October is Black History Month in the UK. But shouldn’t Black history be taught all the time?

Black History Month began in America as an annual History Week, in 1925. That year, Black historian Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History, announced Negro History Week: A celebration of a people that many in this country at the time believed had no place in history. February was chosen because it marked the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. From Woodson’s Wikipedia page:

Woodson worked to preserve the history of African Americans and accumulated a collection of thousands of artifacts and publications. He noted that African-American contributions ‘were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them’. Race prejudice, he concluded, ‘is … the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind’.

Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) and since his death in 1950 the ASALH has fought to keep Woodson’s legacy alive. In February 2020, in this article, Karma Allen interviewed Noelle Trent, Director of Interpretation, Collections and Education at the National Civil Rights Museum who said she was:

Frustrated that black history tends to be ignored by popular culture once February ends. Instead, Black History Month should be seen as a ‘starting point’ for a larger conversation about how to incorporate Black history into American history as a whole.

Black students and Black educators at Kent State University expanded American Black History Week into a month beginning on February 1, 1970 and, in 1976, every US President has designated February as Black History Month.

from here

from here

In the UK Black History Month was first celebrated in October 1987. It was organised by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, Special Projects Coordinator of the Ethnic Minorities Unit of the Greater London Council (GLC), after a broken-hearted colleague came to work one morning and:

Revealed to me in confidence that her seven-year-old son, who she had proudly and purposefully named Marcus, after Marcus Mosiah Garvey (a Black nationalist leader) had asked her: ‘Mom, why can’t I be white?’. This prompted me to ask questions about identity and to observe and talk to children after school, in buses, parks and in the playgrounds in London communities.
from this interview

October was chosen because the weather was not yet cold, school children were fresh from the long summer holiday and had fewer exams and tests to worry about.

Clearly Black History Months are good things. Education about Black history is a good thing. But isn’t it time, now, as Noelle Trent says, to incorporate Black history into history as a whole? Isn’t it time, as the words in the video above urge us: to treat Black history as a history that deserves a well-rounded holistic platform? Isn’t it time?

No Black child should ever have to ask why they aren’t white.
Every child should feel represented.

Sinai Fleary, writing in the HuffPost in UK Black History Month in 2018 said:

As a young black girl whose parents were Rasta and came from the Caribbean, I was delighted that renowned poet and author Benjamin Zephaniah was doing the assembly [at Fleary’s school in the early 1990s]. For those minutes, I was completely fixated on this tall, black, Rasta man with long dreadlocks, performing poetry in front of the whole school. He spoke with a Jamaican accent, mixed with some English slang. He sounded like the voices I heard in my own family. Instantly, I felt a connection. He was me and I was him. Every child has the right to feel what I felt that morning: represented.

Posted in Antiracism, Democracy, History, Human Rights, Psychology, Racism | 2 Comments

The Doll Test and the heartbreakingly detrimental effects of segregation

In the 1940s, in America, Doctors Kenneth and Mamie Clark designed and conducted a series of tests known colloquially as The Doll Tests.

Children between the ages of three and seven were asked to identify the race of the dolls and which colour they preferred.

A majority of the children preferred the white doll and assigned positive characteristics to it. The Clarks concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” created a feeling of inferiority among African-American children and damaged their self-esteem.

I watched videos of the doll tests and found them entirely heartbreaking. When presented with black and white dolls and asked questions about them, almost all the children, black and white, identified the black dolls as bad, ugly and possessing other negative aspects. But even worse than that, when the children were asked which doll they looked like, Black children, who had almost all attributed negative qualities to the black dolls, pointed to the black dolls. In the original 1940s experiments the children were all black and when asked the final question, ‘Give me the doll that looks like you’:

Two children ran out of the testing room, uncontrollable, convulsed in tears.

The dolls used in the Clarks’ studies at their Northside Center for Child Development, founded in 1946. (Credit: Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, Gift of Kate Clark Harris in memory of her parents Kenneth and Mamie Clark, in cooperation with the Northside Center for Child Development.)

The experiment was :

used in the 1954 Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court Case that ended segregation … . The Supreme Court decided that separation and inequality went hand in hand and therefore it was unconstitutional … . The paper where the results are presented is called Racial Identification and Preference in Negro Children.

Today, integration is the law, segregation is against the law. But, in 2010, CNN commissioned a new version of the doll test, using cartoons that showed a range of skin tones. The results were similar to those shown by the Clarks in the 1940s. Sixty years later, the results were similar. In the new test, child development researcher Margaret Beale Spencer tested 133 children from schools with different racial and income mixes. This time, the studies looked at white children as well. And although Black children held more positive attitudes towards black dolls, white children maintained an intense bias toward whiteness. “We are still living in a society where dark things are devalued and white things are valued,” Spencer told CNN. Jim Crow segregation may no longer exist in the United States, but racial bias is alive and well. (adapted from an article by Erin Blakemore, August 2018.)

There is a small ray of hope. In 2017 a woman recreated the doll test with her six-year-old Black daughter. When asked if she knew what race she was, the child thought race was some kind of sport. When asked questions about the good and bad dolls she attributed positive qualities to the black doll, every time. But that’s only one test. It seems to me that we white people have many lessons to learn and much white supremacy to dismantle before we truly and always think of Black people as equals and so transmit these attitudes and values to our children and grandchildren. If we don’t, if we’re not, as Layla Saad says, good ancestors to our children and grandchildren, how will they ever imbibe antiracist, humane, heartfelt behaviour towards Black people?

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Deborah Alma’s Poetry Pharmacy: Poetry Prescriptions

Last week I had a telephone consultation with a pharmacist. Not an unusual thing to do in these corona-times, but this pharmacist doesn’t dispense drugs. Deborah Alma is a Poetry Pharmacist.

Before corona I’d planned to go to The Poetry Pharmacy in Bishops Castle, in June. But by the end of March I realised I wouldn’t be going. So, instead, Deborah and I had a telephone conversation in which she asked thought-provoking, heart-warming and inspiring questions, and we also laughed at least once.

Here’s a quote from The Poetry Pharmacy’s website:

Consulting room
Poetry on prescription – an alternative therapy for your emotional ailments. Whether you are suffering from the stresses of the modern world or the pain of a broken heart or simply need a tonic for the spirits, rest assured that we have a poetic remedy for you.Poetry Pharmacy bottle logo

Deborah began her poetry remedy work as The Emergency Poet which she described as

the world’s first and only mobile poetic first aid service … a mix of the serious, the therapeutic and the theatrical.

She drove an Emergency Poet ambulance to festivals, conferences, hospitals and care settings, libraries and schools … ‘anywhere where poetic help may be urgently required’. But from 4 October 2019 The Poetry Pharmacy has been open (with, of course, corona closures, but it’s open again now).

The Poetry Pharmacy’s aim is:

to counter the widely held perception that poetry is “difficult, obscure and not for the likes of me”. … To match or alter a mood, to assist … with good mental health … to bring therapeutic effects with an emphasis on well-being and inclusivity

If you should find yourself in Bishops Castle, apart from your Poetry Consultation (which you can find out more about and book here), there’s also a cafe where you can have a cup of Tea (S Eliot) and a piece of Philip Parkin (among other offerings). If you can’t make it to Bishops Castle, you can book your consultation by email or phone.

My prescription was uplifting, inspiring, beautiful, thought-provoking and its effects will be long-lasting as I reread. Part of it was a poem by Denise Levertov, here, and this:
A bottle of poetry capsules (not to be taken except metaphorically) inside each of which are coiled words of wisdom. The one I just opened says:

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.                                                                           TS Eliot

Go: 36 High Street, Bishops Castle, Shropshire, SY9 5BQ. Or ring: 01588 638069.
Or email: hello@poetrypharmacy.co.uk. Or Tweet: @emergencypoet.
Or Instagram: @poetrypharmacy. Or Facebook: @emergencypoet.
For your spiritual sanity.

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What does it mean to be white? It means I’m racist

In a recent interview, Robin DiAngelo, a white person, said that to understand my racism, as a white person, I need to ask myself:

What does it mean to be white?

She said that if I ask myself if I’m racist I’ll say no. Because, consciously, I’m not. But if I say I’m not racist, then I don’t have to do anything about racism. So, if I ask myself:

What does it mean to be white?

I begin to understand what it means NOT to be white. And what the consequences of not being white are. And I understand that I am racist. I don’t want to write that. I don’t want to be racist. But I am. Because I have stayed silent. Because I have never examined my subconscious white supremacy. Because I’ve never asked myself what it means to be white.

I’m not proud that I haven’t, I’m astonished that I haven’t. Just as astonished as, when I began reading Layla F Saad’s Me and White Supremacy, I realised I’ve never ever not-even-once-in-my-life thought about the fact that I haven’t ever, not ever, been discriminated against for the colour of my skin.

Me And White SupremacyWhen I ask myself, What does it mean to be white? my immediate answers are:

  • Being white means I’ve never ever been discriminated against for the colour of my skin.
  • Being white means I’m never afraid I’ll be wrongly accused as a result of my whiteness.
  • Being white means I’ve never been afraid for my life, because of my whiteness.
  • Being white means I never think about my whiteness or how I might need to tone it down so I don’t get stopped and searched for no reason. Or even for a reason.
  • Being white means I’ve never wondered if anything that happens to me, whether it’s not getting a job, not being admitted to a club, not getting a book published, being turned down for a place to live, someone being rude to me … never have I wondered if any of these things have happened to me because of my whiteness.

Clearly my list could go on and on. But if I don’t know what it means to be white I can’t know what it means not to be white in the society I live in. And each time I wrote, I’ve never or I’m never, I realised how free of restriction, of prejudice, of racism, of fear, how fundamentally free my white life is. My whiteness has shaped my worldview, and because I’ve never thought that I even held a white worldview, I am racist.

As Reni Eddo-Lodge says in this Guardian interview:

Being involved in feminist and anti-racist work, you notice very quickly that you have racism but no one who admits to being racist. [my bold]

and, on being asked what to do about racism:

Imagine you had a partner who you were hoping might be able to improve their perspective on something, and instead they say, “Just tell me what to do”. That tells me that person isn’t willing to take on any level of responsibility and I guess what I’m trying to do is prompt people to take responsibility for racism. That takes initiative and using your own brain.

I no longer want to be racist, nor do I want my white fragility to prevent me from beginning antiracist work. White fragility is a term DiAngelo coined:
White FragilityIt’s also a subject addressed in Me and White Supremacy. Saad quotes DiAngelo at the beginning of Day 2, You and White Fragility:

It is white people’s responsibility to be less fragile; People of Color don’t need to twist themselves into knots trying to navigate us as painlessly as possible.

DiAngelo also said, in that recent interview, that when she asked a group of people:

What if you could just give us [white people] feedback on our inevitable and often unaware racist assumptions and behaviours? A Black man said: It would be revolutionary.

Revolutionary. That white people would receive a Black person’s feedback with grace, reflect on it and seek to change behaviours … is revolutionary. ‘That’s,’ said DiAngelo, ‘how difficult we are.’

Change begins at a deep personal level. DiAngelo and Saad say the work of antiracism is lifelong. Eddo-Lodge says racism is designed to benefit whiteness at every level. I commit the rest of my life to internal and external antiracism work.

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Clean Air: Act. And a poem and a chat

If you’re not as ancient as me you won’t remember the pea-soupers in London:

Great Smog of London | Facts, Pollution, Solution, & History ...

Great Smog of London, December, 1952

and I’d only been breathing for just under two years at the time so it’s not exactly a memory for me either, but by 1956 The Clean Air Act had been passed to reduce air pollution in the city. It was a slow response to a death-dealing polluting smog, slow for economic reasons, shame on them, but the Act was passed. Since then many laws have been passed to clean up the air we breathe but an unexpected side effect of the terrible death-dealing coronavirus pandemic has been cleaner air.

In the middle of May an expert in air pollution, Professor Frank Kelly from Imperial College, London, gave an interview to Radio 4’s Jim Al-Khalili on The Life Scientific. He said there’d been a reduction of approximately 50% of the gas nitrogen dioxide in the air during the pandemic: nitrogen dioxide particles generate free radical activity in our lungs. Professor Kelly also hoped that the clear blue skies we’ve all seen and the birdsong we’ve all heard will stay in our memories and prompt us to think seriously about our environment and the air we breathe as we move out of lockdown and into the next decade.

In early June, several groups and organisations wrote to the Prime Minister calling for a green economic recovery from the pandemic: may their calls for action be met so that the air we breathe is kept clean for future generations.

And if you or anyone you know is feeling lonely and/or isolated and in need of a friendly telephone conversation centred on a poem, The Reader has a wonderful initiative:Here’s what they say: at The Reader we know not everyone can join online activities, so while we can’t meet face to face, our staff and volunteers are offering a weekly phone call to those needing comfort and connection. We’ll partner you with one of our friendly volunteers who’ll call you each week for a chat and to share a poem.

Call 0151 729 2250 between 10am and 4pm, Monday – Friday or email coronavirus@thereader.org.uk and quote Finding Connection.

Posted in Climate Change, Coronavirus, Creativity, Death and Dying, Listening, One Green Thing, Poetry, Science, Shared Reading | Comments Off on Clean Air: Act. And a poem and a chat

George Floyd: I Can’t Breathe: BlackOut Tuesday 2 June 2020

LA Reid, record producer and founder of HitCo, posted this on twitter two days ago:

And George Floyd’s brother, Philonese, says this on YouTube. He calls for peaceful protests and for people to use their votes in the coming US election to call for the change that’s so badly needed in white supremacy and white fragility about black people. (Those last eight words are mine, not Philonese’s: they come from Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad and if you’re reading this and you’re white it’s essential, actually it’s mandatory reading.) Philonese also says Trump didn’t give him a chance to speak when he called him about his brother. I wish I had a vote in the US election. I haven’t. But I hope with all my heart that BIG change is coming.

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Shonaleigh Cumbers: Grief is Love with Nowhere to Go; and One Green Thing: clean aviation fuel

Shonaleigh Cumbers is a Drut’syla. To quote from here:

She’s a living tradition holder. It’s a tradition you probably won’t have heard of. It’s a tradition that flourished in Jewish families, but that was wiped out during the holocaust. Almost wiped out. As far as we know, Shonaleigh is the last Drut’syla.

Drut’syla is the Yiddish word for storyteller, and what a storyteller Shonaleigh is. But despite the words above, she is working to expand and share the Drut’syla tradition. Her repertoire is huge but that’s hardly the point. The point is Shonaleigh knows stories inside out. She knows them in her body and she tells them, she doesn’t write them down. For these strange coronavirus times her Hope from the Jewish Tradition is a marvellous thing. It’ll take you twenty minutes to listen to but it’ll be worth it, I promise. The recording was made more than a year ago, but it’s just as relevant now as it was when it was recorded in New Zealand just after the Christchurch community suffered those mosque attacks in 2019. She begins:

‘Somebody once told me that grief is love with nowhere to go.’

And my One Green Thing this month is about alternatives to toxic aviation fuel. From a (slightly gloomy) Flight Free article – the organisation that urges us to stop flying – I discovered that batteries are still too heavy; alternative fuels can’t make up more than 50% of fuel used on a flight and carbon capture still leaves nitrogen oxide, another greenhouse gas, and vapour contrails in the atmosphere. But I did hear Professor Myles Allen, Coordinating Lead Author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on 1.5 degrees, saying, to Jim Al-Khalili on Radio 4’s Life Scientific in February, that alternative clean aviation fuel could be made:

This is a deeply solvable problem. I was speaking recently to a room full of young engineers from one of the big five oil companies … I was talking about the 1.5 degrees report … and somebody asked me, ‘Do you think there’s actually any hope we’ll limit global warming to 1.5 degrees?’

[So I asked them] ‘If you had to make the product you sell [oil] carbon neutral by 2050 would you be able to do it?’ … Senior management looked at their shoes but the young engineers said, ‘Would the same rules apply to everybody?’ [the big five oil-producing companies] I nodded. ‘Then of course we would.’

This is what frustrates me in the discussion of climate change solutions: the one institution in the world that has the capital, the cash flow, the engineering capability to solve the climate change problem is the global fossil fuel industry. It’s 10% of the world economy.  … We [should] require them to clean up their waste rather than hoping somebody else will do it for them.

Green food for thought, don’t you think?

Posted in Climate Change, Coronavirus, Creativity, Good News, Good Things, Health, Love, One Green Thing, Storytelling | Comments Off on Shonaleigh Cumbers: Grief is Love with Nowhere to Go; and One Green Thing: clean aviation fuel

Stories for Children in Lockdown

At the beginning of April Yahoo set up a short story competition for stories
to entertain children during the lockdown. Yahoo's inaugural short story writing contest

Yesterday, 27 April, they announced the 20 shortlisted stories Just 1,500 words – no more, no less.

and mine, FLYING COLOURS, is one of them.

The stories are now open to public vote (until 8 May) and if you’d like to vote for mine, find story No 16 and drag the purple and white icon between the 1♥ & 10♥ to register your vote. If you do decide to vote, thank you. The 14 most-voted-for stories will be recorded (with the help, as Yahoo Stor14s say, of some famous friends) and made into free podcasts for children to give them story-friends during isolation.

As I wrote mine, I thought about the NHS frontline staff as they do their best to beat the virus, and I thought of all the paintings of rainbows children have put in their windows. rainbowBadge | - Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust I wrote a Just-So allegory that turned the NHS staff into African starlings fighting a deadly locust swarm who, for their courage, are awarded their FLYING COLOURS.

And it is true, as the story tells, that African starlings evolved from plain black
to brilliantly coloured. There’s more about their evolution under the starling. Starling - Wikipedia

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Poems for these Coronavirus Times

Read by Christopher Eccleston, written by Matthew Kelly for his partner,
Jill Scully, who is a district nurse.

And here’s one from our poet laureate, Simon Armitage, which, as explained in this Guardian article, moves from the outbreak of bubonic plague in Eyam in the 17th century, when a bale of cloth from London brought fleas carrying the plague to the Derbyshire village, to the epic poem Meghadūta by the Sanskrit poet Kālidāsa.

Lockdown by Simon Armitage

And I couldn’t escape the waking dream
of infected fleas

in the warp and weft of soggy cloth
by the tailor’s hearth

in ye olde Eyam.
Then couldn’t un-see

the Boundary Stone,
that cock-eyed dice with its six dark holes,

thimbles brimming with vinegar wine
purging the plagued coins.

Which brought to mind the sorry story
of Emmott Syddall and Rowland Torre,

star-crossed lovers on either side
of the quarantine line

whose wordless courtship spanned the river
till she came no longer.

But slept again,
and dreamt this time

of the exiled yaksha sending word
to his lost wife on a passing cloud,

a cloud that followed an earthly map
of camel trails and cattle tracks,

streams like necklaces,
fan-tailed peacocks, painted elephants,

embroidered bedspreads
of meadows and hedges,

bamboo forests and snow-hatted peaks,
waterfalls, creeks,

the hieroglyphs of wide-winged cranes
and the glistening lotus flower after rain,

the air
hypnotically see-through, rare,

the journey a ponderous one at times, long and slow
but necessarily so.

There are more links to more poems from Sunday’s Guardian article. And, as the article says:

A new anthology of verse written by NHS staff including doctors, cleaners and interpreters was also released in March. These Are the Hands takes its name from a poem by author and poet Michael Rosen, who is ill with coronavirus at the moment, and all proceeds are going to NHS Charities Together’s Covid-19 appeal.

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Wise and kind words for the Coronavirus pandemic by Adrie Kusserow

This poem for these strange times is written by Adrie Kusserow after Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese : it speaks for itself.

Mary Oliver for Corona Times, thoughts after the poem Wild Geese,

by Adrie Kusserow, ethnographic poet

You do not have to become totally zen,
You do not have to use this isolation to make your marriage better,
your body slimmer, your children more creative.
You do not have to “maximize its benefits”
By using this time to work even more, write the bestselling Corona Diaries,
Or preach the gospel of ZOOM.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body unlearn
everything capitalism has taught you,
(That you are nothing if not productive,
That consumption equals happiness,
That the most important unit is the single self.
That you are at your best when you resemble an efficient machine).
Tell me about your fictions, the ones you’ve been sold,
the ones you sheepishly sell others, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world as we know it is crumbling.
Meanwhile the virus is moving over the hills,
suburbs, cities, farms and trailer parks.
Meanwhile the News barks at you, harsh and addicting,
Until the push of the remote leaves a dead quiet behind,
a loneliness that hums as the heart anchors.
Meanwhile a new paradigm is composing itself in our minds,
Could birth at any moment if we clear some space
From the same tired hegemonies.

Remember, you are allowed to be still as the white birch,
Stunned by what you see,
Uselessly shedding your coils of paper skins
Because it gives you something to do.

Meanwhile, on top of everything else you are facing,
Do not let capitalism coopt this moment,
laying its whistles and train tracks across your weary heart.
Even if your life looks nothing like the Sabbath,
Your stress boa-constricting your chest.
Know that your ancy kids, your terror, your shifting moods,
Your need for a drink have every right to be here,
And are no less sacred than a yoga class.

Whoever you are, no matter how broken,
the world still has a place for you, calls to you over and over
announcing your place as legit, as forgiven,
even if you fail and fail and fail again.
remind yourself over and over,
all the swells and storms that run through your long tired body
all have their place here, now in this world.
It is your birthright to be held
deeply, warmly in the family of things,
not one cell left in the cold.  💚

Posted in Coronavirus, Creativity, Poetry | Comments Off on Wise and kind words for the Coronavirus pandemic by Adrie Kusserow

Can we ever know our parents as individuals? And One Green Thing: cling film storage alternatives

This year my sisters and I had the family ciné films transferred to DVD and I’ve just watched them all. And as I watched the parts where we children didn’t feature, I wondered if it’s ever possible for children to know their parents as individual independent humans? And I came to the conclusion that it’s only possible if we have the wit and the objectivity to ask questions about the times when they weren’t with us. Questions about the times before we were born, times when they were at work or on holiday or at play; when they were thinking and feeling and being and doing without us, not about us. Or, that they tell us.

This is, naturally, a rich vein for a storyteller. But in the real world, now that both my parents are dead, I wish I’d asked more questions about their attitudes, their feelings, their hopes, their fears, their experiences, the parts of their lives that made them individuals, the parts of their lives that had nothing to do with me. Because they didn’t tell much.

Clear Light Bulb Placed on Chalkboard

Image from Pixabay

And my One Green Thing this month is alternatives to plastic cling film for food storage. We’ve been using these for a while:but this article lists eight others, including this, which is, apparently, a Stasher Silicone Storage Pouch: More here. And here’s a plastic-free shop.

The Plastic Free Shop

Posted in Drink, Food, One Green Thing, Parents, Plastic, Storage, Storytelling, Writing | 2 Comments

A Warming Valentine to the World (and vegan vogue)

A friend of mine told me about the speech Prince Charles made at this year’s Davos World Economic Forum who say, in their Mission Statement:

We believe that progress happens by bringing together people from all walks of life who have the drive and the influence to make positive change.

The theme for January 2020 was Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World; highlight speakers on the How to Save the Planet theme were Greta Thunberg (obviously), Jennifer Morgan (Greenpeace), Mark Carney (Governor, Bank of England, until March), Al Gore (remember him?), Jane Goodall, Nicholas Stern, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and Frans Timmermans, VP, European Green New Deal.

And Prince Charles, ‘urging us back from the brink’. I was surprised to discover he’d been speaking about climate change but I shouldn’t have been, he’s been doing it since 2005, see here. And, on the Economic Forum’s 2020 highlights page, I found this:

Who said this, Charles or Greta?

‘Global warming, climate change and the devastating loss of biodiversity are the greatest threats humanity has ever faced … We simply cannot waste anymore time … the time to act is now.’

‘The transition isn’t going to be easy. It will be hard. And unless we start facing this now together, with all cards on the table, we won’t be able to solve this in time … . No political ideology or economic structure has been able to tackle the climate and environmental emergency and create a cohesive and sustainable world.’

Answers here, and here.

Image

  They both sent Warming Valentines to the World.

Part of Prince Charles’s speech at Davos:

Throughout the year … I will be convening a broad range of industry and issue roundtables including, but not limited to: aviation; water; carbon capture and storage; shipping; forestry; plastics; financing; digital technology; the bioeconomy; nature-based solutions; renewable energy; batteries, storage and electric vehicles; fisheries; integrated healthcare; cement; steel; traceability and labelling; and agriculture – at the end of which I shall probably be dead.

The last phrase made me laugh. The full speech is here: it echoes Greta Thunberg’s urgency (in its last phrase below, word for word). His last words were:

Everything I have tried to do, and urge, over the past fifty years has been done with our children and grandchildren in mind, because I did not want to be accused by them of doing nothing except prevaricate and deny the problem. Now of course, they are accusing us of exactly that. Put yourselves in their position, Ladies and Gentlemen. We simply cannot waste any more time – the only limit is our willingness to act, and the time to act is now.

Bravo!

And as if that’s not enough greening, my One Green Thing this month: did you know you can buy vegan make-up and skin care things? I didn’t, but I do now. The thing to look out for on products is the Vegan Trademark Sign:

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Good news to begin 2020; Splosh! (to reduce plastic) and beautiful new year lights

So often good news doesn’t make the news, so here are a few good pieces of news to start 2020 with, from Future Crunch (where you’ll find 99 other good pieces of news, divided into categories). One of the founders of Future Crunch, Dr Angus Hervey, says:

If we want to change the story of the human race in the 21st century, we have to change the stories we tell ourselves.

I’ve chosen five good news stories, one from each category in the 99.

CONSERVATION (17 entries): 5. Dolphins are breeding in the Potomac River in Washington for the first time since the 1880s, whale populations are exploding off the shores of New York, and 100 seal pups have been born on the shores of the Thames, 60 years after the river was declared ‘biologically dead.’ Telegraph

GLOBAL HEALTH (21 entries): 19. The Global Burden of Disease Report said that between 1990 and 2017, the number of kids and teenagers dying around the world decreased by more than half, from 13.77 million to 6.64 million. CNN

LIVING STANDARDS (13 entries): 41. Save the Children’s 2019 Global Childhood Report showed that in the last 20 years, children’s lives have improved in 173 out of 176 countries. Compared to 2000, today there are:
– 4.4 million fewer child deaths per year
– 49 million fewer stunted children
– 130 million more children in school
– 94 million fewer child labourers
– 11 million fewer girls forced into marriage or married early
– 3 million fewer teen births per year
– 12,000 fewer child homicides per year

PEACE, SAFETY & HUMAN RIGHTS (24 entries): 52. Democracy is proving far more resilient than the headlines suggest. Since 2000, the number of democracies has risen from 90 to 97, including 11 countries that became democratic for the first time ever, and in 2019, 2 billion people in 50 countries voted, the largest number in history. Al Jazeera

ENERGY & SUSTAINABILITY (24 entries): 76. The world’s largest multilateral financial institution, The European Investment Bank, agreed to stop all financing for fossil fuels, and committed to investing half of its entire annual outlay — not just its energy budget — on climate action and sustainability by 2025. Guardian

I found the 99 good things site on a friend’s FB site, here. And if you read to, or simply go to the very end of the article  you’ll find one last good thing, No 100, which is delightful.

My One Green Thing this month is all about bottles. When we buy water in bottles, we’ve decided to buy it in glass ones instead of plastic ones because although, according to this article:

We still only recycle about 50% of our used glass in the UK … it takes less energy to recycle glass than it does to make new glass from raw materials.
and
Despite a ‘War on Plastic’  … [and recycling 45% of it in the UK] … 55% of our plastic waste ends up in landfills, or the ocean.

Drinking water from the tap would clearly be the greenest way (and unrecycled glass is as bad as unrecycled plastic because the former doesn’t decompose and plastic takes aeons to decompose). But when we buy cleaning products in bottles, we buy them from Splosh! I wrote about them in June under the thing I’d like to have invented. I’m recycling what I wrote for this month’s One Green Thing because it’s such a simple way to cut down on plastic-bottle waste: Splosh! supply cleaning products in the most non-plastic-proliferating, single-use plastic way. Here’s what they say:

Plastic waste is messing up our oceans and littering our land. Every plastic bottle you buy in a supermarket makes the problem worse. We have a fix.

Their fix is that you only ever use one plastic bottle per product: Splosh sells refills that fit through your letterbox so you don’t have to be in when they arrive, and they recycle the refill pouches. Read more here.

Splosh!

Brilliant.

And here are some beautiful new year lights from a friend of mine to wish you a healthy, joyful and peaceful new year.

Posted in Art, Climate Change, Creativity, Democracy, Equality, Good News, Health, Human Rights, Living Standards, One Green Thing, Plastic, Recycling | Comments Off on Good news to begin 2020; Splosh! (to reduce plastic) and beautiful new year lights

A Vote for the Planet; a Christmas rose; and plant a tree for Christmas

By the time you read this we’ll know the result of the UK General Election and I hope with all my heart we’ll have voted for the planet above our membership (or not) of the EU, and everything else that matters so much. Because if we haven’t, where and how will our grandchildren live, no matter how good their healthcare and education, let alone the state of the nation’s economy and its relationships with other countries? In the constituency where I live vote for the planet is a Labour vote.

In this article, George Monbiot writes that a vote for the planet is a vote for Labour or the Greens. But a vote for the Greens where I live might let the Tories in … so I hope I’ll have woken up this morning to find that Fleur Anderson has won here. Because Labour’s coherent and urgent policy for a Green New Deal is a policy that accepts we’re living in a climate emergency and includes a target for the UK to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030 (as does the Greens’) – even though the unions have pushed for progress towards 2030 rather than completion by 2030 for fear of job losses. The Conservatives say 2050 (but in 2015 they scrapped nine green policies); the LibDems 2045. Neither are good enough.

**UPDATE** Fleur Anderson did get in, and she has pledged to take urgent climate action: may she persuade others to do so. Fleur Anderson is also a remainer, but as we now know, Labour didn’t return anything like enough MPs to Parliament so, may the Tories have the sense and the compassion to spend money to improve all the necessary domestic things (NHS, social care, education and housing), AND the green things, as they take us out of the EU.

And here is a Christmas Rose: a symbol of love and hope despite the poison it contains.

And, instead of a Christmas tree, whose chopping down stops the absorption of poisonous greenhouse gasses and the release of oxygen into the air (young trees absorb CO2 at a rate of 13 pounds per tree each year … and by 10 years old they release enough oxygen … to support two human beings) why not pledge to plant a tree instead? This is my One Green Thing for the month (which, from now on, will replace my thing I’d love to have invented). My other half’s daughter and my nieces and nephews have enthusiastically said yes to my pledge to plant trees for them for Christmas. You too can plant a tree, or trees. to offset your carbon footprint – and give presents – here.

Image by extremis from Pixabay

Posted in Climate Change, Gardening, One Green Thing, Politics | Comments Off on A Vote for the Planet; a Christmas rose; and plant a tree for Christmas

100 Novels That Shaped Our World; free travel with a book and One Green Thing

Four women and two men have just chosen 100 Novels That Shaped Our World. The choosers are: Stig Abell, editor of the Times Literary Supplement, Syima Aslam, founder of the Bradford Literature Festival, authors Juno Dawson, Kit de Waal and Alexander McCall Smith and journalist Mariella Frostrup. The 100 novels are divided into 10 categories: Identity; Love, Sex & Romance; Adventure; Life, Death & Otherworlds; Politics, Power & Protest; Class & Society; Coming of Age; Family & Friendship; Crime & Conflict and Rule Breakers.

And the thing I love about the way the choosers chose is that they chose novels that’d made a personal impact on them and, as Juno Dawson said in a Guardian article here, they chose books that allowed the

Emotions behind a novel to factor into our choices, not how many copies it’s sold, or if it’s considered a work of great literature.

The full 100 list is here, and in the link in the first line, above. I was so delighted to see Ali Smith’s How to Be Both in Rule Breakers and Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes in Family & Friendship; Brian Moore’s The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne in Class & Society and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird in Politics, Power & Protest. If you’d asked me, I wouldn’t have said I was a reader of novels in that category, but clearly I am. The Chronicles of Narnia and Frankenstein both feature in Life, Death & Otherworlds; Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion and – how could it not be there? – Pride & Prejudice are in Love, Sex & Romance and Toni Morrison’s Beloved is one of the ten in Identity.

I would have loved to have seen John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman on the list: it made a colossal impact on me, for its innovative form but mainly for its story of a woman trapped by her society, and I’m sure there are novels you’ll feel should have been included. You can tweet about what you’d love to have seen on the list using the hashtag #mybooklife … and what the choosers hope is that their choices will spark debate. Whatever you feel about the list, it’s a wonderful endeavour that sets us thinking the thoughts and above all feeling the feelings that our most beloved novels stirred. And there’ll be three BBC TWO programmes about the 100 Novels on 9, 16 & 23 November.

The thing I’d love to have invented in a parallel universe where time is infinite and all things are possible is also book-linked: in The Netherlands, on their National Book Day, you could travel on trains without buying a ticket if you had a book about your person. Glorious idea and thanks to James Sebastian on Facebook for posting.

And, from now on, each month, I’m going to post One Green Thing I’ve done or seen or noticed or one day will do: this month I pledged not to fly (at all!) in 2020 here, because of this:If it’s too small to read, click on the pic to go to the original. But, fundamentally, it shows that one long-haul flight, just one, is the same as a year’s driving in terms of exhausting one person’s annual carbon footprint. And, as discussed here, the single most useful thing we individuals can do to help curb the climate change crisis is to cut out / cut down our fossil fuel consumption.

Posted in Climate Change, Creativity, Fiction, Things I'd Love to Have Made, Travel | Comments Off on 100 Novels That Shaped Our World; free travel with a book and One Green Thing

Greta Thunberg and climate change; There is No Planet B; Extinction Rebellion and solastalgia

On Friday 20 and Friday 27 September Global Climate Strikes took place across the world, inspired by Greta Thunberg who began her Friday school strikes in August 2018. She sat outside the Swedish Parliament to protest against the lack of action on the climate crisis. The #FridaysforFuture movement has snowballed, as you must have noticed, into a global protest movement to persuade our politicians to act according to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change enacted in 2016 which states that all signatories will:

Strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Here are some of the thing Thunberg said at a Climate Protest in Hamburg in March and, at the World Economic Forum in Davos at the beginning of the year. But at the UN Climate Summit on 23 September in New York (to which she sailed) she made her strongest speech yet. Listen to her, especially this: ‘You all come to us young people for hope. But we are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?’

How dare we indeed. To stop poisoning our planet and its atmosphere; to stop heading for extinction, we must spend money. A lot of money. We need to invest in green energy and green jobs, put an end to airport expansion and fracking and leave fossil fuels in the earth. We need to spend money to find non-polluting alternatives. In the US, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez estimates the cost at at least $10 trillion. But the alternative is a planet where our children and grandchildren will be unable to live.

Ann Pettifor, one of the founders of the UK’s Green New Deal proposal (11 long years ago – why weren’t we listening?) says, full interview here:

You can’t have a capitalist, carbon-belching economy, or delusions of exponential growth, and believe you can achieve ecological targets within that [my bold]. … Finance, economy, and the environment are integrated … you need a joined-up policy that deals with all three.

and, from the Green New Deal Bill text: Not to invest in a Green New Deal would be, in fact, to inflict great economic, environmental and social self-harm on the nation.

At the Labour Party Conference this September delegates voted for a version of the Green New Deal that would commit a Labour government to net zero carbon emissions by 2030. But Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement in 2017 because he said it would impose unacceptable costs on the US economy and provide unfair advantages to other countries like China and India. What on Earth was he thinking? In a May 2019 article in the UK edition of The Conversation, this statistic was quoted:

The cost to the global economy if the Paris Agreement is not met and the world hits 4˚C warmer … is an estimated US$23 trillion a year over the long-term [my bold]. This has been likened to the world experiencing four to six global financial crises on the scale of 2008 every year. [Click the links in this quote for the economic details.]

The UK was the first country to declare an Environment & Climate Emergency in response to Thunberg’s speech to Parliament in April 2019, and in September a Green New Deal Bill was tabled (not for the first time). But, so far, it hasn’t become law.

In There is no Planet B, Mike Berners-Lee suggests the things individuals (as well as governments) can do to help stop climate change.

Image result for there is no planet b

So please do something. Because we all need to act. Now. Here’s what Extinction Rebellion will be doing between 7 & 20 October where I live. And here, in the rest of the world.

In Robert Macfarlane’s majestic Underland, in chapters called The Edge and The Blue of Time, he writes about how what we excrete comes back to consume us; about a nuclear base that’s re-emerging from the ice when those who buried it thought it would remain buried forever; about unweder or unweather, weather so extreme that it seems to have come from another climate or time altogether, and about solastalgia a word coined by the philosopher Glenn Albrecht in 2003 which means distress caused by environmental change. I’m solastalgic and I’ll remain solastalgic until we collectively start behaving as if, as Greta Thunberg put it, ‘The house is on fire.’ Before it really is.Underland

And the thing I wish I could make, in an alternative universe where time is unlimited and all things are possible, is a world where we all pull together to make sure that our planet continues to exist sustainably for our children and our grandchildren and all their children’s children. Just the way we were so sure it would, when we were young.

Posted in Climate Change | Comments Off on Greta Thunberg and climate change; There is No Planet B; Extinction Rebellion and solastalgia

City Tales, and Hive

Since 2004, Oxford University Press has been publishing volumes of City Tales, collections of short stories set in European cities translated into English. The guiding idea is to give the English-speaking reading traveller (I paraphrase):

Stories expertly translated by writers with an intimate knowledge of the city in question. The collections have black-and-white photographs to illustrate each story and a map to show their location.

This, to me, is the best kind of guidebook: fiction set in a city I’m visiting which means the streets and squares I go to are filled not only with themselves, but with images from the stories I’ve just read. The collections include bibliographies of the writers, lists of further reading and viewing for each city, informative general introductions and more specific introductions to the writers. The one I’ve begun reading, Rome Tales, includes stories from fourteenth-century authors (Boccaccio and an Anonymous Roman) to the twenty-first century Melania Mazzucco by way of Casanova and Pasolini to name just six of the fourteen.

Clearly it’s time I went back to Rome.

And the thing I’d like to have invented in a parallel universe where time is infinite and all things are possible is HIVE. It’s a way of buying music, DVDs and, especially, books online, but at the same time making a donation to your local independent book shop so they won’t go under. What they say, here, is:

We don’t want any more independent bookshops to close. That’s why we give them a cut from every single order on Hive.

It’s still better by far to go to your local indy, but if you can’t, or if there’s no longer one near you, this seems to be the next best thing. My local bookshop didn’t appear on HIVE’s list but any bookshop can apply to join (and I’ve just sent mine the info). The only rule appears to be that they have an account with Gardners (who distribute books, DVDs and music wholesale).

Posted in Bookshops, Fiction, Places, reading, Reviews, Storytelling, Things I'd Love to Have Made, Uncategorized, Writing | Comments Off on City Tales, and Hive

Janet Clare on getting published later on, and Vice’s Broadly.

I’ve been meaning to read this article by an older writer about starting to write later in life and how, after a very long writing journey and the discovery that every writer makes at some point, that all writing is rewriting, her novel was published. It’s only taken me eight months to get round to reading her article, but it took Janet Clare (at a guess, from her article) twenty+ years to find a publisher, via an agent who did nothing, a life-threatening illness, a course at UCLA, a beloved mentor who died (but whose advice lived on in Clare) and, naturally, a lot of what my mother used to call sticktoitiveness. Clare’s journey to publication is a wonderfully uplifting and properly positive story for any writer, especially an older female one.

Time Is the Longest Distance

I’ve just ordered a copy of her novel from my local indie bookshop, but you can also find it here and I’m seriously looking forward to reading it. By the way, I’ve just discovered (courtesy of the internet) that the title comes from The Glass Menagerie, a play about a son and brother’s memory of his mother and sister. It was Tennessee Williams first big success:

I didn’t go to the moon. I went much further, for time is the longest distance between two places.

The complete speech is here. But the title feels very fitting for a novel set in the harsh, dry, hot Australian outback about a middle-aged woman’s discovery of herself and the ‘power and destruction of [family] secrets’.

***

Vice’s Broadly, ‘A digital platform for women’ (isn’t there just so much of the digital world that people like me – older and a reader of print books and a listener to the radio for news – don’t even know exists)? But the thing I’d love to have invented in a parallel universe (this really is one) where time is infinite and everything is possible is Vice’s Broadly. Just one example:

This is Fine

Our Sunday newsletter tracks the specific ways we go about improving our days. Every week, a new contributor shares an essay about a strategy they employ to feel better, alongside annotations from members of Sad Girls Club, a community that focuses on mental health.This is Fine
Click on the image to find out more or Get it in your inbox here

I found Broadly while reading the book I wrote about last month, Comfort Zones, and when you surf the net (do we still say that?) to discover more after a new discovery, you find all kinds of things you never knew existed. The future belongs to the curious. Anon.

Posted in Creativity, Cyberspace, Fiction, Internet, Psychology, reading, Rewriting, Things I'd Love to Have Made, Women, Writers, Writing, Writing Courses | Comments Off on Janet Clare on getting published later on, and Vice’s Broadly.

Comfort Zones, and Client Earth

The other day, in Chichester, I found and bought a book. This is a (very) common thing in my life (although it usually happens in London) but I bought this book in Jigsaw which isn’t a bookshop. Copies were sitting on the counter when I went to pay (yes, I did buy a dress) and a friend of mine and I bought one each. The book’s called Comfort Zones and you can buy it here. This is how it’s described on its website:

A collection of essays and stories written by 28 women writers, Comfort Zones has been published by Jigsaw and edited by Sonder & Tell in aid of Women for Women International. We asked writers to think about their usual subject matter, and then work against it. You’ll find journalists tackling their first works of fiction, reflective essays that take an unflinching look at past failures as well as big ideas for creating a kinder world. All proceeds go to the incredible work of the charity, Women for Women International.

Women for Women International helps women survivors of war to rebuild their lives. And the essays I’ve read so far are inspiring. I recommend it. And here’s a little aside: because Jigsaw sells clothes and not books, usually, when you click on the link to buy Comfort Zones you’ll see a description of the book’s dimensions and appearance under Fit and Features … .


And the thing I’d like to have invented in a parallel universe where time is infinite and all things are possible is Client Earth. A friend of mine told me that David Gilmour recently put his guitars into an auction at Christie’s, New York, where they sold for an astonishing £17 million. But far more importantly, Gilmour donated all that money to Client Earth. Here he is talking about it. And the thing is, Client Earth is a collection of lawyers who:

Use the power of the law to protect the planet and the people who live on it.

Roll on the day when there are laws that make it illegal for us to destroy our home in any way. And when that day comes, it will be a very very good day.

Posted in Bookshops, Climate Change, Design, Fiction, Things that don't fit anywhere else, Women, Writers, Writing | 1 Comment

The Benefits of Reading the Old-Fashioned Way; and Splosh!

I found this article about the benefits of reading to children at a young age on Mental Floss a little while ago: April, I think. Anyway I’ve just refound it and it delights me to know that a 2018 study has discovered that:

The simple act of reading to your kids can influence their behavior in surprising ways.

As The New York Times reports, researchers looked at young children from 675 low-income families. Of that group, 225 families were enrolled in a parent-education program called the Video Interaction Project, or VIP, with the remaining families serving as the control.

They found that 3-year-olds taking part in the study had a much lower chance of being aggressive or hyperactive than children in the control group of the same age. The researchers wondered if these same effects would still be visible after the program ended, so they revisited the children 18 months later when the kids were approaching grade-school age. Sure enough, the study subjects showed fewer behavioral problems and better focus than their peers who didn’t receive the same intervention.

Parents reading to their two young children.Reading to kids isn’t just a way to get them excited about books at a young age — it’s also a positive form of social interaction, which is crucial at the early stages of social and emotional development.

Also, new research suggests that:

Not every type of book has the same impact. Reading out loud from physical print books, as opposed to reading words off a screen, leads to richer interactions between parents and children The New York Times reports.

And this 2018 report suggests that ebook sales are no longer greater than the sales of print books. A statistic that makes my heart sing (and it’s a rare statistic that does that).

And the thing I’d love to have invented in a parallel universe where time is infinite so all things are possible is Splosh! They supply cleaning products, but they do it in the most eco-friendly, non-plastic-proliferating, single-use plastic way. Here’s what they say:

Plastic waste is messing up our oceans and littering our land. Every plastic bottle you buy in a supermarket makes the problem worse. We have a fix.

Their fix is that you only ever use one plastic bottle per product: Splosh sells refills that fit through your letterbox so you don’t have to be in when they come, and they recycle the refill pouches. Read more here.

Splosh!

Brilliant.

Posted in Creativity, Mental Health, Mind, Psychology, reading, Things I'd Love to Have Made | Comments Off on The Benefits of Reading the Old-Fashioned Way; and Splosh!