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July 5th, 2014

11:17 pm - Summer 2014 part 2
On my travels by bus and train, I generally wish I could alight at the pleasant and nondescript small towns and villages through which I pass. The small city of Osweicim in western Poland is one such place I would have liked to visit. It has many points of interest: a castle, many old churches, what looks to be a very attractive market place and a new shopping centre. I wanted to go because I did not want to go to the century old army barracks on the edge of town. Engaged as I am in the agreeable task of uploading my holiday snaps onto facebook, yet I wanted to write more of a commentary on Auschwitz for it is not a place of pretty pictures. I could have taken many more than I did yet I felt I simply couldn't bring myself to perform my usual touristic voyeurism. Weeks after going it haunts me. I would not have gone but my parents, with whom I was meeting in Krakow, suggested it so I agreed out of interest rather than desire. So we (my parents and I along with a Polish American family) drove in a comfy tour bus with our guide, a nice man who chatted with me about his upcoming trip to Scotland, watching a video about the place. The entrance was reassuringly bland, a car park, a visitor's centre with a few snack machines and even the gate to hell didn't look too threatening, my mother remarked how small it was in the flesh.The world's sickest joke?Collapse ) The interior of the barracks was actually quite warm because of course they had been built to house soldiers, though certainly the bunks were narrow and the canvas sacking bedding looking none too comfy. In all the rooms the usual pictures of the descrimination against the Jews, the rounding up of the Roma, and a quite horrifying map showing how far the ghastly cattle trucks travelled.Painful geographyCollapse ) In this room was an urn of ashes, all that was preserved of 1.1 million souls. A man with a yarmulke was rapt, he caressed it, touched with with his forehead, gazed longingly at it, he would have climbed in if he could. A whole room of mugshots, the earliest prisoners. The mother of the American family saw a photograph of a woman who shared a surname with her mother. For a moment I wondered if her ghost walked by. Upstairs were personal effects. Hundreds of suitcases, glasses, fashionable ladies' shoes. I found it almost unbearably poignant that someone had thought to pack a cheese grater. Most awful of all were the broken dolls and other toys, the sight of which caused me almost physical anguish and which make me shudder just thinking of it. Read more...Collapse ) In another room, a whole wall full of women's hair, all braided in the manner I usually do my own. The hair was sold for 50 pfennigs a kilo. 50 pfennigs for however many murders make up a kilo of hair. 50 Pfennigs. The hair was used to make cloth. Analysis of said cloth shows traces of Zyklon B. a Kapo's roomCollapse ) We moved on to block 11. This was where torture and executions were carried out. It felt chilly in there, the decor remains unchanged from the 40s. I was glad that the place was so full we couldn't linger. Next door, block 10, was Mengele's lair. The windows are blocked off completely. It is closed to all, for which I am glad. Nothing would induce me to go in there. Nothing. Read more...Collapse ) And so we made our way round, I began feeling more ghosts at my back. Perhaps it was my fancy, I am unconvinced at the existence of the supernatural but I am certain that suffering permeates the ground and bricks. I could hear lorries driving by and began to want to run back outside. Read more...Collapse ) Our last stop was the one remaining gas chamber - converted to be a bomb shelter just before liberation. Hoess was hanged right by it. As we walked in I allowed myself to pause and think of the gloomy atmosphere, and then in the chamber itself I looked up and felt a wave of utter, utter terror, a kind of sympathetic revelation of what the souls must have realised when they became aware that it wasn't water coming from the shower heads. I literally couldn't stay in there and I ran outside sobbing. Later at Birkenau I found I couldn't stand too close to the demolished crematoria there.what remains of the crematoriaCollapse ) mother meanwhile found it difficult to walk down the railway line the last thing many epople would ever have seenCollapse ) My parents both have difficulty walking. Throughout the whole tour I had a vision of us arriving. Mum, Dad, sister and my 2 nieces would have been taken immediately for the 'shower', if my brother and I had been 'lucky' we would have been put to work, but probably only to die more slowly. Dad didn't join mum and me at Birkenau as he had found the walking too much and I wished with my heart I could have joined him. Birkenau is an evil place. The chimney stacks make it seem doubly frightening Read more...Collapse ) And the interior of each barrack was oppressive the excuse for a dwelling place. Beds and toilet blockCollapse ) And so the tour ended. Dad was exchanging some pleasantries with the guide, who shed his serious face and became quite genial and we drove back to merciful normality. The following day we went home. in the evening I went for a walk and realised something. In the fields close to home there were some wild flowers and lots of bees, Birkenau is covered with clover, vetch and other tempting bee food yet I did not see or hear a single insect. Mother noted there were no birds nesting in the long grass.

(2 croaks | ribbit)

April 16th, 2014

09:01 pm - Fractions
Today, I received horrible confirmation of what I have suspected for several weeks but had been hoping was just the light in the bathroom. Near my forehead, peeping out admit what I thought was an unbroken sheen of brown, were several grey hairs.
Ok it's not the end of the world and you can't really see them unless you are a) me or b) looking very closely but it is making me feel old.
Some weeks ago, I had to have passport photos taken for a visa. The last time these were done my face was full and lineless. This time, having lost quite a bit of weight and being some years older, lines were more clearly visible. I looked even worse than one generally does in these pictures.
I will be a third of a century old this year. It seems somehow more significant than 30, a rather meaningless fraction. A full third.
I will have been menstruating (therefore biologically adult) for 23 years. I will have been a wearer of glasses for 20. It will have been 15 years since leaving school. 15 years of being a legal adult, being able to vote, have a bank account, do what the hell I please. Half of my adult life has been spent lived outside the UK – soon probably to be more than that as I plan to teach in Korea for a year to earn muchos money before going back to Uni, that's the plan anyway. Though my plans never quite go where I want them to. Hell I have even lived in Russia for 3 years and it's a shock to realise that things I did in Edinburgh are almost a decade ago when it only seem like yesterday.

And what have I done with my life? I compare myself to people I know from my past lives (which seem so divorced from my current reality) and people whom I admire and what have I got to show? I don't have a home of my own. I have never been in love. I have fancied people and been very fond of some sure (and even had sex with 2 of them) but feeling as though I wanted to be with someone forever? No. I still don't quite know what I want to do with the rest of my life, everything I do seems to be a stepping stone for something else, and I do so want a final destination.
But then I have been craving that for a long time already. Even before I began to be old.
When I was 9, I began middle school in Bury. One Sunday, I went to the playground in my village which is near the primary school in Ixworth and even though I had only been at my new school for a week or two I was overwhelmed with nostalgia. I knew even then there were people whom I would in all likelihood only see a few times again, if ever at all. I had the sense of leaving my old life behind and being set on course for something rather uncontrollable, a little frightening but also utterly inexorable. Ok as a 9 year old I would not have thought of it even remotely in those terms but I do remember thinking vividly 'is this the world I left behind?'
Sometimes on the metro in the mornings when I am trapped at interesting angles between people I remember there will come a time when all this is as unreal as primary school, as the endless grey days of middle school (where I can never remember the sun shining), as university, as all of my past lives. And then I feel a pang for the endless metro rides even as I am on them, I suppose fundamentally I am nostalgic in temperament.
I don't know if I will ever stop, it is the age we live in where there are no certainties. Countless people are in no better a position than I so I am not such a freak as I would have been in my parents' day And for every day I wish I could be still I know full well there would be an equivalent day that, were I not moving, I would resent it bitterly.
At least I am growing old. I am in pretty good health. For the first time in my adult life I am solvent so I have a few options. And we live in an age of hair dye if those naughty hairs decide to change colour again.
On second thoughts it would be rather brilliant if my hair matched my silver jewellery...

(4 croaks | ribbit)

March 13th, 2014

10:58 pm - On loving something despite your better judgement
Doubtless all my readers will have been awaiting with baited breath my commentary on the situation in Russia. Well hardly but I am going to write something anyway.

I was surprised when Putin went into the Crimea, perhaps foolishly because he has in the past called it effectively a Micky Mouse state but I thought the proximity to the EU would frighten him off. I was wrong.

2 weeks ago on Sunday 2nd March I went to the centre of Moscow. Why? Because there was a demonstration against the invasion. As my flatmate and I approached the square it was empty and we wondered if it had been called off. There were a few other folk but certainly no more than usual - but then I noticed the police vans and a woman with a Ukrainian flag in her coat. More people came in. I have been to a couple of demonstrations in Russia before but here there were no parties under a banner. Mostly the opposition in Russia is organised on party lines and people tend to stay with their tribe, chanting their own mantras during these things but here was a disperate mass of people who had only one simple thing to say 'no war'.
And for this people were arrested. I witnessed no violence, no behaviour among the peaceful protesters which would have outraged no one in calmer times. the police were swift and while not brutal, certainly not friendly.
There were light moments. At one point the police tried to arrest an elderly lady and NTV tried to record this but the crowd pushed them down.
About an hour in the crowd had grown so large that different groups started yelling and confounding the police who were going for people who were yelling  - but then they started targeting randoms instead. I had already been told once to go but when the cops grabbed a man who was just standing there not one metre away from me I got scared and left.

The Russian government has been selling the tale that they are there to protect the oppressed ethnic Russians of Ukraine and Crimea and the oppressed Russians of Russia have been buying the line. The Kremlin has been using the half truths in the way it does so well to justify its actions by emphasising the fact that many in the new cabinet are fascists (and certainly I am no fan of the new government and am convinced only of their determination to fuck up Ukraine without the Kremlin's help) and that the EU and US have been funding the opposition for years (no doubt true but what about Putin and Yanakovitch???.

Putin's actions have won him great popularity - not that he needed it riding high on the tide of the olympics. And yet, and yet the senseless arrests that I saw do not fit in with this. The arrests to me indicate the actions of a state desperate to cower people. Putin has long been a master of divide and rule - that there is no viable opposition in this country is testament to that. In this country fear has always been the means by which power is maintained.
But Russians must admit their role. Yesterday i was talking with a Russian friend and I said that in my opinion Russians were profoundly individualistic. For the most part they don't feel as though the rules don't apply to them and that there is always the sense that 'it is someone else's problem - I will not take responsibility' and she agreed. I know some people who honestly believe in the restoration of the monarchy. One of the things I love about Moscow - the devil may care sense that the world will end tomorrow so let's all have some fun - is not really the healthiest way to go.
Democracy, the social contract, relies on the willingness of the citizen to deal with rules and engage with the issues and I don't think most Russians are. Perhaps it's a defence mechanism, perhaps it is the national fatalism.
Perhaps it's simply due to the fact the country is too damn big. If a small country like mine can be divided into 2 nations then what about this one? Historically the Russian peasantry didn't really relate to Rodina but to their local community and the only unifying factor was the Tsar so perhaps it remains true. When it is completely unaffordable for many outside the capital to travel to the cities, when Muscovites would rather go on holiday to Turkey than Sochi because it's cheaper, is it any wonder there is a profound national dissonance? Is the KGB tsar the only thing to unify the people?

I am frightened about the current situation. I am worried about my savings and my status as a semi legal migrant worker. I am worried about a new cold war. But my strongest feeling is actually one of pain. Despite everything I love this country. I love the madness, the disorder, the stillness when the snow falls, the old women selling flowers at the metro, the cheeky guys in improvised lada taxis, the drunken abandon, my friends, (some of) my students, my colleagues, the chatty woman at the fruit stall who is convinced that despite all the evidence I know Russian. I love them, I love this.
And it hurts me to think people are having the truth distorted. It hurts me to think that the world is going to tar all Russians with the same brush - the exasperating but deeply lovable people I live among. It pains me to reflect that these are the ones who will bear the brunt of sanctions and boycotts rather than the rich fuckers who will get away with murder as ever. They deserve better.

I hope this is the beginning of the end for Putin. I wonder if he is going to overreach himself and if people will begin to question him, especially if sanctions bite. But being a pessimist i doubt it, so all I have to do is mourn for my beloved Russia which has been so good to me.


December 31st, 2013

01:28 pm - Obligatory meme
1. What did you do in 2013 that you'd never done before?
Took a train from Tallinn to Moscow, Flown with an animal, Went freelance. Visited a bunch of places, it hasn't been that kind of year really

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Well, I worked hard and saved! But I failed to make any headway with Russian.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
A few friends

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit?
Russia (if that counts), the UK (if that counts!) France, Finland, Estonia

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?
More money, calm, a boyfriend

7. What dates from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
May holidays, going to Kostroma, June, flying with the cat the the UK

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Saving! Losing quite a lot of weight

9. What was your biggest failure?
Losing students, Spending too much, eating too mush over xmas

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
A cold, Banging my toe so badly the other day that it literally turned purple (it's ok now!)

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Books and train tickets and JEWELS!!!

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My chums :)

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

14. Where did most of your money go?
books, travel, jewels

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Sergei Koshkovich Imbirov :D (the cat), TRAVEL!

16. What song will always remind you of 2013?
Bloodflowers, (for then I was feeling really depressed in October), MeNaiset the Bride's Weeping for the clear and beautiful days in February

17. Compared to this time last year, are you happier/sadder; fatter/thinner; richer/poorer?
a) I don't knw if I am happier or sadder. I feel discontent but not really sad.
b) Thinner :)
c) Richer :)

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Improving my mind, writing

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
I went to church, sang carols and spent the day with my family

21. Did you fall in love in 2013?

22. How many one-night stands?

23. What was your favourite TV program?
Science club, Doctor who

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

25. What was the best book you read?
North of the DMZ, The the mountains echoed, Comrade Pavlik, The lion sleeps tonight, My Traitor's Heart

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Rediscovering the Cure, Menaiset

27. What did you want and get?

28. What did you want and not get?

29. What was your favourite film of this year?
Nothing really stands out. 12 years a slave was very good.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
32, I ate fish and chips at Dunwich with my parents and then drank cider. Same as ever.

31.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Love, calmness.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?
The usual but more boring.

33. What kept you sane?
Reading, the internet, my cat and my friends.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Not saying.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
The continued rape of the poor by the Tories. The massive discrimination of Caucasians based in Moscow. NSA

36. Who did you miss?
The family.

37. Who was the best new person you met?
Tim, Katya, The people I met in Bristol were all awesome.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013.
Keep on moving.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
I've been working like a dog.

It hasn't been a bad year for me, though I know it has for a lot of my dear ones. I've felt stressed. I am slightly dreading next year as I must actually do something about the future, I really want to get out of ESL in the next 4-5 years but I'm scared to think about retraining and/or writing.
I'd like more time for study and improvement. But I have to earn and that must be my priority for now. It's like I can see a light at the end but it's a long way ahead. I have also felt lonely this autumn, this Christmas being with my family has been driving me mad and while I love them it's clear I can best stand them at a distance. I want my own family and since losing weight I have had more admiration but nothing much has come of it. I've been daydreaming about unattainable figures but not real people. I honestly don't know how people do it. I should give off less independent vibes! I suspect this year is also going to be a lonely one. Let's see, I can do nothing more.


December 6th, 2013

11:52 pm - Madiba
Let me say first and foremost that I have the utmost admiration for Mandela. He fought bravely throughout his life,was a model of clemency upon victory and left the world a better place than he found it. Who among us will be able to boast as much upon our demise?
Nonetheless I am bracing myself for a lot of sentimental guff in the next few days and goodness only know what is going to happen in South Africa. The ANC has not exactly distinguished itself in recent years, with Jacob Zuma proving corrupt and Julius Malema's own racism threatening to undo all the good and trust that has been achieved. It has been eroding its moral capital for some time now but as the party of Mandela and the struggle it continues to have a hold over many South Africans. It could be argued that it is time for a period in opposition. But symbolism is a dangerous thing, facts can be forgotten and the ANC will legitimately use Mandela in its future campaigns.
Mandela showed great mercy and this must never be forgotten. Nonetheless he is relentlessly sentimentalised as a kind of secular Jesus/Gandhi/Angel hybrid however he was a man and like most me, well, pretty flawed actually. By all accounts he was a beast to his first wife, I am told would have got rid of a lot of the (white) civil service after his election but for agreements he made with FW De Klerk (which, to be fair, he kept to) and advocated the use of violence and terrorism in the apartheid struggle. This is a difficult one, for while I think I can comprehend the frustration and agony black South Africans had to go through (though as a middle class white Brit I would never presume 100% that I could) on principle I don't think violence is a good idea. It was bourne of desperation but in the end I think it merely hardened the attitude of many in power who might (though not definitely, definitely not definitely) might just have had a little sympathy, for apartheid was a doctrine of utter putrid folly and repugnance which anyone with half a brain cell or fragment of compassion should have repelled and rejected. On the whole terrorism merely plays into the hands of the people in power, enabling them to claim that 'x is evil because s/he uses violence. Therefore we are justified in oppressing them' (as can be seen among out glorious leaders vs Islamists today alas). And violence merely breeds violence. South Africa is an incredibly violent country, I believe the violence to be a result of poverty, fear and a lack of mobility but also due to the expectation of hostility which creates a defensive terror, a nation of cornered rats. The campaign of the 60s was symptomatic of this latter point but also I would argue helped to perpetuate it, continuing the bloody cycle which began when the Dutch landed and continues to this day.
What brought about the end of apartheid was the power of thought. The campaigns of the oppressed (and their friends) had an effect. They changed minds. De Klerk deserves credit for though he was reluctant to negotiate with the ANC he did it and did the right thing calling for free elections. I would argue it was Robbin Island that really made Mandela. It turned him into the symbol of oppression and earned the world's sympathy. It prepared him for his role and let's face it, who could have played it better? The fact that Mandela had imperfect humanity isn't noteworthy. What is is that, despite the awful conditions of prison, he kept it. I don't know how far I could keep my humanity if I were hated because of the amount of melanin in my skin, let alone make friends with my gaolors.
Today is a sad day. But what is sad is not the death of Madeba but that South Africa s still a mess. I hope attention will be paid to building on his legact rather than empty tribute.

(2 croaks | ribbit)

November 20th, 2013

06:56 pm - Life
I keep wondering if I am a bad daughter and sister.

A big part of me wonders if I should go home and help with my sister's childcare. I am always exasperated with my sister and yet sympathise with her present plight and yet feel angry when she takes her anger out on our mother.

I really do not want to go back to the UK right now and I would hate not having regular work or income and it would drive me mad to be in the family circle all the time. But I know they are so stressed right now I almost feel it's my duty. I feel guilty about being the favoured child when I am far away and not there physically. Am I being selfish to put my own life first? Am I wrong for favouring my mother over my sister when in my head I know I simply cannot look at it objectively and there aren't really any sides to chose? Was I a bad kid for relishing my place as favourite child and hurting my siblings?
I know I am not responsible for their relationship, at least I keep telling myself that. I also keep telling myself that I mustn't waste my 30s as I did my 20s. But sometimes it really doesn't sink in.

(1 croak | ribbit)

06:53 pm
A former student asked me what I though of this.

There are several things which spring to mind reading this article.
The first is a small incident in August last year when I was crossing the frontier between Ukraine and Russia at about 3 am. I awoke groggily and espied the boarder guards coming in, they were obviously gossiping and joking about something and walked into the vestibule smiling, but then – work to do – smiles were switched off in the blink of an eye and the ice queen border guard gave her basilisk stare at my passport.
The second incident occurred in February. It was a dark, cold day and I had been walking for quite a long time through fresh snow and when I got to work and greeted everyone one of our staff said 'I saw you walking here, I didn't recognise you – your head was down and you looked grumpy, I thought you were Russian!'
The third incident dates from June when I was taking Seriyozha back to the UK. As I approached the security ladies they were looking grim as ever, but on setting eyes at my precious cargo they all went 'awww' and one of them berated me for being too rough taking him out of the carrier (which was no easy task!). Another one held him when I was going through the check before boarding and cuddled the frightened little cat before handing him over to me as gently as possible.
I could go on with similar tales.
I like Russians enormously, but I cannot say that they are overly possessed of the social graces which are deemed so important in the west or in Japan and I think the article is largely correct. Lots of English people here are freaked out by the fact that Russians don't smile in shops (and I have lost count of the number of times babushki in produkty have looked exasperated at my attempts to ask for stuff!). But I think maybe it's a northern thing, Finns, Swedes and Estimations are not overly smiley either, except when the sun comes out.
But in a way I have come to prefer it, when I go to England I think it's deeply, deeply strange that people in coffee shops insist on making small talk when all I want is to get my drink and go. I always found it odd in Japan when I would walk into a shop and all of the assistants would stand up and bow and watch me. And always with the same smile...
So yes I can see how people from other lands find it strange, but you do know when a Russian smiles he or she means it!

(1 croak | ribbit)

October 20th, 2013

10:39 am - I break the silence of months....
...because I feel somehow I have to share something online and while I don't know if anyone will read it still I must.

I feel something like a beachball bobbing on the open ocean at the moment. I feel alone and not sure what I am doing or where I am going. I haven't felt like this since Edinburgh 6 years ago, this same flatness.

I think in a large part it is because I am tired and winter is coming. I am working a lot and irregular hours ($$$$!) but at the same time I don't really have the mental space to recover.

I am deeply, deeply, deeply worried about my family. There has been a damoclean sword over our heads for a while anyway - worries about money, Dad's illness, my brother going nowhere in his life. My sister is doing her nursing training, has not got her bursary and is frankly losing it. She has split up with her boyfriend (the father of her baby) and rather cruelly I cannot help but wish she had seen his deficiencies before she got pregnant. Mum is wearing herself ragged with childcare and sister is shrieking every time Mum does something even slightly off. Added to this Mum is still suffering from her childhood when she lost her father and was not allowed to grieve. Sister has a personality rather like my grandmother and I think Mum has always been rather scared of her. She's going for counselling but a big part of me is wondering whether I should go home to support my family. But I don't want to go back to the UK at the moment (look at the government!), I would not be earning (and financial independence is very important) and, at a deeper level, I want to lead my life.
And this autumn I have been increasingly feeling that yes, I do actually want a home and family of my own. Lord knows my love life has always been non-existent to dismal but I don't know that it is too much to want a companion. But in Moscow there is I feel, not a lot of hope. Russian women do have a certain mystique and most foreign men here are after one and I do not want a Russian man! I've lost weight, I am not unintelligent and my liveliness is I believe attractive. Yet I literally have no clue about how to go about attracting a man and I don't know how other women do it. It seems a foolish admission from a 32 year old but still it's how I feel.
I have my friends of course, I have a decent social life, but last night we went out and we had a nice evening but I wanted to unburden myself but it was not the time for it, everyone just wanted a good time. I didn't begrudge them but I felt lonely. I daydream a lot but it's like a drug and can't help me with the real issue.

For these reasons I have been wondering whether to stay in Moscow, but also this week there was an alarming incident. Last week an ethnic Russian was murdered and the accused is an Azaeri. Consequently nationalist groups have been attacking Caucasian migrants. the police have arrested many agitators but they have also arrested many migrant workers and the mood is ugly. I don't know if I can stay in such an openly racist environment.

And yet what will I do? I have been planning to do another degree (environmental studies) but I am wondering if I really want to do it. I am slightly afraid of moving back to the UK because I don't want to live with my parents yet I am also afraid of moving to another city because of making friends, now is the time of life when people of my age are settling and babying and it's harder. I want to change my life, I don't want to teach much longer. I want to write the biography of my great grandmother and her sisters I've been talking about for yonks but and I brave enough to do it?

Well, I am going to the pub this afternoon and I hope I can meet new friends. I can't leave the country for another few weeks as my visa is being prolonged. I still have work to do.

(2 croaks | ribbit)

June 13th, 2013

08:04 pm
Any particular reason who dreamwidth is now seemingly shut down in Russia? I can't even get through on a proxy.


April 9th, 2013

12:59 pm - My 2 pennoth
Yesterday a Russian friend asked me how Thatcher was viewed in Britain and how she affected me personally.
Well a short answer to the first would be 'it depends who you ask!' and the second 'I loath Thatcherism' but longer answers need to be had.

There is no escaping the fact that, for better or for worse, I am a child of Thatcher. I was born 2 years after she got into power and throughout my childhood she was somehow there in the background, a hairdo like my granny's and her face wallpapered onto the 6 o'clock news every night. My parents were both Thatcher voters unsurprisingly, they were upper middle middle class (my mother's family is Tory to its constituent atoms. Dad's family were traditionally liberal, being of mercantile stock. More on that later), alarmed at the mess the country had got into during the 70s. Patriots, they applauded the Falklands endeavour and I absorbed their feelings, although these grew increasingly qualified during the course of her reign until they were glad to see her depart. Naturally when I reached the age of reason I became a radical socialist and while I am not that strident now I am still considerably to the left of my mother (though I think less so of my father).
But as I say, I am a child of Thatcher. My formative years seeing the first female PM would have given me an idea that women and men were equal. I am basically a meritocrat (one of the reasons why I so loath the present government is that it is dominated by an old Etonian elite based on their old boys network – hardly run according to the principals of their heroine!), believe in hard work, saving and not taking anything from anyone if I can help it. I don't know how far these are my own values or the values of Thatcher's Britain but I hold them nonetheless. However, I also believe that I was lucky, being born into a family which could provide and helped me as far as it could to a good start in life. Others born in 1981 were not so lucky.
And here we come to the biggest problem with Thatcherism, its lack of mercy. She proclaimed loudly that 'there is no such thing as society' when in fact there is. Thatcherism was a deeply uncaring philosophy.
'Whatever is done for men or classes, to a certain extent takes away the stimulus and necessity of doing for themselves; and where men are subjected to over-guidance and over-government, the inevitable tendency is to render them comparatively helpless.' (Samual Smiles). There is something in that, and I am no fan of the nanny state. But similarly, people do need help. Lassaiz faire economics did nothing to help the poor in the Victorian England Mrs T so admired, poverty did not begin to be solved without actual legislation and the eventual creation of the welfare state. People do need a leg up and to be taught to fish, as was done when people were permitted to buy their own council houses. But getting people on the property ladder merely drove up house prices (I doubt I'll ever be a house owner in the UK) and for those who for whatever reason didn't jump on the bandwagon? She abandoned the north and let it rot, preferring to let the market deal with everything which for much of the time it couldn't and can't as we see today. Meanwhile, although people are selfish inherently, I don't believe that encouraging this is a good thing. Independence is attractive, that's why I believe Thatcherism resonates with our national psyche, but I strongly feel it has created conditions whereby money is seen as a measure of personal worth rather than as a means of exchange.
Let us go back to the north. While undoubtedly the nationalised industries needed something doing to them I can't help but feel it was foolish to close them down altogether, Britain lost its manufacturing base, becoming a financial giant instead. But money is a chimerical thing. I am no economist but it seems bizarre to me to expect perpetual growth when fundamentally the markets depend on confidence and confidence is elusive. I cannot help but feel that money has to come from something concrete and Britain's being a net importer cannot be a good thing. Similarly, in the north there are now generations of people who have been on the dole and the negative psychological effect must be pretty strong. But as they are not middle class the educators and those in power can happily ignore them.
When she declared 'There is no such thing as society', she meant that people should use their own inner resources to help themselves. But she did not bank on the cultural and psychological barriers to that. Poverty is isolating and deadening. It cannot be cured by personal initiative alone, help must be given. Especially in the north in the 80s when there was literally no work around. People survived (I've survived on 25-30 quid a week after paying rent before now. It wasn't much fun but I did it) but is it really living? Can one think and dream and aspire while merely surviving? No. Job creation schemes for the young might have helped but one good friend of mine is a veteran of these things and according to him the standard practice was to work the young person to death while they had them and then give them the boot just before the end of the training period and have to provide them with certification and/or work.
She was quick enough to aid the Falklands, it fitted in with her jingoistic parochialism which totally failed to empathise the Chileans (her chum Pinochet helped her after all), the people of South Africa and probably did extreme damage to the Northern Irish peace process. She knew she was right and while in some cases a leader shouldn't listen, in most others she should. Her total lack of imagination and flexibility alienated vast swathes of the UK and divided the country between her supporters and her foes.
At the end of the day she wasn't a conservative. Conservatism is after all concerned with preserving the status quo, she was an old fashioned free market liberal (though very socially conservative – but that's another tale for another time!) but she changed the norms. Every subsequent Prime Minister has had to be her disciple, whether willingly (Blair) or unwillingly (Major, Brown and I believe Cameron strangely enough). They have all follwed the intellectual programme she began and I don't think that it has ultimately been to the benefit of the nation. Privatisation made logical sense for somethings but it really has been taken to absurd extremes and I fear education and the health service are going that way slowly.
I don't like the feeling of rejoicing when someone has died (honest!) but the Britain she set the conditions for is a place with no mercy for the weak an unfortunate and Disraeli would be turning in his grave to see the 2 nations.


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