THE INTERNET.

Sometimes  the internet is wonderful and I love it, at other times it is absolutely infuriating. Beyond  my understanding and refusing to do anything I ask it and I have no idea why. My original idea was to be full of praise, the way my words can reach all over the globe and be seen by people I will never meet and never be able to talk to face to face. this makes it the digital technical advance of the twenty-first century most loosely allied to the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in the fifteenth century. Books were still rare and precious objects but they were able to spread rapidly across the world. At that time it was only a tiny fortunate minority of people who could decipher these black hieroglyphics and read. Many of these people lived in monasteries studying the bible or the administrative class of the governing elite. This makes it the premier advance of the early years of this century. Computers started off as extremely large, hugely expensive machines, now most children in the affluent world can hold a computer in their small hand, that is the iPhone as it were a child’s first reading book.

    I certainly don’t understand how the internet may revolutionise the transmission of information, at present the transmission of visual images seems to be the preferred option. The powerful  millionaires who control the media have until now exercised a tight control over the access to information which explains to us how our society and  societies in general are actually organised. We are entertained with gossip and the scandalous behaviour of celebrities. A limited number of newspapers, for example the Guardian , the Observer and the BBC try to explain the process and the end results of the factual decisions which are made by politicians on behalf of us all but in fact benefit a very small proportion, the 1% to the detriment of the vast majority of the population.

    I used to feel that I lived in an open, democratic society where the worst things no longer happened  to an innocent, law-abiding citizen, now I think I was mislead. In the last three decades the gap between the fabulously wealthy and the rest of us has grown exponentially. Wages and salaries have remained static and benefits have been drastically reduced, and then there is the catastrophe of the Universal Benefit.  Some people will receive no U.B. for the month of December. Is Scrooge a member of the cabinet, can they be serious?

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IT’S THE ECONOMY STUPID !

There is a lot of interest at present in the economies of the USA, Britain and most of Europe, a good deal of it sparked off by a book, “Capital in the Twenty-First  Century” by Thomas Piketty. He has also broadcast on many different television stations. He and his associates have collected an enormous amount of data from many countries around the world.  Professor Piketty  is eager to explain the conclusions we need to draw from this factual data. Big changes have taken place in the world’s biggest economies since the 1970s, put simply the 1%  have grown vastly more rich and the rest of us have stood still and the poorest have actually seen a fall in their income, this is called Austerity. Professor Danny Dorling coined the term the 1%  and even the 0.01% for those whose wealthy has exploded.

The Canadian economist Chrystia Freeland published in 2014 her study, ” Plutocrats:-The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else. ” Many economists are concerned about the static position of the majority and the pauperisation of those at the bottom of society and the effects that this will have on the peace and stability of twenty-first century societies. The period beginning in the late 1940s to the 1980s was a period of rebuilding after the devastation of the Second World War. In most countries as in the UK a Welfare State was developed to alleviate poverty and care for the whole population, the promise of a better future for everyone ‘from the cradle to the grave’.  My family was one of those millions; fed, housed, educated and provided for in times of sickness. an improvement to the poverty my parents had grown up in in the 1920s.

The gradual ending of the first industrial age and the movement to globalisation in the 1970s led to an increase in unemployment and further calls on the Welfare State. As we all know the W.S. is paid for out of taxation. The majority of workers pay their income tax without question, it is taken automatically without debate. The 1% have tax experts to point out how  deductions and costs can be removed from the total amount legally. No doubt there are some  who ignore bonuses and the return on shares with very dubious legality. According to Professor Piketty the right solution is a progressive annual tax on Capital. He goes on to add that if we are to regain control over Capitalism, we must bet everything on democracy, only regional political integration can lead to effective regulation of the globalised patrimonial system of Capitalism of the twenty-first century. Is this the reason we’re leaving the European common market?

Yesterday I watched a programme on BBC 2 ” The Super-Rich and Us it focused on the UK: We have more billionaires per head than any other country in the world: we are the most unequal nation in Europe

The last thirty years the middle class have stood still, the younger generation are becoming renters.

The top 1%  pay themselves  780x the average salary.

Robert Shiller, the Nobel Prize winning Economist in 2013 has stated, “Growing income and wealth inequality is recognised as the greatest social threat of our times. The renewed greed of the top 1% has had worse effects than even the financial crash of 2008.—–They use the media, much of which they own to promote the view that such greed is justifiable, it leads to the trickle down effect. The trickle down effect is a myth.

MY LUCKY DAY.

The next few days are all jumbled up, the house was strange and none of the familiar cups and saucers, chairs,or beds; the cupboards had none of the familiar buckets, brushes and dusters inside. One thing is clear in my mind, one morning my sister Jean and me and Mum got the tram into town to go to the Housing Office. A lot of other people, mainly mothers and children had the same idea. The year was 1943, the previous night had been one of the worst bombing nights of the war, Hendon the area around the docks was one of the most devastated areas. Shipyard workers lived close to their work on the river and the ships were the principal objects of the German bombers. The ships in the River Wear  were the main source of the coal required by the industries in the south and the midlands which formed a large part of the war effort. My father had already  been called up into the army as he was a very recent starter as a shipyard worker and the forces by this time were running very short of men.

   My mother, my sister and I waited for what seemed a wearisome long time, at last our details were noted but no accommodation was offered. We caught the tram back to our relation’s kind hospitality. There was another matter to be sorted out, in September of that year I was due to start school, mother was looking forward to it almost as much as I was. The next day our little party was out looking for the nearest school, luckily within in few streets we came upon a large brick built school. The school yard was enclosed within a wall and the whole impression was of something permanent and solid. Mother  looked at the nearby streets, were there any uncurtanned windows. Directly opposite the school she spied two blank windows upstairs, made brave by the cramped conditions of her present accommodation, she knocked politely on the front door. It was opened by a neatly dressed woman who assured mother , yes, there were three empty rooms upstairs. She agreed to let us have a look, the largest room contained a coal fire-place, the room at the back looked big enough for a double bed. There was a smaller bedroom at the front       and amazingly there was a bathroom with an indoor toilet. In addition there was a back yard in which to hang the washing. Perfect! The woman had a son a couple of years older than me.  Mother was reassured, clearly a respectable household.

    Clearly some bureaucratic routines had to be gone through but some days later mother was given the key and our little family could move into our new home. I’m not sure how the furniture was obtained, I have the feeling some was our previous furniture and I think the council maintained a store of second hand chairs, tables and kitchen equipment. Soon we had beds and bedding, all the necessary equipment for family life to go on.  A few weeks later mother took me into the school and suddenly there were lots of boys and girls filling a room. A pretty young woman appeared, sadly I don’t remember her name, she took me to a table, on the table was a piece of orange paper and a pencil. In my memory I began to draw perfect circles and squares. There is probably some fault in my memory, at the moment that’s what I have.

     School was place I enjoyed, indeed I think the big idea was that children should be happy in school.  I don’t remember learning to read or count,  both were accomplished, it has to be said I was stronger on the words side and rather weaker on the numbers. My biggest creative achievement was playing the triangle, I was making my own special noise, music might be putting it too strongly! There was a huge chart covered in different coloured notes, memory tells me my notes were blue. The concentration required to keep time with the rest of the class was enormous and total pleasure. There was also singing, with my voice something seemed to be slightly amiss. Stories I loved, nursery rhymes too and most importantly I met my best friend. At first I didn’t know this kind blonde girl would become my best friend, I soon discovered it. To this day I remember her name, her first name was Joyce, her surname began with W, I think I will keep the rest to myself. I haven’t been in touch with her for over sixty years, however my memory is still bright.

THE MEDIA AND ME.

                          PBS    AMERICA.

The variety of television channels available now is seemingly without number, my Radio Times is full of them. I do record programmes, the most interesting items are usually on at nine o’clock in the evening, yes, clearly that is the time more people are sitting down to relax.  The iPlayer  and the ability to record programmes are an essential part of my media. One channel I’ve discovered recently is PBS America, it is staggeringly good, of course the Americans have been making moving pictures for about a hundred years. There is a cultural heritage and enormous respect for the ability to tell a story using the medium of film.  In Britain we are still wedded to the book as the principle means of understanding our own cultural history.

    PBS America is, dare I use the word, an educational channel ( yes that reminds me of the Open University).  It is the combination of still pictures, the words of influential actors in the story and the words of those caught up in events over which they have no control. The Civil War in the 1860s is the programme which to me expressed vividly the tragic pity of war. It was told as if we were in the middle of the events narrated so clearly, as if they happened yesterday. I have watched war stories before but usually the killing and the dying are somewhat in the distance. Even the Second World War, during which I was a child, has seemed apart from ordinary life, something of another time, another place.

    An extraordinary large team of people, under the producer, Ken Burns are responsible for a brilliant series of programmes and all the sources used are listed. These programmes should be part of the academic curriculum  in universities and sixth form centres in Britain. I would guess they already are in the USA. I have been interested in history as long as I can remember, it is not an old irrelevant story. It still influences the way we think and behave today. There was a time when girls were thought to be beyond education, their brains were different, this was accepted as the rational truth. Also the cost of educating ordinary working people was seriously considered  to be a huge expense and therefore quite unnecessary.

    The last episode dealt with the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, this battle resulted in the largest number of casualties in the entire war, forty-six thousand deaths, the most costly battle in US history. Women worked behind the lines on both sides. There is still considerable disagreement  as to which side won. Lincoln fought to maintain the Union and to free the slaves, the Confederates fought for their independence and for the right to own slaves. The UK is geographically a small cohesive country, America is a huge continent containing different types of climate and different economic systems, the Gulf states are very different from the New England states on the north-east coast.

THE CHANGING FACE OF DURHAM.

I have lived in the city of Durham  for fifty years, I surprise myself when I say that. In that time there have been many changes. The city seemed at that time to be small, although the very fact that I moved into a new house on an estate was a very visible sign of change, schools were being built, an increasingly busy bus station and of course the railway station which linked us to the rest of the country. Durham University although established in 1832 was up until the end of the 1950s  relatively small, the students numbered in hundreds, and to a large extent separate from the city. This situation was in the process of change; free higher education and grants for students living away from home opened up this branch of education to a much wider section of the population. The University was quick to seize this business opportunity and soon became the most important part of the economic life of the city and therefore had considerable influence with Durham County Council. [No of students?]

    There has been an equally big change in the domestic life inside most homes, I’m talking about television and the whole digital revolution, the mobile phone, the laptop and the computer. I grew up in a home without a phone or a television set. I remember the year the television set  first appeared in my home, 1958. It was small and the pictures were in black and white, it was thrilling. Change now proceeds at a break-neck pace. Television channels occupy several pages in our programme guide, some of it made decades ago. I’m not complaining, I read books written in the nineteenth century and they still reveal something interesting about the way human beings live. A few months ago I spotted a station previously unknown to me, PBS America, I tuned in. I assume the letters stand for Public Broadcasting Service, that is to say programmes whose purpose is to tell the whole truth about events in American history from an academic point of view. There will come a time when films made from an accurate, unbiased academic viewpoint will be used in schools in much the same way that books are used now or more likely in addition to books. The programme that I’m watching is The Civil War which took place in the 1860s, much of the film was taken at the time of the war, the bodies just lying in the field, the narrative telling how many thousands of young men died, their words from the letters they sent home , incredibly moving, the soldiers became real people. The scenes of where the battles were fought and the generals view of what they were trying to accomplish.  I have seen many fictionalised war films  none had the impact of this true account.

    This wonderful technology and the work of hundreds of people are making our own history available to everyone regardless of age or country or previous educational level.  Marvellous!!!

LEARNING AND TEACHING.

At present there is a great fuss  in the press and on TV because the Results Are Out! That is the examination results for boys and girls aged 16, they are called O levels after which many young people leave school and look for a job, as I did myself in 1955.  In recent times it is also the schools themselves which are examined. What is the success rate of school A, how does it compare withs schools, B, C, and D ? There is one huge flaw in this argument. Every child is treated as a separate individual, who will live alone, work alone and has no connection with any community whatsoever. It may surprise the examiners and the teachers to discover 99.9% of us live in communities, we work day by day with other people, when we feel ill we want to see a doctor, when a problem crops up we may need a lawyer to sort it out, we all want our children to have good teachers and many of us rely on buses and trains to get from place to place, and so on.

    One thing I know from experience that those few children who learn quickly and easily are frequently the target of bullying behaviour. Many children have some difficulty when it comes to learning to read, or adding up and subtracting or copying letters: these children gradually begin to see themselves as failures. It is made very clear to them that the only praiseworthy thing is putting your hand up because you know the answer, or getting 9 out of 10 for your sums. If Joe is struggling to read the text book or getting more crosses against his sums, then just like an adult Joe looks for someone to blame, someone he can make feel miserable just like Joe himself. That quiet boy who never joins in the football game and has read every book in the class, he won’t fight back.  So Joe starts calling him names, throwing bits of paper at him and encourages his friends to do the same.  The quiet boy, I will call Bill looks miserable and strangely enough not a word is said by the teacher.  So Joe steps up his name calling and pushing and he sees the teacher smiling.  The teacher does not like Bill, he is much too clever, much cleverer than the teacher’s own son I will call John. The aim of caring for every child in the class has become irrelevant, jealousy has become the need which much be satisfied.  Soon Bill ceases to come to school so another victim must be found. “Every child matters”, has been binned.

This story sounds like a ridiculous exaggeration but it is tragically true.  The bullying went on for a number of years before Bill could take no more. The school stood by and did nothing.  Now that there is such emphasis on results, on getting the right marks I am convinced that there are a lot more boys like Joe and some girls too who are sick of being in the bottom half of the class and always being told they could do better. The question never answered is how?

    Yes indeed we are all different; some can run faster, jump higher, put the ball in the back of the net.  These talents most of us accept as rare and special gifts but the ability to read and understand numbers, in this complex 21st century world is essential, our names,addresses and age are written down a thousand times; if we want a driving licence, and most of us do, or to follow the instructions on a new washing machine. Then the ability to understand the printed word is also the way in which this busy, modern world is explained to us,even those modern miracles; the mobile phone, the internet and the television set depend frequently on spoken and  written words even    President  Trump puts his thoughts down on Twitter and many people read them. Myself I would rather look out of the window at the birds, but we all have our own ways of doing nothing very much.

     Teaching is a very intellectually demanding job yet our society regards it as a respectable profession for a literate young person who has no actual experience of the many and varied reasons some children find it difficult to learn. The young teacher finds herself without ongoing support and regular courses on particular problems which she will without doubt encounter very quickly. The medical and legal professions are accepted as intellectually rigorous but if you can speak politely and dress neatly you can be put in front of a class and left to discover how you can engage thirty-five boys and girls to be interested in learning something new. I have only one more thing to say, the best of British luck!

Trees And Neighbours.

I’m happy to say that when I look out of my windows I see lots of trees. I’m not good at remembering the names but I love the shapes, the different shades of green and the magnificence of a living thing higher than the house. When these houses were built trees were along the main roads and grassy areas here and there, in addition to a garden in front of every house. I’m amazed to say that most of these houses were built fifty years ago, by Christmas this year husband and I will have lived in this spot for fifty years. You may be thinking are these people rooted to the spot? We don’t have actual physical roots but emotion and familiarity do form something very much akin to roots.

    Many front gardens have been paved over to make a secure space for the car or indeed several cars. There is a shopping centre quite close by and even a delivery service from the local supermarket. So everyday life proceeds on its routine way. Something has happened recently which I find visually distressing, in a garden belonging to a neighbour a monstrosity looms into my vision. A tree has been chopped off in a very ugly fashion, I’m surprised that I find a tree ugly! One person’s idea of beauty can be very different to someone else’s idea.  Another neighbour chopped very  haphazardly a perfectly decent hedge, the hedge in question was actually mine.

     So even a very pretty spot can be changed utterly, an ugly tree!!! So I have to turn around and look out of another window. I like to be on good terms with my neighbours but sometimes its not easy!