Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

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Life isn’t worth living (a review)

In C.Spiby, Reviews, Uncategorized on July 4, 2017 at 1:00 pm

Hermit_ionescoA review by C. Spiby of the novel ‘The Hermit’ by Eugene Ionesco

One of the most famous philosophical maxims is ‘The unexamined life is not worth living (1)’. Absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco’s only novel ‘The Hermit’ (1973) (2) is the absolute embodiment of this aphorism, albeit the conclusion presented being that, actually, life isn’t worth living examined or not.

An anonymous clerk inherits a small fortune which permits him to quit his meaningless office job where he is at most distracted to derision by the romances and mini-dramas that play out before him at work. On his last day, the clerk and his colleagues retire to the local restaurant for drinks – more out of social duty than actual like of one another. And this is where Ionesco excels: a complete affinity for the everyday interactions of ordinary people, most notably their subtexts and suspicions masked by social airs and conformities. It’s what makes ‘The Hermit’ an interesting study of late 20th century man without being particularly kind about him.

And yet somehow we readers warm to the rich hermit who has now moved to the suburbs of France albeit still within reach of the all-important restaurant where he can gorge himself whilst watching the world go by; satisfy his suspicions of the people that pass in the street or spy on him behind net curtains. His outlook tempts our sympathies for the hermit to begin to wain as he descends deeper and deeper into paranoiac excursions compelled by his own loneliness. Imagine a French bourgeois Charles Bukowski where, like Buk, there’s plenty of drink and little work, but where male chauvinism is replaced with a seething disdain for fellow man writ large and even existence itself.

Temporarily distracted by a brief and dour affair with a waitress, her leaving triggers a full-on descent into darkness. His fall coincides with the onset of events which feel a bit like Paris 1968 and the social unease surrounding it. He’s immersed in a fantasy of urban revolt and revolution akin to the civil spark possible from ’68. Except soon, though, there’s blood in the streets and shootings, which reminded me more of the fall of Yugoslavia but happening just a few streets away. Rather than engage in the uprising, our protagonist for the most part sets himself as observer whilst workers drink up their wine, revolvers in their pockets and rifles at their side waiting to return to the barricades. The hermit questions the point of revolution, makes no distinction between left and right but nor can he seem to distinguish between love and hate, participation and non-participation even as violence erupts around him, on the periphery. We’re never told what’s happening and why, just like the hermit we experience the outcome, and for the first time we fully feel the way he does about life in general: as an outsider. It’s quite a feat of writing.

Later still the revolution is now just a mess of reactionary forces and even worse just factions of the same side in some areas (a nod to the example of the anarchists and communists during the Spanish Civil War, perhaps?): now though everything is questioned and assessed for its value and meaning albeit without consequence or engagement. At one point the hermit muses that he wishes he’d study philosophy more, to be able to understand the meaningless of the universe as he sees it and perhaps therefore find some kind of purpose.

Best known for his absurdist plays like ‘The Chairs’, ‘Rhinoceros’ and ‘The Lesson’, Ionesco spent most of his life in France and help establish the theatre of the absurd in the 1950’s. And yet this novel is at its best when it observes our ordinariness, in my opinion.

Ultimately ‘The Hermit’ is a downbeat analysis of humanity not least since the absurdity of life being meaningless is, in this instance, not providing us with freedom from restrained opportunity or social structures like the church and such like as the existentialists argued. Only love hints at the possibility of meaning but the sad fact is that the hermit in question, despite all his fair riches, just isn’t very good at it.

At one point a waitress observes of him: ‘You keep to yourself too much, Monsieur.’ To which he replies – summing up the book entirely – ‘I’m surrounded by people. I’m surrounded by the crowd. By the crowd or by nothing.’

The Hermit’ is indeed a gloomy book but engaging until the end even as it becomes more and more fantastical. In that absurdity it becomes more satirical, almost a different book. And yet somehow its pace which takes you from the banal to the absurd works – it makes the essence of the absurd all the more believable.

I don’t know why Ionesco never wrote another novel, returning to plays and literary criticism. This might be a shame, as the tension of an impending insurrection is palpable in the second half and the descent into loneliness compelling in the first – and because of this the scope of this possibly allegorical sweep of humanity and the universe of emotion and reality means the work takes on a wider importance than its easy-to-read style would suggest.

It’s moments of cynical humour show Ionesco as a master of timing and it is his ability to make an unappealing protagonist a figure of our continued interest is, in my opinion, always the mark of a good writer. Worth reading. Worth living.

  1. Spoken by Socrates through Plato’s Apology
  2. I was reading the 1983 English translation published by Calder – looks like it’s currently out of print, but second-hand copies are available online

ENDPIECE: Where’s the diplomacy?

In Editorial on July 4, 2017 at 12:37 pm

We think it was US President Theodore Roosevelt who coined the phrase “talk softly – but carry a big stick” as he set out to conquer various remaining Spanish colonies off the coast of America. He could be described as the founder of US imperialism.

We won’t dwell on his motives. After all, times change. But as for his famous quote, perhaps there’s something for Theresa May to think about.. She has a habit of speaking very loudly – and to all intents and purposes carries no stick at all. Perhaps she might just run to a handbag.

She has told her cheering followers that “when we say Brexit we mean Brexit!”. It’ s to be a “hard” exit from Europe. And then, with all charm she could muster she sets off to engage EU ministers in talks to try for improved trade deals with Europe. She even embarked on a disastrous election to try to bolster her slim majority in Parliament.  She mistakenly thought that it would impress EU leaders and give her more clout. And we all know what happened with that!

It’s not surprising that European leaders  haven’t been impressed. After all what could May put on the table after her own euphoric utterances to her own supporters?

She’s been told by EU leaders that she must guarantee free movement of European citizens to and from Britain, a point she may find it difficult to concede considering that (possibly) the majority of those who’ve been cheering her on voted for Brexit in order to put up the barriers against Johnny Foreigner. In their terms they might end up with a very soft Brexit indeed. Meanwhile, it’s interesting that an increasing number of UK citizens (both in Britain and in mainland Europe) have been seeking ways and means of gaining European citizenship.  Sometimes this is because they see it as being in their interest. But sometimes it’s because they identify with the soul of Europe, and don’t want to be identified with the “little Englander” mentality of many of the Brexiteers.

At the same time May and her Government have been busy trying to fix up trade deals with countries outside the EU bloc – such as China and Canada. Perhaps even a handout from Trump in the USA.  So far she’s had little luck. After all, these days what do we have to offer? Let’s face it, what industrial assets we might still have can be bought up wholesale by the Chinese etc., without bothering themselves with trade deals.

So far, all that May hasn’t tried is diplomacy. It can sometimes go a long way.

EDUCATION MATTERS: UNION MATTERS – UNIONS MERGE

In R.Richardson on July 4, 2017 at 12:35 pm

Last month it was announced that the N.U.T and the A.T.L (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) were to merge. Its new name will the N.E.U (National Education Movement) and will be officially formed in September. Until 2023 the new union will be jointly led by Mary Baisted (at present the ATL general secretary) and Kevin Courtney (NUT general secretary). “We look around the world,” said Kevin Courtney, “and see that wherever teacher unions are united they are the better for it. “

Mr Courtney went on to say, “Our next step has to be to move this burgeoning unity further.” He seemed to be hinting that a merger with the other big teachers’ union, the NAS/UWT might be on the cards.

Unsurprisingly, Theresa May’s policy of establishing new grammar schools was one of the main discussion topics at the NUT’s Annual General Conference. Already some schools are advertising that they have a “grammar school stream”. The union’s solicitor, Clive Romain, declared that schools could be acting unlawfully as they might be seen to be in breach of admission procedures. The N.U.T is threatening a High Court challenge.

FREE SCHOOLS AND ACADEMIES:

Free schools have been in the news again. It seems that some £140 million have been wasted on schools that have been forced to close, partially close or failed to open at all. Kevin Courtney declared that this was “an appalling waste of significant sums of money”, and this at a time when school budgets elsewhere are under severe pressure. A new policy has been put in place whereby the salaries of new free school heads will be paid for two terms even if the school fails to open or is deferred. This said, the Department of Education would allow such schools to secure “high quality heads.”

An academy chain has scrapped local governing bodies at all of its schools The CEO of the Aspire Academy Trust, Andrew Fielden, said “You are putting unpaid volunteers in the heart of a highly pressurised and extremely professional group of people. What the bloody hell for?” So much for parents’ representation and local accountability.

PRIVATE FINANCE INITIATIVES (PFIs):

PFI contracts were introduced by successive Conservative and “New Labour” governments, leading to schools and hospitals being built by private contractors.

Pay-back was over a 25 or 30 year period. But under the terms of the contracts, schools are often tied to particular suppliers for purchasing or replacing simple items such as blinds or taps. A school in Bristol will have to pay £8,000 for a single blind. In Malmesbury, head teacher Tim Gilson said that a bench will cost the school £6,000 over the remaining thirteen years of the PFI contract. He said “We have to pay about £40 a month for the facilities management cost (!) of that bench, on top of the cost of putting the bench in and all the materials.”

THE IMPACT OF STRESS:

Finally, the subject of stress was another hot topic at the NUT conference. In a survey of 5,000 teachers, more than 80 per cent said that their job was being negatively affected and 60 percent said that it had affected their mental health.

Teachers reported turning to medication, alcohol and caffeine to help them to cope with the job. . Some had undergone counselling. More than half said that they were often exhausted when they entered the classroom.

Delegates at the conference voted to ballot members for a national campaign of strike and non-strike action over crushing workloads, and also pay which is down twenty per cent since the Tories took power.

Compiled by RUTH RICHARDSON

CO-OPERATION! The Co-operative Party celebrates its centenary

In A.Graham on July 4, 2017 at 12:29 pm

by Alistair Graham

This year marks the centenary of the foundation of the Co-operative Party. It was born in 1917, in the uncertain years of the First World War, as the conflict was dragging towards its bloody conclusion.

But its roots were sown in earlier years, the years before war engulfed Europe. The co-operative movement was growing rapidly – but the Liberal government was hardly sympathetic to this new movement. Many co-operators believed that it needed a political voice to represent the movement – in Parliament if need be.

There were those who opposed this view, of course. Those who argued that the movement was made up of members of various political (and indeed religious) views. At an early meeting of the Co-operative Congress in 1897 a motion was passed supporting direct representation in Parliament – but such was the lack of any enthusiasm, it was reversed in 1900.

But the issue wouldn’t go away. It was probably the position of the Liberal Government that was in power during the years leading up to the First World War that was a deciding factor. The Liberals may have been the “shopkeepers’ friend” – but this new, strange concept of co-operation was a different matter altogether.

The Liberal Government was definitely hostile to the ideals of co-operation. The notion of sharing out “surplus value” amongst members and giving them a say in how the Co-op was run, was definitely an alien concept. As for the Tories – well, let’s not go down that road!

All this led to the Co-operative Congress of 1917, held in Swansea, passing a resolution that stated the Co-op Movement should have direct representation in Parliament in order to safeguard its interests. There was some opposition of course, but it was passed overwhelmingly.

Success for the new Co-operative Party was slow in coming. The first Co-op candidate to win a seat was A.E. Waterson in Kettering in 1918 – and he soon lost it again (albeit narrowly). .

In 1922, the party won four seats, including that of A.V. Alexander (who went on to become leader of the group in the Commons). Meanwhile, the strength of the Labour Party was growing, and finally the two parties reached a joint agreement.

In more recent years the Co-operative Party has continued to function as an independent body, with its own conferences and policy making bodies. But as for the candidates there has been a tendency for those who stand as “Labour Co-op” candidates to be seen as merely Labour by the electorate.

ALISTAIR GRAHAM
(Member of the Co-operative Party and the Mid-counties Co-op Society.


A.V. ALEXANDER: A co-operator in Parliament – and outside.

Albert Victor Alexander rose through the Co-operative movement to become the Co-op MP for Sheffield Hillsborough in 1922./ At the time he was one of just four Co-op MPs, but he was to hold his seat (with one short break in the’30s) until 1950.

He became leader of the Co-op parliamentary group and at one time he was a Minister in the in Labour Government of Ramsay Macdonald. But he opposed the cuts introduced in the late 1920s (particularly the cuts in unemployment benefits). He lost his seat in the 1931 election, winning it back in 1933, and resumed his position as leader of the Co-operative Parliamentary group.

In 1950 he retired from the Commons to take up his seat in the House of Lords. Here he continued to represent the cause of co-operation until his death in 1965 at the age of 79.


 

NORTHERN IRELAND AND TROUBLES: A visit to Belfast, 1991

In A.Graham on July 4, 2017 at 12:22 pm

a fire bombed pub in the city centre

by Alistair Graham

I paid a number of visits to Belfast during the 1980s into the 1990s. Despite “the Troubles” (as they were known), it was a vibrant city and I felt few qualms in walking the streets of this fractured community. After all, I had the anonymity of a stranger looking in, and thus was hardly a target for any warring faction.

“FACT FINDING”:

Probably the most fruitful visit was in April 1991, when I joined a “fact finding” group from the ILP to meet and interview groups and political parties from across the spectrum – sometimes singly and other times in groups.

We met representatives from the SDLP,  the Ulster Unionists, Democratic  Unionists, the Workers Party and Alliance..  We also met a number of campaigning groups – like the Peace  Women,  Families Against Terror and Intimidation – and Gusty Spence, former leader  of the UVF.

VIOLENCE;

At that time, of course, Martin McGuinness was still leader of the provisional IRA, before his conversion ushered in a new era of “power sharing” in Northern Ireland which officially brought “the troubles” to an end. In the spring of 1991 “the Provos” had established a bloody record of violence and destruction – including a half-hearted pogrom against members of the Workers Party (which had evolved from the former “official” Republican movement).  Several of those whom I’d come to count as friends were victims of armed attacks (though fortunately none were successful).

We also met Maurice Healey, from Newry (on the border) who had been taken by the Provisional IRA, tortured, subjected to a kangaroo court and ordered out of Northern Ireland with the warning that he would be executed if he ever returned.

He was charged with being an informant. But he had defied the order by returning to Belfast to make his case public.

DIFFERENT PATHS TO PEACE:

It became clear at least to me that despite the complexity of the conflict created by the warring factions there was a growing peace movement which was capable of contributing to any peace settlement. Politically there was the Alliance Party, the SDLP and in its own way the Workers Party. Elsewhere there were the Peace Women – and the remarkable case of Gusty Spence, a former leader of the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force), who’d turned his back on violence to involve himself in community politics in the Shankhill Road area of Belfast.

Few of us at the time would have believed that, after the Good Friday Agreement, it would be Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party under Ian Paisley who would emerge as leaders of the new order. “Power sharing” became the new mantra. Paisley, who had campaigned under the slogan, “No Surrender!” became Northern Ireland’s First Minister with    Martin McGuinness ensconced as his deputy.

It seemed as if the world had turned upside down. “Power” had somehow evolved to the two extremes of Irish politics, and in so doing had marginalised those forces in between that had worked so hard to create the conditions for peace during “the troubles”. It’s a funny old world.

With the death of Martin McGuinness, the status quo of power sharing hangs in the balance. What happens next in Northern Ireland I wouldn’t like to guess. But then I wouldn’t have foreseen events back in 1991 either. Now of course the UK General Election has thrown it all into limbo.

TRIDENT: Not fit for purpose

In A.Graham, C.Spiby on April 27, 2017 at 12:31 pm

We offer no apologies for returning to the topic of the Trident missile system – and its questionable role in our so-called defence system.

It seems that technically it is no longer fit for purpose. It has outlived its effectiveness (if it ever had any), and should now either be scrapped or at the very least phased out.

According to the latest issue of The Spokesman (the quarterly journal of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation),  the Trident system has now completed 26 years of deployment, and has now  “reached its original design life goal” – as the US Department of Defence puts it.

HUSHED UP:

The failed test highlighted in the last issue of the Clarion was hushed up by the Americans, though Theresa May was informed. She chose not to pass on the news to Parliament. It was only revealed through a US press leak.

WHAT ABOUT “DE-COMMISSIONING”?

There are other concerns about the Trident system, apart from the effectiveness of this ageing system. How do we get rid of nuclear submarines when we no longer need them?  The Spokesman reports that HMS Tireless has now joined eighteen other nuclear submarines awaiting dismantling.  “With Dreadnought rusting in Rosyth since 1980, the cost of maintaining them is rising and space running out as the Ministry of Defence struggles to find an environmentally safe and cost effective means of disposal. “

As Laurel and Hardy may well have said, “A fine mess you’ve got us into!”  Yes, Trident should be phased out. As “a defence system” it was never fit for purpose. But even if we do scrap this over-priced system our worries are far from over.  How do we safely and securely scrap our redundant nuclear submarines?  It could be a problem that remains with us for decades – if not longer.

Below is web-only edition of the Clarion bonus material…


 

THE HISTORY OF ‘PROTECT AND SURVIVE’

Professor John Preston will be hosting a discussion on the infamous 1970’s pif ‘Protect and Survive’ on June 29th at the University of East London. Click here for more details on the FREE event (limited numbers so you will need to book).

In Prof. Preston’s own words:

In this workshop we will consider the origins, nature, reception and fate of the 1980s UK government civil defence campagn “Protect and Survive”. We will discuss the following issues:-

  • What were the origins of Protect and Survive? How did the original plans arise and how were they realised? How exactly did it arrive in the public domain?
  • What was the nature of Protect and Survive? Was it a campaign / public information ‘package’? How would it have been used in practice? What types of media would it have used?
  • How was Protect and Survive recieved? How was it portrayed in the media, popular culture, government and internationally?
  • What happened to Protect and Survive? Did it become ‘civil protection’? Does it still exist in some form?

This is a workshop rather than an academic seminar. The format will be to spend one hour (approx.) on each of the four issues (with a tea break at some point) and for perhaps one person to ‘lead’ each area (if anyone would like to volunteer to lead a particular area that woudl be great) by giving a five minute introduction to that topic.

The conference is open to anyone: academics, historians, collectors, policy makers, practitioners and anyone who is interested in “Protect and Survive”

Lunch is not included but you will get a cup of tea / coffee and a biscuit or two. At the end of the workshop you are welcome to join us for a drink.

Incidentally, a seminal BBC Panorama has found its way on to YouTube (available at the time of this posting, at least), which looks into the role of Civil Defence in Britain in 1980, at a time when ‘Protect and Survive’ was still secret and intended for viewing only in the event of impending nuclear war.

Watching this again (I remember seeing it when I was only 9 years old first time around) – this programme has lost none of its potency. If anything it acts as an important reminder of the futility of nuclear war – no less relevant today – but also just how far we’ve come in terms of documentary film-making. An hour long and in-depth this is a far cry from today’s glossy but often light handling of topic on mainstream tv. Panorama on BBC used to occupy the 8pm or 9.25pm slot on BBC1 (just after the 9 o’clock News with Angela Rippon or Kenneth Baker!)

END

Clarion Comment: BEWARE THE IDES OF MAY

In Editorial, Uncategorized on April 25, 2017 at 12:44 pm

It’s interesting how quickly memories of Cameron’s premiership fade away, Now that Theresa May is at the helm, Cameron has become well and truly yesterday’s man.

So, what do we make of May’s reign so far? It’s been less than a year – but we can’t complain that it’s been uneventful. We’ve had her attempts to woo Donald Trump (the US president that most of us love to hate). There’s been her decision to opt for a “hard brexit” from the European Union. And there’s been her attempt to drive Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP into a corner which threaten to produce further divisions between England and Scotland – perhaps irreparable ones.

One of May’s major flaws as Prime Minister (or indeed as a politician) is her acerbic style. She’s like a bull terrier, constantly on attack mode. In her view, political opponents are there to be put down, their faces ground into the mud. But it may be that she’s taken on more than she can chew when she decided to take on Nicola Sturgeon.

BAD JUDGEMENT:

Another flaw with Theresa May is a marked lack of judgement. What on earth led her to invite Trump over on a state visit to the UK when he’d hardly got himself settled into the White House? Her haste flouted all existing protocols as well as offending millions of people.

Another example of bad judgement was her decision to go for a “hard brexit” from Europe. If we look at the overall figures, the referendum results showed deep divisions between those who wished to stay and those who voted to leave. Those who voted to leave won – but by a slender margin. In the circumstances might it have been better to aim for a course that respected the majority without trampling on the concerns of the minority? Let alone upsetting the European Union – the bloc that one way or another we will have to do business with.

REVIVING THE DODO?

Meanwhile, on the domestic front, she has chosen to take on the education establishment with her persistence in ploughing scarce resources into the setting up of new grammar schools. Selective education was phased out over fifty years ago. Most rational folk regard it as dead as a dodo, and in Parliament a cross-party alliance, including Nicky Morgan (former education Minister), Lucy Powell (Labour’s shadow minister) and Nick Clegg for the Lib Dems, has emerged to rally opposition to grammar schools.   So, the question is, why has May chosen to revive the whole controversy now, to the point where she’s even divided her own party?

The opposition to May’s plans led by Morgan, Powell and Clegg were spelled out in The Observer on 19th March. Whilst making the point that whilst they had their differences, they were all agreed that selection was bad for schools, and bad for societies that they served. Selection failed to tackle inequality or to boost social mobility.

A MATTER OF EXPENSES:

Another blot on the horizon that has rocked the Tory Party is the electoral expenses scandal in a dozen or so “key” constituencies (including the Thanet seat, where Nigel Farage made his bid for election). Inflated expenses involving the Tory electoral machine were not declared in these seats, possibly having an impact on the results.

Of course, May wasn’t guilty of involvement in this. It happened on Cameron’s watch. But it’s been an episode in which she’s chosen to take a low profile approach, despite the fact that it could have repercussions on her Parliamentary Party – possibly even a loss of a few of her MPs (a factor that should concentrate May’s mind considering the limited size of her majority).

Basically Theresa May seems to be riding high in the polls, with no overall opposition from within the Tory Party faithful – but it may well be that this degree of support is based on shaky ground. There are plenty of challenges ahead, starting off with how she manages to handle our exit from the European Union.

We’re indebted to Joy Johnson, in her Tribune column for these last words on Theresa May:

“It’s a Prime Minister that masquerades as the champion of ordinary working people as she sidles up to Donald Trump after racing over the Atlantic to be his first foreign visitor (after his election as president).

“It’s a government that has all the hallmarks of a harsh, hard right administration. Nothing that has been done so far can illustrate this approach so well as their policy to ignore Alfred Dubs’ amendment to the Immigration Act. Out of the thousands of unaccompanied refugee children who made it to Europe the UK was going to take in 3,000. Yet even this figure was too high for May’s administration. They pulled the plug at 350 children. Shameful.”


The brutal Indifference of Deportation

And it’s happening on May’s watch

from a Clarion correspondent

Are we suffering from an obsession? Or is someone at the Home Office just trawling through files to see who can be deported from Britain next?

Certainly there seems to be both a lack of any sign of compassion in the way that deportation is being used against those who are seen as “breaking the rules”. It almost seems to qualify as a vigilante approach.

Two cases have been highlighted in the media recently. The first was that of Irene Clennel. She had lived in Britain for over thirty years. She has a UK husband, two children born in this country – and even a grandchild. But this didn’t stop her from being seized by the authorities taken to a detention centre in Lanarkshire where she was transported to Singapore and left with the grand sum of £12 in her pocket.

Back home she’d acted as her sick husband’s carer. But earlier, it seems, she’d had to return to Singapore for lengthy periods of time to care for her dying parents. Because of this she lost her rights to remain in Britain. Now she’s back in Singapore, where (since the death of her parents) she knows nobody.

DETAINED AT YARL’S WOOD:

The other case concerns Sophia Kamba, from Kettering. She has been held in the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre for some five months.

Now she has learned that her 13-year old son Joel has sickle cell anaemia. With his condition deteriorating he has been admitted to hospital twice in the past few months.

Sophia Kamba (who has lived and worked in the UK for 27 years) has applied for leave from Yarl’s Wood to be with her son. Incidentally, Sophia was born in Britain, as was her mother, but she failed to get naturalised.

In response to her plea for temporary release to see her son, she was told: “you can Skype him from Jamaica.”

As this issue is being prepared, her appeal for temporary leave from detention is still under consideration.

 

MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on April 25, 2017 at 12:34 pm

Saving our Forest way of life:

dinosaurMany old timers in the Forest regret the passing of the “old ways”. Patterns of life have certainly changed over the past fifty years or so.  Mining is now a thing of the past – apart from a scattering of free miners, and even they are fading away.

And we’re losing that thick, sometimes impenetrable, “Vorest” accent, swamped as we are by outside influences. Basically the population is changing as once settled communities are affected by the arrival of incomers in our midst.

Whether this is a good thing or bad depends on your point of view. Me, I couldn’t possibly comment.

But I was interested to see in the local press that attempts had been made to raise money from the heritage lottery to save the distinctive Forest dialect for future generations.

It’s in danger of being lost completely, say those behind the bid.  They aim to make use of oral history recordings (both of the spoken and written word). Attempts will be made to introduce youngsters in the Dean to old patterns of employment – such as ochre mining and “ship badgering” (in other words tending the free-range Forest sheep).

As an old dinosaur I wish them luck. But I must confess to a certain degree of skepticism. We’re all caught up in the forces of change, whether we like it or not. The population of the Forest is changing, patterns of employment, too, are not what they used to be. The best we can hope for is to build up a bank of memories for generations to come. To let them know what our “Land between two rivers” used to be like.

Mark Harper has his say:

I read one of Mark Harper’s contributions to the Citizen the other week with a little bit of interest. Only a little, mind. He is, after all still our MP even if he has been consigned to the backbenches in the Commons.

Now he’s out of government he does seem to be scrabbling around for something relevant to say. He skirts cautiously round the subject of Brexit, before lighting on the High Speed Rail Act which will it seems generate “new jobs and economic growth”.  The trouble is that none of it really affects the Forest of Dean. And it’s somewhat overblown anyway. Our own railway connections will remain exactly the same, apart from some dubious connections in the Bristol direction from Severn Tunnel Junction.

He then lights on the Government’s Bus Services Bill, which will help local authorities improve bus services. Oh yeah? Who’re you kidding? With Stagecoach now running the lion’s share of bus services in and out of the Forest?  I don’t think so.

Then Mark seems to run out of things to say. He rather limply tells us that “the Government is getting on with the day-to-day job of running the country, as well as delivering Brexit.” Yes, that’s what many of us are afraid of.

hoof_signs_victory

Tory Mark Harper MP will be forever linked with the betrayal of what we hold dear and in common: our Forest!

But to be fair to Mark he does go on to tell us about his constituency, with people contacting him “email, phone or in writing.”  He adds that “in addition to this I have continued to attend local events, visit businesses and meet local residents around the constituency.” Well, that’s what he’s paid for.

 

All in all I got the impression that Harper, now he’s no longer involved in Government circles, is casting around to find things to say to his constituents.  But never mind. At least some would say he’s trying. Others might add that he’s very trying.

Clarionposter

The Good Life? Or not so good.

It seems that after trying vegetarianism we’re now being encouraged to go the whole hog (if that’s the right way to put it) and go Vegan. Veganism is the “smart way to save the planet” we’re told.

Humph. A recent item in one paper I read said this isn’t necessarily so.  It doesn’t take into account the air miles that our vegetables travel before they arrive in our shopping bags. Or unless we have our own allotments, how growing them devastates rain forests or other natural climatic regions. Not only that but those who go in for those trendy veggie boxes are more likely to throw away half the contents.

So, let’s think about our culinary habits, eh?

Dinosaur

obituary: Fidel Castro: 1926-2016

In Obiturary, S. Richardson, Uncategorized on April 24, 2017 at 12:15 pm

“HISTORY WILL ABSOLVE ME”
by Sarah Richardson

Fidel Castro’s death in November last year was an event which made me remember and reflect on my time in Cuba. I have been interested in Castro, and the Cuban Revolution, since 1986 when I went on a brigade there with the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. The experience impressed me deeply and helped to shape my outlook on life.

Castro was born into a wealthy farming family in Oriente Cuba in 1926. He grew up to become a young idealistic lawyer, much like Nelson Mandela whom he later much admired.  However, after several setbacks and a clampdown by the authorities he came to believe, like Mandela, that change would only come through armed struggle.

In 1952 a right-wing army general, Fulgenico Batista staged a military coup in Cuba. The country had become a playground for rich Americans with casinos, prostitution, bars and drugs.  Money was siphoned off overseas and little profit went to ordinary Cubans.  Castro recruited a group of revolutionaries to storm the Moncada Barracks on July 26 1953. The attempted coup failed and the leaders, including Castro, were imprisoned.

After his release in 1954 he travelled to Mexico and formed the 26th July movement with his younger brother Raul and Ernesto “Che” Guevara. They landed their boat, the “Granma” with around 80 revolutionaries  on the coast of Cuba in 1956. After three years of fighting from their base in the Sierra Maestra mountains, the rebels won and Fidel Castro was proclaimed President in 1959.

AMERICAN HOSTILITY:
Although initially non-aligned, Castro was rebuffed by the US when private property was nationalised in Cuba and Marxist-Leninists appointed to the Government, notably Che Guevara. Then in 1961, the CIA backed an invasion of Cuba by Cuban dissidents and exiles at the Bay of Pigs. It failed.  But probably the biggest test for Castro’s leadership was the 1963 Cuban missile crisis. By then, Castro had made trade deals with the Soviet Union, notably that the Russians should take most of the island’s sugar harvest in the wake of the US embargo.  In return Kruschev wanted to site nuclear missiles on Cuba, 90 miles from the coast of Florida.

This sparked a major diplomatic incident between America and the USSR. Those who lived through this time remember thinking that it could mean the end of the world. Fortunately a peace deal was brokered and agreed, the weapons were removed from Cuba and an uneasy truce began. The CIA continued to mount attacks on Castro’s life throughout his time in office – which were eventually turned into a book and a film, “634 ways to kill Castro.”

POSITIVE REFORMS:
Domestically, during the 1960s and ‘70s, Castro established the positive reforms which improved living conditions for ordinary Cubans and made the Cuban model desirable internationally, particularly among countries in Africa and Latin America. Universal free health care and education were established as well as subsidised housing.

As well as strengthening relations with the Soviet Union, Cuba supported many leftist and democratic movements worldwide. Sadly, Che Guevara was murdered by the CIA in Bolivia in 1967 when he was supporting the struggle there.  Castro was a leading figure in the non-aligned movement and sent 40,000 troops and medical staff to Angola in the 1960s which helped the country gain independence. In Latin America, Cuba supported the revolution in Nicaragua and the war against the Contras (who were also CIA backed) from 1979 to 1990. It’s unfortunate that, like Cuba, Angola and Nicaragua have retained the same presidents for several decades – Dos Santos in Angola  and Ortega in Nicaragua.  Perhaps less controversially, Castro supported the leftist governments of Evo Morales in Bolivia, Hugo Chavez in Venezuala and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. As one young Cuban remarked, “when Fidel came to power we were a pebble in the ocean. Now everyone knows about us.”

BREAK UP OF SOVIET UNION:
In 1989, Gorbachev began reforms  which would lead to the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of  the special relationship with Cuba by the end of the 1990s. Castro stepped down as President in 2008 due to ill health, and his brother Raul has led Cuba through some cautious changes, notably the reopening of of the US Embassy in Havana in 2015, Obama’s visit to Cuba in 2016 and the beginning again of direct flights between the US and Cuba.

When Castro died, everyone agreed that he had made a mark on history – his detractors that he repressed opposition and free speech, supporters that his struggle for an egalitarian society in Cuba superseded this. When I visited in 1986, the links with the Soviet Union were still in place. I was staying in an international camp with those from other European countries as well as young Cubans.   In our brigade there was a young miner and a miner’s wife. The Miners’ Strike had finished the year before. We had many conversations with Cubans, and their understanding of international issues, despite never leaving the island, was deep and reflective.  I was impressed by their knowledge and understanding of the Broadwater Farm Riots, which had recently taken place in London.

We visited the prison where Castro had been placed after the failed Moncada coup. The island where the prison was had been re-named “Isle of Youth” and it welcomed students from around the world, including Angola and Mozambique. We sang and danced with some of these students . We helped to build homes on a building site and in the evenings listened to political talks and sang “The Internationale” together, each in his or her  own language.

There was very limited choice of products in the shops and Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs) were flourishing. These encouraged people to spy on their neighbours and report “un-revolutionary” behaviour. I am more critical of Castro’s Cuba now than as an idealistic 25 year old. However, I would agree with the final line in Simon Tisdall’s obituary on Fidel  (Observer, 27 November 2016): “For the most part, Castro, iconic figure of the left, was on the right side of history”

SARAH RICHARDSON

 

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on April 24, 2017 at 12:12 pm

So, what’s a “clean break”?

dinosaurTheresa May, our new “iron lady” Prime Minister, has declared that she’s aiming for a “clean break” from the European Union when we have to surrender our membership and leave (by the back door maybe?).

A “clean” break?  When it comes to an exit of this sort there’s no such thing as a “clean” break. Mark my words, it’s going to be messy for an awful lot of people.  We’ve been members of the European Union for a long time now. Many folk were born into it. Whether we liked it or not we grew up as Europeans. We may have grumbled about the EU but many folk moved to mainland Europe, made their homes there, whilst other Europeans moved here. Now, it seems, according to May’s dictat, they’ll no longer be a right of automatic entry to this country for our fellow Europeans on the other side of the channel.    Or, perhaps, no right to stay here if some petty bureaucrat decides otherwise.

If May wants to take it to her “logical” conclusion, she should cancel the Eurostar and fill in the Channel Tunnel. That would help to make a clean break. It wouldn’t have kept the Normans out of course (don’t forget, they were Europeans), or indeed previous waves of Europeans who came here to settle. But who cares these days?

Meanwhile there are plenty of folk both sides of the Channel who’re now working to re-define their nationalities to their best advantage. All because May has decided to make a “clean break”.

Scots wha-hey?

And what of our Scottish neighbours, where the voters decided by a clear majority that they wanted to remain part of Europe?  Scotland has a clear, historically-based sense of separate nationhood, and they don’t want to be bulldosed into a “clean break” with the EU, thank you very much.

What the Scots would be happy to accept it seems would be some kind of “associate status” with the EU – rather similar to that enjoyed by our friends in Norway.  But Theresa May has made it clear that she wants nothing to do with that.

So, if you live in Scotland, where do you go from here?  Hold another referendum?  In which case would May accept a result in favour of Scottish independence?  I wouldn’t know, but then I’m only an old Dinosaur, who enjoys his trips north of the border. Whenever I can. But it’s worth mulling over.

Crossing the river:

I’m afraid I never managed to cross the Severn by way of the old ferry.  It ceased to run in the 1960s – the day before the gleaming new bridge that replaced it was royally opened.

And so the ferry became the stuff of legend, whilst the bridge became something to wonder over.  It was a thing of beauty – and it only cost half a crown (two shillings and sixpence in old money) to motor across.

This was fine – for all except nostalgic thrill seekers who looked back the days of the old ferry.  But then came the craze for privatising everything in sight, and the bridge was franchised out to a French company. Inevitably the cost of crossing started to go up, and up. Not only that, when the new bridge (which bypasses us in the Forest altogether) was built, they threatened to close it down.

It’s now well over six quid. But here’s some good news. It seems the franchise is due to run out in 2018 when it should revert to public ownership. And the estimated cost to cross should fall to three pounds.  I don’t know how this compares to two shillings and sixpence in old money, but it could be worse.

Of course some years back all bridge tolls in Scotland were scrapped completely. But then they’ve never suffered from a Tory government.

Dinosaur