Saturday, May 31, 2014

On UKIP's version of reality, and mine

Since giving up my car last year I've been using taxis to get about - buses are no use to me because of mobility problems. Consequently, I have a lot of conversations with tax drivers, almost all male. Yesterday's were interesting.

On the way into town, P commented that he was glad he didn't live in Ipswich any more. It wasn't the same as when he first lived there, he said. Too many immigrants, and groups of young men from Afghanistan and similar places, hanging around, he said. He didn't mind it if they came here to work and tried to fit in with our ways, but when they kept to themselves and expected us to respect their cultures, he couldn't be doing with that.

When you consider the violence in countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, I said, it isn't surprising that so many would want to escape it. Would he want to stay there? No, he supposed not. And maybe it wasn't fair to generalise, I said. I mentioned a Afghani taxi driver who'd driven me from the station one day, whose English was better than many native speakers, and who was very courteous. He told me he'd been here eleven years. I wouldn't be surprised if he hadn't had some sort of professional job, perhaps as an interpreter. Yes, said P, there are some like that. There will be more, I said, not just from countries where there's conflict, but because of global warming people from Africa are being driven north. The real problem, I said, is that the global population is increasing, there are too many people, and many women either don't have access to birth control or their husbands won't allow them to use it. P went quiet. I know he has children but I don't know how many. He changed the subject.

I was driven home by N, a Bangladeshi driver from a different firm, a friendly, helpful man. I know one of his colleagues well, and we chatted about him. He asked how long I'd lived in the village, and what I did before I retired, and we discovered that we both had connections with Suffolk Inter-Faith Resource, me as a Humanist and him as a Muslim. It turned out that we both knew some of the same people. He said his daughter was a nurse in the local hospital's Intensive Care Unit, one of the many minority ethnic staff who keep the NHS going. When I asked him to drive carefully because there are lots of ducks with ducklings around the village, he mentioned that his grandfather in Bangladesh has a huge pond on his land with a wide variety of water fowl. I asked if they'd been affected by flooding, and he said no, their land wasn't on the flood plain. I wondered how long that would last, since Bangladesh is a low-lying country, crammed between a delta of rivers in the Bay of Bengal.

I like both these drivers and expect them to drive me again. I didn't ask if they'd voted in the recent election, or who for. It's unlikely that they'd both vote for the same party, if they voted at all; the turnout was abysmally low.

Most of those who voted for UKIP did so without fully understanding all of its rubbish policies. Xenophobia played a part, as it did in the other European countries where right-wing parties gained seats. In the New York Review of Books, Professor Mary Beard warns of a general failure to challenge UKIP's ridiculous claims; politicians from the other parties, apart from the unfortunate Nick Clegg, seem to prefer appeasement. The comedian and social commentator Mark Steel takes the mickey, as usual, writing,
... if we end the movement of people across Europe, that would mean the 808,000 British who live in Spain would all have to come back, which would be the equivalent of a town the size of Brazil being dumped on our overstretched resources ...
According to the BBC,
There are about five million British expats living and working abroad, with the popular destinations being Australia, Spain and the US. Figures from 2011 suggest that about 3,000 British citizens every week move away from the UK on a long-term basis.
UKIP doesn't mention this, of course, or the other facts that they prefer to ignore. The Office of National Statistics reported in 2010 that there were 7,354,000 foreign-born people living in the UK. Some of them will have been here decades, married British-born people, raised British children, paid British taxes, staffed British hospitals, the railways, the buses, and all sorts of other services that we can't do without. Yes, some of the figures have been unreliable but not that much. We've always been a mongrel race, and subsequent waves of immigrants have diluted the mix even more.

I wonder how many of those who voted for UKIP had more than two children? Would it ever occur to them that the main reason for many of the problems we face, including nationalist, ethnic and religious conflicts, is that there are too many people on our small planet? Not just too many immigrants - too many people.
The mid-range global projection is that the planet’s population will increase from seven billion to nine billion by 2050. Broader estimates range from eight to 11 billion, depending on how effectively and quickly reproductive and development programmes are implemented in developing areas of the world to address the key drivers of population growth: the lack of reproductive health and contraception, lack of women’s rights and poverty.
Nasty as it is, there's something inevitable about UKIP. It's partly the result of a general feeling of disappointment and frustration. There's competition for jobs, but there'll never be enough jobs and too many jobs cost more in terms of waste than we can afford. There's competition for housing, as the bubble gets bigger (it must burst, leaving thousands with negative equity), city sites remain derelict and green fields disappear. Car adverts promise stress-free motoring on empty scenic routes, while the reality is cities coming to a standstill. Many feel entitled to enjoy prosperity and comfort, without having to face some harsh truths. Instead of telling them the truth, most politicians perpetuate the fantasy of economic growth, ignoring population growth. They're not brave enough to tell people that things will have to change. Wouldn't it be good to have some honest politicians, who'd say yes, we're in a mess, but we could make some positive changes? Most major social change has been in response to a crisis of one sort or another. Serfdom was ended by the black death, when there weren't enough peasants to till the land. The Thames got cleaned up when the stink became unbearable. Public health improved after disease had wiped out thousands. Nutrition improved after the military found their troops were so weedy they weren't fit for battle. And so on. Well, we're in a crisis, so let's do something about it. This planet's too small for xenophobia.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Pharrell Williams' 'Happy' makes me feel good, and lots of others too. Here's the original version.

Here's the version made by Epic Arts in Cambodia...

A group of young Iranians were arrested for having fun with their version.

In the UK, young Muslims had fun without being arrested, thanks to the freedom they enjoy to ignore criticism from miserable mullahs.  Mufti Abdur-Rahman ibn Yusuf made a video explaining what was wrong with it but I lost the will to live after the first few minutes.

Street children in South Sudan enjoyed the music...

People all over the world are having fun making Happy videos.

And even BBC Breakfast people get groovy...

Boogie boogie...

Monday, May 19, 2014

The house is empty

Audrey on the lookout for wood mice.
I don't remember a time when I didn't have at least one companion animal about the place. A few years back, we had four dogs and four cats. One by one, they've all died, mostly helped on their way by an injection. One or two of them gave a little sigh as their small bodies went limp.

It's six years this summer since Wizzy died - my Jack Russell constant companion. Lucy, an eccentric small tabby cat, died just over a year ago. And now the last of them, Audrey, named after Ms Hepburn in her little black dress, has gone. I took her to the vet on Saturday and my friend Mac came round and buried her yesterday. She's by the hedge, near the spot where she'd sit for hours, waiting for wood mice to pop out of the undergrowth. They're safe now.

It seems strange, not having to worry about where I put my coffee mug, as there's no cat to knock it over. I don't have to leave the sitting room door open, so she can come and go and she pleases. I'm not followed up and down the garden by a black cat with her tail up in the air, telling me a story that I don't understand. There's no bedtime ritual, a cat sitting on my chest, purring like crazy, having a fuss before she retires to the foot of the bed. I can't hear the cat flap clatter or the bells on her collar when she comes in from the garden, and I won't hear the cries that mean "Where have you been?" when I've been out for a few hours.

How can such a small animal leave such a big space? My friend Don, who was fond of Audrey and brought her treats every Sunday when he came for tea, isn't very tactful. When told she'd died, he said, "Well, you won't get another one, will you? If you did, it would probably outlive you," and then he laughed. He has a tendency to laugh inappropriately. He laughs every time someone's murdered in Midsomer Murders. I didn't respond but cut the conversation short. Silly man. Doesn't he know about adopting an older cat? Or cats...

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Having ME is bad enough, without being miserable about it

I like May. All the shrubs in my garden are flowering, the countryside is lush and green, the birds are busy breeding, and summer's on the way.

Despite having had ME for 28 years, I wasn't aware that May is ME Awareness Month. I'm all for lobbying for research funds and stuff, but I avoid most ME sites and message boards because of the overwhelming negativity you find there. I dislike the terms "sufferer" and "victim". There are people with ME, not sufferers or victims. If they're associated with constant depressing "woe is me" messages, they're less likely to gain sympathy or support. Why? Because that's how it is. People with other diseases don't seem to feel the need to beg for sympathy in quite the same way, though the media does like a good sob story.

Campaign for more research funding, raise money for the same, be assertive about your rights as a chronically ill and disabled person, but please try to avoid whingeing, however shitty you might feel. Save that for your nearest and dearest, who might be used to it. As I don't have a carer and only the cat to listen, most of the time, it would be a waste of time to whinge anyway.

ME isn't my only problem. See why I love the NHS. I've found that the best way to deal with my multiple ailments and the pain is distraction; doing something, anything, to take my mind of them. Of course, when you have a disabling condition, that imposes limits. But if you're interested in what's going on in the wider world, your own problems may be largely ignored. I ignore mine, as much as possible.

Yes, I know that there are a minority of people with severe ME, who spend their lives in darkened rooms. I admit that I'm sceptical about how some of them came to be so ill, but that's got me into trouble before; nothing attracts vitriol like questioning how other people manage their illness.

I could die any day - we all could - and I don't want to waste any more time feeling sorry for myself than absolutely unavoidably. Fuck that!

Click here for previous posts on the subject.