Monday, June 30, 2008

Is it fair to be free?

I keep saying 'free trade' when I mean 'fair trade'.
It's an easy mistake to make.
Freedom, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder.

Some of you may know that I was privileged to live on and off in Grenada between 1982-6.
I originally went because I wanted to contribute in any way I possibly could to the Grenadian revolution.

One of the most visible aspects of the revo was the hand-painted billboards all round the island, portraying strong and positive images and with messages extolling equality and collective responsibility.
They were inspiring and uplifting - such a change for those of us accustomed to being bombarded by advertising hoardings exhorting us to buy the latest must-have products and services.

When you came off the plane at the tiny Pearls airport, one of the first things you saw was one of these billboards saying Welcome to Free Grenada.

On 19th October 1983, there was a disastrous and devastating coup, followed on the 25th by a US invasion.

(Ancient history now, I know.
You can find details and background to the revo, coup and invasion here.)

One of the first things the Americans did was rip down all the billboards.

They left the one at the airport though and simply covered up the word 'free'.

You said it, guys.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A highly technical post

So there was I complaining about being a techy twit when Emma Darwin pointed me in the direction of this video.
It seems I am not alone.

And just to prove how apt it is, I have no idea how to do that funny YouTube linky thingy that everyone else seems to have no problem with.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Zimbabwe - is there anything we can do?

Well apparently there is.

I've received this email from Avaaz.

Dear friends,
African leaders can still save Zimbabwe by holding an emergency summit to broker a legitimate government. Click below to join the call:


On Friday, 27th June, Zimbabwe will hold a cruel sham of a vote for President. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change has just withdrawn from the run-off -- not in concession of victory, rather in recognition that Mugabe's campaign of violence and terror has erased any hope for a democratic election.

But against the odds, hope survives. Amidst growing international pressure, Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and the opposition have entered private talks. A unity government may be possible yet.

The United Nations Security Council unanimously held on Monday that free and fair elections are now impossible in Zimbabwe. The UN Secretary-General spoke out. But it is African leaders, most of all Thabo Mbeki, who hold the key. Even Mugabe cannot cling to power without their cooperation. Today, we're launching an emergency campaign, petitioning these leaders to call an immediate summit, isolate Mugabe, and broker a legitimate government for Zimbabwe. Our call will be published in big newspaper advertisements in South Africa, Tanzania, Angola, and Mozambique this week -- click here to see the ads and endorse their message:

Zimbabwe's neighbours supply its electricity and goods, and control the borders. Many Southern African leaders are already calling for the postponement of the election -- but there's a real danger that they will end up accepting this charade. This would be a grave miscalculation: if Mugabe succeeds in his de facto coup, Zimbabwe's implosion will accelerate, and chaos could spread throughout the region.

So our campaign will publicly name those African leaders who hold Mugabe's last remaining lifeline. If these leaders step up strongly now, they can convince enough of Mugabe's officials that change is coming one way or another -- and set the stage for Morgan Tsvangirai to lead a unity government to pull Zimbabwe back together.

Robert Mugabe saved Zimbabwe from colonialism. Now it's time for African leaders to save Zimbabwe from him.

Help us raise 250,000 voices this week, including a great roar from every country in Africa, to be delivered in an immediate multi-country ad campaign. Click to see the ads, sign, and then forward this to friends:

With hope and determination,

Ben, Alice, Paul, Graziela, Mark, Ricken, Iain, Veronique, Pascal, and Milena -- the team

PS: For more information and sources for the facts above, see:

Thabo Mbeki and the emergency talks for a settlement:

United Nations Security Council declares free and fair elections "impossible":

Elections going ahead despite MDC pull-out:

Mugabe: "Only God will remove me!"

Regional leaders criticizing Mugabe:
Tanzania's Kikwete -
Rwanda's Kagame -
Kenya's Odinga -
Uganda's Museveni -

Monday, June 23, 2008

An easy way to make a small difference

If demonstrations, petitions etc are not your thing, there is an easy way to make a small difference.
You don't even have to look away from this screen.
A couple of clicks and someone somewhere gets a meal they otherwise wouldn't have had.

I've mentioned The Hunger Site and its sister sites before (check the tabs at the top of their page).
I automatically click in every time I log on.
It takes me a matter of seconds.

This month sees the 9th birthday of The Hunger Site.

Since June 1999, they have funded 573,000,000 cups of food!
Yep - that's not a typo - 573 MILLION cups of food ...

And all by people taking just a few seconds of their time to click on their site.

Books - the next chapter?

If I had to list my greatest loves in life (apart from human ones) books and coffee would be jostling for position at the top.

So how cool can the Espresso Book Machine be?
(See here for article in The Bookseller.)
And how cool can Blackwell bookshop be for pioneering its use in 60 stores around the country?

This is how it works:
  • 1,000,000 titles
  • fully bound, printed to library quality
  • printed in 7 minutes while you wait
Now maybe I'm missing something (in which case I'm sure someone will let me know) but this looks like a win/win situation to me.
While bookshop shelves will still be fully stocked, the machine will enable customers to access a range of books comparable to those currently only available online.
(Yah boo sucks to Amazon.)

Obscure? Out of print? No problem.
Concerned about the environmental impact of book production? Just print the copies as they're requested.
Love the bookshop experience but hate not being able to get the book you want or at least having to wait for it to be ordered? Just punch it into the machine.
Frustrated as an author about the limited amount of time your book remains on the shelves? Can still be available years after publication.

Looks like a positive result for publishers, authors, booksellers, readers ...

River Reviews Tatiana

It's some time since Trading Tatiana was published, so it's great to know she's still attracting new readers.

It's even better when they go to the trouble of posting a review.
And better still when the review is as positive as this one from Riverwillow.

In case anyone is linkophobic, this is what she had to say:

Like Debi's previous book, Nirvana Bites, this book is set in South London and is full of local colour and we do end up back at the Nirvana Housing Co-op, which is wonderful. The book is fast and furious, Debi has a great sense of humour, the scene where Jo first meets Bare Botty Man's botty (you have to read this) is wonderful. What is also fantastic is that, as anyone who's met Debi or has read her blog knows, she has a very strong sense of social justice which comes across in this novel. If you can get your hands on a copy of this and read it, do, you will be entertained, terrified and ultimately moved.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Told you we could change the world!

Do you remember Meltem Avcil?
(See my posts here and here.)

Meltem personified the evil and inhuman practice prevalent in this country of treating vulnerable refugee children like unsolicited junk mail.

Yet Meltem was one of the lucky ones, comparatively speaking.
In spite of the appalling horrors she was forced to endure at the hands of uncaring politicians and bureaucrats, her case was widely publicised.

This week I received an email from PAIH, who had championed Meltem's case.

I am writing to you because you supported the campaign for Meltem Avcil to stay in the UK with her mum after the Home Office tried to deport her IN November 2007. I just want you to know that Meltem Avcil has now got indefinite leave to remain and is living in Newcastle with her mum. Meltem says she is dead grateful for all the help she got from you and from people in Doncaster, the UK and elsewhere. She is living in Newcastle with her mum and they are quite happy there. She is now at school in year 9 and is glad to be back at school although she misses Doncaster.

Thanks again for your help. If you would like to donate money to our campaigns or humanitarian work please go to – thanks!

Now, let me ask you a question.

Do you honestly believe that without the huge amount of public pressure brought to bear on the authorities Meltem would still be here?

You did that!

All of you who signed petitions, sent emails, publicised her plight on your blogs ...

We're privileged to have this power.
A small amount of time, effort and focus from us can actually save lives.

Knowing this, can we possibly justify NOT speaking out and acting when we hear of a case like Meltem's?

For an inspiring example of just how much difference ordinary people - people like you and me - can make, please watch this video.
It may make you cry.
It certainly left me in bits.
But our tears will help no one.

Watch and cry by all means ...
And then work out just what you can do to make a difference.

See here for the full Guardian article with more inspiring examples.

And here are just a few facts and figures:

There are between 283,500 and 450,000 failed asylum seekers in the UK.

At least 26,000 failed asylum seekers are destitute, living on Red Cross food parcels.
23,430 new claims for asylum were lodged in 2007 and 73% were refused.

Last year, 13,595 failed asylum seekers including their dependents were deported.

During 2006, 3,500 adults and 1,300 children were detained in dawn raids.

Around 27,000 people are put in detention centres every year.

There have been at least 12 suicides in detention centres.

The UK takes 3% of the worldwide refugee population and ranks 14th in the EU for the number of asylum applications

No one monitors what happens to people who are returned.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Pipe Runneth Over

One of the things I missed out on during my absence was reporting back from the latest Pipe & Slippers.

This was the 3rd P&S event I've attended and it occurred to me that I've known at least one person in each of the (highly impressive) lineups.

First up was here, and Marie Phillips (fellow Bookarazzi buddy) was on stage as one of the eclectic and diverse performers.
Then here - blogmates John Ahearn and Barbara Smith (another Bookarazzi buddy) launched their poetry collections.
Most recently, Emma Darwin (also of Bookarazzi fame as well as living a few doors away from yours truly) read and so did Dan Maitland (who's in my writers' group).

The next P&S is scheduled for 7th Sept and is going to be a bit different this time.
The plan is to hold it in a marquee in Brockwell Park and call it Pipefest, or possibly Slipperstock.
The organisers promise it's going to be HUGE!

Once again someone close to home is scheduled to appear.
This time it's her.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Amazonian bullies

Amazon have been abusing their power - big time.

See here for a Bookarazzi article describing their disgusting bullying tactics.
Scroll down to the bottom of the post to see what you can do to stand up to the bullies in the corporate playground.


Oooh, lookee here ...

My recent enforced absence from the blogosphere is the longest break I've taken (apart from hols) since I first started blogging.

I didn't even check my own blog during my absence, let alone anyone else's, going online only in brief bursts to check my emails.

I still have lots of catching up to do but have finally taken a peek at my stats.
I found a load of referrals from a site I didn't recognise.
And it seems that while my back was turned, this post was nominated as Post of the Week here, by none other than the fragrant floral one herself, Zinnia Cyclamen.
(Thanks, Zin.)

I haven't quite worked out the link yet (perhaps someone can help me?) but there seems to be a connection to this wonderful-sounding blog-related book, You're Not the Only One, with all profits going to Warchild.

Blimey! You turn your back for a moment and see what happens?
A fortnight in internet terms equals several months or even years in Real Life ...

Monday, June 16, 2008

G hits the (off) road

Remember way back here when G had to pull out of the marathon?

We held the sponsorship for SOS Africa over to the next event which was ...
yesterday at the North Downs 30K -
a grueling 18 miles cross-country run, which he completed with his usual style.
(Though with a limp as the terrain proved a real test for his ankle.)

Anyway, if you have already sponsored him, thank you.
And if you haven't - please go here and remind we why I don't mind getting up early on a Sunday morning to cheer him on!

SOS Africa is a very worthy cause.
Every penny donated will go directly towards helping those who need it most.
Hurry! Not long to go before the page closes.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Party in Pictures

Dear First Born,

After we left the synagogue, G took you home and you crashed straight into bed.

Meanwhile, a small posse of wonderful friends joined me at the school.
We all worked flat out for 3 hrs, shifting tables and chairs, making salads, chopping fruit and laying out the food and drink.
(I love, LOVE, LOVE my friends ...)

We dashed back home with just enough time to change.
You were still in bed, exhausted and unable to move.

G and I had to dress you lying down.

When we got to the school, G and I made a short attempt to do the hosting meet-and-greet thingy.

Here we are looking like Little and Large.

Then you called me and wanted me near you, so the mother role took over from the hostessy one.

You kept saying how ill you felt.
You ate nothing, but drank several glasses of iced lemonade.

Meanwhile, I'm delighted to say everyone else seemed to be feasting and having fun.

My Fab Dad and Gorgeous Goddaughter

When it came to the speeches I peeled myself away from your side.
The content of my speech was pretty much the same as the open letter I sent to you, though I can't be sure as I spoke off the top of my head and from the bottom of my heart.

We had 5 different groups of friends performing live slots - this party was always going to be different - and then we got to the dancing.
First LG was hoisted up onto a chair, then me and then I looked over at you.
'He can handle it,' I said.
And so you too were lifted up to celebrate your coming of age.

When it came to the really wild dancing I kept checking over at you.

I could see you were a little more animated, talking and laughing with your friends.

2 of your glamorous friends

Then G and I found ourselves in the centre of the whirling masses.
Suddenly the crowd parted and there you were coming towards us with a huge grin on your face.
Someone found LG and for a few precious moments the 4 of us danced together, circling with our arms round each other's shoulders, with frequent changes of direction so you didn't get too dizzy.
It sounds like a shmaltzy Hollywood moment written like this.
But it was Our Moment and it was Real.

I don't have the full set of photos yet, but these are some that the Minxmeister sent (more here).

And now life goes on.
Today LG left for a week's stay on a farm in Dartmoor and I miss him already.

It ain't easy being a parent, but that's not something you would know about yet.

So just enjoy this time now - as an adult in Jewish law, a teenager in English law, but always and for ever my baby.
And I make the law in this house as you well know!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

An open letter to my First Born

Dear First Born,

Well, we made it.
You made it.
Talk about taking it to the wire ...
Until literally the very last minute when you climbed the stairs onto the bimah, we didn't know what, if anything, you would be able to do.

Let's rewind a bit now that we have time to sit back and reflect on this amazing journey of yours.

In fact let's go back a year to here.
(I notice at that point you were half an inch shorter than me - you're now 2" taller than I am ...)
At every stage, we all felt that the portion that coincided with your Hebrew birthday was meant to be.
It's called Naso and the Sedra begins by dealing with the sons of Gershon.
Gershon is, of course, your dad's Hebrew name.
And the Haftorah?

Yes, my big, strong, long-haired son. How could we doubt this was meant to be?

Now let's fast forward to a couple of months ago.
When we arrived home carless from Cornwall, that was the point at which we realised you were struggling with your massive haftorah portion.
We told you that it would be fine if you only learned the first and last sentences.
That, along with the maftir and blessings, would be a huge achievement as far as we were concerned.

In typical FB fashion, it was at that point that something must have clicked in your brain and within a fortnight you had learned the whole thing!

So now let's fast forward to here.
LG got sick.
And then here - measles.

We had a few precious days, when LG was better and G and I had our bed back.
I kept looking at you.
You were so well - fit and strong - though we knew it was almost inevitable that the virus was lurking inside you, biding its time.

During the days we drank every positive drop and celebrated your English birthday in style.
There was no point in panicking - it was out of our hands.
I lay in bed each night though, calculating which days would be the worst for you to fall ill and what the consequences would be.
If it happened by x, you should have recovered sufficiently.
If it happened by y, you wouldn't have fallen ill yet.
If it happened by z, it would depend which day the rash came out ...

We needed to take into account, not just your own health, but also the period you would be contagious.
On the other hand, a point would arrive at which it would be too late to cancel ...

Then, exactly a week before the big day, you were prostrated by a crashing headache and dizziness.
More calculations - this time focusing on when the rash would break out.

On Sunday and Monday mornings, you woke up (in our bed - poor G had been relegated back to the bunk bed again) saying you felt better, but then felt ill again in the afternoons.

Monday pm the rash appeared, but not on your face as is the norm, but on your chest and legs.
Though poorly, you weren't nearly as ill as LG had been.
'Triumph!' we shouted. 'The homeopathy worked! The contagious period will be over by Saturday and though we've no doubt you won't be feeling your best, you should be well enough ...'

Poor deluded saps, eh?
On Wednesday, the rash exploded onto your face and spread across your body.
The fever raged.
Your headache was blinding, you were so dizzy you couldn't raise your head from the pillow.
Your eyes were streaming and bloodshot and your lips cracked and dry.
You had pains in your stomach reminiscent of the awful time a few years ago when you were diagnosed with Henoch Schonlein Purpura.

Meanwhile, this was the day after the last day it would have been possible to cancel.
The Health Authority were adamant that we should count the 5 day contagious period from the Monday, which meant that that wouldn't be an issue, but you were so ill ...

You couldn't be left of course, so G and I had to work out a system for the next few days.
He delivered everything in the car to the school where the party would be held and then came home.
I then walked there and worked to produce the food for the 150 guests.
I couldn't have done it without the help of the Amazing Grace at the school.
She was only supposed to show me round and make sure I had access to cookers, fridges, freezers etc, but in the event, she worked alongside me for hours at a time.

Back home, I spent every moment with you, sponging you down and trying to soothe you.

On the Wed and Thurs you could hardly speak, except to croak,
'Why me? Why is this happening to me?'
I told you I couldn't answer that question.
I said that you can plan and plan and plan, but that ultimately we can't control what life may throw at us.
All we can control is the way we respond.
I said that maybe you had been given this ordeal to handle, precisely because you're so special.

We gave you the option of postponing.
But you knew that would mean you wouldn't be able to do the portion you had struggled so hard to learn, as it only comes round once a year.
'It was meant to be that I would have that portion,' you rasped.
'If you believe that, then you must also believe that it's meant to be that you've become ill,' I told you.

On Thursday night, I took you to the toilet.
When you got up, you nearly passed out and G and I helped you back to bed where you fell prostrate.
But something had changed.
Your skin was no longer burning.
Your breathing was more regular and deeper.
I could see that you had just scaled the peak.
But would there be enough time to recover sufficiently for Saturday?

The next day, you were indeed a little better.
You could raise your head and speak a bit more.
Your sense of humour returned and with the easing of the illness, there was a teensy space for your determination to kick in, even though you hadn't eaten and had barely slept for 5 days.

In the evening, Minx and the Feckers arrived which was wonderful for the rest of us but to be honest probably didn't make that much difference to you as you were still in bed with the curtains closed.
'I hope I get a good night's sleep tonight,' you murmured.
'Me too, poppet,' I replied.

It wasn't though, was it?
Your skin reacted in its usual way and you were almost clawing it off with irritation.
Your eyes were so red and sore, you looked like I'd imagine Gollum would after a couple of millennia chain smoking and drinking.

And you were scared.
So scared that you were hallucinating.
I didn't panic - I could see this wasn't fever.
All I could do was use every trick I knew to try to calm you and help you relax.
In the event, I reckon we managed a maximum of a couple of hours twitchy sleep.

In the morning, G and I dressed you.
Your hair was matted and I pulled it back into a pony tail.
Even with your poor sore eyes, you looked stunning to me.

Your legs were buckling with exhaustion, weakness and dizziness.
We told you that whatever you managed to do would be an incredible triumph and not to feel you had to do more than you could physically handle.

And what did you do?
Every single part, that's what.
You didn't hold the Sefer Torah, which would have been far too heavy.
And you sat with the Rev's arm round you, rather than standing.
And your voice was so quiet.
But the synagogue was so silent I swear I could have heard your heartbeat.

Remember when I said earlier that we can't control what life may throw at us, only the way we respond?
Well, you responded with such strength of character, determination and maturity that every one of the 180+ people who watched you was overwhelmed.

Remember too when I said that maybe this had happened because you're special?
I really do think that.
Your achievement in learning and reciting your portion would have been amazing enough.
For you to do it in spite of those odds and in the face of such adversity takes you and your achievement onto a whole other level.

I'm not going to talk here about the party in the evening.
It deserves another whole letter on its own and I'll share it with everyone later with photos.

Meanwhile you're still unwell and lying on the settee complaining that I'm not with you.
I'll finish now and come and join you to watch some junk daytime tv.
You've certainly earned it!

Love and kisses from your very proud Mamma.