History

The Grapes of Wrath

There are some books that define a generation and I'm thinking about one of those today.

If you've not read 'The Grapes of Wrath' by John Steinbeck, then may I recommend it?

The grapes of wrath book coverI think I first read it when I was a teenager and it made a huge impression on me.

It is a glorious piece of writing which is not a surprise. After all, after it was published on this day - April 14th - in 1939, the book won the National Book Award  and Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and it was cited prominently when Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962.

But it's also a narrative of a period of history in the USA which I was learning about at school at the time and it really helped me to understand the era and, more importantly, the people who lived through it. And so the study of history became more than just facts and figures. It helped me to understand that history is about the people who live through it. People just like you and me. People with feelings and fears, people with emotions and dreams.

'The Grapes of Wrath' is set in the Great Depression - a severe worldwide economic depression which began in the United States of America and which blighted the 1930s. It all began with the Wall Street Crash in autumn 1929 when stock markets collapsed, people's livelihoods and lives were destroyed. It was the depression that defined the pre-World War II years.

As I said before, when one is studying history, it's easy just to study the facts and to forget the impact of world events on the ordinary lives of individuals. Not just the rich, influential  and famous whose stories might hit the headlines or ultimately be included in the history books, but the lives of ordinary people who make up the great majority of our world.

The family at the centre of 'The Grapes of Wrath'  are the Joads, poor tenant farmers in the state of Oklahoma who are driven out of their home by a series of events. First, drought - the economic crisis coincided with some climatic challenges not all natural ... some of the problems were caused by over use of the land. But, in addition,  the Joads also faced economic hardship, agricultural industry changes, and bank foreclosures which forced tenant farmers out of work. 

The family epitomises the problems of their generation. They are in a desperate situation, trapped in what was known as the 'Dust Bowl', they decide to become part of an exodus to the 'Promised Land' of California, where they believe they will find work and land and a future.

So the Joads join thousands of other "Okies" heading west. 

However, once they reach California, they find the state oversupplied with men, women and children all seeking employment, workers are exploited and wages are low. The poor face a future where the big corporate farmers collude, smaller farmers suffer from collapsing prices and the future is not much better than that which the family faced at home in Oklahoma. 

Although the Great Depression, and any depression or economic downturn actually, often affects everyone at the start, there's no doubt that it is the poor who ultimately suffer the most. The rich and powerful often find ways of escaping and sadly that's often at the expense of others.

As I was researching this blog, I discovered that Steinbeck not only was aware of this, but actually wrote the book to highlight the issue, and in fact 'The Grapes of Wrath', with it's brilliant writing and his sympathy for migrants and workers, won a huge following among the working class. 

He's reported to have said "I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this (the Great Depression) and its effects."

And Steinbeck also famously said, "I've done my damnedest to rip a reader's nerves to rags." 

And THAT is indeed what happened to me when I first read the book - it taught me so much not just about that particular period of history, but also a good deal about how greed and power can corrupt, and how it is the poorest and weakest in our society who invariably suffer the most.

Even though 'The Grapes of Wrath' was written almost a century ago, it certainly feels to me that it has a few messages for this current generation, and this current period of human history.

I haven't read it for a while, but I think I need to read it again.


A Musical Experience

If you're a person who sings, and sings seriously - I'm thinking about choirs and the like, including in church - you MAY know the piece of music I'm talking about today.

It's not easy to sing - I know, because I've tried it once or twice and it was beyond me.

But it's a glorious piece, actually more of an experience I would say, rather than just a 'sing'

And it was on this day - April 13th - in 1742 that Handel's 'Messiah' was first performed in Dublin!

George Frideric Handel was a German born composer who had trained and worked in Germany and Italy before moving to England in 1712. His reputation was built on compositions of Italian opera but as public tastes began to change, he adapted. In 1727 Handel became a naturalised British subject and by the 1730s he began producing English oratorios.

Hallelujah chorus sheet musicResearch tells me that Messiah was actually Handel's sixth oratorio in English and although it apparently had a rather low key debut, it was immediately popular. About a year after the Irish first night, Messiah was premiered in London, a gala performance attended by royalty. And apparently King George was so moved by the rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus” that he rose from his seat. The audience also took to their feet and for the past 270-plus years, audiences have continued to do the same. Over the centuries it has become one of the best known, most popular and most frequently performed choral works in Western music.

But what I didn't realise until I started researching was that it was written at a time when Handel's health and reputation was failing. He was an opera man and that genre had begun to become less popular. He felt his work had become rather jaded and he was struggling, but he was a deeply religious man and he turned to the Bible for inspiration. And that's when he was re-energised and he started to produce some amazing works!

Messiah is all about life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - the 'Messiah' being the saviour of humankind who is first mentioned in ancient Jewish scripture. Christians believe Jesus is the 'Messiah'.

Handel was so inspired that he apparently finished Part I of the piece (the birth of the Messiah and the Old Testament prophecies) in only six days. He composed Part II (the passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus) in nine days. Part III ( which charts the promise of redemption, the day of judgement and the resurrection which ends with the final victory over death for all those who believe) was completed in just six days. The orchestration took Handel only a few days more which means that in total, the whole composition took less than 25 days. Astonishing!

Handel's music is set to words compiled by Charles Jennens who drew from the King James Bible, and from the Coverdale Psalter, the version of the Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer.  The 'libretto' is apparently not designed to dramatise the life and teachings of Jesus, but to acclaim the "Mystery of Godliness", and anyone who has sung or heard Messiah will be aware not just of the wonderful music but also of the spiritual impact it can have on a soul!

Handel continued to write religious music and to perform until, at the age of  74, he collapsed while conducting a performance of Messiah. At that time, as he was laid in bed he allegedly said  “I should like to die on Good Friday.” 

That wasn't to be, although he did die on a Holy Saturday -  April 14th, 1759. That anniversary is tomorrow! Handel’s grave is in Westminster Abbey in London and it's marked by a statue of him with a score of Messiah opened on the table. The page that is visible is, “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth.” 

But today I'm going to share perhaps the most familiar piece of music from Messiah and it's the piece that brought a king to his feet. And it's still attracting crowds ... as this 'flash mob' by the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus in the USA proves.

I love this and as I watch it I wonder if all those singing are actually members of the Chorus, or whether because the piece is so well known some people just started singing along?

I think Handel would have loved it.

Enjoy!

 




I'll Fight

I've done quite a few jobs down the years. Worked in newspapers, radio, television, PR and communications, training. I'm also an author.

My first book was about the founders of The Salvation Army, the global church and charity organisation, William and Catherine Booth.

William and catherine book coverWeirdly it was called 'William and Catherine - the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army told through their letters' (Monarch/Lion Hudson 2013) ... and yes it was based on the letters the couple wrote to each other from the time they met and throughout their engagement and long marriage.

The letters are full of their love and family life, but also show how that love, and a love for and faith in God, led to the creation of The Salvation Army, from very humble beginnings in the East End of Victorian London to a 'movement' which today can be found in more than 130 countries. 

Why am I telling you this? Well, it's because today - April 10th - is William Booth's birthday! Born this day in 1829 in Nottingham in England, he was a man on a mission. Having become a Christian when he was what we today would call a 'teenager', he was determined to spend his life in God's service.

He yearned to be an evangelist and to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He tried hard to fit into the Methodist Church, but he was such an individualist that, ultimately, that just didn't work. Finally, after years of struggle and ministry, he and Catherine found themselves in London where William began to really see the plight of the poor and to be challenged into a response. He and Catherine had realised their 'calling' in life was to champion the hoards of people excluded from church and society, marginalised, ignored, undervalued and even abused.

In 1865 the Booths created the East London Christian Mission, among other things to preach to, feed and support the poor. In 1878 it was renamed and became 'The Salvation Army' and from that moment it really took off, with its quasi military structure and distinctive character. Uniforms and brass bands were among the features which captured the public imagination and attracted not just people from the poverty stricken part of the population but also those from the higher echelons of society who felt that 'church' should be more than just ritual and Sunday attendance at services.  Christian faith in this context was to be shared, and to make a difference in the world. In modern parlance, Christian faith is '24/7' and is to influence what you get up to and how you interact with the world.

The Booths and their followers (known as 'Salvationists') faced much opposition, from society and even the church. Among other things, The Salvation Army asked, and still asks, it's members to give up the booze and that didn't go down well with publicans! Salvation Army members were imprisoned for their faith, and attacked by those who opposed them, including groups calling themselves 'The Skeleton Army'.

But by the time William was an old man he was revered. He and Catherine (she had died in 1890) and their children and followers had developed not just what was effectively a church with many hundreds of 'corps' across the globe, but a mission which helped to pick people up from poverty and equip them for a future where they could look after themselves and their families. Not just a 'hand out' in charity, but a 'hand up'. 

WIlliam's last speech = albert hall ihq imageAnd even as an old man, William Booth never lost the spirit to fight for the marginalised, people who no one else would champion.

On May 9th 1912, just a few months before he died, William ... the 'General' of The Salvation Army ... appeared before a huge crowd at the Royal Albert Hall in London. He had just completed a tour of Europe and it's reckoned around 7,000 Salvationists packed into the venue to hear what would be their leader's final address. 

It was here he was reported to have said something which would sum up his 60-year Christian ministry, and the mission of The Salvation Army.

And it still inspires today 

While women weep,
as they do now, I’ll fight.

While little children go hungry,
as they do now, I’ll fight.
While men go to prison, in and
out, in and out, as they do now,
I’ll fight.
While there is a drunkard left,
While there is a poor lost girl
upon the streets,
While there remains one dark
soul without the light of God,
I’ll fight – I’ll fight to the very end!

Quite a few years ago, I was employed as the Head of Media for The Salvation Army in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and we produced a video for a big event (a 'congress') which brought together Salvation Army members and friends from across the UK and the British Isles. 

It was called the 'I'll Fight' Congress and it's theme was that great speech made by General William Booth at the start of the 1900s.

But, big question  - is the sentiment of the speech still relevant for the 21st century?

Well of course there are still 'poor lost girls' ... in fact today The Salvation Army is at the forefront of the fight against human trafficking, the modern slave trade, across the world. People still go hungry, still go to prison and end up isolated. Drugs, alcohol abuse, homelessness, unemployment ... these are unfortunately still issues which The Salvation Army helps to address day on day. 

And for that 'congress' we re-worked the original Booth speech to suit the times. It was some years ago, so apologies to the children who kindly helped me on this project. They are now grown adults. 

But it still works ... and it still challenges ... 

 

*image above and film embedded in the video copyright The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre


A musical debut

There are some things in life that you think have been around forever. 

Think about things you enjoy -  maybe a cup of tea, or coffee? What about cake? Sandwiches? Spaghetti Bolognaise?

Well, now I'm just talking about things I like ... but you know what I mean?

Recently we've been thinking about Easter and that's been around forever hasn't it? Well no ... there was the first Easter, that day when Jesus was resurrected. That amazing, outstanding day in history.

There was the first time someone picked tea and made a cuppa or the first time someone put two pieces of bread together with something in between to create a sandwich. Most things had a 'first time'. Right?

Ever heard of ABBA?

If not - where have you been?

Growing up, ABBA was one of the soundtracks of my teenage and early adult life. They were massive. I listened to them on the radio, bought the albums, danced the night away to the sounds of AgnethaBjörnBenny and Anni-Frid.

They still are massive! Their award winning music has stood the test of time down the years. They are legends in their own lifetimes across the world and if you've watched the movie or seen the stage show 'Mamma Mia' you'll know the tunes. ABBA just keep going on and on. They've brought so much joy to so many people. How great is that?

But, believe it or not, there was a time when the world was unaware of ABBA.

Abba waterlooAnd, in fact, it was on this day, April 6th, in 1974 that they first appeared on our radar.

If you're not aware, they won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, with their song 'Waterloo'. A weirdly wonderful song that just made us all laugh and want to get up and dance and sing along.

When millions tuned in to watch the performance on TV that night, we had no way of knowng that very soon ABBA would become part of all our lives!  Who could have imagined that when the obscure and colourful band from Sweden stepped onto that stage that there would soon be a time when we could hardly think of life without their music?

So - to celebrate - let's wind the clock back to that night in Brighton on the south coast of England, and the beginning of history...

Enjoy!

 


Palm Sunday

Today is 'Palm Sunday', and if you're not familiar with the Christian faith and the church calendar, this fact may not have registered with you.

Palm crossBut it's an important day in the Christian calendar, because it marks the start of what we call 'Holy Week',  the few days running up to Good Friday and Easter ... next weekend.

Over the past five weeks or so Christians have been preparing for this holy season during 'Lent' - it's a time of reflection, prayer, fasting and contemplation ahead of the commemoration of the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, at Easter.

Today is the final Sunday in the Lenten period, but why 'Palm' Sunday?

It's all about the last few days of the life of Jesus Christ. For three years Jesus had been travelling around the area which we now call 'The Holy Land' in the modern day country of Israel. As he went along Jesus preached a message of love and reconciliation, performing miracles by healing sick people, but also challenging the religious leaders of the day for their hypocrisy and distorting of the truths of the Jewish faith and the interpretation of ancient scripture to ensure their own power, status and even finances.

He gathered friends and followers around him and for a population oppressed under Roman rule, Jesus - a simple carpenter from the village of Nazareth - was being seen as a hope.

Some zealous nationalist Jews hoped he might lead a rebellion against the military rulers who controlled them, and the Jewish religious leaders who seemed to be in league with them. Others who had followed Jesus closely understood that his was not a message to arouse conflict, but one of love and peace. Jesus preached 'love your neighbour' and urged people to turn back to God. Many of his followers increasingly believed him to be more than a man but the Son of God. Some believed he was the 'Messiah', the Promised One who ancient scriptures predicted would come to free the People of Israel, to save them.

Whichever opinion people held, it meant that as Jesus went around the region he had become more and more popular. Wherever he went crowds would gather. People would hang on his every word. I like to think that Jesus had the sort of charisma that meant that when he was in the room, it was hard to look elsewhere or think of anyone else.

The New Testament of the Bible (in all of the four 'gospels' ... Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) tells us that people gathered in huge numbers to greet him. The crowds got bigger and bigger as he approached the city limits and entered through the gates, riding on a borrowed donkey, or small colt.

People went mad. They placed their cloaks on the ground as he rode down the street. Some think this indicates that he was being welcomed like a king  -  it was a sign of respect and honour as well as a greeting. Some reports say they stripped fronds from palm trees lining the route and waved them, cheering and shouting stuff like  ... 

Hosanna!
Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!
Blessed the coming kingdom of our father David!
Hosanna in highest heaven!

The word 'Hosanna' is an interesting one. By shouting that word the crowds were not just saying 'welcome' but they were praising Jesus as they might God. It was about showing their happiness and joy but it was more than a word, it was an emotion, an expression of adoration.

And as the religious leaders - including the men who were part of a group known as the Pharisees - heard and saw the hero's welcome that Jesus was receiving, they must have been struck with fear. Maybe they saw their control over the people, which they maintained through the strict religious and cultural rules of the day, slipping away. Perhaps they were jealous. They were certainly angry.

Jesus was already on their radar, and they were suspicious of his popularity and worried about the reputation he had as a healer. They'd been watching him for some time. The idea that he was increasingly being seen by his followers as the 'Messiah' was worrying because it threatened their tricky relationship with the Roman authorities, which was mutually beneficial to all those in power on both sides.

And the claim that Jesus was the Son of God ... well that amounted to blasphemy. Hearing the cheers and the shouts of 'Hosanna' must have been another sign that the Pharisees were losing control.

They became convinced and determined to deal with Jesus, to put an end to his ministry, his popularity, his influence over ordinary people who he encouraged to have a 'one to one' relationship with God. The priests maintained their control over the lives and faith of the general population partly by being the 'conduit' between God and mankind. A people talking directly to God might not be so manageable.

Whether at this stage the religious leaders were plotting to have Jesus killed is another matter - but just days after his triumphant entry into Jerusalem that's what would happen, on the day we now call 'Good Friday'.

But I'm getting of myself. That's all to come.

Today, on Palm Sunday, Christians celebrate. We honour Jesus who we believe IS the Son of God and the Messiah who comes to save everyone, not just the Jews of his own time. 

Today small Palm Crosses are handed out and many Christians hang on to them all year, to remind us of Jesus' victory over death on Easter day. 

There I go ... jumping ahead in the story again. 

Back to the palm crosses. 

They are not just a reminder of this day, they are also a symbol of peace, and of triumph over adversity.

And as we mark 'Palm Sunday' we too may shout, if only quietly and in our hearts, 'Hosanna'... Blessed is He who comes in God’s name!

 

 


An Irish Blessing for St Patrick's Day

Today - March 17th - is St Patrick's Day.

It's the day that Ireland and Irish people or those of Irish descent across the world celebrate - well, BEING Irish - and one of their most important patron saints. In 'normal times' much partying is done , much Guinness is drunk and shamrocks are worn, but importantly it's a day when many people go to church to remember St Patrick and give thanks for him, because it is, first and foremost, a spiritual/holy day.

Don't worry, I'm not going to start a whole essay about St Patrick. That would take far too long because it's a very complicated story, with many twists and turns, legends and stories of miracles.

Just some highlights.

Patrick wasn't Irish but was born in Roman Britain. When he was about 16 he was captured by Irish pirates and taken as a slave to the island of Ireland, where he mostly looked after animals for about six years. It's while he was looking after those sheep that it's believed he 'found God'. He escaped and managed to get home to his family where he studied Christianity and eventually became a priest. Later he returned to the place where he had been imprisoned to spread the Christian message to the Irish, who mostly practised a form of paganism ... the ancient Celtic religion.

And if you're wondering why the shamrock, or the three leaf clover, is a symbol of Ireland on this day in particular, it's because Patrick is said to have used the little plant with the three leaves to explain the Christian Holy Trinity - God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - to those he was hoping to convert.

Patrick didn't have it easy. Standing up to the local warlords, often apparently getting beaten up, sometimes being imprisoned and threatened with execution. But he continued his mission and although there is evidence of a Christian presence in Ireland before Patrick, he is generally considered as the founder of the faith there. He became a bishop and is known as the 'Apostle of Ireland',  and his feast day is marked on March 17th, the day it's thought he died.

But we can't be exactly sure. There's lots of mystery surrounding Patrick, even question marks over when he lived. It's generally believed that he was a missionary in Ireland during the fifth century, and by the seventh century, he had become revered as the patron saint of Ireland.

So today, to mark the day and to celebrate the man who was St Patrick and the legacy of faith he brought to Ireland, I leave you with one of my favourite Irish Blessings.

 

Irish blessing road
*Oh and if you're wondering, the 'road' in this picture is La Grande Route de St Ouen in Jersey.

 


Mothering Sunday

New Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (2)So today in the UK, the British Isles and many other English speaking nations is 'Mothering Sunday'.

Otherwise known as 'Mother's Day'.

If you go to any card shop you may be hard pushed to find a 'Mothering Sunday' card ... but sometimes they are there, if you are eagle eyed. I know because every year I rummage endlessly through the card racks to find one.

My Mum loves a Mothering Sunday card.

So given that not many people call it that, you might be wondering about the title of this blog and the picture.

Well, it's because the day was called 'Mothering Sunday' LONG before people started calling it 'Mother's Day'.

The history goes back to the Medieval times in Britain, to the Middle Ages. 

The fourth Sunday in Lent, 21 days before Easter Day, was also known as Laetare Sunday, or 'Mid-Lent Sunday' and it was a day when Christians could have a break from the fasting which was required during the Lenten season, the preparation for the holy festival of Easter. So it was a bit of a celebration day. The faithful were encouraged to make it even more special by attending services at their 'mother church', the place of worship where they were baptised. That might have involved travelling home for the day. 

In the Middle Ages, the Mass or church service on that fourth Sunday in Lent included several references to mothers, and so the day became one also to celebrate not just the 'mother church' but mothers in particular.

The tradition of coming 'home' to church on this day lasted for centuries. By the mid 17th century this annual journey had become known as 'mothering'. And traditions developed down the years. Mothering Sunday became a day when servants, especially those working in domestic service in big houses, were given this day off to go home to see their mothers and family members ... and attend church, of course.

From 1908 in the USA a 'Mother's Day' was introduced as a way of honouring motherhood, although this was being celebrated on the second Sunday in May. And in the UK, perhaps not coincidentally, something called the Mothering Sunday Movement was created in the UK in the early years of the 20th century, to try to revive the importance of the day.  

By the 1950s Mothering Sunday was being celebrated across the British Isles and the Commonwealth, still on the fourth Sunday in Lent, and that's where it remains to this day.

But increasingly, the day has lost it's spiritual context and the American influence means it's now almost exclusively called 'Mother's Day' ... hence my annual rummage in card shops.

And like in the USA, the day has become more and more commercialised. Cards, flowers, chocolates and other treats are bought in vast quantities. Lovely, but expensive.

Nowadays, including in the church, the day has also become a time not just to celebrate people who are actually  'mothers' but those who are mother figures and it's sometimes also a general celebration of women and their achievements.

While Mothering Sunday and Mother's Day is a lovely day, it can be hard for some people. Those who yearn to be a parent, to give birth to their own children but have been unable to do so can find the annual celebration of 'mummies' really difficult. For those who have lost babies, even many years ago, this can be a very sad day. It can be a very poignant and painful day for people who've lost their mothers, and those who didn't have a strong and loving mother figure in their lives.

It's a complex day and I try never to forget that.

But today, if you'll let me I will just take a moment to thank my own Mum ... the best mother in the world.

On this Mothering Sunday I thank God for her. I thank her for all her love and for the many sacrifices she made for me and my brothers, and for just being an inspiration to me.  And I just want to say ... 

I love you Mum!


Being Dennis (the Menace)

 

Dennis the menace

Who knows who this is?

If you were (or still are) an avid reader of  'The Beano' comic you might recognise him?

It's Dennis the Menace!

The mischievous little boy with, it has to be said, a bit of an evil streak. He gets up to all sorts and unlike many anti-heroes, he doesn't really get any better as time goes on. He is just Dennis.

Why am I remembering him today?

Well, it was on March 12th 1951 in the UK that the long running children's comic first featured the little boy with the devilish grin and the catapult. The comic came out a week later on March 17th ... but it was today that history began. Well,  Dennis the Menace history anyway.

I loved the Beano, and other comics actually, not just for the jokes but also for the cartoons - not just Dennis, but also 'The Bash Street Kids', 'Minnie the Minx' and 'Billy Whizz', with the fantastic quiff of hair.

And the great thing is that The Beano is still entertaining kids today. Published by DC Thomson in Dundee in Scotland, the comic first appeared on 30 July 1938 - it's now more than 80 years old but Dennis is still Dennis. Sort of.

His name of his cartoon strip has changed a bit over the years ... 'Dennis the Menace' to 'Dennis the Menace and Gnasher' (his dastardly dog) and now to 'Dennis and Gnasher'. By the way, did you know that Gnasher apparently is an 'Abyssinian wire-haired tripe hound' ? No, me neither. You learn something new every day.

The idea of an archetypal naughty schoolboy who gets into all sorts of trouble and causes mayhem especially for the adults around him is, of course, a winner for a comic strip. It's what all kids want to do but mostly feel they can't - right? It's escapism, pure and simple.

Down the years, there have been TV shows and films about Dennis, but you might have noticed that usually the little lad is not the dark haired broody chap we know here in Great Britain, but an angelic looking blond kid, who is nevertheless as mischievous as our Dennis.

Dennis usaWell that's because in the USA, Dennis IS an angelic looking blond kid!

He ALSO appeared for the first time on March 12th 1951, in newspapers across the USA. Originally the comic strip was distributed by a company called Post-Hall Syndicate and today it's distributed to at least 1,000 newspapers in 48 countries and translated into 19 languages by King Features Syndicate. It's why the cartoons and TV shows and movies generally feature the little blond version of Dennis.

But weirdly, although Dennis the Menace appeared for the first time on exactly the same day on both sides of the Atlantic, there was and is NO connection.

How spooky is that?

It seems that creative people on both sides of 'The Pond' were having almost identical ideas about creating a boy character with mischief on his mind, at the same time! Plus, the name apparently was independently conceived based on different personal experiences. Ok, so the word 'Dennis' lends itself to rhyming with 'Menace' but I still think it's a bit freaky that different cartoonists came up with the same concept independently. 

That aside, on this auspicious Dennis the Menace Day, I wanted to leave you with a quote from the boy himself.

I've no idea which version of the Menace this is attributed to or whether I need to say it in an English or an American accent, but when I looked online for 'Dennis the Menace Quotes' THIS is what popped up.

And I love it. 

A little while back I blogged about just being yourself and not being forced into anyone else's mould. and this quote in the same vein. 

Dennis is just Dennis, in the UK and in the USA (and around the world now). He's just Dennis, even though that's a bit naughty, disruptive and hilarious. And he works hard at remaining Dennis and not becoming someone else, despite the pressure - in his case, to conform and behave.

So this Friday ... I don't know about you, but I'm going to think about being the best ME that I can be!

 

Dennis the menace quote

 


Pandemic - a year on

It's March 11th ... and it's EXACTLY a year since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

Not just an epidemic but a pandemic! 

Not just a rapid spreading of a disease within a population, but an epidemic which is spreading across many countries, across the world. And quickly!

We'd been hearing about coronavirus since the end 0f 2019. Cases in China, cases emerging in other locations and countries. Mid-February, cases and deaths growing in numbers in Northern Italy.

On March 11th 2020 the WHO cited over 118,000 cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus  in over 110 countries and territories around the world. They predicted ongoing and sustained risk of global spread.

At the time, the World Health Organisation's Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this:

“This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector. So every sector and every individual must be involved in the fights.”

It was official. The world was in a pandemic. We are still in that pandemic.

I'm not going to go over everything that's happened since. I just feel I need to mark the spot really. 

Millions of people have died across the world .. as I'm writing this those numbers are over two and a half million. Globally, over 116 million have contracted the virus. And the numbers still rise - you can follow the daily global figures via the WHO numbers dashboard.

And these are not just faceless 'numbers'. Some of us have lost dear family and friends.

To contain the spread of the virus, most of us have adhered to strict living restrictions and 'lockdown' ... a word we hardly knew this time last year.  We've worn masks, sanitised, kept our distance, not gathered in groups, missed out on meeting even our close family members. Members of our medical professions and those who are responsible for keeping our community going day-to-day have done so sometimes to the detriment of their own health. 

Manufacturing , hospitality, service industries, shops, offices, transport systems, travel - just some of the sectors badly affected. Some will never recover.  Many have lost their jobs, many of us have worked from home for nigh on a year now. Life has changed out of all proportion.

Covid signsBut now, thanks to the brilliant efforts of the world's scientists, we have vaccines. And although, unfortunately they are not being rolled out equally across the world, distribution has begun. 

We know that vaccines won't 'eradicate' the coronavirus - experts say it is here to stay. The jabs don't 'cure' people from COVID-19 but the vaccine does, it appears, limit the effects. We are already beginning to see a slow down of deaths from the disease, although it is very very slow.

And being vaccinated doesn't mean we will be completely free to do whatever we want, go wherever we want.  In fact some say the 'new normal' will require ongoing restrictions to our behaviour, especially as the virus mutates and takes different forms.

Here in Jersey in the Channel Islands we are coming up to the anniversary of the first COVID-19 positive test. We've lost nearly 70 dear people. And our community and commerce has been badly affected.

But there is optimism in the air.

Covid vax cathyThe Government of Jersey is rolling out an excellent vaccination programme and I am privileged to have already received my first dose. Not because I'm 'vulnerable' but because I really am that old!

So today ... I remember those who are lost and those who are grieving. I remember those who are affected in so many ways, including physically, emotionally and financially. I thank those who have kept us safe, those who have nursed us, served us throughout this past year, distributed food parcels, ensured our island has kept it's head above water.

And today, I give thanks for the vaccine, and hope and trust that everyone across the world will soon have access to it, regardless of their economic or social status and the country in which they happen to reside. Only when the whole world is able to be vaccinated will the world begin to be a safer place.

 

 


Choose to Challenge

Today is International Women's Day. It's a day to support and celebrate women's rights. Not that we shouldn't do that EVERY day but it is a good thing to have ONE day at least when the world comes together to celebrate the achievements of those of the female gender and to think about what we all might do to help ensure girls and women gain the equality they deserve.

Iwd hillary clinton quoteIt's also a day to encourage girls and women to believe in themselves, to believe that they have as many rights in life as anyone else to follow their dreams no matter how big. I love this quote from Hillary Clinton ... it says it all I think! Even if the world around you is telling you that you are second class, all girls and women are deserving of the same chances as boys and men. And we all not only have the right to dream, but to make those dreams come true.

In 2021 this might sound a peculiar thing to say, because in many cultures women have equality with men across the board ... don't they?

Don't they?

Well, perhaps in many countries women do have equality, even in law, but that doesn't mean females get equal treatment and are considered equal by everyone. And we do know that there are many cultures still where women ARE treated as second-class citizens and girls still don't have the same chances as boys. There are still communities where girls are not allowed to go to school, where some are held back from school because they need to be at home to help the family - collecting water, looking after siblings. There are some cultures where girls are married off to older men even before they are teenagers, effectively ending their childhood. There are still places where women do much of the work in the community, as well as taking the lion's share of family responsibilities and child care, but are excluded from decision making and leadership.

And that's just for starters!

Today International Women's Day has become increasingly about standing up for women's equality and challenging the norms of society which keep women and girls subordinate.

And this is interesting because that's where IWD began back in the early 1900s, when women's inequality and oppression was beginning to result in more and more women fighting for change. 

The campaign for women's suffrage - the right of women to vote - had actually begun in the mid 19th century, with corresponding advocacy for economic and social as well as political equality. But by the early 20th century not much progress had been made and there was growing unrest and debate. Women still felt largely oppressed and they became more vocal.

In the USA in 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights and the following year the Socialist Party of America declared February 28th as the first National Woman's Day (NWD).

In 1910 there was big conference in Copenhagen in Denmark -  the second International Conference of Working Women - and it was there that the idea of an International Women's Day was mooted. The conference was attended by over 100 women from 17 countries and the idea was approved.

Although the USA marked their National Women's Day on the last Sunday in February for another couple of years, in 1911 International Women's Day was marked for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, on March 19th. On that day, more than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women's rights to work, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. And the right to vote.

As the world stood on the brink of global conflict which we now know as World War I, Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on February 23rd in 1913 - again the last Sunday in February. At that time, Russia followed the Julian calendar while most of the rest of the world used the Gregorian calendar where that day equated to March 8th. Hope you're keeping up with this.

Anyway, it was at this point that discussions began to try to align everyone to celebrate on the same day and it was agreed to mark International Women's Day every year on March 8th.

In 1914, women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the impending war and to express solidarity with women across the world. In London a women's march resulted in the arrest of suffrage campaigner Sylvia Pankhurst as she made her way to speak to the large crowds in Trafalgar Square.

Although women remained passionate down the years, it was not until 1975 that the United Nations celebrated International Women's Day for the first time. Two years later, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by nation states, in accordance with their individual national and historical traditions.

Moving into the 21st century and by the year 2000 unfortunately there was little appetite for or activity in most countries for International Women's Day. The world had moved on from the years of 'feminism' and in fact that concept was now a bit of a dirty word. But still the world was not equal. Women were still being treated differently, including being paid less than men and given fewer opportunities in many areas of life. 

So it was that in 2001 a website called www.internationalwomensday.com was launched, with the aim of reinvigorating International Women's Day. Today the site provides help, resources and guidance to all those campaigning for better equality between the sexes, and more opportunities for women and girls across the world. Every year there are different themes which sum up some of the challenges facing women across the globe, and call us to action. Some of the themes have included #ChooseToChallenge #TheGenderAgenda #EachforEqual #PledgeforParity #PressforProgress #MakeItHappen ... you get it right?

In 2011 the centenary of International Women's Day was marked across the world, and in the USA, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 2011 to be "Women's History Month", calling on Americans to mark the day and to reflect on "the extraordinary accomplishments of women" in shaping the country's history. Which brings us to Hillary Clinton, who was then US Secretary of State. She launched the "100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges".

Down the years, there's been a substantial change in attitudes to International Women's Day. There has been sign up from many international groups working with girls and women, lots of charities and business organisations now organise events and many business leaders and celebrities actively support the day.

In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother's Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers, and the day is officially recognised and celebrated in many countries around the world, including some where gender equality is still not a given.

Because although many people, including from younger generations who didn't live through the years before Gender Equality legislation, might think that the battle is won, there is still much to be done. Women are often still not paid the same as men doing the same job. Women make up at least half the population of the world but we still don't have equal representation of females in politics and the business world. Many women choose to create their own businesses rather than enter the male dominated business world. Around the world, as I said at the start, girls are often disadvantaged for cultural reasons. They experience inferior health and education, and violence against women and girls is often worse than against men and boys.

Today we are encouraged to not just act locally but also to think on a global level and to try to make a difference, and not just on International Women's Day.

But what might that mean for us? Might it mean stepping out of our comfort zone? Not just accepting the treatment of others because it doesn't affect us personally?

This year's campaign theme on International Women's Day is #ChooseToChallenge

We might not march like those women in 1908 and in 1914. We might not get arrested as Sylvia Pankhurst did, just for deigning to speak up for the rights of women.

But we can CHOOSE to celebrate the achievements of women. We can CHOOSE to challenge inequality and unfairness when we see it and help create a more inclusive world.

And, as it says on the International Women's Day website,  today maybe we can all spend just a few minutes in reflecting how WE might be able to do our bit "to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding".

We might not feel we can make much of a difference on our own, but two voices are better than one. A thousand voices are better than a hundred, and a million voices, all challenging the status quo where women and girls are still not given the opportunities they deserve, could change the world.

And you don't have to be female to take up the challenge. It's something we can ALL do!