Friday, October 09, 2015
British values as they were
When my dad handed me the dusty manila envelopes, I was only mildly curious about what lay inside. Dad said he'd been looking for something else when he found them at the bottom of my mother's wardrobe.
Although Mum's been dead now for more than ten years, he's left many of her things undisturbed. The envelopes were heavy and as I peeked inside, I saw they were stuffed full of faded certificates. The first one I picked up had what felt like coins inside and when I tipped it up, out tumbled two silver medals I'd won at primary school for Irish dancing.
Soon I had spread out on the table evidence of every public exam I've passed in a lifetime - starting with O-levels and ending with the professional qualification in journalism that I was awarded just before I moved out of the family home for the last time when I was 25. Then there were awards for things I only vaguely remember - public speaking and poetry recitals.
Of course, a lump rose in my throat at the realisation of how proud my mother had been of me. It wasn't that I was any kind of genius or child prodigy: just that my achievements have always seemed massive to my parents in the context of their lives.
They both left school in Liverpool at 14 without an exam certificate between them; my mother worked as a clerk and my dad on the docks. They married young and brought up six daughters on a council estate. But what struck me more forcibly was the quiet nature of that pride - in such sharp contrast to the endless roar of boastful self-promotion from social media that now forms the background noise to all our lives.
Sitting across the table, Dad must have read my thoughts. 'She never boasted about you, you know,' he said. 'It makes other people feel bad.'
She'd certainly earned the right to be proud - more for her dedication as a mother than for any triumphs I had. She always encouraged us to have a go at things. I wasn't a pretty child but she gave me the confidence to take part in the daft beauty competitions they ran in the seaside holiday camps where we stayed in the Sixties. Needless to say, I was never placed.
Those Irish dancing medals were the most evocative. They took me back to on-stage line-ups in draughty church halls on winter evenings, the flutter of nervousness before the fiddle struck up on a scratchy vinyl disk.
I was never any good at it really, but I wanted to be good, as good as the local champion who - born to dance - was lithe and graceful as a gazelle and took the gold in every class. I was much more elephant than gazelle and it took me hours of practice to get those silvers.
I couldn't have done it without my mum, travelling with me to dancing competitions on the bus because we never had a car, then sitting, wrapped in her winter coat, at the back of the hall. When I won, she didn't say anything much, just a well done and a big beaming smile, but there was a happiness that shone out from her in those moments that I now recognise was quiet pride.
As I drove away from my parents' house with those faded envelopes now in my careful possession, it struck me how dog-eared some of the certificates were. Mum certainly hadn't put them away and left them. I realised she must have been like a squirrel hiding something precious and then taking it out when her spirits needed a lift.
I saw her in my mind's eye, burying those treasures at the bottom of the wardrobe and then retrieving them, turning over the precious memories in her hands. She hadn't needed to share that pride with anyone, not even my dad.
The image forced me to ask myself, what is it about me and the rest of my generation that we boast so much at the drop of a hat? I love my garden but I can't even plant up a tub without taking a picture on my smartphone, posting it online and waiting and checking for the inevitable thumbs-ups from friends, their electronic round of applause. Those battered envelopes brought back to me my mother's modesty. It grew out of a very deep sense of what really mattered in life: duty, kindness, putting others first.
Basic kindness was what ruled out boasting, the fear that, as my dad explained it, somebody else's child might not have done so well and the negative comparison would make that person feel bad.
In my parents' book, the triumphs of your children should only ever be shared with the people who loved them and had a genuine interest - so almost no one outside the family. I thought of the people I've known who've bragged about their children and how rotten it's made me feel over the years.
I have an only child, Tony, who was born at the end of August and is always one of the youngest in class. It's not such a problem now he's 16 and an avid reader, but I remember the misery at the school gates when he was little.
He was the last child struggling with the basic reading books when other parents delighted aloud in how their kids were racing their way through the latest Harry Potter. Then there were the couple whose son was a keen swimmer - not just keen, but destined for the British youth squad.
Tony, by contrast, had no interest in sport whatsoever, just like his Mum and Dad. I'd made him take swimming lessons so he'd be safe in the water, but I usually had to coax and cajole him to the pool. There have been occasions when I've boasted about my own son, usually when he's done something I never expected and could never have attempted myself. He may have been a reluctant swimmer but dragging him to the pool certainly paid off and he was confident in the water from the age of about 12.
I couldn't have done it without my mum, travelling with me to dancing competitions on the bus because we never had a car, then sitting, wrapped in her winter coat, at the back of the hall
When we took him to California on the holiday of a lifetime, he spent hours in a surging ocean while we watched from the beach. I posted the pictures I took of him when he stood triumphantly on his surfboard for the very first time.
We don't only boast about our children, of course, but about scores of material things. We post pictures of ourselves whenever we buy anything - from a pair of shoes to a new kitchen, or a sofa or car.
Then there are the triumphs money can't buy: the flowers from loved ones, the professional prizes, the invitations to prestigious events. I blush as I write this but, yes, I have been guilty of showing off about all of those things through snapshots I've shared online with a wide group of acquaintances and friends.
Casting my mind back, I can't remember hearing my mother boasting about anything at all. For one thing, in her day most people didn't have the material goods we brag about. The War had left Britain on its uppers. Mum and Dad's childhood near the docks meant they witnessed the aftermath of the bombing raids aimed at cutting the vital supply lines from Liverpool to America. They'd both seen bodies lined up on the pavement when a shelter took a direct hit. They felt lucky to survive, to be part of what was then a huge working class.
As Mum used to put it: 'We didn't have anything but then neither did anyone else, so we didn't care.'
It's a cliche, I know, but perhaps the lack of material things can help concentrate the mind on how to develop a set of values that bring pleasure in the absence of lots of new stuff. Things do bring us pleasure, but often it's a temporary high.
The shine can wear off when we find what we've bought isn't as good as we anticipated or - worse - when we compare it with something better that someone else happens to have. All the TVs, computers and smartphones we covet so much have given us vast arrays of knowledge at our fingertips.
The huge downside is that although we may be no more likely to mix with the super-rich than my mother's generation, we know everything about them. All that they have and do is paraded before us in an endless display that is impossible to match.
No matter how lucky you are, that tour around some footballer's magnificent home featured in a glossy magazine can make you feel a little sick inside.
Even the invitations online to share a friend's views of a breathtaking sunset on holiday in Barbados can be a real downer when you can't afford a holiday this year and it's hosing down outside.
My mother's generation was spared all that. The Royal Family might crop up in the news, opening hospitals and launching ships, but they might as well have been on another planet for all the British public knew about the detail of their lives.
As it happened, the very day my dad handed me those old brown envelopes whose contents my mother had so cherished, I'd presented a phone-in about happiness on You And Yours, the daily programme I present on BBC Radio 4.
We'd been discussing whether you can learn to be happy. Andrew Oswald, professor of economics at Warwick University, was our expert guest.
He's been studying our sense of happiness for years. It's a serious business now in the peaceful, wealthy West. Our Prime Minister has even instructed the official statisticians to report on the national sense of wellbeing.
Professor Oswald had revealed an astonishing fact that morning - we haven't got steadily happier as we've become better off. 'Britain is not happier than it was in 1990 when we first started collecting careful data,' he told me. 'And in the U.S., where they started collecting happiness data in the Seventies, people are not happier than they were then.
'The standard theory about why we're not any happier is that we do so many comparisons. If you're constantly looking over your shoulder to decide how good your life is, well then unfortunately everyone is getting a faster BMW, a bigger speedboat, a bigger house at the same time as you.'
It isn't just a theory, he added. 'A lot of evidence suggests that materialism is dangerous.'
He said that in laboratory tests if you lie two strangers side by side in brain scanners, and then tell one of them that the person alongside them is richer than they are, you can read the displeasure in the activity of their brains.
Comparisons are destructive, we all know that. They were destructive in my mother's day, which is why she didn't boast.
What could Professor Oswald tell us about what makes people happy? He said that friendship is very important: my mother used to tell me that.
She modelled it over a lifetime and even when she was dying and was too frail to go out she welcomed the phone calls from friends who'd been part of her life since our childhood. I remember her face lighting up at the sound of a cherished voice.
In future, I've decided to spend a lot more time contemplating the values I regard as significant - kindness, generosity and fairness, for example. I want to forget the things I'd like to have. I plan to sit sometimes and ponder the good things I've helped to make happen, just like my mother did with my dancing medals and exam certificates.
There'll be no further need for me to post any selfies. I know I'm not the only one who'd be a lot happier for that.
Why everything you’re told about being a working mum is WRONG
By a former high-flyer who's enraged the sisterhood
The pivotal moment came one evening at a glamorous reception for heads of state and foreign ministers from all over the world. I sipped champagne, greeted guests, mingled and chatted.
But my mind kept wandering. I could not stop thinking about my 14-year-old son 200 miles away at home, and the urgent phone calls on an almost daily basis about his teenage transgressions.
When puberty hit, he'd become sulky, truculent and monosyllabic. He skipped homework, disrupted classes and played truant. Now he'd been suspended from school and picked up by the police for a stupid prank.
The next step was expulsion. It was unthinkable. Yet where was I when this tumult was erupting in his young life?
I was 18 months into my dream job as the first female director of policy planning for the then U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. I worked in Washington and lived there five days a week, commuting home to my husband, Andy and our two boys (the youngest was then aged 12) at weekends.
Andy was our sons' primary carer: he structured his job as a professor to fit round their routine, he ferried them to out-of-school activities, helped them with their homework, soothed them when they were sick and cooked their meals.
My parenting was relegated to a subsidiary role. When our older son was six, he drew a picture of his family and portrayed me as a laptop. Not even a woman with a laptop. Just a laptop. I shared a rueful laugh with Andy over it.
But that evening, four years ago, at the gathering of the great and the good, I wasn't laughing any more.
Instead, I had a sense of being split in two; of straddling an ever-widening crevasse. And I'd had enough. I needed to go home to my family. More than that, I wanted to.
Andy's flexibility had allowed me to be the main breadwinner, to pursue my career on its fast trajectory. But the emotional costs of my choice, I realised, far outweighed the benefits.
And although I was - and remain - a feminist, it struck me with the force of a hammer blow that, although the mantra of the movement insists otherwise, women can't have it all.
So after two years working for Clinton, I bolted for home. I'd always assumed I'd apply for a foreign policy job and stay in Washington - but the credo on which I'd built my life was shifting like quicksand.
I, a high-profile career woman - and role model - was conceding that it was impossible to juggle the demands of high office with the needs of my two sons.
I felt, too, that it would be dishonest to continue to propagate the myth that if you just try hard enough you can make it work. I wanted to point out that if I, with all my middle-class privileges - money, domestic help and a husband as main carer - could not pull it off, what hope was there for a mother struggling without these advantages?
So I wrote an article: Why Women Still Can't Have It All. What I had not anticipated was the tsunami of responses: clearly it touched a nerve.
There were women of my own age - 57 - who had delegated their child-rearing and sustained high-profile jobs, who felt I'd betrayed the women's movement.
I'd been the one telling young women they can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field they are in. But now I was on the other side
They remarked that it was ‘such a shame' I'd left my career for my kids. Others were openly aghast. ‘You of all people!' scolded one. And some were condescending: ‘I never had to compromise my career, and my kids turned out fine,' said one colleague.
But the article also gave comfort to so many young women who expressed relief at being absolved from the duty of trying to be superwoman.
All my life, I'd been on the other side of this exchange. I'd been the one wearing the faintly superior smile when yet another woman told me she had decided to take some time out to spend more time with her family.
I'd been the woman congratulating herself on her unswerving commitment to the feminist cause, chatting smugly with a dwindling number of college friends who had reached their places on the highest rungs of their professions.
I'd been the one telling young women they can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field they are in. But now I was on the other side.
Over 10,000 Attend Another MASSIVE Demo Against Migrant Invasion in Europe
Another massive rally against the Muslim invasion of Europe. The anti-islamization movement is growing every day. It is the rational response to Chancellor Merkel's vow to take in one million Muslim migrants in Germany alone.
This is Europe's version of the Tea Party.
The only mainstream media report I could find was in Japan Times. The coverage is notoriously biased - which we have come to expect. But there is nothing ‘far right' about this movement. This is a "we the people' movement. Anyone with half a mind would oppose the destruction of their countries, economies, way of life and most of all their freedom. -- Pamela Geller
BERLIN - Thousands of far-right protesters, many wearing T-shirts that read "refugees not welcome," gathered in Germany Monday to condemn the government for allowing an unprecedented migrant influx.
With Europe's biggest economy expecting to take in up to 1 million people fleeing war and poverty this year, anger has flared among anti-foreigner groups and backers of the anti-Islamic Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident (PEGIDA).
"Merkel is guilty, commits ethnocide against the German people," read one banner at the rally in Dresden, the historic city in the former communist East where PEGIDA emerged about a year ago and is now hoping to rekindle the movement.
At their peak the xenophobic rallies attracted 25,000, but they fizzled early this year after PEGIDA's co-founder, Lutz Bachmann, 42, sparked public uproar with Facebook selfies showing him sporting a Hitler mustache and hair-do.
But a week ago, attendance again swelled to nearly 10,000 according to German media reports. The police no longer provide crowd estimates.
Bachmann - who was charged last week with inciting racial hatred by labeling asylum-seekers "animals," "trash" and "filthy rabble" - was expected to again address the demonstration on Monday night.
As the crowd swelled to several thousand people, about three-quarters of them men and many waving Germany's national flag, police in about 10 vans looked on.
A week ago PEGIDA supporters, who often condemn what they call the "liar press" assaulted a journalist.
Supporters on Monday again yelled "we are the people," co-opting the slogan used by the pro-democracy protesters whose demonstrations a quarter-century ago preceded the fall of the Berlin Wall.
"I'm not a right-winger, but I'm scared," said Frank, 59, one of the few protesters who agreed to speak to AFP, on condition he not be fully named.
"I think of my children and grandchildren," he said, voicing fears about the "Islamization" of his country. "We fought for our freedom 25 years ago, we have to demonstrate again.
"I am OK with welcoming sick and wounded refugees, but in the TV images we can see young men. Those are economic refugees," he added.
Uwe Friedrich, 46, said he had been with PEGIDA since the start, and wanted Muslims to leave the country. He was waving a sign that read: "We have a right to our German homeland and German culture.
Another placard quoted Hungary's hard-line Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who recently described the refugee influx as "a German problem" - with the placard adding the question "where are the life rafts for our children?"
Another, more ominous sign read: "Resistance has become a duty against our country's destruction by Merkel & Co.
Australia: Pauline Hanson’s Facebook post on Muslims gains support
Hanson is an independent conservative who is not afraid to broach ethnic matters
SHE once rose to power on a tide of anti-Asian sentiment and it seems Pauline Hanson is now tapping into concern about Muslims to help her get re-elected.
A Facebook post urging people to vote for Hanson at the next federal election, has been shared more than 25,000 times in just two days. The post says: “A vote for me at the next Federal Election will be your insurance, the major parties will have absolute opposition to any more Mosques, Sharia Law, Halal Certification & Muslim Refugees. NO MORE! Share if you agree”.
An image accompanying the post says “No More: Mosques, Sharia law, Halal certification, Muslim refugees”. It has been liked more than 18,000 times.
Hanson, who is planning to run as a Queensland senate candidate for One Nation, has called for tighter Muslim immigration laws in the wake of the “politically motivated” Sydney shooting last week.
“Both sides of parliament are not doing enough to address this whole issue,” she told Sunrise.
“What Islam stands for is not compatible with our country ... let the Muslim countries take them.”
She said Australians need to know what was being taught in Islamic schools and mosques.
“Get out of your glasshouses and go and see what’s happening.”
Many of the comments on the post are supportive, one said: “You have my vote Pauline. I don’t pay taxes to be shot in my own country”.
Another said: “For the first time in my life I will be voting for someone who actually says what most free thinking Australians want”.
But there are plenty of others which challenge her view. One from Omer Dautovic has been liked almost 2000 times and responds to another comment, it states: “I’m Muslim, my kind has been here for over 50 years (Bosnian Muslims) we don’t want Sharia law as this great country provides us with a just and moral system”. It goes on to list other issues such as domestic violence, the free trade agreement and violent criminals, saying “I think there’s a few more problems than just ‘Muslims’.”
Another says: “Pauline is racist and disgusting. I have beautiful Muslim friends who have human rights to be here ... She’s certainly not a traditional owner of this country either”.
Hanson once represented the Brisbane seat of Oxley as an independent after being disendorsed by the Liberal party. In her maiden speech she famously said she believed Australia was in danger of being “swamped by Asians”.
“They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate,” she said.
Hanson opposes multiculturalism, special government assistance for Aborigines, illegal boat people and foreign investment in agricultural land and established housing.
Hanson failed to be re-elected despite a number of campaigns, including standing in NSW and Queensland elections and bids for a Senate seat in 2001, 2007 and 2013.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.