Sunday, 18 September 2005
Battle of Britain
Topic: Special Days
Today is Battle of Britain Sunday commemorating the heroic sacrifices made by so many young pilots of RAF Fighter Command who fought the German Luftwaffe in the air over London in 1940. In fact, the whole past week has been Battle of Britain Week and many of you will have noticed veterans and supporters out on our high streets collecting for the RAF Wings Appeal. This is one charity I am always keen to support because the Battle of Britain
was the decisive turning point of the Second World War. It was the prelude to the planned German invasion of Great Britain and, if it had been lost, we would probably all be speaking German today! If you missed buying a sticker, you can still donate here
using your credit/debit card.
As Sir Winston Churchill said, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed, by so many to so few
", [extract from a speech made in the House of Commons on the afternoon of 20th August 1940].
The Battle of Britain actually lasted for almost four months in the summer of 1940. Known as "The Few", 2,936 pilots took part in this battle and 544 of them lost their lives.
The Battle of Britain Diptych
'ADLERTAG' - 13TH AUGUST 1940
The Luftwaffe launched the 'Adlertag' attack with the intention of destroying all Fighter Command airfields south of a line from Chelmsford to Gloucester within four days. Vickers Supermarine Spitfires of Royal Auxiliary Air Force (West Riding) No. 609 Squadron, motto "Tally Ho", flying from their forward base at Warmwell, attacked a formation of JUNKERS 87B's at approximately 1600 hours. During this action Pilot Officer D.M. Crook, later to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, shot down a MESSERSCHMIDT BF109 E-1 from 11/JG53 which formed a part of the escort for the STUKAS.
Only limited damage was done to the airfields of southern England despite the intensity of the attacks.
'BATTLE DAY' - 15TH SEPTEMBER 1940
Squadron Leader D.R.S. Bader D.S.O. led the Duxford 'wing' of two Spitfire and three Hurricane Squadrons against enemy bombers and their escorts over London. He had taken off with No. 242 Squadron from Coltishall following the scramble order given at 11:22 hours. The rest of the 'Wing' was made up of Nos. 310 (CZECH) and 302 (POLISH) Hurricane Squadrons plus No's 19 and 611 Spitfire Squadrons.
Squadron Leader Bader attacked a section of three DORNIER 17Z's with Pilot Officer N.N. CAMPBELL and Sub. Lt. R.J. CORK at approximately 1200 hours. The perspective of time has confirmed that this was the decisive day in the battle.
This morning, a new Battle of Britain Monument
has been unveiled
by Prince Charles. It is situated on the Victoria Embankment opposite the London Eye and consists of a walkway, approximately 25 metres long, lined with bronze reliefs and bronze plaques. Such a commemoration is long overdue so, if you live in London or are passing through, do go and have a look.
Thursday, 8 September 2005
Learning to Read and Write
Topic: Special Days
I was lucky. I went to a good primary school and I was taught to read and to write - a skill which I now take for granted. It is so much a part of my life that I could not imagine what it would be like not to be able to communicate in this manner. Well, perhaps that's not quite true! There are other methods of writing down English, Pitman's Shorthand
for example. I did study it at college but I never truly mastered it and now it would be like looking at Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics
for all the sense it would make to me!
Sadly, there are many people around the world who cannot understand their written language. It is for this reason that International Literacy Day
has been celebrated globally on the 8th September for the past forty years. Never heard of it? Well, its main purpose is to recognise that the basic learning needs of all human beings, regardless of their age or gender, should be met in every country of the world.
"Although global literacy has risen by 10% in the past 20 years, 785 million adults, two thirds of them women, remain illiterate and 100 million children are out of school".
Since 2000, the event has been expanded to include International Adult Learners' Week
But this is a problem mainly affecting the developing world, I hear you say. That is true, of course, but the problem also exists right here in the United Kingdom. Sometimes it is a language barrier, sometimes it is Dyslexia
, sometimes it is childhood illness or school phobia
but it seems that many more children than we realise are being left behind and are leaving school illiterate. This results in many career doors being closed for them and there is a problem of embarrassment and feelings of inadequacy, too. (Do you remember Muhammad Ali
being interviewed on Television in the Seventies by Michael Parkinson
? Parky asked him to read a passage from a new book and nearly got punched because he had not realised that Ali couldn't read.)
If you know a child with reading difficulties, find out about specialist tuition in your area. Don't ignore it and think that they will catch up. Remember that the earlier a child gets help, the more chance he or she will have of overcoming their reading problem. Also, don't confuse poor reading skills with a lack of comprehension. Many children who can't read out loud understand what they have read which is, after all, the main point of reading.
Colleges everywhere offer Adult Learning Classes so, if you know an adult who has difficulty with reading, encourage them to go. It's not as hard as they think. Just the other day, I came across an extremely interesting Blog by Jamie McCoy:-
Jamie's Big Voice
Jamie's story is really quite extraordinary because he was homeless after he ran away from home at the age of fifteen and he has had problems with drink and drugs most of his life. He is obviously intelligent but, at school, he was labelled disruptive and suffering from 'learning difficulties' with the result that he left school unable to read or write. At the age of 48 he did an an extremely brave thing... He threw the bag of heroin he had just bought into the River Thames and has been clean ever since. He has learnt to read and write and has even written his own poetry books and a book for children. His story is truly amazing and is proof of the odds that the human spirit can overcome.
Wednesday, 8 June 2005
World Ocean Day
Topic: Special Days
World Ocean Day was created at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and is celebrated annually on the 8th June. At the moment, the organisers are campaigning to have this day recognised and officially designated by the United Nations. They need 10,000 signatures. If you care about our oceans, why not sign this petition. You can do it online HERE
One of the most damaging of ocean activities is the practice of deep-sea trawling
. Everything, edible or not, is scooped up in the heavy nets. Coral is destroyed and fragile ecosytems are gone forever. The ocean floor is left a barren desert, with no shelter or food for the myriad of tiny fish fry. This practise should be banned as a matter of urgency. The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition has just released a white paper highlighting this problem, Six Good Reasons for a time-out on high seas bottom trawling
. If something is not done soon, many fish will become extinct. Cod is already endangered and it is a fact that the mature breeding population is virtually non-existent. This means that immature fish are now breeding much earlier than normal. What effect this will have on the fish stock is unknown.
I can remember my Dad telling me that the sea was a wonderful source of food for mankind which would never run out. But it is running out. Also, the seas act as the lungs for our world and provide vast amounts of oxygen. However, if we turn the oceans into dank, polluted water deserts, what will happen then?
Do you want to have to explain to your grandchildren or great grandchildren what Fish 'n Chips tasted like? I certainly don't. Now is the time for our generation to do something before it is too late. One way is to support the campaign for the preservation of our beautiful oceans and their diverse marine life. We must do this for our descendants' sakes before it is too late and that point of no return is looming closer day by day. Go on, sign that petition now - I have.
Tuesday, 3 May 2005
Freedom of Expression
Topic: Special Days
Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers
". We probably take this right for granted in Britain where, if you say a politician is an 'asshole', you won't go to prison or be killed. But this is not a free world and not every country is so lucky.
Since 1993, the General Assembly of the United Nations has observed, "World Press Freedom Day
" on 3rd May to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, which includes freedom of expression in cyberspace, and to pay tribute to professional journalists who have lost their lives doing their jobs. It is an opportunity to remind the world of the importance of protecting these rights because, in dozens of countries around the world, press freedom
is being violated as you read this. Publications are censored, or closed down, editors are harassed, or murdered. Journalists are persecuted, jailed without trial or assassinated. Did you know that over the past twelve years more than 1,100 journalists and other media professional staff have been killed? Twenty-three have been killed in 2005.
Unfortunately, we often think of reporters as 'paparazzi' chasing some famous person to discover the colour of their night attire or who is sharing their bed. Look what happened to Diana, Princess of Wales, who was never allowed a moment's respite from these 'vampires'. Their ruthless task is to feed the desire of people to read 'comics' which pretend to give news - when all they actually do is to promote scandal. Any means available to secure their desired photograph is considered 'fair play'. Well, I couldn't care less that once upon a time some sad man desired to suck the toes of a certain Duchess! No, freedom of expression in an oppressed country means the right to challenge the dictatorship, or to comment on the system, without courting imprisonment or death.
My Spanish nephew, Ramon Lobo Leyder, is a reporter, a war correspondent for a Spanish newspaper. He has actually published two books in Spain, one a novel and one about his experiences as a war correspondent. My sister told me it was very difficult for her to read about the atrocities he had witnessed. Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Iraq, wherever there has been a conflict, he has been in the thick of it. In May 2000, he was in Sierra Leone. On the 24th May, he waved to his good friend, Miguel Gil Moreno
, a cameraman for Associated Press Television News, who was accompanying Kurt Schork
, An American correspondent for Reuters news agency, as they left the hotel with a group of other journalists. Shortly after, they were both killed, together with four Sierra Leone soldiers, as rebels ambushed their cars. Four more in the group were injured. Ramon could have been with them but for a twist of fate. In January, this year, he was in Palestine for the elections. He and his photographer, Carmen Secanella, got out of their car in the refugee camp of Yan Yunes, in the Gaza strip. Suddenly, they were surrounded by masked men waving guns. He managed to signal to his driver to drive off before they were forced at gunpoint into a building. The kidnap
was one of the hazards journalists dread. Thank God they weren't held very long, their driver had managed to alert the authorities to what had happened, but for a while Ramon thought his time had come.
We must realise that an attack on media freedom is an attack on democracy; an attack against truth; a violation of human rights. Worldwide Bloggers
are also having their say about worldwide issues. They are exposing violations by their governments and providing the outside world with information that otherwise might not have been available. Some of them have also been arrested.
Wednesday, 27 April 2005
Remember the Mule
Topic: Special Days
Apparently, today, 27th April, is "Matanzas Mule Day". Never heard of it? Well, neither had I until I saw it on the Internet. Matanzas
is a town in Cuba, (on the northern coast), about sixty miles away from Havana. It boasts one of the finest beaches in the world. Throughout the region old African based customs have been passed on from generation to generation, so the area is also renowned for the richness of its AfroCuban folklore.
The Spanish word "Matar" means "to kill" so how did the area get its name? When Cuba was the home of indigenous Indians living in an Indian town called Yucayo, near Guanima Bay, a Spanish ship with thirty men and two women was shipwrecked nearby. These poor unfortunates were then attacked and killed by the Indians - hence, Matanzas, or The Killings. Later, in 1693, the Spanish founded the city of San Carlos and San Severino of Matanzas, now known as Matanzas, on the site of Yucayo.
One day during the Spanish-American War
in 1898, the United Stated bombarded Matanzas. What did they destroy? Well, only one poor old mule. So, today, the Cubans remember that poor unfortunate equine doubtless giving thanks that no human being perished on that day!
Do you know the difference between a mule and a hinny? The British Mule Society
will tell you all you everything you ever wanted to know about this intelligent animal. They are certainly much more complex creatures than I ever realised.
Saturday, 2 April 2005
Hans Christian Anderson and International Children's Book Day
Topic: Special Days
Hans Christian Anderson, the famous Danish author of fairy tales, was born exactly two hundred years ago today in Odense on 2nd April 1805. The picture is of my book, "Favourite Fairy Tales from Andersen", published by Raphael Tuck & Sons Ltd - Fine Art Publishers to Their Majesties the King and Queen and to Her Majesty Queen Mary (shows how old it is!). Stories included are Thumbelina
, The Real Princess
(the one who couldn?t sleep because of a pea placed under 20 mattresses), The Nightingale
, The Emperor?s New Clothes
, The Tinder Box
, Hans Clodhopper
and The Flying Trunk
. How I loved those stories!
Sadly, Andersen had a very deprived childhood and ran away to Copenhagen when he was just fourteen. A very talented and complex man - he was also a marvellous singer - he wrote many things besides fairy tales. The list includes novels, travelogues, autobiographies, poems and numerous articles. He died on 4th August 1875 from cancer of the liver. A film called "Hans Christian Anderson" was made by Danny Kaye
, that wonderfully funny and talented actor, in 1952. The film was more about the fairy tales than the life of the author but I remember songs like "The Ugly Duckling", "Thumbelina", "Wonderful Copenhagen" and Danny's Kaye's marvellous tongue twisting humour.
Since 1967, to commemorate Hans Christian Anderson's birthday, the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) celebrate each year International Children?s Book Day
. The aim is to inspire in the young a love of reading, to promote children?s books through schools and libraries and to raise international awareness of other cultures through children?s books.
Now a selection of twenty British footballers
, one for each club in the Premier League, are revealing their favourite books to encourage children to read more. The list is surprisingly varied ranging from "The Twits
" by Roald Dahl to "A Long Walk To Freedom
" by Nelson Mandela. Personally, I don?t approve of Paul McVeigh?s choice of "The Da Vinci Code
" by Dan Brown which, although a very popular best seller, is not one I would promote to children. However, the scheme, launched to coincide with International Children's Book Day, is supported by the Government. Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said: "Our public libraries are a great asset to communities throughout the country which are sometimes overlooked. These footballers are opening the door to family reading and improved literacy by showing that books of all different types are fun and accessible."
Thursday, 17 March 2005
St. Patrick's Day
Topic: Special Days
St. Patrick's Day
Around a willow tree,
Pussy willows waking,
Longing to be free.
Colleens and shamrocks
And castles old and gray,
Put them all together
To make St. Patrick's Day
St. Patrick is the Patron Saint of Ireland and, in many countries, his day is also celebrated as the Feast Day for everybody called Patrick or Patricia. Did you know that, in Spain, 'el Dia de Santo' is more likely to be celebrated than a birthday? Everyone knows exactly when your feast day is and sends you best wishes for that day. That means my Spanish relatives are doubly lucky - they get Feast Days and Birthdays!
For people of Irish descent, St. Patrick?s Day conjures up visions of leprechauns, pots of gold and shamrocks. However, don?t forget that this is also a Religious Festival - I found this St. Patrick?s Day wish which highlights this aspect of the holiday:
St. Patrick plucked a shamrock
Out of Ireland?s sweet, green sod
And said, ?Behold,
A symbol of the Trinity of God!
the blessings of the Father
the love of the Son
and the peace
of the Holy Spirit.
Tuesday, 8 March 2005
The Equal Rights of Women
Topic: Special Days
. In some countries, this day is a National Holiday but here in the United Kingdom, we now seem to take the emancipation of women for granted. The majority of English women are not oppressed and women's rights are widely recognised. Perhaps we don't always have equal pay for equal work but we are not enslaved.
However, there are women in this country who are enslaved. Some are enslaved against their will in the sex trade. In many cases, these women have been tricked into coming to this country from Eastern Europe, told that jobs or education courses have been arranged for them. What a job! What an education! Other women from ethic groups with different cultures are not free to choose their paths in life, to get an education or to marry whom they choose. I'm not saying that arranged marriages are a bad thing, many work very well, but only if the girl is happy to comply with the wishes of her family. So called 'Honour Killings', because a woman has formed a relationship outside of her ethnic or religious group, baffle me. I can envisage no greater dishonour than a father or a brother murdering a daughter or a sister. Nothing a woman has done can possibly excuse that barbaric custom.
Not so long ago, women were oppressed in Spain. That only started to change after the Spanish revolution when women's rights began to be acknowledged. Even in the 1960's, women were expected to obey their husband's unquestionably and to wait hand and foot on them. The 'come immediately when I whistle' syndrome was commonplace as was the 'I must not be seen to be carrying the shopping or pushing the pram' syndrome. The idea of a man sharing the household chores and his wife going to work in an office was untenable as it reflected on his ability to support his family and his wife would have been in the company of (God forbid) other men. For reasons of modesty, a married woman could not join her children in a public swimming pool, as other men would see her in a revealing swimming costume.
The lack of education amongst the poor classes in Spain also meant the virtual enslavement of many young girls forced to work long hours as live-in maids. They had to clean the house (and I mean, clean) every day, strip and air beds, prepare food, wait on table, do the laundry, mend and iron clothes from the moment they got up to the moment they dropped into bed. If they were lucky, they had a day or an afternoon off every week or, in some cases, every month - all very similar to the conditions in this country in the 19th century. Today, the education of women has changed all that and the middle classes can no longer afford the luxury of permanent live-in maids or even a daily help. However, this exploitation of the poor still happens in many countries today where women and children work for a pittance. Some of it fuelled by the greed of the Western World for things like cheap clothes.
Another violation of women's rights is violence. Violence in the home is an obvious problem but there are other forms of 'accepted' violence - one of the worst being female circumcision. A custom that mutilates a women severely leaving her virtually unable to experience a sexual climax and unable to give birth without being cut first and stitched up afterwards. In some case, the removal of tissue in young girls is so severe and the stitching so tight that she will have difficulty in emptying her bladder and further problems can arise when a girl reaches puberty.
Women are human beings as are men, not a separate species. We are the heart and soul of the family, we nurture and give values to our children, we can and do achieve great things if given the chance. In Britain we have women doctors, surgeons, lawyers, engineers, scientists and company directors, to name a few careers now open to women. We have even had a woman Prime Minister. We should celebrate and give thanks for our freedom. We should remember that all women worldwide have the same basic right to be educated, to be emancipated, to be treated with respect, to be free.
Thursday, 3 March 2005
All About Books
Topic: Special Days
It's World Book Day! What do you like to read?
Last Thursday, I asked my Grandchildren what was their favourite book. Elliot didn't hesitate, "The Cat In The Hat", (by Dr. Seuss
), he said. Stephanie smiled and then said, "Pants". No, not a childish imprecation but apparently the name of a book showing animals wearing all sorts of coloured pants. When I went upstairs, I had a peek at all the books on the shelf in their bedroom. Couldn't see it. Mentioned it to my daughter when she came home. "Pants?", she looked puzzled, "No she hasn't got a book called that - must be a book in the school library." So, my curiosity aroused , I searched the Internet and found this book
by Giles Andreae. Must be the same one!
When I was a small child, I loved a book called "Mr. Tumpy and his Caravan", by Enid Blyton
, about a caravan that could fly. There were lots of little pictures telling the story - a bit like a comic book, I suppose. As I got older, I read avidly all the Tarzan books I could find and then all the other books by the same author (Edgar Rice Burroughs
) on Mars, Venus and Pelucidar, that strange world in the centre of our own planet Earth. I remember reading about the 'purple sward' on Mars and rushing to the dictionary to find out what 'sward' was. The late Dr. Carl Sagan
, scientist and astronomer, also grew up reading the Mars stories. He once admitted to standing with outstretched arms towards the Red Planet as had John Carter (the fictional hero of these Martian tales) who was transported through space to wake up on the planet. Silly stuff? Maybe, but it certainly awoke an interest in astronomy in the young boy and set him on his path through life.
A bit older still and I was borrowing all the books I could find by Jules Verne
from our local library. He was probably one of the first science fiction writers to 'invent' things which were ahead of his time and which we take for granted today. I also liked reading poetry and I remember coming home from the Church summer fête clutching two old and tattered poetry books I had found - both with pencilled additions and comments and obviously much loved by their previous owners. My mother did not seem to be too impressed by my 'grubby' purchases but I still have those books today. In one of them, I discovered "Horatius
" an epic poem by Lord Macaulay
- one of my favourite poems. Talking of epic poems, my father once gave me an old and beautifully illustrated book of Longfellow's poems which had belonged to his adopted mother and I loved reading, "The Song of Hiawatha
". Never lend anyone a book you treasure. I took it to school when we were studying poetry and stupidly lent it to another girl. A few weeks later, it was the end of the summer term and I was leaving. I never saw that book again.
More recently, I have enjoyed reading the Earth's Children books by Jean M. Auel
, particularly the first of the five books, "The Clan of the Cave Bear
" (which I couldn't put down). The other books are: "The Valley of the Horses", "The Mammoth Hunters", "The Plains of Passage" and "The Shelters of Stone". Although these stories are fiction set in the twilight days of Neanderthal Man and the dawn of Cro-Magnon Man, Jean Auel has woven into them many real archaeological sites dating back to the Ice Age and has described artefacts and ornaments which can be seen in museums today. She also meticulously researched plants and fauna living at the time and this enormous attention to detail really brought the stories to life for me. I am looking forward to the sixth book which is currently being written.
I can't leave non-fiction books out in the cold. If, like me, you are interested in genetics and the mysteries of life on Earth, I can highly recommend, "Almost Like A Whale - The Origin of Species Updated", by Steve Jones
. It is thoughtful, brilliant and witty and very interesting indeed without being too scientific (if you know what I mean!).
Why don't you visit your library or your local bookshop today and find an interesting book. It will make a change from some of those boring old programmes on television!
Tuesday, 22 February 2005
World Thinking Day
Topic: Special Days
Today, the anniversary of the double birthday of Lord and Lady Baden-Powell, is the day when Girl Guides and Girl Scouts around the world remember each other and reaffirm their commitment to international friendship and understanding. My daughter used to be a Girl Guide - it is a wonderful organisation providing opportunities for all sorts of adventure and experiences. Camping holidays, for instance. Something I never did as a child but which my daughter and her family often enjoy today. Her best camping holiday was to the United States and she still keeps in contact with some of the friends she made over there. Now my granddaughter is following in her footsteps and has recently joined her local Rainbow Group, the youngest section of the Girl Guide movement.
The Thinking Day theme in the United Kingdom for 2005 is 'One World, One Love'. A great way to teach youngsters about customs in other countries and about tolerance and understanding of the global community. Something we could all benefit from!
To all Guiders everywhere: Have a Great Day! And a very big `Thank You' to all the volunteers who give their time to this worthwhile organisation. Without them, there would be no Rainbow, Brownies, Girl Guides, or Girl Scouts.
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