Saturday, 16 September 2017

Sal Brinton's speech was a rouser

When one cannot be at conference (like me) then watching a livestream of it is a lifeline. Punchy, intellectual  and people centred are the words that I would use to describe today's proceedings. Sal Brinton's, President of the Liberal Democrat Party, speech was the highlight - pitched at the right level to appeal to both the converted Lib Dem-er and non-converted voter, packed with truths and rounded off with a strong dash of an urgency to answer her 'call to arms'.

In other words, Lib Dems have their work cut out for them in trying to rope in Labour and Tory voters who are wavering about their tribal allegiances.

Sal Brinton started off by alluding to a Groundhog Day feeling in politics given that two general election and a referendum have been held in the space of two years. She spoke about the "loony" figures and situations that have arisen in global politics and name checked Trump, North Korea and Theresa May. I suspect there were no dissenters in the audience to Sal's analysis. If there were then they were clearly in the wrong place.

Recent events were referenced in her speech. Sal probably captured the common mood when she referred to the "shocking lack of humanity and efficiency" demonstrated by the Tory government over their handling of the fall out from Hurricane Irma as experienced in the British dependent territories. Emmanuel Macron, the French President, managed to get troops out before Hurricane Irma struck, she said, contrasting this with the Tory government who were "taken by surprise at the scale of the disaster" despite numerous prior warnings.

Continuing her attack on the Tory Party she described Theresa May's leadership as akin to being a house with "the lights on but no one is at home".

"The Nasty Party is back", Sal declared and spoke about how the Tories are starving the NHS of funds and that the UN has declared that the UK government's treatment of the disabled is "disgraceful".

She called the Lib Dems the "only national party fighting for a true place in Europe".  Her call to arms came when she told followers that the left and right of politics had been crushed by the lurch to authoritarianism.

And where does this leave the Liberal Democrats? According to Sal Brinton it is the only party that questions and challenges authoritarianism.

Sadly, some may not buy this given the resentment that still exists over the party's role in building austerity driven politics but, as a speech at a party political conference, it did the job.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Is missing your child's first day of school a big deal?

Most parents hold the memory of their child's first day of school quite dear. My daughter started school in 2003 and I still remember every detail of it with emotion bordering on extreme nostalgia. Dropping your child off at the school gates or walking them into the classroom itself, as some schools allow, is a memory making moment.

Starting school is a defining moment in a child's life. It marks a transition from being a toddler to entering an institution tasked with instilling a sense of discipline and responsibility in the child. As a responsible parent we feel it imperative upon us to physically deposit them at school as if it were some sort of cultural 'handing over' ceremony.

But is it just flummery or does the whole 'taking your child on first day of school and making a big deal of it' mean anything at the end of the day?

I think the answer has two dimensions: from a parental point of view and from the child's view.

As a parent, taking my daughter to school was a BIG deal for me. It felt like a rite of passage. What sort of mother would I have been if I hadn't marked the day by physically being there, was my personal view. The whole process of waking up early on the day and getting her changed into a school uniform was part of a 'process'.

Fast forward 14 years later. My daughter is now 18 years old and can't really remember her first day. Neither, I should add, does she give a stuff about how it all went. While I still cling on to old memories she has made newer and fresher ones that are far more exciting to her.

The 'process' that I refer to two paras above turned out to be not quite as life-changing as I thought it would. My fear was that the home would become a diminished place because much of her life would be shaped by academia and teachers. I severely underestimated the continued primacy of the home and my role as a mum.

From the acres of coverage of Prince George's first day at school what is rapidly emerging is an unspoken subtext that the Duchess of Cambridge ought to feel guilty for not being present today at the school gates.

I have no doubt that she is convulsed with guilt and regret over it but somebody should tell her that as the years roll on these things fade into the background and, more likely, Prince George didn't feel abandoned in the slightest.

As parents we sometimes create extra burdens for ourselves by gold plating our sense of care, love and responsibility.


Thursday, 31 August 2017

How did Princess Diana manage to stay sane with all that misogynistic vitriol?

All photos taken from the Diana exhibition currently on at Kensington Palace, London
There were many times in the 1990s when I wondered how on earth Princess Diana managed to wake up and go through the motions of the day. If you are a believer in the power of the Establishment then, make no mistake, this woman fought against the might of it on a regular basis.

The powers that be were misogynistic and cruel in their treatment of Diana. Remember when pompous Nicholas Soames cast aspersions on her mental health and relied on Parliamentary Privilege to get away with it? If not, read this.

When Diana was at her lowest because of her age and inexperience the Establishment kicked her even harder

The treatment she received from the pressmen could only be described as hard machoism. Long lenses were directed at her in her face. As she lay dying she was being objectified. Instead of helping her the press men were snapping her dying moments.

The saboteurs and such like pond life would defend their disapproval of Diana by telling people that she wasn't blameless, that she had invited attention and trouble by flaunting herself. 

It's a familiar 'putdown' argument used against women who are perceived to not know their place in life. She was beautiful and always well dressed and blonde. Perfect fodder for misogynists.

There is a fantastic exhibition at Kensington Palace titled. 'Diana: Her Fashion Story', which showcases Princess Diana's beautiful clothes but is much more than a fashion display or a memorial of some sort. If anything the exhibition is a touching reminder that her beautiful gowns and dresses were, at the end of the day, accessories to the way she interacted with the public in breaking new ground as a royal member.

Dressing glamorously seemed to be Diana's way of arming herself in facing the misogynistic patronising attitudes towards her.

Diana was meant to be a demure Princess in tow but grew in stature to become a Princess who led the way in confronting global issues like AIDS and landmines. Her dress style shaped the way the world thought about her. She dressed down to walk through a minefield. She wore gloves to meet AIDS victims and removed a glove to shake hands with them thus dispelling the myth that the illness could be spread through touch.

The royal family that so callously stripped her of the HRH title lost a gem 20 years ago today.


Saturday, 26 August 2017

A mother's account of coping with her daughter having leukemia one year on

Kirsty, left, with her mother, Dr Janet Chelliah

This is a particularly poignant blog post for me. Kirsty is my niece. A much loved darling. Dr Chelliah is my only sister and we have a very close relationship.

The words "She has Leukaemia, Babes..." still echoes in my head, even though it has been a year since I first heard those words from my husband, Neil.

My daughter Kirsty, who was 15, had just celebrated her birthday a few days before. It was a Friday at 6pm when I heard those words. I was just walking out of work having just referred a patient into hospital for suspected cancer.
Kirsty and her sister Melissa , together with their friends from Dancestars, had performed 5 street dances at a family event. It was meant to be a fun, exciting Friday as we then were expecting family and friends to arrive that weekend. We had spent the whole week planning for this weekend.

We were going to have a 15th Birthday party for Kirsty. Chocolate Fountain and Mocktails in the garden as her friends arrive, lots of singing, dancing, and games in the garden before they had Jacket Potatoes, Chips, Pizzas followed by the Ice Cream Bar. Melissa and I had baked the 'perfect' chocolate cake for Kirsty. It was all working out perfectly.

The week before we sat on a beach on the North East Coast of Scotland . The weather, the sights and the food was all great. I still remember saying to the girls, "remember this moment when we get home and we have a difficult day. Think of this beautiful moment to keep us happy".
Kirsty has Down Syndrome. She was just about to go into Year 11, we were thinking about her future, how do we prepare her for Post 16 Education, how do we help her build her independence, how do we help her achieve her dreams to be a dancer, singer, actor, an athlete who would one day be part of the Special Olympics and to work as a receptionist in her favourite hotel, Premier Inn?

Dr Janet Chelliah was deputy medical director at the Special Olympics held in Sheffield, August 2017

Our lives as a family, our dreams and most of all my teenage daughter's life came crashing before us...why, why why??
We have had a horrible year, probably another blog to tell you about it.

Our lives have changed. our priorities have changed , my younger girl Melissa has seen and experienced more than any 9 year old should experience, but most of all Kirsty's life came to a hold for almost a year.

One year on today...our family life hasn't got back to how it was. However there have been some happy moments. Kirsty celebrated her 16th birthday this week, she attended her school prom, she is walking more and using her wheelchair less than she did, she uses a trike, she has started singing and drama lessons, she is starting to attend her dance classes, she has a different hairstyle as her hair grows back, we managed to travel out to a caravan park, she has made new friends ,she has been shown how much she is special and loved by the many wonderful family and friends we have and, most of all, her beautiful smile and fantastic personality and sense of humours is shining through.
Kirsty has a long journey ahead of her. She remains on chemotheraphy till 2019 followed by monthly blood tests for a few years. I pray and hope she will soon catch up with the last year that put her life on hold.

Thank you to our family and friends who have continued to show their much needed love and support. I wish I could name you all here and thank you personally but I will just have too much to say.
A very special thank you to my sister Jane, who has encouraged me to put my thoughts in this blog and has been a great support.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Calling me a " Paki" does NOT make me feel like I am enabling your right to free speech

Somehow I don't think the founding fathers of the concept of Free Speech had insults and slurs in mind when they put their highly intellectual minds together and came up with it. At the very minimum, racist slurs defy any pigeon hole, square peg in a round hole and logic of equating words that are meant to wound and defile with the historical beginnings of Free Speech in 1948 after the two World Wars. 

The right to spread hate and incite disorder of any kind against a group in society is NOT Free Speech or a right to Freedom of Expression.

I have a right to say this because I don't like being a victim of racism. Being called a ' Paki' is not a fun way to pass a moment in a day or moments in a year.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the mass bulk of the mantle of racist behaviour has passed from those who hate ethnic minorities to those who, post Brexit, now hate white people who come from Eastern European countries. This twisted logic of racism has not, however, absolved me from its' claws.

Logic doesn't come into it anymore. There is a simple reason for this. Racism has no logic and no standing or status in society. Equivating it to 'Free Speech' is a claim by the far Right/Alt Right to legitimise their prejudices. It's like covering a really badly baked apple crumble pie with custard sauce from Waitrose but worse, much worse. It's worse because there is a human being at the receiving end of these slurs. While you can spit out a pie you can't do the same when you are a victim of racist language.

Somewhere in this morass of discourse on what constitutes Free Speech academics, the press and ordinary folk have forgotten that it is human beings we are talking about who bear the brunt of whatever decision is reached.

My skin is Brown in colour but it does not possess an inherent attribute to justify racist name calling. The name caller or bloody racist shouting at me does not have an innate right to do what he is doing either. It is normally a White man, not woman, doing it by the way.

There are three factors I squarely place blame on for this resurgence in hating people who are not of the Aryan persuasion - UKIP, Trump and Brexit.

A few years ago when Nigel Farage was huffing and panting up the greasy pole (he looks permanently unfit with a cigarette and a drink in his hands) and said something which the press deemed worthy of reporting I would, the very next day, suffer the humiliation of someone getting up and going to sit elsewhere on public transport when I sat down next to them. This shifting around would always be accompanied with mutterings of '...Paki'.

Brexit has produced a very subtle ground shift but I am gradually becoming invisible in social, professional and political settings. At a simple level it manifests itself with conversations taking place over my head as if I am not there. At a more serious level it is the hostile stares and outright name calling.

Trumpism is racism dressed up in a Whitehouse or in gilded settings housed among green golf courses with impeccably dressed people - wife, children, grandchildren, hangers on - who are all personifications of 'Whitehood'. These players mistakenly assume an innate right to prevaricate over when and whether, if at all, to call out racism because it will never affect them. If anything, it benefits them.

Charlottesville is the 2017 rallying call for defining what Free Speech means within the context of what it does to those whose are being victimised just to enable an intellectually perceived fertile ground that ought to exist.

Free Speech has become a tussle between being a lived experience and one where any word that spills forth is a normative one.