I am in Sweden staying with friends - house with the forest on one side and a lake on the other, lots of talking and eating around a big wooden table. If it wasn't for the X-box in the corner I could be in a Carl Larsson painting. Lovely. Well it is now. Days one and two were completely clouded by the absence of tea. I mean real tea, not peppermint, chamomile, green or Earl Grey but proper builder's tea, known in better circles English Breakfast blend. It was pretty horrific. Those of you who know me well have witnessed the rapid descent into grumpiness that is prompted by my not having regular doses of tannin pumped into me. I am an addict I make no bones about it. You would think therefore that I would lap up the Earl Grey purchased for me by my thoughtful coffee-drinking friends. But I can't. Its too fragrant. Its just not a proper cuppa. And yet it is ubiquitous. At cafes and restaurants here the response to an order for tea is to bring a cup of hot water and an Earl Grey teabag on the side (I know, as in America and France, the general populous in Sweden remains oblivious to the correct method of making a brew). And waiters and hosts alike are perplexed by my lack of enthusiasm for the delicate blend. They have fallen for the Earl Grey spin that it is the blend of choice amongst the great British tea-drinking public! As if. On day two, with anxiety levels rising I ventured to a supermarket where I purchased an horrifically-priced-even-for-Sweden packet of breakfast teabags. I shall not be taking any risks next week when I go to the south of France with an ample supply of the good stuff in my bag.
Sunday, 9 August 2009
And so Harry Patch was lied to rest almost 100 years after so many of his comrades. The last Tommy, he survived a terrible war and spent much of his life after his days in the trenches speaking out for peace, calling for disputes to be resolved through reconciliation. It is important that we remember him and the sacrifices made by the Lost Generation and by the men and women who have died in subsequent conflicts across the world. But I don't believe I can be the only person who was disturbed by the number of people who turned out to watch his funeral. I have real doubts that the people who crowded outside Wells Cathedral did so out of respect or in remembrance of fallen heroes. I have a terrible suspicion that they, or at least many of them, were funeral tourists. It is a phenomenon which I have been observing for some time. The first obvious incidence was the funeral of Princess Diana, but more recently we saw it at the death of Jade Goody. And in the last few weeks, this mawkish behaviour has been infecting the streets of Wootten Bassett where the simple gesture of respect to service personnel killed abroad made by locals has been tarnished by tourists who come to gawp at the corteges. I know I shouldn't be surprised, I am disturbed by it and wish, like so many things, it would stop. Let's respect the dead, not send picture messages from outside funeral.
Wednesday, 5 August 2009
I am in rant mode. I have been since the weekend and have had to wait until I calmed down a bit. So what or rather who has got my gander up? Arise Mr Phil Woolas, Immigration Minister, who has effectively declared that demonstrating is anti-social behaviour, and any applicant for British citizenship who has the temerity to protest should have points docked from their points-based application. As someone who has spent a large part of her life on marches, pickets and handing out leaflets and who came to this country as an asylum seeker I am, to say the least, upset. I definitely wouldn't have passed the Woolas test - I protested against apartheid and BNP and for peace. Under his criteria I am an undesirable. But he is wrong. The right to demonstrate peacefully, to express your views, to protest it is a mark of a free and democratic society. We commend the people of Iran and Zimbabwe for demonstrating against stolen elections. We hold up as an example of bravery and vision the March on Washington at which Dr Martin Luther King Jr delivered his "I have a dream speech". The lone protestor standing before a tank in Tiananmen Square is one of the defining images of our time. Democracies should encourage active citizenship - the freedom to express a view, to communicate an opinion is one important way we can be active and engaged members of society.