Monday, 31 December 2018

Born in the Wrong Age - an Oxford Tale

I have an Oxford friend - let's call her Octavia - who although not born in Oxford, looks like the archetypal 'Oxford character' you would expect to find in an OxBridge novel - petite and birdlike with wire framed round glasses, an academic air and an eccentric taste in dress, long skirts, not quite Edwardian but not quite 20th century either, let alone 21st Century - a combination of vintage charity purchases and home sewing of silk and lace remnants.

For someone so 'in place' she has been finding herself feeling increasingly out of place, even born in the wrong age.

Her plays and novels bear this out. Octavia has penned at least half a dozen novels and numerous plays. All meticulously researched and often tackling big themes such as war yet too densely written for a modern audience, let alone pandering to the ever narrowing political correctness of current times. Nor can she boast the exotic background increasingly required for theatre competition entries that rule out a white Croydon-born spinster of a certain age.

Her successes have been modest  - a few short stories accepted by a local publishing collective and a few short plays accepted and performed by amateur groups. Her income remains eked out of parental inheritance.

As a child Octavia was highly praised and repeatedly told she would go far in life with her many talents from writing to painting, sewing, sculpture and antiques.

Now at sixty, she finds herself on the verge of a breakdown that so little has come to pass and the fears of deteriorating eyesight and contracting dementia, like her late mother, have begun to loom large.

Perhaps it has not helped that she has never known the grounding experiences of a regular job or a relationship in life. Mental health has always been fragile, all hopes and dreams pinned on becoming a literary success, much as she acknowledges that this is not an easy task for any writer these days, no matter how talented, such has the publishing world changed.

Indeed with her antidepressants precluding the day starting before lunchtime it would be hard to imagine a suitable day job for Octavia, even if she were prepared to compromise on the writing dream.

Not family (mostly died out), faith nor furry animals seem to be able to offer succor and almost 40 years after graduating from Oxford university the future renewal of her Bodleian library card (a lifeline) hangs in the balance as apparently there is a new regime seeking to crack down on those with no current link to the university.

I can imagine losing this would be the equivalent of signing a death warrant for Octavia as she spends most of her waking hours in this sanctuary, laptop and sandwiches to hand. On the plus side she has managed to avoid falling into the pit of addictions or anything other than prescribed drugs. In fact I've never seen her drink anything beyond herb teas and fruit juice.

Meantime Octavia has reached out to the local mental hospital where she was treated twenty years ago to request more CBT (the only treatment she feels she has ever truly benefited from). Regrettably they will not send anyone round to assess her until she removes her asbestos ceiling tiles (as an OCD sufferer as well, she felt obliged to warn them, even though asbestos only poses a health risk when disturbed).

However as a hoarder of silks, old books, prints and antiques it is hardly possible to enter Octavia's tiny two and a half room flat (bunk bed in the kitchen), so clearing it to remove the ceiling tiles would be an impossibility.

In truth, having such a full flat is more of a risk to Octavia's asthma owing to the mildew and dust collecting in all the unreachable corners. Asbestos is the least of her problems, and does not seem to have affected her in the 22 years she has lived there.

What Octavia could really do with (barring my previous suggestions of a lonely elderly antiques dealer with a big house in need of a late adopted daughter or celibate companion or a hoarding reality TV show) is an Oxford specialist in psychiatry who seeks a challenge - and possibly enough material in one subject to constitute a life's work!

People increasingly believe they have been born in the wrong body, but how often can they lay claim to being born in the wrong century?

Underneath all the issues, a charming young woman of voracious intelligence is waiting to be rescued, who does brighten under the lamp of human interest, whatever her protestations and self-deprecatory statements.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Four Swallows And Two Elephants

Just over a year ago I spotted a short letter in the Brighton Argus requesting information about an 'Arthur Sellman' who wrote as 'Southdown' in The World's Fair magazine.

The name rang a bell as my mother had had a beloved 'Uncle Arthur' who took her out and about as a child and paid for her to have secretarial classes when she left school at 14 so she could better herself. He had indeed acted as a surrogate father to her, her own father having died when she was three. And he wrote for The World's Fair and was related to the Sellmans of Cannock, a family undertaking firm, whose name continues to this day.

Arthur was not my mother's uncle at all in fact, but her cousin, and he had a grown up daughter - Margaret Doreen - who was a teenager when my mother was born, whom my mother Margaret was named after. I had never known Arthur, who died a few months after I was born, but a couple of fairground models of his remained, and were of great novelty to me as a youngster when I visited Margaret Doreen, though I wasn't allowed to touch them.

I telephoned my mother and Arthurs' granddaughters, Jenny and Susan (retired teachers) and told them of the letter and then emailed the enquirer Ned Williams, a Wolverhampton-based writer who specialises in historic publications, both local and entertainment-related. He replied to say how delighted he was to be put in touch with Arthur's only living relations as had had been researching 'Southdown' and reading his old articles for at least ten years but had gleaned only 'crumbs of information' about him until Jenny had been able to fill in a lot of the gaps. The sisters then assembled lots of photos, letters and other information for him and he visited Jennifer in Crawley to meet her and pore over them.

A year later Ned's book Four Swallows and Two Elephants has just come out with a whole chapter devoted to Arthur Sellman, aka 'Southdown' who turns out to have run a marionette show in addition to his journalism under various pen names for The World's Fair from 1914-1970, latterly settling on 'Southdown' and his eventual regular job as a cinema projectionist at The Regent Cinema in Queen's Street Brighton, one of the city's plushest cinemas. In his final years Arthur penned two short books; 'Bioscope Shows and Their Engines' and 'Travelling Shows and Roundabouts' under yet another pseudonym Arthur Fay.

The family surmises that confronted with a certain future in the family undertaking business in Cannock, young Arthur Sellman ran away to the fairground and so began a lifelong love affair with the world of entertainment as he gravitated around the country, eventually ending up in Brighton.

It is so lovely that Arthur has been rescued from obscurity like this and reading the book one realises what a huge and magical world the world of old fairgrounds was. And how reliant on this form of entertainment people were before cinemas came along, which eventually also seduced Arthur, much as he mourned and memorialised the passing of more traditional forms of entertainment and never lost his passion for them. The old fairgrounds were indeed a vanishing world even when Arthur was young,  Though I for one would still pay good money to see a show called 'Mrs Collins' Lions'! It seems there were a whole genre of gutsy widows of a certain age touring extraordinary-titled shows around the country and the fairground world of the early 20th century was a lot more equal opportunities than one might imagine.

Six other significant figures from the world of people's entertainment in the 20th century are also covered in this book and what fascinating figures they are.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

The Fall of Skysores...?

As reported in the Guardian back in April 
London’s skyline is to be transformed over the next decade with a record 510 tall towers, more than 20 storeys high, planned or under construction. The total is up from 455 towers in the pipeline in 2016, according to research from the industry forum New London Architecture (NLA) and real estate consultancy GL Hearn.
Construction has started on 115 towers, also a record. Over the past two years, work started on more projects than in the preceding five years combined.
Meanwhile as poor London gets bulldozed out of all recognition in favour of these monstrosities (and despite the horror of Grenfell), a most amusing article in The Daily Mail in the past few days suggests that the trend for multi-million pound apartments costing the equivalent of several Scottish castles (but on leasehold) in stab central may be about to break.
Something to thank Brexit for at last... as overpaid bankers and Russian mafiosi desert our shores? Or decide they prefer the white stucco town house in Notting Hill Actually after all.
Or perhaps the secret is out that these blocks are only built to last an average of 50 years with many not even making that before changing fashions (and land values) fell them, making them a shockingly bad investment, aside from the sky high maintenance charges and leasehold fees.
Many of these developments have been marketed exclusively to overseas investors prepared to buy their 'gold bars in the sky', no questions asked, offplan and upfront, quite often intentionally never to be lived in. Money laundering laws have been bypassed for such buyers. Certainly no pub or railway siding is safe from the march of the monster blocks.

Meanwhile homelessness grows worse and those serving the coffee shops and public amenities of central London are often to be found living in sheds in the suburbs or ten to a room in a 1930s semi for the privilege.

While not officially announced the backdraft or second recession is well and truly upon us as we continue paying for Blair's war, forever PFI projects and an education system, national health service and welfare state buckling at the knees. The country is in crisis, no emergency measures are in place (ie to prevent empty buildings), but perhaps the silver lining is that a crash might be the saving of London.

There will continue to be plenty of advocates saying we have to 'build upwards', despite little evidence suggesting this particularly improves housing density and plenty of evidence showing that living so artificially is detrimental to human health but perhaps we should simply start accepting that not everyone can live, rent or buy in the same place and it is a creates an equally unhealthy lack of socio-economic/geographical balance when they do.

The Drug-Free Pursuit of Happiness

At what point does an individual decide they are too young, too beautiful, too healthy and their lives are going too well so they will muck it all up with drugs?

At what point do they decide it is morally acceptable to support a trade which kills thousands of people worldwide every year, not just users, but individuals all along the supply chain from production to distribution in crimes and murders? 

Then there are the countless crimes, murders, accidents and suicides committed by those under the influence of drugs. 

As if this wasn't a high enough social and economic price to pay,  let's not forget the mental and physical ill health, time off work and additional social and health care costs to society by people rendered sick and disabled before their time.

People are terrified of dementia when old it seems, but not of risking their lifelong sanity and mental/physical functionality when young. 

It is not unusual nowadays to see relatively young men and women looking twenty years older than their age staggering along our streets in broad daylight, permanently raddled and disabled by their addictions. Worse still, this kind of self-inflicted disability no longer appears to carry any social stigma and even qualifies those who've let their lives spiral for lifelong benefits. Society is, in effect, rewarding them for dropping out rather than sorting themselves out.

Mental health issues are often cited with 'self-medication' used as an excuse, but few of these people are doctors. Why would they assume they can cure their mental ills with street drugs of unknown ingredients, provenance and purity any more than they would assume that they can cure a cancer by eating talcum powder? Plus we all know that if you are in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. Drugs are never a ladder out of that hole, just an ever deeper and more nightmarish hole, removing those in it further and further from the light at the top.

The legalisation that stoners clamour for would simply create new and even more complex issues by sending out the very dangerous message that drugs are safe, socially acceptable, and even sanctioned by our government. I doubt they would save a single life in reality. Quite the reverse as more and more people took up drug taking and we saw more and more crimes, murders, road traffic accidents and suicides as a result.

The war on drugs is failing through lack of enforcement and corruption in high places, not because it isn't a good idea. 

Taking drugs will never fit in the good ideas box. It is an undeniable waste of time, human potential and life. Those sucked into this world become a flaky waste of time to associate with and selfish to the point of violence in some cases to those who dare to try and put themselves between the addict and their supply. 

Stoners are quick to point the finger at alcohol as equally insidious (as if that somehow makes drug taking ok) but no one has ever suffered psychosis or lifelong mental health issues as a result of one pint. The road to alcoholic ruin tends to be a much longer and more committed one with many more opportunities for redemption along the way.  Furthermore a drunk person can be sober in 24hrs. A stoner can take days to fully recover their wits, by which time they have often imbibed further 'hits' so that their system is never fully clear.

Behind every addict invariably lies a trail of angels with broken wings who tried to help or save them from themselves.

It is understandable that human beings should enjoy being high and escapism from their problems and the weight of the world. 

But there is another and better way and that is to study meditation or NLP for free, safe and natural highs. No downers or health prices to pay either. 

Volunteering is said to be one of the best cures for depression, but any activity instilling self-respect, confidence or pride or involving giving something back to society will see a similar blossoming of mental welfare. It is self-obsession and fear-based behaviour which promotes depression and addiction. 

To those who subsequently find the strength to face their fears and slay their personal dragons one by one, the greatest gift of all awaits - contentment and peace - leading to happiness and living in the magic of life.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Why The Theft of Public Assets Must Be Stopped

Just like the green lungs of parks, the community lungs of libraries, community centres and day care centres are also at threat from councils up and down the country wishing to flog off these vital community assets to greedy developers.

But the horror continues when you consider how many of these same parks, libraries and buildings were donated to the people of that town or city by philanthropists and charities and NOT to its council to become its own family silver to rob the citizens of at will.

Here in Hove, there have been repeated threats to Hove Library (donated to the people of Hove by Andrew Carnegie in 1908 and erected on donated land) over nearly 20 years, to the extent that it appears Brighton and Hove City Council employ an individual full-time to devise ever more fiendish ways to run it down, make it unviable as a Library and carve it up to let to businesses, yet it remains popular and cherished and a lifeline to many, and despite the fact that it now apparently has to 'generate income' to justify its continued existence. Which begs the question; What next? Will state schools also have to start turning a profit by housing businesses within?

How can councils be allowed to disregard the physical and mental health and needs of their tax payers like this? We now have both a Minister for Loneliness and a Suicide Prevention Minister and mental health issues are going through the roof, as is homelessness and other social ills, all creating more vulnerable and socially isolated people with fewer and fewer community resources and facilities to turn to.

Is there no legal challenge which can stop these public thefts by public servants, particularly when public assets have been donated for the benefit of that town or city by a late benefactor, who would doubtless be spinning in their grave to know what was mooted for their gift to posterity and public memorial? 

To dispose of public assets is nothing less than an act of fraud against the public.

Furthermore once these public assets are gone they are gone.  It is not just a matter of the lost buildings and land. We now live in an age remarkably free of philanthropists with many wealthy people feeling no religious or other desire or duty to give back to society, let alone consider posterity, particularly in UK. It has become a me, me, me society where money is all.

Once it was unthinkable that we could ever lose our greenbelt protection but it is happening and the rot is spreading to the point that it is almost wholesale. Nothing is safe or sacred. 

To listen to councils who seem to be able to see no further than the budget for the year ahead, you could be forgiven for thinking human beings no longer have the same human need for parks, community facilities and spaces as we've all emigrated 'online'. They seem to make no connection with the level of social isolation, mental health issues and criminality rising up, sometimes purely because there is nothing else for people to do. More and more individuals are feeling uncivicly cared for. Unimportant. So they either lash out against society or pursue a nihilistic or self-destructive path, often costing society a great deal more money in the process than the preservation of the facilities which might have prevented their downward spiral.

Last week in Brighton an inquest heard how a talented middle-aged artist died within a year of his day centre being closed, his social worker convinced that losing this facility effectively signed his death warrant with his mental decline following a clear trajectory immediately after the closure.

My previous post on why our libraries save our councils more than they cost our councils here.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Why I Could Never Be Socialist...

How socialists think we should all live...

How I think we should all live...

I believe in champagne for all too.

And in the bible (John 14:2) it tells us 'In my father's house are many mansions.'
Not tower blocks, but MANSIONS!
Mansions are our birthright people!

Friday, 13 July 2018

Libraries Save Our Councils More than They Cost Our Councils

For all those councils who claim we cannot afford Public Libraries, and on whom the riposte 'We cannot afford an ignorant society' falls on deaf ears, what if we Library lovers were to change tack and argue that libraries are not only cost neutral but SAVE councils money in social benefits?

Amazing government report Libraries Deliver here chock full of handy graphics to support the argument. All you need is to put in an FOI request to find out what your Public Library costs to run in relation to other services and you can develop your Library case. If you are lucky enough to have a Carnegie Library, this was a gift from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie to the people of your area. It may even be on donated land (as here in Hove), so your Library is off to a head start in terms of cost effectiveness if it was donated and has already stood for many decades (ours is currently celebrating its 110th anniversary).

A fantastic blog post here by Librarian Dawn Finch on what constitutes a Public Library and why we should accept no substitutes.

Personally I think in a society where we have seldom seen such social disenfranchisement, reversal of social mobility for the poorest, free education increasingly relegated to the past and safe non-commercial public spaces disappearing at a rate of knots, not to mention rising mental health issues, we have seldom needed our Public Libraries more. The time is ripe for their renaissance and the dispelling of the myth that the online world has replaced real life and the human need for social interaction.

Not all of us are suited to living in the 'contactless' world designed and increasingly controlled by the geeks of Silicon Valley. Many of us remain stubbornly human with human needs and our Libraries really are community lifelines as the Tsar of Loneliness Minister Tracey Couch, should be acknowledging as part of her remit.

There is no more fulsome ticker of a council's equality, diversity and inclusivity commitment boxes than a Public Library, aside from their legal obligations under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.

I now include some inspiring quotes on Libraries and reading below (some old and some contemporary) but all timeless in their message. We need books and we need Public Libraries.

"A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert." - Andrew Carnegie

"A reader lives a thousand lives before they die. The individual who never reads lives only one." - George Martin

"A library is the only single place you can go to learn something new, be comforted, terrified, thrilled, saddened, overjoyed, or excited all in one day. And for free".Amy Neftzger
"A Library is a place vibrating with ideas" Nancy Lodge

"Without the Library you have no civilisation"Ray Bradbury

"The Library is like a candy store where everything is free"Jamie Ford

"Who doesn’t love a library? It is a place you can go in any town and discover the world." –  Pat MacEnulty
"When I enter a library, I feel I’ve come home." Barbara Wright
"A Library is a hospital for the mind" Anon
"Knowledge is free at the Library – just bring your own container" - Anon
"I always felt if I could get to a Library, I would be ok." - Maya Angelou
"Whatever the cost of our Libraries, the price is cheap compared to an ignorant nation." Walter Cronkite
"A book is a device to ignite the imagination"Alan Bennett

"The Library is my cathedral" Barbara Bretton

"A Library Is not a luxury, but one of the necessities of life" Henry Ward Beecher

"Ordinary people have big TV’s, extraordinary people have big Libraries" - Anon

"I have found the most valuable thing in my purse is my Library card". - Laura Bush

"Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a Library card!" - Anon

"The one thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the Library" Albert Einstein

"It was the kind of Library he had only read about in books"Alan Bennett

"Library doors are a gateway to anywhere." Anon

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Hove Library - 110th Birthday Celebration

On Sunday 8th July it will be 110 years since Hove Library (gift to the city from Andrew Carnegie) opened. on 8th July 1908. 
At 3pm, we will be having a street celebration outside (cake and cordial) to celebrate. We intend short readings, poems and quotes in celebration of Libraries - musicians and celebrities also welcome. One lady has already offered to come dressed in Edwardian costume to read an Edwardian library poem! 
Everyone welcome including children. 
Dress code: Bright colours.
A few of us will go to the Connaught pub afterwards for a drink, but we wanted to honour Andrew Carnegie (a teetotaller) in the street celebration.
Please come and show your love and appreciation for this jewel in Hove's crown.
Hove Carnegie Library is much loved and much used, yet has suffered many threats over the years so we thought it would be nice to do something positive with this celebration and show our appreciation. If you would like to contribute a reading or piece, please email to let us know.

Facebook invitation here

I myself have penned the following poem for the occasion. 

Love Your Library 

Whether you can or can’t afford to go to university
There’s no greater place for education and diversity
It’s international, equal and inclusive too
And the council provides it just for you!
It’s a window on the world
Great adventures unfurled
A chest full of treasures
And jewels beyond measure
You never know what you might accidentally find
Whereas Google just pairs you with the same kind
Social mobility lurks within these shelves
For the next Carnegie who wants to make themself
It’s a refuge from rain, a sanctuary, a nest
A lifeline for many who need a rest
From the world’s loneliness, cruelty and random tests
So love your library, give it a hug
Tell all your friends about the reading bug
Or come in to read the papers or use the free IT
Or join a book club or writing group in the local community
Bring your kids for storytime, it’s also free
What’s not to love about your local Library?
©LS King 2018

The other day I saw two teenage girls doing a fashion shoot on the internal staircase and enthusing how great the ornate windows looked on social media. It was refreshing to see that Hove Library users also find new ways to appreciate this handsome Grade II listed building 110 years on.

We look forward to seeing you on 8th July!

Friday, 8 June 2018

The Internet Of Things We Might Not Want

I've just listened to a Radio 4 programme where a panel discussed how to tighten up online security as people attach more and more 'things' to the internet such as their kettle, toothbrush, toaster and fridge/freezer.

Not once did anyone ask why. WHY? Why would any human being wish to connect their kettle, toothbrush, toaster or fridge/freezer to the internet?

I have just asked the internet this question and found a site with various explanations for five year olds, all enthusing how 'exciting' and 'useful' it will be to have all our objects smartified so that they can talk to us/each other and save us time and trouble.
  • Your toothbrush will be able to tell you when you've spent the full two minutes cleaning your teeth (er, mine has already has a 2-minute buzzer)
  • Your toaster will be able to tell you when your toast is ready (mine pops)
  • Your kettle will be able to tell you when the kettle has boiled (way ahead of you there - mine clicks off!)
  • Your fridge/freezer will be able to tell you you're out of orange juice and order the supermarket to deliver some more (just the one carton? How inefficient. And what if I fancy apple or mango juice instead?)
Even devices controlling our central heating are hardly necessary when we have timers to do that. Smart meters for utilities are equally redundant when most of us already switch things off when we're not using them for cost reasons and they haven't been shown to result in smaller (or more comprehensible) bills. Plus more reliance on devices rather than common sense does not, ironically, make bills smaller or us greener.

Nor does our garage door need its own internet connectivity or account in my view.

The one such application I can see that might be useful is tracking devices for pets to prevent them from getting lost or stolen. However pets are sentient beings, not inanimate household objects.

A friend bought a fertility thermometer and found she was meant to connect it to an app and enter all her (and her partner's) most intimate details into it. She was not impressed. Why could the information SHE needed not be incorporated into the thermometer in a simple daily readout of Fertile Today or Not Fertile Today? That's all she wanted. What would they do with all the data she supplied to their website? She had not agreed to be part of any mass research trial regarding fertility (or whatever their motives were). She could soon contact them to complain if the thermometer failed.

We have already witnessed seemingly innocuous geneaology sites, ostensibly to help people trace their family tree, turning into sinister DNA databases amassing samples worthy of any criminal database, and with the ability to sell them on for all kinds of purposes such as medical, travel and other insurance, prospective employee screening etc.

Meantime my phone remains unconnected to my bank account and I will not be letting Alexa into my life any time soon.

Every internet contact is a security breach risk and everything sold to us as 'convenience' could (and doubtless will) be used for a whole lot more without our consent, to one day control us in ways we cannot currently dream of.

Moreover is it wise to start letting devices and apps do more and more of our basic thinking for us? How dumb do we want to become? Completely-reliant-on-technology-for-everything-dumb?  I have always resisted a SatNav, precisely because I don't want to lose my map reading skills, which by and large, perform just as well and have never led my vehicle down a harbour slipway or any of the other reported mishaps ascribed to SatNavs.

In fact I've started turning my wifi off every night as it is not just security risks which are assuming more and more concern, but the potential damage that constant bombardment of Electro-Magnetic Fields (EMF's) may be doing in close proximity to our natural bodily EMF. The jury may still be out as we have not been under artificial EMF bombardment long enough to find out the long term effects. However it has always been recommended to keep mobile phones at least an inch away from the body and how many people do even that? I often recall a cousin who acquired a terminal brain tumour within a year of acquiring his first mobile phone twenty years ago. Of course it could have been a co-incidence, but he was noticeably in love with this gizmo (still a novelty at the time when whole offices shared one mobile for going out and about) and had it clamped to his ear a lot of the time and within a year he was dead at 37.

A Silicon Valley insider shares his experiences of EMFs here.

When I was around 20 and internet cafes started springing up because few people then had home access, I remember the internet being sold to us as something which would help us and give us lots of extra consumer choice. It would be a useful tool in our lives.

Not once were we warned that the internet might one day take over, closing our banks, post offices, ticket offices and shops and removing all other consumer choices from us including (eventually) the ability to pay in cash or by cheque. That one day Silicon Valley would rule the world and even encourage social isolation. Or that many of its designers were nerds who desired to minimise the need for human contact in their own lives and were designing the same for the rest of us aka the 'contactless' world. Consent for this to happen was neither asked or given and there was no political referendum on it either.

For all the undoubted advantages of the internet, I feel we've been mis-sold it and it should have been kept at 'useful tool' stage. Certainly every update on my computer seems to lead to it being less user-friendly rather than more and I suspect most updates are not for my benefit at all.

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 my 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.