Friday, 27 April 2018

Animal Magic


'Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.' Mark Twain

‘For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.’ Douglas Adams

'Unlike humans, animals do not breed beyond what the land can sustain' Laura King

'Respect animals more than people. We're the ones messing up the world, not them.' Anon

'A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself' Josh Billings

'Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened' Anatole France

'The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.' Mahatma Gandhi

'Why be mean to animals when they treat you better than people?' Anon

'The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk?'
but Can they suffer? Jeremy Bentham

'We patronise the animals for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they are more finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other Nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.' Henry Beston

'I think I could turn and live with the animals, they are so placid and self contained;
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition;
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins;
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God;
Not one is dissatisfied-not one is demented with the mania of owning things;
Not one kneels to another, nor his kind that lived thousands of years ago;
Not one is responsible or industrious over the whole earth.'  Walt Whitman

'Any person who is cruel to animals is a threat to humans' Anon

'When humans act with cruelty, we characterize them as 'animals' yet the only animal that displays cruelty is humanity.'  Anthony Williams

Inspired by a like-minded friend, I was going to write an essay about 'speciesism' but then realised that most of what I had to say about animals could be found in the form of  peppy and pithy quotes, even if I had to write one myself.

There might just be one more to be written for the biblical-minded among you. When the bible gives us 'dominion' over the animals, does that mean 'guardianship' or 'tyranny'? Without wishing to be critical of the big G, I've always felt it's a real shame this was left open to the interpretation and humanity of a flawed and often self-serving man.

I start off this blog with a clip from Johnny Morris's Animal Magic TV programme, a staple of my early childhood, but now condemned by the PC brigade (who else?) for its 'anthropomorphism', even though dubbing the animals with Johnny's silly voices was used with the best of intentions to evoke empathy and understanding in young children. Plus who's to say Johnny was that far off the mark in guessing what the animals were thinking? He had after all devoted his life to working with animals and trying to communicate with them. We now have people who define themselves as 'animal communicators' or 'horse whisperers' etc - badges Johnny would never have dreamed of claiming for himself. 

On the subject of animals with human characteristics, anyone who's ever owned a pet knows how much they like to 'join in' with human elements of life and how you can even take a chicken into your home and it will develop its own characteristics and 'personality' as individual as that of any human being of your acquaintance. We all exchange knowing smiles at tales of how a pet can tell the time when you're coming home, recognise the engine of your car as you turn in, know what time it is for food, walks or play, know when you are upset and need a comforting nuzzle or a companion on your bed all day long to stroke when you are ill. Animals don't care how you look, how successful you are (as long as you keep the food supply coming), what age you are, what car you own, what your marital status is (though a secondary fan in the house is always a good thing!) or any of the other triviata that your fellow humans may judge you for. They care only about their relationship with you. A late poet friend of mine wrote a lovely poem about what a hero he was to his dog (reproduced further down).

I find it sad in the extreme that we have had to battle on several occasions in our so-called civilised 21st Century society to retain the legal protection status of 'sentient beings' for animals, paltry as that protection is when translated into real life. How brainless would a human being have to be not to recognise the difference between an animal and a sack of flour? Not to recognise that animals can feel fear, suffering and pain as much as any human being can, irrespective of whether they can read Shakespeare, complete a crossword or drive a car.

We also know the following about animals that we didn't necessarily know in the past:

  • That sadists and serial killers often start their career on animals and then move onto human beings. Therefore any animal cruelty detected in children needs to be nipped in the bud. I suggest animal appreciation and care classes need to be compulsory in every school, not least when so many homes break up nowadays and the pets are often the first to suffer or be abandoned, leading to even more misery on the childrens' part, who have enough to contend with in dealing with their parents' break up.
  • Child abusers are known for targeting jobs and careers which will expose them to children and most of these areas are now well-monitored requiring DBS checks. Likewise a lot of animal abuse has been exposed in abbatoirs, vivisection labs and chicken plants so a similar monitoring scheme needs to be introduced with lifelong animal ownership/working bans imposed on those found guilty. All animal slaughter facilities need to be covered with CCTV with more inspectors on the ground making unannounced inspections.
  • When people's lives get busy or tough, animals are often the first to suffer.
  • Far too much meat is imported leading to live export cruelty. Those who eat meat need to insist on locally sourced and ethically-produced meat with a checkable provenance. This will also benefit their health as well as animals as cheap meat contains high levels of adrenaline, chemicals and even cancers which have been cut out as part of the preparation process. When animals live in a high-stress environment and are subjected to short and brutal lives, all the stress will remain at cellular level in the meat to be consumed by the human or pet it is processed and purchased for, increasing cancer and other risks.
  • I would like to see a ban on all cartoon animals advertising their meat or animal products in advertising. If ever there was an abuse of anthropomorphism, this is it at its most obscene, yet strangely no one seems to be doing anything about it. Turkeys do not vote for Christmas as they say.
  • There are effective alternatives to animal experiments which may hasten medical progress but as long as the heads of pharma companies are allowed to lobby and influence governments and the law, these will not come to pass as they have had these cruel practices written into law, irrespective of efficacy and side effects to humans.
  • Many animal experiments are both cruel and pointless and many companies copy the same experiments for product development rather than sharing data for 'commercial reasons.'

So now that most groups of human beings have been recognised and granted legal rights and protections accordingly it is high time it was the turn of the animals in my view. They give us so much, yet take so little and they utterly rely on us for a voice and enforcement of what few rights they have.  What protection they have is woefully inadequate to guarantee them even the basics of food, shelter and a life free of fear and pain. 

Ode To My Dog by Brinsley Sheridan

To my dog I am no mortal man, no failed frail human being.
To be dog, I am all powerful, all-knowing and all-seeing.
I’m the centre of his universe, his raison d’etre, his quest,
My words he does not challenge, my will he does not test.

I’m his Mozart, and his Sartre, his Rodin, his Van Gogh,
His Herman Hess, His William S, his Tolostoy and Nabokov.
I’m his Buddha, his Confucius, his Marx, his Mao Tse Tung,
His Rousseau and his Russell, his Adler, Freud and Jung.

My simple tricks with stones and sticks outshine Houdini’s guile,
I summon him with Caruso’s voice and Mona Lisa’s smile.
I unravelled relativity while holing out the ninth,
Penned War and Peace and, with idle ease, designed the Pharoah’s plinth.

I’m his Steve McQueen in ‘Bullet’, his Bogart in ‘Casablanca’,
More debonair than Fred Astaire, and a better disco dancer.
I’m his Rolling Stones, his Beatles, his REM, his Crowded House,
His Superman, his Batman, but never Mickey Mouse.

He trusts me without question, that to me, it seems,
I’m all my childhood heroes, and all my adult dreams.

World Day for the End of Speciesism

Date: August 25, 2018
Place: All over the world
More Information: See the list of events and list of marches
The goal of the World Day for the End of Speciesism is to denounce the unjust ideology that makes the barbarity of raising and killing billions of animals for our pleasure—a needed change. Join a march to  take a stand against the injustice being done to animals, which has become one of the most important social debates of our time. Our relationship with animals is based on speciesism. By analogy with racism and sexism, speciesism refers to an ideology that considers the lives and interests of animals as insignificant just because they are of a different species. Speciesism is untenable because humans are not the only ones to feel emotions and suffer and therefore we have to respect the lives and interests of the other sentient beings who share this planet with us. 


Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Capital Crime - poem




I used to love London but find my heart broken anew each time I visit it these days as more and more of its historic heart is torn out. Photographs on this posting illustrate just one example of the recent loss of a landmark building, which not even listing could save in the face of corporate greed. Regent Palace Hotel was once Europe's largest hotel (1,028 rooms) and a listed example of art nouveau in the heart of Piccadilly Circus.

Capital Crime

Attacked and beaten to death by a gang of wrecking balls
And mechanical creatures with pulverising jaws
Confident hydraulics with killer pincers
Crumple windowframes. Tear flesh wounds in the walls
Excavators scoop out any cowering cellars
‘Hello. Is that the Police?
Come quickly. London is being murdered
By monster machine thugs.
Quick, Quick, there’s no time to lose!’
Buildings minding their own business
Which can’t fight back, are under attack
History is becoming history
Robbed of its ancestry
Everything is a site
Even the sights.
Sold off to the highest bidders
To leave only property developer winners
The skyline is now a sighline
Give the tourists refunds
There’s nothing to see here!
London is undone
©LS King 2018

New building below with the b/s name of Quadrant 3, Air W1, as if it were some form of alien spacecraft that landed. Perhaps it is...

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Blitz Memories

This month I set the following exercise for Hove Writers. Write a story as told to you by a 3rd party. Could be a friend, relative, colleague, client etc, but do change the names if necessary.

Here's mine.

When my father was a boy of about eight he had to walk to and from school during the Coventry Blitz.

One day he made his way to Cramper's Field which he had to walk across to reach his street in Coundon.

A burly Air Raid Warden took his arm and escorted him across the Green telling him ‘Keep your eyes on the path son!’ My father took a sneaky peek and saw that rows of air raid victims had been laid out on either side of the Green.  He noticed a familiar sports jacket among the prone figures and realised it belonged to their neighbour, Mr Browett.

When he got home, all the windows had been blown out but half of next door was missing. His mother’s new curtains still hung at the kitchen window. miraculously undamaged.

One day my father was kept off school. He later overheard the grown ups talking and learned this was because a bomb had hit a graveyard near his school and blown bodies up into the air which were hanging from the trees and telegraph wires.

Another time he met his mother at the local Bingo hall after school and they started walking home together. As they turned into their avenue, his mother suddenly grabbed his arm and insisted they walk round the block to enter the avenue by the other end. This was quite a detour and my father remembered feeling annoyed. Within an hour they heard that an unexploded bomb had been found at the other end of their avenue and his mother’s instincts had potentially saved them in the darkness (no streetlights allowed). My father’s street had quite a lot of hits as the German bombers mistook the primary school behind his street for a factory and often dropped bombs there, which would miss their target and hit surrounding houses.

On a lighter note one house in his street had a hit which caused the piano to shoot out into the middle of the street. No one was killed as the occupants were at work, but another neighbour went out into the street after the All Clear and started playing the piano sparking an impromptu neighbourhood knees up.

Then there was the lady who was envious of the fancy new hat her neighbour had just purchased on the black market (new clothes being on ration). During one air raid, the hat was blown clean from her neighbour’s bedroom into hers directly across the road! Sadly it was too bomb-damaged to wear, though she put the remnants of it on anyway and everyone laughed, except the hat's owner, who was apparently furious.

One night my father and his parents, along with thousands of others, walked to Kenilworth, a village about six miles away to take shelter. My father said it was like watching a firework display seeing the city burning in the distance with rockets whistling before they hit, but then his father completed the Anderson Shelter in the garden and he and his parents would go there if the air raid siren sounded. A bank manager and his family across the street tried to fortify their understairs cupboard and were all killed in an air raid.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Ken Dodd - a phenomenon

When I was 30 and living in Oxford I advertised in the local Daily Info online small ads to meet a man.

A plethora of 55-year olds duly responded.

One was a mediaeval music scholar from one of the colleges, *Jeremy. We had a few coffee and antiquarian bookshop dates, mainly because I was too polite to decline. He was a dry man of tweed suit and indeterminate sexuality, probably put up to it by an elderly widowed mother, but had the slightly intriguing air of a John Le Carre character.

Perhaps the aspect which most stood out about him was a surprising admission that he loved Ken Dodd and booked up to a year in advance for tickets as soon as each Oxford date was announced. Oxbridge-educated *Jeremy simply couldn't get enough of Liverpudlian Ken Dodd and his fabled 5-hour shows and had even made pilgrimages to other cities to see him inbetweentimes to get a top up of the Diddy Men and their master. He would have taken me to the next show, but naturally, it was already sold out.

I thought of how devastated *Jeremy must be at the news earlier this week.

I didn't really consider Ken Dodd to be my brand of humour, but more than one person has enthused that one live show and you were a lifelong convert!

Watching the tributes on TV, I found myself acquiring an increasing admiration for the man as I watched interviewee after interviewee marvel at how he shuffled onto the stage as an 89 year old, to become progressively younger in front of their very eyes until they were watching a 35 year old five hours later, their sides hurting from so much laughter, and bursting to go to the loo as he made them wait hours for each break.

If performing bestowed upon him the miracle of eternal youth, no wonder he was so addicted to it! I know from personal experience, performing gives an adrenalin buzz like few other activities, though whether this is the same as, say, skydiving, I am not about to find out!

Moreover, in direct interviews with Ken, he spoke of 'giving a gift' to the audience, polished over many years, He genuinely saw himself as a gift, giving the gift of laughter to thousands of people. And thousands of people, it seemed, did not disagree.

He defied the natural laws of comedy, outliving the rest of the music hall business by a good 50 years (even Max Miller complained music hall had died in around 1950, reckoning he was the last one left 'There'll never be another!' before he died in 1963). Most of Ken's jokes and songs would not have been out of place in the 1940s and his whole act including bad ventriloquism with Dickie Mint embodied a defiant Dunkirk spirit (defiant as in refusing to acknowledge that this epoch in history was long over) and pretending that we were still all British, albeit without alienating those who weren't. In lieu of swearing he invented his own 'tattyfilarious' language for emphasis and point making, not to mention an entire fantasy world of jam butty mines and diddy men based around his home village, the divinely named 'Knotty Ash'. Despite never having had a mother-in-law (just two long-suffering fiancees), Ken also had an endless appetite for that old British staple - the mother-in-law joke.

Ken's most up to date references revolved around being done by the tax man in 1989, joking that he 'invented self-assessment' and that he was excused from the Inland Revenue as he 'lived by the sea'. Extraordinarily, for someone who was rumoured to have thousands buried under his floorboards, Ken never got burgled, despite his close proximity to Liverpool, which is a measure of what a local hero he was. Extraordinarily too, he lived in the same modest house he was born in for his entire life, retaining his parents' furniture and table settings and eschewing fancy holidays and cars (though he often had to pay theatres extra for allowing his shows to overrun - and he kept up an exhausting schedule of up to 200 a year).

Ken fully played up to his goofy appearance, though looked increasingly marionette-like in later years with pronounced make up to match. In his 50s, a dentist apparently offered to straighten his trademark protruding teeth, much to Ken's outrage.

Well Ken, what an extraordinary man you were - yet never a whiff of scandal about you (except for the time you fell foul of the tax man), and you survived the slaughter of the old-style comic when 'alternative comedy' came along. But even in your day, it was unheard of to have a music hall career spanning over 70 years and I think in death you will continue to hold that British record unchallenged. You may even have, single-handedly, been keeping the genre going! And unlike most comedians, you appeared to be a genuinely happy man. Your 'tears of a clown' were happy tears.

Finally you had the last laugh by marrying your fiancee of 40 years just before you died, to cheat the tax man yet again! RIP Ken. 'There'll never be another!'

*Previous posting on Max Miller and George Formby here.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Speed Friending and Other Pursuits

It's been a busy time lately.

I have taken over running Hove Writers at Hove Library once a month - which is a joy. It is a completely free and open group so you never quite know who is going to turn up. However we always have an enriching and entertaining couple of hours with a bit of chat, some workshopping and a writing exercise in this stunning library, and some of us troop round to a George Street cafe for a cuppa after.

I've embarked on a stand-up comedy career (I think), which is truly refreshing and a complete contrast to the day job. I also find that I enjoy writing comedy as much as performing and am constantly jotting new lines, ably edited by my comedy-fan partner, who has already appointed himself my manager and agent, though he is receiving a big fat 10% of nothing at the moment! Anyway it's Sarah Millican or bust in the next 12 months apparently, so no pressure!

I'm about to bring 'Speed Friending' to Brighton - a bit like speed dating but to make friends - so less pressured. It's big in the US, in Dublin and with various UK universities to get students interacting with one another so I predict it could become big here too. I suspect I am not the only one developing a thirst for a little more onlife and a little less online!

Finally I am writing a pop psychology book. Phew!

Friday, 5 January 2018

Addiction-Free World

Once upon a time 'bread and circuses' were all it was believed were needed to entertain and placate the masses and keep them from revolting.

Today we live in a world where addiction is almost encouraged whether it be to street drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, gambling, gaming, tattoos, porn or just good old fashioned social media.

The size of dishes and plates have increased and wine glasses have grown to the size of goldfish bowls.

Everywhere excess is encouraged and even celebrated. Street drugs may not be legal, yet are easily obtainable on almost every street corner. It is no longer a shameful thing to see a young woman blind drunk on a pavement with her limbs akimbo and scant clothing compromised, but a commonplace sight.

Not so long ago only the elderly or disabled used motorised mobility carts. Now they are fast becoming the legs of an increasingly obese population.

We are expected to be connected to our electronic devices (including work-related) 24/7, no matter that we might be on a date, driving, or in the middle of a theatre show. And the programs on them all inter-connect so that a thousand different unknown sources have access to our activities, finances and movements at any given time.

Betting shops proliferate, particularly in poor areas where you often see as many as half a dozen within a few hundred yards of each other, typically next to a pawn or payday loan shop. Keeping a nation in debt (once an imprisonable offence with debtors jails in Victorian times) also keeps the risk of industrial action down for those who are in work.

Young people vie with each other to be the best looking on selfies, spiraling into narcissistic personality disorder, if not eating disorders and cosmetic surgery addictions into the bargain, if they believe they are anything less than a 'perfect 10'. They even bully and troll each other over minor human differences and imperfections.

Debt, relationship breakdown, ill-health, disability and mental illness are the end result of an unbalanced perspective and lifestyle - yet more ways a cynic might assume - to occupy the mind and keep a population tame.

Granted, all these human wrecks will cost the state a bomb in healthcare and benefits, but the good news is not for long, particularly once assisted suicide is legalised and they've been driven to it.

I believe we are watching the deliberate dismantling of our society and it all began in the 1960s with the nuclear family, the community, the church etc. For what purpose, I know not, as you would not assume it is in this country's interests to have a population so apparently useless and uneducated (and permitted to remain so) we seemingly need to import thousands of foreign nationals to do the jobs we once did, a country which continually borrows more money than it can ever pay back and has sold many of its assets off to overseas concerns, losing us national power and food security among other terrifying core assets and functions.

John Major promised a 'classless society' but what we've ended up with are two extra classes, the underclass and the super rich. Thanks to Tony Blair we've also been dragged into not just a war that had nothing to do with us, but which has cost us more in national debt than the whole of WWII (which we had only just finished paying off prior to first Gulf war), to the extent that our public services are now claiming dire financial hardship/threatening ever more draconian cuts, despite continuing to extract ever more taxes.

Perhaps there is no long term plan. Perhaps it is all about the super rich being the real ones in charge and finding ever more ingenious ways to leech all the wealth and assets out of the classes beneath by preying on their human weaknesses and engineering disadvantageous financial products for them so that they spend their entire lives in debt. More liabilities for the poor, more assets for the rich. Certainly there has never been greater financial and social inequality than there is now and no one even mentions 'social mobility' any more.

Ultimately I believe we now inhabit a world where we've never needed our wits about us more and on that basis I don't intend to lose mine, much as I have had my flirtations with social media addiction and some pretty hard core chocolate!

It is said we only use 5% of our minds. Imagine if we all decided to learn how to harness and use the other 95% of our minds through mindfulness and assorted mental training. No one would ever be able to push us around or give us their cr*p again and we could be the most incredible force for good in the world, which in itself would prove a natural anti-depressant, and even high, in the face of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Time to stand up against being turned into sheeple and take back control of our lives! If we are not in the driving seat, who is? Addiction is not 'self-medication'. It is digging an even deeper hole than the one we are in and throwing away a criminal waste of human potential.

I firmly believe an addiction free-world of mindfulness and learning to master our own minds is the only way we will ever engineer a world where drugs are not needed - the paradise would be real! The high would be permanent with no crash or hangover to fear. Moreover it would be accompanied by the pride and self-satisfaction of having achieved it through our personal intention and hard work.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Truly Madly Ghostly!

I recently set an exercise for the Library writing group I run to describe something odd or unexplained which once happened to them. Here's mine.

When I was 18, my then-boyfriend John and I were strolling hand in hand through Abbey Fields in Kenilworth. It was nearing dusk on a sunny autumnal day and in the gathering gloom, not far from the old church, I became aware of a grey robed figure wearing a hood proceeding along an earthen path from the abbey ruins. I briefly wondered if it was someone in fancy dress but then noticed that the figure was not walking but gliding just above the ground and had no feet! He also appeared to have a black hole where his face should have been.

I screamed and leapt into my startled boyfriend’s arms who promptly fell over.  I am not sure if John believed me as neither of us could see anything when we got up and dared to peak, having brushed the grass off our clothes, but I do remember we beat a hasty retreat to his red Lancia and left the park without further ado!

In retrospect it seems like a dream, but I know what I saw and I know how I reacted, which was wholly out of character. Moreover, nothing like that has happened to me before or since. I think any doubts crept in because it is so hard for the brain to process such an extraordinary spectacle, let alone within the short time frame in which it happened, so my brain has tried to convince itself since that the incident was imagined, because that is the easier option to appease its logic.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Health and Safety for Students

When I was a child 'Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!' was drilled into us as a mantra from an early age. Today's parents seem to have forgotten to teach their children even this simple resilience so that they grow up afraid of words as well as sticks and stones.

Meantime the Green Cross Code is no longer taught and teens are allowed to leave the house in outfits I would never have been allowed to leave the house in (often glued to ear buds so they cannot hear any risks approaching them as they walk or cycle along) so where is safety consideration when it comes to the physical side of young lives?

Inflammatory Words

 Students need safe spaces 
 Non-platform places 
 For anxiety abounds 
 If there’s no topic out of bounds 
Challenge is aggression 
And you don’t want confrontation 
When you have half-formed views 
Gleaned from Buzzfeed news 
Let’s not mention the secret lunchtime trolling 
When not virtue signal extolling 
Brexit is bad but other pro-choice is good 
And you are the most puritan in vegan food 
Demand uncontroversial debate that doesn’t over-excite 
And chimes with the views which get facebook likes 
We can all agree that kittens are cute, right? 
But rigorous debate, that’s the stuff of hate! 
Granted, you have all the answers 
 But why take chances? 
What do you mean hysteria, hypocrisy? 
Of course you stand for free speech and democracy 
As long as they cancel that speaker, the one who won’t pre-submit his speech 
So you can vet for free speech offence breach 
Fascist? Shut the front door! Racist! 

 ©LS King 2017

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Contactless World

Some individuals may feel they already live in a contactless world, without meaningful relationships in their lives, and even going days without talking to another human being, particularly if constrained by physical or mental health issues.

Many doubtless lack the comforting touch of a pet, never mind a human being. Moreover, it may have nothing to do with age. There is an alarming rise in depression and loneliness in the young too, no matter that their Facebook output may paint a picture of enviable perfection. Even a third of middle-aged Brits are now living alone.

Well here is the bad news. The world is set to get a whole lot more contactless.

We have become a more tolerant society to those who might once have found themselves on the margins (and rightly so), but meantime we have seen families, churches, communities and most elements that used to bind people together and offer a solid support structure swept away. Nor does a job for life exist any more.

In a so-called green age, we have seen the rise of the ruthless and throwaway society which extends to people too - at both ends of life. We are constantly encouraged to 'get over' and 'move on' irrespective of whether we are mourning a relationship break up or a deceased loved one. Most of us now spend more time on social media exchanging opinions and funny photos with random strangers than we do nurturing our real life friends and relationships. Social media also gives the opportunity for some anonymous trolling, when not virtue-signalling or falling out with someone over some trivial difference of opinion. It is no accident that mental health issues have risen in almost direct proportion to screen addiction.

Meantime the creep of the cashless society is afoot. Forget maintaining control over your finances, Silicon Valley won't stop driving cash out of town until they own us, lock, stock and barrel and can charge what they want for all the currently free services they have got us addicted to and on every other transaction too. Not so long ago the banks ruled the world. Then they became casinos and crashed, leaving the pitch wide open to the electronic players.

Some people call this 'progress' but I think we swallow the sugar-coated pill called 'convenience' at our peril. If cash goes, we will see even more social isolation and societal disenfranchisement. From children no longer receiving pocket money to homeless and other vulnerable individuals suffering and starving and charity donations taking a nosedive. The excuse is that banning cash will destroy the black economy and force everyone to pay their taxes leading to a more equal society, though as long as corporations are let off the hook and Russian gangsters are allowed to buy up half of London, this is patently untrue. Notwithstanding, preliminary trials and experiments in other countries have demonstrated that the black economy simply goes underground and finds a new way to operate, just as it always has, even if they have to start using another currency or create their own. In the legal world going paperless can backfire as we have seen with the road tax disc which used to have to be prominently displayed in every vehicle by law. Since scrapping this paper disc in 2014, yet continuing to require all vehicle keepers to carry on buying it in ethereal form, our government has lost £80m in revenue and counting. If no vehicle displays one, where is a parking enforcer to start in scanning every last vehicle on a daily basis to ensure compliance? Particularly when they have parking ticket targets to reach!

I have never been more grateful to see my new (and probably last) cheque book arrive in the post this morning. I may not write many cheques, but I still value them for some transactions but what I value even more is having the CHOICE as a consumer. When I grew up (not so long ago), being issued with your first cheque book was an important right of passage into the adult world. Credit cards were generally used for big ticket items and travel and only tended to be issued to home owners in their forties. No one my age had one.

So not content with the attack on the cheque book (thankfully postponed owing to public outcry), we see our bank and Post Office branches closing down, our free ATM's under threat and our bank notes reduced to toy town money. Meanwhile our parking machines are being turned into card/phone payment only, travel  and theatre ticket office closures force us to use our cards and pay 'booking fees' and we are propelled to the self-service checkouts in stores (contactless) and encouraged to use contactless cards (despite the warnings of security experts) so that onlife shopping becomes as soulless as online shopping.

Electronic payments may be seen as convenient by some, but what happens when they go wrong and you have a faceless non-accountable organisation to argue with to get your overpayment back? A mistake on a card is so much harder to rectify than getting the wrong change back in a cash transaction. And let's not forget the fees, fees, fees on virtually every transaction, as if they are doing you a favour by sacking all their staff and replacing them with machines! In addition I have seen so many passengers with bus ticket apps whose phones fail them when getting on a bus to the point they often have to pay cash anyway! I have also never bought a train ticket online or via a machine which was cheaper than the one I queued to pay a clerk in a booth for, a human being who can advise me on the best prices, times and routes. Self-service is NOT service. I may not be an old lady yet, reliant on a shop transaction as my only human interaction of the day, but as a human being I still demand to be served by other human beings. We have also seen whole systems brought to a halt by hackers and this risk can only increase, aside from all the individual cases of online fraud, which experts admit, are becoming ever cleverer and harder to avert. But at least the banks are currently obliged to try to offer some assistance and compensation. Who will help and protect consumers when Silicon Valley has taken their place and they operate entirely outside UK legislation?

Anyway. let's not kid ourselves. All the free goodies we enjoy on the internet now are but a 'gateway drug'  to lead us up the garden path to the hardcore reality of a contactless, control-less future which not only charges us at every turn but can cut us off electronically and condemn us to an electronic gulag cast out from society if we do anything to displease its masters! Hence I am writing this blog while I can!

The sexual world has become such a minefield, society almost deems it more desirable to go contactless there too, with live webcam shows and pernicious free porn, lest the brush of a real life knee or waist is misinterpreted, and which can doubtless only lead to disappointment after a hardcore porn addiction, when it is not! On a related note, the teenage pregnancy rate in UK has almost halved since the advent of social media as young girls would seemingly rather flirt online than meet boys in real life. Online, girls can control their image, so presumably those who don't match up to their glamorous photo-shopped selfies or made up personas can stay safe!

Finally, lest we get any ideas about remaining in the driving seat of our own lives, we have the joys of self-driving vehicles being foisted upon us - ostensibly to prevent accidents - but in reality we will most certainly be tracked and charged for whatever by whomever at will and there won't be a damn thing we can do about it! And what if the car is still involved in an accident or traffic violation? Who or what will be held responsible?

I can't wait!

Meantime I shall carry on being the cash backlash, watching my old skool DVD/VHS collection, reading my paper books (mine, all mine, for you never own electronic data!), meeting friends IRL (in real life) and supporting my High Street, whilst ensuring I keep my mobile notifications firmly switched OFF, for that way madness lies. Nor have I any intention of ever connecting my mobile phone to my bank account and indulging in phone apps. It may not be off-grid living exactly, but I choose real life insofar as it still exists. As the famous scene in Network declares; 'I'm a human being goddammit!'

For those who share my concern that we are sleepwalking into an unelected world we have diminishing personal control over under the guise of 'progress', I recommend reading The War Against Cash by Ross Clark and Done by Jacques Peretti. (available in all good bookshops too - support them while they last!)

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Is The National Trust Creating Trust Issues?

You'd have thought the National Trust would have had enough beautiful buildings in need of rescue to cherry pick and restore the most amazing national headquarters possible, even in the middle of London. Or failing that they could have talked to the Society For The Protection Of Ancient Buildings who maintain a list of At Risk historic buildings For Sale. 

Instead they opted to erect the above temple to the worst of flimsy bland modernity in Swindon for £14.5m, representing a rather large V-sign to their many thousands of members. Ok, it has green credentials (if you discount its construction footprint) but how much more inspirational it would have been to show how a historic building could have been 'greened' to a similar degree without compromise to its architectural integrity.

Recently their outgoing (thank goodness) £183,000pa director Dame (how?) Helen Ghosh has dragged NT into the eye of a storm by putting the National Trust, somewhat inexplicably, at the heart of celebrations commemorating the 50th anniversary of the de-criminalisation of homosexuality.

Not content with trying to force NT's many thousands of (mostly retired) volunteer staff and guides whose free labour the charity relies on to proudly wear rainbow badges, thus alienating many scores, some of whom have resigned after more than 20 years of giving their time to the charity, Dame Helen also 'outed' the late owner of Felbrigg Hall, left to the National Trust by lifelong bachelor, Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, something his surviving friends and family insist he would have been horrified by as he was he was 'a very private man' and of an era where most people kept their private lives private. Then there was the ghoulish exhibition of 51 nooses at Kingston Lacey to mark those who were hanged for their proclivities in less enlightened days - moving, no doubt - but hardly relevant to (or the place of) a conservation charity.

Earlier in the year Dame Helen enraged members and staff alike by banning the word 'Easter' from the Great Egg Hunt' events promoted across NT properties and she has previously outraged art lovers by removing many paintings from NT properties (NT hold one of the largest collections of art in the country) to encourage a less middle class demographic to visit, an object significantly reduced admission (or even free days) would be far more likely to achieve. Similarly she has stripped a lot of antique furnishings out for the same reason (let's hope they do an audit of everything she's removed before she leaves - or even better compel her to reinstate it.)

The latest is that NT have stopped asking visitors to rate their 'enjoyment' of visiting a National Trust property as the percentage of positives was plummeting.

My last visit to an NT house was to Prime Minister Disraeli's House Hughendon in High Wycombe about a year ago. I loved the house and garden and found 'Dizzy' a fascinating character, but what impacted on my NT 'experience' is that the moment we admitted to not being NT members, the young spiv in the ticket office proceeded to do a hard sell on my mother and me for ten minutes or so rather than just smile sweetly, hand us a membership leaflet, let us buy the tickets and get on with it. The tea shop was overpriced (as expected) and delivered distinctly underwhelming menu options, my watery hot chocolate at the luxury price of £3.40 being particularly disappointing.  The gift shop had a few nice trinkets, but again overpriced enough to easily resist temptation (particularly for my mother's generation, who now have money late in life but have never developed a habit of spending it on unnecessaries, owing to the privations of  their early life). Note*: It was once a fantasy job of mine to become 'chief buyer' for a major historic attraction, in which case, I would have used the William Morris 'useful and beautiful' criteria as my mantra for selection and known exactly how to hook my mother's generation into buying!

While I appreciate the fact that most large houses have now opened their Below Stairs world as well, what I don't like are too many ropes in the way and not enough artifacts on display. I don't like most dumbing down or Disneyfication of our heritage, though that said, I don't mind the odd wax figure here and there or staff dressing up. In fact I prefer staff dressing up as it adds to the atmosphere. Laid banquet tables are also fine with me.

I like the tea room and WC's to be as beautiful as any other area, preferably with Victorian replica sanitaryware and William Morris wallpaper in the loos and at least appear to be genuinely historic and in sympathy with the property, even if they are modern add-ons. I think well-behaved dogs should be as welcome as well-behaved children. More places to take your dog is definitely a national need. But one of the absolute joys of visiting a historic property, apart from to admire its beauty and absorb its history, is that the admission fee usually guarantees you some peace from overcrowded and raucous public areas where graffiti and anti-social behaviour such as littering or excessive noise, might be on display. If people have to pay admission, they generally respect a space far more.

I also approve of the public events such as the organised fire work displays, concerts, ghost hunts, banquets and other entertainments that many NT properties now host. This is an important revenue stream for them and often forms special and even landmark memories for attendees.

Drag hunting on NT land remains a dilemma if the accusations are founded that it is used as an excuse to 'accidentally' tear apart live animals in the process, but if anti-hunt protesters have solid film evidence that this is happening, then they need to submit this to the Police and the RSPCA. 
It is not up to the NT to take action on the basis of online petitions unless this evidence has been submitted to and is confirmed by the relevant channels. If drag hunting were to be banned there is also the matter of all the hounds which would be culled if they were no longer needed, which is a cruelty issue in itself. The NT are meeting to decide the matter on 21st October.

Hopefully with the departure of (Dame) Helen, the NT can focus on getting back on track and back to the mission people join them for - to save the nation's heritage.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The Royal Wedding - remembered

'Rubbishing stuff!' condemned my father from the kitchen doorway, bonfire wellies still on. 'Bloody parasites, the lot of them!'
'Oh stop it' retorted my mother 'Go back to your bonfire if you don't want to watch it and take those dirty boots with you!' A gruff harrumph was followed by the back door slamming.
Such was the day punctuated at regular intervals as my little sister, mother and I gathered round the 12 inch black and white TV set, straining to take in every detail of the pageantry that was the Charles and Di wedding.

We particularly marvelled at the Emanuels' ivory puffball wedding dress which drowned Lady Diana's slight figure and almost served as 'packing material' around her in the carriage conveying her to St Paul's, and wondered how on earth she went to the loo.

 My father simply couldn't comprehend the female imperative which made such spectacles compulsory viewing, not least when he had made his views on the Royal Family clear and expected his family to tow his line on this (among other matters).

I briefly wondered what Lady Di was doing marrying such a boring old man, but all the adults seemed to agree the Royal Wedding was a Very Good Thing, the officiators were taking it scarily seriously indeed, and he was a prince after all, and she LOOKED like a princess.  So the grown ups who ruled the world surely knew what they were doing.

Years later I learned that 'loony feminists' had been furiously waving 'Don't Do It Di!' placards just out of camera shot as the carriage wended its doomed way. But the nation demanded its pageant pound of flesh and as Princess Di admitted post-divorce, the T-towels and the tea sets were already printed, so what was a girl to do?

Nevertheless, I still recall it as a marvellous day which brought the nation together, topped by Kiri Te Kanawa's soaring solo in St Paul's and the happy couple did manage to look happy. The sun even managed to shine.

Post Charles and Di, the Royals ultimately learned that it was a bad idea to value virginity and breeding above all other traits in a future daughter-in-law, Consequently Fergie and Sophie enjoyed far happier marriages for being women of the world and age-appropriate to their princely spouses. Whilst Fergie and Andrew didn't last either, at least they managed to part as friends, with no dirty laundry aired in public, and present a united parenting front, enjoying the odd family holiday together to this day.

I do often find myself wondering about a particular wedding present that Charles and Di received though, a set of new goose down feather pillows every year, and wonder how long they were sent for and when they were cancelled by that particular wedding guest. In addition were they ever misused to biff each other over the head with?

As for my father, he is no longer around to approve or disapprove of Royal weddings. However now I am old enough to hold my own views I'd rather live under a monarchy than a presidency, for all its imperfections, and in answer to the mealy-mouthed, I am sure the Royals earn the country at least as much as they cost it in tourism and other revenue. They have even sacrificed the royal yacht and the royal train, for goodness' sake!

Finally latter-day royalty is not without its challenges. I feel sorry for Kate, as having enjoyed national admiration for being a commoner whom William fell in love with and married, she is now chastised for talking with 'a plum in her mouth' and it seems she can no longer put a foot right even though she's tried everything to be the perfect Royal wife and mother, to the point of blandness, for someone who wasn't born to nobility. Sadly for her, she lacks Diana's charisma and luminescence to override every pair of tights being commented on, but maybe she will find her feet in time. Or the cute kiddiwinks will get her through. As long as she doesn't have too many of course in these environmentally-sensitive times.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

What Would Princess Diana Be Doing Now?

Like most people, I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news (in bed on a Sunday morning when my radio alarm inexplicably went off at 5.30am to relay the surreal and shocking event while I sleepily tried to figure out who they were talking about whose 'boys were going to have to be very brave').

I have wondered many times since what Princess Di would be doing now if she were still alive and never more so than approaching the 20th anniversary of that fateful night

What we know about a surviving Princess Diana for certain:

  • Would have continued to be a proud and supportive mum to Wills and Harry
  • Would be a doting grandma to George and Charlotte
  • Would continue to play a pivotal role on the world's stage most probably through charitable work, ie becoming ambassador for UNICEF like late Audrey Hepburn. 
  • Would have continued to be a friend to HIV/AIDS sufferers.
  • Would remain a fashion icon and keep fit enthusiast.


  • Before she died Princess Di was denied a bolt hole house on the Althorpe family estate by her brother Earl Spencer. She then yearned to live abroad but was told in no uncertain terms that she couldn't take the princes with her if she did so. Her compromise was increasingly frequent holidays/mercy missions with regular calls and visits home to Wills and Harry. As they grew into men and forged lives of their own I think Diana would have emigrated, though possibly remaining in Europe.
  • Diana was due to fly home to see Wills and Harry the day after she was killed. She may have enjoyed her summer with Dodi, but she knew he was a playboy and the moment she found out he had another girlfriend on another yacht nearby, one he had promised to marry, that would have been the end of it!
  • Meanwhile the Royals (if they hadn't previously attempted to) might have apologised to her for her ill-contrived Royal marriage and tried to cut a deal with her to agree to live quietly and respectably (including no change of religion as mother of heirs to a C of E throne) in return for free lifetime tenancy, possibly of former Edward and Mrs Simpson pad in France, and a generous guaranteed lifetime income. Having a strong sense of destiny that she was meant to be out there making the world a better place, she would have declined but insisted on retaining a lifelong royal title. Nor would she have agreed to be publicly gagged in any OK magazine appearances etc. As she said of herself in a post-divorce interview 'She just wouldn't go quietly.'
  • Diana felt the need of a wealthy man to protect her, so in Jackie Kennedy fashion (one of her heroines whose style she often emulated) I believe she would have eventually found herself an Onassis figure or widowed nobleman to marry, based in Europe. She would subsequently have quickly tired of a 'safe' father figure who possibly first admired her charitable endeavours and then sought to persuade her to give them up one by one as she should give all of her attention to him. In truth, she needed all the attention focused on her and wasn't about to become anyone's trophy wife or bird in a gilded cage. So divorce no. 2 would follow, albeit leaving her well set up for life.
  • A couple of successive flings with wealthy arab playboys might have followed, who flattered her, cheered her and spoiled her for a while, but had no intention of seriousness.
  • Finally I think she might have settled for a wealthy Fortune 500 American and moved stateside to be publicly adored into her dotage, Skype and Facetime by now keeping her in touch with her nearest and dearest in addition to regular visits.
  • Charles would not have been able to marry Camilla, not just because Diana would have made a massive fuss, as would her thousands of loyal followers, but because the church wouldn't have allowed him while his former wife was still alive. Then again, once we had gay marriage, Charles could have always asked for a review of the situation!
  • After initially embracing Tony Blair and New Labour, she would have become appalled by the war he took the nation into, particularly when he offered her no major role as a peacemaker and contradicted her charitable and peaceful endeavours.
  • Diana would have made strenuous efforts to try and save her rock star friend George Michael from his demons when she realised his life was spiralling and make him get help. She may or may not have succeeded in extending his life but her efforts would have put his condition in the public domain and encouraged other of his loved ones and fans to stage interventions.
  • Diana would have encouraged the nation's women to dress better and not let fashion descend into anything goes. Tattoos and piercings would also be less prevalent under her influence.
  • We wouldn't be such an emotionally incontinent nation who cry at the slightest thing, which would not please the producers of BGT! Diana's death spelt the end of the stiff upper lip and any pretence of emotional resilience. She has also, for better or worse, made the cult of victimhood socially acceptable, and not necessarily as a curable condition.
For all her pros and cons Diana was an undeniably iconic figure and, Royalist or not, you could no more ignore her 'girl next door' luminescence with its cornflower blue rolling eyes and flicked blonde locks than you can walk past an image of Marilyn Monroe without being drawn like a magnet. What they shared was that elusive intangible known as star quality and the unshakeable belief (despite their myriad failings and insecurities) that they were born to play a major role on the world's stage. Like Marilyn, Diana was a flame which burned too brightly and she died at the same age as her movie star heroine - 36 - in the month of August - like a candle in the wind indeed.

Diana's untimely death also plunged the monarchy into a crisis not seen since Edward VIII's abdication. The Royal Family simply did not know how to respond to the event or to the extraordinary outpouring of public grief, while simultaneously trying to comfort and protect the princes.

Strangely the thought of Diana being alive today is almost unthinkable. I wonder why that should be.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Reclaiming the Middle Class

My grandparents didn't claw their way up from working class families of 12 on one side and 15 on the other with scarcely enough to eat and at least half the family lost in infancy and in two world wars for me to pretend to be ashamed of the class they aspired to and eventually achieved - middle. And I'm not.

I therefore find myself growing increasingly tired of middle class people pretending to be anything but, meanwhile enjoying all the luxuries and privileges (and in many cases financial buffering) of their education and class. Champagne socialists, I suppose.

It is particularly galling when you meet someone who benefited from grammar school and a free university education themselves but who is more than happy to see the drawbridge pulled up against all other bright working class kids who may seek to better themselves and who now openly mocks and speaks against the grammar school system as 'outmoded' and 'unfair'. Often the same people indeed
who purposely move house to ensure their children are in the best possible school catchment area and have private tutors to cram any subjects they are shaky on as 'young Bryony is definitely OxBridge material'. Those who harp on and on about immigrants but would never dream of turning over their spare room to one, let alone indefinitely, and for no rent. When they are not harping on about how green they are with a bespoke kitchen island recycling unit, whilst taking four long haul holiday flights a year and popping five Boden-clad sprogs, that is.

As a keen reader of social history, I find we actually had more visionary educationalists even in the 1920s than we do now. And if kids left school without knowing the three R's inside out, it tended to be because they had had to leave school at 14 to earn a wage to help put food on the table for their impoverished family.

My grandmother won a grammar school place in 1913, but could not take it as her family could 'not afford the uniform' with 12 children to feed (and presumably on the basis that females in those days had very limited job prospects anyway so they may as well go out to work at the earliest opportunity).

Wind forward and social mobility was the big thing twenty years ago, but tellingly, it is  hardly mentioned now.  It's all about treating all kids equal and making sure they all win prizes.  In politically correct lip service if not in actuality that is. Those with money still pay for privilege and special treatment for their darlings to ensure they will be life's winners.

Reading 'The Middle Classes - their Rise and Sprawl' by Simon Gunn the other day really brought home the noble intentions of many of the original Victorian middle class who devoted their lives to innovating and building industries and cities to make Britain great, using their newfound wealth for all kinds of philanthropic projects including the social and educational betterment of their communities, however prescriptive, by today's standards. We have them to thank for universal free education and public libraries and toilets, among other things. They brought in trains and a postal system not much slower than the internet! The middle classes were known for getting things done and often on a grand scale.

What has happened to that 'can do' spirit? That pride in our country and determination to make it centre stage with justification?

We now have a middle class which continues to insist on playing a centre stage role in the world and interfering in the affairs of other peoples and nations but without the excuse and welt of Empire or a significant economic/manufacturing base to justify such a stance and without any weight left to throw around if we did but admit it.

We are left with a nation we constantly mock, undermine and apologise for in every way, even selling off the family silver, with many of our bridges, utilities and banks sold off to other countries, leaving us in a perilous national position, yet we continue to grant ourselves the right to tell the rest of the world what to do, a hangover of empire, if you will.

Former Prime Minister John Major promised the coming of a 'classless society'. What he and subsequent governments have actually facilitated are two additional classes in Britain - the underclass - where we are now seeing second or third generation benefit dependents, some of whom have never worked in their lives and - the super rich - whose job it seems to be to hoover up and trouser enormous amounts of wealth, occasionally for doing very little or providing only parasitical services to society, before depositing them into offshore bank accounts and funds to dodge tax.

So do I hate my class? No. Not at all. I just want us all to be honest about what we are and stop pretending to be ardent lefties, with all that would bring if the leftie utopia ever became a reality. Even Jeremy Corbyn went to public school and grew up in a substantial property, for goodness' sake! Up the workers - my a**e. I just want us to make our forbears, those strugglers who fought in two world wars, proud.

But on the other hand we need educated people to run the country properly and like it or not, these do tend to come from the middle or upper class, even if they often do it improperly. All the more reason to reclaim the middle class loudly and proudly. Or at least the best parts of what it used to embody. If we need an enemy, let it be those leeching super-rich who now control over 90% of the world's wealth keeping untold millions in poverty. Let it be the realisation that political correction has replaced national direction. 

The other day I overheard a forty-something white trustafarian woman boast loudly to her young Turkish companion in a trendy Brighton vegetarian restaurant that she was a campaigner for 'no borders'. 'Yeah, right.' I thought. 'I bet you are. As long as it doesn't impact on your comfortable lifestyle in any way and gives you a ready supply of exotic young paramours.' 

On a less cynical note here is - The Emperor of Lancashire - George Formby's sublime comedic take on being promoted to emperor from a working class perspective!