Wednesday, 27 April 2011

In Rhapsody Over Gershwin

In my teenage years, I bought my first jazz LP. It was George Gershwin, with Rhapsody in Blue on the A side, and An American in Paris on the B side. I was captivated then, and I still am today. His repertoire of classical compositions; solo works for piano, and musical theatre productions is unbelievably outstanding. Some of his greatest and most well known show songs were the result of collaboration with his elder Brother Ira. George wrote the music and Ira the lyrics. To George, "True music must reflect the thought and aspirations of the people and time. My people are Americans. My time is today".

George Gershwin
Gershwin was born in Brooklyn, New York on the 26th September 1898, and named Jacob Gershowitz. His parents were Russian Jews from St Petersburg who emigrated to America in the early 1890's. The family name was changed to Gershvin, with George changing the spelling to Gershwin after he became a professional musician.

His musical interest started at the age of 10 when he heard his friend's violin recital. The family bought a piano for Ira, "but to his parent's surprise, and Ira's relief, it was George who played it". Leaving school at the age of 15 he found his first job as a performer on New York City's Tin Pan Alley. His first published song in 1916 (aged 17) was called, "When you want 'Em you can't get 'Em, When you've got 'Em, You don't want 'Em". A number of other pieces followed, as Gershwin honed his wonderful musical style.

Maurice Ravel
Gershwin was influenced by French composers of the early twentieth century, and in turn, Maurice Ravel was impressed with Gershwin's abilities, commenting, "Personally, I find jazz most interesting; the rhythms, the way the melodies are handled, the melodies themselves. I have heard of George Gershwin's works, and I find them intriguing". Some commentators have said that the orchestrations in Gershwin's symphonic works often seem similar to those of Ravel; likewise, Ravel's two piano concertos evince an influence of Gershwin. Perhaps Ravel experts might like to pass comment on this.

Gershwin did ask to study with Ravel, but it is said that when Ravel heard how much Gershwin was earning, he replied to the effect, "You should give me lessons". In addition to the French influence, Gershwin was intrigued by the works of Shostakovitch, Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg. He asked Schoenberg for composition lessons, which Schoenberg refused, saying, "I would only make you a bad Schoenberg, and you're such a good Gershwin already". This quote is similar to one credited to Ravel when Gershwin visited France in 1928, "Why be a second-rate Ravel, when you are a first-rate Gershwin?". Whatever the truth, I think it shows the high regard in which Gershwin was held.

In early 1937 Gershwin started complaining of blinding headaches, and was subsequently diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. He died in hospital on the 11th July 1937 at the age of 38. He'd been writing music for only 23 years; his output was extraordinary, and who knows how much more was to come. John O'Hara, writing in the Broadstreet Review at the time of his death, spoke for many when he said, "George Gershwin died on the 11th July 1937, but I don't have to believe it if I don't want to".

If I was to be stuck on a desert island and could take a selection of Gershwin's music with me, what would I take? I've just spent the best part of two hours deciding on this one, and I still keep changing my mind. The choice is so wonderfully hard. However, here are my choices.

Of the larger pieces.
  1. Rhapsody in Blue - this was his first major classical work written in 1924. Composed for orchestra and piano, it was premiered by Paul Whiteman's concert band in New York. For me, this is still his most popular work, and my favourite.
  2. An American in Paris - he was in Paris in 1928 when he composed this piece, and it's first performance was at Carnegie Hall on the 13th December 1928. Strange as it seems now it received mixed reviews, but it quickly became part of the standard repertoire in Europe and America.
  3. Porgy and Bess - written in 1935, Gershwin called it a 'folk opera', and is now widely regarded as one of the most important operas of the twentieth century.
Of his show songs, I selected five, but it could have been so many more. All of these songs have George writing the music, and Ira the lyrics.
  1. Embraceable You - from the 1930's show, 'Girl Crazy'. My favourite version is by Nat King Cole.
  2. I Got Rhythm - again from 'Girl Crazy' in 1930. I cannot choose between the versions done by, Stephane Grappelli; Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker.
  3. The Man I Love - from the show, 'Lady be Good' in 1924. The outstanding versions for me are by Ella Fitzgerald and Barbra Streisand.
  4. Someone to Watch Over me - from the 1926 show, 'Oh Kay!' What a selection of versions to choose from: Sarah Vaughn; Amy Whinehouse; Chet Baker, and an unbelievable piano version by Art Tatum.
  5. Summertime - from the 1935 folk opera, 'Porgy and Bess'. This I believe is my favourite song of all those written by the Gershwin's. It has a haunting melody, that still to this day never fails to raise the hairs on my neck, and it must be even more moving in the context of the opera story. So many versions have been done, some bad, some good, and some extraordinarily brilliant. In the latter camp, and to avoid repeating artists mentioned already, I adore the instrumental version by Larry Adler (Harmonica) and Itzhak Perlman (Violin). In addition, the piece is beautifully sung by Renee Fleming and another by Patricia Kass.
No doubt you will have your own opinions and choices, and that's what makes it so much fun. No matter which of Gershwin's music you choose, we will end up with something to enjoy.

I don't know who said this, but it seems a fitting end to the blog. "What set Gershwin apart was his ability to manipulate forms of music into his own unique voice. He took the jazz he discovered on Tin Pan Alley into the mainstream by splicing its rhythms and tonality with that of the most popular songs of his era".

I recommend this link to the official website for George and Ira Gershwin

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Electoral Reform 2011

Houses of Parliament
For generations, we have been electing individuals to represent us in Parliament, and they have then made laws on our behalf. Our system for electing MP's is 'First Past the Post' (FPP), where the person with the most amount of votes wins, no matter how small that number may be. On the 5th May 2011, we are being given the opportunity to vote on whether we want a change to the age-old system of FPP.

The question that will be on the referendum ballot  paper is;

"At present the UK uses the 'first past the post' system to elect MP's to the House of Commons. Should the 'alternative vote' system be used instead?"

So we are being asked to either vote to retain the status quo, or to go for a very specific alternative voting system. Documents arriving in my post today are designed to encourage us to either say YES or NO. To be honest with you, up to now I'd been undecided how to vote, but I'm now very clear on how I will vote. That will become clearer later.

We all know what the status quo is, as most of us have been using it all of our lives in national elections, though some of us have used another system in Assembly elections particularly in Northern Ireland and Scotland. But what do we know about the 'alternative vote' (AV) system? In this you use numbers to rank the candidates in order of your preference. You put 1 next to your first choice, 2 next to your second choice, 3 next to your third choice and so on. The number 1 votes for each candidate are put into a pile and counted. If a candidate receives more than half of the number 1 votes cast, they win and there is no further counting. If no one receives more than half the number 1 votes, there would be another round of counting and the candidate with the fewest number 1 votes is removed from the contest. If their supporters' ballot papers show a number 2 vote for another candidate, they are added to that candidates pile. If the ballot paper does not show a number 2 vote, it is no longer used. This process continues with redistribution of votes until one person reaches 50% of votes cast. They are then elected.

The YES to AV has been organised by 'Yes to fairer votes', and the NO campaign by 'No 2 av'. The main reasons given to vote YES are,
  1. MP's will work harder to earn - and keep - our support
  2. We will have a bigger say on who our local MP is
  3. It will tackle the 'jobs for life' culture in Parliament
The main reasons given to vote NO, and to keep with the present system are;
  1. There is a very simple principle in politics and governments that whoever gets the most votes wins
  2. It is wrong that the person who came second or third can overtake the person with the most votes
  3. The AV system will mean the end to equal votes
My problem with this referendum is in the choices on offer. I believe in Proportional Representation (PR), particularly the system known as the Single Transferable Vote (STV). But this is not an option open to me. What is STV? In an STV election, a candidate requires a certain minimum number of votes, called the quota or threshold. The quota most commonly used is the Droop Quota, named after Henry Droop, an English lawyer and mathematician who devised it in 1868. This system is used locally in Northern Ireland today.

To understand this quota system, take the example of an election where there are 2 seats to be filled and 3 candidates. The total valid poll is 100 votes. Divide the number of valid votes (100) by the available seats (2) + 1 and you get 33.33, this is then + 1 = 34.33, and rounded down to 34. This is then the quota for the election. In the election, A gets 45 votes; B gets 25 votes  and C gets 30 votes.  A is elected on the first preference count as they have over 34 votes. A has 11 votes more than the quota, which are given to B who was second preference in A's votes. B now has 36 votes - more than the quota needed, and is elected.

Yellow Brick Road
STV might be seen as the holy grail (possibly a tad dramatic here), but the question to ask is this, "If I vote for AV, will that be a stepping stone to achieving STV at a later stage?".

I fear that flawed logic will come into play whatever the result of the referendum. If the vote is NO, it would be interpreted as a liking for our current system and the prospect of PR is dead for at least another generation. If the vote is YES, it shows a desire for change, and would be a first step towards PR.

I don't think that this would happen in my lifetime. AV would have to be used for a number of elections, so it may be at least 25 years before any momentum for PR is going to be seriously entertained. By the way, did you know that a YouGov opinion poll on the 16th March showed that PR is twice as popular as AV as a replacement for First Past the Post (FPP)?.

Antony Brown, Founder of the electoral reform organisation AV2011 has said, "When voters start voting for smaller parties the two-party system starts to fractionalise. Political scientists measure this process by an index called the Number of Effective Parties (NEP). When the index reaches 4.0 and above, FPP is seen as not fit for purpose by the electorate and is often replaced by PR. Currently, the NEP in the UK stands at 3.75. Swapping FPP for AV now (and it is a swap because AV is a variant of FPP) is introducing the wrong system at the wrong time. For those wanting a more proportional system, the timing could hardly be worse. Will AV lead to PR? Definitely, if you ignore the wicked witch of the facts and just follow the yellow brick road".

So, on the 5th May I shall be voting NO to AV. If only I had the option to say NO to the status quo as well. Those of us who want to see Proportional Representation introduced will then be free to carry on with the battle.

For those of you who are still with me at this point, thank you. I greatly admire your stamina.

However you vote, vote well.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Newstead Abbey

Newstead Abbey
What did you do over the Easter weekend? I was delighted to have my son and daughter-in-law down for a couple of nights. They arrived a bit earlier on Saturday, having been driven from rock climbing in Wales and the Peak District by the rain. Thoughtfully they brought the rain with them to Nottingham. Thankfully Sunday was warm and dry, so the only decision to make was where to go.

I'd had Newstead Abbey on my list of places to visit for over a year, so we decided to go there. Newstead Abbey was once the home of Lord Byron, one of the romantic poets. (Lived: 1788 - 1824). The history of the Abbey, and the life of Byron are both of supreme interest, but they can wait for another day. The Abbey is about a twenty minute drive from Nottingham, and is owned by Nottingham City Council, when it was gifted to its predecessor the Nottingham Corporation in 1931 by Sir Julien Cahn. In view of what follows, it should be remembered that the house and lands were presented to the people of Nottinghamshire to enjoy. In all, the house, gardens and park covers about 300 acres.

Arriving at the entrance gate to pay our fee, we were met by a member of staff who couldn't have been funnier, or more helpful. We paid just to get into the grounds, as we thought there wouldn't be enough time to see the house as well. The drive to the car park must have been approaching a mile and a half, and I was glad that I had left visiting the place until someone with a car was with me. We started with a lovely picnic overlooking one of the lakes, and by the side of the Abbey. Feeling well satisfied, we went to explore the gardens. Talking to a staff member at the gate to the garden area, it transpired that we couldn't have visited the house anyway, as there were only booked tours, and these were full.

I have somehow missed the decisions recently taken by Nottingham City Council about Newstead Abbey. The Council decided in their budget setting for 2011 to make cuts to its services at Newstead Abbey. From the 1st April this year, the house will only be open to the public on certain Sunday afternoons, Bank Holidays and for guided tours. The grounds will be open throughout the year. It seems a great shame that the legacy of Lord Byron, which is enclosed within the Abbey will be lost to the general public. Will Wollaton Hall and Nottingham Castle be next?

I didn't know this when we were walking through the gardens. The first port of call was the Japanese Gardens. Having seen a number of these in other parts of the country, and always enjoyed the sense of peace and serenity that they bring, I was looking forward to this visit. However, I have to say that I was slightly disappointed. While everything was there that goes to make up a Japanese garden; lots of water features, stone bridges, statutes, pagoda's, trees and plants, it was a bit untidy. I felt that it needed a bit of TLC. Having seen immaculate ones in the past, I guess I was making unfair comparisons. My view may not have been helped by having to listen to scores of noisy children running about the place - peace and serenity it was not. John, what do you expect on a sunny Bank Holiday Sunday? I know, I know. I sound like a miserable git don't I? I don't mean to be, as inspite of perceived imperfections, I really did enjoy the walk through the garden.

We then walked through the Rock Garden, and into the large walled Rose Garden. Though of course too early in the year for roses, and too early to see it all at its best, this area was everything that a stately walled garden should be. There were fan-tailed trees along the wall, as well as other tallish trees and shrubs. The centre area will no doubt be magnificent when the roses are in full bloom (unless the Council decide to save a few more pounds by ignoring them).

There was also a modern touch that I found delightful. I'm into my works of public art, and it was good to see four (I think that number's right) sculptures of gardeners, with implements and in different poses, all made out of chicken wire. They were life size, and I think added to the loveliness of this walled garden. On the way back to the car park, there was one more visit that was a must to do. My son and I agree totally on this, though my daughter-in-law may not feel quite so strongly about it.

It was the Courtyard Cafe. Time for a coffee/tea and Cadbury's creme egg. A Peacock had been sitting on the upper branches of a nearby Yew tree for the whole of our walk, and it was now making its unique calling sound. Aren't they beautiful birds? As near perfect as West Bridgford is, I've yet to see a Peacock there.

I sat back in my chair and thought how lovely this is. Good coffee, great setting in warm sunshine and being with excellent family members. The day doesn't get much better, but unfortunately it was time to make our way home. One last look at the outside of the magnificent building that is Newstead Abbey, and we were off.

I can't finish this blog without reference to one more 'incident' over the Easter Weekend.

My daughter-in-law is from Poland, and last evening she asked me if I knew of the Polish custom (name given but forgotten - is it Smigus-Dyngus 'wet Monday'?). I did not pursue the answer.

I got up this morning, Easter Monday, and went into the kitchen, only to be met by my daughter-in-law throwing about half an egg cup of water at me. Apparently on Easter Monday, up to midday, people throw water at each other. Having researched it today, I definitely got off very lightly. Originally, the custom was simply conducted by young men who would sneak into the bedroom of their beloved (with her parent's permission) and throw buckets of water over her while she was in bed. It also included being lightly hit with something like a birch stick.

Now it seems that the custom is to throw water over everybody and anybody. You can find loads of examples on You Tube. Looking through You Tube this morning, we came across a clip that took 'Wet Monday' to a different level. In a town square, two fire engines appeared and raced round and round the square shooting water from their fire hoses at everyone within reach. That's why I say I got off lightly.

So, daughter-in-law beware, I now know the custom, and will be ready for next Easter Monday, if we are anywhere near each other.

Whatever you've done this Easter weekend, I hope that you enjoyed it. I certainly did.

Friday, 22 April 2011

From Major to Minor - notes from a musical layman

I'm not a musician. I can't read music or play an instrument. (Though in my youth I played a few bars of 'Catch a falling Star' on comb and toilet paper - it was not well received). However, I do love music, and during the last few days I have been researching the emotional impact of music, as I wanted to find out why different types of music have their effects upon us.

There's certainly been a lot written about the subject, and I have read many articles, and extracts from books from over the last 20 years in particular. The text below is a summation of many of those articles, and I record them as making sense to me. I expect that those who are more expert in music and biology than I am, will have their own opinions, which I will be glad to hear.

It has been written that "Music alone with sudden charms can bind thy wand'ring sense, and calm the troubled mind", (William Congreve, Hymn to Harmony), or that "If music be the food of love", (Shakespeare, Twelfth Night). But how does music cast its spell? An article on the Biology of Music in the Economist, says, "Romantics can take comfort from the fact that science does not yet have all the answers. But it has some".

The article goes on to say, "When philosophers debate what it is that makes humans unique among animals, they often point to language. Other animals can communicate, of course, but despite the best efforts of biologists working with beasts as diverse as chimpanzees, dolphins and parrots, no other species has yet shown the subtleties of syntax that give human language their power. There is however, another sonic medium that might be thought uniquely human, and that is music. Other species can sing (indeed, many birds do so better than a lot of people), but birdsong, and the song of animals such as whales, has a limited repertoire - and no other animal is known to have developed a musical instrument".

Music's effect on the outer layers of the brain - the temporal and even visual cortex - is only part of the story. These are the places in which the signal is being dissected and processed. The place where it is having its most profound effect is in the brain's emotional core - called the limbic system. Music's ability to trigger powerful emotions is well known anecdotally, but science requires more than anecdote.

A few years ago, Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, decided to see if the anecdotes were true. He asked several hundred young men and women why they felt music to be important in their lives. Emotion turned out to be not merely an answer; it was more or less, the answer. Around 70% of both sexes said it was "because it elicits emotions and feelings". The next most popular response, "to alleviate boredom" came a distant second.

Dr Carol Krumhansl, a psychologist at Cornell University has shown that music does elicit emotions - rather than merely expressing an emotion that the listener recognises. She addressed the question by looking at the physiological changes (in blood circulation, respiration, skin conductivity and body temperature) that occurred in a group of volunteers while they listened to different pieces of music. The ways these bodily functions change in response to particular emotions are well known. Sadness leads to a slower pulse, raised blood pressure, a decrease in the skin's conductivity and a drop in body temperature. Fear produces increased pulse rates. Happiness causes faster breathing. So, by playing pieces ranging from Mussorgsky's 'Night on the Bare Mountain' to Vivaldi's 'Spring' to her wired-up subjects, Dr Krumhansl was able to test musical conventions about which emotions are associated with which musical structures. Most of the conventions survived. Music with a rapid tempo, and written in a major key, correlated precisely with the induction of happiness. A slow tempo and a minor key induced sadness, and a rapid tempo combined with dissonance (meaning inharmonious or harsh sound favoured by the composer Schoenberg) induced fear.

Arnold Schoenberg
Let's take a moment out to look at Schoenberg, and have a comment on the minor key. Arnold Schoenberg was born in Vienna in 1874, and died in Los Angeles in 1951. He is credited with being the inventor of 'atonalism' and the 'Twelve Tone Tune', which are also described by some as "the ravisher of the listener's ears". An Internet article comments, "Schoenberg redefined music in the early twentieth century. Perhaps no name on a concert's billing scares the average listener more than that of Arnold Schoenberg. After over fifty years of accustomising ourselves to his modern style, many of his pieces are still difficult to understand and evaluate".

He said himself on his peculiar style of music, "I believe what I do and do only what I believe, and woe to anybody who lays hands on my faith. Such a man I regard as an enemy, and no quarter given". So there. In preparing to write this blog, I listened to quite a few of his pieces, and to be honest, I could not get to grips with it, and was left with a feeling of irritation and frustration. Happiness was certainly not an induced emotion, and from the research produced, I am not alone.

On the mention of the minor key, I well remember in my Church days, often selecting hymn tunes, particularly Welsh tunes, in the minor key, as the music seemed to best reflect the solemnity of the written words. Perhaps this was the result of my upbringing, where religion was more austere than happy. I think that I can identify with the research results.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scanner
Let's get back to the main text. To delve even deeper, so to speak, Robert Zatorre and Anne Blood, have pursued the emotional effects of music into the middle of the brain, using PET scanning. They attacked the problem directly by composing a series of new melodies featuring explicitly consonant and dissonant patterns of notes, and playing them to a series of volunteers who had agreed to be scanned.

When the individuals heard dissonance, areas of their limbic systems known to be responsible for unpleasant emotion lit up, and, moreover, the volunteers used negative adjectives to describe their feelings. The consonant music, by contrast, stimulated parts of the limbic system associated with pleasure, and the subjects' feelings were incontestably positive - a neurological affirmation of the opinions of those who dislike Schoenberg's compositions.

Many more tests have been conducted over the years with similar results. A lot has been discovered about how music works its magic, but why it does so is a different question. Following one study, it was said, "While evolution should certainly build a fine, discriminating faculty for musical criticism into people, it is still unclear why particular combinations of noise should affect the emotions so profoundly. Stay tuned".

After reading this, some may say, so what? I know what I like, and I know what I don't like. That's good enough for me. No argument from me there. However, for those of us who want to go deeper into the biology of music, I think that the scientific experiments are fascinating. I'm sure that there is still much to learn, and possibly to disagree over. We know what music does for us, but does anyone really know why it does it? Perhaps there's a professional out there who can add to these notes from a musical layman.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

My Village, My Home, My Life - part four

This will be the last trip down memory lane on the subject of my village in North Wales. The journey has been personally rewarding, as I have remembered many things that I thought I had forgotten. These experiences and people during the first twenty one years of life, no doubt had an influence on the person I became. I blame no one but myself though for some of the poor decisions I made later in life.

Mum 1992
 I don't think that I properly appreciated it at the time, but my Mother's sacrifices were all for the benefit of my sister and I. Following my Father's death in 1958, Mum showed no interest in any other man for the next 47 years until her own death in 2005.

She may well have been the product of her era here, as she was with a great work ethic. She would often have up to three part time jobs on the go, all of which enabled her to support her children, and these jobs would be worked around us, so that we were never without her company.

I think that there were four things of vital importance to Mum; good, wholesome food would always be provided; clothes would always be on our backs; annual holidays and day trips would be taken, and essential bills would never go unpaid. There would be luxuries if there was any spare cash about. She was the master of a budget, and the only things I remember being on "tick" were from the catalogue, which was paid for on a weekly basis to the catalogue man. I have tried to be as prudent as Mum in my life, but unfortunately, on occasions I have failed the Mum test.

Ruabon Mountain
We were never a family of couch potatoes. There was always some walk or other at weekends or during the school holidays. I remember the narrow roads with high hedges; the banks in parts full of wild raspberries and hazelnuts, which were gathered and gleefully eaten, either at the time, or kept until later.

While writing this, I am reminded of a huge hazard on some of those roads. It came in the form of a Welsh Methodist Minister and his car. He was a Nationalist who refused to speak English, even though he knew that you didn't speak Welsh. Being under 5 foot tall, there were blocks on the pedals of his car, and all you could see was the top of his head. He was a manic driver around the lanes of the village, and his speed was frightening. Fortunately, due to his excessive use of the accelerator, you could hear him coming, and just had enough time to jump into the hedgerow before he sped past you. Unbelievably, he never had an accident, but he did cause a few heart tremors in others.

Picking Wimberries
We would often walk to the hamlet of Tainant, and on to Ruabon Mountain. You could then walk across the mountain, past one of the reservoirs to Rhos and back home across country.

At the right time of the year we would go to the mountain to pick wimberries. There amongst the heather and sheep droppings we would collect this lovely, small, blue fruit. As can be seen from the photograph, if you've never been collecting wimberries, it is a back breaking exercise, and seemed to take forever to fill the containers. The effort was worthwhile however, as the result was loads of pots of wimberry jam, which lasted for a few months. With Mum, you certainly never wasted the access to beautiful countryside outside of the village.

Charlie Wright's Buses
Wright & Sons ran a bus service from Penycae to Wrexham via Rhos for many years. When the bus industry was de-regulated in 1986, there was fierce competition between Wright's and the much larger Crosville company. Wright's, the last surviving independent local company, ceased operations in 1993, leaving Crosville as the sole service provider in the Wrexham area.

I was good friends with the youngest of the Wright sons, and would often be in their home playing board games. They also had a field opposite the garage where we would play games. I remember during one summer that we decided to have a sports day - not just the two of us you understand, there were other friends. It was the first day of the school holidays, and we set up a high jump. It came to my turn, and while I knew that the idea was to jump over the pole, I slipped on my run up, and broke my wrist. The plaster came off six weeks later on the last day of the school holidays.

Along with the regular bus service, Wright's provided special excursions which were very popular, and if memory serves me right, the same people seemed to go on all of them. This included Mum, Sister and I. A very popular trip was what Wright's called "Around the Coast", which meant a beautiful trip through Snowdonia, on to the North Wales coast and back home.

Blackpool Weekend
Another special each year was a weekend trip to see the Illuminations in Blackpool. That's me on the left in the donkey jacket (I never was fashion conscious); Mum is far right, with my Nan (Grandmother) next to her. The other person is Nan's friend. My Sister took the photograph as she would do anything to avoid being in one. Sorry Sis.

Blackpool doesn't seem very far away from the village today, but then, it seemed to take forever to get there, hence the need for a weekend trip. I have few detailed memories of actually being in Blackpool, but as I detect a hint of a smile in this photograph, I guess it couldn't have been that bad. One thing I do remember though is that my Sister and I were always the youngest by far on all of these excursions.

Holidays in Rhyl
In addition to excursions, Mum always ensured that we had an annual holiday. We went to Paignton in Devon, the Isle of Man, but mostly to Rhyl, on the North Wales coast. In Rhyl it was always the Golden Sands Holiday Camp. Here's a picture of my Sister and I with our cousin in the middle. Holidays were often with other family members, and I wonder if this helped to share the cost.

My goodness, everything looks as if it's from another era, which of course it is. The caravans were basic, the facilities minimal and the bikes crap, but from looking at many photographs, it did seem as if we had a good time. Credit to Mother, as unlike other families in the village who rarely went anywhere, we were often off somewhere - again mostly courtesy of Wright & Sons coaches.

There is much more that could be said, but I'm in danger of losing you, and perhaps it's best to draw this sojourn to a close. However, let me conclude with the following.

Salem Welsh Baptist Chapel
Near the edge of the village you will find Salem Welsh Baptist Chapel. This is also the graveyard for those of a non-conformist persuasion. If the grass wasn't so long, you could see the grave of my Mother and Father. It also contains the remains of my older brother Peter, who died before I was born at the age of six months. Mum never spoke about him, but I often wondered what life would have been like having an older brother.

January 1968
I love this photograph, not least because it reminds me of the days when I was slim (that's me on the far right). More seriously, it reminds me of a remarkable man, Uncle Idris - he's sitting holding the dog, with his wife Pat beside him. He suffered from Silicosis, a degenerative occupational lung disease caused by breathing in too much silica dust. Unfortunately, a far from rare disease in mining communities. He was bed-ridden for the last two years of his life.

My sister and I would visit him most Sundays after Church while Mum was getting the dinner ready. We loved his company. He was well read, and could speak with interest on a range of subjects. It was painful to see him struggle for breath after a coughing fit, but he never complained, and I always remember a smile on his face. A remarkable man indeed.

Well there you have it, the end of my journey. Unremarkable and very ordinary, but isn't this what most of our upbringing is about? I guess the important thing is what we do with the hand that is dealt us. My work life over the following forty years was very different, but perhaps that is for another time. I have enjoyed this bout of reminiscing, and appreciate the few people who have joined me on the journey.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

You may say that I'm a dreamer

John Lennon would have been aged 71 this year if he hadn't have been murdered in 1980 at the age of 40. He certainly led an interesting life, but I don't think that any sane person could doubt the quality of his musical output.

In the USA in 1971 he released his album 'Imagine', which was the title of the first track. Forty years later it is still being played, and for me, still being loved. He asks us to imagine a very different world; to dream of a different world; a world that "will live as one".

Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No Hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today.

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace.

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one.

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world.

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one.

Is it so wrong to dream of a world without injustice and intolerance? There is much that could be done if only people were prepared to speak out and do it. I have been exercised of late with the subject of suicide because of someones real, or perceived sexuality. In researching the subject, both historically and in the modern day, I have been shocked, horrified and angered at the scale of the incidents. Homosexuality was 'legalised' (you need to study what that means) in England and Wales in 1967; Scotland in 1980 and Northern Ireland in 1982. The problem though is a world-wide one. The list of people is so long, that I couldn't even begin to write it out. Let me draw attention to a few known, and unknown people.


The composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky died in 1893 at the age of 53. His death came nine days after the premiere of his Sixth Symphony, the Pathetique (one of my favourites). The official cause of death was reported to be cholera, as a result of drinking contaminated water a few days earlier.

Even around the time of his death the accuracy of the medical reports from the two physicians who had treated Tchaikovsky was questioned. Theories that Tchaikovsky's death was a suicide began to surface, and since 1979, one theory has gained momentum.

This was that a sentence of suicide was imposed in a 'court of honour' by Tchaikovsky's fellow alumni of the Imperial School of Jurisprudence, as a censure of the composer's homosexuality.

Alan Turing
Alan Turing died in 1954 at the age of 41. He was a mathematician, cryptographer and pioneer of computer science. He was largely responsible for breaking the Enigma Code during the second world war, and without doubt, this saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

He was arrested in 1952 for homosexuality, then a criminal offence. Rather than go to prison, he agreed to a form of castration, which involved oestrogen injections. This cruel punishment is now accepted as part of the reason for his early suicide, and in 2009 the British Government publicly apologised for the way in which this great man had been treated.

On the 7th June 1954, Alan Turing killed himself by taking a bite from an apple he had laced with cyanide. He was found the next day with the apple beside his body. I recommend you read a wonderful Blog by my Son called 'Alan Turing's Apple'. Click

Justin Fashanu
Justin Fashanu died in 1998 at the age of 37. He was a professional footballer, and was the first black player to be bought for £1 million. He was the first, and up to now the only professional footballer to come out as gay, after he agreed an exclusive with The Sun in October 1990. In 1991 he said that no club had offered him a full-time contract since the story first appeared.

He endured years of racist taunts because of his colour, and homophobic taunts because of his sexuality. His brother described him as an "outcast", and while playing for Nottingham Forest, his manager, Brian Clough described him as a "bloody poof".

While embarking on a new career in America in 1998, a 17 year old claimed to have been sexually assaulted by him, and he was questioned by the police in April. He returned to England before it went any further, and on the 3rd May, he was found hanged in a deserted lock-up garage that he had broken into. In his suicide note he said, "I realised that I had already been presumed guilty. I do not want to give any more embarrassment to my friends and family". He denied the charges, and he did not know that the American Police had dropped the investigation.

In a moving Blog at the time of Justin's death, his friend Peter Tatchell acknowledged that like all of us he had his share of failings and mistakes, and they were the culmination of a lifetime of rejection. He comments, "That rejection began when, as a young boy, he was given up by his parents and put in a Barnardo's Children's Home. It was compounded by the racist jibes he suffered on the football pitch, and by the homophobic abuse inflicted on him at Nottingham Forest by his manager Brian Clough. When he turned to the Church for solace, it piled on more rejection, condemning his gay lifestyle and demanding that he renounce his sexuality. Then when he came out as gay, he was rejected by much of his own black community, including his dearly beloved brother, John. Not one prominent black leader supported Justin when he was being crucified in the black press".

Homophobia has been called "The violence of intolerance". It seems that all over the world, lives are being taken simply because of someones sexuality. At the tail end of last year, the Washington Post reported on four suicides of gay teenagers in three weeks in different parts of the country. There was Tyler (15), Seth (13), Asher (13) and Billy (15), all committed suicide because of homophobic bullying. In Uganda last year, the "Rolling Stone" newspaper published a front page story 'outing' 100 Ugandans who the newspaper identified as gay or lesbian and whose photographs were carried alongside the headline "hang them".
In the UK we don't really know how many suicides are due to someones sexuality, as that is not recorded on a death certificate. We do not live in a tolerant society when so much is going on under cover, in what Jonny Walker describes as 'situational tolerance'. Apparently Max Clifford is working to "keep the sexuality of two or three big (football) stars secret". You can read surveys by Stonewall and Galop to see what is 'under the surface' and what far too many people are going through because of their sexuality. Perpetrators of homophobia need to be punished, and punished hard, for as Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, "Whenever one group of human beings is treated as inferior to another, hatred and intolerance will triumph".

To conclude, in September 2010 Navanethem Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights spoke at a conference in Geneva, attended by representatives from 14 countries (only 14 I say), spoke on decriminalising homosexuality throughout the world. Drawing attention to the words of Desmond Tutu, he said, "It should not take hundreds more deaths and beatings to convince us of this truth. It is up to all of us to demand equality for all our fellow human beings, regardless of their sexual orientation or their gender identity".

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one.

Dreaming though is not enough, action must accompany the dream.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Two Nationals - but are they Grand?

On the weekend just passed, I broke the habit of around 30 years and watched two events that are classed as the greatest in the sporting calendar. One event was in England, and was the Grand National horse race, and the other was in America - the Augusta National, better known as the US Open Golf Championship. I'm no lover of horse racing or golf, but for some reason I tuned into both.

The Grand National is held at Aintree Racecourse, Liverpool every year as part of a three day racing festival. It was first run in 1839, and this year's race was the 164th National. It is estimated that 600 million people worldwide watched the race on television, with about 74,000 at a sold out Aintree. Bookmakers say that £250 million was bet on the race. The picture shows the eventual winner, Ballabriggs.

I tuned in to the BBC about 30 minutes before the start of the 4.15pm race. The 40 horses and jockeys were paraded around as they made their way to the start. The horses did look in fine condition (I'm just repeating others here, as what do I know?) and it was a spectacular sight. The starter certainly earned his money by getting the race underway first time. The Grand National is two circuits of the Aintree course, and there are 30 fences to jump. In the end, for the first time ever I think, only 28 fences were jumped, because two had to be avoided because of two horses who had died, and were covered with tarpaulin until the race finished. One horse had broken its neck in a fall, and the other had broken its back. We only found this out later.

Just over half the horses failed to finish the race, due to either falling, or being pulled up by the jockey. In the run up to the finishing line there seemed to me to be excessive use of the whip on the horses' rear ends. I've said a number of times in my blog that I'm not an animal lover, but neither do I like to see animal cruelty.

In the last eleven years, 33 horses have died in the three day Aintree 'festival'. This is an average of three a year - is this acceptable? In addition, following a fall in the 2.15pm race, the jockey Peter Toole was placed in a medically-induced coma, and is fighting for his life as I write this.

Peter Scudamore, who rode in the National many times, but without winning it, said in today's daily mail on-line, "I love the Grand National - but this was agonising to watch. The Grand National has always been a dangerous and potentially deadly race, and jockeys accept that: the risk, both to their horse and themselves, is part of the job". Jockeys have a choice; horses don't. The League Against Cruel Sports have consistently asked for this race to be banned, but it is unlikely to happen, as there is too much vested interest. However, can we just allow a few days of regret, only for then to carry on as if nothing has happened? The world is not a better place for the National, and it wouldn't be a worse place if there was no National. Perhaps there are too many horses, and too many fences. Some people say that to reduce either, will make the race like any other national hunt event, and that the risk is therefore worth taking for the 'spectacle'. If only there was a way of canvassing the views of the horses.

12th hole at Augusta
Following the trauma of Saturday's Grand National, I tuned in on Sunday evening to watch the BBC's coverage of the closing hours of the Augusta National Golf Tournament - the US Open. No one died or was injured through playing golf, though a great deal of damage was done to some ego's. I tend to side with Mark Twain when he said, "Golf is a good walk ruined". Augusta is undoubtedly a magnificent place. I would love to walk around it, but it's a private members club, so golf is the name of the game, not walking.

Why did I sit for hours on a Sunday evening watching the game? One reason is that I was feeling incredibly lazy, and wanted a non-challenging evening. Another was curiosity to see if the 21 year old Rory McIllroy from Northern Ireland could become one of the youngest  ever to win the event (this question was endlessly trailed on TV). He had led the tournament from day one, and came into the final round four shots ahead of anyone else. He was still doing well after the first nine holes, but at the 10th hole it all started to unravel. He had a triple bogey 7 (I hope you're impressed with the lingo here, and I'm grateful to Peter Allis for the information).

Charl Schwartzel the winner
It got worse, and I confess to feeling for the young man. He finished up 10 strokes behind the eventual winner, Charl Schwartzel from South Africa. This turned out to be 50 years to the day since the first non-American, Gary Player, also from South Africa won the event.

I may not love the game, but I can appreciate the skill involved in knocking that small ball into a small hole 72 times in the least amount of strokes over four days.

Rory was devastated, but gave an interview with dignity that spoke well of him. Tiger Woods, by comparison was anything but dignified in defeat. Come on Mr Woods, you can't win everything. Charl (as I like to call him, because that's his name) deserved to win, and to get his own green jacket.

The event was no doubt a joy to all those who were present, and to millions watching on TV. For me, the game was fine, but I couldn't get out of my mind that the Augusta National Golf Club is everything that I detest in life. It is an elitist private members club that was established in 1933. It only has about 300 members at any one time. Fees are said to be low (though 10,000 dollars a year is beyond the reach of many, but the poor will never get an invite anyway). Membership is strictly by invitation; there is no application process. After years of criticism for being exclusive and discriminatory, it only accepted its first black member in 1990. Women are still not allowed to be members, and even this year a female journalist was prohibited from joining others in the traditional locker room interviews - Augusta did later apologise for this, saying it was down to an over zealous security guard.

The US Open is always held at Augusta, so exclusive and discriminatory admissions continue to be tolerated. I'm sorry, it may be a great event, but sometimes there are more important things in life than sport.

So, I've watched two nationals, but are they grand? Not for me.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

My Village, My Home, My Life - part three

Hall Street, Penycae, looking from the direction of Ruabon
Well, here we are again, back in my home village of Penycae. At the top of the road in this picture is 1, Cristionydd, where we moved to in 1958. Hall Street, being the main road through the village played an important part in my upbringing because of who and what was alongside the road. Let's take a step back though to 1950.

Slate Board 1950's
At the age of three I attended Penycae Infants School, and then the Junior School on the same site until I was aged eleven. My mother would later take a job as dinner lady at the school.

There were three things that I particularly remember about being in the Infants School. One was the hours; 9.00am to 4.00pm five days a week. Secondly, because of the hours the school had camp beds, and we were put down to rest for an hour every day after lunch. Thirdly, we used individual slate boards and chalk in our early years before paper became the norm. Apart from the dust when the boards were wiped, how environmentally friendly this was. Slate abounded in North Wales, and it was not uncommon in rural areas in the early 1950's to use slate boards and chalk in schools. Anyone else have this memory? I have few other memories from school life in the Infant and Junior School, so it couldn't have been very conspicuous. I did not excite academically, so perhaps it was no surprise to fail the 11 plus. I do hope that in later years I have shown that you can be reasonably intelligent without being educated.

Zion English Baptist Chapel, Hall Street, Penycae was one of the most influential places in the first 21 years of my life. I should say that this photograph is Copyright Eirian Evans and licenced for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence. The building to the right of the Chapel was our home at 1, Cristionydd, so there wasn't far to go.

Wales was a land of religious revivals, the last one being led by Evan Roberts in 1904. The result of this revival was that swathes of people attended Chapel, and new places of worship had to be built to accommodate them. Numerous 1000 - 1500 seater Chapels were built, and though the 1904 revival only lasted about a year, the effects of it lasted much longer. Fifty years later, and the majority of these buildings were virtually empty. In my late teens, when I started to travel around the area preaching, I would speak at a number of 1200 seater non-conformist Chapels, with upwards of 20 in attendance if I was lucky. The speaker always had to use the pulpit (there was no negotiation over this) and the few in the congregation would sit near the back of the Chapel. They'd always sat there you see. But that was when the Chapel was virtually full, so we were stuck. They wouldn't move nearer the front of the Chapel, and I wasn't allowed to move nearer the back. The plus side of all of this though was that I learnt all about voice projection in a very practical way.

My baptism in the art of voice projection came at the age of five. Sunday Schools have always played an important part in the life particularly of non-conformist Chapels. In the 18th and early 19th Centuries they were places where children learnt to read and write. In many villages like my own, even the most 'ungodly' of parents would insist on their children having a Sunday School education. This meant large numbers attending Zion Chapel.

The event of the year was the Annual Sunday School Anniversary. This was the one day that you could guarantee a packed house, and people who would never darken the doors of the Chapel at any other time would be there. The front of the Chapel would have decked seats as in the photograph, and all of the children would be crammed together. I was five, and this was my first Anniversary at Zion (previously I'd been taken to the Welsh Methodist Chapel Sunday School for a couple of years - I have no idea why as Welsh was not spoken at home).

At Zion, you were encouraged to memorise something rather than read it from a page; this was to encourage you not to mumble. The instructions given to me that day remain as clear now, as when they were given nearly 60 years ago. Remember, I was sitting on a bank of seats, facing a packed Chapel of 200 - 300 people. I had memorised a short poem; there was no public address system; how to be heard. Then comes a kindly voice whispering in my ear. "John, do you see the top corner of the Chapel in front of you? Imagine there's a spider in that corner. He wants to hear what you are going to say. Lift your head up; look at that corner, and speak out as if the spider is the only thing in the room". I spoke to the imagined spider for upwards of another 15 years whilst I learnt the art of public speaking.

Zion Chapel was a place of great encouragement. Almost every man was adept at public speaking to a greater or lesser degree. We attended as a family, and we always sat in the pew, second row from the back on the left. But then everyone else sat in their same seat, week in and week out. This was something that drove me bonkers in later years. When the time was right, the Chapel encouraged me to become a Sunday School teacher, and helped me to get the best out of it. It was another lesson on how to communicate, and little did I know at the time how influential this was going to be in my future career. On Remembrance Sunday, as with other Cities, Towns and Villages, we had a service at the Cenotaph. Every Church and group in the village would take part. I was somehow chosen to represent Zion on many occasions. Now I was getting experience of projecting my voice in the open air.

Have you ever heard an older Welsh evangelical preacher in full flight? Sunday after Sunday we used to have them as guest speakers. I can still see and hear two or three of them, parading up and down the large stage area, arms like windmills, voice like thunder. A popular theme was Hell. Some of the speakers sought to frighten you into the kingdom of God, by getting you to picture the eternal flames of Hell. On occasions you felt that you had to hold on to the pew for dear life, or you would slip into Hell. It was not what you would call heart warming. Powerful, but not what you would call uplifting. Zion asked me to preach my first sermon when I was aged 15. I had been on a ten year learning curve. After years of Hell, I decided to speak on the love of God. I stole the sermon from Thomas Brooks, a 17th Century Puritan speaker. If it was good enough for him it was good enough for me. Over the next 8 years I would speak many times in Zion, and in other Chapels all around the area. In 1970 I went to Theological College in Belfast, and after three years training, spent the following twelve years looking after Churches, with some success.

However, for personal reasons, this has not been part of my life for the last 20 years, and organised religion of any sort will continue to have no interest for me. In spite of that, I will be ever grateful to Zion Chapel, for the opportunities and encouragement they gave me to develop skills as a public speaker. Today's training courses could learn much from the simple approach shown to me.

Black Horse Pub
On the corner of Hall Street and Cristionydd, opposite Zion Chapel, still stands today the Black Horse Pub. There were originally 10 pubs in the village, but I think it's now down to two.

The Black Horse pub could be seen from our house, and on the pavement where the roads meet was to be found a seat. Young people gathered at the seat at all times of the day and night, but at closing time on a Saturday, it belonged to men coming out of the pub.

I would have been in bed as a youngster, but would be awakened around 11.00 - 11.30pm by the sound of singing. Most of the men would have been miners, and belonged to one choir or another. Quite frankly they were pissed. Every Saturday night. But if I close my eyes, I can believe that I'm listening to that group of men sitting on the seat singing the most beautiful of melodies. Drink did not affect the harmony or the timing. For an hour every Saturday night, I felt that I was present in the finest concert hall. Now you don't get that experience everywhere.

I'd hoped to finish my sojourn today, but I've rabbited on a bit, so there will be one more journey to My Village, My Home.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Don't Tolerate Intolerance

Where would you place Britain on the scale of tolerant nations? Probably right up there if you weren't one of those who have suffered from her intolerance. Possibly you agree with an article in The Spectator last year where the writer said, "Brits are, I firmly believe, the most tolerant people on earth". If you believe that, then this is where you and I part company.

We must open our eyes to what is going on around us every day. To not admit to failings within the nation leaves the bigots and the haters unopposed, and flag waving, orchestral jingoism will help to paper over the rotten cracks within. Do you remember the 2010 FIFA World Cup when Germany beat England, and England 'fans' burned a German flag in Leicester Square, and trashed a Haagan Daz restaurant? Why did they do this? Please god, don't just say it was the drink. A young man out with his girlfriend was attacked by three men, and stabbed. The reason? The young man had ginger hair. A family of four have just been driven out of their home for the third time. The reason? All four have ginger hair. I remember the times when I was in work that a street homeless man would come into the Centre covered in blood after receiving a good kicking while he was trying to get some sleep. Or an ex-offender who was trying to turn his life around, being hounded from the street because of fear that he would commit crime. Similar attitudes were displayed towards those with mental health problems, where the ignorant morons saw such individuals as those who would murder them in their beds.

It was because of examples of daily intolerance that about 16 or 17 years ago I drew up a Statement of Core Values for the Charity. Two points in particular informed the work that we did.
  • "We will respect the uniqueness of the individual".
  • "We are committed to challenging oppression and inequality, and will positively promote its core value in all areas of its work and structure".
The words respect, and challenge oppression and inequality make me particularly sensitive to any acts of intolerance. Let's not hide from these matters, or there never will be any change in the future. Britain is good at being politically correct, and at demonising anyone who refuses to be similarly so. Roland Hulme calls this "a rather repressive form of social fascism", and must not be confused with tolerance. PC is social conditioning and behavioural policing, enforced by the threat of polite society ostracizing you. Roland's point is worth noting, "If you want a demonstration of Britain's true character, just take away that expectation of political correctness and you'll see quite how mean-spirited and vicious we can be".

By the way, this Blog is not an attack on the nation. It is however an attack on those intolerant morons who make life a misery for others. Let me draw your attention to what has become known in the last few years as Hate Crime.

I have been reading the third annual report from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), called CPS Hate Crime Report 2009-2010. Defining Hate Crime, and recording Hate Crime is still far from an exact science. It is also acknowledged that such crimes are under reported for a variety of reasons. The CPS report covers three areas of hate crime, plus statistics where crimes against an older person have been identified.
  1. Racist and religious hate crime
  2. Homophobic and transphobic hate crime
  3. Disability hate crime
The report breaks down the statistics into the 42 police areas in England and Wales, and gives numbers for convictions and those that were unsuccessful. Look at the total overall, and the three areas above.

Area                              Convictions                     Unsuccessful             Total
Total Overall                      11406                                 2516                     13922
Racist etc                             9993                                 2138                     12131
Homophobic                          929                                   223                       1153
Disability                                483                                   155                         638

As horrific as 14,000 reported hate crimes is, under-reporting is masking the extent of the problem. Take homophobia for instance. Stonewall, the gay rights charity say that surveys have found that one in five (20%) gay people had been the victim of a hate crime in the last three years. The Metropolitan Police say in their latest reports that just over 1000 incidents of homophobic hate crime were reported. London has an estimated gay and lesbian population of 750,000, so according to the Stonewall survey, the incidents should be nearer 150,000 over three years, rather than 1000 over one year. Stonewall's report on homophobic bullying in schools (The Teachers' Report) has been called deeply alarming. Nine in ten secondary school teachers, and two in five primary school teachers said pupils experience homophobic bullying, even if they are not gay. Racist and religious hate crime as well as Disability hate crime can similarly be shown to be under reported for a raft of reasons.

So, in my view, intolerance abounds. Opponents will say, but it's only a small minority of people who are intolerant, the majority are OK. It may be true that it's a minority that are engaged in hate crime, but that minority is not small. Intolerance is wider and greater than examples of hate crime, but where does intolerance come from?

This is such a complex subject, because we are complex beings. Is it just the battleground between good and evil? I believe in goodness, so I have to believe in evil. Most of us are not one or the other, but both. As someone once said, "We are beautiful and ugly, soothing and terrifying, brutal and caring, we love and we despise". But, as Charles Weinblatt, author of 'Jacob's Courage: A Holocaust Love Story' asks, "What brings a person to despise a stranger? Why do some people hate and fear those who are different? Why do so many people find it easier to hate than to tolerate?" These are mighty questions, to which there are no easy answers. It cannot simply be nature or nurture, for there are exceptions to both. So why is there so much intolerance around us, and what can we do to make a difference?

Weinblatt examines the holocaust, and asks why did so many people go along with this horrific plan, and how could so many turn their backs to the immorality of mass extermination. He says, using words that are relevant today, "I believe that people find it easier to hate because tolerance requires effort. Haters live with haters in a community of malevolence. The more they hate, the more they are approved by their social group. ... Fear may be at the heart of racism and bigotry. We fear that which we do not understand. We fear anyone who might be perceived as better than we are. We therefore use the tools of bigotry to become superior to others. Our fear drives us to prove that we are better than the 'others' are. It feels good to be superior. Yet, in order for one person to feel superior, another must be subjugated. In order to feel better, we must dominate someone. The easiest way to dominate is to hate those who are not a threat. And it feels good to make them live in fear".

I want to believe in the possibility of change; that the bonds of bigotry can be broken one person at a time, with education, conversation and engagement. I want so much to believe in that. Weinblatt concludes, "Racism, hatred, intolerance and bigotry are the artifacts of fear. Eliminate fear and there will no longer be a need to use the tools of bigotry. This is our challenge. We must convince the haters that they have no reason to fear".

Another Core Value from my previous charity was this, "We believe that warmth and support from one being to another can achieve positive change". The reward for success is tolerance, respect and mutual recognition.

What positive thoughts do you have on this subject?