Sunday, 24 May 2015

Rethinking Divinity

Rethinking Divinity

To love God -- that's a tall order.
Does the Milky Way notice me?
The Horsehead Nebula? If I'm a speck
of dust compared with their grandeur
how much smaller I must seem
to the One Who made them. And yet --

the mystics say the world was born
because God was lonely. She wanted
to sit in her rocking chair and chat
while She knitted the sunset clouds.
How could I not love the One Who whispers
exist! and the daffodils bloom?

- Rachel Barenblatt

Most people who I know grew up with an idea of God as male, and often an old grey bearded man. Michelangelo has a lot to answer for, although he was probably simply reflecting the cultural norms of the Middle Ages.

And that has a trickle down effect. Can women be priests in the Church of England, or bishops? The key reason why some people opposed that, and in fact at least one clergyman in Gouray simply doesn’t regard them as “authentic” is to do with gender. God is male. Jesus was male. The 12 Apostles were male.

And yet the Hebrew for Spirit, the Spirit of God, who broods over the waters, about to give birth in the Genesis poem about creation – is female. The Hebrew word – ruach – meaning breath, wind, spirit, is not a male word but a female one.

Why then, do people talk about the Holy Spirit as “He”. While the Hebrew word was female, the same word in Greek, Spiritus, is male, so once the Latin translation – the Vulgate – became the norm, masculinity was again in the ascendancy.

The wisdom literature which began to develop in towards the end of the Old Testament, and continued in the period before the New has also an interesting perspective on gender:

Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,

She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
those who hold her fast will be blessed.
YHWH founded the earth by wisdom;
by understanding he established the heavens;
by his knowledge the deeps broke open,
and the clouds drop down dew.

For she is the breath of the power of God,
and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty:
therefore can no defiled thing fall into her.

As it develops, wisdom becomes the creative force of God, the power for good. And wisdom is female – the term used is the feminine Hebrew Hokmah (Wisdom)

I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth like a mist. I dwelt in the highest heavens, and my throne was in a pillar of cloud. Alone I compassed the vault of heaven and traversed the depths of the abyss. Over waves of the sea, over all the earth, and over every people and nation I have held sway. Among all these I sought a resting place; in whose territory should I abide? Then the Creator of all things gave me a command, and my Creator chose the place for my tent. He said, 'Make your dwelling in Jacob, and in Israel receive your inheritance.'

And yet…. John’s Gospel replaces almost all of the attributes of the Wisdom literature by his Logos poem – and Logos is a masculine Greek word. Wisdom is transformed to Word.

God is in theology “beyond gender” but unless one simply uses the term “God” all the time, there is a tendency to use the term “he” as the term “it” suggests something wholly inhuman, and alien, and somehow less than personal.

Should we use the word “Goddess”? It is interesting to note that whereas in times past, “actor” referred to males, and “actress” to female, the term “actor” has become gender neutral, but not genderless, available to use for both male and females who act. The term has become broader, more inclusive in meaning.

So perhaps it is time to use “she” much more in relation to God, and reclaim the feminine within the divine. It is of necessity a fiction – as all Neoplatonists would agree – but a useful one, as it prevents us falling into the trap of thinking about divinity in purely masculine stereotypes. After all, there has already been around 2,000 years of that, which is surely enough.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

The Final Phase

The Final Phase

A great darkness within the mind
Down into the abyss, so blind
Falling, falling, ever down I fall
And as I descend, a fading call
Ill met in the dark, I try to cope
In absence of light, where is hope
And did the lore of Peln find a way
Roots deep within the earth, they say
And in stone, a cavern, dark embrace
Where the gods speak to us face to face
Shadows of the hunters, a primal past
Long dead bones, but a spirit to last
Infuse the earth with ancient rite
In the darkness, where there is no light
Paintings on the walls, they left a sign
Of where they chanted, of their shrine
Outside to the cave mouth, I flee
Breaking on the rocks, the sea
Couch grass in the breeze is blowing
And I know now where I am going
The far and distant shore awaits
And there a Summoner at the gates
The ship sets sail, across the waves
Leaving far behind those stony graves
Into the mist, waters lapping on wood
The Summoner beckons, in cloak and hood
Light promised so much, but in the end
All breaks apart, and no one can mend
Darkness brings peace, the dying breath
The darkest wine, the sweetest death.

Friday, 22 May 2015

A Mid-Term Look at The Jersey Care Inquiry

A few questions and answers about the broader historical picture as the inquiry recommences.

The word “historic” is applied to the inquiry but is that appropriate?

The inquiry is actually termed the “Independent Jersey Care Inquiry” and it is” investigating the abuse of children in Jersey's care system over many years.”. Nowhere in the terms of reference does it use the term “historic”, and in fact the term 3 of the terms reference sets out the scope at looking at governance of child care by the States from the post-war period to the present day, but with a special emphasis on the 1960s to the 1980s.

The website does use the term “historical” as many of the abuse cases predate the present, and seem to be clustered but not exclusive to Haut de La Garenne,

The inquiry is an offshoot from the original police investigation Operation Rectangle into Haut de La Garenne, and various other care homes which had closed some time ago. That really was “historical” as Haut de La Garenne had closed in 1986, and other “family group homes” were no longer open by the time the police inquiry started.

The term “historic” and “historical” are often muddled – historical is something from the past, and historic is something of significance from the past. Channel TV and the BBC have generally used the term “historical child care abuse” while the JEP have used the term “historic child abuse”.

However, the events are historic in the sense of significance.

What “historic” significance does the inquiry – or the whole care scandal - have, if any?

I think we have to look at Jersey’s historical abuse as part of a wider trend against burying the past. In Ireland and across the UK, evidence has come to light that institutional child abuse has taken place across decades, blighting the lives of children.

There has been at least one case of abuse has been reported in Guernsey, by a man who had been in care homes in both Islands, and it also was physical rather than sexual abuse. That doesn’t mean there could not be any further abuse cases that haven’t come to light. But there have been cases reported and at least one person sent to prison in the Isle of Man for sexual abuse of children at a boarding school in the 1970s.

What we can see in Jersey is part of a trend worldwide to expose the child abuse which took place in the past. Jersey was not immune to the same pattern which we see elsewhere in other jurisdictions, in which children’s lives were blighted by individuals in the past, most notably in the 1960s and 1970s.

What is important is what happens now: are sufficient safeguards in place to prevent that happening again in institutions. No safeguards can be perfect, but the lessons of the past can inform the best practice of the future. That is what is important.

What impact has it had?

The impact has been two fold.

It has opened people’s eyes to the fact that Jersey was not immune to the same kind of abuse taking place in institutions elsewhere, and that a number of children’s lives have been blighted as a result.

There has been a media impact to the wider world, but this has taken the form of confused and muddled reporting. There are several competing historical narratives which give differing impacts on Jersey. What impact it has on outsiders depends on what narrative they encounter, and what they believe after reading it..

The primary narrative begins with the finding of what was initially considered to be a portion of a child’s skull, and led to some very exaggerated headlines about paedophile rings in the more lurid tabloid press – News of the World etc. Yet at exactly the same time as the tabloids were talking homicide, and some were even talking about satanic ritual abuse - the BBC was reporting that Lenny Harper had ruled out homicide. That was not often picked up.

The skull fragment became a problem because it was, for the media, a fact about the case, and the way the tabloids picked up the case, when the skull fragment was discounted as a fragment of coconut, this meant the rest of the stories about Haut de La Garenne suffered by proxy in how the national media dealt with them.

Another narrative stems from a ramshackle press conference in 2008, in which Mick Gradwell and David Warcup effectively criticised the interpretation of some of the artefacts – such as items identified as shackles – and also said that homicides had been ruled out, contrary to.what Lenny Harper had said, although he hadn’t said that at all. It has been  damaging to the credibility of survivors as this was widely reported effectively as a trashing of the previous investigation.

This secondary narrative has problems because the BBC had already reported Lenny Harper ruling out homicide. The best interpretation that can be put upon it was that it was responding to the statements in the tabloids about the investigation considering homicides but not checking the facts – i.e. in this case, what Lenny had told the BBC as opposed to the lurid tabloid speculations in 31st July 2008 and on the BBC website that there would be no homicide enquiry. But it is difficult from a historical perspective not to see it also as an attempt to rewrite history, something historians are well aware of in looking at any historical narratives.

But to some extent that is a sideshow. The work done by Operation Rectangle in taking statements from victims was actually more important that the physical investigations at Haut de La Garenne. The press tended to focus on the latter – searching the House of Horror – which seemed to have only been marginally related to the survivors. None of the prosecutions depended on physical evidence procured from the site.

So there is a great deal that is problematic for future historians,unpicking both what occurred, and how it was reported or misreported. There’s a lot of material, but it is very tangled.

Has it had a sociological or cultural impact? On families, or communities? Do you think it will have made the island more open or less?

It has had an impact, much as across the UK. It is child abuse, physical or sexual, within institutions that were supposed to be safe places. I think all of this- both locally and globally, and including of course the case of Jimmy Saville – has made people much more aware of safeguarding issues.

It is part of a whole cultural shift in which we have, I think, become more sensitive to issues of child abuse, and paedophiles who prey on young children. It is in some ways safer, but it is also making a society that is more suspicious of the stranger.

There’s less trust of people we don’t know, and even less trust of people we do know, when it comes to our children.

So in some ways it has made a safer society, but in other ways less open, less able to trust in the way people trusted in the past.

To give a parable of this how changes make society less open – dog owners could for many years let dogs run loose around Val de La Mare Reservoir, But a few individuals abused this, and let dogs swim in the reservoir.

To prevent that happening, the rules are now that dogs have to be on a lead. The majority of dog owners always have been responsible, but the changes come about to prevent abuse by a few. But it makes dog walking less open and free that it used to be as a result for everyone.

How do the themes the inquiry and the wider scandal raise, sit with our affectionate notion of “The Jersey Way”?

As Professor Joad used to say on the Brains Trust on the BBC,  it all depends what you mean by “The Jersey Way”.

In a neutral form, it just means doing things differently.

John Nettles tells there was a narrow entrance onto the road where he was staying, and opposite was a broken mirror propped up with bits of brick. That, he was told, was the Jersey way of dealing with poor road visibility!

But it can also be used for being sly, sharp practice, underhand, double-dealing or just being plain slap-dash. In other words, as a euphemism for doing something badly, or keeping something concealed and out of the public gaze.

But a study of Private Eye and a look at the scandals in the UK show that there is in fact nothing that unique about these matters. Just look at the MPs expenses scandal, with the desperate attempts to keep that out of the public gaze.

The fact that there is an inquiry means that in part, at least, it seems to run counter to “The Jersey Way”. In this case, the “Jersey way” – in the sense of something bad - was when Terry Le Sueur decided that despite promises being made by Frank Walker, we didn’t really need an inquiry after all. Thanks to Francis Le Gresley that didn't happen, but that it could even be considered was a disgraceful betrayal of trust.

The notion that we will keep quiet and let matters be forgotten could be seen as "The Jersey Way", although the unpublished reports by authorities in the UK and elsewhere shows Jersey has not a monopoly on this kind of thinking. Many can be cited, for example, a blocked EU paper on hormone-mimicking chemicals, a scientific study into depleted uranium cancer fears in Iraq, a cross-governmental report on immigration, a report on the rise in emergency food aid in the UK, among others.

What do you make of the juxtapostition of Liberation Day in 1945 which we celebrate in a big way, with 1945 being the inquiry’s starting point? Ironic? Co-incidence?

Coincidence. The inquiry had to start somewhere, and the post-war period was an obvious starting point, as significant changes were happening in the States with the 1948 reforms. I don’t think we should make too much of it. If it had gone back further, which would have had to be pre-war, hardly anyone there would be alive today.

Liberation day should not be muddled up with inappropriate speeches about the care inquiry.

Do you think island historians in 50 or 100 years will be talking about this? What will they be saying?

Yes, but as part of the bigger picture. It will be a trend of reviewing the past which happened in Jersey just as in the UK and in fact across Europe. I think it will be seen in that context.

In a way, it is much like the Jersey soldiers fighting in the First World War. That is significant locally, and local historians will focus on those men who marched away. But they won’t ignore the bigger picture of the Great War. But UK historians probably won’t mention Jersey except in a footnote.

But it is part of our social history, and I would expect it to be mentioned - just as Edward Paisnel gets mentioned. It would be strange if it did not.

In general, I would expect to see social histories referring to the historical cases on abuse of children in care, but also placing that in the context of a culture in which it was decided to look into that darker side of the past. There is a perceived need that for the victims, there needed to be a cleansing of the Augean Stables.

There is also a need for the survivors to testify to how their lives were blighted by abuse in what should have been safe institutions, and be witnesses to that shameful part of Jersey's past.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

How should we protect our soil?

Today’s post is a reprint of a letter in the JEP because I think it needs wider coverage, and also a comment by Glyn Mitchell on the Bailiwick article.

On Thursday 23 April 2015, the Bailiwick Express reported that:

“The latest figures show that Jersey Water's supplies are within EU limits, but "raw water" running off fields regularly exceeds them. The Environment department has issued the water company with a dispensation that expires on 31 December 2016 - the company haven't had to use that dispensation since 2013, for a slight breach of the limit.”

Environment Minister Steve Luce said: “One thing that is changing is that the medical advice from around the world is different and certainly there is more emphasis being placed on the levels of nitrate in water.

“We are advised, as the Department which issues dispensations to Jersey Water, that our advice will be quite soon that we should not be continuing to issue dispensations, so we are fully aware now that in the coming years we may well not be in a position to issue those dispensations.”

I should point out that there was for many years a relatively free and much better fertilizer, namely using seaweed as fertiliser - known as vraic in Jèrriais.

In fact, seaweed contains all major and minor plant nutrients, and all trace elements; alginic acid; vitamins; auxins; at least two gibberellins; and antibiotics. An article on seaweed notes the following anecdotes:

“We have a market gardener customer at Sittingbourne in Kent who tells us that before he used seaweed meal, heavy rain used to run down his sloping plots and carry all his seedlings and fertilizers into the ditch. Since his introduction of seaweed, the structure of his silty, sandy soil has so improved that soil, seedlings and nutrients are no longer of being washed away, even in the heaviest rain.”

“As to water-retaining characteristics, Miss Constance MacFarlane of the Nova Scotia Research Foundation told members of the Fourth Seaweed Symposium at Biarritz, in 1961: 'In the spring of 1956 I was greatly impressed with fields in the island of Jersey. This was not in any way a scientific experiment, but the results were most obvious. The year 1955 had been exceedingly dry. The only fields suitable for a second crop of hay were those which had been fertilized with seaweed. All the others had dried out, and had to be ploughed up for other crops.'”

And here is the letter and comment from Glyn:

How should we protect our soil?
From Glyn Mitchell.

'Green policies could be given a higher priority by the States after the Assembly agreed to adopt environmental changes to a proposed government strategy document draw up for the current political term.' (JEP 29 April).

Is this good enough? Do we have the luxury of time? Can we rely on the States Assembly - and department responsible - to protect our Island for the enjoyment of future generations?

Generating three centimetres of top soil takes 1,000 years, and if current rates of degradation continue all of the world's top soil could be gone within 60 years, a senior UN official said "on Friday.

About a third of the world's soil has already been degraded, Maria-Helena Semedo; of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, told a forum marking World Soil Day.

The causes of soil destruction include chemical-heavy farming techniques, deforestation which increases erosion, and global warming.

The earth under our feet is too often ignored by policymakers, experts said.

'Soils are the basis of life,' said Semedo, FAO's deputy director general of natural resources. 'Ninety five percent of our food comes from the soil.' Unless new approaches are adopted, the global amount of arable and productive land per person in 2050 will be only a quarter of the level in 1960, the FAO reported, due to growing populations and soil degradation.

Soils play a key role in absorbing carbon and filtering water, the FAO reported. Soil destruction creates a vicious cycle, in which less carbon is stored, the world gets hotter, and the land is further degraded.

'We are losing. 30 soccer fields of soil every minute, mostly due to intensive farming,' Volkert Engelsman, an activist with the International-Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements told the forum at the FAO's headquarters in Rome.

More locally a recent Scrutiny Environmental Policy Review proposed that `consideration be given to ensuring that effective sustainable soil management is included in the vision, strategy and plans for the Island's future well-being and prosperity'.

After sampling Island soils for microbial populations, I am pleased to say we have some very healthy soils; equally we have some of the sickest, found in our agricultural fields.

Has the time come to protect our Island's soils by law? With technical and scientific advances some say we are the pivotal generation, the question we have to ask ourselves - are we comfortable trying to solve current soil problems by financially supporting the systems that created the problem in the first place, or is it time to explore more natural forms of farming?

`Ecocide is the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.'

'The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself' - Franklin D Roosevelt.

Comment on Bailiwick Express by Glyn Mitchell.

First I would like to say you would be unwise to blame only the farmers. Anyone who applies Growmore, MiracleGrow etc are as guilty of increasing the nitrate levels in the soil as anyone else.

Although not apparent to the naked eye, a healthy soil is a dynamic living system that is teeming with life. Most of the organisms that live in the soil are beneficial micro-organisms such as fungi, bacteria, protozoa, and nematodes. While seemingly insignificant, they are represented in the millions in any given soil, providing a range of important services that promote plant growth and vigour.

The collective term for all of these organisms is the 'soil food web'. The interactions amongst these organisms can provide plants with many of the requirements that they need to survive and flourish which includes the availability & retention of nutrients, disease suppression, and the building of soil structure. However, soil biology is an aspect that has largely been overlooked with many growers preferring to settle for something delivering a quick short term fix.

The use of chemicals to kill pathogens and pests can also kill the beneficial organisms. The result is a sterile environment conducive to further disease and nutrient deficiencies. The quick fix often leads to a grower’s dependency on more and more artificial chemical and fertilisers to maintain his crops, as with each application he is killing the natural soil food web. This could be compared to developing a drug dependency and the need to enter rehabilitation to kick the habit.

A balanced and healthy soil food web provides many benefits including the need for fertiliser, pesticide and water requirements can all be substantially reduced. This is accomplished by understanding what good guys and bad guys populate your soil and then applying a good organic compost to provide healthy competition.

Bacteria are responsible for producing organic Nitrate (NO3) they get eaten by nematodes who excrete ammonium (NH4), or nitrate (NO2) ions. This important process is called nitrogen fixation. Industrial fixation (inorganic nitrate) cannot be consumed into a plant available form by microorganisms, so after the plants has taken up all it can absorb the rest leaches into our soil and ends up in our drinking water. It is akin to throwing away money.

So the question remains who is responsible for the cleanup. There is an argument that suggests the Department that licences the application of Inorganic applications should be held responsible for the cleanup cost, not organisations further down the line. Which puts Deputy Luce in a predicament, so why not introduce a charge on nitrate and “cides” through the dock heads and use the revenue received to support farmers wanting to move to more natural methods of growing organic food?

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

How The Bailiff’s Speech was Taken Out of Context

Liberation day seems to have worked rather well, although the late shift of part of the ceremony to the Pomme D’Or Hotel caused a hiatus between events.

Despite Terry Le Main’s somewhat gushing letter praising the Bailiff for listening, it should be remembered that the first response to criticism from the organisers – including the recently elected Bailiff – was that we have it right, trust us!

It was only after a number of Occupation survivors had stated categorically that they would boycott the event that a rethink was hastily convened, and by all accounts, the acoustics in Liberation square left much to be desired to those not in the seated circle.

I wonder if more consultation beforehand would have resulted in a better arrangement. Apparently seats were short for the re-enactment, but they seemed plentiful in the People’s Park. I don’t know if the re-enactment was or could have been broadcast using JT’s wonderful gigabit broadband to the People’s Park, but that was clearly a solution.

I didn’t quite understand the letter to the JEP about the difficulty of moving from one venue to another. The timetable said “after the ceremony ends, shuttle buses to People's Park will start and continue until 2.30pm”

Because of other commitments, we only came to the People’s Park around 5.30 pm, in time to see the children singing, where the programme seemed to suggest the Big Band would be playing. I don’t know where the disconnect happened, but sitting down and watching the children sing war time songs was very enjoyable.

After that there was a long hiatus where they were setting something up for the next act, and after 20 minutes waiting, we decided enough was enough – the wind was rather chilly – and went off.

I wasn’t there for the Bailliff’s speech but I’ve read it since.

William Bailhache spoke of what he called the "harsher side" of the Nazi occupation during the World War Two. Quoting from a diary of the time, he described accounts of well-known residents "fleeing like rats" in 1940.

Jean McLaughlin, from Jersey Evacuees' Association, said the comments were hurtful. She said: "I felt very sick, very hurt and I felt for our family, for my mum and dad who were not here.

"Everybody left this island for different reasons. My father took me away for my safety. They were courageous to leave their families and possessions."

But in fact he was saying something very different. He began by citing three different stories from Liberation:

“A man is trying to light a cigarette but his lighter fails. He asks you if you can give him a match. Your human instinct is to say ‘Yes of course’. But you turn away, say nothing because this is March 1941 and you are British living in Jersey and he is a German. So you are angry because you have just been petty; and angry because he just shouldn’t be here; and frightened in case he is one of those “who abuses power and you simply do not know what the consequences of that might be

“On 9th May 1945 by mid-afternoon a large crowd had gathered in the area of the Pomme d’Or and indeed the re-enactment ceremony, which was conducted this morning, show the events that followed. All the German soldiers who had been billeted there and in the Royal Yacht Hotel were ordered to be out of town by that evening. A contemporary diarist recalls that “Some Jerry bags – the name given to a girl or woman who had been friendly or associated with the Germans, were beaten up pretty badly. Some had their clothes torn off and had to find their way home …………..with a mob following behind”.

“The same diarist described the events of June 1940 in this way:- “Hundreds then rushed to register for evacuation which lasted Thursday, Friday and Saturday. As I had a pass, I saw practically the whole of the evacuation and was really surprised to see some of the best known residents fleeing like rats”.

And then he commented on those stories – not with praise – not praise at all! – but to show how they were examples of “extreme positions”.

“These are three stories of the Occupation to set alongside the re-enactment to which I have just referred. It is somehow comforting to concentrate on that familiar re-enactment story isn’t it? Those who were here on 9th May 1945, if they are old enough, will remember people smiling and laughing, perhaps for the first time in years, and a huge sense of relief, of joy and of optimism.”

“But those three stories tell their own rather harsher tales of some of the effects of invasion and occupation, when ordinary people do things they would not normally do, or take up extreme positions which they would not normally take up.”

Notice those words – he is actually saying that those three examples were bad things – people behaving in ways that were unworthy of them because of the effects of Occupation. He is most definitely not saying that they are right, or that they should be approved.

He goes on to say:

“It is important to recognise that when times are hard people can react both heroically or less than heroically, and sometimes the elements of a person’s character or their circumstances are mixed up only slightly differently to produce one outcome or the other. If we recognise that, it is possible to reconcile ourselves to each other, whether those points of difference arose in 1940, 1945 or at any time thereafter.”

In other words, he is saying that those three ways or reacting – lack of basic courtesy, condemning people to left out of hand, and attacking girls who had formed attachments with the Germans – were people acting “less than heroically”.

In fact he said, that

“It is sometimes said that Liberation day belongs to those who were here in Jersey on 9th May 1945. I think it belongs to others too - the day is important not only for those who suffered the Occupation here as children, but also for the families of those who evacuated, whether for safety or to join His Majesty’s Forces in defence of the realm and were unable to return to their homes and families for five years; and to those who were deported.”

“As a matter of history Liberation Day is directly about all three groups – evacuees, deportees and those suffering the Occupation in Jersey – and the 70th anniversary of liberation naturally has these three groups as its primary focus.”

So he has been condemned by having his words taken out of context, whereas he is actually reclaiming the liberation story for those who were evacuated!

And what of the Jerrybags? He doesn’t mention their story.So I will. 

Now it is probably true that some local girls took advantage of the kudos and status to lord it over others, There is certainly evidence of that happening, where woman gained special privileges or protection.

But that was not the whole story, and if we just tell the one story, again and again, we demonise people who also should have their stories of liberation through love.

In 2002, the Daily Mail published the story of Guernseywoman, Gladys:

“Gladys was an exceptionally pretty 27-year-old when she met Hugo Fach, the young German soldier she still calls the love of her life. It was a year after the invasion of the islands in 1940. Her two daughters, June, then nine, and seven-year-old Sally (Jemima Harrison's mother), had already been evacuated to Cheshire and Gladys was trapped in a loveless marriage to Laurie, a violent, drunken wife-beater who was having an affair with a woman who worked alongside him at the German officers' billet”

“Gladys was lonely and desperately missing her children, who were allowed just two 25-word letters home a year. Then, one afternoon, cycling back from her mother's house, she had an encounter with two German soldiers that would change her life. 'I was pushing my bicycle up a hill and there were two soldiers coming down,' she recalls.”

“During the early days of the War, before the desperate food shortages and D-Day landings, the relationship between the occupiers and islanders was relatively civilised - even friendly - so Gladys was not unduly concerned when one of them caught hold of her bike.”

“'He wouldn't let go,' she says. 'I kind of pulled and pulled and he still wouldn't let go. Then he said, "If you will meet me tomorrow I'll let your bicycle go." In the end I said yes.' Within days her flirtation with the handsome Hugo, a gentle, kindly father of two, had escalated into a fully fledged affair. The pair would sneak off secretly whenever they could to a favourite clifftop hideaway. There they would sunbathe, picnic and talk about the War, life and their families. Hugo's two daughters were the same age as Gladys's”

“None the less, the lovers faced huge risks if their secret affair had become known. He was an occupying enemy soldier, banned from romance with the local girls; she risked a lifetime of ostracism. Even so, Gladys's worries about what the Germans or other islanders might do to her were nothing compared to her fear of her husband's reaction if he found out her secret. Even though he was having his own affair, she is confident that Laurie would have killed her.”

“Today, Gladys refuses to acknowledge the term 'Jerrybag', with its implications of a short, meaningless affair with the enemy. 'This was genuine. I loved him, and still do,' she says simply.”

Although separated after the war, he in East Germany, they corresponded fitfully, and met once again. But he had responsibilities and returned to his family.

“In 1979, a couple of days before he died, he called his granddaughter to his bedside and asked her to translate into English his last letter so that Gladys could read it in her own language. Today, a frail old lady, she keeps the letter on top of a bundle with a white ribbon around it. In stilted English, but nevertheless drenched in emotion, it describes how much Gladys had meant to him, how the memory of their times together on the clifftop in Guernsey sustained him - and how he never, ever forgot her.”

This was not a “casual fling”, and it was not the only such romance which was heartfelt and genuine. There was no gain, no flaunting it, no special privileges as a result. 

And Gladys story is not the only one of true love; there are others which run counter to the idea that all “Jerrybags” were bad.

If love cannot break down and overcome the barriers of war, what hope is there for the human race?

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Cablegram on the Election in Twickenham

Vince Cable lost in Twickenham in 2015. Afterwards he thanked his supporters, and said: “We were hit by a very well organised national campaign based on people’s fear of a Labour Government and the Scottish nationalists.But is that what the record tells us?

2015: 25580
2010: 20343
Swing: 5237

2015: 23563
2010: 32483
Swing: -8920

Nick Grant
2015: 7129
2010: 4583
Swing: 2546

Barry Edwards
2015: 3069
2010: 868
Swing: 2201

Tanya Williams
2015: 2463
2010: 674
Swing: 1789

2015: 200
2010: 770
Swing: -570

In fact a granular analysis of the voting patterns in his own constituency contradicts that.

The Conservatives made considerable gains in Twickenham, but still polled less than Vince Cable had in 2010. They gained a bare majority of 2,017 compared to Vince Cable’s 2010 victory of 12,140.

Looking at the figures, there is no evidence of a fear of a labour government – Labour increased its vote by 2,546.

UKIP and the Greens also increased their votes by 2,201 and 1,789, both gain substantial ground since 2010 when they both fell below 1,000 votes

True, there were 2,017 extra votes this time round, but those fell short of the Conservative victory; they seem to have been even distributed.

In fact, Vince Cable polled more votes that second placed Conservatives in 2010.

What seems to have happened is not a fearful concern about labour, which picked up considerable votes, but a mass backlash against the Liberal Democrats, which resulted in both the Conservatives and all the other parties apart from very fringe minorities picking up votes.

The way that First Past the Post works is of course to the detriment of this kind of split voting system. When Vince Cable won in 2010, he actually took 54% of the vote. Because of the split and distribution to other parties, the Conservatives actually only took 41% of the vote.

First Past the Post is a very good system for the athletics track where there is one winner. As a means of representing people fairly, it is probably one of the worst systems.

It only works well if there are two large parties. Throw more into the mix, and it starts to lose the ability to represent people well.

It was fine for ages where ballot papers have to be laboriously counted by hand, but for the 21st century it is rather like doing accounts in a ledger with a quill pen, or listening to records with a wind up gramophone record.

The technology exists to improve the voting system, but outside of Estonia, no country has really embraced that future. Isn't it about time that we improved our mechanisms for delivering a fairer, more representative, democracy?