Thursday 24 March 2022

Can we avoid racism?


This cropped up when we discussed in my book group Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo.    One comment we made was that here were a group of women who were all “other” and perhaps what makes us all alike is that we are all “other”.

One lady mentioned that her brother is very racist and she isn’t.  Yet they were brought up exactly the same way.  

There is nothing wrong with having a reaction to the strange, to the other. Xenophobia can be forgiven; it is what one does in response to that feeling that counts. I can name a few reactions: I was intrigued with how white my friend Celestine’s socks looked next to her black legs.  My daughter was fascinated that her friend Craig’s hair didn’t move in the wind.  Who were these tall, thin ladies who wore the long skirts that looked like fine sheets wrapped around them and who wrangled with my grandmother over the remnants box in the market? What are they cooking? How interesting it is that the extended family all gather at the house opposite to us every Friday evening.

We can say, “This is interesting. I’d like to know more.”  We might eventually say.  “That’s fine for you but it’s not what I want.” Unfortunately some choose to say “What you’re doing is rubbish and that makes me superior to you.” I suspect that often in the latter case something nearer the truth is “What you’re doing scares me half to death and I won’t have anything to do with it.”

There are some genuine concerns too. Foreign workers come and do the job for a fraction of the cost.  Of course that’s upsetting.  Take what is happening with P & O at the moment. Would you want to go on a ferry operated by an inexperienced work force that is being paid starvation wages? How would you feel if you were one of the sacked workers?  There may have been some mismanagement of the funds provided by the government but the firm is where it is now and the sacked workers would be out of a job anyway. Operation Brock is in force at the moment and will become more of permanent feature if this ferry firm remains inoperative.              

Do some groups make themselves more “other” by celebrating that otherness?

I go back again my friends or my teenage years. They were just Elaine, Theo, Ingrid, Rene, Monica  and Mavis. I cringe even as I tell you that they are black and Windrush generation.

My book group recongised all sorts of “otherness” and in particular we found the women in Evaristo’s book other than us; we are a group of middle class women, most of whom come from working class backgrounds, who now live in the north of England. The women in Evaristo’s book are very much from London and very multicultural.  Or is even that too “boxy”? In the end aren’t there just “people”?   Will my work with the Schellberg Cycle make that clearer?   

Wednesday 9 March 2022

Are we bystanders?


Ukraine, War, Flag, Soldier, Ruins

We are currently watching, most of us in horror, a strong country invading a peace-loving neighbour. Is it about land ownership? Annoyance about NATO’s reach? Or is just the work of a megalomaniac?

Putin is being compared with Hitler and some people are suggesting that when we see him in the media it is not always Putin himself but a lookalike. A few even mention clones. Is he really like the charismatic failed artist who could make excellent speeches but who in the end spent more time training his dogs than working on war strategy? Is Putin more in control, actually more evil and more to be feared?  

Good people living in Nazi Germany couldn’t find their tribe. At least now with social media we can though even here we have to put our heads above the parapet and risk attracting trolls. Activist Russians have found their way around bans on social media and are giving us the news about what Russian people are actually thinking. Not all are obeying blindly or through fear.  

But we need a little caution before we expect too much of ordinary Russian people. Putin has made the spreading of fake news a crime. So should in fact lock himself up and throw away the key?  He said there would be no invasion of the Ukraine.  He said this isn’t a war. This is an invasion. This is a war.  And he is breaking international law in that he is attacking civilians.

I personally don’t think we in the UK are doing enough. Boris Johnson has spoken about sponsorship and there is now a points system for allowing Ukrainian refugees into our country.  Compare that with the free travel offered by Germany, who also accepted just under a million Syrian refugees. We seem to take some pride in the Kindertransport. No doubt a lot of good and brave people worked to make that happen. But it offered help to a mere 10,000 children and then there had to be sponsorship as well – the equivalent to £3000 today. 10,000 compared with the 6,000,000 who were murdered. I’ve read the minutes of the committee meeting that set this up. There was a lot of hesitancy and a lot of fear that if we did more, anti-Semitism might grow in the UK. It ought to have been a given that it would not be tolerated.       

Are we bystanders? Should we now get off the fence?         

Tuesday 8 March 2022

Bruno and Frida by Tony Bradman



The story is set at the end of World War II as the Russians start to occupy Nazi Germany. Bruno’s mother is killed as the Russians attack. Bruno is befriended by the dog Frida, and by an old lady who takes him in for a while.  Frida is a suicide bomber dog and Bruno’s first task when he meets her is to remove her vest.

As the Russian occupation takes hold, Bruno has to move on and try and find his grandparents.  He has to leave the old lady behind. He never sees her again and he never finds out what happens to her. He writes to her daughter but she does not reply.

Bruno finds his grandparents and goes on to live a happy life.  He marries, becomes a doctor and has a family.  His granddaughter interviews him about being a refugee.  The family are sympathetic towards the Syrian refugees.     

This is a Barrington Stoke book and created for less able readers.

 Barrington Stoke claims “Our books are tested for children and young people by children and young people.”  Usually they commission a known writer to create the text and their own editors then work on it to make it suitable for the target reader.  

Tony Bradman offers an historical note at the end and also points out how German attitudes have changed since the end of World War II.