Saturday, December 08, 2018

Nicola York

Nicola was the older  of two daughters of close friends of ours. She was a journalist who tragically died  quite recently, when only in her early 30s, having married only  two weeks earlier.

Last night her parents,  husband and friends held a quiz night event  to remember her - eg see the earlier blog post at: Nicola York  - celebrate her life and fund raise for her favourite charity "Women for Women International". 

Nicola cared deeply about the violence and poverty that women and girls disproportionately suffer in times of conflict.  In particular, following a visit to the region organised through WfW, Nicola saw at first hand the situation facing the victims of the wars, civil strife, and multiple rebellions in the DR Congo since 1996.  
Nicola campaigned (through Congo Connect) to raise awareness of the plight of, and yet underline the hope for, victims of conflict in the Eastern DR Congo.  However, she also supported women in that region through the Sponsor a Sister campaign, which provides women with intensive training for the essential job skills that they need in order to earn an income to support their families. 

The event last night was particularly timely since it has  within the past few days been announced  that the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to campaigners against rape in warfare, Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege for their "efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war".  Nicola would have strongly welcomed this announcement, and in particular the award recognising Dr Mukwege, the 63-year-old Congolese gynaecologist who has for 20 years been treating the victims of sexual violence in the Panzi hospital he set up in the eastern DR Congo city of Bukavu, and whom Nicola interviewed during her trip to the region. 

There were some 25 people mainly friends of the family in the private room at the Bread and Roses pub Clapham yesterday night and the event was clearly a success though slightly embarrassingly I won a Christmas hamper in a fund raising raffle.

 The Bread and Roses pub is fascinating as  well - an old workers' (presumably that means "socialist") pub with live music in the bar and a theatre upstairs though the fund raising party quiz night for Nicola was held in a private room.

As for the pub itself its website reads:
The Bread & Roses is an award-winning free house right in the heart of Clapham. Owned by The Battersea and Wandsworth Trade Union Council (BWTUC) and run by the Workers Beer Company, part of BWTUC Trading, it prides itself as a pub with a social consciousness.

The Bread & Roses is named in recognition of the struggle of workers around the globe for a better quality of life. The name is taken from a song written during a strike of women textile workers in Lawrence Massachusetts, USA in 1912. 27.000 women went out onto the streets and marched for eleven weeks to improve their working conditions. Their banners called for bread and roses. A poet among them, James Oppenheim, wrote the lyrics to what became the trademark song for women trade unionists around the world. It is still sung by delegates to conclude the ICTU Women's Conference.

To travel to the Bread & Roses we used for the first time, the London Overground Line (which goes to Dalston Junction) from Clapham Junction. 

The Stratford London Overground Line has been available from Clapham for some while, see eg  the 2011 blog post at  Highgate Cemetery when with younger brother and his wife we visited inter alia the tomb of Karl Marx in 2011 taking the London Overground. 

However the newer London Overground  line from Clapham we had not used  before so were able to save time and trouble last night, by travelling on the London Overground almost to the old workers' pub at Clapham Manor Street  returning the same way with very little waiting.


Sunday, December 02, 2018

The National Theatre - I'm not Running by David Hare


Unfortunately my bid (see last week's blog post) in the ballot for tickets to the new NT play "When we have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other"  was unsuccessful though I might queue for day tickets some time in 2019.

Meanwhile mrs maytrees and myself were treated by my kind sister yesterday, to a performance at the National Theatre of the new David Hare play "I'm not Running."

David Hare has written many plays some of which I have seen over the years. My impression is that he is an extremely good playright though with a tendency to be left of centre politically so I have thought of him as being an "armchair socialist" of the Islington variety.  

For example his play "The Permanent Way"  as I recollect, largely criticised the de-nationalisation of British Railways by depicting a number of fatal railway accidents whilst the railways were in private hands. However the play singularly failed to mention the dreadful Hither Green or Clapham Junction railway crashes which took place a few years earlier whilst trains were publicly run. The  horrific Clapham Junction crash occurred only minutes after my own train had safely passed by on the same route so that was not a play I enjoyed over much. 

On the other hand his play "Racing Demon" which was part of the same series of plays was very enjoyable and interesting to be part of - almost literally as members of the audience including mrs maytrees and I were able to sit on stage and be part of the Anglican annual conference, which was very cleverly being depicted in the production.

I'm Not Running so my kind sister who had bought the tickets informed  us was not very well reviewed and the plot was about the Labour Party which sounded slightly dull. In fact the production was not at all dull and indeed was unlike perhaps The Permanent Way not at all political.

The Guardian Review is fair:

David Hare has acute antennae and in his 17th new play for the National, he ranges over any number of current topics: single-issue politics, domestic abuse, the NHS, the state of the Labourparty. It pricks the mind and boasts a strong performance from Si├ón Brooke as another of Hare’s complex female protagonists. Yet it is a less-than-perfect dramatic structure and has one puzzling piece of characterisation.
The action starts in 2018 with a press conference about whether Pauline Gibson, an MP who has become the angel of the NHS, intends to stand for the Labour leadership. The play then zigzags back in time to trace Pauline’s progress. We see her as a medical student in 1997 in Newcastle, where her fraught relationship with her lover, Jack Gould, is on the verge of collapse. Hare follows the divergent paths these two characters take over the years.
  
  Pauline works as a doctor, campaigns to save a Corby hospital and, having become a national icon, stands for parliament as an independent before finally joining the Labour party. Meanwhile, Jack follows the orthodox path of the machine politician to the point where he finds himself potentially pitted against Pauline as a future Labour leader. The question is: will she run?
It’s a scenario that gives Hare freedom to explore any number of ideas, in particular, whether the virtuous integrity of the single-issue militant can survive the messy compromises of party politics. In a tremendous penultimate scene between Pauline and Jack, Hare hits several bullseyes, such as Labour’s greater interest in process than in votes and its tribal reluctance to elect a female leader. As always with Hare, the play is packed with sharp and witty apercus and highly quotable lines.But, in tracing all the forces that motivate Pauline, the play sometimes loses impetus. A scene with her mother, who has become an alcoholic after years of violent abuse, helps explain Pauline’s anger but doesn’t do much to drive the action forwards.
Similarly a scene detailing the difficulties faced by the aspirational daughter of an immigrant family seems to be there to make a number of points. I was also left asking why Pauline can’t entirely shake off her long-ago love for Jack: a man who categorises feminism as stupid and lazy and who puts political ambition before emotional honesty.

 For all its faults, the play still fascinates and Neil Armfield’s lucid production gets a terrific performance from Brooke. I was strongly reminded of the character of Susan Traherne in Hare’s Plenty, in that Pauline is another idealist in an imperfect world; Brooke captures perfectly her mix of fury over our worship of the false god of “efficiency” and her failings, such as the faint air of self-righteousness.
Pauline is no saint, but rather, as Brooke shows, a woman who abandons the idea that left and right are dated concepts to learn that inequality can only be fought through party allegiance. Alex Hassell lends the dubious Jack a smooth charisma and there is good support from Joshua McGuire as Pauline’s loyal press agent and from Amaka Okafor as a Westminster staffer.
Even if the play sometimes lacks momentum (as well as any reference to Momentum), it still shows Hare’s capacity to use theatre to take the moral temperature of the times.
However my sister mrs maytrees and I enjoyed yesterday afternoon's performance to the extent that I anyway, felt it deserved 4*s rather than the 3 *s allocated by the Guardian. 


Saturday, November 24, 2018

The National Theatre

Winter months in the UK tend to become wet windy and cold by late November and this year is no exception.  Further the only news that the UK media are interested in currently, appears to be Brexit related about which I have already commented so  apolitical observations  are probably called for at this time. More about Brexit will surely follow in a week or two though.

News and pictures from  maytrees mi. who has been posted to New Zealand for two years, report  sun, warmth and time on the beach there as  they in the  world's Southern Hemisphere enjoy Spring whilst we in the Northern Hemisphere cope with Winter.

Nonetheless winter months tend to make plays and films at theatres and cinemas, more attractive to attend and view, a point which The National Theatre seems rather cleverly in my opinion, to be making a point about as their recent email to me reads:
Enter the ballot for the chance to see When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other



The ticket ballot for When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other is now open ...

The production reunites writer Martin Crimp (Attempts on her Life, In the Republic of Happiness) and director Katie Mitchell (Waves, Cleansed). Cate Blanchett makes her National Theatre debut alongside Stephen Dillane.

Due to limited ticket numbers and anticipated high demand, there will be no general sale for tickets to this production;

On the other hand as the play may not be a production that I would normally buy tickets for, this may simply be a clever marketing ploy.

We can but wait and see.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Brexit

The  Brexit deal is almost done so we were led to believe by Mrs May only a few days ago. 

Some of the media in the UK has been making considerable criticisms of the terms of the deal. However given that barely 52% of those inclined to vote on the  referendum on the subject, voted for Brexit, it is unsurprising that the 48% who voted to remain within the EU are adding their complaints to those in the press and on TV. 

Short of complete Brexit without a deal or remaining entirely within the EU, there were bound to be moans from numerous factions within the UK on all sides of the argument. 

More surprising however are the cracks in the unity of the 27 nations remaining in the EU. 

Gibraltar  the Spanish are now  raising as an issue late in the day, with other countries raising the issue of  fishing rights and some in France even signifying that the draft deal may be too generous to the UK.

My own view is that full membership of the EU  in C21 implies working together towards a United States of Europe so that the issues raised go far beyond trade. 

Last time the UK had a referendum on membership  of the then EEC was in the 1970s.  The  European nations  were still largely grouping around a common market or EEC. The outcome then was for the UK to remain, with the votes being split approximately 65% to remain and 35% to leave.

Given that the basis for the EU  now envisages closer and closer integration with a United States of Europe being the ultimate aim, a referendum outcome for this country essentially to work towards ceding sovereignty to an international grouping, in my view warrants far more than a bare majority in a referendum. The 65%+ to 35%- achieved in the EEC referendum in 1975 provides a reasonable basis for a country to cede sovereignty.  

The history of the UK companies and government seeking to join the Euro and the current relief felt by most that we were fortunate not to join that currency illustrates how wrong the British  great and the good not to mention businesses, can be.

I doubt that another  UK referendum about EU membership or not, will be worthwhile as the people have already voted. If another referendum is held however, the fundamental issues going as they do far beyond trade and commerce, the outcome to remain should be at least 65% to 35% to remain ie two thirds of those voting, should vote in favour. 

My own view is that despite grudging respect for Mrs May which is well deserved for her working on that which her predecessor ran away from, she is far too civil service like in her approach as well as being a remain voter to be the right person for the current task. 

A  leader who backed Brexit from  the outset would have been better though it is probably too late in the day now for that to make much difference. Instead given the government's slender parliamentary majority which relies on the  Northern Irish DUP and given the DUP's lack of support to a Brexit providing different terms for Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Brexit without a deal seems more and more likely.

Personally I believe that an exit without a deal at all would take about 6 months to settle down after which Singapore style arrangements for trade  would begin to apply. Meanwhile  and subsequently, national sovereignty would preserved 

Interesting times.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Armistice Day - 100th Anniversary

Two very different  ways of commemorating the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day were a privilege to attend.

The first was at St Johns Church Hyde Park  in the evening on Thursday November 8th. As it happened  I had ample exercise before that service, as in error, I walked from Paddington Tube Station to St James's Church near Kensington Palace Gardens only to be reminded that the service was being held at St John's church  so had to make  brisk walk back to the venue at St John's, which I reached just before the service began.

The students of 5 CoE schools, 3 private and 2 state acadamies combined to put on some  relevant readings from letters that had been sent from the WWI trenches, singing in choirs, music playing, both classical and historical songs from the wars mostly well known even today and a number of individual performances which were fully appreciated  by the large audience in attendance. 

One boy from one of the schools, had enlisted in WWI when he was only sixteen years of age. He was decorated for bravery but tragically met his death only 4 weeks before the end of the war.

The second commemoration was in the morning of  the 11th November at the  large war memorial at what was my old school, now known as the Beaumont Hotel. The names of 153 old boys of the School who had died in WWI and WWII, are engraved on the war memorial and Mass was said there to commemorate the sacrifices they had made:



The Mass was was very well attended especially as given the closure of the School in 1967, the youngest old boys are  nearly all about 69 or 70 years of age.

Most present were able to sing the almost idiosyncratic Latin version of the Our Father which I have rarely heard sung in this way away from Beaumont. Two boys trumpeted The Last Post and Mass concluded with a rousing verse from the old school song, Carmen Beaumontanum.

Courtesy Jesuit archives:

The youngest old Beaumont Boy to die in the First World War was fifteen-year-old Midshipman Geoffrey Harold who drowned in the North Sea in September 1914 after the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Hogue was torpedoed by a German submarine. Geoffrey (an old boy of 1911) had only been posted to the Hogue six weeks earlier after a fast-tracked cadetship. The Beaumont Review published a letter from the chaplain of HMS Hogue which detailed Geoffrey’s heroic last actions in tying together two boards for another midshipman who could not swim before following orders to jump into the sea.

The weather, surprisingly during  a week of intense rain and wind, was beautifully sunny for the whole of Mass. As in the commemoration  last week, a letter was read out, this time from a soldier to his wife 5 days before the Armistice was signed - again very moving.

After Mass,  meeting  friends and walking through the old place in the sunshine was also in its own way very moving as well as enjoyable. 

Beaumont almost glistened in the sun:



After  coffee and stronger drinks, we were invited to lunch at the former prep school of Beaumont -  St John's -  which is now thriving as a stand alone prep school.  

A splendid meal at the prep school facilitated the renewing of old friendships and the making of some new ones.

A moving, thought provoking day.


Saturday, November 03, 2018

Anti Religious Pressures

The recent referral to the prosecution authorities in England of anti semitic concerns affecting a Labour member of parliament, sadly reflects what appears to be a growing trend of intolerance towards people of different faiths.

There is a report in today's Telegraph for example, of atrocious actions against Coptic Christians in Egypt. The Telegraph states:


Hundreds of Egyptian Coptic Christians gathered Saturday for a funeral service south of Cairo to bid farewell to six of seven people killed the previous day when militants ambushed three buses carrying pilgrims on their way to a remote desert monastery.
The service at Prince Tadros church in the city of Minya was held amid tight security and presided over by Minya's top cleric, Anba Makarios. He and members of the congregation prayed and chanted over a row of six white coffins.
Relatives of the victims cried and held each other for support.
All but one of those killed were members of the same family, according to a list of the victims' names released by the church, which said a boy and a girl, ages 15 and 12 respectively, were among the dead. A total of 19 were wounded in the attack, according to the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

C21: World Politics and Domestic Life

Reading newspapers and listening to the BBC of late there is what appears to be a dearth of good news though there are exceptions of course, such as a  Royal couple visiting Australia or even simply brilliant sunsets or sights of  beautiful wild life.

That bad news sells newspapers including in Australia with the PM there having recently lost his post   whereas good news does  not, is presumably the explanation for the preponderance of bad news in the media.

Indeed over many years of travelling to Lourdes with the HCPT, the absence of much national newspaper or BBC comment about some 2500 mainly young volunteers, taking some 2000 disabled children for a week's pilgrimage, was usually very obvious. On the other hand  if some of the pilgrims caused difficulties, for example through attending French bars late in the evening, such would usually be widely reported in the media.

Bad news of late, both actual and potential, seems far more prevalent and international in C21 than was the case in C20 even allowing for the shocking events of the Cuban missile crisis, the Bader Meinhoff gang and the assassination of President JF Kennedy.  Somehow those tragedies dreadful though they were, seemed more containable and isolated. Even  the  the Cuban Missile crisis, the outcome of which could have been the end of the world  as we know it, was ultimately satisfactorily defused. Mankind's wish to survive, thankfully then proved paramount.

The tragic slaying of people in a Jewish synagogue in the USA on Friday, partially exemplifies the increase in tensions in C21 although killings of innocents of by mad people sadly has always taken place throughout the world from Norway to Columbia.  Maybe the real difference in C21 is simply that news is far more speedily and widely disseminated than during earlier times.

The reports that China is seeking to "re-educate" a million plus if not millions, of people in Western China who practice the Muslim religion goes further than anything else that has been reported in C21 so far - how far will that be taken I wonder?

The Russian attitude to life and death, for example in Salisbury, is also deteriorating. 

The killings and enslavements in the Middle East  appear to be continuing ad infinitum. Apparently  several hundred young women some of whom came from the UK, are now being held by Kurds in the region. In one Sunday newspaper there is a report by the father of one such girl pleading for her to be allowed to return to the UK and given a second chance. I sympathise with his plea but what should the position be if she participated in a dreadful ISIS beheading of say an innocent journalist?

On a far less important note there is of course Brexit  but with the terms of office of leading EU bureaucrats, such as President Juncker, due to end soon not to mention a German regional election, which may  further  undermine the position of the country's leader Chancellor Angela Merkel, that international institution too looks set for choppy waters ahead.

Looking at the UK concerns about people suffering because of the unifying  of six different kinds of state benefit into one universal credit, one cannot help but compare and see that those trying to make the arduous journey on foot from, is it Honduras, to the USA, apparently receive no state benefits at all. 

I do not know how much the average  UK universal credit payment amounts to though do sympathise with those who will receive less under  the new system than the old. Even so UK universal credit benefits recipients seem reasonably  placed compared with many elsewhere and perhaps worryingly, appear to be funded by state borrowing. 

Poor people in the UK,  South America,  and or course in other countries, would surely be far better off and more independent, if decent employment was available.  How far their problems may be resolved  in the longer term, by the government of a particular country borrowing money to make the payments to them, is unclear to me at least. 

The Italians too are proposing to borrow more to pay comparatively large sums to the   poorer  members of their population  and others, although they appear to be angering the EU civil servants with that proposal. I wonder whether the Italians will be found to have had a point in the years ahead or whether they will be slapped down successfully by the civil servants from Brussels - we can but wait and see?

Overall though there is of course  much in life that pleases but does not usually make public headlines and long may that continue.

Nicola York

Nicola was the older  of two daughters of close friends of ours. She was a journalist who tragically died  quite recently, when only in her ...