I will start by admitting that I am no fan of sport, let alone Tennis. I haven’t followed Wimbledon since the ‘tie break’ rule came in, and we lost the thrilling games of yesteryear. Plus ‘Baseline’ tennis also bored me to tears, and I yearned for a return to those ‘serve and volley’ days.
But my post today is about sadness. Sad at the desperation this country feels to achieve some acclaim, in modern sport. So much fuss today, about Johanna Konta. She is ‘representing’ Britain, and has achieved a breakthrough, to the Wimbledon semi-finals. Her success has been lauded as the first time a British woman has been through to this round, since Virginia Wade, in the equivalent of the tennis ‘stone age’.
How proud we are. How effusive are the commentators, and the excited news reports. Flags are flying high, British tennis is on the ascendant. Although she may be minced up by one of the Williams sisters, those automatons of modern tennis, it doesn’t matter. She is through, and we are almost ecstatic as a nation.
But hang on. Something is wrong here, surely?
This young lady was born of Hungarian parents, in Australia. She had an Australian passport, and played tennis for that country. Fair enough, she was born there. Johanna Konta, Australian tennis star. That sounds good. Well done to her. Australia has a great tennis heritage, and she should do well, given the right chances. But then her parents moved to the UK. Johanna went to Spain, to improve her tennis skills. So, Johanna decided to become a British citizen, just five years ago, in 2012. She then appeared as a tennis player for Great Britain. No longer Hungarian by the nationality of her parents, or Australian by the nationality of her birth. Suddenly, she is British, and our great white hope in tennis.
So, am I proud? No, quite frankly, I am ashamed. Because she is good at a particular sport, she is accepted immediately, unlike so many others struggling for a British Passport. Give her nationality, forget her Australian (and Hungarian) roots. She is as English as me. Hooray! Remember Zola Budd? I do.
As far as I am concerned, this is simply unacceptable. Sporting prowess should not equal nationality.
I watched this incident with more than usual interest. I worked in the ambulance station around the corner from this building, for more than twenty years. I have been inside on numerous occasions, to deal with the many 999 calls generated by such housing density in one place.
The area is North Kensington, close to better-known parts like Notting Hill, Holland Park, and Portobello Road, all accessed with an easy walk. Not far from that tower block, you will find houses that would cost millions to buy, alongside similar tower blocks in the same street. So, it is an area of great financial inequality, as well as one of the most racially diverse in London.
Blocks like Grenfell Tower once seemed to be the answer to clearing slums, and providing basic housing for ordinary working people and their families. After all, high-rise living is just as popular with the rich, who are willing to pay small fortunes for better-quality apartments in very tall blocks all over the city. But these blocks were not the same as those destined for the wealthy. They were built with costs in mind; rooms just big enough, the minimum level of outside space around them, inadequate car-parking, and a visible lack of safety features.
Inside, there were lifts big enough to take a coffin when necessary, but only a few people at a time. They didn’t always work either, which left the elderly and infirm trapped on higher floors, unable to manage the stairs. There was no ornamentation, no art on the walls, and no concierge to supervise the huge block. Much later, they became little more than a ‘dumping ground’ for the local council to house refugees, immigrants, and people discharged from mental health institutions. Inside the poorest standard of accommodation available, they placed the poorest and most vulnerable people.
Even during the much-vaunted refurbishment of this block, corners were cut, and costs saved. Warnings were ignored, alongside the pleas of those living there. It was never a question of if something like this was going to happen, rather than how soon it would. Since this tragedy, many questions are being asked, and the blame game has started in earnest. The council officials seek to exclude themselves from blame, by stating that they gave over the running of this property to a private company. The government ministers concerned seek to exclude themselves from blame, by putting the emphasis on the council itself. It has emerged that there was no contingency plan in place, to deal with such an event. It has also been stated that adequate fire precautions would have been ‘too expensive’. There is even the chilling likelihood that the number of fatalities has been deliberately played down, as many of the occupants do not have the language skills necessary to state their concerns.
Can you just imagine if this had happened in a luxury apartment block overlooking the river? Or maybe inside an iconic building, like The Shard? What if all those killed and terribly injured had been rich and influential people? Would they have had to try to occupy the council offices to get answers to their questions, or to arrange temporary accommodation? Those are rhetorical questions of course, and we all know the answers.
Poor and ordinary lives don’t matter. It’s as simple as that.
Last night, there was another terrorist attack on the streets of London. This follows the Manchester bombing, and the Westminster attack before that.
The man responsible for the Westminster attack was described as being, ‘known to the security services’.
The man responsible for the Manchester bomb was described as being, ‘known to the security services’.
Although it is too early to speculate at the moment, there is a good chance that the men responsible for last night’s attack will be described as being, ‘known to the security services’.
The head of the counter-terrorism command has stated that it takes thirty officers to maintain constant surveillance on one individual. There are currently some 20,000 individuals in the UK who are described as ‘Subjects of Interest’, regarding terrorism. Keeping tabs on all of these is obviously logistically impossible. So, the attacks will continue, as those responsible for trying to stop them are too few in number to make it possible to stop them all.
Should radicalised Islamist citizens be allowed to continue to spread their words of hate, encourage others to kill innocent people, and go about their business unmolested?
Do we have to wait for them to kill and injure large numbers of people before bringing them to justice for conspiracy in those events? It doesn’t relate to the individuals who carry them out, as they want to die, either by being shot by police, or blowing themselves up.
But those carrying out the attacks are only a small part of a huge organisation of terrorists operating in the UK. Many are well-known to the authorities, but are still allowed to travel freely between the UK and countries like Syria and Libya. Some receive benefit payments as they do not work, and others live normal lives with no apparent source of income. Remote surveillance of their computers, emails, mobile phones, and social media use shows that they are conspiring with others to promote terrorism, and to try to get men to carry out these suicidal attacks on innocent members of the public.
Do these people still deserve their rights in modern Britain? Should free speech and freedom of movement extend to them? Should they be issued with passports, and allowed to travel? Should they be allowed to hire vehicles to use to run over and kill people?
I have no definite answers. But I am beginning to believe that if these attacks are to be stopped, or at least reduced in number, we are going to have to seriously re-examine the tolerance in our society that allows them to happen.
And it is a dark day when I feel compelled to write such words.
This is a short post about something that is causing me some concern.
Ever since Donald Trump first came to my attention, I have been fascinated by his strange hairstyle. Not just the colours, which are interesting enough in themselves, but also the strange way that he styles it to disguise any baldness, and to achieve what he must believe is something attractive to behold.
To be honest, I did wonder that anyone could take a man with hair like that seriously, let alone elect him to the most important office in the world. Had I been an American voter in 2016, I would never have been able to get past that hair, whatever his policies. It would have been a case of a vote lost for want of a hairstyle, that’s for sure.
When he was elected, I felt sure that he would modify his coiffure, and appear with something more dignified, and better suited to his important role on the world stage. But no, he carried on with the intricate combing-over of hair that resembled soft straw, seemingly unaware of how it enabled him to be further mocked.
Last week, I was watching him being interviewed by a reporter. He sat forward excitedly in his chair, like a teenager making a point that was important to him. His answers were full of contradictions, and he really didn’t come up with a convincing reply to any of the probing questions. The news moved on to a different story, and I forgot about it after a while.
Sometime later that evening, it occurred to me that I hadn’t noticed the President’s hair. After his 100+ days in office, it seemed that I was actually becoming used to this clownish style, and beginning to accept it as perfectly normal.
Now THAT is worrying!
If you tune into any UK news media today, you cannot avoid the breathtaking news that the Duke of Edinburgh has retired from public life. Tributes to the 96 year-old are flooding in, and I am literally choking on a sea of superlatives and gushing praise. How many foreign trips he took. How many speeches he made. How many times he appeared in public. What a rock solid support he was for the Queen. And on and on. Oh, and on…
All of this exceedingly comfortable and well rewarded ‘hard work’ was for ‘our benefit’, apparently. Walking around behind your wife with your hands in your pockets, waving to a crowd from the interior of a Rolls-Royce, and muttering to film stars as you attend a premiere. It’s a miracle he lasted this long, with such arduous travails. Fighting to stay awake during boring banquets, and speeches in foreign languages might well be considered to be the ‘pit face’ in some circles. But not in mine.
In a country where basic living benefits are being withheld from the poor and the sick, and a huge percentage of the population are struggling to live on the minimum wage, and no-hours contracts, celebrating the idle life of this overpaid hanger-on is bordering on the obscene. While we are at it, let’s gloss over his racist remarks about ‘Chinky-eyes’, and ‘Darkies’ too. After all, he was only being amusing, and he’s married to the Queen.
To say he is retiring is a classic misnomer. You cannot retire from a job that was never a job. How can you retire from shooting wild birds, riding around in coaches, travelling from one luxury home to another, or cruising around on your sumptuous yacht? The man has not done a day’s work since he walked out of Westminster Abbey with the Queen on his arm, in 1947.
In case you hadn’t guessed, I am not a Royalist.
When you look at news reports of the fighting in Mosul, it is easy to overlook some of the basic facts about this huge city. Until recently, it had a population of almost 1.9 million people, and is the second largest city in Iraq after Baghdad. This makes it almost twice the size of Birmingham, England’s second largest city, and more than three times larger than Boston, in the USA.
Just imagine if those well-known cities were under occupation by a well-organised army of religious fundamentalists, and being attacked by forces from their own country helped by the US or a foreign power, as well as being bombed by British and American aircraft. Think how difficult it would be to deal with the potential for causing civilian casualties, or choosing which of the people you encounter is friend or foe. The maze of streets, the apartment blocks, rooftops, factories, industrial areas, and large airports. A major river, numerous bridges, shopping areas, markets, schools, hospitals, religious buildings, and administrative offices. Every wall or fence a potential hiding place. Every rooftop or balcony a spot for a sniper, and the ability for the enemy to hide in plain sight among crowds of distressed non-combatants.
For almost three years, this city has been a battleground between warring factions; international interventionists, and government troops. If you live in a city, or have ever lived in one, then you can only try to imagine what this must be like, as I do. Even allowing for the large numbers who have fled Mosul, it is estimated that more than 750,000 civilians remain there, possibly 1 million. That is still much larger than the population of Boston, and countless other western cities. By comparison, the largest city close to where I live is Norwich. This is the biggest city in the whole county, and covers a substantial area, including many suburbs, and an international airport. I cannot imagine fighting on the same scale happening there, yet the population is only 133,000.
Another fact overlooked, is that many of the residents remaining in Mosul actually welcomed the forces of Islamic State as liberators. They had previously suffered religious persecution from Iraqi government troops and sectarian militias, and were happy to have the intervention by the fundamentalists. Many joined them willingly, and some still fight alongside them to this day. Of course for many others, living under IS was unacceptable, as they were cruelly treated for many reasons, including religious ones. But as parts of the city are recaptured by the Iraqi army, their foreign allies, the police units, and the ‘Golden Brigade’, many civilians have been arrested, detained without trial as suspected members of IS. Many others now live in fear of reprisals by the army and militia units, as the old enmities between Sunni and Shia Muslims resurface in the ‘liberated’ areas of the city.
Naturally, I am no supporter of Islamic State. This horrible organisation has no place in the modern world. But we need to look behind the news reports, the five-minutes of combat footage, and the talking heads interviews, and to be aware that replacing one form of terror with another might well be what we are helping to achieve. Not only in Iraq, but in Syria too.
This week has seen the British Supreme Court debating whether or not the country will be allowed to leave the EU without the seal of approval from Parliament. Naturally, the whole subject of the referendum has been subject to great scrutiny once again. Long-winded news reports, features on discussion programmes, and the constant efforts by those unhappy with the result to derail the whole process. Today I heard that Ireland is to mount a legal challenge to the result too. Well, not exactly Ireland, but a British barrister, Jolyon Maugham, who is trying to use their courts to allow for a future overturning of the current process.
It is worth looking at what is really going on here. Behind the rhetoric, lurking in the wings of the legal actions, and hiding in plain sight in the words of many broadcasters and journalists, is that old British anachronism, Class. If you examine where and by whom most of the votes were cast, it is easy to see how the result happened. Those wishing to remain in the EU were predominantly from the larger cities, and the affluent suburbs that surround them. Ignoring the overwhelming Remain votes in Scotland and Northern Ireland, which had very different agendas, anyone who looks at the voting demographic can clearly see the sort of areas that voted to remain. The University Towns, the areas with Science Parks, or places where the price of property is generally unaffordable to those on average incomes. Many of those Remain voters were also from the younger age groups; some still in full-time education, or hoping to travel extensively later on. The Intelligentsia, the bureaucrats, the wealthy retired, and the second home owners, all voting to stay in an EU that suited them very nicely, thank you.
This section of the still-present British class system did not dream for one second that they would ever lose that vote. That is very clear from their reaction to defeat. They considered the Leave voters to be from the uneducated and poorer classes in the main; and these people do not bother to vote, do they? People working for minimum wage, on no-hours contracts. Those without jobs, or any prospect of finding one. Young people who could never dream of being able to go to university, and will never be able to afford to move out of the family home. Agricultural workers, industrial workers, fishermen; all have seen their industries dismantled, sold off, or crippled by regulation. Pensioners struggling to make ends meet close to the poverty line. People who left school as soon as they could, trying to earn something to make a contribution to the family income. Those who read tabloid newspapers, watch trite entertainment shows on television, and like to often eat fast food. They had no gap years, no thoughts of backpacking around Asia, or worries about which university to choose. They have never read The Guardian, or watched ‘Question Time’. Their opinions didn’t matter, and their thoughts were irrelevant. They would do what they had always done. Shut up, and do as they were told.
But they didn’t, and now the losers cannot bear it. They hate to think that this majority of their own country, one generally disregarded by the affluent south and the well-educated, actually didn’t do as it was supposed to. So now they throw everything at them. They seek to overturn that voice of the people, or to put as many obstacles in their way as they possibly can. Some dress up their protest with accusations of racism. Others assert that there should be a second referendum, as the 52% could surely never have really understood what they were doing. They don’t say why, but the implication is clearly visible in the patronising language. They believe that the 52% were low class, pure and simple. More than 17,000,000 citizens of their own country should not have been allowed a say in their own destiny, because their social position and educational background were not up to scratch.
So when you see talk of a ‘divided nation’; a country split by a bitter referendum, don’t be fooled. It is Class, pure and simple. The scourge of this island, and something that has never gone away.