Category Archives: Great Britain

GUILTY PLEASURE

A time-out from the cares of the world?

Monday morning I headed out to Frankfurt for an appointment made a couple of months previously. Thank God for my sat-nav which would guide me to the location in a city where I rarely drive. But even with that support, I felt up-tight about the trip which was actually to take me to a place to relax.

The moment the car was parked I sighed with relief. And the closer I got to the 18th floor of the Radisson Blu Hotel, I began to feel more at ease. Entering the Heaven Spa, I found the place empty but awash in the kind of all-world piano / flute music that sounds vaguely oriental and is meant to relax you immediately. It was working.

I don’t often allow myself this kind of decadent pleasure, but I’d received a gift certificate from my son D for my birthday. Or was it Christmas? Hard to say since they happen on the same day. At any rate, I had to take advantage of it before it expired and there I was, in a deserted spa, as if I were their only customer and they were only there to meet my needs.

I can’t deny finding that idea attractive. And yet, out in the world around me, hell had broken loose. Weeks before, Britain had decided to leave the EU for all the wrong reasons and was struggling to find a path forwards. The USA was in the grip of a divisive presidential election campaign that was pitting one megalomaniac against the first woman candidate who, unfortunately, has more than her fair share of detractors.

Not to mention that all over the place people were being murdered in the name of Allah, or by individuals feeling at odds with their world. Bullets were flying, bombs were going off, throats being slit, and trucks driven into crowds celebrating liberté, egalité and fraternité. How could I just let myself be pampered while across Europe people mourned their loved ones and faced shattered lives?

Good question. Nevertheless,  on that Monday morning I found myself in that enviable situation. The music started having its way with me and lured me into a separate place where a talented masseuse massaged away the cares of the world. Or tried to. And to an extent she succeeded. My eyelids closed, my limbs relaxed, my thoughts were set free for a blissful one and a half hours to think more pleasant thoughts than those I’d brought with me.

I started mentally composing a blog post – for me, that passes as relaxation. I pondered how I could write about the massage, of the physical release I feel when warm hands stretch and knead muscles. About what an ephemeral experience it was. The relaxation, I knew, would be fleeting. If I were lucky, I would benefit from it the rest of the day, until gradually all the nasty news bytes would catch up with me again. And heaven forbid, another tragedy could flash up as breaking news. After all, what right do I have to let the sorrows of the world go by without taking at least some notice?

Not that my thoughts will bring anyone back to life or ease the pain of those left behind. Nor will my single vote ensure that the American people do not destroy themselves in this election. However, I can’t help but think of one of my favorite poems and feel that in these perilous times, I mustn’t forget this message. Amazing, how timely it is.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

John Donne, 1624

An excerpt from Meditation 17

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Filed under BREXIT, Disasters, Europe, Great Britain, Poetry, Terror

Frans Timmermanns’ View of Brexit

 

I would like to share Frans Timmermanns’ Facebook article, elaborating his view, and indeed his sorrow, at Britain’s choice of leaving the EU.

Timmermanns is the Vice-President of the European Commission, and as we read in this piece, we recognize a true European in education and outlook.

Some of the comments/reactions to his words are also quite illuminating. I have not commented on his page, but as you may well assume, my sharing this is my way of agreeing with his views.

https://m.facebook.com/notes/frans-timmermans/when-in-rome-learning-to-understand-the-english/1132734193416105

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Filed under BREXIT, Disasters, Europe, Great Britain, Migration, Politics

POST-BREXIT BLUES

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The Continuing Saga of a Land Cursed

By Getting That for Which It Voted

 

Keeping up with the press in the last 10 days has been an exercise in head shaking, if not outright head banging. Two days after the Brexit debacle, the country was already in denial, and the disaffected were calling for a repeat referendum. And a lot of them had voted for Brexit!

All of a sudden, all that the leave campaign had promised if the UK left the EU became relativized. Like the 350 million pounds that would go straight into improving the National Health system. No, sorry, they couldn’t guarantee that. Well heck, just because they wrote it on the sides of big red buses and drove them non-stop around the land, that didn’t mean it would happen.

And well heck again, maybe that’s NOT what we pay into the EU every week any way – as the remain side told everybody, but no one seemed to want to hear it. It was the gross payment, and not the net payment, which is calculated after all that Britain gets back as support for various projects and the rebates that they jealousy accrued over the decades. In the end the figure was more accurately stated as closer to the 190 million pound mark that was paid for services rendered.

Then there was the claim that Britain could, on its own terms, stay in the EU single market but without the free movement of workers, i.e. immigrants from other EU states. During the campaign EU politicians had already burst that bubble. But the leave campaign wouldn’t listen and kept promising this. On day one after the vote, I heard the only UKIP (the right-wing anti-Europe party) Member of Parliament, Douglas Carswell, holding forth to a BBC interviewer that Britain could now demand this and demand that and would get it. On which planet does this man reside? (Or what is his drug of choice?)

All sorts of other important facts, like the actual relationship of the EU to the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) with Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein, seem to have fallen by the wayside. That these states also pay their dues to the EU for the privilege of access to the market – without any right to participate in making the laws that regulate that trade – seems to have got lost in the rhetoric on how Britain would determine the future set-up. Doesn’t that sound like a bargain for the Brits? Just the ticket?

Then there are the Scots and the Northern Irish. The former are already looking for a date for their next independence referendum. They are devoted believers in the European project. The Irish are considering their options. Somehow reunite with the Irish Republic? Will the entire United Kingdom disintegrate over this issue?

An issue that should have never been brought to vote in a referendum?

On Saturday tens of thousands demonstrated in London to stop Brexit. London voted clearly to remain – let’s face it, of all parts of the UK, they have the most to lose – but at this demonstration, people from all over the country came to protest what was about to happen. The petition for a second referendum already has more than 4 million signatures.

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jul/02/march-for-europe-eu-referendum-london-protest

Then of course, with David Cameron stepping down, the race for the next Tory (the currently ruling Conservative Party) leader got into full swing. After Theresa May (current Home Secretary and a remain supporter) and Michael Gove (Justice Minister and Brexit campaigner) announced their bids for leadership, everyone waited with bated breath for Boris Johnson to throw his hat into the leadership ring. BoJo’s speech reflected his personality, albeit somewhat subdued. He had canvassed the Parliamentary Tories and found that at this juncture, he would not be vying for the leadership post after all – and thus, he would not be the next Prime Minister. It would seem that the Parliamentary Tories – who would have to elect him – were more remain than leave. He found no support. That’s the tricky thing about power poker.

BTW, Gove, after maintaining religiously that he was not interested in the top job, basically stabbed BoJo in the back with his declaration. (New nickname: Brutus.)

This was a while after BoJo assassinated Cameron by means of a late switch to the (dark) Brexit side.

Oh yes, I must not forget to mention that the leavers seem to have been totally overwhelmed by their success and seem to have no idea of what to do next. Cameron is leaving it to his successor, sometime in the autumn, to initiate the exit process by activating Article 50 of the EU contract. But the EU wants them to start the process today.

The opposition Labour Party is also in disarray. Their leader Jeremy Corbyn, an anachronistic left-winger, is seen is a huge mistake. How fast can they get shot of him, just in case a general election winds up being called?? It’s difficult: He will not go softly into….

The campaign slogan that Brexiteers banged on about incessantly was: “Let’s get our country back!”

Well, now they’ve got it. And they have no clue what to do with it.

So dear readers, the dog’s dinner currently on the menu in Britain has been served. Enjoy your meal.

I trust this round-up gives you an idea of what’s been happening in Britain. Feel like shaking your head in disbelief? Feel like banging it against the nearest wall? I know the feeling. Sure, go ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under BREXIT, Europe, Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Politics

BREXIT – Now a Done Deal

We woke up this morning to the news: The British had voted to leave the EU. Although I am not a Brit, I have been married to one for 41 years and I lived there for a few years, way back in the 70s. I feel a great connection to this country, its culture, history and people. I can’t help thinking that they have made a short-sighted and fatal decision.

After listening to David Cameron’s statement this morning, I initially felt sorry for him. He presented himself as professional and unemotional about the results, reflecting the consummate politician that he is. He announced his resignation, which seems right when losing such a vote.

My sympathy has been draining away in the hours since, as I reminded myself how unnecessary this entire circus was, that it was the product of Cameron’s wooing the EU sceptics in the ranks of the Tory party to ensure his election in 2010. So in fact, that promise has come back to deprive him of that very job.

Then there’s Boris Johnson, another talented politician, former mayor of the great city of London, who campaigned to leave with the full force of his personality. (I will refrain from making unjustified comparisons with a certain US presidential candidate – that would be wholly unfair.) As a contender for leadership of the Tory party, and thus prime ministerial candidate, he has everything to gain from the leave vote. But I wouldn’t dare suggest that his enthusiasm for Brexit stemmed from his own ambitions to higher rank.

While waiting for Boris to arrive at the venue for his statement, BBC World News showed briefly his departure in a taxi from his north London home. Surrounded by a retinue of police, a pack of news people and a crowd of London’s citizens, the sound of booing could not be overheard. After all, London was carried by the remain vote and it is London that will bear the brunt of the changes. So greetings to all those Londoners who once loved their eccentric Mayor!

To give his statement, Boris put on his most statesman-like air – not that he’d combed his trademark blond mane from his face. He does, after all, have the most to gain from the success of the leave campaign and his buddy David’s fall. He sees Britain’s exit from the EU as the opportunity to return to the country power over its own fate, to return to the democratic principles that made it into Great Britain.

I see no point in discussing all the consequences of this monumental decision. You probably are already aware of a lot of them. And there is also no doubt that the EU system is not perfect, but it must be improved for all members – not just for Britain – from within, for seen within the context of Europe’s history, it is the best thing that has ever happened to the continent.

My $ 64,000 question for Boris is: If you want Britain to rule itself democratically, how about initiating a referendum on abolishing the House of Lords? Create in its place a legislative body, elected according to proportional representation, that truly acts as a check and balance to the House of Commons. And of course, the people must be allowed to decide this. For neither House could be relied on to question the legitimacy of the present, albeit traditional, division of power, evolved over centuries. To me, it seems the next logical step.

Then there is, of course, the question of David Cameron’s successor. Today he is reckoning that the Tory Party Conference in October will choose a new leader, and consequently, a new prime minister.

NO, MR CAMERON! That may well turn into wishful thinking. An early election will have to be called! Just a shame that the Labour Party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn are not in a position to take advantage of these developments.

This vote is also a game-changer on the issue of Scottish devolution. The Scots have voted with a huge majority to stay in the EU. Who could blame them for re-initiating their referendum to leave Britain? And this time round, I would be on their side. And the EU would probably look favourably on their application to join the club. It sounds like the Northern Irish may also get the hang of this referendum thing and start their very own movement for an independent north to either join the Republic of Ireland or join the EU as an independent country.

Is the great United Kingdom set to unravel in the next few years and become the dis-United Kingdom? How exactly will the divorce proceeding between GB and the EU go? I for one am curious as to whether Britain will really benefit from this move. It may turn into a Pyrrhic victory.

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Filed under BREXIT, Europe, Great Britain, Northern Ireland

OUTSIDERS in London

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The past weeks have been full of travel, feeding me with new impulses and images to write about. Since I live in a cow village, it doesn’t hurt to escape natural habitat upon occasion and taste the big wide world out there, especially the kind found in a metropolis that seethes with humanity and its associated creativity. Unfortunately, travel also involves returning home to find no one has done my work. Although the weeds in my garden are still making faces at me, I’m ignoring them. I can just about peer over the mounds on my desk and see my way clear to share with you an experience I had while in London in early May.

Before we visited the exhibition “Inventing Impressionism” at the National Gallery, my husband suggested we have a look in St. Martin-in-the-Fields, a church located adjacent to the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square. In all our many years, first living in and then visiting London, we had never been inside. After admiring the Greek Revival architecture of the interior, we descended to the crypt, now a café and exhibition space.

A photo exhibition by Milan Svanderlik, titled Outsiders in London, was on display and we had the incredible luck of visiting on a day when the photographer was present in the flesh. We were admiring his portraits and reading the stories about the subjects when Mr. Svanderlik approached us for a chat.

He spoke the excellent if accented English of one not native-born but long resident in Britain. Originally from Northern Bohemia, Mr Svanderlik had lived in Yugoslavia and Switzerland before settling in London forty years ago. His background alone gives him an excellent head start for studying outsiders.

Mr Svanderlik is a man who not only photographs interesting-looking subjects but is also deeply interested in their stories. Each portrait was accompanied by a brief introduction to that person. And each person had a history as an outsider, whether due to disability, race, nationality, beliefs or sexual orientation. Some had been able, early in their lives, to make a virtue of their outsider status, while others suffered greatly before owning up to it and accepting who they were.

   Margaret Dawn Pepper, formerly Maurice David Pepper

 

 

Rabbi Ahron Leib Cohen, anti-Zionist

Henry Fraser, quadriplegic, with his bother Will

In our conversation with him, Mr Svanderlik shared more information about his project in general and his subjects in particular. Some of them had been able not only to accept but also use their  situation as outsiders to excel in their fields. Indeed, often what made them outsiders was exactly what was needed to achieve excellence.

It made me think about the dichotomy of the human condition. In most cases, a person feels a need to belong, whether to a family, a tribe, a political party, a profession, etc. Not being accepted in any of these social structures because of something about us that the crowd cannot identify with, can lead to severe problems for an individual.

And yet, don’t many of us want to stand out in this densely populated world? We seek recognition for our talents and achievements. We don’t want to disappear in the masses of mankind. But of course, we desire the status of outsider, not as a stigma but as a badge of quality.

The people chosen by Milan Svanderlik have transformed their otherness into a virtue, and in many cases are affecting the lives of those around them in most positive ways. For outsiders who have yet to find a way to cope with their otherness, these life stories may just offer help.

Although Milan Svanderlik’s exhibition at St. Martin-in-the-Fields has finished, you can see his work and read the poignant stories about his Outsiders at: http://www.outsidersinlondon.org

All portraits appear with the kind permission of Milan Svanderlik, holder of the copyright.         (The photo of St. Martin’s is my very own pathetic tourist shot.)

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Filed under Cities, civil rights, Gender Questions, Great Britain

August 4th – Commemoration of Britain’s Declaration of War Against Germany

All day Monday services of commemoration took place in Belgium and across the UK. In the evening the BBC broadcast the services held at the military cemetery Saint Symphorien near Mons, Belgium ( the site of the first battle between the British and German forces). This cemetery where soldiers from all the combatant countries were buried next to each other was the idea of a German officer in 1915 – during the height of the war. The idea was to create a Waldfriedhof, a forest cemetery, honoring the sacrifice on all sides.

British, Belgian and German heads of state and several heads of government were present and participated actively in the proceedings. Serenely orchestrated combining music, poetry and prose, it was a fitting remembrance of the millions who died, I hate to say it,  completely in vain.

CORRECTION OF AUGUST 1st POST

I would like to correct my post in which I stated that Russia declared war on Germany on August 1, 1914. In fact it was the other way around.

In the lethal chain of events that precipitated war on so many fronts, Germany declared war on Russia when they mobilized on Germany’s eastern borders.The Russian-German border ran right down the middle of where Poland should have been!

Russian claims  that they were “only” mobilizing against Austria-Hungary because of the latter’s war against Serbia were of no help since Germany was allied to Austria-Hungary.

August 4th marks Britain’s declaration of war against Germany upon their invasion of neutral Belgium. And so the tragic timeline continues during the course of August and on into the following 4 years.

It is scary the way so many journalists are comparing the current situation with that of 100 years ago: Ukraine, Syria, Gaza, Libya, Iraq. And let’s not forget Afghanistan and Pakistan. Where else have I left out?

The only hope is that we did learn something from all the mistakes of the 20th century. Nothing is predestined. And there mustn’t be any attempts scorned at finding solutions

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Filed under Endings, German History, Great Britain, Politics, Remembering, World Wars

The Warsaw Pact Takes on New Meaning

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When we were visiting Warsaw a week ago, I had no idea we were just missing Barak Obama’s arrival. After five days there, spent delving more deeply into the history of Poland in general and Warsaw in particular, I appreciate the President’s confirmation of the resolve of the US and NATO to defend, if necessary, Poland and the other former Soviet satellite states which are, indeed, now members of NATO. For the Ukraine crisis has certainly given the countries at our eastern outposts a mighty case of the jitters. And for good reason: Promises are one thing, carrying through can be quite another.

Warsaw is a city resurrected – by its own strength and resolve – from the ashes of World War II. Although under Soviet dictatorship, the citizens immediately started to rebuild their city, not a modern incarnation of it, but as it had been, as they had loved it before 1939.

Before / After

Before / After

After a visit to the Warsaw Rising Museum, which presented blow-by-blow the city’s last-ditch struggle to survive, I came away realizing that it wasn’t just the Germans and the Russians who raped Poland. In September 1939 when the country was invaded first from the west by the Germans and then from the east by the Russians, Poland’s allies – Great Britain and France – did not lift a finger. They were powerless; they could only let the invaders have their way.

With its low plains, Poland had always been an easy target for armies to march across. Napoleon certainly took advantage of that. And its geopolitical location between three greedy empires (Austro-Hungary, Russia and Germany) made it a tempting target. Thus in 1795 Poland became the tragic victim of its geography and topography. It was divided into pieces, like a cake, between Austria, Germany and Russia. Only at the end of the First World War did it reappear on the map as a sovereign nation.

In 1939 the German National Socialist regime was determined, once and for all, to quash Polish identity. One element of that was leveling Warsaw. In their perception, that would destroy their national identity. By 1945, 90% of Warsaw had been bombed and burned out. But they underestimated the will of the people to stay Polish, as evidenced by their final uprising in the summer of 1944. They went down but they went down fighting.

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Aerial view of a city devastated

 

During the war, the Polish government was in exile in London; Polish troops fought side-by-side with the British, French, Americans, Canadians and others. What remained of their airforce flew with the RAF. They fought bravely and believed when the war was won that they would get their country back.

At Yalta, a seaside town in then (and now once again!) Russian Crimea, in February 1945, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin set the framework for the post-war political landscape of Europe. Poland was already occupied by Russia. The western allies, again, did not have enough strength to counter Stalin’s drive to secure his sphere of influence. Poland was left to Stalin. The rest is, obviously, history. My conclusion: Poland was f***ked, repeatedly, not only by her enemies but also by those she thought her friends.

Let’s hope and pray that the USA, within the scope of the NATO alliance, does in fact, this time, defend Poland and the other former Iron Curtain countries from Vladimir Putin’s latest version of Russian egomania and paranoia, should this become necessary. The rest of western Europe must move on from its tentative measures and show more backbone. For with one eye on 20th century history, it is easy to understand the nervous twitch from which Poland and her eastern neighbors are lately suffering.

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Filed under Cities, Fiction and Other Truths, German History, Great Britain, Holocaust, Politics, Remembering

A WORLD GONE MAD

In the month since I abandoned my writing career for a job as painter, decorator and general housekeeper in a futile attempt to ameliorate the neglect I’ve lavished on my home for the last few years, it became perfectly clear to me why my writing career began so late. Instead of a head full of ideas that I longed to share with my readers, instead of rushing through pesky morning tasks to at long last reach my desk, my thoughts have been dominated by “to-do” lists, cataloging every little outstanding chore. And those lists just keep getting longer. Thinking back, it’s no wonder that during my years as a mother of three children, my brain was more than occupied with daily necessities related to soccer teams and school parent-teacher councils rather than novel plots.

Although the projects here are far from finished, I am determined to stretch my writing muscles this afternoon, lest they completely atrophy from disuse. For during my time-out, the world has not stood still.

  • Italy has a new government,
  • Germany has a new political scandal
  • and in Great Britain the temperature of the debates concerning Scottish independence is rising steadily.
  • Most astonishingly, the people of the Ukraine have succeeded in jettisoning their unloved president.

That’s a lot to cover in a blog post. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it short. Let’s start with Italy.

So the mayor of Florence turns up in Rome, uninvited and unelected, and tells Enrico Letta that he’s going to run the government now. In some such fashion that is how Matteo Renzi became the new Prime Minister of Italy. In Florence his record – and reputation – as mayor is controversial. Apparently he cared more about keeping the city cleaned up and safe for tourists than about the needs of the populace living there on a permanent basis (i.e. voters!). However, although he’s a center left politician, he has not been too easy on labor and its interests. Will he have the wherewithal to pull off the reforms necessary to turn the country around? I sure hope so. But of course, a cynical reaction would probably be more understandable. For so far, no one since World War II has emerged on the political scene with the power and gumption to clean up Italy’s Aegean Stables.

In Germany, a Social Democratic member of the Bundestag, Sebastian Edathy, laid down his mandate and left the country. Why not? Nothing wrong about that. Except evidence had  turned up showing Edathy had in the past purchased pornographic photos of children from a Canadian website. He, of course, denied the whole story. They aren’t porno, he claims, because the children aren’t posed in sexual acts. They are only naked. Uhhuh. So why did he quit and leave the country?

As if child porno wasn’t bad enough, the real scandal for Germany is that the then-minister of the interior, Hans-Peter Friedrich (Christian Socialist), informed the top ranking SPD politicians – Gabriel, Steinmeier and Oppermann (now major players in the current CDU/SPD coalition government) about their fallen angel. Friedrich, who had become agricultural minister in the new government, was forced to step down and now faces charges of disclosing classified information that allowed Edathy to flee.  And the other three SPD grandees? I wonder who they informed…and what will happen to them…

Then there is Britain. And Scotland. In coming September the Scots will be going to the polls to decide if they want to stand on their own feet rather than be a part of the United Kingdom. The Scots leader, Alex Salmond, is a lovable kind of guy. However, he seems to live in a world of his own. And I don’t just mean Edinburgh. After David Cameron and the Bank of England had declared that if the Scots secede, they will NOT be allowed to continue using the pound Sterling as their currency, Salmond still happily insisted they will. It’s just posturing, surely. “Why wouldn’t they want to share their beloved pound with us?” he muses.

Oh yeah, the EU. If they declare their independence, Scotland will no longer be a member of the European Union. What? says Salmond, that’s absurd. But the leadership of the EU has raised its collective fingers in a no / nein. You will have to apply, just like any other country who would like to join. While the Scots in favor of independence believe that their dwindling supplies of North Sea oil will fuel their new status, the population north of Hadrian’s Wall would be well advised to make a reality check before taking what looks like a plunge into the deep end.

Of course, the most exciting – and scary – story in the news at present is Ukraine. Who of us doesn’t want to see these people freed from the yoke of tyranny as embodied in the persona of Viktor Yanukovich? The good news is that he’s gone – even if he also needs to do a reality check after hearing him say he is still the rightful president of the Ukraine. So much potential for the progression of the country to a democratic and prosperous nation is evident. But it has to happen first. The Orange Revolution didn’t bring the desired results. Will this one?

Located as it is, between Europe and Russia, it is an endangered species. How far is Putin willing to go to keep the Crimea under his power for the sake of his Black Sea Fleet? One hundred years ago when the First World War broke out, the tinderbox that was the Austro-Hungarian Empire supplied the match that set off an unspeakable conflagration. Now in our 21st century, Ukraine could become a bridge to reconcile the differences between the east and the west. Or it could be a box of matches.

As citizens of the world, we have a lot on our plates. So keep reading – Stay informed. It is the only world we have.

And speaking of bridges, this is the road to the one I’ve built:  www.dchubbard-writes.com

 

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Filed under Great Britain, Italy, Politics, Writing

THE WALL – ROGER WATERS IN FRANKFURT

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All week the radio stations hyped the event. Last night it happened: Roger Waters and his crew staged a magnificent performance of THE WALL.

The music was as powerful as when first released in 1979. Live performances of the full-blown rock opera have been infrequent, thus making the Frankfurt gig a rare gem in the year’s schedule of big name appearances.

The special effects – light, sound and visuals – were stunning. The droning airplanes and thwacking helicopters, the crashing bombs and the flak artillery, were not only loud. You felt them shake the arena; your internal organs vibrated along.  They even flew a real airplane through the air to explode into the stage.

With all this sound and fury, it must be noted that this is an anti-war message par excellance.  Waters protests against the wanton destruction of individual human beings and their worlds with anger and irony. One bit of graffiti on the wall: “If at first you don’t succeed, call an airstrike.”  Waters takes to task every element of our society responsible for causing war: the three big religions, political ideologies and big business. Symbols of these forces fall as payloads from bombers, causing death and destruction as they hit the ground.

Behind the anti-war message lies Waters’ own private demons: the death of his father who he never knew in WWII, abuse by bullying teachers at school, an over-protective mother and his divorce.

This statement on the wall, however, conveyed Roger Waters’ entire message to me in three words: FEAR BUILDS WALLS. I couldn’t help but think of my own small-scale, non-explosive creative efforts. In THE PEACE BRIDGE Hannah Zimmer fights to bring down the wall of silence that her family has built around the past. Fear built that wall, too. Like Hannah and Waters’ protagonist, Pink, we each have demons that haunt us and make us fear what we are walling in. Or walling out.

Were you there last night? If so, what did you think?

BTW: The performance deserves better photos! Sorry I couldn’t deliver.

 

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Filed under Fiction and Other Truths, Great Britain, Poetry, Politics, Remembering, Rock Music

“Make Me a German” on the BBC

Last night I watched the third and final episode of BBC2’s  Germany series. After dealing with German cars (a German’s favorite child) and then German cooking, they got down to brass tacks: Why is Germany more successful than Britain?

To find the answer they sent Justin and Bee Rowlatt and two of their children to Nuremberg to live for two weeks as Germans live. All fine so far. Except two weeks is no where near long enough to make anything but superficial generalizations. For Justin, a BBC journalist who took up a job in a pencil factory, it seemed to be a great adventure. He investigated what makes a German worker more efficient and more satisfied than a Brit.

For Bee, stuck at home with her two youngest children, it seemed a drag. I’ve just read about her on her blog (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/tv/posts/Make-Me-A-German) and although she is half German, she had never lived there. She reckoned she was “predisposed” to liking what she saw, but it didn’t seem to me to be the case. The attempts to do everything that the average German does in a day or week left her wanting in the cleaning area. It’s a shame to have reduced “being a German Hausfrau” to the amount of time spent on housekeeping, laundry and cooking. There’s only so much of it in a two-bedroom apartment that’s only yours for two weeks.

Bee was greatly impressed with the Waldkindergarten that her 4-year-old attended but had no comprehension of why so many mothers stayed home not only with the under-threes but also with older children . She soon learned why: short school hours and no provision for nurseries for the under-threes. Everything in the system is geared to stay-at-home moms.

Of course, she was in Bavaria, the most conservative and Catholic Bundesland in the country. While Germany has just passed the deadline set for creating sufficient nursery capacities for a third of all children aged 1 and two, the Bavarian sister party to the national Christian Democrats blackmailed the federal government into paying mothers “care money” for staying home and minding their children there. To use Bavaria as a measure for all of Germany was perhaps a poor choice.

I’ve raised three children through the Kindergarten and school system in Germany and I was continually annoyed about so many aspects that they hold dear. To broach those issues would turn this blog post into an entire book. Suffice to say that since I had my kids in the system, the various counties and Bundesländer (the federal states are responsible for education policies – that means 16 different school systems!) have made huge (by their standards) strides forward. Kindergärten have become all-day affairs if you need it. Many elementary schools offer care till late afternoon. They call these all-day schools. However, the afternoons are not given over to class lessons. The kids are offered some crafts and sports options as well as help with their homework. It certainly isn’t a perfect solution but it’s progress nonetheless.

Going back briefly to my own experience: Firstly, we had kids because we wanted a family. What’s the point of giving birth only to drop the kid off at the child-minder for the first five years till school starts? There wasn’t a job out there (that I was qualified to do) that would have tempted me to leave my kids regularly with someone else. Especially since, as non-Germans, we had no family here to support our child-rearing. Most of our friends did have parents or siblings nearby to jump in when needed. Many moms did go out and do part-time jobs because they wanted to or had to.

Secondly, the system here is such that all sports, music and whatever extracurricular activities are all run independently of the schools by clubs and take place in the afternoon. Thus I spent my afternoons driving my kids to music lessons, football training, tennis, horse-back riding, judo, etc. If I’d had a full-time – or even a part-time job, who would have done that?

Bee and Justin’s experiment was a noble one. It was no doubt interesting to British audiences  to have a look at how Herr & Frau Durchschnitt (average) live. How much the Brits can learn from it about competing with the Germans is a different question. I am left questioning the validity and value of many of their conclusions. In the end the Brits have to find their own modus vivendi.

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Filed under Gender Questions, German History, Great Britain, Parenting