Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Why I will be voting Labour on 7th May 2015

Mum is the girl on  the right.
 My Mum, Maggie, is the one on the right of the picture - it was taken probably just post-war. She passed away in 2008 and I still miss her - I'm just so pleased that I was able to spend my own lifetime up to that point, absorbing the wealth of her wisdom.  Maggie had a tough upbringing.  She never really knew her father who died prematurely when she was just 3 years-old.  Born in the heart of Irish immigrant Liverpool, she and her four siblings were brought up by our Nin, Mary Ellen.  Mary Ellen lost 2 other children before they reached the age of 11 and worked in a rag shop to keep the family going.  Mary Ellen was 'lame' - and always walked with a limp but she worked hard to keep the family going.  As her boys got older, they queued up at the dock gates to get whatever pickings in the way of work that there may have been but were frequently turned away due to the force of numbers.  Such was the cruelty of system prior to the welfare state.  They would pray for snow, for then there would be work shovelling the snow to clear the roads.  It was against this backdrop of poverty that Maggie McCarthy started to develop a political understanding of her world.

Nin - Mary Ellen

I remember Mum telling me the story of why she would never vote Tory - well, she never would anyway, as it was ingrained in every self-respecting working class person that the Tories were for the rich and Labour was for the poor, like us.  Nin was finding it really hard to keep the family going.  A proud woman, it took an awful lot for her to ask for help.  However, out of sheer desperation, she took herself along to 'the parish' to ask for some help in feeding her family.  The two youngest children, Maggie and her younger brother John, accompanied her.  Mum told me, with great bitterness how the children had to watch as Mary Ellen was reduced to tears by a panel of well-to-do Conservatives.  When she explained that she was disabled, she received the retort, "By going out to work, you have made yourself able-bodied."  And with this, she was turned away with no help.  One of the panel was clearly uncomfortable about the situation and offered to buy Mary Ellen and the children a meal but she told him where to go, in no uncertain terms. The Labour Party put an end to this type of degradation with the introduction of the welfare state.  With the exponential growth of dependence on food banks and the erosion of benefits, David Cameron is ensuring a dismantling of the welfare state.

After the war, my Dad, Tommy was demobbed from the RAF where he had served his country in
Libya.  For me, his political views are particularly memorable for the fact that he didn't think much to Winston Churchill.  I've never really heard anyone say anything bad about Churchill - he is sacrosanct - but Dad didn't think much of him so that is OK by me.  Maggie and Tommy were soon married and family life started not long after.  In Maggie's own words, people 'lived in rooms' and the young family rented lodgings in various private houses before securing a tenement home in the city centre.  Extensive post-war slum clearance programmes in Liverpool led to the family moving out to a council house in Huyton on the outskirts of Liverpool in 1961- a brand new 'sunshine home' with gardens back and front.  People took a real pride in their new homes so much so that many of the neighbours took advantage of the Tory Government 'right to buy' scheme in the 1970s.  These houses went for a pittance.  Although they could have taken advantage of it, Maggie and Tommy were adamant that these were built as social housing and should remain social housing. Maggie's mantra became, "People will end up living in rooms again!"  How prophetic!

My Dad.
Dad was a lifelong trade unionist working mainly in the construction industry.  He worked for the one company for over 30 years as a Steel Fixer - like Maggie, Tommy was, as we Scousers say, a grafter.  I know lots of people say that they 'never missed a day's work' but in all honesty, I can never remember my Dad take a day off sick, even though he constantly suffered from painful stomach ulcers.  There were many occasions when he was 'rained off' and had to come home early - you pray for good weather in the building trade because that is when you earn.  He got a gold watch from his employer when he'd put in 25 years but it didn't stop them repaying his loyalty with redundancy in his late 50s when Thatcher declared war on the trade unions and the great job loss train came to town.  His wasn't a docker's pay-off - frankly it was an insult.

I know some people pour scorn on people like me, those who vote Labour because their parents did.  That paints me as some kind of mindless individual who can't think for herself.  I don't vote Labour because my parents did but rather because my parents taught me, through family stories and memories, exactly why a vote for the Tories is in direct opposition to everything that I stand for.  I used to think, foolishly, that we had pretty much made our way to a classless society in the UK.  I no longer think that.  Since 2010, I have seen this CON-DEM coalition ride roughshod over our NHS and  the welfare safety net with a callousness that I didn't think was possible outside of the world of fiction. I now feel like a serf in a 21st century feudal system.   I own the mortgage on a modest but pleasant semi-detached house but I am not fooled.  I survive at the whim of the moneyed classes and, at any time, I am only ever two or three wage packets away from destitution.  The Tory party are too hand in glove with the obscenely rich and that is where their loyalty lies, not with ordinary people in ordinary jobs who have their own modest house and car.  Anybody who thinks otherwise is sadly deluded. The modern Labour Party is not perfect - there have been mistakes in recent years - but I do believe that it still has a social conscience.

Actually, this post has not even skimmed the surface of why I will be voting Labour on 7th May but I hope it gives something of the flavour. Use your vote wisely and use it with a conscience.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Greenbelt 2011 - Dreams of Home

We've been back from Cheltenham a few days now and it feels like we've never been away. I really love Greenbelt but it is always over too quickly and this year was no exception. The weather was a bit of a let down this time round, it has to be said. Torrential rain on Friday evening meant that we bottled out of Billy Bragg on the main stage and sought shelter instead in the Jesus Arms where we encountered assorted ASBOites. We rolled out around one-ish, significantly later than anticipated. There were sporadic showers all weekend, which, apart from the Friday evening, tended to be light, fine rain but the worst of it was that it was ridiculously cold for the time of year. However, you can't let the weather spoil the weekend and we made the most of the event.

The content of our Greenbelt took on a more political flavour than usual. We listened to Faisal Islam, the Economics Editor of Channel 4 News who clarified the finer points not just the national but the global economic crisis. He later took part in a panel with three others. We also attended a talk by David Loyn, the International Development Correspondent for the BBC, who raised interesting points about what shapes the news as we see/hear it and how the nature of news is changing with the advent of social networks. The talk which affected me the most this year was brought to us by Palestinian, Salim Shawamreh who was speaking on behalf of ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions). He invited the audience to imagine what it would be like to have your house demolished, something which he has experienced not once but 4 times. It is an utterly horrendous situation. Recognition of Palestine as a state would certainly be a move in the right direction to resolving the plight of the Palestinian people and the UN will be voting on this issue next month. William Hague is undecided as to how the UK will vote so there is still time to lobby MPs. So, Esther McVey can expect something in the post! The only talk I attended of a spiritual nature was by Padraig O'Tuama. I was intrigued by the name of the talk, Our Lady of Greenbelt. As a Catholic, I struggle with Marian spirituality. On the one hand, I think that many of my fellow Catholics can have a tendency to deify Mary and understand why Protestant Christians can accuse us of 'worshipping Mary'. On the other hand, I always think that Jesus must get a bit hurt the way some not only disregard but actually insult His mum. I know that sounds simplistic and childish but it is the way I think about it. I must admit, Padraig left me feeling much happier about Mary's role and my attitude towards her, which is the last thing I was expecting.

We took in more music than usual with Soweto Kinch, Gentlemen's Dubb Club, Get Cape Wear Cape Fly, Duke Special, Idlewild, Kate Rusby and Ron Sexsmith. Phil had spent most of the last few months looking forward to seeing Ron Sexsmith and we weren't disappointed. We had originally planned to stay over until Tuesday, but this plan was scuppered when Phil discovered that Ron was on at 7pm on Monday I had to miss the Unthanks and Mavis Staples...oh, well, you can't have everything. Probably some follow-up music purchases are in order.

Sadly we didn't get up in time for the Greenbelt Communion this year which is a shame. But we managed to get to the Blessed service at 5.30 on Friday evening to support Metanoia featuring Robb and Dr Ruth. If only all masses could be like that one. We also managed to get to a service by our friends at Sanctuary Bath - a late one at 11.15pm but a very relaxing and focused end to the day.

The trouble with Greenbelt is that it is so packed with activity and punctuated with conversation, it seems to be over so very, very quickly. Oh, well, there's always next year!

Friday, August 26, 2011

All Set for Greenbelt 2011!!

Well, overall, the weather looks pretty abysmal and actually rather typical August Bank Holiday weather. So I suppose sunny intervals are good. Can't see it, though.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Maggie on Tour 2011: Day 7, Sunday 14th August

All too soon, our little odyssey was drawing to a close. On the last morning Phil informed me that he was going to take me to Eyam. When I was about 14 years old, I saw a TV play called 'The Roses of Eyam' which told the story of this old Derbyshire village, whose inhabitants put themselves into voluntary quarantine when the bubonic plague broke out there in 1665. The story has stayed with me, haunted me, since the play was aired in about 1976. It was only when I picked up a leaflet on our trip to Bakewell that I realised Eyam was in Derbyshire.

After breakfast we set off through the countryside on the short journey to Eyam. There is a small museum there, of which a major part is devoted to the re-telling of the story of this small community, faced with the outbreak of the plague. It dealt with the experiences of individual families which really brought home the tragedy of the events which took place. Personal stories were backed up with cold statistics, the day by day record of named deaths over a number of months. Sobering stuff. It was a relief to get outside again into the Sunday morning sunshine. As you pass through the village, you pass the cottages where the first deaths occurred and the churchyard where one of the victims lies buried. The people of Eyam still live with the daily reminder of the events which took place there. Lovely though the village was, I didn't take out my camera - it seemed inappropriate, somehow.

Our final stop before home was Buxton, traditional spa resort. The elegance of earlier days is evidenced in the attractive architecture of the Crescent, the Baths (now a smart shopping arcade), the hotels, the opera house and the Pavilion Gardens. We were both pretty tired and agree that perhaps we need to give Buxton another visit to really do it justice. However, we did spend a very pleasant hour in the beautiful gardens, watching the world to by and listening to a brass band playing in the bandstand. Bring back brass bands in our parks - an essential part of a wonderful cultural tradition!

Maggie on Tour 2011: Day 6, Saturday 13th August

We were feeling a bit jaded on the Saturday, given the unexpectedly long journey from the Forest of Dean...I'm still convinced that Sat Nav Lady deliberately took us the long way round! On that basis, we decided to remain fairly local to the campsite. After breakfast, we took a hike into Bakewell. Bakewell is a pretty little town but quite busy. There didn't seem to be a great deal there apart from a few tea shops and the usual abundance of outdoor clothing/equipment shops. We enjoyed scones with jam and cream with tea and were pleasantly surprised at the cost. We departed having bought traditional Bakewell puddings. Mr Kipling must have hijacked the idea when he started making Bakewell tarts. The pudding has a base of flaky pastry rather than shortcrust and has no icing on the top. They were quite nice, if you like that sort of thing. I'm not a huge fan of things marzipanish but it was still pleasant enough...and when in Bakewell! I felt sorely tempted by the smell of the chips from the local chippy but we opted instead for a Cornish Pasty to munch on on the way back to base. Very nice, too!

Still feeling tired after some tea and Bakewell pudding, we did the unthinkable and pulled the bed out for an afternoon snooze. Later we took a stroll down the the very pretty local village, Ashford in the Water. We hoped to eat out, but to be honest, everyone there seemed a bit posh! I felt decidedly under-dressed even for the pub where the local cricket team were having post match beers. I suppose it was the Saturday night thing but there are times in life when my latent inferiority complex kicks in...I really hate that in myself. Nevertheless we had a lovely walk and went back to have another go at the old 'instant barbecue'. Instant has a hollow, ironic ring to it. It seemed like many hours before the feeble little coals managed to cook through a couple of burgers and sausages but we got there in the end. Flushed with our infinitesimaly small victory, we ambled the 7 or 8 yards to the pub!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Maggie on Tour 2011: Day 5, Friday 12th August

All too soon it seemed that it was time for us to pack up and move to our last destination. Before leaving, I went to take my last shower and prepare for the journey ahead. I went through the ritual - at no time is ritual more important than when you are in a communal shower block -have I got my shower gel? Have I remembered all of my clothes? Is my dirty underwear suitably secured inside my other things so that it doesn't fall out while I am crossing the field back to the van? Anyway, content that all was intact, I exited the shower cubicle...and there is some woman, naked as the day she was born apart from her towel, draped about her head turban style. Well, I don't think I am particularly prudish, but I have no stomach for other people's nudity so soon after breakfast! I mean, actually, there was plenty of room inside the cubicles to dress before leaving. Not only that, the door to the block was wide open and you wouldn't have had to try too hard to see in from the field, or children could have come in with their mums. I have decided she must have been a bit of an exhibitionist. Really, some people!

Before departing the Forest of Dean altogether, we opted to take a run out to Symonds Yat Rock. What can I say? The view was absolutely breathtaking and we spent a little while drinking it in before taking one of the short walks through the forest. My old mum always used to say that you should always leave the table wanting more and it was with a certain heaviness of heart that we wandered back to Maggie for the next leg of our mini-tour. Clearly the Forest of Dean was as reluctant to let us go as we were to leave. Sat Nav lady led us a merry dance as we tried to leave the area. Time and again we seemed to encounter road signs declaring "Symonds Yat 2 miles". I wondered if we would ever get to our destination. It took us much longer than we had anticipated, but finally, after being dragged through town after town, we arrived on the edge of the Peak District. The drama of the landscape was a breath of fresh air after driving through urban sprawl. Before too long, the skies turned a dark, sinister grey before the heavens started to open...

Maggie struggled a wee bit over the hills but finally brought us safely to our destination, Greenhills campsite just outside Bakewell. Tired and weary, we opted for a pizza delivered to the site for dinner and we washed it down with a long cool drink from the site pub, a welcome diversion at the end of a tiring day.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Maggie on Tour 2011: Day 4, Thursday 11th August

One thing we did notice at the 'eco-reception' was that they sold very reasonably priced bacon baps. Why go through the hassle of cooking in the van when you can just buy a breakfast? This gave us an early getaway for our first stop of the day, Clearwell Caves, an old iron mine. I figured that we would have a rainy morning so we might as well go underground. What you see is what you get with old mines/caves, but what I liked about this place is the fact that it is open to the public as the result of somebody's passion. Amazing to wander through these extensive caves and reflect on what would have been someone's working life, in those dank, dark surroundings. Special emphasis on the use of children in the mines. However, even in the little cafe, there are paintings on the wall of the miners who worked there so there is still a strong sense of the community that was. Usual over-priced sarnies (paninis, natch!) but a nice selection of homebaked cakes. We nipped back to Maggie in the car park and knocked up a few sarnies and just bought coffee and cake which we ate outside at the picnic tables.

By this time the rainclouds were beginning to give way to warm sunshine so we decided to nip down the road to Puzzlewood. Puzzlewood is a smallish wood but it is an incredible place - straight out of Tolkien. In fact, it is considered to have been a possible influence on Tolkien's depiction for Middle Earth. I can't really describe it that well as it is like nothing I've ever seen. Suffice it to say it is a mix of moss, exposed tree roots, rocks and pathways and as for the rest, you will have to visit it yourself. I wish I had taken my kids when they were kids as they would have loved it. It's not an attraction for anyone with mobility problems and it is rather slippy underfoot if there has been recent rain.

After an active day, we returned to the site for a relax and early dinner followed by a walk in the forest and a Harry Potter DVD (with continental chocs and a bottle of rose).

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Maggie on Tour 2011: Day 3, Wednesday 10th August

Time to pack up in Much Wenlock. We went into the town to take a few photos of the buildings. I resisted the temptation to take a photo of Phil outside Bastard Hall as it looked like a private house. One last stop before we left was the ruins of Wenlock Priory (English Heritage) ...before the rain started again! Fortunately the Priory was not very busy so we were able to spend a fair amount of time there before the showers set in.

Our next stop was the Forest of Dean and the journey was remarkably smooth until we had almost arrived. Sat Nav Lady started to get her knickers in a twist when we didn't take turnings which she was clearly imagining. Anyway, we finally arrived at Forest Holiday's Christchurch. I must admit, it took me a little by surprise as it was just down a little road from an average suburban street - I was expecting something a little more 'foresty'. A delightful eco-friendly looking log cabin housed the reception and shop sold a range of organic goods and a surprisingly healthy stock of wines. My eyes wandered over the chilled wines and spotted not one but an extensive range of champagnes - not your bargain basement cava, but Mumm, Taittinger and the like. None of the wines were priced, not even the Kumala's and other supermarket staples, all of which made me feel a tad uneasy. I have been brought up to think that if you need to ask the price you probably can't afford it.

Once we were pitched, we decided to get dinner sorted out. What is camping without a barbecue? We had brought a couple of those disposable barbecues with us so his nibs set about the manly work of lighting the barbecue. Unfortunately, the wind had got up a bit and this proved rather more difficult than anticipated. In the end, we resorted to frying our burgers but Phil would not be defeated and managed to barbecue the sausages. After dinner we went for a walk in the, now more evident, forest.