Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Day. We must never forget.

Seventy years ago today Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp was liberated. Today survivors of the Death Camp join with the world to remember those who were brutally murdered in that terrible place. There really are no words that I can write that will do the tragedy, the awfulness, justice.

What is so important is that we remember what happened, that we never forget the suffering of the men, women and children who were taken there, brutalised, tortured, separated, murdered. It is impossible for those of us who weren't there to understand what they went through, but I hope we can try. I hope we can pass the facts on to our children so that they and their children will remember.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Beautiful, simple, calm.

There's nothing quite as beautiful as sunrise on a cold and frosty morning. Well, I say that... I suppose that there are more beautiful things... but, for me, this is one of the beautiful places in my life. Every day its different and every day I look to see if I should take a photo. My friends and Instagram followers are no doubt bored to tears of it, but I love to see it across the fields, with the morning sun glinting through the trees.

I just thought that today, after a couple of political posts, I would just share something calm and beautiful and simple.

Update!! Thank you so much Emma for asking me to take part in #CheckOutThatView over at her blog South West Reviews Its a pleasure to link up with you and I hope that lots of other bloggers do too!!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Why we cannot let Fundamentalism bow us. I'll Ride With You.

I woke up this morning to read that 2000 men, women and children had been massacred in Nigeria by Boko Haram. Following the week that has just passed it is yet another hideous tragedy that darkens our world. I find it so hard to understand why people who consider themselves men and women of God believe that killing others is part of their religion.

photo courtesy of Huffington Post.com

Perhaps they are hiding behind the excuse of religion? I don't believe that any true follower would commit the cowardly and senseless murders we have seen this week. They may believe themselves to be warriors for their faith, but surely this model of faith is a mutation? An abomination.

I sat yesterday watching events unfold in France and ended the day feeling so desperately sad for the people involved. I have read countless articles trying to explain what is happening in the world and why fundamentalists feel the need to intimidate and murder those who disagree with them. There are so many theories, some reasonable, talking about poverty and alienation. Others damn blindly, generalising about an evil threat, conspiracy theories and prophecies of world domination by Islam who they see as some sort of dreadful darkness.

 I don't believe that Islam is evil. True Muslims are good and kind and honorable. As should be those true followers of any of the world religions, be they Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist. Mankind takes the words of sacred texts and twists them for his own devices. This has been the case for thousands of years surely? Mankind acts out of fear of the unknown and uses religion to excuse his acts of brutality.

Perhaps I am naive, but I just wish that people could take a moment to be still and to consider others. We may not all follow the same system of beliefs, but surely that's alright? As long as we try to be kind and tolerant, understanding that we are all different, then surely the world would be a better place? I am not a believer, but I have friends who are Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Atheist. Their choice of belief does not offend me. I respect them all. I don't always agree with them, but I respect their right to believe a different truth than mine. Why can the fundamentalists of these faiths not feel the same way? Why do they feel the need to force their views on the world?

In my opinion the basic need of every human being is to love and be loved. No more nor less. If we all treated others with respect, taking each person we meet for who they are individually, then the world would be such a different place.

Perhaps this is easy for me to say, living my middle class life in leafy England. Perhaps the anger and frustration you feel as a young person living in slums, feeling alienated and demonised, pushes people towards hatred and the desire for some sort of justification for their existence? I don't know the answers.

What did touch me this week was the move to extend the hashtag #IllRideWithYou, started after the hostage crisis in Sydney. It began as a way of showing that not everybody equates Islam with terrorism and said "Let's stick together as human beings, be we Muslim, Jew, Christian or Atheist". If only we could stand together, hand in hand with people of all faiths and not judge others because of the actions of a minority.

photo courtesy of allfreedownload.com

They are a dangerous minority, but their desire is to break society, to turn us against each other, to spread fear. We cannot let this happen. We cannot condemn whole sections of society because of the way they dress, the faith they hold. We are all different and we all have the right to live without fear, to live with respect. Fundamentalists, be they Boko Haram, the Kouachi brothers, Anders Behring Breivik or White Supremacists, are a cancer that threatens society. They use violence because their words are impotent, their views abhorrent.

I realise that my views are probably naive, simplistic and if you are entrenched in your view of "them and us" you will scorn what I say. The world is not a simple place. But if we, the majority, stand together and refuse to be bowed, refuse to turn on one another, then they cannot win. I fear the future, but I will not let my fear turn to hatred or paranoia.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Je Suis Charlie.

Before today I have to admit that I had not heard of Charlie Hebdo. I had not read their satirical articles or seen their cartoons. Now, however, I do know about them and I will never forget them. I am not a journalist, but the horrific events in the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris has made me realise and appreciate the courage of those journalists around the world who speak out against wrong, who speak out.

Today two gunmen walked into the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris and murdered twelve people - 10 journalists and two policemen. They called by name for the cartoonists and executed them.

The journalists were in an editorial meeting and stood no chance against men armed with automatic rifles. They were armed only with pens, with their keyboards.Time will show that the pen is mightier than the sword or the automatic rifle, but today, and for those men and their families, the gun proved to be more brutal than satire.

What the gunmen did not foresee was the mass outpouring of grief and support for the team at Charlie Hebdo. All over the world people gathered in town squares and online to unite in solidarity with those journalists and the courage they showed in exercising their right to Free Speech. In Paris people stood silently holding pens aloft. Their gesture moves me to tears.

photo courtesy of Huffington Post

I hope that the courage of those journalists lights a fire amongst the people of the world. A flame of defiance that will burn in spite of threats from extremist organisations. Every human being has the right to Free Speech. No human being has the right to murder another. Other people's opinions may offend, may even insult, but that gives no one the right to kill. Yes, fight back with words. Argue for all you are worth, but violence such as that we have seen today is wrong. It is the option of the fundamentally weak.

The problem is that the violence we have witnessed today is frightening. The editor of Charlie Hebdo, Stephane Charbonnier, was already under police protection for his cartoons ridiculing Islam and both he and his body guards were killed today. I have noticed how very careful most people in the media are when discussing Islam and surely this is in no small part because of the fear of reprisals by fundamentalists. How many writers do not think hard before saying or writing something controversial or satirical?

Will this attack spur more people to write what they really think? Or will it frighten people into silence? Only time will tell, but I call to mind a short poem I read when I was young and by which I try to live my life. It was written by Martin Niemoller ...

First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me ...
And there was no one left to speak for me.

The journalists who risk their lives, and that is what they do, are there speaking for all of us. They are the ones who tell us, in our nice cosy houses, about what is really going on in the world. Those journalists who have the courage to write and who shine a spotlight on events we might not otherwise be aware of are brave. I might not always agree with what they write, but I will support their right to do so forever. Free Speech is essential in a free world and today has shown that the vast majority of people hold that to be true. The shock and outrage at these awful murders is deep felt. I hope that the tragic deaths of the journalists in Paris give people around the world the strength to say "Free Speech is our Right!" But there is a little part of me that is afraid that these murderers will achieve what they set out to do. When the outrage dies down and a writer wonders whether or not to write a piece or draw a cartoon, will a little voice in their head urge caution? Will they look at their son or daughter and choose another topic?

We shall see. Each writer will make their own choice. For those who choose Free Speech despite the risks I have nothing but total admiration and respect. Without them our world would be in darkness.

Je suis Charlie.

Friday, 2 January 2015

New Resolutions for a New Year.

I love the New Year. It's a time for fresh starts and new resolutions. Since turning 50 last March I have slowly begun to realise my own mortality. I don't want to sound morbid, but the chances are that I'm over half way in this life of mine. More than one friend of mine has faced serious illness this year and that has made me value my health and family more than ever. Age has never bothered me - it's just a number - but the number I now own doesn't seem to match with who I am... How odd to be a 50 year old! Inside I am far younger. Anyway ... this year I am making resolutions, but not resolutions which will deny myself things. This year I resolve to enjoy every moment of my life. I want to be positive and strong.

I have never been one to live in the past. Nostalgia is really not for me and this year more than ever I plan to live in the Now and yet look to the future. I plan on learning new things, new skills. I am continuing to walk when I can and my husband and I have set a day to swim although this is clashing with my ballet classes... aaagh!. Last year I started yoga and I love it. I plan to keep on practising and attending classes, getting better and more flexible. Part of yoga that I love is the relaxing, meditative aspect and I have been using this to help my sleep. I hope to start running again too. If I can regain my love of it I will be thrilled!

If I am looking after my body with exercise then I need to think about what I am putting into it in the way of food and drink too. I have only one body and so far I have been extremely fortunate to be fit and healthy, but, to be honest, I have been a bit of a pig recently! I love good food and wine and have rather over indulged in both over the last few months!! I am going to try to drink more water and less wine! I want to eat more healthily too... smaller portions, more fruit and veg, more fish, less red meat. I think the key is forward planning and I have been enjoying some delicious recipes recently - full of fresh ingredients, fresh herbs.

In April I am booked onto a Hypnotherapy course and I cannot wait for it to start. I love the thought of learning something new and, eventually perhaps, changing direction career wise. Taking on a year's course is a big challenge and the fact that this is more science based than my usual love - the Arts - is not a little frightening! It is, perhaps, the fear factor that excites me just as much as the thought of a new skill, new knowledge.

self portrait courtesy of christianhook.com

I also plan on visiting more exhibitions this year. Last year I went to a few, but this year I want to see more, in particular Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy and Christian Hook at Clarendon Fine Art. The older I get the more I realise how little I know!

I want to keep my mind open and push myself to make the most of every day. I am going to keep reading as much as possible and I plan on editing the book I wrote in November during NaNoWriMo. I feel like Ernie Wise talking about "The book what he wrote"!! I enjoyed the discipline of writing and, you never know, I might write something else... although I don't think JK Rowling or Stephen King have anything to fear!! Writing a novel in the month of NaNoWriMo certainly makes one appreciate the skill of real writers!!

I also want to cherish every moment I have with my family. As time goes on I am reminded every day just how lucky I am. My husband is my best friend, my rock and I love his company. I want to spend as much time together as we can. My boys are getting older and the time when they will leave home is drawing ever closer. I want to enjoy time with them too. I am determined to be more fun when we go skiing this year. When they ski over jumps I am going to follow them. Oh God! That really is scary!

So... those are my resolutions. I hope that I can look back in a year's time and see that I have lived a healthy, positive life, full of enthusiasm!! I will try not to be too annoying!!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Lake District - one for your bucket list.

When I was little my family and I used to go up to the Lake District every Easter. We would stay with old friends and go boating on Lake Windermere. Now that I have my own family we carry on the tradition of travelling up to the North of England to visit the Lakes, these days staying with my cousin and her family. We usually go up some time around November and it is one of my most favourite events of the year.

Lake Windermere from Gummers Howe

If you have never been up to the Lake District then I can recommend it mightily! For us, from the Home Counties, its a pretty long drive, about five or six hours depending on the traffic, although for those of you from the USA or Australia this probably seems like a trip to the shops!

Lake Windermere
We usually turn up at my cousin's house just before midnight and settle down for a nice glass of wine and a chat before bedtime. The next day is a day to go for walks and there are so many to choose from. If you go onto the Lake District website there are lots of walks to choose from - from hard core walks to pleasant strolls. We tend to tailor our walks depending on which members of the family are with us!

We love to walk on the estuary at Greenodd, as well as walking the hills and around the lakes.

We are all keen photographers and the Lakes provide a never ending treasure trove of images. There's just nothing more wonderful that being outside with your family, breathing in the fresh air, taking photos and then, maybe, having a pint infront of a roaring fire in a local pub!

looking out over Windermere from Gummers Howe

On the way up to the top.

We usually have a big bonfire on the Saturday night, standing in the dark with sparklers and damson gin ... maybe some hot homemade soup too. My cousin makes an excellent butternut squash and chorizo soup!

There are lots of books and websites about the Lakes and I am no expert, but if you haven't been then you are missing out!! You don't have to be a huntin' fishin' walkin' expert. You just need to make sure you choose the right walk for you, whether its round the shops or up to the tops, and wear the right clothes for the walk you choose and the season you are in.

Secret Housewife and my Man.

The sites I have linked to are full of information, but really, if you've never been.... go! Its one of those places that should be on your bucket list. We tend to go when its quieter - fewer tourists, but any time of the year it's gorgeous.