Saturday 31 December 2016

I hate New Year's Eve

Always have done, always will do. I am not sure how or why it started.  As a child it passed me by apart from the fireworks. I don't like loud sudden noises and avoided firework displays.  Why can't they have fireworks that don't crack but whoosh or swish. They still look lovely and all dogs and cats would be grateful.

We have had some enjoyable celebrations: friends of our Swiss family had a party where the children melted pieces of lead and dropped them into cold water and the shape would predict the year ahead.  We were the only two people who could speak only one language, and that included the multilingual children. We watched the fireworks on the river from a half a mile away - distant bangs!

Another in Los Angeles with friends of my sister's, formerly from Hungary. Rather curiously a strong smell of cooking cabbage wafted across the house just before midnight. That was the traditional Hungarian cabbage soup that partygoers had to fortify them for the journey home in sub zero temperatures (not the balmy LA evening).  But I'm all for traditions.

Some of the pleasantest and least stressful were at my neighbour's, the lovely Stella, everyone knew someone and no one knew everyone and we all lived within walking distance. No false jollity, simple food, a glass of champagne and home to bed.

Yes there have been some dire parties, false jollity with drunks lurching towards you at midnight, never mind driving on the road or throwing up on the Underground.  It isn't the actual evening but for me there is always a sense, of not quite doom, but something nasty lurking in the woodshed in the following year. I am more than happy to see the back of 2016.  We have lost some dear friends, some ridiculously young.  The awfulness of Syria, never mind other places in the Middle East and Africa.  Bloody Brexit, who knows what will happen with Trump, too much to worry about, and probably other things I haven't thought of. The dance macabre has been whirling around.

Our family has been blessed with a good year  I have a new role as chair of the trustees of the Institute of Health Visiting which is exciting and am very involved with the Needlemakers charity which will give away more money this year.  All good.  But still the cloud of expectation.

In my religious days (lost faith in my twenties, but that's another story), from a child I was very moved by the symbolism  of Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.  I probably believed it literally for a while but even when I didn't it gave hope.  The 10 days between the two are known as the Days of Awe. Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgement, but if you atone for your sins and ask forgiveness you have until Yom Kippur to weight the chances for a good year in your favour. God can't forgive you for hurting others, you have to ask directly.  In the same way as you might write a Christmas card to someone you haven't seen for a while, this is also a time to get back in touch. Then the Book is sealed and what will be will be.  Somehow I'm OK with that (no I don't take it literally) it is, it will be and somehow you have to get through it the best you can.

Saturday 17 December 2016

Did my grandmother or mother write this?

Our maternal grandmother used to write a lot – mostly thoughts on odd pieces of paper and notebooks and also letters to the newspapers – often published.  She travelled a great deal and wrote wonderful letters.  Our mother used to write too.

When our mother died my sister found this poem - handwritten on paper - at the back of a photograph of our father and I wonder if it was written by our grandmother (or mother) or is a published poem.  Can’t find it anywhere. It is  not really my sort of thing - I am probably too literal to be whole-hearted about it.  Yes, it is dated but very much of  its time – probably 1950s.  

Facing the Worst

It’s courage you’ll be needing when you have to face the worst
It’s courage you’ll be wanting then, so pray for courage first
Strength of will to meet and tackle what you have to do
Nothing less than that will get you by or pull you through

When crosses must be shouldered that you have to face alone
Out into the darkness on a road to you unknown
When something happens calling for the best that on you lies
Hold your head up to the light and to the challenge rise

When you think that God has failed you and the last hope gone
Think again, keep going, never doubting, struggle on
Lean on Him when in the dark, you’re lost with none to lead
Wordly goods won’t help you then – it’s courage you will need.

It is handwritten and signed “love Mum” - whether it was published, written by our grandmother or mother - I have no idea! If you can identify the source, please leave a comment - I don't publish them but I do read them and will acknowledge.

Sunday 4 December 2016

Thoughts from abroad (2)

I won’t only write about conversations with cab drivers but following my ‘one is anecdote, two is evidence theme’ – there are a few more, some a bit scary.

The first conversation was with the 'man on the plane' returning from his first visit to London. He had already voted and is Trump's man. "I'm anti-establishment and government is corrupt. It doesn't matter that he is not experienced; he will pick good people like Reagan did.  Reagan was just an actor before."  No comment from me about Reagan having been Governor of California and President of the Screen Actors Guild – how many other Presidents have been long-serving union members?

Our Uber driver who collected us from Baltimore airport arrived in DC from Pakistan three years ago.  Much discussion between Number One Husband and him about cricket - he plays in a league there. He doesn't have a vote but tactfully said it was too close to say who would win.  He then asked if the Queen could change the government or laws if she didn’t like them - quick lesson on constitutional monarchy. He then asked how they will choose the next monarch.  He likes the young one – I think he meant Prince William not Prince George.

Driver number two in DC, judging by his accent, was local. He was unsure about the election. His comment was "Clinton’s been in government for 20 years and I'm not sure what she's done. He would be different but he's got some really crazy ideas." 

I didn’t expect to be so overwhelmed by The Lincoln Memorial.  A bit like when I saw the Taj Mahal, despite great familiarity with the image, the scale rocks you back on your heels. Given that we were in the nation’s capital during an election, perhaps we paid more attention to the words inscribed on either side. One is the Gettysburg Address and the other is the Second Inaugural Address which includes the words "one eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union but localized in the Southern part of it". And later "It may be strange that men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces."  How fitting that the new museum charting the history of African Americans is close by - fully booked however. 

Not far is the wall with all the names of the military who died in Vietnam.  There was a large group of Veterans visiting, each in a wheelchair with a helper and with baseball caps stating what they were veterans of.  This was during the campaign when Trump was talking about illegals, building a wall etc.  We did notice particularly that so many of those names are Hispanic.  

We had no engagement with the war in Vietnam but for me it was the first war we were seeing in real time. Sitting on the sofa, watching people being bombed. Also on television at the time was that magnificent series "The World at War" which showed film taken on the same week during WW2.  Neither seemed real; too awful to be able to get to grips with or so relentless as to numb us. Just as the daily footage of refugees trying and sometimes failing to get to Europe is on our screens now.

The next Uber driver said he didn’t know who he was going to vote for “she is a crook and he is a crazy man”.  But the most depressing conversation was with the Uber driver in Philadelphia.  He is in his mid-fifties, born and raised in the city and, apart from a few years in Florida has lived there all his life. He used to work customizing cars.  He said “I’ve been married ten years, my wife is from the Philippines, she’s legal, I made her legal and she has a good job as a night supervisor. You can’t believe anything on the news, it is all lies.  My wife is very busy on social media – there you see the truth. We are voting for Trump, she thinks we need a strong man like Duterte.” 

Finally Uber is getting a bad press here and we don’t really use it in London – if you are of a certain age and live in London you can travel for free which we take full advantage of.  However the drivers in the USA seemed uncomplaining and we had a very good experience apart from one who tried to drop us off at the wrong place.  We had a women driver in New York who used to drive a yellow cab – she preferred Uber as it was more flexible.

I will write again, but no more politics.