BRITS VS YANKS: Government (Shutdown)

As we look across the pond at the government shut-down in the US, I suspect many here are wondering how the heck this could happen (and trust me, many back home are thinking the same thing). As similar as our democratic systems are, it points to the striking differences between how our governments operate. Whose is better?

To start with, Brits vote for a party. Americans vote for a person (be it a Senator or Congressman or President). So in the US, you can have a ballot where you vote for your local Republican congressman because you like his/her policies, but you can tick a Democratic President on the ballot for the same reason.

As you vote for a party in the UK, once the counting is down, the party with the most votes and seats comes into power and the head of the party becomes Prime Minister.  Done and dusted. That means that for the next 5 years, the party and Prime Minister that were voted into power control the government, the policies, the budget, etc. They set the agenda. That’s it, and if you don’t like it, you can vote differently in the next elections.  (We’ll save coalition governments for another day.)

In the U.S., we have this thing called “checks and balances” or as some in D.C. call it “quagmire” :-).  Because you can vote individually and NOT down party lines means you can end up in any given election year where you’ve elected a Democratic President, the House is controlled by Dems, but the Senate is controlled by Republicans or any similar confusing permutation (to recap, our lower house or Congress is similar to your MPs, and our upper house or Senate is similar to your Lords).

So as a result of this system, where no one entity has too much power (the powers of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government in the US are clearly separated and defined), our Congress and Senate and President end up bickering a lot. And since they cannot agree on many things, they end up in stalemates.

Enter Government Shutdown.  Because one party (in this case the Democrats) could not agree on the budget the President and his party (the Republicans) put forth, and since the budget needs to be approved by both the House and then the Senate, the deadline came and went without consensus.

In the U.K., this just doesn’t happen.  There is little recourse if you don’t like the budget conservatives (ruling party right now) put into place, except to protest with your local reps or vote differently in the next election.  Acceptance and move on.

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However, you should see Budget Day here! It was nothing short of a royal wedding coverage. It’s absolutely fantastic (for policy wonks and geeks)! There are helicopters hovering over the black car carrying the famous “Red Box” that is attached to the UK Treasurer as he leaves 10 Downing and heads to Parliament to read out the new budget. Budget Day last fall was November 22nd and the BBC (and other networks) had a 4-hour special breaking into their regular news programming to carry the speech live and then go into extensive analysis with experts, followed by immediate feedback with citizens across the country.  Four hours! Live TV! On the national budget!!

But this doesn’t happen in the U.S.  The two sides go into their corners and negotiations are heated. The shutdown this time has become even more politicised than before. Thanks to this President, it’s vicious and nasty. The message you hear when you call the White House says calls cannot be answered because the Democrats are holding government funding “hostage”. (Listen here). And this irresponsible and erroneous ad has been approved of by the President, contrary to what the White House press secretary recently said.

Many are affected by the shutdown, but the scaremongering the President has attached to “our nation’s security” and not being able to “pay the troops” is overblown and misunderstood. This piece by Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling explains exactly what happens in a government shutdown to the military and why. As he’s been in command when this has happened before, I suspect he has a better handle on it than the President.

And the issues they are squabbling over are extensive but at this point it boils down to DACA (Dreamers, the children who came illegally to the US to stay and work or study and allowed to stay b/c of a law Obama put into place in 2012), border security, children health insurance, and spending and investment.  This has happened in the past (Monica ended up roaming the halls of a fairly empty West Wing during the Clinton White House because of a government shutdown, and we all know how that ended). But in every instance, it takes compromise on both sides of the negotiation.

This President touts himself as being a tough negotiator, a “dealmaker”.  In this case, I’m glad the Democrats are digging their heels in, but getting to this point doesn’t help anyone, and I fear the President and his pride will be determined to win this. And the American people are already turned off by Washington. 80% of Americans polled in 2017 say they disapprove of the way Congress handles their job (Gallup). No surprise there.

I’m not sure which is better. I do like being able to vote for the individual rather than the party. I do like the theory of checks and balances but it just doesn’t seem to work well in practice.

Alternatively, I’m not sure having a fait accompli is good either. However, without the option to change policies halfway through an administration, I think it becomes that much more incumbent for the sitting administration to get things right.  If they don’t, they’ll be voted out at the next chance. They have one shot and have to make it work.  Let’s hope the Dems and Reps in Washington can do the same thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A GREAT WAY TO END THE WEEK: LITTLE BIRD CAFE

After a long, cold, dreary week, there is nothing nicer than a warm, cozy neighbourhood place to relax in. Little Bird opened right across from the Chiswick Overground Station in July 2016 and we’d been meaning to come for a while yet life always gets in the way. But last night I walked along the river in biting cold and wind to meet my husband there for an early dinner. The thought of warmth, good food and drinks made it an easy 12 minute walk from near Kew Bridge and the fairy lights and steamy windows beckoned.

Inside, the restaurant reminded me of New Orleans for some reason. Jazzy strains of Amy Winehouse and Stevie Wonder, potted plants of all sizes and varieties (succulents, cacti, and palms) and white painted brick walls complemented with dark wood and lots of wicker and candles leant to the ‘Nawlins’ atmosphere. Lots of cushiony, deep couches in muted tones of olive and aqua were tucked away in nooks and crannies with tables and comfy chairs. It’s very small but they cram in a welcoming bar and in warmer weather, there is outdoor seating out front and a hidden garden/patio in back.  The staff were very friendly and helpful, however they reminded us a few too many times that they needed the table back in 2 hours.  We went through the small front room which was buzzing with couples and groups clearly out for a good night and down a small hallway to a back teeny room where we were seated in a luscious velvet couch that took me a while to get in and out of.

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They are known for their drinks but I think as much so they are known for the Asian fusion “tapas” which were all delicious.  As its “dry January” all bars and restaurants find clever ways to keep drinks coming, and I started off with a “Mocktail” called Lavender Hill.  Described as fresh blueberries, lavender syrup, cranberry & fresh lemon in a violet sugar rimmed glass. It was delicious, but went down very quickly for a £4.95 drink with no alcohol. My husband had the Ginger Beer Mojito (or Nojito as it was non-alcoholic too) and he swears his was better, but we weren’t going to start a bicker over that!

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We had 5 tapas to share plus 2 sides — way to much but delicious nonetheless. My favourite Dim Sum Pork Gyoza with black soy. They were thin, tender yet crisped on the outside and succulent pork and flavours inside. This was tied with the delicious Chicken Tikka Brochette with Coriander Mayo and Flat Bread. Charred with tikka flavours locked in, and the smooth, creamy mayo — I was in heaven! The Spiced Lamb Lentil Curry was quite a large portion but very tasty — i only wish they had brought more Sesame Naan with that. My husband loved the Courgette Frites and the Edamame was messy to eat but we licked the spicy sauce they were cooked in off the pods.

Little Bird is an invention of Lorraine Angliss who owns Annie’s on Strand-on-the-Green and Rock and Rose in Richmond. Funnily enough, when we first moved to London, we rented a house just down the street from Rock and Rose and everyone kept telling us about this cool restaurant that was owned by a friend of Madonna’s and how we HAD to go there. We were never very impressed with Rock and Rose, with its bordello-styled main room and chintzy wallpaper. But we moved to Strand-on-the-Green and discovered Annie’s and absolutely loved it. Delicious food, excellent service, professional staff, and a warm, inviting neighbourhood cafe.

At Little Bird, it has the same vibe, but perhaps a little cooler, and more fun.  The only slight disappointment was the Blackened Cod Fillet — my husband said it was a bit bland. But as the sultry lounge music played, our drinks in hand and bellies full, we wondered why we don’t do this more often. Now that Little Bird is nearby, hopefully we will!

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LUMIERE LONDON!

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For anyone who happens to be in the City this weekend, you cannot miss this. I am heading down on Sunday night, but a friend went last night and thought I’d share some photos:  Lumiere London

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My husband and I saw some “Son et Lumieres” Shows in France on our honeymoon years ago, but still remember what a beautiful spectacle it is, especially as they light up beautiful, centuries old buildings. But London has added so many other aspects to this show, and modernised it in an interactive way. See the photos below. You can go to different parts of the city for different routes and exhibits. Download the app and it will guide you to the different exhibits. Enjoy!!

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LOVING LONDON: The Ever-present & Underrated High Street

It is often said London is a series of villages that merge together to form a city. Travelling around the city for work and play, as a tourist and a local, I find each little neighbourhood has its own unique identity. But all these little enclaves are centered around a High Street (or Main Street to US readers) that is the lifeblood of that area.

Many people do not stray further afield than their own ‘hood on the weekends, even though geographically (and compared to the longer distances in the US) they are sometimes only 2 or 3 miles from the next village/town. Most people in Barnes are not going to venture to Chiswick, people in Blackheath aren’t going to go to Clapham. There’s so much to do right at your doorstep, there’s no need to.

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(Chiswick High Road)

You run into people you know on the High Street, you have your local butcher or green grocer (organic foods). The fishmonger is there. And the High Street shops like Jigsaw, SweatyBetty, Monsoon all have presences around the city.  State schools are all local and therefore most of your social groups. Plus there are a lot of local, wonderful eateries and pubs as well as the bigger chains like Byron Burgers, Carluccio’s and Cote offer good options for meeting up with friends.  A friend from the States sent me an article on best London pubs in the winter, wishing she could come over, but my list would be quite different — too many to choose from just in my own area that are cozy, comfy, fun, and most important, close by (topic for a blog post!) to tuck into on a dark, winter evening.

That’s not to say that people won’t venture into other areas but it tends to be for a reason. I’ll go to Covent Garden several times a year to see the ballet at the Royal Opera House and meet up with friends for an early dinner. Or visit museums and see exhibits, catch a play, do a Fun Run, take visitors to tourist sites. Any of these things will bring us into the city. But generally speaking, it’s unlikely we’ll venture from the Chiswick, Kew, Richmond area.

I don’t know if this is similar/dissimilar to the US (?). Do people in Brooklyn go to the Upper West Side on weekends? Do people in the Village head up to the Upper East Side? If you are in Union Square, would you go to Williamsburg? I think Americans are more used to travelling further distances as is the nature of a big country. But let me know!

If you hopped in a car and headed east, it’s less than 4 miles from Chiswick High Street to Kensington High Street, but on the weekends, that could take up 45 minutes, and then you have the nightmare of looking for parking. US expansion and growth included massive parking lots to their cityscapes, but London was already formed and established and there is literally no room.  By Tube, it’s probably 1/2 hour. From Fulham to Shoreditch in East London, it’s only 8 miles, but I don’t know anyone who’d drive it.   London is just too congested to even contemplate that.

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(Camden High Street)

Perhaps that’s why the public transport is so good (compared to anywhere I’ve been in the States, it’s VERY good). The bus lanes are actually that. I made the mistake of driving in one when I first got the car — twice in two days — and I got two tickets for £160 each, thanks to a CCTV camera (they’re all over London). Never again. Plus the Tube and trains run often and regularly. Even still, it takes us longer to get from West London to a concert at the 02 Arena near Greenwich than it would to go from our house to Christchurch Meadow in Oxford.

So the Hood is very appealing — especially if you’ve been running around this 10mill strong, gritty, cavernous, cold city all week.  You can see the Greens (communal village grassy squares at the centre of commerce and churches) dotted around as you fly over the city in approach of Heathrow and they fill a vital purpose to the landscape and zeitgeist of the “Big Smoke”, adding charm and reminding us of the history.

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(Clapham High Street)

London is an expansion of little villages that started to run into each other as the city exploded over time.  In the 17th and 18th century, Kensington and Chelsea were rural farm areas, known for their markets and gardens. Notting Hill Barns in 1828 was 150 acres of dairy farm and and Portobello Farm was cornfields and meadows. Shepherd Market was a little village known for its 15 days of a May Fair (where the area Mayfair got its name) and farmers brought in cattle and sheep to trade from the fields out West (including Shepherd’s Bush). Spitalfields was named after the hospital and priory founded there in 1100’s called St. Mary’s Spittel. And was considered rural until the Great Fire of London in 1666. Anyone under 30 hangs out in the ultra-cool, hip Shoreditch in East London but it got its name from the watery marshland it used to be back in Ye Olden Days (soersditch meant Sewer’s Ditch).

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(Notting Hill then)

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(Notting Hill now)

Like New York City, all these little enclaves grew over time, but unlike New York, they were edging outwards from around 1000 AD. It’s really fascinating to go to any part of town and see old Roman Walls or great architecture and palaces from long before America was even discovered.  It’s awe-inspiring. You don’t have to walk far to run into a beautiful, well-preserved building that dates back to the 15th or 16th century.  History is palpable here.

Nowadays, each High Street defines the character and livelihood of London.  Kensington High Street is all swank and money with its glittery high-end shops, Barnes is wealth and bucolic with the lovely duck pond, Shoreditch is vibrant, cool and hip, Nottinghill is eclectic, wealthy and boho, Camden is gritty and cool and hip city, Chiswick, Clapham and Putney are wonderful combinations of city and suburb near the River, Kew is insanely cute and almost rural with Kew Gardens on the doorstep, Kentish Town, Regent’s Park, Greenwich, Bermondsey, and on and on.

Tourists don’t see enough of these areas, but spend a little time here and you discover what each neighbourhood stands for and brings to the table that is the feast of London.

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(Kensington High Street then)

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(Kensington High Street now)

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(Bucolic Barnes)

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(Colourful Notting Hill)

 

Does Anyone Over a Certain Age Say This Anymore?

I was speaking to my 13-yr-old recently and coordinating weekend schedules. She wanted go to the mall with her friends to “go shopping” together. That stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t understand why at the time, but a few days later it sunk in.  What is this thing they call “going shopping together”? When would anyone find the time?

Is it just me? Am I the big loser (as The Trumpster so often says)?  I’m over 50, I work and I’m raising a child, we’ve moved continents 3 times (not country, CONTINENTS) and I’m thinking maybe all these things have contributed to my predicament. I racked my brains to think of when anyone last said those 3 little words (“Let’s go shopping!”) to me.

I do remember an Australian friend coming through London on a work trip and we had an afternoon together. We met near Regent Street and she had already stated up front in texts “We have to go shopping! I need more work clothes!”  The idea put fear in me. Perhaps it’s because I’m so bad at it? Or don’t care? I’ve never really been bothered about shopping but always loved my girlfriends who did — who would drag me out and show me what I was missing. I always needed their expertise to help me understand what looked good or what was “in” at the moment. I relied on them.  I was much more comfortable buying stuff online when that became cool — even if it didn’t fit and I was supposed to send it back for a refund (I say this because I’m too lazy and rarely did).

Anyway we went to Reiss near Piccadilly and she helped me pick out a beautiful black-and-white striped jersey Bardot top that I wear constantly. That was about 6 or 7 years ago.  She’s a self-admitted clothes horse and has a room in her house dedicated to just shoes. I think she dropped £600-£800 that weekend.  I’m not making fun at all — I’m admiring. It’s clearly a deficit of mine.  Likewise another friend in L.A. took me shopping years ago in my early 30s on Melrose Avenue and I STILL have the 3 or 4 items she hand-picked for me that I would NEVER have picked for myself. They were so cool and trendy! They don’t fit, of course, but I still have them. Thinking I can recycle them for my daughter?

Anyway, I guess I’m saying I miss it. It’s not to say I haven’t been shopping with my husband or daughter, but that’s different.  It’s less about the shopping and more about the girl talk and bonding that happens whilst shopping. Women, and men, tend to get more isolated as they get older.  Those bonding moments are fewer and far between.  So, I know my friends cannot believe I’m saying this, but sometime soon, will someone ask me to go shopping with them?

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PREDATORY MEN & POWER

Listening to the Vanessa Feltz program this morning on BBC Radio London, I heard a very difficult interview with the most calm, decent and eloquent man named Arthur regarding terrible sexual abuse to him as a child by a teacher at Christ Hospital School in Sussex.

Arthur was riveting. Not because of the horrible details of what happened to him, but in the brave, articulate and resolved way with which he discussed it. It was a brilliant, emotional program and worth tuning into.

By talking about it, you are taking back the power the abuser stole from you.

But while I was listening, I was also thinking about the various stories of sexual harassment and abuse in the news recently by powerful and influential men in Hollywood and journalism.  I can’t think of anything more atrocious than being abused as a child – it really is undeniably the most heinous of things.  But hearing him speak about the abuse of power and society and the way he dealt with it, I couldn’t help but draw some similarities to the young women being preyed upon in offices across the globe.

He said so much worth repeating.  I was driving at the time so I might not have the details perfect, but Arthur was abused as a child between the years of 1970 and 1973 by a man named Peter Burr.  As Arthur says, he didn’t have the vocabulary or words to describe what was happening to him but he just knew it was wrong. In 2003, he gathered up his nerve and called the police and spoke to someone there.  They didn’t do anything and he wasn’t taken seriously. He doesn’t blame them.  He said “I bear no resentment.  There was no language in society, no understanding, no compartment to put that information in, and I did as much as I could.”

The abuser was facilitated by a system that encouraged silence

Fast forward to last year and he was listening to the Vanessa Feltz show about Jimmy Saville and abusers and it spurred him to get in touch with the producers.  Paraphrasing: “You store all of this up in a box. You tuck it away. After hearing the BBC London program about abuse and Jimmy Saville, I realized there were other men and girls now who were children who commonly had the same experience. I heard that program and thought more had to be done.”

So he got in touch with Gemma the producer who said perhaps we can help and asked him to go back to the police.  He went on to say “the time is right to do something now. It’s an appropriate moment in society.  For the first time in my life, I had a story to tell, a complaint to make, and the police listened and they acted and society supported that action. At last, justice is done.  I am grateful for that.”  Peter Burr pleaded guilty and last week was convicted on 9 counts and is serving 4 years in prison.

But what really got me is somewhere between 8:15 and 8:30 AM (about 1:15:00 into the program), he said a few things that rang so true to my experience and the experiences of others who were young women working in offices of powerful men.  I’ve been grappling with why I feel guilty about not coming forward earlier. I know the man who tried to attack me ended up harassing and abusing women for 20 years. I feel lucky in that I got away before any real damage was done. I was attacked, I fought him off, I got away. Others weren’t so fortunate. And that makes me cry and makes me very, very angry.

Arthur said the man who abused him and other boys was a man who was “facilitated by a system that encouraged silence”. This couldn’t be more true of the nature of newsrooms and Hollywood and frankly, everywhere else where there were predators.  He also said the man is like many predators who are “exercising their complete power of control over you for their own sexual gratification. Utter power over you.”  The conversation revealed that Peter took gratification by abusing the power of his positionHe was a man in a position of power and authority and his gain was taking away the power of others.  But it was also the culture at the time. Arthur recognizes this.  He said “attitudes of the police have changed so much. From the 1970s, 80s, even 10 years ago. The time is now.”

Later in the program they had experts on to talk about this further.  Power in relationships is the key.  Underlings are powerless to do anything and predators know this.  In this case, it could be young boys abused by teachers, or young women abused or harassed by powerful, influential, sometimes famous men whose authority and power in the office atmosphere is very apparent.  It is very hard to take BACK that power, as the panellists on Vanessa’s show said: “They are very clever and manipulative people who know they can dominate and that’s the reward for them.  The sexual predatory behaviour is the result.”

Arthur said that by talking about it, you’ve taken back that control that people had over you. Talking about it is empowering, he said.  You are not alone and you realize that when you hear other stories.  Even if you can’t go through the court process just sharing it with others brings back control.  You’ve dealt with it.

He said “I know that justice has been served.  I know I’ve done all I can do.”  I agree with him when he says that the time is right. Now, in 2018, wider society says this is wrong. Abuse of power and predatory behaviour is wrong. There is a big sea change.

I have heard from women who are raw. Who were attacked, who were abused, who were harassed, who were taken advantage of.  They were young, they didn’t know how to react, they were paralyzed with fear.  They did not know who to reach out to, how to report, what to report, what the repercussions would be.  Many feared for their jobs or the fallout from being the “problem” person in the office.  Many thought they were the only one harassed (myself included).  Others were so traumatized they left news completely.  They changed careers. How sad a state of affairs that young women journalists starting out in their careers and arriving at the bright, brilliant allure of the all-powerful television news networks ended up fleeing in fear and pain because of the men who abused their trusted power.  Worst still, others did report the problems and little was done.

I agree with Arthur: The time is now. As part of an organisation of women whose mission is to change the newsroom culture, I hope we can pave a smoother path for future generations.  Our culture, our newsrooms, our offices, our police, our superiors, our leaders all recognize that enough is enough. There is a new cultural awareness and a new intolerance.  Change is here. Finally, thankfully.

IF YOU DON’T GET THIS, WE HAVE A PROBLEM

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: WHOSE SHOES WOULD YOU WALK A MILE IN?

Atticus Finch said in To Kill A Mockingbird “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” He is explaining to his daughter, Scout, that we mustn’t judge another person until we have experienced what they have been through.

I would like to think of myself as the magnanimous, understanding person Atticus was referencing,  but I know I fall short.

He does not mean the people you feel sorry for or empathise with. He is talking about people you — without knowing it — have judged…or misjudged.  The people you would normally find the hardest to relate to, the least likely you can understand. Not someone who is poor or disadvantaged, living in poverty or worse. Although that would be hard to fathom, that is something that most of us would want to do to understand the difficulties that person faces. That is the definition of empathy. This is not an easy path, but I think we assume this is what Atticus is talking about. Whereas the shoes of someone whose values you do not like, whose causes you don’t believe in, whose doctrines are not ones you subscribe to — those are shoes far harder to step into.

For me, it would be very hard to walk a mile in the shoes of an Islamic terrorist. I would not understand them, nor want to understand them. And that’s where I fall short. I would find it very hard to walk in the shoes of a racist. A member of the Ku Klux Clan or even some of the Afrikaners we met while living in South Africa.  I would really bristle to walk in the shoes of a serial sexual harasser. Or worse, someone who abuses and rapes women.  Politically, I do not completely understand Brexiteers. And I find it very difficult understanding Trump voters. I cannot fathom that they see Trump as someone who will save them and the country.  I struggle with all these things.

But, isn’t the point that we do attempt to understand the opposite point of view? That we do try to listen and deconstruct it? You do not – at all – have to agree with it. But I would love to sit with a Trump supporter and really have an explorative, educational exchanging of views. Bridge the gap between us.  If we could discuss where he/she is coming from, how they arrived at this place in time where they felt the only answer was voting for a former TV-celebrity billionaire with no experience in government and no record of helping others, that would be a start.

I want to understand the racists whose views were formed from a young age. How did they arrive to the bias they so clearly have? When living in South Africa, we met Afrikaners who rolled their eyes and said things like “Well, your blacks aren’t like our blacks” as if we were merely discussing the difference in primary schools or bad restaurant service when in reality we were discussing racial tensions in the US and South Africa. I was appalled. I found myself judging. “How can they be so overtly racist?”

My husband pointed out to me that the woman we were speaking to had a completely different background and upbringing to us.  Economically, we were probably similar to her, and around the same age, but that’s where the similarities stopped. We all grew up in the 70s but in South Africa there was state-run media and the government controlled all the information that was fed to the public. She did not see the international news stories about the fatal youth uprising in Soweto or they were told a very different story – one that was far from the truth.  They didn’t have televisions in most of the houses and farms until well into the 70s, Pink Floyd’s The Wall and other outside media was banned countrywide, and they heard about things blacks were doing to whites through the filter and skewed POV of a scared white minority government.  They were 12 or 14 years old at the time whose parents told them the government was right.  My husband pondered were we to be born in South Africa with parents of a certain generation and the government lying to us, with a media machine in place to counter anything we might have heard, would we have turned out any better? I don’t know.

Of course, we would all like to think we would have seen it — would have sussed out the racism and inequalities and known about the apartheid system to keep blacks uneducated and seen the injustices. But would we have? Really? I don’t know. It was then that I realised I had judged them and found them lacking. I had gone to anti-apartheid rallies in the 80s. I bought the single “Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City” by international musicians who took a stand. I followed Mandela’s release and cheered when he won. But wasn’t it me who was lacking? If I couldn’t take away all the freedoms and education and bias that I was brought up with to see what kind of person I might have been had I been born in Pretoria rather than New York, aren’t I close-minded? I am assuming I’d be the better person, but I don’t know that.

I find the art of listening is lost on this narcissistic social media world we live in. So I would love to know whose shoes are the hardest for you to walk in. Whose point of view do you really not understand? If we could all listen to each other, sit for a spell, exchange points of views, come to some sort of understanding – with respect for each other – wouldn’t we be a better world for it? My New Year’s resolution is to do just that: I will try to listen more, judge less. Join me?

 

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FUN FACT FRIDAY

One of the things I love most about living abroad is learning about all the steeped traditions and local customs that make up the culture, people and country.  Starting last night, we are heading into a weekend of bonfires and firework parties across the country to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night.

It always creeps up on me (after more than 7 years here, you’d think I’d remember) and I was making dinner when the booming outside thundered like tanks and rockets, and the cats came flying through the cat door in a panic with hair raised.  It lasted — i kid you not — for a good 25 minutes.  Here’s a snippet of what got them going (from the top floor of our house):

It’s crazy! This is just the average local Guy Fawkes celebration in my suburb of West London, but there are hundreds that take place all over the country.  If we had looked out the front windows we would have seen two more in Kew and Richmond.  They are everywhere. As are the bonfires. Driving through Yorkshire about 5 years ago on Bonfire Night (another term for Guy Fawkes Night), we looked out over the rolling hills and counted 6 enormous bonfires about 3 stories high all across the landscape. It really is a sight to see.

These local celebrations will go on every night through Sunday (the actual Guy Fawkes Day is November 5th) and here is a partial listing of free, excellent fireworks displays in/around London, although I’m sure there are many more.bonfire-night-beverley-westwood

And what is Bonfire Night? It is a celebration of the thwarting of Guy Fawkes treasonous plot on November 5th, 1605, to blow up the King and Parliament. That night, Guy (a member of the Gunpowder Plot), was arrested in the basement beneath the House of Lords while guarding an enormous pile of explosives the plotters were planning to set off.  In celebration of the fact that King James I actually lived (did not get blown up), people lit bonfires around London and months later introduced an Act to observe this annually in a public day of thanksgiving.  So, sorta like July 4th and Thanksgiving combined (as they don’t have either here. Although some joke that if Brexit goes through, that will be our new “Independence Day” with probably a far less celebratory mood as we break away from Europe).  Here’s an excellent explanation, should you want more. Fun tidbit: Did you know his name was also Guido? Would have had a slightly different ring to it, eh? Guido Fawkes Day? 🙂

Guy_Fawkes_by_Cruikshank

By George Cruikshank – Ainsworth, William Harrison. Guy Fawkes, or The Gunpowder Treason. 1840., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10479566.

Are We At A Tipping Point?

[I write this missive to my daughter with the hopes that one day she will read and perhaps learn something about me and our times, but also come to understand the conflict, the setbacks, the inspiration, the tenacity and focus that goes into pushing a society from thinking one way to ACTING another.]

I am weary. Yet another story.  Last night, U.K. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon resigned saying his standards in the past have “clearly fallen short” of those standards required of the Armed Forces, which he represents.  The story circulating publicly pertains to a 2002 incident in which he repeatedly put his hand on a journalist’s knee. This, on the heels of an allegation by a brave young woman who says she was raped by someone senior within the Labour Party and was “warned” against pursuing the claim.  And add to that Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Mark Halperin, who have been accused of sexual harassment.  The floodgates have opened.  The amount of accusers suggests this lewd and gross misconduct was happening frequently and – by the sound of it – all of LA/DC/London seemed to have some inkling that these men were particularly slimy with younger people left alone in their lecherous hands. These men used their positions of power and influence to prey on and victimize those subordinate to them.  And I am saddened, but rueful and cynical. I talk to my women friends and many of us have the same reaction.  These revelations are not new (Bill Clinton, Dominic Strauss Kahn, Roger Ailes, Clarence Thomas, Senator Packwood, the list goes on…). We all assume Fallon resigned because there is more to the story or there are other women who have yet to come forward (“It can’t be just touching a woman’s knee?! Seriously? There must be more”).  We have all worked hard for 20 + years in careers that inevitably brought us face to face with sexual innuendo and inappropriate behaviour and yes, sexual harassment by the textbook, legal definition. If you asked any one of us “was it wrong?” we would say absolutely, yes. Firmly, without a doubt. None of my female friends, family, and colleagues are shrinking violets. We are successful career women with families who do the juggle, the dance, because we can and we want to. Are we fighters? Yes. Has it been easy? Hell, no. Should any one of us in any of our #MeToo moments have reported the incident and sought recourse? Probably. But we didn’t. And the answer to “Why not?” lies also in that deafening silence that many in Hollywood and Washington and elsewhere kept (men AND women alike).

Silence about bad behaviour does not mean acceptance. We get by with the tools given to us to make us fighters. To survive, one must always pick and choose battles.

How do I explain this to you? I am complicit in this. Perhaps I am a failure to you and your generation, I think. If any of the things that happened to any of these women – to me – happened to you, I’d be outraged. On the other hand, I was brought up by a strong mother (and father) who taught us how to be feisty, independent and fight for a place in the male-dominated workplace.  Some history and context here – we just went to see the movie Battle of the Sexes together, right? And I explained to you how bad the movie was on the broader issues, remember? The meaning of that one match was enormous to a generation of women and their daughters.  There were ERA marches on Capitol Hill, women were pushing for equal pay, equal rights in the workplace, it was the “women libbers” vs “male chauvinist pigs” who thought women should stay at home in the kitchen pregnant.  There was a palpable uprising in the air and I could feel the electricity in my mother as she lectured my sister and I about how “our generation will get what her generation missed – an opportunity to be anything a man could be.”  A gathering at our house watched that match. And I remember, as an impressionable 9-year old, how ecstatic and triumphant the women were when Billy Jean King won.  What I didn’t know –  because my Dad was right there with my Mom telling us men and women are intellectually equal – was that there was an undercurrent of tension and resentment (probably rooted in fear of change, of upsetting the ‘status quo’) amongst men.  I now understand the term “feminists” rolled off these men’s tongues with a sneer.  Some of the younger men in the workplace at the time ended up being the older men I would work for once I graduated from university in 1986.  So the winds of change do not come overnight.

Back to now, or rather to 20 years ago when most of these incidents coming out now occurred. A new generation of women populated offices across the country. But the residual effects of an earlier generation still existed. As Brit Marling points out, it was only in 1974 that women could apply for credit cards in their own name. Financial independence and career women were newly on the scene in growing numbers. And they were moving up. And yet, the social and moral attitudes, culture and laws were still playing catch up.  If any one of us, at that time, had come forward, there would have been little – if any – recourse. The support systems and protection of the workplace would not have helped us. We would have been deemed annoying ‘troublemakers’ and become pariahs in our offices. We felt that our careers would stumble or fall if we spoke up, and if not immediately, then over time, we would be ousted.

We all do what we need to do, sometimes, to protect ourselves. But silence about bad behaviour does not mean acceptance. We get by with the tools given to us to make us fighters, to make us tough. To survive, one must always pick and choose battles.  I was part of this system.  My story is no different, although far less invasive than some of the horror stories I’ve heard.  In my late 20s, a powerful and well-known man in Washington circles who was far senior to me (same industry but we did not work at the same place), followed me into an empty elevator. He shoved me up against the wall and attempted to grope and kiss me. Thoroughly disgusted and nauseous, I kneed him in the groin, told him angrily and firmly to STOP, and quickly got out of the elevator.  I knew what was right and wrong. I had never liked this guy and my spider-sense always told me he was a slimy, nasty piece of work.  He was physically overpowering to my 5 ft. 6 and a half, slim frame.  But there was no way I was going to be a ‘victim’. And it’s that toughness, that fighter, that absolute belief in my convictions, that told me to fight back quickly and swiftly and extricate myself from that situation.  But did I tell anyone? Did I do anything about this? I told some male and female friends in my circle. I might have even told my boss. But I knew making any sort of waves would jeopardize my career.  And that was more important to me. I left with my dignity intact.  I was not physically harmed. I had amazing opportunities with my career ahead of me. I was just beginning to be taken seriously as an adult. I was finally coming into my own as a career woman, and this was not going to stop me. I was luckier than other women (and men) whose stories we are hearing now. But I wonder whether they were thinking something similar when faced with the dilemma: Do I tell?

Millennials are outraged at things we all used to tolerate. Does this moral intolerance present an opportunity for change that should be harnessed?

 

So here we are in 2017.  Are we at a tipping point? Has society caught up? Are there stronger social and support mechanisms in place to handle this swiftly, cleanly, justly?  A confession: I am not a fan of the Millennials. Yet here is a question to ponder.  Does the constant moral outrage of Millennials present an opportunity for change that should be harnessed? I have watched as this new generation, these so-called “snowflakes”, melt at the first sign of offence or insult. I hear from friends in the States that it’s a phenomenon sweeping the country – safe zones for virtually every individual on college campuses – university professors insulting kids in class without knowing what they’ve done wrong.  Here in the U.K. it’s catching on too: At Oxford, professors send out announcements and alerts about matter being discussed in class ahead of time, just in case anyone might be offended by the subject and not want to come.  To me, the pendulum has swung too far. We will all be walking on eggshells soon, but then who will defend the eggshells? Don’t they deserve a safe-zone too? I don’t know where it will stop but I find we’ve raised a generation of ‘bubble’ kids and I’m not sure what has happened to the toughness we grew up with in the 70s.

The Millennials are outraged at things we all used to tolerate.  But, perhaps we have just enough of the older generations moving out and the younger generations moving in that the scales have tipped to favour the young and all that they bring to the workplace. Perhaps this over-sensitivity will have its positives, namely 100% intolerance to sexual harassment in the workplace.  I don’t know the answer, but I am willing to be convinced.  [And if so, PLEASE could we have this same confluence of influence, generational change and intolerance for the gun control issue too?]

It could be the timing is right (as my brilliant friend Muriel Demarcus points out, timing is everything). US Labour website says nearly 47 percent of U.S. workers are women (74.6 million of us toiling away), and women own close to 10 million businesses.  70% of mothers with children participate in the work force. And very interesting: Mothers are the primary or sole earners for 40 percent of households with children under 18 today, compared with 11 percent in 1960.  Men are more enlightened now, having lived and worked side by side with a growing workforce of women for 40 years.

So I think we must strike while the iron is hot.  Some friends back home fear this new movement will cause a backlash amongst men who will be pushed to resent women working in the office and boardrooms. My husband says just the opposite. As he rightly points out, the majority of men out there are the good guys. They are the ones we have relied on, been supported by, and who live by the same moral codes. He says “if there is backlash, it’s likely to be amongst the older generation of men who are dinosaurs now. And they need to learn to moderate their language and behaviour, or retire.” That’s that. Change is good. And he feels most men aged 20-40, even up to 50, will feel the same.

I believe the confluence of our transitional generation, who grew up in the 70s and 80s along with the newer millennials is the perfect marriage for true and lasting change in our society.  Left alone, both sides would flounder.  We older folks are too cynical and jaded. I have one friend who works in finance who laughs when telling me she consistently fails her company’s “sensitivity” test because she doesn’t push “RED” (out of options Green = Acceptable, Yellow = Borderline, and Red = Unacceptable, Needs To Be Reported) when she should. She said if she pushed RED when they suggest, she would have to probably report something at least once a month, if not once a week.  On the other hand, Snowflakes cry out at the slightest, often most unintentional, slight. I know someone else who was going into a lunch meeting with Millennials and as the meeting was starting he said “I should have ordered a salad. I need to lose weight.” As the meeting closed, a young lady pulled him aside scolding him, saying she was offended by his comment. He was flabbergasted.  When explained, he was inadvertently maligning fat people. So I think we can help each other. We bring the years of experience and examples to share. Millennials bring their unswerving moral centre. This could be good.