Dad – 10 years

I couldn’t let today pass without saying a few words about my dad, who died exactly 10 years ago today, aged 74. I don’t have many photos of him that have been digitised so I apologise that this one lets MsDD take centre stage, but it shows his delight at being with her. He thought the world of his grandchildren, and made a point of showing his love for them.

This photo was taken a year or two before we moved to Paris which was, I think, one of the things that made him give up a bit on life. In the end he died from Hepatitis caught as a child in India, and that, his blindness and the strain of being with my mum, who was already showing signs of dementia and very difficult to live with, must have been the last straw.

Dad had called me the Sunday before to let me know that he was going into hospital for a minor operation and, while there, he seems to have contracted the infection that killed him. I remember being at Parc Astérix, where I was spending the last day of our summer holiday with the children, and racing back home through the traffic on the Peripherique to grab a ticket for the last Eurostar back to London. As we prevaricated about whether to ask the doctors to turn off his breathing machine, suddenly his blood pressure dropped and he was gone on his own terms.

He came to the UK in 1952 aged 19, leaving his university course and taking the opportunity to join his big brother in the “Mother Country.” He continued his studies for a while, combining evening classes with work on a building site by day. He suffered so much cruelty and racism but he was of the generation that turned the other cheek and assimilated. He was called George by colleagues who could not be bothered to learn “Keshav.”

Having marched to Aldermaston with CND and been active in the Labour Party for much of his life, it was my dad who taught me about apartheid and nuclear disarmament and probably he who was responsible for my lifelong interest in politics. He introduced me to classical music and used to come to our school concerts and conduct from the audience.

It was my dad who taught me that there was always more than one side to everything and that one should not judge people unfairly, that one should always look for the good in people. Towards the end of his life, however, his disability got the better of him. He never acknowledged his poor eyesight and subsequent blindness, as if it was something of which to be ashamed and it made him insecure. At his deathbed I could think only of our blazing rows and bitter words that always came back to his helplessness. The generation gap could no longer be bridged and we lived in different worlds.

No-one seems to remember important dates in our house where we seem to have acquired an almost puritanical disdain for ceremony. But you were in my thoughts today, dad.

 

Some further thoughts on Remembrance Sunday

Some further thoughts on Remembrance Sunday

 

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I have written copiously before about Remembrance Sunday and if you want to see those posts of previous years, perhaps just search Remembrance up there to the top right hand side of your screen. There’s little need to repeat all that stuff here.

However, I have had a few more thoughts this year:

For many years, I noted Remembrance Sunday but it only became really meaningful when I had children as, suddenly, I identified with the sacrifice of families with lives torn apart by war, who lost children or simply lost their dreams.

My poppy invariably falls off my coat and is lost well before Remembrance Sunday so I often used crocheted poppies or badges instead.  I always buy a red poppy and donate to the Royal British Legion charity: I am only too aware of the impact of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on ex-servicement and women who have survived conflict and need constant support which, often, they do not receive.

Others decide not to wear a poppy at all perhaps because they refuse to participate in what they see as the glorification of war; perhaps they are pacifists; perhaps they refuse to co-operate with bullying from far right groups such as Britain First who engage in twisted bullying on Facebook and other social media and imply that people who do not wear a poppy (or who simply aren’t wearing one THAT day and on THAT coat) are somehow unpatriotic and anti-British.

When I was a teenager, I wore a white poppy one year and braved the scowls of a lot of people. At that time I was a member of the Campaign for Nucleatr Disarmament and an idealist pacifist. I am no longer any of those things.

It is up to individual people whether or not they wear a red or white poppy or a paw poppy (to remember animals used in warfare or caught up in it) or no poppy at all. That is, we are told, exactly why troops went to war: for our freedom to express ourselves how we choose.

I like to participate in public acknowledgements of Remembrance, even if that means standing by my steaming iron for two minutes, listening to the silence on the radio as I did this morning. I have always encouraged the offspring to take part in Remembrance ceremonies – we had a lovely rendition of the Last Post as usual in our BYCB concert tonight – as an appreciation of history is vital in our understanding the world. The Boywonder was telling us last week that he is anxious to attend Remembrance events when he leaves university. An ex-cadet, cadet bandsman, and avid History student, Remembrance has become enmeshed in his life.

If you want to wear a white poppy because of your beliefs, by all means go ahead. But I am dismayed at the increasing virtue signalling of the white poppy: public pacifism does not make people morally superior to those who choose to remember relatives who sacrificed their lives or those who, like me, choose to be thankful that someone is out there doing dirty work that I would never in a million years want to do. I want to stand in solidarity with mothers who have lost their children. I prefer to put humans before ideas.

Photo by lovingyourwork.com

Farewell Beryl

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Beryl Angela Cook

25 January 1929 – 19 August 2015

A lone bouquet of irises lies on a wicker coffin.

Tributes are paid to a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend.

A venerable husband, hunched, crumbling, stands beside a recently occupied grave, takes a handful of dust, sprinkles it, blows a descending kiss.

Conversation, a family get together, the long road home. Fish and chips, a film, a cup of tea.

Thank you, Aunty Beryl for your understanding, your laughter. May you now rest in peace, free from pain. xx

 

 

Remembering 六四

Tiananmen-Duck-Man

I mark June 4th every year, and remember the hundreds, thousands of peaceful demonstrators in Tian An Men Square, Beijing who, in 1989, were gunned down by the People’s Liberation Army: you couldn’t make it up.

I’d been travelling around China with my normal engineer travelling partner, whose crassness I secretly loathed, on one of my normal tours of China trying to sell industrial materials to the Chinese who, though very happy to entertain us and therefore avail themselves of a banquet, only rarely bought anything from us. Who could blame them?

Buying our stuff, even though it was of a far superior quality to theirs in those days meant spending scarce foreign exchange and their products were readily available for the local currency at a fraction of the price. My company was among many that mistakenly believed that China was a huge untapped market. Who knew that it would become a market only for designer handbags and fast cars, that could not be made domestically?

So, twice or three times every year, we used to spend a few days in Beijing then travel to Xian, Wuhan, Shanghai, sometimes Shenyang, or Tianjin or Dalian before exiting via a day spend mooching around Hong Kong. Yet this time, as we switched on the television news in our hotels, all built in the mid 1980s with identical rooftop revolving restaurants and coffee shops, we saw reports of police quelling dissent from “counter-revoutionary elements.” It was like this unrest was following us around China.

I returned from that trip at the end of April 1989, I think, and by May there were demonstrators in Tian An Men square. Night after night on the BBC Nine o’ Clock news we watched their ranks swell. They wanted democracy and openness, they said. We didn’t pay much attention to them really, as who knew the scale of the imminent bloodshed?

Then, on 3rd June it became clear that the Chinese government would tolerate this no more. There were reports of protestors being gunned down; of roadblocks at major transport intersections around the city; of tanks being sent in to quell dissent.

The thing is: the Chinese people, so long raised to believe that their army would never fire on them, were sitting targets.

Back in London my colleagues and I faxed Western news reports to client organisations in China in order to try and present a more balanced picture of what was actually going on. And I was trying to find my friend Desmond, on a British Council scholarship to Nanjing, where he had married a Chinese girl. The family had endured several interrogations from the Secret Police – in Chinese the Public Security Authority – because of her involvement with a foreigner. The last British student in China we think – everyone else had been evacuated – he would not leave his wife. It took several early morning calls – the time difference is eight hours – to secure their safe passage to the Consulate in Shanghai. At one stage her luggage was in the hold of a plane out of the country when it was suddenly decided that she was missing one (newly conjured) rubber stamp and it was taken off again because she was not permitted to fly.

The next time I went to Beijing, I blagged my way past the Security Police cordon around Tian An Men Square and walked alone across the vast, silent windblown space, grey in the freezing late autumn light. On the Monument to the Heroes of the Revolution, I saw bullet holes and bloodstains on the stonework. How many times had I cheerfully crossed this square in an overcrowded bus or air-conditioned taxi? Now it was empty. Desolate. The bitterly cold breeze whistled past my ears. The significance of the date was not lost on me: November 11th.

At this point most western companies withdrew their investment from China and that was effectively the end of my career in Chinese. I had an affinity for languages at school and, the Russian empire then being on the verge of collapse, the local careers teacher suggested I learn Chinese at university. I was carried about on a wave of the glamour: I became almost a minor celebrity at parties: the girl who was going off to study Chinese at university, including a year in China. Suddenly my parents and their community were (mostly) talking to me again in hushed tones of intrigue. There was much less of the incredulous, “But LANGUAGES??? Why Languages? Why not a doctor?

And this is how all those ambitions ended in dust as did my political leanings. Brought up in a fairly left-wing household, I had been a member of CND and, as I recall, apologist for Michael Foot. Communism was, to me, a panacea.

It was when I spent a year in China as a student and later on working trips there  that I realised how many jobs are manufactured (one person to change the manhole cover; seven to “audit”); elite schools and medical care for the children of the elite. Party officials demanding expenses-paid trips to the West as “supervision visits” before they signed a contract; the banquets; the Johnnie Walker; the forced abortions and lack of choice about anything such as subjects to study at school and subsequent careers – there is so much more –  that I started to reassess my political beliefs. So much for Utopia.

I now despise the fact that we are so dependent on China for cheaply-made STUFF and that governments seem to fall over themselves to appease China’s petulance. Typing this on my MacBook, with an iPhone close by and any amount of Chinese-made things within my reach, I am aware how hypocritical this is, believe me. These experiences have made me suspicious of any idealism and pronouncements of the right way of governing a society. As with our own personal lives and families, we do what is necessary to get by.

I think that doing a degree in Chinese was one of the biggest mistakes in my life and I often regret not doing French, which I adored. On the other hand, however, it’s made me who I am. My year as a student in China forced me to rethink all my preconceptions and open my mind.  I am a firm believer that everyone should have the opportunity of spending a year in an alien culture when young.

This post, then, is dedicated to all those who died on 4th June 1989; the political prisoners; the people put in prison for speaking up against the authorities; the casualties of foolish initiatives like the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution; all those who cannot speak freely without threat of intimidation or torture.

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A final send-off for Uncle Keith

 

We spent this afternoon in Kesgrave, Suffolk, finally laying the ashes of the OH’s Uncle Keith to rest. He died suddenly but after a long illness last October on the occasion of our last family get together.

Auntie Mavis, supported by her two lovely sons Neal and Robbie united the ashes with the earth in a tranquil spot in local woodland, where the family had spent lots of happy times. Uncle Keith’s ashes are buried a little way away from the path so he will not inconvenience the joggers, the cyclists and dog walkers and the weekly park run, but he’ll have plenty of company. Mavis planted a small fir tree, which Keith had raised from a seed, to mark the spot, under an old and spreading beech tree and, today, a cloudless blue sky.

There was no ceremony at all, but individual moments of silent contemplation for a lovely man.

 

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