Politics


I rarely reblog but I was tempted to write a blog post after the UK Goverment announced giving a legal basis for this country to become carbon zero by 2050! Then I saw this. It’ll do!!

The UK’s initiative is too late but maybe other countries will follow and if we’re lucky they’ll compete to be the earliest. It does nothing to get rid of plastic; I’d like to see massive fines for inappropriate disposal – £100 for a coke bottle and everything else pro rata.

I’ve shared this already on another blog, but it is so improtant… and also I can’t get the image of ants and grasshoppers out of my mind: Wasteful and destructive practices are embedded in our lives – I know some people manage to live completely plastic free, but trying to just reduce our own household […]

via We are ants… — Lois Elsden

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Standing among Romanians queuing to vote in the EU election in Leeds on Sunday I could only feel ashamed at the turnout in the UK election for the EU parliament on the previous Thursday.

Photo of Romanians queuing to vote in EU election in Leeds

Romanians queuing in Leeds to vote in EU election and re corruption

Only a little over one third of British voters turned out to vote.

I have not been able to find out what percentage of Romanians living in the UK turned out but it doesn’t really matter; it was almost certainly well over a third but more important were the problems put in their way: long queues to vote with polling stations closing at 9pm leaving thousands unable to vote despite queuing for hours.

I believe that was a deliberate strategy on the part of the Romanian authorities, dictated by the leader of the ruling party, the PSD; it is not for the first time that it has happened.

It reminded me of my early days in Romania, shortly after the ‘revolution’, queuing for sugar, perhaps butter, only to find that after a few hours in the queue there was no more; sometimes it had never existed!

Photo of Petronela just after joining the queue at about 2pm

Petronela joins the end of the queue at about 2pm

Personally, I joined the Romanians in Leeds in the first place to support my Romanian wife Petronela but also to show support for the wonderful Romanians who endured the insult from the Romanian authorities with their usual good humour. They have an amazing ability to turn disaster or tragedy into stand-up comedy.

They were not slow to show their appreciation of this crazy Englishman joining them either (nor that I could speak their language).

Six and three quarter hours in the queue

Photo of inside voting area at about 8.40pm as Petronela is about to vote

Once inside the voting area the reason for the long wait became clear – one table of officials writing everything by hand for three separate votes. Photo as Petronela waits to vote at about 8.40pm

We joined the queue at 2pm. My wife was able to vote at 8.45pm – six and three quarter hours in the queue. For certain there would have been a hundred or two waiting to vote when the polling station closed 15 minutes later. There were many thousands left in the same situation in other UK cities and many thousands more in cities throughout Europe.

At least one good result

Nevertheless, there was at least one good result. Romanians were not only voting for members of the EU parliament but also (putting it simply) whether corrupt members of their government should escape prosecution. Shortly after the vote Dragnea, the leader of the ruling party, the PSD, who had become as close to a dictator as makes no difference, was in jail.

Leaving the queue behind, still largely good humoured though just beginning to chant “We want to vote” (in Romanian obviously), I had even more reason to feel ashamed to be British. On our way through the city centre to catch a bus we had to negotiate a group of well-heeled hooligans embroiled in a street fight. Fortunately the police quickly intervened and we were able to pass safely.

Many of us British do not appreciate how lucky we still are to live in this country despite the nonsense which our politics have become. Let’s show appreciation by using our right to vote, hard-won by so many, next time we have the opportunity.

PS. I do not intend to return to posting regularly about political issues but just had to record last Sunday’s event.

Some time ago (10 February) I posted that I had ‘found’ and subscribed to the Oxford English Dictionary ‘Word a day’. A little later I completely ‘lost’ the urge to write – not only blog posts, but stories, poems, even trying to complete my first ever ‘novella’. There has been one exception: I’ve been writing letters, handwritten with a fountain pen, to distant friends and relatives, something I’ve not done for decades.

Not ‘writers’ block’

This loss is the first time it has happened to me in almost 60 years of writing, first earning my living at it as a journalist or copy-writer, later – much later – beginning to blog and write fiction, both for ‘fun’. It was not so-called ‘writers’ block’, the urge to write but losing inspiration; just no urge to write at all with the exception of the letters.

This morning, opening ‘Word a day’, I discovered a word I did not know – kakistocracy – and that jump-started me to write this post. I know only two countries well enough to apply this word to their Governments: the UK and Romania. The word means “government by the least suitable or competent citizens of a state”. Some of the recent utterances or actions of both Governments could hardly better prove the point.

Whether this reawakening of my muse extends beyond this post is yet to be seen but I have an idea tumbling about it my head, prompted by a member of our writers’ club – in turn prompted by my letter writing – who suggested each member should write a letter to someone. My idea is to write ‘a letter to a stranger’, someone who may not exist. If this gets me going I’ll surely post it here.

Word a day

I have been disappointed with the ‘word a day’ more than once recently, when the word was Indian or even Chinese. Oxford English Dictionary? And I do wish when a quotation is given, to illustrate use of the word, the source is given.

RomFlag

The Romanian flag


Only two weeks ago I posted
about Latvia’s 100th birthday. Today (1 December 2018) we celebrate the 100th birthday of Romania – when Transylvania and Banat came together with ‘The Principality of Moldova and the Romanian Country‘ (difficult to translate not to be clumsy) to form Romania. Since then, of course, the meddling of politicians has taken away parts so the northern part of Bucovina became part of the Ukraine and Basarabia became the Republic of Moldova; as so often when outside politicians (usually from the USA and us, the UK) mess with other countries we are still suffering as a result of this meddling, with trouble in the Ukraine and in the Middle East.

In my 100th birthday post for Latvia I suggested seven things which many people might not know about that country. I wonder if I can do the same for Romania. I’ll try, though a couple might be contentious.

Seven things you may not know about Romania

  • Currently about 9 Romanians leave their country every hour in the hope of finding a ‘better life’ elsewhere. The population has been reduced from 23,210,000 in 1991 to 20,170,000 last year. Most of the people leaving Romania are young and highly qualified or skilled, which we and other ‘western’ countries benefit from. There are, of course, also a significant number who do not mind getting their hands dirty (sadly often ‘exploited’ and not given a fair wage), doing jobs which the indigenous population shy away from; again we benefit.
  • Although the oft quoted “Romanian is the second language in Microsoft” may be a myth the American software giant certainly employ a lot of Romanians and established two of their global business support centres in Romanian cities. I can tell you from personal experience the country produces wonderful doctors too.
  • Romanians have an amazing ability to learn other languages. This is only in part (I think a small part) due to nobody wanting to learn Romanian (unlike me). An example is my wife who, starting from just nine words of English when she arrived here in 2004 by 2006 had a command of English sufficiently good to become a fully qualified teacher in UK and began to teach her subject, history, (and others) in high school.
  • Romanians who live in the countryside or buy from there know what fruit and vegetables should taste like. I will never forget when I first tasted a carrot freshly dug, or a bell pepper freshly picked, a tomato or the sour cherries known as ‘visine‘. If you avoid the supermarkets (I’d better not get started on that! – despite the ‘organic’ nonsense now being overtaken by the equally ridiculous ‘bio’) you can still have that taste today. The only equivalents we can find easily in the UK are bilberries from the Yorkshire moors (equally good as their Romanian equivalent, afine) or wild blackberries (mure in Romanian).
  • Although the belief of many Romanians that Henri Coanda invented the jet engine cannot really be supported he certainly did describe and point to practical applications in aviation of what became known as the ‘Coanda effect‘, which we see (or hear) when we fly on commercial aircraft today, when the ‘flaps’ are extended on landing and takeoff.  It is also used in fighter aircraft to allow them to fly at a slower speed. The international passenger airport serving Romania’s capital was renamed from ‘Otopeni’ (a nearby locality) to ‘Henri Coanda’ in May 2004.
  • Although Romanian Nicolae Paulescu developed an extract from a pancreas which, injected into a diabetic dog, normalised blood sugar levels when the Canadian team which received the Nobel prize for the ‘discovery’ of insulin were only just beginning its development, he was not included in the prize. A former head of the Nobel Institute, Professor Arne Tiselius, later admitted he should have been.
  • Just a personal view, of which anyone who has been reading my blog for any length of time will be aware, although many tourists will head for Transylvania when visiting Romania, the area in the north of Romania known as the Bucovina is more interesting, has at least equally beautiful landscapes and delicious food but old traditions are generally better kept. But if you want to see them you should visit soon – they are already less well preserved than when I first arrived in Romania in 1993.

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.

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.

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