Friday 20 December 2013

Driver - take me to Buckingham Palace!

Number One Husband and I are known for being early for everything.  So in true Goldberg fashion we tipped up at Buckingham Palace today half an hour before we needed to be.  However, the upside was that said husband, Number One Daughter and Number One Son were able to get seats in the second row to see me be presented with my OBE by Prince Charles. 

I also fulfilled one of my ideal moments – get in a cab and say “Take me to Buckingham Palace!”. 

Once we were admitted to the Palace I went one way and they another. The Palace is all decorated for Christmas – the State Rooms are stunning enough but they were positively glittering.  (The large Christmas tree is decorated with little crowns......) I had a wonderful time talking to the wide range of people receiving awards – looking down the list there is such a wide cross section of people who have made a huge contribution to their local communities or society in general; service personnel and also the emergency services. Each story was more impressive than the one before and I felt quite humble and very, very proud to be in such company.

We were given our instructions – as the person in front receives their award, step forward and stand next to the chap in uniform; when you hear your name called – walk forward, turn, curtsey (bow) walk forward, HRH pins on your medal, talks to you, when he puts out his hand, shake it, walk backwards, curtsey again and walk out the opposite door. Not surprisingly the staff are rather experienced at this and calmed nerves and made sure that everyone relaxed and enjoyed the day.

So what did the Prince say? He asked me if I had been involved with the charity for a long time and I, having been well trained to get my key message in, told him that during my almost 20 years at Breast Cancer Campaign we had contributed £40 million to breast cancer research in the UK, it had been a team effort and I had been privileged to work with amazing colleagues.

And then it was all over and I went through and sat behind the guests for the rest of the ceremony. We then had a wonderful lunch with the rest of our London family at a hotel nearby – if you watched Kate Middleton leave on her wedding day to become the Duchess of Cambridge you will know the one. There were other ladies in hats and men in uniform so it is obviously a popular choice.

Nothing can convey how special it all felt and how charming everyone was.  And then there were the paintings, a Vermeer here a Rembrandt there and a couple of Canaletto’s, etc – these rooms are open to everyone in the summer but today they belonged to 98 people, their families and friends for a special day.

Big thanks to all my colleagues at Breast Cancer Campaign for making this possible – I am the lucky one but I was privileged to work with some inspiring people – you know who you are!

Oh yes, there was someone called Adele picking up an MBE – she sings a bit I believe. Seriously though, I did go and shake her hand. I told her that my grandchildren would be more impressed that I had done that than with my OBE!

Saturday 14 December 2013

Women supporting women - Soroptomist International – Reigate and District

It is now seven years since I was invited to address the Soroptomist    International Conference in Gateshead on behalf of Breast Cancer Campaign. Over 1,000 Soroptomists (and me), all dressed in pink to raise awareness of breast cancer, crammed onto the Gateshead Millennium Bridge. Speaking at that conference was a pretty daunting experience – not talking to a large audience or even in a large auditorium but seeing my face on two giant screens – eek!

I was delighted to be asked to speak at the Reigate and District’s 50th anniversary lunch recently – I have influence, as my lovely daughter-in-law’s mother is a long-standing member and former president.  I spoke about various things – all to do with women - from my days at Breast Cancer Campaign, my time as Master of the Needlemakers and my current involvement on the Board of the International Women’s Forum (IWF) UK.

It also gave me the opportunity to trot out some statistics. If you were in the City in November you will have seen Fiona Woolf installed as Lord Mayor.  She is the 686th Lord Mayor and only the second woman since 1189.

There are now 109 Livery Companies starting in the 12th Century with nine founded since 2000.  Since the first woman to be Lord Mayor about 30 years ago, there have probably been around 3,000 Masters of Livery Companies and during that time we have had 90 Lady Masters.  90 out of about 3,000 is hardly a revolution. However this year we have 14 which is the most we have ever had in one year so progress is slow but at least it is progress. Another record has been broken this year (gosh these are really baby steps but heigh ho) we now have more companies that have had a Lady Master than not – 56 against 53.

Still on the theme of women I spoke about the IWF UK’s recent visit to Stockholm. We had a wonderful time with many interesting visits and discussions but in the context of this lunch I spoke about a visit to Livstycket which was founded 20 years ago by Birgitta Notlof. Her vision is to enable immigrant and refugee women to break their isolation, learn the language and become self-sufficient. They have developed their own model by combining artistic activities with theoretical classroom learning, so words acquire a function, a reality and a context. To quote Birgitta - the words "scissors, thread and thank you" are merely words until they get and represent a real meaning.

Have a look at the website above – their fabrics are wonderful and I have several items with their “bag” design including a yellow apron. The refugees coming to the centre had one thing in common – when they fled it was generally with just one bag – so this represents all the bags that many of them keep as it is the only thing they have brought with them.

Despite the very serious work that they do, Soroptomists in Reigate are about friendship and fun and there was plenty of both. Much of their work is in supporting the local community including a Women’s Refuge and many of their members are volunteers in local charities.  Their focus for the future remains advocacy and awareness.  As the President, Alison Carter said in her leaflet for the 50th Anniversary – “There are still so many issues affecting women before there will be true equality for women in society and where women will be able to participate fully in society with equal rights and more importantly without fear of violence in the many forms it takes.” There is still so much to do.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Scientific print journals – or open access online?

I remember in the last recession hearing a PR adviser saying that they were telling their corporate clients not to listen to the news and comment programmes before going into work. It was challenging enough to motivate yourself and your colleagues in a difficult environment without being dragged down by relentless bad news and aggressive interviews.

Although I did listen to the news before work I avoided programmes like the Today programme except in small bites because I found the style of interviewing too aggressive for that time of the morning. I haven’t really changed my view.  The other thing that really annoys me is that the presenters seem to think that we are more interested in hearing them than the interviewee and constantly interrupt and paraphrase. I admit I don’t listen very often so perhaps I have just been unfortunate in the bits I have heard.

However on December 10 I was pleased I was listening, as there was an interview with Professor Randy Schekman due to be presented with his Nobel prize* for medicine on that day and the Deputy Editor of Science, Andrew Sugden. Schekman was criticising the three leading scientific journals – Science, Cell and Nature.
I quote from his article in the Guardian - How journals like Nature, Cell and Science are damaging science. The sub headline was incentives offered by top journals distort science just as big bonuses distort banking.  I can’t make up my mind whether that statement is a good comparison or not – but it makes a good headline!  He writes:
“I am a scientist. Mine is a professional world that achieves great things for humanity. But it is disfigured by inappropriate incentives ...... We all know what distorting incentives have done to finance and banking. The incentives my colleagues face are not huge bonuses, but the professional rewards that accompany publication in prestigious journals – chiefly Nature, Cell and Science.”
He is, of course, correct in that publication in a prestigious journal can substantially enhance a scientist’s career and bring glory to their institution. But, these are predominantly print journals and this brings an artificial limitation to the number of excellent research papers that can be published. This not only delays publication unnecessarily (which in itself slows down research) but also excludes good research for reasons of space rather than quality.
Schekman is an advocate of open access journals as am I.  This ensures that research is available to the widest audience anywhere in the world but it must be thoroughly peer-reviewed and only sound research must be published.  It is difficult to argue with that and although Sugden said that Science is now publishing additional articles on-line – I think the days of the subscription only print journal are numbered.
Schekman is Editor-in-chief of eLife where working scientists assess and select papers for publication, and all science judged to be of the calibre and high standard that eLife requires is published in the journal; there are no print-based limitations. And, all content published in eLife is openly available for all to use and re-use for free. The journal is backed by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society, and the Wellcome Trust – a very prestigious group of institutions.
When Breast Cancer Campaign commissioned its first ground-breaking Gap Analysis the resulting paper was published in 2008 in the on-line, open access journal Breast Cancer Research (and subsequently accessed over 40,000 times).  The second Gap Analysis was published recently in the same journal and has also been ‘highly accessed’.  I think that rather proves the point.

* Randy Schekman, Thomas C Südhof and James were awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine "for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells"

Monday 9 December 2013

Her Majesty The Queen, the window and the broderers at Southwark Cathedral

I should have written this blog on the day it happened but somehow that didn’t happen:  a very exciting morning nevertheless.

The Needlemakers Company is very fortunate to have as its chaplain the Bishop of Southwark – the Right Reverend Christopher Chessun. If you follow this blog you will have read about a summer party he hosted for us during my year as Master – see The Bishop, the sun and Southwark. Part of the proceeds from that event added to by the Needlemakers Charitable Fund in subsequent years, went towards the purchase of fabric to create new copes for the Bishops of the Diocese to celebrate Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee.  The Copes are being embroidered by the very skilled Guild of Broderers of the Cathedral – some of whom trained at the Royal School of Needlework, another of our charitable beneficiaries.

I was delighted to be invited with Sue Kent, the current Master of the Needlemakers and Henry Milward, chair of our charity committee to a visit by Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh to Southwark Cathedral to see the embroidery and a window which was also commissioned for the Jubilee on November 21.

The window is by the Icelandic artist Leifur Breijdford who won a competition to design and make the window which was  donated by the Worshipful Company of Glaziers. This is a link to a picture of the window which will give you an idea of the design but not show the amazing sparkle provided by a large number of prisms of glass which glint as if the sun were shining – which it wasn’t that morning. It represents jewels descending from heaven to earth and the eye is drawn from earth to heaven. Diamond Jubilee Window. The window fills a space  in the Retrochoir which had been filled by a plain glass window after the original was destroyed during WWII.

The copes are not yet complete but work in progress was shown to Her Majesty and Sue Kent was presented to her.  When the copes are complete they will be formally dedicated and worn on all diocesan occasions in the Cathedral. The detail and skill of the work is breathtaking – not something that can be rushed – each lily on the orphreys takes 50 hours to embroider.

The whole event was superbly supported by the Great Choir of the Cathedral composed of boys and girls from the local area and Lay Clerks.  Apart from the National Anthem they also sang an anthem Vast Ocean of Light which was specially commissioned for the Jubilee.

There were many members of the Cathedral Community, staff, volunteers and students from the Cathedral’s three foundation schools – and us! How lucky we are.  Henry and I had front row seats – close enough to touch Her Majesty (no of course I didn’t). 

It was a very special morning, not only seeing the Royal Party but also meeting and talking to some of the staff and volunteers.

Friday 6 December 2013

People do things for people – remembering Cheryl Stakol

It is a well-known fundraising saying that people give money to people.  No matter how worthy your cause, if people don’t have confidence in you people are not inspired or motivated by you it won’t work.

One thing I learned in my years at Breast Cancer Campaign is that this works both ways – we are inspired and motivated by our supporters. We build close relationships with them, we work together and laugh and even cry together but sometimes despite their courage and determination and the best medical care, we lose them and this is so hard and while we are grieving for their families whose loss is the greatest, we are grieving for ourselves as well.

Even though it is over two years since I left – this is still the case: never more so than today when I learned of the death of Cheryl Stakol. In 1997 Cheryl was diagnosed with breast cancer. After surgery and ten months of treatment she decided to organise a sponsored walk to raise funds for breast cancer research, with Breast Cancer Campaign as the beneficiary charity.  

The walk has now become an established annual event and in 2000 was named The Generations Walk.  Cheryl’s reason was that everyone is invited to participate, irrespective of age and fitness, plus the money raised and put towards research today will help to benefit future generations. Needless to say, Cheryl’s entire family was involved in the organization and management of the walk, not to mention her many friends and the local community. There were regulars who came every year as well as new walkers. In June 1998 some 80 people took part in the first walk. The 10th Anniversary walk was celebrated in 2008 and is still going strong with over 300 participants taking part in 2013.  To date an incredible £400,000 has been raised for Breast Cancer Campaign’s research.

Cheryl’s support came to the charity at a very critical time in our development.  We were still quite small and we all learned together.  Her energy and determination was an inspiration to us (with much perspiration along the way). She was creative and professional and always delivered what she promised and made sure that everyone else did too - a true leader. 

I was in touch with my former colleagues today and I know that I speak for them when I say that our hearts go out to Michael and her children and grandchildren and we mourn her too.

Sometimes the mundane can be the most poignant – as I finished preparing dinner this evening I grabbed a note pad to make a note of groceries that needed replacing and realized that the pad was one that Cheryl had given me at my leaving party – Cheryl you somehow always knew what was needed. You will be missed.

Monday 11 November 2013

Remembrance and Hope

The Service was titled “A Service of Solemn Remembrance and Hope on the 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht”.  The part that interested me was “hope”.  How do you keep hope in the face of death and destruction?

Kristallnacht – or the Night of Broken Glass - took place on the 9/10 November 1938 across Germany, occupied Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia occupied by Germany. We went to Westminster Abbey on Sunday night for an interdenominational service of remembrance.  It is rather poignant that this anniversary occurs during our Remembrance Week. 

This “spontaneous” violence was carefully orchestrated and 267 synagogues throughout Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland were attacked - broken glass referring to the streets littered with the glass of the windows. Many synagogues burned throughout the night, in full view of the public and of local firefighters, who had received orders to intervene only to prevent flames from spreading to nearby buildings. SA and Hitler Youth members across the country shattered the shop windows of an estimated 7,500 Jewish-owned commercial establishments. Jewish cemeteries became a particular object of desecration in many regions.

Although murder was not directed, close to 100 Jews died. The SS and Gestapo arrested about 30,000 Jewish men, and transferred most of them from local prisons to Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, and other concentration camps. Hundreds died in the camps as a result of the brutal treatment they endured; most obtained release over the next three months on the condition that they begin the process of emigration from Germany.

Ironically this probably saved many thousands of Jewish lives as the effects of Kristallnacht served as a spur to the emigration of Jews to those countries that would have them and, as Rabbi Julia Neuberger so eloquently said – there were individuals amongst the British consular staff who stretched every rule to help thousands enter Britain.

We heard very moving testimonies from a man, who as a boy had seen from the balcony of his apartment his parents’ shop smashed with his parent in the store, a woman who survived in the camps because her parents starved to death so she could eat and another, as a boy, had managed to survive the camps and ended up here building a successful life. Is that where hope comes in?

Chillingly, the passivity with which most German civilians responded to the violence signaled to the Nazi regime that the German public would accept measures aimed at removing Jews entirely from German economic and social life, moving eventually towards policies of forced emigration, and finally towards the realization of a Germany “free of Jews” (judenrein).

"All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."