From David Maughan Brown in York: Nessun dorma

Covering over the racist graffiti

July 14th

What kind of bizarre moral universe is one living in when it is professional football managers and players, rather than Prime Ministers and their governments, who find themselves having to provide moral leadership to a country?

All too often in the past the England football team has given the impression of being populated by talented but grossly overpaid and underperforming egotists who were as incapable of behaving themselves off the field as they were unable to subordinate their own egos for the good of the team on it.  England football managers have come and gone in recent years with varying success where results were concerned, but seldom with any great conviction when it came to integrating those multiple egos into a harmonious whole. 

How very different are the present manager and team.   The wholly unflamboyant Gareth Southgate is, besides being a shrewd tactician, a thoughtful and articulate student of the game and an outstanding leader.  He is almost superhuman in his ability to remain calm and in control on the touch-line.  His young team are highly talented and superbly integrated, in every sense of the word.  They play for each other and look after each other, and very clearly respect their manager – to the point where there was never any sign of resentment when they were substituted, even on the one occasion on which Southgate found himself needing to substitute Grealish, who had relatively recently come onto the field as a substitute himself.  The togetherness of the team was very impressive when they were winning, but even more so when they eventually lost in the final.   The footage of the other players and Southgate himself crowding round to hug and console the three players who had missed their penalties was starkly different from the footage, shown often over the past fortnight, of Southgate walking off the field on his own after missing his crucial penalty in the semi-final in 1996.

There was a sickening inevitability about the torrent of racial abuse that was unleashed on social media as a result of the fact that it just happened to be three of the black players in this very diverse team who missed their penalties on this occasion.  But that has also served to demonstrate the off-field strengths of this manager and team and the affection in which they are now held by a great many supporters.  At one level that affection is visibly demonstrated by the sticking of multiple messages of support for Rashford and, by implication the team, on a mural in Manchester that had been defaced with racist abuse, as seen in the photograph.

At another level the strength and self-belief of the team are clear from Tyrone Mings’ preparedness to call out the hypocrisy of our inimitable Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and by implication our Prime Minister, who both went on record to condemn the racist abuse of the three players, having spectacularly failed to condemn the booing that greeted the team’s ‘taking of the knee’ as soon as football fans were allowed into the stadiums to watch the matches.   Mings, who has been one of the less prominent of England’s players where speaking out against racism is concerned, was commendably forthright: ‘You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as “Gesture Politics” and then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we are campaigning against happens.’

By contrast with the principled stand against racism taken by the England football players, one wonders how it is possible for a ridiculously expensive and pretentious public school like Eton to imbue its pupils with so little self-awareness that Boris Johnson can condemn the ‘appalling’ racist abuse of English players and expect anyone to take him remotely seriously.  This is the same Boris Johnson who talks unapologetically about ‘piccaninnies’ with their ‘watermelon smiles’ and Muslim women in burqas looking like ‘letter-boxes’.   The same Boris Johnson who is quite happy to persuade enough of his disgusting Tory MPs to vote for an indefinite prolongation of the cut to Financial Aid to see off those of his more principled Tory colleagues who think that allowing hundreds of thousands of children to die entirely unnecessary deaths isn’t a good idea.  Why would Johnson worry?  None of those children are English, and the vast majority of them of them will be black, many of them no doubt in his view just ‘piccaninnies with watermelon smiles.’

Who would ever have guessed that a time could come when one can be absolutely certain that England would be a more principled and better country if it were to be led by a team of football players and their manager?  It might also, of course, be a better governed country if it were to be run by a group of brave and idealistic footballers rather than our present bunch of corrupt and self-interested Tory politicians, forever playing to their xenophobic right-wing constituents.  It could hardly be run much worse.

From David Maughan Brown in York: Optimist or pessimist?

Q: Why would anyone need a lorry park?
A: To replace the green fields of Kent

December 11th

To get the ball rolling (or, alternatively, decléncher la conversation) at our final U3A French conversation group for the year, our excellent group leader asked us each in turn to say whether, and why, we were feeling optimistic or pessimistic about the prospect of 2021.   I was tempted to offer, but didn’t think my French was up to an instantaneous translation, so refrained from offering, a French version of William E. Vaughan’s definition of the difference: ‘An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.’   

Given that it was a French conversation group, it could be taken as read that our collective vision would by definition extend to the world beyond the white cliffs of Dover, or, perhaps more pertinently, the newly created lorry parks of Kent – one of which has seen 27 acres of the famed green fields concreted over to provide ‘spill-over’ space for around 2000 heavy goods vehicles when the motorway inevitably becomes completely impassable.  Our government’s recently postured conversion to environmentalism would appear not to have seen any contradiction in the creation of 29 such concrete lorry parks around the country to cope with the fall-out from its failure to achieve what it had predicted would be the “easiest (trade) deal in human history”.

But I digress (it is very easy to get carried away when contemplating such matters.)   In spite of the Francophile character of the group, I found that I was the only member to declare himself or herself to be ‘very pessimistic’ in response to the question.  A couple of the other members came down on the side of pessimism, but most declared themselves, overall, to be optimistic in spite of their lack of enthusiasm for Brexit.  In each case this was on the strength of the remarkable success of the scientists in managing to produce an effective vaccine in less than a year.  One member’s partner had already been contacted and given a date for his first vaccination next week.   The vaccine will unquestionably make our lives much easier in the short to medium term, but, however damaging and distressing Covid-19 has been and still is, its longer-term effects are bound to be eclipsed by the damage a no-deal Brexit will wreak.

In what is still, though one suspects not for long, the fifth richest country in the world, the Social Market Foundation recently released a report stating that nearly two million UK children ‘went short of food this year.’  The report stated that some 16% of surveyed parents had said their children had to make do with smaller portions, had to skip meals, or had to go without eating at all for at least one day between March and September.  Any kind of Brexit can only make matters worse over the coming months and years, as every serious economist has been making abundantly clear for years now, and even our congenitally mendacious government has had to admit. The no-deal Brexit we are now hurtling towards, with the introduction of tariffs and the inevitable increase in food prices, will inevitably make matters very much worse.   It is shameful that so many families in UK already have to rely in food banks , and there is a limit to the extent to which food banks, and the likes of Marcus Rashford, can compensate for our government’s stupidities and inadequacies.

If Donald Trump’s reign of chaos and incompetence has been catastrophic for the United States in terms of lost lives and reputation, it seems reasonable to fear that the scar left on his country will be likely, in the medium to long term, to be far less disfiguring and long-lasting than the one that will be left on what is left of the UK by Boris Johnson and his fantasist colleagues.  More individual and family lives in the USA will be permanently scarred by the number of unnecessary deaths that country will have suffered, but most of the short-sighted and often self-defeating policies Trump has embraced can be undone by Biden over the next four years.  Brexit, by contrast, cannot be easily reversed.  The damage Johnson’s contemptibly immoral and dishonest behavior has done to our national standing and reputation is almost certain to be equally irreversible, as is the damage done to our relations with the countries of Europe whom Johnson persists in hypocritically referring to as “our friends”.  Both men have been equally divisive for their countries, and my only hesitation in anticipating that Johnson’s legacy will be far worse in the long term than Trump’s will be lies with the deranged number of guns carried by both sides of the divide in the USA.   

I’ll certainly be staying up on December 31st to make sure that the old year leaves, but I don’t think it is too unreasonable not to be wildly optimistic about the New Year as I see it in.

From David in York: Soweto Day. June 16th

https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/videos/the-world-witnesses-the-soweto-uprising/


June 16 th – Soweto Day. Forty-four years ago today in Soweto, at five to nine in the morning, a South African Policeman opened fire on a crowd of black South African schoolchildren singing freedom songs on a peaceful protest march. Hector Peterson was killed and the Soweto revolt was triggered. Forty-four years ago today, at five to nine in the morning, our eldest child, Anthony, was born.
So June 16 th is a memorable day. The photograph of the dying Hector Peterson, being carried away from that shooting by an anguished Mbuyisa Makhubo, seared itself into the memory of innumerable newspaper readers around the world, even as it enraged so many of us in South Africa. There have been very few iconic photographs in my lifetime that have managed to encapsulate an important historical moment so vividly and memorably. The two others that come to mind are the photograph of Phan Thi Kim Phúc, the naked Vietnamese child fleeing her napalmed village during the Vietnam War, and that of the drowned body of three year-old Alan Kurdi lying on the Mediterranean beach in 2015. They were all images that captured
the anguish and pathos of a dire situation that encompassed a great many people beyond the subjects of those individual photographs.
So Anthony’s 44 years have carried him through the stormy death-throes of
apartheid all the way to the becalmed waters of Covid-19 lockdown in York. When he was a child I used to tell him that one day his birthday would be public holiday and he would never have to work on it. Now it is, indeed, a public holiday in South Africa – now designated as Youth Day rather than Soweto Day – but he is no longer there to enjoy it, so he has to work on his birthday after all.
The children in Soweto were protesting against the imposition on them of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in their schools, in a situation in which neither they nor their teachers had much, if any, facility in Afrikaans, which would in most cases have been the children’s third or fourth language. No one government ever has a monopoly on stupidity. The Soweto revolt spread countrywide, with hundreds of black casualties, was greeted with international revulsion, and was one of the milestones on the long road to freedom. But it is good that the public holiday was renamed Youth Day: both in recognition of the role played more widely along that
road by young people all over South Africa, and by way of signalling hope for the future.
Today is not recognised as Youth Day in UK but it brings cause for celebrating youth. After a weekend in which large, ethnically-mixed, crowds of mainly young people came together to assert their belief that Black Lives Matter, braving the attentions of cohorts of right-wing racist thugs (and, potentially more rashly, Covid-19) in the process, Marcus Rashford has more or less single-handedly forced a government U-
turn on free summer lunch-vouchers for economically disadvantaged schoolchildren.
It may not be too much to hope that the groundswell of support for the Black Lives Matter movement over the past few weeks could, like the Soweto protests, be a milestone on the long road to genuine racial equality in this country. In the meantime Anthony’s birthday appears to be heralding a shifting of the order of the generations: whereas it was always we who took our children out for special dinners on their birthdays, tonight Anthony is bringing a take-away dinner to us from Mumbai Lounge, arguably the best of the many curry restaurants in York. So the old
order changes.