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Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Blog 44 Meeting Nelson Mandela

News of Nelson Mandela’s critically deteriorating health and a visit to the impressive city of Glasgow at the weekend, prompted memories of meeting the great man there in October 1993. Yes I’ve mentioned it in passing before but maybe it’s time to walk it through.

Still in the buzzing, fizzy, glowing aftermath of his release and the heightened sense of potential for the new South Africa, it felt as close to meeting a deity as I was likely to get. Most strange perhaps was that there was no sense of disappointment afterwards, no day-after-Christmas feeling. Nearly twenty years on if I think about I still feel a bit tingly.

The background to this personally and politically momentous event was that I was serving on Newcastle City Council at the time on the Race Equality subcommittee which, as I may have mentioned before, was a subcommittee of the ‘don’t be an arse’ committee. Although I’d only been a city councillor for a few years and there were more eminent and vastly more aged incumbents who might have liked to be included – as the first black woman to get elected to the city council I kinda got a free pass. I took with me my 16 month-old daughter. I did not see eye to eye with many of my fellow labour councillors on many strategic issues (hence I was the only councillor to congratulate the demonstrators who invaded the council chambers to protest about the council tax and I was under threat for many months of having the whip withdrawn because of my complaints about councillors’ expenses – waaaay before the Telegraph decided it was a cause celebre) but I never got any complaints about bringing my children to council meetings. And this was odd because there weren’t many female councillors young enough to be parenting pre-school children.

So I digress – as I always do in this blog – well it IS my blog.

Off we went on the coach to Glasgow – me with my buggy and baby and baby paraphernalia and lots of support and kind words and help from the other councillors. We arrived in Glasgow and the air was pulsating with excitement and expectation. The lucky few of us who were actually to meet him rather than just see the great man from a distance in amongst the throngs, were ushered into a hall where Mr. M was due to give one of his many addresses. And no – I am truly truly sorry I really cannot recall the content of what was said. Later we saw him again addressing a crowd outside the main chambers and he broke into an impromptu dance on the stage to the ecstatic delight of the crowd – un-statesman like – or maybe more a statesman than anything I’ve ever seen. And again later we saw him in yet another larger staged area making a more sober address. I can recall the tone of his beautiful voice, his presence, his command of the charged atmosphere, the exuberance balanced with gravitas but not the actual words which somehow seemed superfluous.

After the first encounter, Nelson Mandela was making his way through the room and a fellow councillor shoved me towards him with the idea that as I was the only person in the room with a child I might attract his attention. This ruse worked and he made a beeline for me, came right up to me, smiled, said – something – and then put his hands out to pick up my child. Oh joy. And if this had been today, about 100 people would have snapped the moment on their mobile phones. What occurred next, I have held against my daughter for the intervening two decades. The little monkey was slobbering away on a juicy pear, thoroughly enjoying herself and refused – REFUSED - to be picked up and held by Nelson Mandela. The great man laughed and smiled at the greedy wench and was moved away by fate and the people who were in charge of his itinerary.
Hey ho.

I remember feeling a moment’s guilt when a while later I saw a Spitting Image cartoon of a Nelson Mandela puppet – in the loo – trying to have some privacy with people knocking on the bathroom door wanting to meet him. But I did meet him and despite the pear incident I’m so glad.

Surely, along with his more obvious and visible achievements would have to go that fact that he has managed, for the whole of his life – as he managed with me and so many others that day in 1993, not to be a disappointment.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Blog 43. Killing them Softly.

If you hum loudly and spin round in a circle with your fingers up your nose, it might seem rational. But isn’t cold logic the last thing that should be employed in trying to decide what is acceptable when slaughtering human beings?

But perhaps it is no more bizarre than dropping aid into war zones to keep folk alive so that they can carry on being – er – killed.

I’m talking about chemical weapons and how suddenly there is that global moral line in the sand. Lots of brouhaha and firm chins and sage nodding like we can all see just how reasonable it is to single out that one way of slaughtering innocent people as B>A>D. Carnage by chemicals just aint on. Does that mean that blasting body parts all over a town with high explosives IS? ‘Collateral damage’ from drone attacks we know is just fine and dandy – cos America does it (Pakistan). Rogue soldiers going on the rampage and blasting away the lives of innocent villagers is not good but it happens (Afghanistan). Not to mention horrible deaths by the deadly diseases that creep in when infrastructure is decimated or sectarian killings that erupt when political situations are destabilised by war. Torture, rape, murder we understand are the predictable side salads to almost every serious dish of conflict in history.

There are whole conferences at international level about how to conduct war and how to treat the victims but the most bizarre element is that some ways of slaughtering seem to pass muster by default and others don’t.

If you have spent time with children you will be aware that there comes an age when they start asking those slightly surreal questions –

‘If you had to eat a live slug or a dead wasp – which would it be?’

‘Would you rather be deaf or blind?’

‘Would you rather drown or suffocate?’

The answer to all is, frankly –‘neither thanks very much’

Even on the issue of chemical destruction of human lives, have we been consistent? If – let’s say – it’s Bhopal (India 1984) – then it’s more – ‘ooh shit – that was nasty but – hey ho – the company isn’t really trading any more – so – wow – well – who woulda thunk’.

Yes chemical weapons are absolutely unacceptable but do any parents want their kids dead in cross fire? No child wants to watch a parent’s life leaking away because the local hospital has been bombed. No grandparent wants to be parenting traumatised grandchildren whose father and mother have been dragged off in the night, their dismembered bodies found floating down the river the following day.

And where do the chemicals come from that make up the deadly cocktails used in such hellish weaponry? Well – like a lot of the other nasties that end up in conflicts nice and far away – they often come from U.S and European linked companies.

So, trying to see through the fog of righteous outrage that’s hovering round the global powers like mustard gas – couldn’t we just clear the air and get a bit more indignant about war in general?

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Blog 42 I’m Spartacus

How not surprised are we? How utterly not shocked? The priveleged in their gilded cages dangling over the rest of us – the ones that bought us the Iraq Invasion, political sleaze and global economic meltdown, decided in their wisdom to play fast and loose with our right to privacy; circumvent the law and spy on us by exchanging private information internationally. That is the charge.

Prism is the name of one element of this unpleasant unfolding fiasco – and apt it may be as a prism breaks up light and throws it out at odd angles.

And they’re telling us its ok because they’ve managed to do it legally – which makes it worse not better because it’s more conniving. Remember tax avoidance, if you can find the right accountant, is often legal.

Imagine you are at school and a message goes round that 6th formers will be punished if they are found to have bullied 5th formers – so they get some lads in a neighbouring school to do it for them. Would that be acceptable?

I’ve blogged before about that sense of helplessness in the face of blatantly arrogant authority so here is a suggestion – a small simple one in keeping with the satirical tone of BGOTR.

Take the lead from that wonderful film Spartacus starring sparkly eyed, dimple chinned Kirk Douglas and featuring a rather saucy homoerotic scene with a young Tony Curtis.  Yes I’m sorry I have a secret weakness for these films – Quo Vadis with the oily but intense Robert Taylor, Ben Hur with the beautiful if somewhat misguided Charlton Heston plus a surprising cameo from John Le Mesurier of Dad’s Army fame – sorry, sorry, sorry, I know – back to the point...

In Spartacus, as you may remember, once the liberating leader was about to be uncovered, the supporters concealed his identity not by trying to hide him but by all claiming to be him with a shout (begun by T.C. I think) of,

‘I’m Spartacus.’

A phrase much over-used in comedy sets (yes I plead guilty).

So what I am suggesting is that you tweet, e-mail, facebook, phone or use any other communications medium at your disposal and encourage others to do the same (like those chain letters we used to send when we were 12!) sending the message to everyone and anyone you know,

‘I’m Spartacus’,

Let the bastards analyse that.

If your friends ask why – either explain in your own way it is a protest against people abusing hard won civil liberties or link them to this blog. If liberty and freedom are not their ‘bag’ then perhaps they should be watching something more appropriate – might I suggest,
Night of the Living Dead.

Though it may be worth pointing out that in the film Spartacus, all those who heroically claimed to be Spartacus get – er – crucified!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Blog 41 Not a Lesbian but...

Should I marry Adriana?

The woman has been bombarding me with e-mails of a saucy nature for many weeks now. This Adriana gal reckons she’s impressed with my manhood. I can only assume she means my man hoody (the taupe jacket with a hood I bought in the boy’s clothing section). Apparently she knows me and we’d get on and there are any number of things she’d like to do to me if I just answered her e-mail – though she seems to think I’m called  - something unprintable. Now I’m not a lesbian but I’m such a heterosexual disaster area I’m tempted to press the reply button. I’m wondering if when I perform at the Pride fest in Newcastle in July, I shouldn’t ask for my own acronym to add on to LGBT. If they could find one which means ‘heterosexual woman who doesn’t understand heterosexual men’ (think non-vegetarian who nevertheless gets indigestion from meat!) I’d be most grateful.

And I’ve something in common with the LGBT community – certainly the teen confusion bit. I was 17 before I fundamentally understood I wasn’t white. The revelation , denouement, shock exposure, eye-opener, occurred in a toe-curlingly but strangely innocuous way in the Sixth Form common room in Solihull Sixth form where I was the only non-white pupil.

There was one of ‘those’ girls called Emma. Self confident, sexy, sought after, knew what to say / wear; how to flick her hair, flirt with the boys and the tutors. So picture the ‘in group’ with the rest of us hanging round the edges, talking in that pretentious way only 17 year-olds know how about life and relationships and the issue of race came up. Clearly no one noticed me go rigid as I suddenly became aware of trying to control my facial expression. On this occasion the topic was whether people’s parents were racist and would they mind you bringing home a black boyfriend. People pondered on this and I kept absolutely still then Emma piped up with the perfect response that everyone seemed to think was terribly reasonable. Her parents wouldn’t mind at all, she stated proudly, as long as they didn’t think she was going to marry him.

It wasn’t the projectile thrown from a car window or abuse on the street or anonymous mail which I experienced later but suddenly the limited amount I knew about bigotry, intellectually and politically, had a human face. And when bigotry doesn’t actually spill over into violent, raging hatred that is what it is like. It is insipid and nasty with an unaccountable air of respectability and some people who have never been the target of it don’t even accept what it is.

 So maybe I should just bag up my issues and confusions and go to France (well done France) and marry Adriana. What do you think?