culture


The security experts have been at work.  Take a walk around Stratford and you’ll probably be aware that all eyes are on you, with cameras sited everywhere and a huge number of half-trained half-wits, otherwise known as security staff, guarding the place.  How much has been spent, sorry, invested in keeping the Olympics safe will no doubt emerge in time when we have to start paying the bill, but  the private security companies, whose pockets the money has been invested in, are all smiling.

Not to be outdone by the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games we are now going in for super-duper security to fend off these pesky terrorists, murderers, rapists, kidnappers, thieves, protesters and other ne’er-do-wells.  If you cast your mind back a few years you may recall the measures the Chinese government was taking to ensure its event was kept safe – surface to air missiles, Peoples Navy patrolling the seas and more soldiers deployed than America had sent to Iraq – much of which was duly ridiculed and laughed at.  Of course, nothing like that could possibly happen here in the liberal west where we have democracy,  freedom and no big brother government keeping us in constant state of fear of any invisible enemy.

Just exactly how many suicide bombers, gun men or nail bomb throwers can be shot down with an HVM system I really don’t know but aren’t these weapons for use against jet airfcraft – and how many gangsters/terrorists/thugs own warplanes?

However, on the advice of an ‘expert’ [who I guess must now be laughing his socks off at our gullibility] the British Army are now in the process of mounting surface to air missile batteries around the Olympic park. Personally I would have thought the worst and most likely threat would be from hooligans and drunken yobboes but maybe I’m just out of touch with reality.

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This letter was submitted the ‘The Friend’, a Quaker periodical publication, recently Still awaiting the editor’s decision as to whether or not it will be published.

Dear Friends

At present we, in the Central Yorkshire Area Meeting (CYAM), are being urged, on instructions from Britain Yearly Meeting, to adopt a policy which will safeguard children and vulnerable adults.  I refer to the society’s intention to have at least two members of each meeting CRB checked and ‘cleared’ for ‘child safety purposes’.

If I may begin by relating some of my own experiences of the Criminal Records Bureau and the certificates it issues.  I am a member of a large recreational association with branches throughout the country some of which have already been pressured into CRB checking their leaders and administrators.  The results have been notable as many long standing leaders, well known and respected by other members, declined to take such checks and as a result no longer participate in social events; one can only wonder what dark secrets they had to hide. If they were the only ones to disappear maybe that would not be so bad but not only the refuseniks but their friends have gone with them, depleting numbers somewhat.  However, if a reduction in numbers is anything to judge by I think we can say those groups are now far safer than they ever were in the past.

In addition to the effect on numbers, CRB checks introduce an unhealthy and unwholesome atmosphere of distrust to whichever organisation chooses to use them.  The implication is that everyone is guilty and poses a potential threat to vulnerable people [almost a reinvention of ‘original sin’]. The way to lift one’s self above such guilt is to undergo a CRB check. In this manner those with certificates are deemed ‘safe’ and the others, not so; in this way CRB checking also has a divisive effect on a group or society.  If CYAM gets its way and each meeting complies with the ruling we will have two people at each meeting house who may be entrusted with the care of children and other vulnerable people – and no one else.

In reality a CRB disclosure certificate achieves nothing. It doesn’t show a person is trustworthy, has done nothing wrong and, most important, of all says nothing about what he/she will do in the future.  Even the phrasing used on a ‘clean’ certificate raises doubts, for example  ‘Police Records of Convictions, Cautions, Reprimands and Warnings – NOT RECORDED’. Why not a straightforward ‘NONE’? ‘NOT RECORDED’ has a subliminal message ‘no record found but he/she may have offended, we simply don’t know’.  It certainly doesn’t tell you that this person will not murder, assault or molest someone in the future.

Why are some people so enthusiastic about such a useless measure?  For those with a desire to keep others under their thumb the appeal is obvious as it is way of controlling people, of sifting out those you like from those you don’t while under the pretence of doing something good.

I have yet to see one benefit of this procedure but so far I have only seen negative effects – financial cost to clubs and societies, loss of membership, loss of participation within the remaining membership, further reinforcement of the deep-seated distrust and suspicion which pervades society as a whole and yet our Elders and Overseers, who I understand are selected for their deeper understanding of Quaker values, far from demanding that we find a way forward to a more sensible method of our own and thus set the standard,  are urging us to follow the sheep.  Our society has a long history of dissent, of standing up to unjust or unfair laws, of saying ‘no’ to imposed procedures and being prepared to take the consequences. This is surely such an occasion to insist on being different.

At risk of stating the obvious we are the Religious Society of Friends, we seek the truth, we endeavour to stand for the truth, we accept nothing but the truth and in our quest for the truth we develop a sharp eye which enables us to accept that which is of value and worth and reject that which is puff.

I feel our myopia is reaching chronic levels.

If you think fairy stories are just harmlessly entertaining tales which are ideal for teaching children good wholesome moral values take a look at this posting on the mental floss website. Here are the summaries of a few medieval fairy tales with their original plots and endings. Some are quite well-known in their modern format, such as ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Snow White’, and others are less well known, but what they all have in common is that these are the original stories which abound with murder, treachery, incest, cannibalism, torture and, this is bad news for those who like a neat and tidy ending, there are very few ‘and they all lived happily ever after’ conclusions.

Click here and enjoy, but don’t read them to your kids.

Contrary to popular belief The Times isn’t every Englishman’s favourite newspaper but it does throw up interesting little articles now and again. While rummaging amongst some old copies recently I came across this item. The British, and English particularly, have always considered themselves kind-hearted and generous though perhaps not overly so. Within our isles there are many variations, as you might expect, and some regions are well-known for opposite traits; the Scots, Aberdonians especially, are reputed to be thrifty and Yorkshire people are careful, as they put it [or just plain tightfisted as others would say], for example, but behind our stoic outward-facing masks we all have beating hearts of gold. At least that is what we like to tell ourselves and anyone else who is listening. Unfortunately, as Richard Morrison points out this notion simply doesn’t square up with the facts collected by the Office for National Statistics. During the last 50 years we have been less and less willing to give to charity, and at the same time have become more and more uncaring for others. If you have the means and the opportunity it is OK to flaunt your wealth, preferably in the most contemptuous and shameless manner possible, it is perfectly acceptable to cheat others and to put down those less fortunate than yourself. Morrison pins everything down to an absence of ‘love’ in our society, I would use the word ‘care’ but otherwise, in essence, agree with what he says; if anything I would be even less charitable than he is in describing our society, we are simply a bunch of greedy and selfish, uncaring tightwads.

I was clearing out some storage space recently and dug up a stack of ancient magazines. Before committing them to the recycling bin I had a quick glance through a few of them and came across this little gem. I’m not sure exactly when I started cycling, but I know I was still at school, and I’ve been doing the same with varying degrees of enthusiasm ever since – although I suspect I need to do more if I am to avoid ending up like the subject of this verse –

I used to ride a bike

All motorists get up my nose
But the type I most dislike
Is the one who has to tell you
That he used to ride a bike.

He approaches you at lunch stop
With a loving sort of look,
You try to hint you’re resting –
But tact’s not in his book.

Oh, the cafés where he used to stop.
The characters he knew.
The distances he covered.
He rode twice as far as you.

He’s over thirty now, of course
(his waist looks forty-two),
So he’s had to pack it in for good –
But how he envies you!

All cyclists need protection Lord,
But one thing we implore –
Protect us most of all from bores
Who’ve swapped two wheels for four.

© Bill Tordoff

[towncryer.gif]A few years ago the district of Užupis, in the city of Vilnius, declared itself to be an independent republic. A President and bishop were appointed, four flags were designed [one for each season], and a suitable constitution was duly drawn up. The 41 rights which form the constitution are engraved on mirrors, attached to a wall on Paupio Street. In addition, it has a palace, an army [of 12] to defend it and a National Day [1st April], which may give some idea of just how important this shabby little area has become. More details here and here and probably the most thorough in-depth analysis just here.

Here is a translation of the terms of the constitution –

Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnelė, while the River Vilnelė has the right to flow by everyone.
Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof.
Everyone has the right to die, but it is not a duty.
Everyone has the right to make mistakes.
Everyone has the right to individuality.
Everyone has the right to love.
Everyone has the right to be not loved, but not necessarily.

Everyone has the right not to be distinguished and famous.

Everyone has the right to be idle.
Everyone has the right to love and take care of a cat.

Everyone has the right to look after a dog till one or the other dies.

A dog has the right to be a dog.
A cat is not obliged to love its master, but it must help him in difficult times.
Everyone has the right to sometimes be unaware of his duties.
Everyone has the right to be in doubt, but this is not a duty.
Everyone has the right to be happy.

Everyone has the right to be unhappy.

Everyone has the right to be silent.

Everyone has the right to have faith.

No one has the right to violence.

Everyone has the right to realize his negligibility and magnificence.

Everyone has the right to encroach upon eternity.
Everyone has the right to understand.
Everyone has the right to understand nothing.
Everyone has the right to be of various nationalities.
Everyone has the right to celebrate or not to celebrate his birthday.
Everyone shall remember his name.
Everyone may share what he possesses.
No-one can share what he does not possess.
Everyone has the right to have brothers, sisters and parents.
Everyone is capable of independence.
Everyone is responsible for his freedom.
Everyone has the right to cry.
Everyone has the right to be misunderstood.
No-one has the right to make another person guilty.
Everyone has the right to be personal.
Everyone has the right to have no rights.
Everyone has the right to not be afraid.
Do not defeat.
Do not fight back.
Do not surrender.
How does this grab you? I read this many years ago and it was relatively old even then, but the down to earth style and content is as impressive for me now as it ever was.  It has a brutal honesty about it which makes it unsuitable reading for the romantics or faint of heart, as it rips away all the sickly saccharine images of love and romance which we get bombarded with.
Valentine

Not a rose or a satin heart,
I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light, like the gentle undressing of love.

Here. It will blind you with tears, like a lover.
It will make your reflections a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.
Not a cute card or a kissogram.
I give you an onion.

Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips, possessive and faithful, as we are,
For as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring, if you like.

Lethal.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
Cling to your knife.

Carol Ann Duffy

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