Tuesday 29 December 2015

I did not speak out....

As I wrote in my previous blog - this was written in August 2014 but not posted. It is as relevant now as it was then. 
Some years ago I commissioned a calligrapher to write a version of the often-quoted poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller which hangs in my hall as a reminder. I have subsequently learned that there are many versions of this, he changed it from time to time to suit the audience but the message is the same. (I have also learned he perhaps is not quite as straightforward a person as I originally thought – who is?)
One version of the poem, at the United States Holocaust Museum, is here:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

I walk past my version of this several times a day and it is much on my mind at the moment. Jews have fled many Middle East countries and no one spoke out. Christians have fled (and are continuing to flee) many of the countries and now Iraq is being ethnically cleansed – leave, convert or die. Where are the mass protests? Now that the Yazidis are fleeing as many have been murdered, women raped, kidnapped, forcibly married and used as slaves – the world is waking up a bit. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims have died at the hands of other Muslims – where are the mass protests against this?

It seems that the world’s outrage is saved for Israel (and now extending to the Jews). Don’t think for one moment that I am of the “Israel can do no wrong” camp. Far from it – and neither are many Israelis by the way. The world seems to need Israel to be perfect when their own governments are anything but. Israel remains the only country in the Middle East where you are free to practice your religion, express your sexuality, genders are equal and all have equality before the law.

They all have freedom of speech and can criticize the government and the armed forces.  This includes the 1.7 million Arabs – mostly Muslim but some Christian - as well and the 12 Arab members of the Knesset. There have been Arab members of the Knesset since the beginning.

In the presence of neighbours, some of whom deny their right to exist and would like to drive them into the sea, they defend themselves. The world doesn’t mind that – as long as they don’t do it too well.

No one talks about the hundreds of thousands of Jews who have fled Middle Eastern states – Egypt (75,000) Syria (15,000), Iran (80,000), Iraq (130,000) and others - over the decades, leaving everything behind. They have moved on and made their way in Israel, the USA, Australia, South Africa and many European countries. They are not refugees: they are citizens of their new countries. They know that they can never go back and will not be compensated for the homes, businesses, properties that they were forced to abandon.

To return to Niemöller: when he says – “then they came for me” – for ‘me’ read everyone who is not speaking out now including the many millions of Muslims who are outraged by what is happening.

Friday 25 December 2015

Christmas Day – the Queen, the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury

Christianity has been much in the news – so there’s a surprise on Christmas.  You would not be surprised to hear this from the Archbishop of Canterbury, nor from the Queen, as the Head of the Church of England but the Prime Minister’s comments are perhaps a little more unexpected.  They all set me thinking.

I quote from the Prime Minister, “As a Christian country, we must remember what his birth represents: peace, mercy, goodwill and, above all, hope. I believe that we should also reflect on the fact that it is because of these important religious roots and Christian values that Britain has been such a successful home to people of all faiths and none.”

Absolutely – there is nothing discriminatory about that – I knew full well when I chose to come to this country that it was Christian but that I was free to practice my religion, free from discrimination and persecution. (Officially that is – anti-Semitism has always existed and is becoming more aggressive again – but this is still a good place for Jews. Of course I couldn’t argue with him – those religious roots owe something to their Jewish origins.)

The Queen, who writes her own Christmas broadcast said, 

"For Joseph and Mary, the circumstances of Jesus's birth - in a stable - were far from ideal, but worse was to come as the family was forced to flee the country. It's no surprise that such a human story still captures our imagination and continues to inspire all of us who are Christians, the world over.”  

Well said Your Majesty – suddenly we are all thinking about the scenes that have filled our television screens this past year.

And finally, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and I quote, 

Today, across the Middle East, close to the area in which the angels announced God’s apocalypse, ISIS and others claim that this is the time of an apocalypse, an unveiling created of their own terrible ideas, one which is igniting a trail of fear, violence, hatred and determined oppression..... They hate difference, whether it is Muslims who think differently, Yazidis or Christians, and because of them the Christians face elimination in the very region in which Christian faith began.

My first thought was – and what about the Jews?  Well of course the Jews are not facing elimination from the countries in which ISIS is operating – Syria, Iraq, etc.  They’ve gone.  Hundreds of thousands of Jews have fled those countries over the past decades (members of our extended family fled Egypt in 1956 with a suitcase each and their passports removed, immediately becoming impoverished and stateless). Not all of them went to Israel – they spread out to many countries, including the UK. Of course, Jews are being targeted by Muslim extremists in Europe and elsewhere, but if this “elimination” that the Archbishop speaks of in the Middle East is successful will the next step be the elimination of Israel and the Jews?

I don’t know what the Archbishop is doing about rescuing those Christians he speaks of but one Jew is paying back the debt he feels: Lord Weidenfeld was part of the Kindertransport before WWII.  He has set up a fund and is actively engaged in helping Christians to escape. He said in July 

“I had a debt to repay. It applies to so many young people who were on the Kinderstransports. It was Quakers and other Christian denominations who brought those children to England. It was a very high-minded operation and we Jews should also be thankful and do something for the endangered Christians.”  Here is an article from the Catholic Herald
but there are more on the internet.

I wrote a blog in August 2014 about what was happening in the Middle East, the campaign against Israel which seemed to be gaining even more currency and the persecution of the Yazidis and Christians which no one seemed to be concerned about. I decided not to publish it – I am not sure why but I now regret that. I should publish that one first but today is Christmas Day so this one takes precedence. I will post it soon.

Tuesday 17 November 2015

In praise of the tumble dryer.....

I don’t suppose laundry looms large in the lives of children. Most people responsible for dealing with it are just grateful if it makes its way to the laundry basket rather than lying in a heap somewhere.

Growing up in South Africa in the 1950s, while I wasn’t personally involved with doing the laundry (neither was my mother!), I was very aware of all the processes. We had domestic staff and it was much more fun being with the domestic staff in the yard than in the house so I was aware of masses of laundry. There was a courtyard between the kitchen and the outbuilding where the washing machine and ironing board were and, except when the maid tore out into the yard to remove it in advance of a sudden storm, there was always washing on the line. 

Most things were washed in a machine and hung out to dry. White sheets and shirts had their final rinse in Reckitts Blue and that, combined with drying in the sun and occasional application of bleach, left them brilliantly white.   

The ironing was endless – everything had to be ironed and a woman would come in twice a week to help the maid.  In a hot climate clothes were not worn more than once before they were washed and there was an endless cycle of washing, drying, ironing and then all over again.  The workload was intense.

Fast forward to small flat in London: no washing machine or dryer.  Sheets and towels went to a laundry; everything else was hand-washed with occasional trips to the laundrette – a miserable place.  My first visit was sensational and humiliating, as I didn’t know you needed special low-lather washing powder for an automatic machine and watched helplessly as the machine erupted with foam pouring out.

Number one daughter then arrived: I was not prepared for how many times a baby can spew over their clothes and how many nappies you use. Our flat had poor ventilation so the mounds of washing added to the condensation. We could not have a washing machine but we could have a tumble dryer and my life was transformed.  I have never looked back – until now.

My tumble dryer died a couple of weeks ago – it was going to cost nearly as much to repair as a new one so, as I write, I am waiting for the new one to be delivered. (Smug note – I didn’t buy an extended warranty and this happened after the extended warranty period would have ended - but six years' lifespan is hardly long!)

I have been hanging clothes to dry for the first time ever - and the scratchy sensation of the towels took me right back to childhood. (However environmentally unsound a tumble dryer might be – the result is a mighty soft towel.)  Apart from the deterrent of the inclement weather I don’t have anything set up to hang washing outside so have been hanging things over the banister, from hangers, over radiators and circulating them through the airing cupboard.  Items that never need ironing after tumble-drying need ironing now. It is so time-consuming – why would you want to?

Monday 14 September 2015

Chopped liver and the meaning of life

At our granddaughter’s recent Bat Mitzvah the rabbi passed the Torah from grandparent to grandparent and then to her parents and then to her to symbolise the passing of this knowledge and heritage through the generations for centuries and now to her.

We all have our religious rituals and family traditions. One of ours is chopped liver (this is not as trivial as it first sounds). My mother died over thirty years ago after a long and difficult illness.  She lived with us the last few years of her life and I greeted her death with very mixed emotions: sadness at our loss but relief that she was no longer in pain.

No matter how ill she was she always insisted on making the chopped liver for Passover and New Year and to break the Fast on the Day of Atonement.  There was no recipe – and although I helped her I never consciously took much notice. Even when we all knew that her life was limited I didn’t take notice – perhaps it was my form of denial. 

There are strange moments when grief strikes you unexpectedly.  The first Jewish holiday after her death was Passover. There is no thought that has to go into the menu planning– it is the same year after year and of course there is chopped liver. I suddenly realised that this now fell to me to make - would I be able to take over this minor task but somehow central role that my mother had played over many years? It is part of handing down traditions through the generations. I sat down and wept. 

Of course it isn’t difficult, especially with modern kitchen gadgets to do the chopping.  It is chicken or goose fat, chicken livers, onions and hard-boiled eggs.  Then decorated with more chopped hard boiled eggs, whites and yolks separated and put in stripes and garnished with parsley.

There is still no fixed recipe but the magic has been passed on.  My daughter made it for their New Year in Switzerland and here it is. 

Thursday 6 August 2015

Charisma, passion and dedication don’t trump good governance

Charisma – that indefinable something that draws people to you, that influences them, that makes them want to be on your team.  Passion and dedication are other qualities that are often found in the charitable sector and individuals with just these qualities founded many great charities. I would argue that many others have fallen by the wayside because of poor governance and a lack of foresight (no competent people around you to challenge and no succession planning).

This is simplistic but prompted by the collapse of “Kids Company”.  No one knows everything that went wrong but I suspect that the charisma of the chief executive is central. Much is being made of how she was trumpeted by celebrities and politicians – everyone wanted to be on her team and perhaps the proper challenge was missing, as was the scrutiny?

It seems extraordinary that a charity of nearly 20 years standing was still leading a hand to mouth existence. Additionally, in a charity of that size and complexity, if her presence was so critical after all this time that it could not operate without her – that is a failure and she should take the responsibility. I hope that supporters will divert their funds to the other organisations that will be left to pick up the pieces.

Good governance is boring, it doesn’t grab the headlines and it won’t raise money, cure diseases or help vulnerable children but it needs to infuse everything that you do and it trumps charisma.

One anecdote from my own experience: some years ago, when I was chief executive of Breast Cancer Campaign (recently merged into Breast Cancer Now)    I was contacted by a very high profile individual who was supporting the charity. They had been introduced to a very impressive (and charismatic) clinician who had apparently cured a friend’s skin cancer with a “revolutionary” new treatment. He was sure that it would work for breast cancer.

Now the boring bit: we, like all respected medical research charities, had a process called “peer review”.  This is where a research proposal is scrutinised by independent, highly qualified individuals who then mark it according to various criteria. Those marks and comments are collated and then debated by a scientific committee and the application sinks or swims.  Is it tedious and laborious? does it rely on hours of unpaid work by scientist? - yes to all of those – is it perfect?  No – but it is the best and fairest system.

Our supporter went back to the clinician who said that he was far too busy treating patients to fill in lengthy application forms. Our supporter contacted me again and insisted that this clinician was so talented (and supported by several celebrities who would then apparently support us) that these rules shouldn’t apply to him.

Of course we wanted to play on his team and be sprinkled with that stardust and it was tempting to break the rules “just this once” but the consequences could have damaged the charity’s reputation and drawn funding away from worthwhile research.

Needless to say we never received an application, the research didn’t receive funding and after the supporter accused me of condemning women to die of breast cancer we lost his support too.

I was fortunate to have a board and staff who were never hesitant about challenging me. Occasionally it was unfair and unjustified and they were proved to be wrong and I was right – but hey – that’s life! It’s also good governance.

Saturday 9 May 2015

Presence and authenticity

I have spoken at several events in recent months to women climbing up the career tree and some of what I, and others, have said is resonating a bit with me in relation to the general election results.

It’s really tough: while you are working your socks off you also need to plan your career progression, make sure you network with appropriate people, find sponsors or mentors, be ahead of the game,  develop your skills – the list is endless.  Then there are the other behaviours you need to exhibit – we have moved on from “think out of the box” and “walk the walk” to “fake it until you make it” through to the latest – “be authentic” I am sure you can come up with clichés by the dozen.

Unquestioningly you need to develop presence: something that ensures that people notice you, look at you and listen to you.  That is where the technique lies but after that is authenticity.  For the former – take acting classes!  I am finding that more and more of the successful women I meet took acting classes (me too!) perhaps at school or college or even amateur dramatics. You learn how to develop presence and how to think yourself into a part and project it even though you are so nervous you could be sick!

So now you have the tools – what about authenticity. I didn’t want to headline this article “Did a lack of authenticity lose Labour the election” as we are a bit electioned out - but I am wondering if that was the case. 

Today’s press is full of post election analysis but one article in particular rang a chord. It is a superb article about Ed Miliband’s leadership by Philip Collins in The Times today Conviction politician lacked self-awareness right to the very end. It is more than that – Collins comments, “To the end he seemed detached and unknowable.” 

The persona that he was projecting was not authentic.

Whatever your political views David Cameron seems comfortable in his own skin. Yes, it may be a posh Tory-boy skin and rolling up his sleeves or taking off his tie doesn’t change that – but he is comfortable. So you think you know what you are getting. Perhaps that’s why some people who felt embarrassed to admit to voting Tory did in the end – at least you felt that what you saw was what you would get - he just felt the most authentic.