which a natural system can cope with.
Waste is minimised.
The diversity of nature is valued and protected.
Local distinctiveness and diversity are valued and protected.
Health is promoted by clean, safe and pleasant environments.
People live without fear of personal violence and persecution.
All sections of the community are empowered to participate in decision-making.
A wide range of living styles is accepted.
The existence of environmentally sensitive areas such as vole habitats and the Sites of Special Scientific Interest are respected.

The Guidelines:

There are no site-specific services (e.g. mains electricity, water, phone lines, post boxes
There is no towpath lighting.
Be aware of generator use.  We adhere to the British Waterways regulations and in addition prefer to use solar and wind power where appropriate.
We undertake not to put harmful waste in the canal (i.e. engine oil, ashes).  All waste is disposed of appropriately.
We endeavour to share knowledge and skills for environmentally conscious living (i.e. awareness of waste disposal, biodegradable detergent, etc).
We will continue to meet and discuss relevant issues for our community in an open forum.

May 7, 2010

Hung parliaments

Filed under: misc,Politics and history,Village life — Duchess @ 3:32 pm

Well, it is all very exciting, but frankly a bit of a disaster.

After our usual, orderly elections, the new PM (or the re-blessed old one) cheerfully swings round Buck House in a posh chauffeur driven car, kisses hands with the Queen and Bob’s your uncle. Meanwhile the old PM calls in the movers and slinks out the back door of No. 10 Downing Street.

By lunch time it’s all over. It is a pretty brutal business – one lot moves out and the other lot moves in before anybody has even gone to bed. None of this genteel US elect a President in November and install him in late January stuff. The Brits can be hard nosed and brisk when they want to be. Maybe it’s a legacy of all those upper class nannies: Spit spot, chop chop, and no dawdling!

The process of replacing one Prime Minister with another, or renewing the old one, is called Kissing of Hands and really does require contact with the Royal digits. That’s exactly what we expect along with our boiled eggs and marmite soldiers the morning after election day.

Instead, this morning, Her Majesty, having read the exit polls announced that she would see no one (and therefore not accept any kisses) at least until lunch time. Given Gordon Brown’s unfortunate election encounter with another British grandmother, the PM wasn’t in a position to complain. HM was likely to be a grandmother too far.

In the event, Her Majesty saw no one, and her hands have remained officially untouched. For the first time since 1974 we have an inconclusive election result. The stock market and sterling are falling fast (good time to book that visit to the UK, as long as you are willing to dodge the twin perils of airline strikes and volcanic ash).

Neither of the two main parties got enough seats to form a government, so the folks famous for coming last, wearing socks with their sandals, and growing beards get to decide which of the two front runners they’ll prop up. I expect it almost looks like power to someone who has lived on warm beer for four or five decades.

While the sock guys are making up their minds whom to back, political junkies (like me) are walking around like zombies, sleepless after a night of election results and a day of political horse trading, drunk on the heady mixture of caffeine and political spin. Who needs booze? The lucky ones (mostly Conservatives) have mixed champagne with their spin, but everyone is exhausted – and this could go on for days.

Thank you to all who asked if I had managed to sort out my voting problems, now that I am of no fixed address. I learned that you don’t have to live somewhere to vote, you just have to prove that you have a connection to a place.

If all else fails you can declare yourself homeless and still register.  That casual and humane flexibility is also very British. 

So, although I was deleted when my house was rented, I re-registered at my old home. 

The village was looking its best, as it always does in spring, with each walled garden draped in aubrieta, and blue bells, grape hyacinths, cherry trees and magnolias just at their peak. I talked to a few of my old neighbours and drove past my house. The pub has changed hands, and finally (after about 25 years) also changed a few items on the menu. It is still overpriced, and still felt just like home.

I voted for the socks and sandal guys. I’m daft that way.

Ho hum. Interesting times.

April 6, 2010

Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?

Filed under: misc,Politics and history — Duchess @ 2:21 pm

After months of nursing the worst kept secret in Europe, Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown finally revealed the next general election date.

First he had to visit the Queen to get her permission to dissolve Parliament.  Since “dissolve” sounds a bit drastic (and possibly painful) the press usually turns that verb into a noun, and instead explains that the PM asks HM for a “dissolution”. 

Never mind.  It amounts to the same thing: the Prime Minister takes a flash car to Buckingham Palace, bows to Her Majesty (who, like everyone else, has known for months what’s coming) and before you can say Peter Mandelson, everyone is melting.

And now I’ve got to work out how to get a vote, non-person that I have become, ever since I moved onto my boat.  My tenants will be registered at my address and they will have removed my name, assuming I would re-register elsewhere. 

The problem is, my boat has no address…  And, though I get parcels and deliveries at the pub, I don’t think I can claim to be resident there.  Once upon a time only landowners could vote in this country.  It still seems to be true that only people with addresses can.

Meanwhile my Baby will be a first time voter this election, and she is very keen.  She has signed up to volunteer for the Liberal Democrats.  Her father says she can put up posters in the windows of his house in north Oxford.  He is wondering if that will cost him business as an economist-for-hire, but he’s willing to take the risk.  His beloved grandmother was an early 20th century member of the Liberal party, and nostalgia beats billable hours.

As for me, though I voted in the European elections last year, this will also be my first general election.  I became a British citizen a few weeks too late to vote last time. So I asked my Baby to find out from her Lib Dem organiser friends how her homeless mother could be franchised.

She declined.  She thoroughly disapproves of the way I live, and when I ask why, she gives me a long list, beginning: 1. You shouldn’t risk drowning when you cross the threshold in the morning.

Right.  I’ve got until 6 May to work out how, and for whom, to cast my vote. 

When it is all done, dissolving will make way for kissing of hands.  There’s nothing in the world like British politics.  What larks!

June 4, 2009

Tonight was my first time

Filed under: A long way from home,misc,Politics and history,Village life — Duchess @ 3:48 pm

I have lived well over half my life in the UK, but I only became a citizen in 2005, weeks before the last general election and too late to register.  Tonight was my first opportunity to cast a vote as a UK national.

It isn’t a proper election, really.  For most of the country it is merely a European election, something even most Europeans, don’t care about — Slovenia turned out less than 17% last time around.  Only for a very few of us was it also time to elect our local representatives.

Even so, my village was buzzing.  It took me nearly an hour to walk the quarter mile from my house to the polling station because I kept running into people and everyone was in the mood to chat.  Each one of us clutched our polling card, sent by the Royal Mail, second class post, and headed in bold capitals: Representation of the People Act.

There are no hanging chads in England.  We are given a piece of paper and sent to a makeshift booth (not so much as a curtain) where there is a nice fat pencil.  We are enjoined to use that pencil to put an X next to one and only one candidate or party.  Then we fold our ballot and put it in a good old fashioned ballot box.  The local election results will be counted out tonight, paper by paper.  The European votes will be sealed until Sunday; by then 375 million people in 27 countries will have been offered a ballot.

I missed altogether the chance to vote for the Monster Raving Loony Party, a regular election contender in the first couple of decades I spent in the UK, but since the death in 1999 of their leader, Screaming Lord Sutch, apparently it’s no longer an option.  Tonight they weren’t on either of my ballot papers though the party is still publishing a manifesto.  (I like the idea of arming school nurses with dart guns to administer vaccinations during playtime – recess to Americans – more fun for the nurses and less stressful for the children.)

Nor have we heard much recently from the Natural Law Party, but long ago, before I had a vote, I paid taxes to fund their election broadcasts about Yogic Flying.  (I’m not complaining: they were very entertaining — I am only sorry I can’t share my memories of them, it seems they were too long before youtube. )

Tonight there were, nevertheless, plenty of other parties on the long ballot paper I picked up at the polling station:

British National Party – Protecting British Jobs.  These people exclude non whites from membership, advocate zero immigration and no imported goods (crumbs! what would we eat, wear, watch, drive?).  Their official policy is to pay all non whites to emigrate to other countries.

Christian Party – “Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship”.   I never heard of these folks, and don’t know anything about their policies but I am wondering why the quotes.  Is it a rumour? 

Conservative Party.  No tag line, but we know who they are.

English Democrats – Putting England first. 

Jury Team – Democracy, Accountability, Transparency.  Another one I have never heard of.   Jury Team? 

Liberal Democrats.  They wear socks with their sandals, drink warm beer and grow beards all round (ladies and gents).  On the plus side their economic guy knows how to waltz and has a son who is an opera star. 

No2EU – Yes to Democracy.  Foreigners might have noticed that we are just a wee bit ambivalent about Europe.

Pro Democracy: Libertas EU.  Like I said.

Socialist Labour Party.  Back on familiar territory.

The Green Party.  Sandals without the socks.

The Peace Party – Nonviolence, Justice, Environment.  I’m guessing Mom and apple pie too, but I never heard of this party either.

The Roman Party – Ave!  I am beginning to think I made a mistake not supporting them.  They sound like fun.

United Kingdom First

United Kingdom Independence Party – We know about these folk.  They have several MEPs (Member of European Parliament).  Some of them are in jail.

In the end I voted for the party of the guy who married a woman from Kenya and sired an opera star.  I can’t help it.  I’ve heard the kid sing La ci darem la mano.  By their fruits shall ye know them.

More on our elections soon… There’s nothing like British politics.

March 5, 2009

Put your foot down – and send the Duchess a virtual shoe

Filed under: misc,Politics and history,This is not a mommy blog — Duchess @ 3:41 pm

The Elder Daughter is now the digital media intern for a major British charity, Action Aid.  She spent 15 months in Uganda working with some of the most vulnerable children on the continent: deaf and blind children and HIV/Aids orphans.  Now she is back in England trying to make a difference in another way.

She asked me to help gather support on my blog for a campaign that only has a few days to run.  She isn’t asking for money.  She’s asking you to put your foot down.

Around the world, 2876 women contract HIV every day.  A girl born in South Africa has a higher chance of being raped than of learning to read.  Widespread violence against girls and women increases the chances that they will join the 15 million women around the world already infected with the virus.

Action Aid wants 2876 people, one for every woman and girl who will contract HIV tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that, and every day until we put our foot down to stop it, to sign a petition in support of the campaign.  The campaign ends on International Women’s Day on March 8.

The petition asks the UK government to take 10 steps to help prevent violence against women and to help control HIV/Aids.  These are simple, achievable steps.  One of these 10 steps is to persuade other countries and international agencies to take action.  You don’t have to be British to sign the petition and put your foot down.

When you have signed the petition, please forward it to 5 friends.  2876 people to put their foot down is a modest goal.  Let’s help them achieve it.

Over the last few weeks, hundreds of people, besides signing the petition, have sent Action Aid a real shoe.  The charity has commissioned artist Riitta Ikonen to turn these shoes into art.  You can watch her progress on her blog.  I especially like the puzzled shoe, though I don’t think I would like to take a hike in it.

It’s too late to send Riitta a shoe, but you can still email the Duchess a photo of the shoe you are wearing (or imagine you might wear) when you put your foot down.  Send your photo to me (edited to remove my email address in hope of getting rid of so much spam).  I’ll publish all the photos… And then maybe we can have a vote for the best (if I can work it out) or something… and it can be the Duchess’s first contest!  Okay, I accept you may not be quite as excited about this concept as I am.  Especially as, so far, there’s no prize.

Never mind.  Sign the petition.  Send it to your friends.  Send me your virtual shoes.

Put your foot down.

January 21, 2009

Say amen

Filed under: BBC radio addiction,misc,Politics and history — Duchess @ 3:27 pm

The BBC helpfully reported that the timing of the swearing in was written into the Constitution.  It was due at 12 noon (GMT minus 5).  BBC coverage would start at 4.30 (GMT).

I was at my desk in the Oxford college where I am currently temporarily employed (and used to be permanently employed, before I had a midlife crisis, failed to sell my house, bought a boat anyway, quit my job, and made an aborted bid to jump ship to the US, small poodle included — but these are other stories). 

The Principal (my boss) had gone home early, without a word about the inauguration, but we all knew what she was up to: her partner is the politics don at the college.  Other people began to peel away — those with longer commutes saying they would listen on the radio, those with shorter hoping to get home before the moment when W would no longer be President and Obama would take his place.  The whole world was watching.

I clicked on the BBC home page and gathered into my office the staff still lingering on my corridor — only the archivist and the development team were left.  We saw the fashion parade of VIPs taking their places and responded appropriately: we agreed that Michelle’s dress wasn’t flattering, but possibly sensibly warm.

Next we listened to one of the longest prayers any of us had ever heard (and watched most of the crowd peeking, but not the soon-to-be-President and Leader-of-the-Free-World, who kept eyes piously shut).  I remarked that though we are a nation founded on the principles of separation of church and state, Americans are more than usually apt to trouble the Almighty with detail.

After the marathon prayer the BBC commentator said Aretha Franklin was going to sing the national anthem, which she didn’t, but I guess he can be forgiven; in the first place the tune of what she did sing (My Country ‘Tis of Thee) is his national anthem (God Save the Queen), and, in the second place, who could concentrate anyway listening to that voice and looking at that hat?

We laughed at the stumble during the swearing in, and then we all spontaneously applauded and cheered as the new President was congratulated.  The whole world was watching. 

I don’t think I was the only one in the room moved by the speech that followed.  I might have been the only one who needed kleenex.

When the poet was announced, the Brits dispersed lickity split back to their own offices, and soon even the stragglers headed home.  Most of them missed altogether the Yella / Mella and the Brown / Stickaround benediction.  Say amen.

Later my younger son and I watched the parade together.  (He was with the rest of us on the the Dress Issue: it made Michelle look chunky, though she isn’t — but he mentioned that Hillary’s, which no one cared about anymore, was even worse.  Poor Hillary.) 

Today the newspapers are filled with hope and praise.  It is interesting watching American politics from this distance.  For eight years there has been little respect for the US abroad, though I think the wish for the most powerful country in the world to do well never went away.  Yesterday Obama’s clearest message for me was that he knows we do not have to choose between our ideals and our safety.  We can still be the city on the hill.

I admit that our new President was not my first choice.  But if I hadn’t been wholly won over to him before, yesterday completed my conversion.  The television (= internet; yay internet!) kept showing the crowds — never before such crowds — gathered with their tiny flags in the January chill to watch and to celebrate.

I do not believe any other candidate could have been such a force for unity in our country and in the world.  I do not think any of the others would have been met with the simple joy at a new chapter in American history that greeted Obama’s first minutes as President. 

At least, no one else would have been applauded, as he was, by a small group of Brits, and one American, crowded around a computer screen far away, hoping for change.


January 13, 2009

History delivered with the milk

Filed under: Back story,misc,Politics and history — Duchess @ 3:59 pm

When I was a child we used to get our milk on the doorstep in fat half gallon bottles with cardboard tops.  In the winter the milk often froze before we got to it and the top was perched on a frozen white spume.

Some marketing guy at the dairy must have had the idea that the caps would be a wholesome version of cigarette cards from a generation before. For a while, I remember, the caps had general knowledge questions on one side and the answer on the other. 

Then one long winter, when my brother had a paper route and I got up early to help him out, we poured icy milk onto our oatmeal, and, putting off the tramp through the snow ahead, we laid out our Collect All 36 Presidents of the US milk bottle caps. 

I had an idea I would memorize them in order, but it was so frustrating: I had any number of Washingtons, a Jefferson or two, John Quincy Adams and then nothing until seven Warren G Hardings.  I suppose I was meant to find some other history obsessed child desperately short of Hardings and trade mine for a Martin Van Buren, Ulysses S Grant, James Tyler or any other of those half remembered old white guys in fancy dress.  Alas, I did not.

Nor did I ever quite memorize the list.  I’m good on the first 8 or so and then get very dodgy until we hit Buchanan and Lincoln.  Next there’s another gap.  I am fairly sound on the 20th century, though I can’t get them quite in the right order until the late 20s.  (Do not ask me to perform this exercise with British Prime Ministers.)

So I very much enjoyed the following, which I came across on the over 50s blog, Time Goes By.  The President list has got a little longer since the paper route days, but by then it was my life, not history, so not so easily forgotten.

Any Brit readers of certain age will forever associate the accompanying music, Ravel’s Bolero, with Torville and Dean, but I digress. 

What I really want to say is I’ll give you a dollar if you can remember from all those years of American history a single fact about James K Polk.  Honour system here.  No looking him up on Wikipedia.

While the Americans are looking sheepish, shrugging and asking James K Who?  I leave you Brits with our own Jayne and Christopher. 

November 11, 2008

The 11th of the 11th

poppy appealAs in America, Britains have been remembering those who served in the conflicts of the 20th and 21st century. Here the focus is very much on “The Fallen”, “The Glorious Dead”, and the main ceremonies are broadly religious, performed on the Sunday closest to the 11th, Remembrance Sunday.

In the fortnight or so before Remembrance Sunday, at nearly every work place, in every pub and many restaurants, in almost every public place there are paper poppies for sale.  In villages like mine someone goes around door to door.  The Royal British Legion sells the poppies and all money goes to look after disabled and elderly servicemen (veterans).  

There is almost none of the kind of political awkwardness that I have sensed from reading about Veterans’ Day in the US. There is no left or right on this issue. The young (until recently mainly men) went to war when their government asked them to. Those who died left families. Those who survived wounded have needs. Those who have lived into old age command respect.

If you want people to think you are a decent member of society in the week before the 11th you had better be wearing your poppy to show you have made a contribution.  If a politician were to appear on the news without one, there would be uproar. Every television presenter and newsreader sports one. The exhortation is to “wear your poppy with pride” and that is how I wore mine.

Although the form of Remembrance is broadly Christian, because we don’t have separation of church and state here, I don’t sense any religious division either. The poppy is a symbol of death and rebirth, not of Christianity.  In the devastated fields of Europe, poisoned by gunpowder and gas, only poppies were robust enough to grow in the spring of 1918.

The radio schedule for one of the four BBC national stations changes on the Sunday morning so that the Act of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in London can be broadcast. Military bands play a traditional set of songs finishing with Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations. The Last Post is sounded by a team of buglers. The Queen lays a wreath of poppies, followed by senior royals, then the Prime Minister, then the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition lay their wreaths in turn.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember.

We will remember.

There is no left or right.  The only time I can think of when this was even remotely an issue was when Michael Foot, the most left wing leader of the Labour Party since the second World War, laid his wreath dressed in what has since been always referred to as a Donkey Jacket, a sartorial category previously unfamiliar to me, though I admit he looked a bit scruffy. The outrage was something dreadful, and it was mentioned for the next ten years or so.  Every Labour politician since has worn a dress coat.

The national ritual of remembrance is repeated all over the country. It is impossible to go to any long established school without hearing read the list of names of the dead from the First World War, or seeing them inscribed on a wall. An astonishing number of villages, like the one I live in, have a memorial at their centre. Not the smallest hamlet was spared the carnage of that war.

My second son was born on the 11th of November, and, as it happens, plays the trumpet.  That put him in great demand right around his birthday, as soon as he mastered the difficult bugle that is the Last Post.  For years I stood proudly with him outside in bitter November weather, watching him nervously warm his trumpet with his breath, waiting for the church clock to chime 11 when his notes would signal the beginning of the two minutes’ silence, while we remembered.

Sometimes he was called on to play again later in the day when his school gathered for Evensong.  Though I had children at that school for 17 years I never failed to be moved each time I heard the names of the dead read out as they did (and do) every Remembrance Sunday.  Such a small school in the first quarter of the century, so many dead, so sad to hear a surname repeated and know a family had lost two sons.

These solemn events take place, as I have said, on the nearest Sunday, but when the 11th falls on another day of the week, as it did this year (the 90th anniversary of the Armistice) the date is also marked, though less formally.  Today, just before 11, half a dozen or so of us gathered in an office I share and like many others all around the country we kept the silence together for two minutes.

The focus of the 11th of November is the First World War as long as there are still those who fought in the trenches and remember the 11th hour of the 11th day when guns fell silent. Three veterans, the youngest of whom is 108 years old, dined at Downing Street today. But we also remember, of course, the great sacrifice of the Second World War and other conflicts of the 20th century.  

And no one forgets that we have soldiers fighting today,

I’ve never asked my son whether he minded being born (at 11:21 am) on the 11th of the 11th. He was a gentle child and has grown to be a gentle man.  Like all American men his age he is registered for the draft. Like any mother I hope his country will not call on him. 

I know there are times when we must fight.  And part of celebrating Remembrance Sunday, or Armistice Day, or Veterans’ Day is celebrating those who were brave enough to fight so we might live as we do.  No properly indoctrinated American (as I was) can forget Patrick Henry’s ringing words

Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased with the price of chains and slavery?  Forbid it Almighty God!  I know not what course others may take, but give me liberty, or give me death!

Nevertheless, my sweet son, born in the hour of the anniversary of peace, yearly sounding his trumpet for the Glorious Dead reminds me (as if I needed it) that we need to be sure when we send our sons, and now daughters, to fight.  History has judged the First World War harshly: our soldiers were “lions led by donkeys”.  

When the slaughter had barely begun (1914) AE Housman wrote:

Here dead lie we because we did not choose 
To live and shame the land from which we sprung. 

Life to be sure, is nothing much to loose; 
But young men think it is, and we were young. 

That great imperial pugilist poet Rudyard Kipling bitterly regretted his part in securing an officer’s commission for his severely nearsighted only son, thrusting him to the front, where he lost his life within days of arriving in the trenches.

If any question why we died
Tell them, because our fathers lied.

Let us have no such thing to tell to our sons and daughters a generation hence.

November 5, 2008

Bob the Builder (not to be confused with Joe the Plumber)

Filed under: misc,Politics and history — Duchess @ 2:20 pm

When I went to work today (late!) it was obvious that the Europeans thought last night’s result in America was good for the world.

Obama came as something of a surprise over here as well as over there. The Labour Government courted Hillary, and, hell, under her Presidency the Special Relationship, which defines US/UK diplomacy was all in the bag, since Bill was a known commodity, and she was sure to be his gal.

Meanwhile the Conservatives cautiously, and I suspect somewhat reluctantly, plumped for McCain, though they were probably secretly hoping for Hillary too. In British eyes McCain has always seemed a wee bit unbalanced, though undoubtedly brave. Palin, I am afraid, looked simply like the Europeans worst nightmare of the American Dream: Anybody (anybody, italics meant to cite the Saturday Night Live sketch) could grow up to be President. Palin only reinforced what has been Republican, courtesy of Bush 2, laughing stock. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but I assure you this was not the way out media. This was day to day BBC.

But as of last night both Labour and Conservative are loving Obama. That is, the Prime Minister is barely capable of looking you in the eye, and there are rumours that he is in Asperger’s Syndrome Ecstasy over all those lovely numbers in the Credit Crunch. So his loving Obama is kind of a relative term. Meanwhile the Tories (= Conservatives) have dropped McCain like a stone. What? Did we like him? Just now the Tory leader, who is just the teensiest bit inexperienced because Labour has been in power a long time, is shouting about Obama’s victory as proof positive that the Brits need a new guy too, never mind the PM saying this is no time for learning on the job.

Nevertheless, for every one of us, right or left, there was one bit of last night’s speech that really was a problem. That was the part where everyone chanted “Yes we can!”  The new President even finished with the slogan.   

Never mind that in Europe we are especially nervous, for good reason, about a quarter of a million — or more — people repeating a chant, right on cue, because once upon a time Fascism had a real hold here and we are sensitive to anything that sounds like that.

In this case, fortunately, it only makes us giggle. And that was even before Joe the Plumber came on the scene.  

When Barack has his reelection campaign I hope he will assign his sweet daughters to check out European children’s television and vet his slogans better.  (All through the campaign I kept expecting the slogan to be quietly dropped — and apologies if this is old news. I didn’t post on it before because I thought it must be.)

Okay, in case you have missed it and haven’t a clue what I am talking about, I give you Bob the Builder. Keep listening til the singing starts. And if you keep it going after that for more than about thirty seconds, you will know why “Yes we can!” makes us want to scream.

November 4, 2008

Half past five

Filed under: A long way from home,misc,Politics and history — Duchess @ 9:47 pm

(in the morning) and I haven’t been to bed yet.

I wanted to stay up and watch until it was all over, even after the outcome was clear.  

I’m so glad I stayed up.  I’ll try to remember how glad I am in a couple of hours.

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