Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Thatcher Bashing

Yesterday saw the passing of Baroness Thatcher, Britain's first female prime minister and one of the most influential and divisive political leaders the country has ever seen. 

October 13, 1925 - April 8, 2013

Naturally, the internet went into overdrive, with social networks around the world buzzing with views, opinions and comments. I often find the internet quite a cruel place following the death of a celebrity or public figure so I avoided Facebook and Twitter yesterday and assumed I would have been able to avoid most of the bile by today but as I signed into Twitter and Facebook this morning, I was greeted by a barrage of cruel and personal comments about the woman often known as The Iron Lady. 

I grew up in the North East (Sunderland), a city with a huge shipyard and mining community, so I have first hand experience of the impact of her policies. Although it was hard on everyone, particularly in this area, I can see the arguments both for and against the changes that she brought about. I'm also an ex-public sector accountant and anyone who thinks that the old public sector regime could have carried on the way it was doing at that time clearly doesn't understand basic economics. 

This country was stuffed in the seventies. We were a laughing stock across the world and she brought strong leadership to drive through transformational change at a time when most other politicians lacked the backbone to do anything constructive about the mess we were in. 

I'm not saying I agree with all of her policies. Even though I thought the unions were irresponsibly power crazy and only had themselves to blame when it all backfired, my heart bled for the miners and their families during the strikes, yet I'm still sensible enough to recognise that the mines would have closed anyway sooner or later, once the subsidies had ran out. I also had my whole street out rallying against poll tax when it was introduced, even though it would have been a more attractive option than council tax or rates for me as an individual. 

Love her or hate her, she's still the only politician we've seen with any balls since Churchill and she certainly did more than anyone else to help people stand on their own two feet and have some pride in being self sufficient, particularly women. As an aside, I see that most of the people making the vile comments on my timeline are the same folks that got their first leg up onto the property ladder by making the most of her 'dreadful' policies and buying their council houses at a whopping discount. How soon we forget.

I'm sorry but compared to any of the current spineless, mealy mouthed, self seeking, ineffective weasels we have in 'power' at the minute, I'd take Thatcher every time but that aside, irrespective of any of the political arguments, this is still a human being that died. 

Have we really lost all sense of dignity and humanity that we think it's acceptable to gloat and make cruel, personal comments about someone who just died? Do we really think it's acceptable to be that callous about a human being just because of the job that she did, the job that WE asked her to do because there was no one else capable of doing it? Seriously? Because if that's the case then I'm scared for us all as it means the very fabric of our society truly has crumbled. 

We have a dreadful habit in this country of building people up, putting them on pedestals and then kicking the shit out of them when things go wrong instead of taking some responsibility for ourselves and doing something constructive to bring about change. Everyone finds it easy to be a sideline commentator but most people don't even bother turning out to vote anymore. We're turning into a nation of moaners. It's pathetic really.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Talking to the Dead

I'm fortunate enough to live right in the middle of a vast network of cycle paths, many of which are part of the National Cycle Network and, weather permitting, I try to get out on my bicycle as much as possible. 

I have a regular, twelve mile route that I try to follow, mainly because it's the most convenient and also, it's relatively scenic. I usually cycle half way, stop for a drink and a quick chat with the horses in the top field and then I cycle back as fast as I can, always trying to beat my own speed for the total time taken. 

I met a man at my halfway point on the cycle track today. I don't know his name but I know that he's seventy five years old and I know that his wife contracted breast cancer and died twenty two years ago. 

I've never seen him up there before and I'm unlikely to ever see him again but there's something strangely reassuring about the anonymity of chance encounters with complete strangers and he had such a gentle, unassuming manner as he told me the story of his wife that I somehow found myself reciprocating and telling him about Mark

We chatted about all manner of things, for well over half an hour, but we kept coming back to the subject of his wife and, even though he'd had subsequent relationships after her death, it was very apparent that he still missed her and loved her a great deal. He wasn't maudlin or overly sentimental. It was more a kind of quiet respect for her memory and the life they had shared together, which he had clearly cherished. 

We reflected on the challenges of moving on and adjusting after losing a loved one but also, without dwelling in the morbidity of the situation, we also talked about how crucial it is to remember those we love. He told me that his daughter currently lives in Hong Kong where there is a strong tradition of honouring ancestors and elderly loved ones in a very particular way. 

Today is the day of Qingming Festival, also known as 'Talking to the Dead Day', which is the first of those traditions in this current year.  On the ninth day of the ninth lunar month (13th October this year), there will be a celebration to mark Chung Yeung Festival, also known as 'Senior Citizens Day'. 

These two days are public holidays in the Hong Kong calendar, during which time it is traditional to pack a picnic and take the whole family down to the cemetery where they will then spend the day tidying up the graves of departed friends and family members whilst listening to the elder family members reminiscing and telling stories to the youngsters in order that their memories live on from generation to generation. Isn't that a wonderful idea?

I sat on a bench on the cycle track, enjoying my first glimpse of sunshine after the very long winter and listening to the soothing voice of my new 'friend' as he told me the story of 'Talking to the Dead Day' and, for a very short time this morning, I felt at peace. 

It didn't last very long but it's the first time I've felt truly calm since Mark died and I just wanted to share it with you.