World Book Day

Finlay, my grandson, goes to an amazing little school in the shire of Buckingham and to celebrate the fact that today, 6th March, is World Book Day, all the children were asked to choose a character in a book they enjoyed. And would they come to school dressed as that character.

Finlay as Willy WonkaFinlay loves Roald Dahl books, as did his Mummy and Uncle when they were little. His choice of book was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and his choice of character was Willy Wonka. He is reading the book, has seen the film (the original and better one) and has seen the stage play in London.

Finlay lives near Aylesbury and the great co-incidence with his choice is that Roald Dahl lived in the shire of Buckingham, at Great Missenden from 1954 until he died in 1990.  In Dahl’s honour, the Roald Dahl Children’s Gallery was opened in November 1996, at the Buckinghamshire County Museum in Aylesbury. There is also The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden. 

I am lucky enough to pick Finlay up from his school on Wednesdays and take him to school on Thursday mornings. Today in he went as Willy Wonka, complete with stick, chocolate bar and the golden ticket.  Apparently, all his class mates wanted to walk with the stick!

Walking into the playground is always a pleasure. The children start in the reception class and go through the primary years. There are always lots of laughing and playing children, it really does brighten your day – and these eager and hopeful children. And if you listen very carefully, you can hear the tinkling of little bells and angels’ laughter.

So, imagine how much more exciting the playground was this morning – it was just an absolute pleasure and such a joy to see them all strutting around in character. Princesses, pirates, witches, bugs, birds, aliens, Buzz Lightyear, Harry Potter, the Enormous Crocodile, Matilda and many, many more.  And the teachers were all dressed as skeletons! Such a creative and empowering school.

They inspire me and cheer the whole day – and long may they do so.

SOS :Save Our Coastguard Stations: SOS

Swansea Coastguard Station

New Year 2012 was spent on the Gower Peninsula in Wales and was made more special by dropping in to visit the Swansea Coastguard Station. The seemingly, periously perched Station is situated at Tutt Head, Mumbles and is responsible for a large and hazardous operational area, including Marsland Mouth, North Devon/Cornwall Border to River Towy, Camarthen.

To put things in context with the recent Costa Cruise ship disaster off the Italian coast, have a look at the last post (SOS – Save Our Souls – Please!) and thank goodness that it did not happen off our coast now that we no longer have the four special tugs stationed around the coastline – our first line of defence against any potential oil spills.

Swansea Coastguard Station is currently the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre for the area.  It would be the responsibility of the Coastguard to co-ordinate the rescue attempts that we have watched on the TV and web, should this have happened in their geographical area. And what if they are not there?  What is the proposed alternative?

At the moment, Swansea has many more incidents than Holyhead and Milford Haven stations combined!  A frightening statistic made up of boats overturned/in mud, people in water/stranded, surfers and suicides, to name but a few. Why Swansea is so successful in responding to these incidents is the local knowledge the coastguards have from living and working in the area. It is the same with all Coastguards Stations, local knowledge saves lives.

Wall map showing the large area of responsibility in England & Wales for Swansea Coastguard Station

You would not expect an experienced and knowledgable London cabbie to know landmarks in a place one hundred and seventy-five miles away, so why would you put the lives of people in the Swansea area, in the hands of the Southampton Station? No offence meant to the wonderful people stationed there, but equally, Swansea would no more know their way around Southampton landmarks than the Southampton team would in Swansea’s area.

So, for example, when there are two caves with exactly the same name but in totally different locations and people stranded with the tide coming in ~ which do you go to?  Lives count on the decisions made and, if the person responding to the call has no local knowledge of that particular area, then they may possibly choose the empty cave rather than go to where the stranded people are.  And if the ship or person is at sea and they can only say where they are by what they can see ashore, again, only local knowledge can save the day – and the people! Especially when you realise that the strength of the currents can take people and boats quite a few miles in just half an hour!  So the ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) needs to be gauged against the position they will be in, otherwise no-one and nothing will be found.

Not sure how the MCA will be able to achieve the statement on its website;

Our highly trained Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre personnel are ready to respond to emergency calls 24-hours, 365 days a year for the UK coast and surrounding waters. Our primary aim is to reduce incidents through prevention activity, education and improved regulations while maintaining effective enforcement.

Well, they will be able to respond to incidents but not how their vision sees it;

Our vision is to be the best maritime safety organisation in the world, committed to Safer Lives, Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas.

At Swansea Coatsguard Station, we met four fantastic team members; all of whom were expert in all things to do with the Coastguard Service and the area of responsibility of Swansea.  It was a privilege to see around the station.

The ‘cave’ is a classic example for the Maritime Minister, Mike Penning, MP for the landlocked Hemel Hempstead constituency, to take notice of.  Would that he would pay more heed to the needs of the people and not the need to balance budgets! The irony of the matter is that Swansea was one of the Stations saved on the first listing, but someone decided to change that for the second listing, even though Swansea met all the original criteria of road and rail links, communication systems and recruitment. Sometimes with civil servants, it really is a question of where has common sense gone! Politics and budgets should bear no part on decisions that may have an affect on our lives, seems morals and standards get left behind.

Working in the travel, tourism and hospitality sector myself, if anything happens to any visitors to our wonderful isle, well, it would be an absolute disaster. Both for the people involved and for the tourism industry as a whole.  Great Britain is so wonderfully unique because it is an island with a mixture of picturesque and dangerous coastlines.  Extremely dangerous around the area of reponsibility for Swansea.  And if the proposed changes do go ahead, then the Milford Haven Coastguard Station would have to take on the responsibility of the Swansea Coastguard Stations, meaning they would have more than twice their current geographical area to look after, and with no extra personnel – not fair on anyone.

Since reading the first news of these ludicrous proposals, I have been privileged to make friends with some wonderful people on Twitter and Facebook who are involved in the campaign to ‘ Save Our Coastguard Stations’.  Two of the best would be Dennis O’Connor and Lou Pooley ~ great ambassadors for the Coastguard Service and very unhappy to have to be campaigning against the proposed cuts within the Maritime Coatdguard Agency.

That it should not be happening is a given – and  yet another example of the damaging and dangerous decisions this  ‘Greenest Government ever’ is making.  The current fad for the phrase ‘Keep calm and carry on’ would be the thing to do but how can you keep silent when you, and so many others, can see the potential problems and disasters these proposals would bring.  Notice the use of the word would, not could, that’s not correct; it is definitely ‘would’.

Have a look at the great new website ‘CoastguardSOS.com‘ – and please make signing the petition to save the Coastguard Stations, the next thing you do after reading this!  Spread the word, make our coast safe for our children and our grandchildren.  Edmunde Burke once said,  ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing’ ~ we’re not necessarily talking about evil, but we are talking about the sanctity of life!

So, let’s make sure all these wonderful, dedicated guys and girls are going to be part of the Coastguard for as long as they want to be and for as long as we need them there – which would be never-ending!  What are you waiting for? Sign that petition!

Who is Gary McKinnon?

What a momentous day is has been for Gary McKinnon and Janis Sharp.  This afternoon, President Obama, said that the fate of Gary McKinnon will be decided in the UK and not the USA.  A very brave decision for him to make and one, for which, I am sure everybody concerned with the case, will be eternally grateful.  Now it is down to Theresa May, in her role as Foreign Secretary, to come forward with a proposal and decide what will happen.  Fingers, and everything else, crossed!

I wrote the following blog yesterday before this was announced and I’d like to share it, so here it is –

Most of us are aware of the name, Gary McKinnon, but do we know the man?  I have not met Gary, nor his incredible mother, Janis Sharp.  I have supported the case against extradition though and this is my personal take on it.

What I do know is that the British government has Failed (with a capital F)  in protecting and respecting this citizen of this, supposedly, democratic and just isle. 10 years on now and nothing has been resolved. Gary was convinced that UFOs existed and was looking throughout the internet for proof that they did.  During this time, between February 2001 and March 2002, he was able to gain access to United States military and NASA computers.  Gary says he was able to gain access to machines that were set on a default password, meaning that they had no firewalls or cryptic passwords.  Now that to me, who is not a computer geek, seems absolutely ridiculous when they were high security military and NASA computers.  An enormous oversight on the part of the US personnel.  Must have been very embarrassing to them.

Gary has been painted by the United States as an extremely dangerous hacker who caused incalculable damage and shut down their systems for 24 hours.  True, Gary left messages about how easily he got into the computers and notifying them of the danger, and once he even left a message which was critical of US Foreign Policy.  But please, to have open and unsecured computers at that level, quite simply, beggars belief!

In my humble opinion, the US Government should have thanked Gary for alerting them to the glaring omissions in their security systems,  rather than go on a vengeful witch hunt. However the thanks did not come, the witch hunt did – in November 2002, Gary McKinnon was indicted by a federal grand jury in Virginia, with the scenario of Gary being imprisoned for up to 70 years in a US jail!  Look at that date, that was nearly 9 years ago!

In June of 2005, Britain enacted the 2003 Extradition Act and later that year, the US Authorities began extradition proceedings.   What also began in June 2005, was for Gary to live a nightmare.  He became subject to bail conditions including having to sign in at his local police station every evening and to remain at his home address at night. In addition, he was banned from using a computer with access to the Internet.

To say all this has had a detrimental effect on his health is an understatement. In August 2008, Gary McKinnon was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. It is an autism spectrum disorder, which has been compounded with Gary’s clinical depression.  Gary still cannot use a computer with internet access and is now under the care of a Psychiatrist.

Why our Government of the time ever signed an Extradition Treaty that allowed the US not to need to provide contestable evidence for the extradition of a British subject, goodness only knows. That is not protecting our citizens and it certainly is not a sign of a special relationship.

Whenever I think of this situation, I am taken back to the scene in ‘Love Actually‘ where our Prime Minister discovers moral fibre and strong leadership qualities:-

Press Conference Reporter: Mr. President, has it been a good visit?

The President of the U.S.: Very satisfactory indeed. We got what we came for and our special relationship is still very special.

Press Conference Reporter: Prime Minister?

Prime Minister: I love that word “relationship”. Covers all manner of sins, doesn’t it? I fear that this has become a bad relationship. A relationship based on the President taking exactly what he wants and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to, erm… Britain. We may be a small country but we’re a great one, too. The country of William Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter. David Beckham’s right foot. David Beckham’s left foot, come to that. And a friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward, I will be prepared to be much stronger. And the President should be prepared for that.

Now, I’m not likening Barack Obama and David Cameron to the characters portrayed; however, if would be a wonderful and welcome surprise for everyone in this isle if our politicians kept their word!  Both David Cameron and Nick Clegg were very supportive of Gary McKinnon’s situation, before they came into power, and pledged to review the extradition process to make sure it did not remain all one-sided.

Look at these two quotes and tell me whether or not they have kept their word.

David Cameron – “It should still mean something to be a British citizen – with the full protection of the British Parliament, rather than a British Government trying to send you off to a foreign court”….(July 2009)

Nick Clegg  – If he boards the plane to the U.S., it is almost certain he will never set foot on British soil again, doomed to pass out the rest of his days in shackles on a foreign shore. This is nothing short of a disgrace” ….(August 2009)

And we mustn’t forget Gary’s Mum, Janis Sharp.  Throughout all this she has remained dedicated to fighting for her son not to be extradited, in a dignified and determined manner.

As a Mum, I cannot imagine the pain she has endured and still is enduring.  All the promises, all the raised expectations, and what have they come to?  Janis is scared, and rightly so, that if Gary is extradited he would commit suicide.  How do you try and live a normal life with something like that hanging over you?

She is a courageous woman and I’m proud to be her friend on Twitter.

President Obama is currently here ~ it is the ideal opportunity to sort this matter out, once and for all.  Gary has served a prison term, he has undergone many years of mental torture now ~ he deserves to be a free man :-)

Brilliant Britain – I think not!

I am on Twitter and I have made some very good friends on there.  It is not somewhere you can pretend to be something you are not, the truth will out!  And so, you learn which people have the following qualities : integrity, inspiration, a caring nature, a happy nature, leadership skills, a genuine nature. Personally, I admire assertiveness but cannot stand arrogance ~ and there is plenty of that coming out on social networks!

One of the lovely girls I have met is Maureen, lovely lady, charming and genuine.  We started chatting in 2009. Maureen’s Mum is British and her Dad is not.  And in these days of equality and transparency, Maureen’s right to be a British citizen had been denied.  That is, until last January – but after being promised so much, the new law put into place is an absolute insult to her and anyone else in the same position.  There was a huge outcry about it, and quite rightly so, but the promises of equality were completely broken. But more than that, Maureen’s Mum is given the position of not being as important as a British Dad!  Her position is inferior – so wrong!

Maureen wrote the following post on the International Women’s Day this week – it explains it far better then I ever could and makes me very embarrassed that this is happening here in England.  Those civil servants in grey suits have a lot to answer for!  The irony is that Maureen’s blog is called Brilliant Britain – ha!

So today is the 100th International Women’s Day, and we still have an ongoing inequality in the UK regarding the right for British mothers to pass on their citizenship to their children.

The UK government has always given this right to the children of all (married) British fathers automatically but not always to the children of British mothers. My mother is English and therefore I should be eligible for British citizenship but up until recently this right was denied.

Last year (13 January 2010), the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 came into force which meant I was finally granted the right to claim British citzenship. Incredibly, it was only “a right to register as a British citizen” and I would also have to pay £540 to claim my British citizenship! This was absolutely outrageous since anyone born in the same circumstances after 1983, or at anytime to a (married) UK father, could simply complete a passport application without the need to register and without any fee.

I considered this path to citizenship to be unaccepable and I did not take up the offer to attain my British citizenship in this unfair way. There was a public outcry (quite rightly) from myself and many others about this blatant discrimination. Consequently, the law was amended in November 2010 and the application fee (which had actually gone up to £550 during the year!) was removed.

However, we still have to register and need to pay an administrative fee of £80 to cover the cost of a citizenship ceremony.*

As the law stands now the following two cases are exceptions to automatic British citizenship:

  • Children born abroad before 1983 to British female citizens
  • Children born before 2006 to unmarried British male citizens (and in fact they are even denied the right to register)

While it’s true that the £550 application fee has been removed, it’s completely unacceptable that we must provide two references and fill out a form intended for immigrants, not to mention pay £80 and attend a citizenship ceremony. I find these “conditions” before I can qualify for my claim to British citizenship, insulting to my mother as well as to myself.

We still don’t have 100% parity with the children of British father’s! If my father had been British, citizenship would be automatic – no registration required, no fee at all and no ceremony!

It’s unjustified discrimination.

*Registration and the citizenship ceremony is meant for those without a British parent. In other words, for foreigners who wish to become UK citizens.

Now do you understand what I mean when I say I am embarrassed by the law?  It is just so insulting to any British Mother’s children who find themselves in this situation and, indeed, to the Mothers themselves.  Maureen is not an immigrant from another country, she is the daughter of a British Mum and, as such, should be automatically given citizenship of this country.  Sex discrimination is alive and well in the corridors of Westminster!

Makes me mad, but we can do something about it!  Pop over to Maureen’s blog http://brilliantbritain.blogspot.com/ and on the right hand side you will see where you can sign the petition.

The following link,  http://findyourmp.parliament.uk/ allows you to select your MP’s details and write a letter or send an e-mail.  Please do so, so that we may put right this blatant discrimination and stop an awful lot of heartache.  Thank you.

Great? Britain

Winston Churchill was voted as the greatest Briton who ever lived; he must be turning in his grave at some of the decisions this government and its departments have made recently.

We have wonderful forces in this sceptred isle of ours, brave girls and boys who are fighting in appalling conditions for the freedom of this country and the right of other countries to enjoy the same.  And how are they supported?  The wonderful Royal British Legion has been supporting them since 1921, for 90 marvellous years.  Recently there is also the charity called Help4Heroes, which does the same work only with glitz, glamour and lots of publicity. There are many other wonderful charities too, too many to mention.  The support all comes from charities, and from the Government & the Civil Servants, what do they get?  Not a lot at all.

How does this our Ministry of Defence support them?  On Friday, in the Guardian, there was an article about the fact that objectivity could go as the British Forces Broadcasting Services could be contracted out.  Horrendous news, only softened by the fact that those many, many men in grey suits in the big offices of the MOD, always take an incredibly long time to decide anything, so hopefully it may not even happen; as recent stories of the millions of pounds they have wasted on incompleted projects have stated.  They need to look inwards to find costs savings ~ a definite case of too many Chiefs and not enough Indians ~ they sit there in comfortable offices, on very good wages, with a pension that most people don’t even achieve in their annual pay and make all these decisions for the boys and girls on the front line, who face danger and death every day.

I remember as a young girl, we used to go and see my Grandma & Grandad in London, and the Forces Favourites would be on the car radio.  My Dad said that it was founded in North Africa, at the time he was out there in World War II, so there could be some feeling of connection with home.  I hope the MOD makes a correct decision here for a change, although I do not hold out much hope for that happening!

It is taking the same route as the ‘Forest Sell Off’ too. Our trees, our heritage and our future, that this government thought it could just sell and no one would say a word!  Well, lo and behold, they did say a word, in fact many words and thousands signed an on-line petition against the sale. The government changed its stance and called off the sale. Although, from what I can glean, some forests are still being silently sold – bad news.

Currently, there are plans to close a number of the Coastguard Stations. What is the matter with the people who make these decisions?  These brave people go out in all weathers and situations, risking their own lives to save others.  I really would like to see some of the civil servants sitting in their plush offices, out on a lifeboat or on the front line – gaining practical experience of how their cost cutting decisions would impinge on the everyday lives of our heroes!

And then there is Gary McKinnon.  A British subject who has been forced to wait for years to find out what his fate will be.  His ‘crime’ was hacking into American websites to look for information on UFOs.  With all due respect to America, shouldn’t those websites have been far better fire-walled and protected?  It makes sense!  So the US is embarrassed and therefore goes on a witch hunt to get Gary extradited to stand trial over there. What does the government do?  Says virtually nothing and just keeps passing the buck around from one person to another.  Their treatment of a British subject has been nothing short of torture.  I just wish that we could find some of the greatness that this  country used to have and, of which, we all used to be so proud.

Richard Curtis summed the US/GB relationship up perfectly in Love Actually –

Press Conference Reporter: Mr. President, has it been a good visit?
The President: Very satisfactory indeed. We got what we came for, and our special relationship is still very special.
Press Conference Reporter: Prime Minister?
Prime Minister: I love that word “relationship.” Covers all manner of sins, doesn’t it? I fear that this has become a bad relationship; a relationship based on the President taking exactly what he wants and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to, erm… Britain. We may be a small country, but we’re a great one, too. The country of Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter. David Beckham’s right foot. David Beckham’s left foot, come to that. And a friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward I will be prepared to be much stronger. And the President should be prepared for that.

I sometimes wish Richard Curtis could write the speeches and make the decisions – I am sure they would be more founded on what is right and decent, rather than on these pathetic cost cutting exercises that we are being subjected to and a pandering to the US.

Naive views they may be, but they are my views and I am exercising my right to state them.

Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

Many years ago, I read a book that had a profound affect on me.  That book was, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee and the author was Dee Brown. It was published in 1970 and was the first time I truly felt the pain of what man does to man.  It is based on what happened in America to the Native Americans when more and more European settlers came to claim the land.  At first, relations are peaceful but the immigrants become greedy for more land.

“I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and broken promises…. You might as well expect the rivers to run backward as that any man who was born a free man should be contented when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases. …I have asked some of the great white chiefs where they get their authority to say to the Indian that he shall stay in one place, while he sees white men going where they please. They cannot tell me.”  Chief Joseph

There is repetition in this book because the same thing happened time and time again to each tribe.  In a nutshell, the US Army of the time was clearing land for more settlement.  If the Native Americans lived on this land, it was not ever considered that they should be able to stay there (where they had lived peacefully for many hundreds of years), the only purpose was to clear the land of any impediments. Their needs and lives were ignored ~ the US Army would destroy and kill if they would not leave when told.  Sometimes they retaliated, which perpetuated the killing and made matters worse.

“The white man made us many promises – more than I can remember, but he never kept but one: he promised to take our land – and he took it”   Red Cloud

If the Native Americans did fight back, the government would then decide to sign a peace treaty with a tribe – but while doing this, the US Army would be forcing these people on to a small reservation; usually far from where they had lived and on barren land. The treaties were broken time and time again by the US, as they stole more and more of the tribe’s land, eventually leaving the tribe starving or exterminated.  With the Army led by General Sheridan, whose mantra was “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.”, it is not surprising what happened.

Towards the end, the US government lured Sitting Bull to return to the US under the pretence of an amnesty.  They arrest him and he is killed ‘whilst trying to escape’.  Following this, many Native Americans flee to try to reach Red Cloud’s Pine Ridge reservation. The Army catches them and attempts to disarm them. One soldier fires a shot and suddenly all the armed soldiers open fire with heavy artillery on the mainly unarmed Native Americans, killing nearly all of them.  This took place at Wounded Knee.

“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream . . . . the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.”   Black Elk (1863–1950); medicine man, Oglala Sioux

Big Foot
Yellow Bird
No mercy shown, no respect given.

If you go down to the woods today

This is the song, as has been sung for many, many years.

If you go down to the woods today,
You’re sure of a big surprise.
If you go down to the woods today,
You’d better go in disguise.
For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain because
Today’s the day the teddy bears have their picnic.

Picnic time for teddy bears;
The little teddy bears are having a lovely time today.
Watch us catch them unawares,
And see them picnic on their holiday.
See them gaily gad about.
They love to play and shout,
They never have any cares.
At six o’clock their mummies and daddies
Will take them home to bed
Because they’re tired little teddy bears.

But with the horrendous news that this government, which announced itself as going to be the greenest government ever, is going to sell off all our forests, even the ancient ones, the words will change!

Have a look at this map to see the full horror and scale of where the sales of forests will be.  http://maps.google.co.uk/maps/msie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=108710524048595933746.0004966ac0873c8a36ed6&ll=52.873434,-1.608467&spn=4.787501,6.102218&source=embed

Yes, it is a huge link but then so is the sell off !

Oh, by the way, have put some new words to the song!

If you go down to the woods today,
You’re sure of a big surprise.
If you go down to the woods today,
You’d better go in disguise.
For every bear that ever there was
Won’t gather there for certain because
There’s nowhere for teddy bears to have their picnic.

Picnic time for teddy bears;
Can’t happen anymore, there’s no wood today.
Watch our woods just disappear,
Sold off  for cash to the highest bidder.
There will be nowhere to go,
Nowhere to play and shout,
Nowhere to lose their cares.
So straight away their mummies and daddies,
Will take them home crying,
Because they’re sad little teddy bears.

Passions

Since being on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve met many wonderful people.  Every single one is special and unique; each with his or her own thoughts, interests and passions.

I share a lot of those passions, some are for ideals and principles held dear ~ some are for injustices and some are to try and stop the establishment from taking actions that would harm our country and/or our incredible planet.

The ones I want to focus on are small in number, but then if you’re going to eat an elephant, you must start with small bites!  I think I will just name them today and then expand on each one in separate posts.

  • Water Aid
  • The White Ribbon Alliance For Safe Motherhood
  • Save Our Forests (U.K.)
  • St Dunstan’s
  • Gary McKinnon
  • British Citizenship (for children of a British Mother)
  • The Stroke Association

Obviously there are much larger goals ~ Save The Rainforests and Climate Change Goals – ones that, unless addressed, will be our demise.   And to see independence in occupied countries, especially Burma and Tibet, in my lifetime would be stupendous.  And why not? Dreams do come true, if you believe they do ~ and if you work hard enough to help them along.