Politics


Sitting in the sun 460km from Bucuresti, in my favourite part of Romania known as the  Bucovina, it is difficult to believe what we saw on television last evening – some events at the protest meeting in Piata Victoriei, ie outside the Romanian Parliament. Someone, little doubt a Government Minister, ordered in the ‘Jandamerie’ – a kind of police army seen, eg, in France or the USA but of which we have no equivalent in the UK.

It had to be the same person who ordered the ‘jandarmi’ to be equipped with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon and give them leave to attack the unarmed crowd, not only young men protesting peacefully but women with children and elderly ladies.

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=429475440791862&id=302902656782475&_rdr

Diaspora

Many in the crowd were ‘diaspora’, people who emigrated to work in another country who came back to register their protest about the corruption rife in Romanian politics. They were swelled by many many still living and working in the country; the crowd eventually probably numbered about 100,000.

No words necessary

Of course you have to be careful of ‘fake news’; not every picture circulating on internet is from last night’s meeting, probably circulated to cast doubt on the truthful ones. But there is no doubt about others showing the violence with which the jandarmi attacked their own people.

“Why do they not refuse to do it. Do they not have mothers, brothers and sisters, even children?” I asked. A large salary, and an enormous pension I was told. Of course some are just sadists.

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I have never seen Romania so green, so beautiful, but it is a beauty only skin deep. Beneath the surface disasters are happening. We left Yorkshire with an extraordinary summer, weeks of sunshine with little rain, a situation rarely seen before. As we ventured further south east, through Germany and Austria, the heat was still evident but more and more rain, often torrential.

The incredible rain clouds in front of us, as yet in sun, as we reached the outskirts of Iași. The downpour, more violent than any power shower I have met, turned on just as we reached our destination, outside Petronela’s parents’ home.

The incredible rain clouds in front of us, as yet in sun, as we reached the outskirts of Iași. The downpour, more violent than any power shower I have met, turned on just as we reached our destination, outside Petronela’s parents’ home.

We, the human race, are destroying our life as we have known it. Fifty years ago I was writing, as a journalist, about the dangers of ‘global warming’ though few wanted to listen then. Not enough are listening now to those far better qualified than me, especially ignored by the most powerful ‘world leaders’.

Forest destroyed

Swathes of forest have been felled in Romania and it continues so the natural protection against excessive run-off from the mountains has been and continues to be removed. The effects are clear to see: excessively swollen streams and rivers, moving swiftly to sweep away anything in their paths, including bridges and complete houses and causing wide-spread flooding. And for what? Money, of course.

But not money for the general population, money for a few and mostly for foreign investors. Something like 58% of Romanian land, among the most fertile in Europe, has been sold to large foreign corporations from other countries In Europe but also from as far away as the Arab states and China. This is ‘globalisation’ – stealing from the poor to make the rich more obscenely richer. The fat cat politicians pat their back pockets stuffed with Euros, Dollars, Sterling and other currencies, weeping crocodile tears to swell the already swollen rivers.

The immediate effect on our trip

The final good sleep in our tent, at the excellent Warnsborn camp site at Arnhem, Holland.

We have not escaped. Our tent, resistant to 3,000mm water pressure, did not resist the torrential downpours and for the first time ever we have been woken up in the night to find ourselves wet. We ‘escaped’ at 2.30am on two occasions to sleep in the car and on one occasion where it was clearly going to rain we did not bother to erect the tent – with front seat backs fully lowered Dusty provides a reasonable sleeping position but far from ideal, so until we reached my ‘honorary grandmother’s’ house near Câmpulung Moldovenesc we had not had a good night’s sleep since leaving Holland.

New tent!

Having had an interrupted night with heavy rain in Atea, close to the Romanian border at Petea (a great ‘camp site’ which I’ll talk about sometime later), we ordered a new tent online from a Romanian supplier to be delivered to Petronela’s parents. We’re now waiting for delivery. It claims to have 5,000mm water pressure resistance so with any luck it will resist whatever the weather throws at us till we return home.

Idiot Romanian politicians

If the destruction of the environment was not enough, watching Romanian tv is equally horrific: a Prime Minister who doesn’t know what capital she is in (when I lived here I could stop any high school student, probably any primary school pupil, and ask for the capital of any country and they would answer correctly). Then we’ve had the Minister of Agriculture publicly comparing the incineration of pigs to Auschwitz! The only conclusion we can come to is that people like this are put into positions of ‘authority’ to be easily manipulated.

Some things good to finish

First, the people! Warm, friendly, amazingly hospitable. How on earth they have ended up with a Goverment made up with many idiots or corrupt politicians is almost incredible. Part of the answer is without doubt that so many of the young well-educated, well qualified of the population have left the country.

Second, the food. Tomatoes, giant tomatoes which taste like nothing found in UK. Not from a supermarket but grown by people in the country. Then there’s fresh sheep’s cheese, caș, again made by the country people not in any factory, and together with something I cannot translate, urdă, made by heating the wey after making caș and skimming the solids which come to the surface. When made well it is wonderfully sweet and creamy. That was my lunch and I could live on these three foods with a little home-baked bread, made with flour again from the country.

That is not to say I do not enjoy anything else; I could fill many posts of 1,000-2,000 words just to list the dishes I most enjoy – ciorbe (sour soups), plateau țarănesc (a pile of pork, beef, chicken, lamb from the gratar – grill, which we ate with my former student, Anca, yesterday (see below) and of course, borș (borsch – not the Russian borsch known in UK made with beetroot) made by ‘mama’, which greeted us when we arrived yesterday evening.

Anca

Me with Anca at the

With Anca. Petronela took the photo. Plateau țărănesc (or what remains) in front of us.

One of the highlights of my visit will be the meeting yesterday with my former student Anca, who I have not seen since she was a young teenager. A wonderful four hours with a youngster who has grown to be a successful lawyer and a beautiful woman. I wrote in the past about her finding me through Facebook and our meeting yesterday was everything I expected other than it was too short.

Through her initiative I have contact with other former students from the same class and I intend to meet with as many of them as possible, those who have remained in the country, despite the weather as it is which might limit access to some parts of the country.

Rest after 2,700 km drive

Today I am resting – sleeping, eating and writing this post – after driving about 2,700km (1,800 miles).

Later, I will attempt to write a haibun for each day since leaving UK; at the moment they exist as only rough notes scribbled among the ‘adventures’, mostly down to the weather.


PS. We have today, having access to television news, been following the situation in Athens. I am without words, remaining only with tears.

I cannot let the 70th anniversary of this nation’s National Health Service pass without some comment.

We are extremely lucky to have it and it is one of the remaining things which make it good to be British.

I’ve always known that but it is only during the past five years, when I had a serious health problem for the first time in a life during which I hardly ever had to consult a doctor, that I really appreciated how lucky we are.

rainbow over Airedale General Hospital

Rainbow over Airedale General Hospital, one of the places I’ve been looked after very well

Extraordinary people

It’s not just the service itself but the people working in it. I’ve been in hospital a few times during the past few years, first to A&E, then three times for surgery, and now frequent visits both to our local medical centre, four hospitals and one other specialist clinic. Scans in what could be terrifying machines seen before only in SciFi movies, things inserted where I never had imagined things could be inserted; I even overcame my fear of the needle, so much so that the quarterly stab in the stomach with what one nurse told me was more like a screwdriver (I’ve never dared to look) has become a relaxed jolly chat. One gave me a sticker declaring ‘I’ve been brave today’; it’s still proudly displayed in the campervan.

General anaesthetic

I learned that having a general anaesthetic was a surreal experience not to be missed unless necessary on medical grounds; on the other hand observing my ward bedfellows it was clear that epidurals were to be avoided. Another surreal experience was looking at my internal mechanics thanks to one of those devices inserted where I never dreamed I would allow.

The staff during every visit, on every phone call, receptionists, doctors, surgeons, nurses, nursing assistants, phlebotomists, cleaners, people bringing food and drink, volunteers bringing newspapers and sweets, medical secretaries – all were simply wonderful. They made the inevitable pain on some occasions not only bearable but forgettable.

Nurses at work

I’m so glad I had the opportunity during stays in hospital to observe nurses at work. Always clearly overworked and subject to bureaucracies which, as a former senior manager, horrified me – clearly designed to protect the institution from possible litigation rather than to protect the patient – were cheerfully overcome for the patient. So much so, I referred to my stays as more akin to a holiday camp than a medical institution. I experienced both private rooms in a private hospital, paid for by the NHS, and six bed wards in an NHS hospital. The first was superb but I preferred the companionship in the six bed ward. There was no difference to the care.

Junior doctors

I was proud to join a picket line of ‘junior doctors’ (a silly terminology – they are often skilled, experienced, well-qualified doctors). Talking to them it was clear that their first concern was not pay, but the danger that the present Government was selling out the NHS to private, profit-making interests.

Of course there are enormous problems to be overcome if the NHS is to continue to provide the outstanding care it does, not least the aging population helped to live considerably longer lives. Yes, some of the inefficiencies not in the control of the medical staff could be cut out but the amounts of money required will still be tremendous. I know that I’m not alone in saying that if a specific tax were introduced to provide extra money to the NHS I would not object. I’m certainly among the majority sick to death of the politics of both left and right preventing an acceptable solution.

Priorities

Then there’s the matter of priorities. When I was writing as a journalist in Romania I published a feature on what I called the ‘disease of poverty’ – tuberculosis. The director of a hospital I interviewed told me that if he had the money being poured into heart transplants – benefitting tens of people – he could eradicate tuberculosis, benefitting not tens, but tens of thousands.

So, on your 70th birthday, thank you NHS. May whatever or whoever protect you from the politicians and big business and, the usual Romanian birthday greeting: La Mulți Ani! – to many (more) years.

Our real life Cruella de Vil

Returning to UK after the longest period away since I returned, in 2004, from living in Romania there’s so much to write about. Should I settle on a theme or just ramble away as is my wont? The latter is more my style so here goes.

Britain used to be the most liberal of countries and we thought of Germany as very strict and restrictive. Now it seems to have reversed. Stupid regulation after regulation governing everything here, so called ‘Health and Safety’ reaching ridiculous proportions, every child seems to have an allergy so cannot eat this or that (we’d have starved!), excellent recruits for the Nazi SS, unintelligent bullies, controlling train travel (at least on Northern Rail) and car parking, not all of course but a substantial proportion; teachers now expected not only to teach but to take over the role of parents in the most basic of  ‘education for life’; teachers and nurses bogged down with stupid form filling rather than getting on with the job for which they signed up, so leaving their professions in droves. Essential utilities companies, like British Gas (foreign owned of course), hiking their prices by stupendous amounts while rewarding their senior executives with massive pay rises.

We have a perfect Cruella de Vil leading the country using leaving the European Union (I refuse to use that dreadful ‘B…..’ word) as a perfect excuse to remove the power from Parliament and put it in the hands of a few of her lieutenants, so called ‘Ministers’.

Of course, everything is the fault of the immigrants, especially if they’re from eastern Europe or Muslim – I don’t think.

In fact, it’s the fat cats who are determined to get even fatter and roll in their slime.

Even (now this is going to upset 10% of the population) my previously favourite radio station, Classic FM, has sunk further into the money-making mire with repeated self-congratulation from the majority of the presenters, advertisers who seem to think the audience is made up of cretins. Their much (self) lauded 25th birthday concert, with a superb orchestra and chorus (the Liverpool ‘Royals’), was largely rubbish with no obvious reason for the bits and bats played. There was a super rendition of Bartok’s violin concerto by a young man, only 21 I think, and a premiere of a very interesting, exciting, piece composed by a young woman, only 23 years old, whose name I cannot remember but I’ll be seeking her out. With that fabulous orchestra and chorus why the devil didn’t we get, eg, Beethoven’s 9th instead of that mishmash of bits of this and that?

What prevents me jumping in the car and going back across the water? An elderly lady’s smile, sitting on a wall in my village main street and discussing the weather with me yesterday morning while waiting patiently for her bus.

 

I’ve been out of circulation in the blogosphere for a while, partly health (lost 6kg+ in five days) then catching up on life so writing as such has taken a bit of a back seat – more on that below. I did manage to get to the meeting I organised with leader of the Women’s Equality Party, Sophie Walker, prior to the general election here. She was as impressive as I hoped she would be.

Making inroads into the second book in her ‘Alpha’ trilogy, fellow writer/blogger Kristina Steiner inspired me to look more closely at my ‘long short story’, which had reached novella length. I decided that perhaps I might achieve my aims by chopping off the current ‘ending/non-ending’ and attempt a trilogy. It’s early days but I’m working on it. A second factor was reading ‘The bestseller code‘ by Jodie Archer and Matthew L Jockers, lent to me by a member of our writers’ club, Kayla. I’ve often said I have no ambition to write a bestseller but this is such a fascinating read and has so much to point anyone towards writing something really good, which I do have the ambition to do.

About half the full complement of our writers’ club at the meeting today. Far left our founder, Ruxandra, then clockwise Marjorie, Helen, my empty seat, David, John, Kayla and Emma. Another two, Kelly and Becky, joined us later.

At the most recent meeting of our writers’ club I said that, for me, responding over two years to a theme set at each meeting with a poem or short story had exhausted its usefulness and in the future I was likely just to present whatever had come into my head. Then, on 23rd May I awoke to the news from Manchester. I had to write something and the theme we had been set for the meeting on 3rd June, ‘broken mirrors’, just happened to fit in with my thoughts. It turned out that another member, Helen, had had a similar reaction. So this is what I read to the club earlier today.

Shards

Shards of shattered mirrors in Manchester
Reflecting eyes of more millions of children
Blasted to hell by bombs rained upon them.
In Iraq by lies transformed to millions of dollars
Swelling the account of our very own war criminal.
In Syria the children pick among their own shards
Before in desperation leaving for another hell
While we eat cake and perhaps text £5 to feel better.
Thousands of eyes appeal from Mediterranian depths.
From Eritrea to Yemen the children cry bewildered,
Shattered by man’s greedy technology
Or simply left unnourished.
While we lust after the latest iPhone.

Should we not pray for our very own mighty Thor
To swing his hammer one last time
To scatter the shards of what we dare to call our civilisation
Beyond recall
And begin to build a kinder, caring, loving being to inhabit this universe?

You’ll probably find me prattling on about equality, and discrimination, even more than usual over the coming month, particularly gender equality, because in the UK we have a general election in a month’s time. Although the present Government is headed for a landslide victory we do have an opportunity to cause a bit of a storm because we now have the Female Equality Party and, exciting for me, the party leader is standing in the constituency where I live. I referred briefly to her, Sophie Walker, in my previous post.

I haven’t ‘marched’ for years, 23 years to be precise when a German teaching colleague and I were pushed to the front of the column of protesting Romanian teachers which we had joined.

I’m polishing my marching boots now and honing my placarding skills. But as a starter I thought I’d give you a run-down of how and when I took up the cudgels against each type of discrimination. I might be a year or so out but not more, and gender discrimination was not the first.

Religious discrimination

I first experienced religious discrimination when I was about eight years old, though I didn’t recognise it as such at the time and what we’d now call bullying was not directed at me. I can now see there was an element of economic discrimination too as the bullying was directed at children from Roman Catholic families, who were generally even poorer than us. Even at that tender age I did not understand it and was often in trouble with the ‘protestant’ clique as I insisted on playing with the RCs.

Gender discrimination

I didn’t recognise discrimination against women until I was much older, 16 in fact. At that time I was working in a research laboratory and began to question why all the lab technicians were women, no males, but there was not one woman among the many research staff or section heads. It would not be true now but there’s still a long way to go. I eventually, in 2006, ended up working in an organisation specifically supporting and promoting the roles of women in science and technology.

Racial discrimination

I first became aware of racial (or skin colour) discrimination in the early 1960s when, between ‘real’ jobs, I worked for a short time in a coffee bar near Victoria station in London. I had a colleague, a lovely man from Balochistan (or should that be Baluchistan?) called Gulamnabi (the spelling may not be correct) and was horrified by the abuse he got from seemingly civilised customers. I used to put orange concentrate in their early morning coffee 😇 and steam it till it was too hot to drink (they were always in a rush). I’ve had many confrontations since those days.

Disability/ability discrimination

I think I first became aware of the discrimination against people with a disability in the late 1980s when, as a member of a Lions club, I assisted at sports days and in clubs for people with a disability. This culminated in my visit to Romania in 1993, initially specifically to work with children with a disability and their parents. More recently I’ve worked for a charity supporting people with sight loss and additional disabilities.

Age discrimination

I’ve never had a problem with age discrimination but I know and/or know of many people who have, particularly when looking for employment in the early 2000s. The best story I have was from applying for a job in an organisation supporting women in science and technology, when I did not respond to the date of birth question on the application form. “I see you didn’t reply to the age question,” said one of the interviewing panel. “Here we go,” I thought as I answered “No”. “Good for you,” was the response. I got the job.

Sexual orientation discrimination

Homophobia was not obvious to me before the late 1970s when I sometimes went to dinner parties where I was with a lady partner but all the other couples were male and discussions round the table made me aware of it. In some ways it became far worse when homosexual acts between men finally became decriminalised in 2004. Of course there never had been legislation making lesbian acts illegal. Oddly enough I ended up working in an organisation supporting LGBT people in 2005; really odd for me was that I was the only ‘straight’ person in the organisation, no problem for me but it was for some of my colleagues.

That sets out my battlefield for the coming month. My weapons will only be words but you all know I’m sure the English metonymic adage about the pen being mightier than ….

It’s a long time since I posted on this site, not since September last year. I apologise. Some major health problems have meant that many things had become far behind and catching up on them always took the time available. However, I feel I must write something about tomorrow’s UK referendum to vote to leave the European Union or to remain in it.

When the referendum was first mooted I knew immediately that I would vote to leave and nothing from the campaigns for either side has influenced that decision since – and I have followed the campaigns closely. I am not influenced by how good or bad a presentation is made by this or that campaigner; by far the best presenter of her case on yesterday’s Big Debate on tv, was the Scottish Conservative leader, on the ‘Remain’ side, but her arguments were largely based on falsehoods or presented speculation as fact.

Immigration

I resent the implication, and often outright accusation, from the ‘Remain’ campaigners that we who believe immigration should be controlled are racist and xenophobic. I have spent a good proportion of my time since a teenager contesting all types of discrimination, as I became aware of them. The first – before I was a teenager – was religious discrimination; the second, when I was 16 years old, was gender discrimination; the third, racial discrimination, shortly after that.  Others followed. I have travelled widely and far from being fearful or feeling hatred to foreigners I have always tried to ‘integrate’ in their culture and have enjoyed it when there. I’m married to an immigrant. One of the primary reasons for Leeds being one of my favourite cities is the large Afro-Caribbean population, immigrants and their descendants.

Controlling immigration is common sense – without control, sensible forward plans for health and social care, education, housing, and other things cannot be made. It should not discriminate between immigrants from the EU and other parts of the world, as it does now. It should take into account Britain’s needs in terms of skills and education. It should of course take into account Britain’s obligation to true refugees. Personally, I also think that some purely economic migrants should be accommodated as a small contribution to correcting the gross imbalance in wealth distribution. So while I think a ‘points system’ is generally the way to go, there should be some kind of bypass system to take account of the last two criteria. If outside of the EU, it is the UK electorate which will be decide what the control system should be.

Influence

The UK may have had some influence on EU decisions when the EU was far smaller but it is nonsensical to say that we have much influence now or will have in the future if we stay in it. In recent years almost every UK proposition or objection has been voted down. This will get worse as the EU grows. The Prime Minister got almost nothing from his ‘renegotiations’, and if he could not get substantial reform then there is surely no hope whatsoever of getting any reform in the future if we’ve voted to stay in.

Economics

When we had the possibility to join the Euro dire warnings similar to those we are being bombarded with now were given by the ‘experts’, of a crashing economy if we did not. Thank goodness we took no notice of them then. The ‘experts’ did not warn us of the impending bank crisis and the resulting disasters to the world economy. When Norway was deciding whether to join the club the ‘experts’ similarly warned them; it subsequently proved to be nonsense. I can’t avoid noticing that it is the ‘fat cats’ and organisations representing them who issue most of the dire warnings. Or it’s those already on the gravy train or who hope to be: the scientists who live on UK money returned by the EU, not those like Dyson who finance his own research from developing products which sell; the Kinnock family whose joint income from the EU sinecures, or something close to that, beggars belief; organisations representing big business. Finally, personal experience: when I was teaching in Romania (not then a member of the EU) I warned my students that joining would have disastrous consequences for everyday life in the country; within a very short time of the country joining the EU food shopping bills rose sharply and are now generally close to those in Britain. Salaries have remained a small fraction of those in this country.

Sovereignty

To me it is ironic that senior members of the present Government, who have argued so strongly for devolution of power from the centre in London (whether we believe they have delivered that is another argument), are now telling us we are best governed from somewhere on the European continent, on the basis that we have one seat among 28 in some decision making body of the EU, and no say at all in other EU unelected decision making bodies.

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