Thursday, June 08, 2017

A Message Across the Ages: Why I Will Be Voting Labour on 8th June 2017

Was the last general election just two blog posts ago? I really need to get on here more often! My most recent pastime of choice has been researching my family tree, a passion ignited by the TV programme, 'Who Do You Think You Are.' I can keep myself entertained for hours with it. Never had I considered the emotional energy that would be expended by spending so much time 'down among the dead,' as I call it. There is a sense that, by uttering the names of these long forgotten people from the 19th and early 20th century, we can somehow bring them back to life again, if only momentarily.

I had always craved to know more about my Dad's family. My Grandad, James, died when I was just a year old.  I'd heard a story that he and his twin sister had come over from Ireland as babies and young Margaret had died as the result of a tram accident.  Researching the documents told a different story. Seems that Grandad was born in Liverpool after all - it is writ clear on the baptismal registers. He was born into a court in Ben Jonson Street, one of the worst streets in Liverpool at the time.
Ben Jonson Street
There is scant documentary evidence of this little family's existence but what there is tells a sad tale.  James and his twin Margaret were born to James and Ann Kelly in 1890. Ben Jonson Street was arguably the least salubrious address in Liverpool at the time.  The road consisted of courts which were cramped, unsanitary dwellings lacking any through ventilation.  Dwellings of this kind served as homes to the massive influx of Irish migrants, many of whom were escaping famine brought about by the potato blight. The lucky ones were able to take a ship to new worlds, many settled around the Scotland Road area of town which was close enough for work at the thriving Liverpool Docks. James senior was one such dock labourer and apart from his occupation, I know nothing about him. 

On census night in April 1891, my grandad appears on the census, not in Ben Jonson Street, but at Walton Prison, He and his sister are each listed alongside their mother as 'infant of prisoner'. How very sad that in this day and age when every moment of a child's life is documented with photographs on Facebook and Instagram, these children have only their births and a brief stay at Her Majesty's Pleasure to evidence their existence. They possibly spent their first birthday there. I don't know what the crime was but given that it was a relatively short stay that it was probably petty theft of food or something. Ann Kelly would have had no recourse to food banks. Just a few weeks later, at the end of May, little infant Margaret had left this life. The cause of her death was 'marasmus bronchitis' a condition symptomatic of malnutrition.

Coroner's Inquest into the death of Mary Condron
In early October of 1892, Ann gave birth to another girl. Mary, but she too had died by the end of the month.  A newspaper search yielded brief information from the Liverpool Mercury. Among the inquests dealt with by the Coroner's Court on Tuesday 1st November 1892 was the sad case of Mary Condron, the daughter of James Condron, a dock labourer. She was found dead at her mother's side in bed and a verdict of 'Accidental Suffocation' was given. There were no other children born to the couple and by 1898, my Great-grandad had also died at the age of 40 years.  The address shown on in the records of Ford Cemetery, was 'Liverpool Workhouse'. From the time I saw this it troubled me but, in fact, the workhouse had an infirmary so this needn't have meant the worst.  When I finally got hold of his death certificate,my theory was confirmed. His address was still at Ben Jonson Street. He had died from an abscess with chronic suppuration and presumably had it treated at the Workhouse infirmary.

This small human tragedy saddened me more than I expected. I had pieced together the fragments of these lives from a few extant details and felt pain in my heart.  I suppose this shouldn't surprise me. After all I share their DNA. Part of grandad, and my great grandparents still lives in every cell of my body so why shouldn't I feel their pain and misery across the ages? I have since reflected on the fact that of all of the siblings, my grandad was the survivor. Miraculous, then, that I am here at all!

On one level this is a personal story, but on another, it is a political one. What sort of world was it in  late 19th Century  Liverpool? Liverpool was a thriving port, one of the wealthiest cities in the world at that time - we still have an embarrassment of riches in terms of beautiful buildings, the like of which would never be built nowadays.  If some of the banking and shipping buildings which lie empty now, or else have been turned into boutique hotels were in Italy, they would be deemed palaces. And yet the Irish migrant population lived in cellars and courts which were soon after condemned as unfit for human habitation.  One of the saddest things was the case of little Mary. We take for granted that our children have a room each.  This family would have only had room for one bed in their cold, damp little court so they would have all had to huddle together to keep warm. This was not uncommon. The same day that the Coroner dealt with Mary's case, two other cases of accidental suffocation of infants were brought. One child was in a bed with both parents and two other siblings. One of the babies was buried on the same day as Mary, probably in the same pauper's grave and the third child was buried the next day. It's all there in the meticulous records of Ford cemetery. 

These were the days before the welfare state and the NHS. Poor people went to the Workhouse to have their ailments treated and probably waited until it was too late. Many of our old Victorian hospitals were former workhouses. 

In our contemporary society, where the filthy rich get more obscenely wealthy with each day and the poor become inexorably drawn into the depths of desolation, it is not hard to imagine a return to those bad old days. I think we ought to call time on a Tory government, which sees the working classes merely as a vehicle to to drive profit for their own selfish ends, and looked for a new alternative. That is why I will be voting Labour later today. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Invitation to Treat

...go beyond the bog standard company benefits like holidays, work environment. We’re no longer at school! We trust our team and offer full time, self employed positions, offering you that flexibility to choose your working hours and days – trusting you to get the job done, and giving you the responsibility to manage your time. In addition, we offer 100% performance pay. Get the job done, exceed your goals, and be rewarded with additional weekly commission bonuses. No fluff in between. We offer regular National travel opportunities to our team, and an annual all expenses paid International break for our top 10 candidates to relax. Now THAT is what we called benefits!


I'm currently in the process of helping my unemployed daughter with job searches. My, oh, my, times have changed! Back in the day, job hunting was reserved for one day a week, Thursday, when the Liverpool Echo would have a bounty of jobs from all manner of companies, large and small, with a detailed offer of incentives to prospective candidates: paid holidays; working hours (flexitime, if you were lucky); subsidised canteen; pension scheme (often non-contributory); staff social club; annual bonus. Now they're hard-pressed to even tell you the name of the company!

Nowadays, the job market is dominated by recruitment agencies and web-based search engines. For all that there appear to be many more jobs, we have much higher unemployment rates. There are many things that annoy me about the job market which I may go into another time. But today my gripe is perfectly illustrated by the extract from a genuine ad which is shown at the head of this post. Let's break this down.

...go beyond the bog standard company benefits like holidays, work environment.

What kind of an imbecile came up with this copy? How do you go beyond standard company benefits like holidays and work environment?

full time, self employed positions

By offering self-employed positions? Ah, so you mean you don't actually offer any paid holidays? That sounds like a good deal! Well, we can scrub paid sickness leave, maternity leave and a pension scheme while we're about it, shall we? Sounds like the company gets a good deal out of this.

we offer 100% performance pay

So, let me get this straight, that means you don't actually offer a salary. You only get paid on results so that could mean you get very little, perhaps nothing at all, particularly while you are finding your feet. My issue with results based pay is that it gives no credit for the work put in. Anybody who works in a sales based environment will tell you that there will often be weeks when, despite your best efforts, the customer just will not 'bite'. But at least if there is a basic you have something to get you through. This is not a basis upon which people can aspire to make their way in the world, have a family, buy a home or support themselves in their later years.

I hope that, one day, corporate greed with become a thing of the past and that once again, 'a fair day's work for a fair day's pay' will become a byword for a fair society.

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.