Remembrance Day 2017

This is the post I put up for Remembrance day two years ago. It seems as pertinent now as it did then.

Remembrance Day, and the wearing of poppies, seems to be something that divides opinions and causes a certain amount of friction, especially in Britain.

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On one side, there are those who say that simply wearing a red poppy is a glorification of militarism, whilst on the other are those who argue that it is all about respect; about honouring the dead.

Are we remembering the First World War, one hundred years ago, or are we celebrating it? There would seem to be quite a few people, judging from conversations that I have heard and threads that I have seen, who are happy to confuse the two and seem unwilling to listen to what is really being said.

A lot of nonsense, of course, is spoken by both sides:

‘Every soldier is/was a hero’

‘Anyone who objects to them is a traitor’

‘It is all about glorifying war and militarism’

Unfortunately, as soon as a debate becomes in any way emotional, then there is a tendency both for people’s opinions to become polarised, and for their perceptions of the opinions of others to also become polarised.

And then anything that your ‘opponent’ says is jumped upon as furiously as if they had just advocated the torture and murder of all children and little furry animals.

But they haven’t, so calm down.

Now then, the facts.

It may come as a surprise to some people, but the poppy was not chosen because the red colour of its petals symbolised bloodshed, but because of its ability to bloom where the ground has been smashed and churned up, such as at the Somme, where it was noticed by a Canadian soldier, Col. John McCrae, a physician, who wrote a poem about it, and through this it was adopted later by the Royal British Legion as a symbol for their poppy appeal. It is intended to symbolise how someone whose life has been in dreadful turmoil may come later to peace and normality.

The white poppy was first used in 1933, to remember those who had died, but also as a determination to work for peace. It was mildly controversial at the time, and some women lost their jobs for wearing it, but in more recent times Margaret Thatcher expressed her distaste for it and there are many now who follow her lead.

The Royal British Legion point out that they have no objection to the white poppy or, as some people like to do, it being worn alongside the red poppy.

To return to the controversy, then.

Why does it only commemorate the military? What about the civilians who died? What about the conscientious objectors who died for their beliefs? When it was first used by the Royal British Legion, it was to raise funds for disabled servicemen and the families of those who had been killed, so this wasn’t an issue then. When the white poppy was introduced, in many people’s minds it came to represent those others.

Does it glorify war? In some people’s minds, no doubt, it does, but this is not its purpose. Even the military will say that part of the purpose of Remembrance Day is to help to ensure that a war like WW1 never happens again. It is important to remember the horrors to avoid sleepwalking into them again.

There are also many people who feel it terribly important that it should be worn the ‘right way’, but there is no agreement over what this ‘right way’ is. Some say it should be worn on the left side, some that men should wear it on the left and women the right. Many argue over when it should be first worn – from October 31st? The eleven days leading up to Remembrance Day? After Guy Fawkes Night? Some argue that it should be worn with the leaf pointing to eleven o’clock. There are no ‘official’ guidelines on this.

The poppy, and Remembrance Day, are used also as propaganda by hate groups like ‘Britain First’ (if you have never heard of them, they describe themselves as a patriotic political party and street defence organisation’ – I think that tells you everything that you need to know), who choose to ignore facts such as that 400,000 Muslim and 1.2 million Indian troops fought alongside the allies in World War 1, many giving their lives, and like to think of it as a symbol of white Britishness. This, of course, is not a reason to object to the poppy, but only to the hate groups, especially as this only helps to further polarise opinions.

I do not see, then, any reason why pacifists should object to the red poppy and the Remembrance Day tradition, or why servicemen should object to the white poppy. If they all take the time to understand what each one represents, then they should understand that there is no real conflict in their views, and that both represent remembrance and respect.

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Go On A Journey!

Everyone should go on a journey; a journey of discovery.

Even if they only do it once.

The journey will be different for everyone. No two journeys will be the same. But what they will have in common is that they will all be journeys where the traveller discovers something about themselves, as well as the environment where they have chosen to journey. The essence of the journey is that it gives the traveller both time and space to think; that on the journey they allow themselves to be open to new sights and thoughts and people.

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For some, it will be a carefully curated tour to a country with a different culture to their own. Perhaps a Westerner travelling to Nepal or Cambodia, or an Indian visiting Spain or Iceland, with a carefully prepared itinerary designed to help them get the most out of their journey.

For some, it could be much the same, but as an independent traveller. They would have the flexibility to either keep to a strict itinerary, or to go off somewhere new as the whim takes them. Because everyone’s sense of adventure is different.

For some, it will be a long, long trek through difficult terrain, pushing themselves physically and mentally every step of the way.

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For some, it might also be a long journey, but under easier conditions, where the aim is more one of contemplation, perhaps a pilgrimage of sorts.

For others, the difficult terrain might be that of their prejudices and fears – the terrain of the mind.

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What starts as a pilgrimage might end up in your discovering that you do not believe in God; well, that is fine. Remember, it is perfectly possible to be a spiritual person without believing in any god.

Although what ‘spiritual’ actually means is not so easy to nail down. I think of it as pertaining to the spirit, rather than to material things. In that sense, I would associate altruism with the spiritual, and greed with the material. A sense of calm and peace with the spiritual, a rowdy hedonism with the material.

For some, the journey might be from their house to a town or village a few miles away, and the journey might take no longer than a day.

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It is essential, though, that the journey is undertaken for the sake of the journey. The destination is, in some ways, unimportant. It is what happens on that journey that matters.

Many, perhaps, will journey without realising that they have done so, or arrive at their destination not realising that is what it is. They might only realise later.

Some will arrive at a totally unexpected destination, and perhaps that is the best destination of all.

Go on, then, off you go!

A Shared Humanity

‘The world knows nothing of its greatest men’ goes the old saying. Or women, of course, since it is men who tend to write these things. I may have alluded to this before.

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I was reading a blog post by Rajiv earlier today, on the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, and we swapped a couple of comments, the result of which decided me to write this short post. You can read Rajiv’s post here: Partition in the Punjab

Those of us who did not live through that time, cannot really imagine the full horror of it all. The figures alone are dreadful.

14 million people were displaced, forced to move from their homes to either what remained India or became East or West Pakistan, by any means of transport available, frequently on foot. Those that survived the journey, frequently one of tremendous hardship, carried memories that were often too dreadful to relate.

Most lost their possessions.

Families were split apart and separated, many of them never to meet again.

Millions of refugees.

Up to 1 million were killed in what were effectively religious killings – the actual figure is unknown. Trains were set on fire, men and women, adults and children, lost their lives in what became a frenzy of killing.

Much, of course, has been written of this over the years, and the blame placed on many shoulders. The British were extremely culpable in this case, mainly through neglect and thoughtlessness. Those that assumed power in India and Pakistan need to take their share of the blame, too.

But the world, as I remarked at the start of this post, knows nothing of its greatest men. Or, in this case, its greatest men and women, or at least very little of them.

On both sides of the new borders, whilst most people succumbed to fear and many to hatred, whilst innocent lives were taken and dreadful acts carried out, there were many, many people who sheltered and saved those of other religions who had been their friends and neighbours before, often at great personal risk.

They gained nothing from it, but simply displayed their common humanity.

I have read of a few examples of this, a few stories from both sides of that border, and I have seen it mentioned briefly in documentaries.

But now, before the last players in that tragedy finally pass away, it would be marvellous if there could be a concerted effort to collect these stories and record them, as an inspiring example of people reaching out to each other across what is, once again, becoming a depressingly familiar religious divide, and, most importantly, remembering and commemorating their bravery.

Comments, anyone?

This was a writing exercise I did some while back. The premise was to find a couple of unrelated articles or adverts in a magazine or newspaper, and make up a piece of fiction from them.

I found an article about women delaying having children due to career choices, sitting serendipitously next to a piece about child brides. I know there is a bit of a connection there, but I couldn’t resist it.

Those who follow me will realise that this was written entirely tongue-in-cheek!

But, does anyone have any strong opinions on the suitability of treating this subject with humour?

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Dear diary.

Goodness me, it’s been a busy day. So much has been happening that I might almost forget who I am! Perhaps I need to remind myself; my name is Elizabeth Wilson, and I’m ten years old. Well, ten and three quarters, really. Very nearly eleven. Anyway, we had the careers teacher talking to us in our class, today. It’s never too early, she said.

So, we talked about careers. Well, in these enlightened times, we’re now being told: ‘Delay marriage until you’re sixteen, and get a career.’ Quite a turn around, eh? Sixteen! I’m sure I don’t know what my mum is going to say. I mean, a career is all well and good, but while I’m out being a career girl, she’ll be at home and all broody for grandchildren and worried that she’s heading towards her thirties and in the meantime all her friends will be cooing over their grandchildren.

I say that I don’t know what Mum is going to say, but that’s not actually true. I can hear her now; ‘It’s not natural, all this waiting. It’s a woman’s duty to have children – it’s her function, after all, both biologically and socially. What would happen if all you girls said you were off to have careers, rather than getting married and having children? Society would collapse, that’s what would happen. It would just consist of old people, and who would look after them?’

Plus, of course, I don’t want to leave it for too long; my biological clock is ticking and I’m not getting any younger.

But on the other hand, I could be in a responsible, well-paid post by the time I’m sixteen. Really, a whole world of experience is going to be opening up for my generation that my Mum could only dream about. In a way, it is no less than the final emancipation of women, and how exciting is that?

It was so much more than just a talk about careers, though. It has helped me to understand that there is more to life than just getting married and pleasing a husband. Just because I will be a woman, doesn’t mean that I am not an individual in my own right. We dare to say that the days of being owned by men, of being their mere playthings, are well and truly over!

And, I’ve got an interview already! The Mayor needs a new mistress; it’s only a two year contract, but it will be good experience and could perhaps be a stepping stone to something better. He’s big and fat, but rich as Croesus, and apparently he’s very good in bed, which is a bit of a bonus.

Perhaps, in a way, it’s a bit of a compromise. I’m sure that my parents will be pleased.

Oh heavens, why on earth did I follow that blog?

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Every now and again I get unfollowed. And every now and again I unfollow a blog. Is it a big deal? Should it be a big deal?

At first, it can seem hurtful to find that someone has unfollowed you on any sort of social media, but really it shouldn’t be. Somehow, I find that I now follow a huge number of blogs, most of which I love, and I do wish I had more time available to read them more fully and comment on them, but I don’t. This means that every now and again I sacrifice one for the common good.

But, never without good reason.

First up, one thing that does irritate me, is when I visit and read a blog, leave a response – sometimes a quite lengthy one – and never receive any sort of reply. One blog that I initially followed was like this, and when I had left several comments that were never even acknowledged, I went through their comments strings and found that they could not be bothered to reply to anyone.

Instant unfollow. I dislike rudeness.

What other reasons?

Okay, so maybe I was attracted to your blog initially by the posts about cuddly kittens and home baking, but now the focus of your posts has shifted to motor vehicle maintenance and origami, and I feel my interest is waning. It’s time to move on. Don’t take it badly – what we had was good, but we all grow and develop and change over the years, and what was once right for both of us now leaves at least one of us empty. I wish you well, but I’m leaving you for another.

A little like the above, perhaps I found your blog through a particular post that interested me, but since then it seems that every post is on subjects that don’t. I’m sorry, I gave it a few months, I gave it a good try, but it’s just not doing it for me. Bye bye.

I unfollowed one blog because every post was a long moan about other people. Sorry, there was no pleasure to be had in reading that one.

Perhaps I notice that where your blog was originally full of carefully argued points and good language, it has become home now to foul-mouthed polemics and crude language in general. Hmm, perhaps you should take this one personally. I won’t be the only one to leave.

So, every now and again I see that my own number of followers has fallen, and that I’ve been unfollowed. My reaction? I do wonder whether I have written something boring or offensive, and occasionally re-read a few of my posts in that light. That’s okay, it’s constructive and encourages me to think about what I’m doing.

Perhaps we should all hope to get unfollowed every now and again, just to make us focus constructively on our posts.

 

The Travel Bug bit me – part 1

Travelling! My first inclination to travel to remote regions came from my Grandmother, when I was probably six or seven years old, despite the fact that she had never travelled very far at all in her whole life. In fact, I don’t think that she ever left England.

But she would tell me stories of China, inducing images of Emperors and pig-tailed mandarins, peasants and bandits, and this was coupled with a children’s book; an encyclopaedia I presume, with grainy, black and white pictures of strange scenery. It was extremely evocative, although at the time I did not understand that. I was just excited by the mysterious, the strange and the unknown.  I was hooked, and wanted to go there! Ever since then, the places where I’ve most wanted to travel, other than Britain and Europe, have almost all been in Asia.

The list of places that I have at the moment that I would like to visit, are almost exclusively Asian.

Yes, she has a lot to answer for, that sweet old lady.

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When I was a teenager, I began to use maps, although in rather an ad hoc, hit and miss manner.

They were there for me when I was really stuck, or I just wanted to know in which general direction something lay. It would be a very long time before I began to use them in a skillful way, able to predict the exact lie of the land, navigate in the fog or the dark, or find my way through complicated landscapes with the map and compass. And, do you know, since I’ve learned to do that, I often feel as though I’ve actually lost something rather magical, although I don’t suppose that I can blame it all on that. The maps that I was using as a teenager would tend to be the Bartholomew’s Touring Maps, small scale with little detail. I would feel, as I headed along a Cornish footpath, that I only knew roughly where I was going. It always felt like an adventure; an exploration.

Now, I need to be more and more remote before I can get that feeling, and even then it does not always work. Some ten years ago, I spent a couple of weeks in Ladakh, in the Himalaya in the far north of India, and I was surprised at just how easy all of my walking was. Setting off with map and compass, I always knew exactly where I was, only confused at times by the multiplicity of tracks criss-crossing the landscape. Even then, reference to mountains and villages with map and compass would invariably allow me to set my position.

That doesn’t mean that I wanted to get lost, just that there was a small part of me that said ‘even this is all tame!’ Equally, I can be put off, when using a map, by the knowledge that over the interesting looking ridge that I am heading for, there lies a motorway or building estate, and so I then spend ages trying to plot a route that I try to get perfect, rather than simply heading off in the direction that I want to go and exploring as I go, correcting my course as I travel.

Nothing can tempt me more than a track leading tantalisingly into the distance, perhaps meandering through Mediterranean scrub towards a notch in the skyline, perhaps leading through a glowing archway of trees. Even now, when using map and compass to navigate, I often have to resist the temptation to ignore the map and head off to follow an interesting looking track. I think that this must be a part of my ‘I wonder what’s over the other side of the hill?’ nature. It’s another reason why I’ve never been able to lie on a beach – apart from the fact that this seems a particularly pointless pastime in any case. Any time that I’ve tried it, it never seems to be more than a couple of minutes before I begin to think ‘What’s round that cliff, I wonder?’ or ‘If I head back up the river, I think I might find a way through those hills.’ And then I just have to go to find out.

There are plenty of other things that can destroy a sense of adventure in travelling, other than over-familiarity with maps, of course. I remember the shock and the sense of let-down I received in Germany about 35 years ago, when I spent the best part of a morning struggling up an ill-defined track through thick woodland to the top of a berg in the Black Forest (I was using a tiny touring map at the time, which showed main roads at best). My elation at arriving at the top and surveying the panorama of hills and mountains around me was completely destroyed within a minute, as a coach roared up the other side of the hill, came to a halt a few feet away from me, and then disgorged about 30 Japanese tourists. They spent about two minutes firing off photographs of everything in sight, including myself, before leaping back on board the coach, roaring off down the hill and leaving me gob-smacked in the sudden silence and slowly settling dust.

 

Coffee; my drug of choice!

At least, the first thing in the morning, it is.

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I just don’t understand why it is that having a perfectly average 7 or 8 hours of sleep each night should turn me from a (relatively) normal and functioning human being, into an extra from ‘Return of the Neanderthal’ – and a non-speaking extra at that, other than the occasional ‘ug’ or snarl.

Of course, if I get less than 7 or 8 hours, then I resemble something that hasn’t even made it as far up the evolutionary ladder as the Neanderthals; some sort of fairly large and irritable beast with too many pointed teeth and a lamentable lack of patience, perhaps.

Just left to my own devices, this would not auger well for my marriage, my blood pressure, or even for the local society and environment.

But if modern medicine can work wonders in curing all sorts of previously fatal diseases, then caffeine of just the right dose seems to be the medicinal panacea for morning.

And being just a layman when it comes to the world of caffeine, I have a childlike wonder at its effects.

I am especially impressed by the strength of the espresso that you get served in cafes in Spain or France, and hence at its effectiveness. The customer crawls in and somehow climbs up onto a bar stool, using their final reserves of energy, croaks out a request for ‘espresso!’, then uses the last of their strength to lift the tiny cup to their lips…they drink…and Bingo! They leap suddenly into the air as if energised by a bolt of electricity, and then rush out of the cafe, singing lustily, to do a 16 hour day’s work.

And proper Turkish coffee, an extremely effective if much tastier substitute for asphalt, just has me in awe. Are there really people who are able to drink this each day? Every day?

Superhuman.

I doff my cap to them.

I take mine a little weaker than that, I admit, but I do like it relatively strong, and without milk or sugar – exactly the way that nature intended it.

Naturally, instant coffee just does not cut it, although I do admit than it can be effective at combating fatigue; many years ago when I worked in the Middle East, I noticed that one or two of the men who worked shifts at our company would eat the occasional mouthful of instant coffee powder when they were tired, presumably to help them get through the following few hours.

But despite that, I just have not found an instant coffee that seems drinkable. Nothing can match the real thing, for me.

And lest you fear that I am doing myself irreparable damage by flooding my system with strong coffee throughout the day, let me just say here that for me it is an early morning ritual only, and after that I drink tea (a good Darjeeling, naturally!).

But now it is lunchtime. I have got through another morning.

Thank you, coffee. Thank you.

Where’s that damned kettle?

Hello, again!

Well, that was particularly annoying.

My computer suddenly took sick and had to be sent away to the Poorly Computer Hospital, where it underwent a major transplant.

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It seemed to be particularly bad timing, considering that I needed to set up the Print On Demand detail for my book, and that I don’t have immediate access to an alternate machine, other than a notebook. Unfortunately, though, the notebook:

a) is very slow,

b) doesn’t have any of my files on it and

c) has a screen too small for me to read without getting a major headache within 5 minutes.

Because of that, I got cross about it and fretted. But after a couple of days I realised that instead of fretting, since I had found out that fretting didn’t seem to help much, I could just have a bit of free time.

And so I read and went for walks and did all sorts of other things, but today I was able to go and collect it from the Poorly Computer Hospital and bring it home again.

The surgery had also involved having several important programs removed, but when I came to reinstall them I discovered that Microsoft had decided to no longer support the Office 2010 program I had bought from them, and so I ended up having to purchase a new version.

Thanks, Microsoft.

On the plus side, though, it had also removed Windows 10, and reinstalled Windows 7. And this is A Good Thing, since it appears that Windows 10 is good for very little other than causing computers to run at a temperature almost high enough to melt rock and to switch themselves off at random times, preferably when that will cause the maximum amount of inconvenience to the user.

Anyway, I’m definitely overdue another post, as it’s a week since my last one. So, what have I missed in all that time, that I might have been blogging about?

The main news in UK seems to be the upcoming referendum on membership of the EU. The Leave Camp have warned that remaining inside the EU will mean that the UK will be plunged into disaster the very next day, with at least 5 million flesh-eating zombies poised to swarm through the Channel Tunnel and invade the country, whilst the Remain Camp warn that a vote to leave will lead to every single family being evicted from their suddenly value-less houses and every business going bust since there will no longer be any market for them to sell their goods to.

Hmm.

What else?

England trounced Sri Lanka in the first test! *dances little jig* That’s important, anyway!

I don’t think anything else has happened.

So, what do I need to do?

Well, firstly apologise to everyone I’ve not had a chance to reply to yet. I’ll do so very shortly!

Secondly, sort out that Print On demand book. I’m on it!

And thirdly, think of a blog post.

Heaven only knows what I can write about this week.

Sri Lanka (2)

Sra Lanka – Ancient Cities

Today, a return to Sri Lanka, and a few of the photographs that I took at some of the ancient sites.

Dambula – Rock Temple – reclining Buddha. There are 5 caves in all, each one more splendid than the last (assuming, of course, that you visit them in the correct order!), containing some 150 Buddha images.

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Dambula – Rock Temple -feet of reclining Buddha statue.

BELOW: A further selection of images from the caves at Dambulla.

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Anuradhapura – Red brick Jetavanarama Dagoba.

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Anuradhapura – moonstone. Moonstones were not merely designed to be decorative, the patterns and figures are all relevant to Buddhist cosmic symbology.

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Anuradhapura. The Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba.

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Anuradhapura. Elephant carvings at the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba.

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Buffaloes at Anuradhapura doing what they do best!

Plastic Bottles of Water

Plastic bottles of water.

We buy plastic bottles of water.

Why the bloody hell, at least in the west, do we buy plastic bottles of water?

And, hang on a minute, before we even start wondering why we pay stupid amounts of money for a commodity that is virtually free, we even pay for those silly little contraptions on the tops of the bottles that you grip with your teeth, pull, and then, if it works, and doesn’t just break off, enables you to squirt the water through this nozzle into your mouth.

All of this just to save you unscrewing the cap and taking it off.

The dreadful labour of having to unscrew the cap.

And taking it off.

Perhaps that is why we buy the bottled water – to save us the bother of turning a tap and holding a glass beneath it to catch the water.

Really?

So why do we do it?

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It costs…well, tap water is all but free. For example, in California tap water costs one tenth of a cent per gallon.

In the UK my local water company charges £1.248 per cubic meter, which is 220 gallons, for water. This makes it just over half a penny a gallon.

Bottled water? On sale in my local supermarket for £1.50 for 3 litres. On special offer. There are approximately 4.5 litres in a gallon, so this costs out at £2.75 per gallon, which is approximately 550 times more expensive than tap water. Or, if you like, you are paying under half a penny for the water, and almost the entire £2.75 for the plastic bottles.

Feel good about that?

Me neither.

Perhaps the bottled water is far superior to the tap water?

Nope. Sorry about that, it’s not.

First of all, approximately half of it comes from the tap in any case. Yup, that’s right. The company that flogs it to you gets it from out of the tap.

And as for the rest, tap water is subject to more stringent quality and health standards than bottled water is, in any case. In tests on water in the USA last year, tap water came out better.

So are the huge, multinational soft drinks companies who manufacture these things doing it for our benefit?

You bet they’re not. They’re doing it because they can see an easy and gigantic profit.

We could do worse than talk to our old friend, Mr Satan Moneyglutton, the anonymous CEO of a major soft drinks company, at this point.

‘I honestly don’t know what you’re whingeing about. You want convenience, don’t you? What could be more convenient than pouring all of your money into our coffers?

‘Tap water is so yesterday. It’s inconvenient. We have declared war on tap water. When we’re done, tap water will be relegated to irrigation and washing dishes.

‘And we are working hard to persuade restaurants not to give tap water to diners, but force them instead to purchase our bottled drinks.

‘It is helpful, of course, that most towns and cities seem to have stopped building and maintaining public water fountains, thereby forcing the thirsty citizen to purchase a canned or bottled drink.

‘Furthermore, with the spread of those nasty windfarms and tidal power generators, the future for oil as a source of power is, sadly, looking a wee bit unhealthy.

‘Clearly, there’s no point in leaving the oil in the ground where it’s of no use to anyone, so it makes sense to step up the manufacture of plastics which, incidentally, will make me even richer.’

So, there you go.

‘Nice bottle of water, sir? Only £1. And would you like a plastic bag full of air with that? Only £1.50.’

Don’t laugh – it’ll happen soon, I’m certain.