Slavery.

In the past few days have watched a number of programmes about Slavery, of course I’ve come across this topic before usually in connection with the abolition of slavery. Simon Schama pointed out how much British society was changed by the institution over a period of two hundred years. Some families in Britain became very wealthy on the profits they made in the southern states of the USA and the Carribbean. Raw cotton, sugar and tobacco were imported and helped to bring about the industrial revolution and thus changed the economic life of this country.

The growth of the cotton plant required a huge labour force working twelve hours a day to harvest it in prime condition. That labour force was made up of African slaves  sold to the plantation owners who worked, the men, women and children until they died.

     Britain was a big player in this buying and selling of people for over two hundred years, the British historian David Olusogo pointed out some of the changes which occurred in Britain due to the huge profits that the plantation owners brought back to Britain. The Industrial Revolution was based on the raw cotton grown in the West Indies processed into cheap cloth in the cotton mills in England; the workers had their basic diets sweetened with sugar and the tobacco became part of the daily life of many of the workers stressed by long hours working at a machine. The slaves often worked for 12 hours a day in very unpleasant conditions, the average life expectancy of a slave  was seven years. Implements of torture; ankle manacles, iron collars around the neck were used to punish any slave who dared to complain about working conditions and of course the whip was freely used.

     The profits were used to build grand mansions and buy large estates for men of modest means who were able to get into these new industries, one called Lascelles became the Earl of Harewood and he was by no means the only one. Thirty-seven members of the House of Lords received very large recompense for their loss of property. This  was  1834 the only way the Act  would be passed by Parliament to abolish Slavery, was that slave owners would be recompensed for the abolition of their property, 80 MP s received substantial compensation claims. The slaves received no recompense .

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Recollections

Vera Elizabeth Pickering beginning Teacher Training College  in 1958
Vera Pickering beginning Teacher Training College in 1958

TIME AND OTHER CONUNDRUMS.

A few weeks ago I had a birthday, to my surprise I have reached the age of eighty, how has this happened? I remember my school days, my first job, getting married. I have the picture of me in my bridal gown, in fact I have the very same gown hanging up in the wardrobe. Of course these days I couldn’t get into it, the years can be cruel! The sensible and generous thing would be to give it to a charity, I’m working towards this event but I’m not there yet. Living with another person is mostly wonderful but it can mean another set of problems to cope with.

     The conundrum with time is the speed at which it goes by, sometimes painfully slowly and at other times with amazing speed. The body gives indisputable evidence of time passing, the knees and hips tell you that moving around is not something to be taken casually, it must be prepared for; warm stockings or tights, layers covering the skin and then layers on top of that.  A warm coat, a hat, scarf , gloves and sturdy, comfortable shoes with no reference to fashion what so ever. And then we come to the eyes  and ears, my eyes have needed support since I was a school girl of 13. In recent years my ears have become much less efficient at catching sounds and transmitting them to my brain. Fortunately technology has advanced to improve upon nature to a considerable degree.

     I can still speak, listeners aren’t always around to hear my pearls of wisdom or even the rubbish I usually talk. Like others in my age group I have a facility for forgetting which is almost instantaneous. There is a word which begins with D but I’ve decided I will ignore it as long as humanly possible. Age UK are offering a pamphlet, “Staying Sharp in Later Life” and its free. I think I will send for it today .

      I was born at a very inauspicious time, the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain was in Germany meeting with Adolf Hitler, the German Chancellor. It concerned the Sudetenland, a German speaking area of Czechoslovakia. Britain, France, Italy and the USSR had agreed to support the Czechs in the event of German aggression which appeared imminent. Hitler and Chamberlain signed an agreement that only a small part of the Sudetenland would be reclaimed by Germany. Chamberlain referred to this agreement, ” As peace with honour I believe it is peace for our time.”

My parents were more pre-occupied with my arrival, they had little money but youth, strength and love carried them through.  Sadly the peace only lasted until 1939. My father was one of the millions called up to fight the German army in 1942, by that time there were three young children in the family. Mother managed the limited money and ever increasing domestic work, without a washing machine, a hoover or any prepared meals. My parents were both used to working hard as they both left school at the age of 14, they came from poor, loving families.

 

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JOURNAL THURSDAY 11/10.

THIS morning the light is very grey and dull. We are going to the theatre on Saturday and Sunday this week to hear two authors, Christopher Mullen, MP for Sunderland and David Olusago writer and broadcaster. I’m trying to make sure everything will go ahead smoothly, taxis have been booked and David told of the early start on Saturday. He is not going to the  Sunday talk. I’m excited, the programme of talks is running for two weeks in the  city.

     David is organising himself to move out of his flat as soon as his tenant moves out, then Keith and I will move into his flat. I’m staggered when I think of the cupboards and drawers which have to be emptied and then there’s the books  HELP !!!!   WE tell ourselves what a sensible rational idea it is but OH OH OH THE DOING OF IT.  Fifty years worth of ‘stuff’.

TELEVISION.

I along with millions of others watch television, of course I have my particular likes and dislikes. I think there is in academic circles a view that television is purely for entertainment. I think this is a prejudiced view. In this age of multi-channels and the i-player, TV provides a very wide range  of programmes from the broadest comedy show to the challenging science and political programmes, including the Open University. Yesterday I watched a very informative and interesting programme on BBC 4, “How To Be A Good President”.  Political programmes can be dull and often shy away from putting ideas in clear and understandable language. This one did not.

      A number of British and American commentators spoke about different American Presidents; James Naughtie, Peter Jay, Shirley Williams, Simon Hoggart, Malcolm Rifkind, Bonnie Greer, Robert Tuttle and Peter Jay, Christine Odone. The strengths  of a number of twentieth century presidents; Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower Richard Nixon and George Bush.  The problems they faced were dealt with in some detail and the degree of success which each one had. I think it would be interesting to see a similar programme about British prime ministers. Of course prime ministers do not have the same degree of power as an American president. In a democracy it is essential that all the voters understand exactly what they are voting for. (I won’t mention Brexit).

      The viewers need to know, who made the programme, why and who provided the funding. The same is true of a book; where does the author’s allegiance lie, how truthful is he/she, who provided funding for the exercise. Most factual books are to some extent cooperate enterprises. The alternative of a one party state is too dreadful to contemplate, we have the examples of Germany and the USSR in recent history.

CHANGING TIMES.

Returning to my early days (yes I can) last week is more of a problem! Two questions bothered me, why were things they way they were and how could they be changed.  Let me fill in the details, my parents were both hard working people, my father was a tram conductor and mother managed the money and took care of us and the home. I was the eldest child, then came my sister, my brother  and finally another sister. Mother had the difficult job of stretching out the money to cover the daily necessities of life, this was a job requiring planning and control.  Fortunately father didn’t drink, his one treat was to go to the football match on a Saturday afternoon. I was at school which I enjoyed, my greatest pleasure was reading. How I learnt to read I don’t remember, the great day came when I could join the library and read new books for free, wonderful!

     As the years passed I noticed other families had holidays, trips out, new dresses. I knew my parents were hard working and very careful, why was life such a struggle? I tried novels, “Little Women” by Louisa M. Alcott was a particular favourite. I couldn’t find the answer there. Then one day history lessons appeared, a hundred  years ago things were different. Changes happened why?  Later sociology was part of my course, this explained more about how society was organised. Also novels, plays and poems do have something to say about how human beings relate to each other. English was my favourite subject. Little by little some answers appeared; politics was another way of coming to grips with why some people are poor and a few people are very rich. For awhile part of the answer seemed to lie in Education, both my parents left school at 14, perhaps that was too young? I continued until I was twenty-one. I am so lucky the system gave me a chance but I hear the old ideas are returning and continuing education is regarded as too expensive. Totally wrong, ignorance is an appalling handicap to the individuals and to the whole of society. Much better to have people changing jobs rather than going to prison.

      Happily I’m still reading, although the print does seem to be getting smaller! I will have to dispose of some of my books, the dreaded word downsizing has appeared in our vocabulary.  Its sensible, rational, but oh it seems to be such a loss, an emptiness. As well as being part of the furniture of the house, they fill the shelves in the mind, they remind us who we are.

ECONOMICS.

I am not an expert in money matters though I am in control of household income and expenditure,some of the time.  The thing I plan to steer clear of is debt. In an effort to understand the craziness of the world I live in I have started to read some books written by economists. One writer I find who expresses complicated ideas simply is Daniel Dorling, he is a professor  at Sheffield University. His knowledge not only of the UK and the USA and most of Europe is extensive and full of detailed calculations. He produces a mass of evidence plus the detailed graphs and accounts of many expert economists, in putting forward the changes which have taken place in the ever increasing gap between the 1 per cent  and the 99 percent of the population of the UK. The 99 percent have faced an increasing programme of austerity; cut backs in wages, benefits which are no longer paid by the Welfare State and the impoverishment of many children and single parent families. At the same time the CEOs and Bankers have increased their own remuneration and exerted their influence to reduce the top rate of tax to 45 per cent.

      Since 2014 food banks have been reintroduced since many young families can no longer afford to feed their children. The OECD in 2013 published a Report, “Crisis Squeezes Income and Puts Pressure on Inequality and Poverty”  in 2013.  In the same year an article by Z. Williams appeared called, ” Achieving a Social State: What Can We Learn from Beveridge’s ” Five Giant Evils.”?  Many economists have growing concerns about the increase in poverty in the USA and the UK, since the beginning of the twenty-first century.  The same is not happening in Europe, in Germany, France  and the Netherlands, government support is still provided for the poorest citizens. Dorling himself has written on How Austerity Affects Mortality Rates.

    Thomas Piketty who wrote, ” Capital In the Twenty-first Century”  has written, ” Taxing the 1%: Why the Top Tax Rate Could be Over  80 Per Cent. ”  K. E. Pickett and R. Wilkinson and others  have drawn attention to ” Income Inequality and Crime “.  The UK has more young men in prison than any other country in Europe. In egalitarian countries the cultural activity is high, in highly stratified  countries it is low. There are benefits for every section of society in a fair, more equitable and peaceful society.