Wednesday, 11 May 2005
Salvador Dali (1904-1989)
Topic: Music and Art
I don't know a great deal about art, but I do know when I like a picture. When I was twelve or so, I can remember buying a small print of this painting of the Crucifixion and hanging it over my bed. I don't think I knew who had painted it at the time or what it was called but it certainly caught my eye. Later, I learnt that it was the work of the Spanish painter, Salvador Dali
. He called it "Christ of St John of the Cross" and it was painted in 1951 during his more classic period.
Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dali y Domenech was born on the 11th May 1904, in Figueras, Catalonia, Spain. He was really quite eccentric in his dress and appearance, with a big, swirling moustache. In his twenties, he became extremely interested in Sigmund Freud's ideas on subconscious imagery and learnt how to induce in himself a 'hallucinatory state' (a form of clinical paranoia!) in order to paint his bizarre dreamlike images. In 1929, he joined the Surrealist Movement but was eventually expelled from their ranks in 1937, when his paintings became more traditional in style.
Yes, I would call him a mad genius but he was truly a gifted artist with enormous talent and produced many brilliant works in his lifetime. He died on 23rd January 1989.
Monday, 9 May 2005
Reaping Your Reward
Watching all those nostalgic memories of war-time Britain on the television last night, made me think of how we coped with food rationing; I know my parents did without many things themselves. I can remember my mother reminiscing about the war when she was old and frail - she was telling me about one of my older sisters who had complained about the shortage of butter. So, my mother said, she divided the butter allowance into little individual dishes labelled for everyone. My sister soon realised she had been eating my mother's ration too! I can remember my sister once giving me a bottle with the cream from the milk in it. I had to shake it up and down for ages to 'make some butter'! I don't think the resulting 'solid' tasted particularly good!
Now, my mother was a very kind and generous person, perhaps too much so. But one particular kindness was amply rewarded during the years of wartime rationing. For several years before the war, a blind man had been coming round each week with his little trolley selling bags of sugar at the door. My mother felt very sorry for him and had a regular order of (I think) two packets a week - 4lbs of sugar. She knew he relied on his few customers to augment his tiny pension. The problem was that my mother did not use anywhere near that amount of sugar each week but she was too kind to tell the blind man that she wanted to cancel her order! I have no idea what my father thought about it or whether he even realised that one of the enormous kitchen cupboards, which had deep shelves up to the ceiling, was gradually getting stacked with hundreds of bags of sugar! I can still remember, as a toddler, seeing four or five shelves of row upon row of sugar bags. I was born at the end of 1941 so, goodness knows how many were there when the war started.
Well, when war was declared, the poor blind man stopped coming. Rationing was introduced. You were allowed something like 8oz of sugar a week - not much if you put sugar in your tea and made puddings. It certainly made it impossible for the normal housewife to bake large cakes or preserve the fruit from her garden. Well, not for my mother! And she was able to supply the lady next door with sugar in return for lovely, fresh eggs from the hens she kept at the bottom of the garden! She would also give her neighbour potato peelings to feed those chickens. Nothing was wasted during the war. In addition, my mother gave bags of sugar to neighbours and friends as presents - they were always absolutely delighted - and sometimes we got something in exchange from their gardens.
After the war ended, food rationing for many items, including sugar, continued for several years. I have a vivid memory of winning third prize in the summer raffle at school one year. I must admit I wasn't too pleased with my cornflake box full of cooking apples but I remember well my mother's exclamation of great joy when she opened the back door to me and saw what I was carrying! We had stewed apples for tea that day.
Yes, God does sometimes reward real kindness in this life!
Sunday, 8 May 2005
"The German war is at an end"
Today is the anniversary of the declaration of 'Victory in Europe'. I was three years old when Churchill spoke to the nation sixty years ago today. I probably heard his speech - but I don't remember. I can remember hearing the sound of the Air Raid sirens, ('La musique qui pleure'
, I called it), and I can remember hearing doodle bugs. But, I have no real memories of my family's reaction to the end of the war or whether there was a street party in our road. In any case, my parents would have been very anxious for news from our relations in France, Belgium and Luxembourg.
For those who have not lived through a conflict, it is difficult to imagine the horror and the utter futility of war. However, the essence of this realisation is often caught and put into words by a poet. I was looking for a poem written to celebrate the end of the war, I felt sure someone must have written one. Perhaps the Poet Laureate - but, who was the Poet Laureate in 1945? Instead I found a poem called, "If We Break Faith". It actually describes the signing of the armistice ending Word War I but also anticipates the ending of World War II. It was written by a little known American Poet, Joseph Auslander. He was America's first 'Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress' from 1937 to 1941 (a post later called Poet Laureate Consultant). Here it is:
Original found here
If We Break Faith
When they write an end to war, when they blot away the battle,
While our hearts are hushed in thankfulness and prayer,
With the signatures still wet, Lord, let us not forget
The ghostly line who also sign, though no one sees them there.
They crowd into that railroad car, they throng that flagship’s cabin –
The ghosts of all the dead men in long unending lines:
From the hell-defended rock, from the hallowed beachhead flock
The dead who stand and grip his hand each time the signer signs.
If we break faith with these our dead, play fast and loose with honor;
If we once more betray them as we have betrayed them twice,
We have earned their bitter curse that shall blast the universe ....
Judge Thou us then, O Judge of men, if we deny them thrice!
Saturday, 7 May 2005
Topic: Health Issues
I heard a schoolgirl being interviewed on the BBC News last night. She said she expected to work until she was 65 years old and that she wanted to live to be one hundred! Apparently, more and more people are living longer in the 21st century and there are around 7,000 centenarians in Britain today. Of course, how long you are likely to live depends on your lifestyle, your diet and your weight. My BMI (body mass index) is way too high and, according to the BBC's Life Expectancy Calculator
, I shall probably make it to 89.8 years old! If I lose some weight, I might even live a bit longer!
Advances in medicine, good food and less of the backbreaking physical drudgery our great-great-grandparents took for granted has improved the quality of our lives. We have more time to relax, to play and to go on holidays - so on average we have been living much longer than our ancestors did. However, in recent years, it appears that this upward trend is being reversed
in certain areas with Glaswegians, for instance, having an average life expectancy of 72.9 years compared to Londoners with 82.4 years. This report, published in the British Medical Journal by the Universities of Bristol and Sheffield, blames discrepancies in health services and the gap between the poor and the wealthy.
I distrust statistics, they can be bent in any direction to prove whatever you think is the problem. Have the 'researchers' also analysed the differences in lifestyles before blaming the beleaguered Health Service? Have they compared the differences in life expectancy between Glasgow and the affluent south today from what existed a 100 years ago? Have they taken into account the much colder winters in Glasgow compared to those in Devon where the life expectancy is apparently 11 years longer? What about crowded and stressful living conditions? What about air quality and pollution? Being wealthy does not exonerate you from having health problems nor does it guarantee that you eat well-balanced fresh meals! Yes, if you are retired in Devon, you probably live in a roomy, beautiful cottage with a large peaceful garden, with no squabbling neighbours to add stress to your life. Nevertheless, whatever, our 'affluence', if we spend every evening stuck in an armchair watching television; if the only exercise we do is to extend an arm to pick up a can of beer or to press the remote; if we feed on 'takeaways' because we can no longer be bothered to cook fresh, healthy meals; then we will
Yes, I agree - poverty in Great Britain today is
a problem, particularly if you cannot keep warm enough in the winter, but it is a far cry from the poverty of the 18th and 19th centuries when it was not uncommon for people to starve to death in the street and many children were forced to go barefoot. In fact, Britain was far more healthy during the years of rationing
, during and after World War Two, when nearly everyone managed to grow some fresh fruit and vegetables in their gardens to supplement the food coupons that were so precious. So that says something about our modern lifestyles and the poor quality of the unhealthy processed foods most of us stuff into our mouths these days.
Whatever the gloom and doom, the statistics for the 1880's show that life expectancy a hundred and twenty-five years ago was shockingly low. I came across this short paragraph in "The Boy's Own Annual", a sadly tattered book my father passed on to me in my youth. It consists of issues of the "Boy's Own Paper" from October 1881 to September 1882 and this entry was originally printed in issue No. 144-Vol. IV for Saturday, October 15, 1881. It seems that, even then, a happy, healthy life was conducive to living longer!
|Duration of Human Life|
The average of human life is 33 years. One quarter die before the age of 7, one half before the age of 17. To every 1,000 persons, 1 only reaches 100 years. To every 100, only 6 reach 75 years; and not more than 1 in 500 will reach 80 years. There are on the earth 1,000,000,000 of inhabitants. Of these, 33,333,333 die every year; 91,824 die every day ; 7,780 every hour; and 60 per minute, or 1 every second. These losses are about balanced by an equal number of births. The married are longer lived than the single: and above all, those who observe a sober and industrious conduct.
Worldwide life expectancy
continues to rise but the continent with the lowest life expectancy is Africa with some Sub-Saharan countries actually experiencing a decline. The data tables
on the DEPweb (Development Education Program)show that in 1998 Sierra Leone had the lowest life expectancy of 37 years compared to 41 for Nigeria; 42 for Burundi, Malawi and Uganda; and 43 for Ethiopia. The highest life expectancy was 81 in Japan; 79 in Australia, Austria, Canada, Hong Kong, Sweden and Switzerland.
Updated Saturday, 7 May 2005 15:19 BST
Thursday, 5 May 2005
Percy Heath (1923-2005)
Topic: Music and Art
It was Milt Jackson who wrote the tune, "Ain't But a Few of Us Left", which he recorded in 1981 on a CD
of that name with Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Grady Tate. A jazz vibraphone player, Milt "Bags" Jackson was the founder of the Milt Jackson Modern Jazz Quartet which eventually became known as the MJQ under the leadership of pianist, John Lewis. "Bags" was acutely aware that only a few giants remained from the time when jazz music was at its pinnacle. He died in 1999 and John Lewis died in 2001. Connie Kay, the drummer for the MJQ, died in 1994.
Now I see that yet another 'giant' has passed on, Percy Heath
, the bassist with the Modern Jazz Quartet for many years. Percy died last Thursday, 28th April 2005, aged 81 - just two days' short of his 82nd birthday. He had been suffering from bone cancer.
Although they did reunite in the 1980s, "The Last Concert
" of the MJQ was recorded on 25th November 1974. If I could only keep one out of our collection of Jazz CDs, it would be this one. They gave of their very best with Percy Heath giving two of the most extraordinarily cohesive and marvellously balanced bass solos ever heard
on that night. May he rest in peace.
I can see Jeremy Clarkson smashing a computer with a hammer in that television series, "Inventions that Changed the World
". Well, right now, I feel like doing exactly the same thing
to my machine!! Grrrrr... There I am creating a new entry for this blog. Three other windows open whilst I do some research and look for links. At the same time, I am consulting medium-sized tome. Getting on like a house on fire. Then, muggins, leans book against front edge of laptop computer. Arrgghh... Frozen keyboard. WHY DOES THAT HAPPEN?
I know, I know, I can hear Michael Winner
telling me to, "Calm down, dear!" — think I'll go to bed and start again in the morning.
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.
Monday, 2 May 2005
Your Turn, Darling!
Topic: In the News
What will they think of next? It seems that a Spanish designer has created a washing machine
dubbed, "Your Turn", that will not allow the same person to use it twice in a row! The idea is to force Hubby to take his turn at doing the washing.
Apparently, 'Your Turn' uses finger print recognition technology to start the machine, but only after both partners have registered their fingerprints on a home computer. However, the current design only controls whose finger presses the start button and not who actually loads and unloads the machine! A tongue-in-cheek Father's Day gift it might be but, it sounds like a pretty silly idea to me and, probably, an expensive one as well!
If Spanish housewives are so frustrated with the household chores they should thank their lucky stars that they don't have to carry the weekly wash to the local stream and pummel it with a nice round stone and old fashioned soap. I consider my washing machine to be a modern luxury - I can do something else while the laundry does itself! Yes, my dear husband would probably scratch his head if he had to sort the washing and decide on which programme button to press. But, he does help out with lots of other little jobs around the house and he mows the lawns and he helps with the shopping. He doesn't spend hours watching macho games like football or racing nor does he drink endless cans of beer, although he does very occasionally snooze in the armchair! Hooray for British husbands!
Friday, 29 April 2005
Topic: In the News
Did you watch last night's, "Question Time
"? It seems not that many people were really interested as only 18% of viewers
tuned in. I only saw the last part as we were late home after looking after the grandchildren but boos, sweat and jeers
were the order of the day!
I don't like politics very much. It is probably a legacy from my childhood because my father seemed to be completely obsessed with politics and would discuss it for hours with any poor person who didn't know how to change the subject or how to escape. Often it was more of a one-sided lecture on what had happened during the war or about the policies of the politicians of the day. In retrospect, a lot of what he said was right but he never seemed to know when it was time to change the subject, especially when his victim agreed with his every word. So I formed the opinion very early on that politics was the most boring subject of all time.
Still, some of his beliefs must have rubbed off and, in the family tradition, I always thought of myself as a conservative and voted accordingly. The first thing that started to eat away at my psyche was the abominable way the conservatives got rid of Margaret Thatcher in November 1990. I felt that it was underhand and unfair. Why hadn't they waited until the next Conservative Party Conference to challenge the leadership. After all, her third term of office was nearly over. Perhaps I was naive, but my opinion of Michael Hesletine hit rock bottom. From then on, it seemed to me, the Conservative Party was in decline, a squabbling party with no firm direction. John Major did his very best but somehow he gave me the impression of being just a teeny bit out of his depth - and of being influenced by the Iron Lady, albeit from the shadows. He hung on by the skin of his teeth until 1997 when the Conservatives lost the general election to Labour. I admit I was disappointed, it had been eighteen years since a Labour government, what would Tony Blair be like? I vaguely remembered Harold Wilson - I didn't like his accent! I remembered James Callaghan much better, he had struck me as a very conscientious person who did his very best for the country.
John Major resigned as Party Leader and William Haig took over. But the media didn't like William Haig's slightly pompous aura and kept showing those awful pictures of a teenage William addressing the Party Conference. In retrospect, he was actually a highly intelligent and capable leader with an enormous sense of humour. But, he wasn't able to do enough to win the 2001 general election. He stepped back and was succeeded by Ian Duncan-Smith, who won the vote for the party leadership against Ken Clarke. I admire any politician who can stand up and say that he agrees with the opposition on some important point. I really can't abide the mentality of the politician who opposes for the sake of opposition, regardless of what is right. So, Ian Duncan-Smith had some good points. However, he was too nice and definitely not strong enough as a Conservative leader. In October 2003, he lost the party's vote of confidence.
In came Michael Howard
, (born Michael Hecht), an unopposed candidate for the leadership and one with previous experience as a Cabinet Minister. But a Cabinet Minister who always seemed to sit on the fence. Do you remember seeing that interview he gave to Jeremy Paxman
when he was asked the same question twelve times? Incidentally, did you know that Michael Howard has jumped onto the bandwagon with a Blog
? Seems he started it on 10th April 2005.
Well, I'm not happy with Mr. Howard. For one thing, he seems to be a bit of a bully. For a start, look at the way he treated that lovely chap, Boris Johnson last year! Sending him to Liverpool with his tail between his legs and then accusing him of lying over a relationship. And then his vindictive, over-reaction to that unfortunate Arundel MP, Howard Flight, after his not so secret remarks about future conservative spending cuts last month! That sort of thing is not being a leader, it is more being a dictator. (Why isn't Boris party leader? Now, he would
get the votes in.)
I hardly dare say it, but I find myself admiring Mr. Blair more and more. He is intelligent and, above all, he definitely
has leadership qualities. He has never been afraid to take decisions, whatever we might think about them. And the economy is good - very good. I have come to the sad conclusion that I would prefer him for another term as Prime Minister rather than the smarmy Mr. Howard.
What about the Liberals? Well, I don't know. They have no real experience of government to fall back on. Charles Kennedy is a decent enough chap but is he prime minister material? It seems to me that realistically, all the Liberals can hope for in this election is a few more seats. The possibility of winning a majority is actually so remote, they can promise all sorts of laudable changes that they would probably have great difficulty in implementing.
So what will I do come the 5th May? As far as the local elections are concerned, I will vote for people rather than for parties. In my working days, I met some of the local councillors and found them hard-working, responsible people with a true concern for the area. Some of those stalwarts have now retired but I will continue to split my vote for some conservative and some liberal councillors.
As for our local member of parliament, well it is really a foregone conclusion. Our Conservative MP, Andrew Tyrie
, will be re-elected. Four years ago, he had over 47% of the vote. The Liberals only had 24.2% of the vote. My single vote will have little effect on the result. However, it appears that Labour is tipped
for winning the election, albeit with a reduced majority. So, perhaps I should stick to voting for a person; one who has some experience and has already proved himself at the job. What do you think?
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.
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