Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Robert Burns :"Why has Man the will and power to make his fellow mourn?"

Robert Burns wrote  "Man Was Made To Mourn" in 1784. He tells of the lives of suffering, hopelessness, sadness, depression, toil and failure which so many impoverished children and their mothers and fathers faced in the 18th century. For Burns the tragic irony was that the misfortunes of the poor were caused not by any universal and incomprehensible cosmic fate but by their more affluent fellow human beings.  Here in 2012 we can see that in many ways little has changed since 1784. We are all born free to think but we are not all provided with the same freedom to act.
Certainly as a Scot born with an  "independent wish planted... in my mind" I find it difficult to forget  "such a parcel of rogues in a nation." These were the absent " lordlings" who assumed and still assume the right to act upon us and to sell us.

Man Was Made To Mourn : A dirge

by Robert Burns

When chill November's surly blast
Made fields and forest bare,
One ev'ning, as I wand'red forth
Along the banks of Ayr,
I spied a man, whose aged step
Seem'd weary, worn with care,
His face was furrow'd o'er with years,
And hoary was his hair.

'Young stranger, whither wand'rest thou?'
Began the rev'rend Sage,
'Does thirst of wealth thy step constrain,
Or youthful pleasure's rage?
Or haply, prest with cares and woes,
Too soon thou hast began
To wander forth, with me to mourn
The miseries of Man.

The sun that overhangs yon moors,
Out-spreading far and wide,
Where hundreds labour to support
A haughty lordling's pride:
I've seen yon weary winter-sun
Twice forty times return;
And ev'ry time has added proofs,
That man was made to mourn.

'O Man! while in thy early years,
How prodigal of time!
Mis-spending all thy precious hours,
Thy glorious, youthful prime!
Alternate follies take the sway,
Licentious passions burn:
Which tenfold force gives Nature's law,
That Man was made to mourn.

Look not alone on youthful prime,
Or manhood's active might;
Man then is useful to his kind,
Supported is his right:
But see him on the edge of life,
With cares and sorrows worn;
Then Age and Want - O ill match'd pair! --
Shew Man was made to mourn.

'A few seem favourites of Fate,
In Pleasure's lap carest;
Yet think not all the rich and great
Are likewise truly blest:
But oh! what crowds in ev'ry land,
All wretched and forlorn,
Thro' weary life this lesson learn,
That Man was made to mourn.

'Many and sharp the num'rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And Man, whose heav'n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn,--
Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!

'See yonder poor, o'erlabour'd wight,
So abject, mean, and vile,
Who begs a brother of the earth
To give him leave to toil;
And see his lordly fellow-worm
The poor petition spurn,
Unmindful, tho' a weeping wife
And helpless offspring mourn.

'If I'm design'd yon lordling's slave--
By Nature's law design'd--
Why was an independent wish
E'er planted in my mind?
If not, why am I subject to
His cruelty, or scorn?
Or why has Man the will and pow'r
To make his fellow mourn?

'Yet let not this too much, my son,
Disturb thy youthful breast:
This partial view of human-kind
Is surely not the last!
The poor, oppressed, honest man,
Had never, sure, been born,
Had there not been some recompense
To comfort those that mourn!

'O Death! the poor man's dearest friend,
The kindest and the best!
Welcome the hour my aged limbs
Are laid with thee at rest!
The great, the wealthy fear thy blow,
From pomp and pleasure torn,
But, oh! a blest relief to those
That weary-laden mourn!'

Monday, 23 January 2012

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The anger and love of a father

I remember a day during the early 1950s when we lived in Clement Park. I was 8 or 9 years old at the time. My parents had bought me some rubber moulds with which I could make Plaster of Paris figurines. When the liquid plaster I poured into the moulds had solidified I could remove the moulds, paint the figurines with poster paints and when the paint was dry I would varnish over the paint to protect the figurines. My intention then was, as I recollect, to sell these rather tawdry ornaments to unsuspecting adult relatives for sixpence or a shilling.

After supper it was time for me to go to bed and I hugged my Mummy and said "Good night" to my Daddy, but so excited was I about my new money making project that instead of going up to my bedroom as I should have done, I went into the kitchen which had been my workshop earlier in the day and as quietly as I could I continued to manufacture figurines. Some time later my father decided he wanted a cup of Nescafe and he discovered me in the kitchen. As I remember it he became very angry and told me that I had been deceitful in not going to bed and that I had broken the trust he and my mother placed in me. I was in tears as he peremptorily sent me upstairs. I lay in bed crying. I had let down my Daddy. After about 10 minutes my Daddy  came into my bedroom. He didn’t put on the light but he sat on the bed beside his sobbing son and he said, ‘Charlie I’m really sorry I got angry with you. I was really proud of you making your ornaments today and I should have told you that. I’m sorry son.’ He left my bedroom.

My "Daddy", as I grew older he became my "Dad", justifiably got very angry with me on a number of occasions after that before the time came for me to leave home, but I have never forgotten that evening. 

Friday, 6 January 2012

"No blacks, no coloureds, no Asians, no Irish, no children." Three cheers for Diane Abbott

I don't like the idea that anybody should be "dressed down" by another person and so I was disappointed to learn that Ed Milliband has apparently administered such a thing to his colleague Diane Abbott for her remarks about us white folks. I was disappointed because I have up to now admired Ed Milliband for his  unfashionable take on politics that it is about intelligent discussion and not about the cheap, too often repeated cliched  soundbites, and moral diktats that appeal so much to his immature opponents, the leaders of the Conservative government, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Yes, I did write Nick Clegg and to be sure, I did write  "Conservative government."

Back to Diane Abbott, who in my view has never done herself great favours by her often inconsistent views and actions, but on this occasion I think she got it right. We white people, including my wonderful self, who read The Guardian*  and who think of ourselves as nice non-racist centre lefties  are, it seems to me, just as racist as anyone, whether of white, yellow, black or whatever hue, religion, language or culture.  It mystifies me that those who tell me they know better about all things of import have got so worked up about Diane saying whites "divide and rule" on matters of race, when what she says  has manifested itself so immediately and dramatically in the response to her remarks made by the media and its subservient operatives, meaning, well,  most politicians really. This has been a disproportionate reaction. 

I guess like most white British people I have never been the subject of a racist taunt.

To agitate against Diane Abbott's observation at a time when, we still have not resolved all the issues underlying what happened to Stephen Lawrence and what happened in the aftermath of his murder, when, an Indian visitor to our country is murdered because of what the colour of his skin may have represented to the impoverished and deprived personna of his assassin, and when overwhelmingly  both the most subtle and overt expressions of racism are made against non-white ethnic minorities, the vehement condemnation of Diane Abbott's remarks represents, certainly for me,  a worrying exercise of denial.

When I was a student in the 1960s looking for accommodation I would often see notices posted on the door of potential lodgings which read, "No blacks, no coloureds,  no Asians, no Irish, no children." I sometimes think this notice is still pinned up there on many a door in our country even though it is clothed in a sophisticated disguise.

I am  dubious about my association with The Guardian which now appears to be the official apologist for the Conservative government.