Charles A. Pierce MBE: report for the summer term 2017 – Grade A+

Charlie - arms

As I reported in an earlier post, Charlie Pierce, my friend and neighbour in Vanuatu was awarded an MBE  in the Birthday Honours list for “Services to Education in Vanuatu”.  I wrote a brief account of his life and times for the British Friends of Vanuatu’s August 2017 newsletter.  I thought I’d put the unexpurgated version on my blog. Charlie has led a very full, interesting and useful life. Typically, he was in Port Vila on one of his frequent extended visits, running the first ever course on climate change and disaster risk reduction (CCDRR) at the Vanuatu Institute of Technology when he received the news of his honour. Not bad going for a man in his mid-seventies who celebrated the forty-sixth anniversary of his first arrival in Vanuatu earlier this year!

Charlie - fieldwork

Originally from Nottingham in the East Midlands, Charlie lost his father to TB at the age of four. His mother Mollie shouldered responsibility for raising him and his younger brother Hugh, resisting all efforts by the authorities to put the two boys in “care” as was common in post-WWII England. He was a sickly child who experienced the full gamut of childhood illnesses from pneumonia to scarlet fever and the mumps together with plentiful spills from his bicycle. The family moved to Kent to live with his mother’s parents in Rainham and it was there that he spent his formative childhood and teenage years. The family were habitual rather than devout Anglicans and there was little discussion of religion or faith at home.  At quite a young age, Charlie was given the option by his mother of joining the boy scouts or the church choir. He chose to sing and became head choirboy, even performing solos until his voice broke. His mother had enormous influence on him during his early years, encouraging him to develop his abilities in singing and piano-playing, and through stressing core values such as perseverance, punctuality, responsibility, high moral standards and care for others.

The young Charlie

The young Charlie (known at the time by his second name Andrew) was a clever lad and a very good student, easily passing the 11+ exam which allowed him to attend to Gillingham Grammar School for Boys. He had decided at an early age that he wanted to be a Geography teacher, despite being advised by Miss Banister, an elderly spinster on the teaching staff that he should seriously consider the priesthood. The academic hurdles he encountered at school and later university were easily surmounted in pursuit of that objective.  In O-level Geography, he achieved the highest mark in the UK in the exam set by the University of London Examinations Board. This very impressive achievement confirmed for him that he was set-fair and travelling in the right direction.  He passed a clutch of A-levels, including French which ensured a very good command of that language; important to him later-on in Vanuatu. He studied Geography, Geology and Psychology at Bristol University, graduating with a Bachelor of Science honours degree in 1961.  This was followed by a post-graduate certificate of education that enabled him to practice as a teacher.

By the time he had finished university, Charlie had drifted away from Anglicanism. Whilst still a young choirboy in Rainham, he had baulked at the church’s insistence on the avoidance of contact with Catholics and others of different denominations or faiths, which was quite common in those days. Since then he had travelled quite extensively in Europe and North America, met many different sorts of people of all kinds of different faiths and had come to the realisation that there were many more things that united people rather than those that separated them. In essence – he had concluded that the human race is one.

First job in teaching

His first job was as a teacher at a large comprehensive school in Bristol where he gained much rich experience through working with a wide range of children and learning to fit-in with a huge teaching staff.  His social life revolved around playing for the staff rugby and cricket teams, singing in the staff male voice choir, and playing the piano in the local pub.  Yet deep down, he had a yearning for more, a quest for something deeper.  After three years, he felt that he could make a success of teaching, but needed to know more about the wider world.  He answered an advertisement in a national newspaper and joined a mixed expedition of twelve people that was taking a Land Rover from London to Kathmandu.  On September 3rd 1966, Charlie left the white cliffs of Dover behind to travel on the ferry to Ostende and from there into the unknown.

Charlie - off on his travels

It’s time to see the world

It was the journey of a life-time, and one that would change him forever.  Not only did he come across so many different belief systems  –  various denominations of Christianity as well as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism  –  but he also saw that all these belief systems were essentially the same.  After reaching Nepal, he continued along the “hippy trail” through Burma and Thailand to Malaysia.  It was there, when he ran out of money and took a job in a Chinese-run private school, where he first came across the Baha’i Faith. It taught that all religions originated from the one God, that all races and genders were equal and it emphasised the importance of truth, honesty and service to others. It was going to profoundly shape the rest of his life although it would take Charlie another year or so to understand that, and to fully embrace its ideals and teachings. He eventually did so at the end of his two-year long world trip in Sydney, Australia. It was 1968: a year of tumult and change everywhere.

New Hebrides here I come…

Charlie first arrived in the New Hebrides in March 1971 as a volunteer teacher. There are no missionaries in the Baha’i Faith.  Instead, its members are encouraged to leave their homes and settle as “pioneers” in another locality or country in order to disseminate the teachings of Baha’u’llah through the example of their daily lives. They try as far as possible to work and earn a living to ensure their independence.

He had recently become engaged to Barbara, whom he had met in Perth, Western Australia, while teaching at a high school there. He says of his budding romance with Barbara: “It wasn’t love at first sight.  But it was when she began to be interested in the Baha’i Faith, and we found we had so much in common –  both teachers, both with a love for humanity and a desire to serve others – that the attraction grew deeper.”  Forty-six years later, Charlie and Barbara are still together. Charlie thinks “The secret of our long and happy marriage is the spiritual union that comes with us both being Baha’is.  We also allow each other to be independent, each able to do his or her own thing.  Family consultations are important.”

Charlie & Barbara & boys

Challenging times

His task was to take over the running of a small, poorly resourced Baha’i school that had been operating in Port Vila since 1954. Due to the lack of funds and the increasing availability of places in schools newly constructed by the British and French condominium administration all over the archipelago, it was decided to close the school. Many clouds have a silver lining and this one enabled Charlie to return to Perth to marry Barbara in December 1971. They completed their honeymoon by catching a flight back to Port Vila in February 1972.  Back in Vila, he became an employee of the Condominium Bureau of Statistics, responsible for collecting and processing statistics on migration, retail prices and overseas trade.  His main responsibility, however, was to help manage and conduct urban & national censuses.

Malapoa at last!

In 1979, Charlie was offered the post of head of Geography and Social Science at Malapoa College and he taught there on expatriate and local terms for twenty years, until 1999. He was responsible for the academic and pastoral well-being of the large number of children in his care.

Charlie - comments on social media

He also undertook a number of important, additional activities which included: developing Vanuatu’s national curriculum for Social Science and writing fourteen textbooks for use in schools nationwide. He pioneered a new course in Development Studies for final year students. This course was recognised as a full examination subject in the Pacific Secondary Schools Certificate administered by the South Pacific Board for Educational Assessment (SPBEA) in Fiji. He worked too as a moderator in Geography and Development studies in the regional PSSC examination, and was Chief Examiner in Development Studies from 1996 to 1999. During this period, he served as the Vanuatu correspondent for the Economist Intelligence Unit in London.

Music Man

In addition, Charlie was also the careers guidance counsellor for all senior students at the College and he ran the music and cricket clubs. A highly proficient musician, Charlie assumed responsibility for organising the annual Malapoa Music Night – a nationally renowned festival of student musicians that continues to this day, and involves at least 200 students in each performance.

nagavika band

In August 2016, the Nagavika Band reunited for the Malapoa College Golden Jubilee celebrations. This was the first time the lads had played together in about 35 years!

http://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=nagavika%20band

VIT – working very hard

In 1999, Charlie moved from Malapoa College to become an adviser and lecturer at the Vanuatu Institute of Teacher Education (VITE) under the newly established VASTEP programme.  After 2002, when this was localised as the Diploma of Secondary Education – Anglophone Programme, he remained there on a local contract as a lecturer in Social Science.  From 2009 onwards he was given the extra responsibility of serving as Head of the Social Science Department, in which he was involved in the design and delivery of a new “harmonized curriculum” in both English and French at VITE. In addition, Charlie taught several Earth Science and Geography courses at the University of the South Pacific’s Emalus Campus in Port Vila. He served as Chief Examiner in both Development Studies and Geography for the regional PSSC examination set by SPBEA. He was also involved in the design of the new Year 11-13 curriculum for Vanuatu schools in Geography and Development Studies, and had on-going responsibilities for “climate change education” in Vanuatu. It is very difficult to imagine that Charlie ever found himself at a loose-end for long…..

Charlie’s work for the Baha’i Faith

Outside of his work in the education sector, Charlie was also a very active and prominent member of the local Baha’i community during his long residency in Vanuatu. For almost thirty years, he was Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Vanuatu, the administrative body responsible for the affairs of the whole community. In that capacity, he wrote thousands of letters in Bislama, English and French related to community building, spiritual empowerment and educational programmes throughout the archipelago.  Whilst I am not a person of faith myself, I do recognise the significant contribution that the Baha’i community has made to national development and moral education in Vanuatu over many years.

Port Vila spiritual assembly

Fear & forgiveness

In July 2013, following a robbery in May 2012 at their home at Malapoa, Port Vila, during which he was brutally beaten, Charlie and Barbara decided to relocate permanently to Albany in Western Australia. Fortunately, Barbara was overseas at the time of the attack. The robbers, drunk and high on marijuana at the time, were caught (one was shot dead by the police) and given long sentences in the Port Vila maximum security prison.  In May 2016, Charlie travelled from his home in Western Australia to meet, reconcile with and to forgive his principal attacker, who remains in gaol. It was the act of an extremely decent man and a tremendous example of personal courage which was widely reported in the region. An interview with him talking about his assault, the subsequent meeting and reconciliation with his attacker was recently shown on television in Papua New Guinea.  Warning – it is impossible to watch this video without being very moved.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=JH0Pn4l0hz8

Changes in Vanuatu over the last forty-six years

I asked Charlie to highlight some of the major changes he has seen in Vanuatu during his forty-six year long association with the country. He responded as follows:

  • “Independence has led to the development of decision-making bodies composed entirely of ni-Vanuatu, at national, provincial and local level. This empowerment of the indigenous population is a very positive development.  Things may not yet get done as efficiently as, perhaps, in condominium times, but it is an on-going process that will take many years, and there are now some really capable leaders in place.
  • A parallel development is the increasing confidence and self-assurance shown by the ni-Vanuatu population. You can see this at all levels of society, ranging from the market sellers and peanut-vendors to senior personnel in banks, offices and private businesses
  • A less positive development perhaps has been the huge influx of Chinese small business people and building workers who may be crowding-out the ni-Vanuatu from access to important sectors of the economy such as retail and construction. Vanuatu’s leaders need to think carefully about developing appropriate policies that will encourage and enable entrepreneurialism amongst the indigenous population and protect their access to skilled and semi-skilled work.
  • Although French and English are still the official languages of education, Bislama has become more and more important as everyone’s working language. Bislama itself is changing all the time, adding new English words and adopting short cuts as a result of the use of texting and FB.  Thus “blong” is now “blo” and “long” is now “lo”.
  • I get the impression that French is declining in importance and use. Most government offices communicate in English rather than French. The newspapers publish most articles in English or Bislama.  In the past, and just after Independence, we had champions of the French language such as the late Georges Calo, but the only champions I detect now are the Alliance Francaise and the Agence Universitaire Francaise (AUF).  All French speakers try to talk in English.  Hardly any English speakers want to use French, and still have the mental block that was there before Independence.
  • There is massive urban migration and Port Vila’s roads are choked with traffic, especially now, when there is a major roadworks project in operation and constant traffic diversions.
  • I think there are also signs of increasing social breakdown, characterized by drug-taking, on-going domestic violence and continued suppression of women’s rights, robberies, family breakdown and a rise in one-parent families, increasing teenage pregnancies, loss of respect, vandalism, increased casual sexual relationships, etc.
  • There is growing proof of environmental degradation, ranging from wholesale deforestation in coastal areas of the largest islands to widespread land pollution from the indiscriminate use of plastic bags, and over-fishing in coral reef systems.
  • I don’t like to say this, but I see more and more evidence of teachers being absent from class without valid justification, and the negative impact this has on student motivation and learning.

Yet it would be unfair to say that everything is changing.  Some things remain constant, such as the all-embracing extended family networks, home care for the elderly and disabled, reconciliation ceremonies cemented by the exchange of mats and other traditional gifts, the intense love shown for children, the often harsh treatment of teenagers by their families, the ubiquitous use of kava in both urban and rural settings, string band music, a diet overwhelmingly rich in carbohydrate, the on-going fragmentation of Christian churches, and a sense of acceptance of the negative impacts of natural hazards that seems to translate into a form of resilience.”

Charlie is hopeful for the future of Vanuatu but he thinks there are a number of important issues its leaders need to pay keen attention to going forward:

“Yes, I think there is an inbuilt resilience to change and an ability to recover from set-backs.  If political leaders can learn to put aside their own personal interests and advancement and focus on service delivery down to the level of the basic family unit, then society can flourish.  As a Baha’i, however, I believe that the key to achieving a sustainable future is for due recognition to be placed on the equality of men and women, and on achieving a society characterized by unity in diversity and a recognition that religious differences must be overcome.  It is clear that environmental degradation is a real issue, and that increasing efforts must be geared towards sustainable development and the conservation of resources.  There must be greater emphasis on renewable sources of energy and on climate change adaptation.  I guess that’s why I have so much commitment to the development and delivery of the current certificate course on Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction at the Vanuatu National Institute of Technology.”

Charlie Pierce MBE – role model

 In all the many years, I have lived, worked and been associated with Vanuatu, I have never heard anyone say anything other than warm and affirming about either Charlie or Barbara. He is a humble and unassuming man, universally admired by his former students as a very decent human being, a brilliant teacher, and someone who passionately wanted them all to succeed. Dedication, kindness and generosity are his stand-out qualities. He is highly respected by ni-Vanuatu leaders and expatriates alike as someone who has made it his life’s work to improve education and to promote development in Vanuatu. The “Distinguished Service Medal”, bestowed on Charlie in 1996 by the late Jean-Marie Léyé, a former President for services to the nation, is a real testament to his enormous commitment to the country over his many decades of living and working there.

From my own personal perspective, which I know is shared by many others, I think Charlie Pierce MBE is one of the great, largely unsung heroes of post-independence Vanuatu. His contribution to post-condominium public education in Vanuatu has been very significant, and far beyond what could have been reasonably expected of any expatriate teacher or academic. At seventy-six, he continues to lead a full and productive life, filled with many significant achievements, which he lives with a quiet dignity, simplicity and calm. He is a wonderful role model in a world that all too readily celebrates the shallow, the self-serving and the trivial. I sincerely hope that Charlie, Barbara and their family derive great satisfaction and pleasure from seeing his lifetime of service to Vanuatu, recognised and honoured in this very special way by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

David Lewis, Broadsands, Devon, July 2017

 

Charlie & Barbara R&R

 

They Don’t Know They Are Born!

Seventy-seven years ago at the beginning of July 1940, Jack Lewis of Splott, Cardiff, my 28 year old dad-to-be, signed-on in Liverpool as an assistant steward for his second voyage on the merchant vessel, the SS Stangrant. It was to be a fateful decision. Her keel had been laid in the year that dad was born and he described her as a slow, unreliable, old rust-bucket. Three and a half months later, his ship was returning from Hampton Roads in the eastern United States laden with nearly 8,000 tons of scrap metal destined for the war effort. Due to her lack of speed, the almost defenceless Stangrant was lagging behind its Belfast-bound convoy, when she was attacked and sunk by the German submarine U-37. Her position was approximately halfway between the north coast of Scotland and Iceland, a few nautical miles north-east of Rockall. Eight of her thirty-eight-man crew died that day. The master, twenty-eight crew members and one gunner survived.

Dad in his uniform

One poor man had been in the bath at the time. He had only a thin blanket to protect his modesty and to keep him warm in the chilly autumnal air. Meanwhile, my dad had been lying on his bunk, fully clothed with his boots and socks on, absolutely ready to go at a moment’s notice. They always had to be prepared for anything, so he told us.Slide 9He had been reading the War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells and had reached a passage in the yarn that began “And there was an explosion.” At that very moment, the torpedo from U-37 struck the Stangrant and all hell broke loose. I’m not sure that my dad ever finished that book. His pay was stopped from the moment that his ship went down. This was to rankle with him for the next 50 odd years….

Stangrant

After spending three very cold days in an open lifeboat on the north Atlantic during late autumn, dad and the other survivors were very fortunate indeed to have been spotted and then rescued by a Sunderland flying boat of 10 Squadron, the Royal Australian Air Force and flown to Oban on the northwest coast of Scotland. After the Stangrant had been sunk, dad’s mother, Annie Harriet had been sent a telegram saying that he had been lost at sea and presumed dead. It is almost impossible to imagine how difficult and worrying it must have been for the wives, children and parents left behind to tend the home fires whilst their loved ones went to war.

Dad spent most of the rest of the war serving on petrol tankers bringing vital fuel supplies to the UK from the United States. He described these ships as floating bombs which they were. Apparently, it was much more dangerous to be aboard an empty tanker than a full one because the residual petrol fumes in the empty tanks combined with the air to produce an extremely explosive mixture. At one point in 1942, the ship he was then serving on was rostered on to a convoy bound for Malta carrying relief supplies for the besieged island. This would be an extremely hazardous undertaking as the Axis forces were determined to make sure that no ships or supplies got through. SS Ohio

Operation Pedestal in August 1942 was the final Allied effort to supply Malta before she would be forced to surrender. The convoy sustained constant attacks from the German forces as it passed through the Mediterranean and it suffered very heavy losses. Only 5 ships got through including the very badly damaged tanker, SS Ohio. Dad was very fortunate that last minute technical problems had prevented his ship from taking part in the operation.

He had begun the war as a committed and very idealistic socialist and pacifist. He refused to sign-up for the armed forces where he might have been called on to harm another human being. He took some stick for his pacifism from his two older brothers who had both joined the Army and who saw action in North Africa. However, dad was determined to do his bit in the struggle against Hitler and fascism. So, he opted for the merchant navy instead which as things turned out, was an extremely hazardous place to serve during World War II. In total, over thirty thousand men or almost a third of the UK’s merchant seamen died during the Battle of the Atlantic. This was a casualty rate which was proportionately higher than in any of the UK’s armed forces.

Slide7

The harsh events of the WWII, the sheer brutality of the German and Japanese war fighting machines and the experiences dad himself had during the war, caused him to re-evaluate his views on pacifism. As his anti-aircraft gunnery certificate obtained in 1943 shows, he had by then understood that desperate times demand resolute and robust responses. Fascism and all it implied, would not be defeated through talk alone, however sincere and well-intentioned.

Dad was a self-taught, fluent German speaker, who during the 1930s had travelled extensively in Germany with his great friend, mentor and surrogate father, D.E. Evans. My own grandfather, or bamper John had worked as a coal trimmer on Cardiff docks and had died of “the dust” six weeks before my dad was born in 1912. D.E. as he was known, was a leading light in the Workers Educational Association, an academic, and also the Head of the extra-mural studies department at Cardiff University. I am sitting at a large, handsome, art-deco desk that D.E. built himself from fine Welsh oak. When he died in 1955, his wife Nellie gave it to dad and it has remained in our family ever since.

Bier Keller

On one memorable occasion, D.E. and dad found themselves in a Bavarian bierkeller full of loud, drunken Nazis singing German martial songs. Dad (and he must have had a stein or two of lager by that point) decided that drastic times required drastic solutions. In order to bring the Horst Wessel song and Lili Marlene to a rapid conclusion, he determined that he urgently needed to stand on a table in the middle of the room and sing God Save the King at the top of his voice. For anyone who knew my dad personally – he was normally very thoughtful, contemplative and one of the most abstemious of men – this is a scene that is very hard indeed to imagine. Luckily, he managed to avoid getting them both arrested by the German police and being interrogated by the Gestapo.

Despite everything that had transpired during the conflict and notwithstanding the fact that they had tried to kill him and his crew mates when his ship was torpedoed, Dad liked and admired the Germans. He continued to visit West Germany after the war where he had many friends. He loathed the Nazis with great passion though.

EU flag

He was a thoroughly modern man in many respects; an internationalist and a proper European – heart and soul. He strongly believed in the aims; initially of the Common Market or EEC and then latterly, of the European Union. The Maastricht Treaty which formally established the EU was signed just after his death in 1993. Dad was a man who had experienced the horrors of war at close quarters and he had decided that peace was a much better option. He saw the post-war moves to forge closer economic and political ties between the nations of Europe as being essential to preventing the almost endless cycle of wars that had plagued the continent for centuries. He was a keen student of history – for him, achieving greater European cooperation was both a question of securing the peace and an economic opportunity.

Dad died nearly 25 years ago. He would have been truly appalled and dismayed at the decision the UK took last year to leave the EU. He was well-aware though of all the faults and shortcomings there were in the European project but understood that it was a work-in-progress. He thought that on balance, it was a very positive force for good in the region and the world. He felt the UK’s place should be inside, at its centre; helping to improve and rectify its many problems and giving a British perspective to the process.Leave bus

It would have been extremely unlikely that dad would have contemplated lining-up with the unruly mob of chancers, city boys, obsessives, right wing Tory MPs, Ukippers and probably some good people who were leading or involved with the Leave campaign. I am certain that he would have found their very confident claims; that after a brief period of turmoil and uncertainty in the UK post-Brexit, that hidden sun-lit economic uplands would reveal themselves, where we could become rich beyond the dreams of avarice and properly British again, as being a rather facile pipe-dream.

Edmund Burke quote

Dad understood how short the collective memory can be, and he was rightly concerned that Europe could easily fall back into its bad old ways. He knew how little most people understand about history, subscribing as he did to Edmund Burke’s view: “Those people who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

I still think a lot about my dad and the two world wars and tremendous adversity that he experienced, particularly during his early years. During World War 1, his recently bereaved mother had to struggle very hard to bring-up four small children on a widow’s pension of about sixty pence a week. There was very limited schooling (mornings or afternoons) available for poor children and food was severely rationed. Despite being a very bright lad, my dad had to go out to work at age fourteen to earn a living to help support his family. He served a seven-year apprenticeship to become a compositor in the printing industry. His headmaster visited my grandmother at home to plead with her to allow dad to continue-on to the grammar school. But financially it was impossible. For much of his life, the welfare state and the NHS existed only as the implausibly romantic vision of socialists and other utopian dreamers. I am very proud to report that he certainly numbered amongst them.

Dad - primary school

Dad (2nd from the right, back row) aged 10 in a Moorlands Road Primary School photo circa 1922.

Despite everything, dad was a real optimist, and almost Pollyannaish in his outlook sometimes. He could be impatient at times with whingers. Occasionally, when I hear people complaining about a trivial issue or minor inconvenience they have encountered, I can clearly hear my lovely old dad saying to me in a voice gently coloured by a south-east Wales accent: “Dave – they simply do not know they are born!” And he is right.

 

How Would the Dalai Lama have voted in the EU Referendum? (email to my local MP Sarah Wollaston)

The Dalai Lama gestures before speaking to students during a talk at Mumbai University

Dear Sarah,

A number of us recently spent a convivial evening in a local hostelry discussing the critical issue of – how would the Dalai Lama have voted in the EU referendum?

We concluded after numerous and varied libations that the DL would have found it very difficult to have contemplated lining-up on June 23rd last year with the unruly mob of chancers, dreamers, city boys, obsessives, right wing Tory/UKIP awkward squad members or Jacob Rees-Mogg and his nanny who were leading or involved with the Leave campaign.

We are sure that he would have found their very confident claims, that after a brief period of turmoil and uncertainty in the UK post Brexit, that some nirvana-like, sun-lit economic uplands would be revealed to us all where we could be properly British again and become rich beyond the dreams of avarice, as being a rather facile pipe-dream.

We are convinced that if the Dalai Lama does have a view on Brexit, it would be for the UK to remain in the EU and to cooperate and work through its many problems together with our European cousins. We couldn’t see the tight-arsed, xenophobic, nationalistic, Little Englander approach adopted by the Leave campaign as being one that would have been particularly attractive to his Holiness.

We are very happy to share the results of this important debate with you.

Best regards

David

We Have Reached Peak Jeremy Corbyn

Corbyn-Hat

I am going to make a prediction that many people are not going to like. It is this – the June 2017 general election represented the high-water mark of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. Why is this relevant? Despite all the hoopla and excitable claims, the Labour Party lost. It won 56 seats less than the Tories and it was 64 MPs short of the 326 needed to win an outright majority in the House of Commons. We are still then lumbered with a Tory government, at least for the present.

That’s not to detract for a moment from the excellent campaign that JC and Labour ran. He performed much better than I (most of his MPs, the Tories or the commentariat) believed that he would do, and he was clearly able to connect with voters in a way that was completely beyond Theresa May.

However, if Labour is to win the next election, which may not be very far away, it will need to convince many more voters in those additional 64 seats needed that it has the policies and the answers they want. I think that this is unlikely to happen for a number of reasons:

  • Jeremy Corbyn and Labour did quite well, but against a weak Conservative leader and a hopeless Tory election campaign. There are Tories grandees saying that this was their worst election campaign in modern times. Theresa May became increasingly exposed and unpopular the longer the unfortunate process lasted. If it had gone on for another few days, Jeremy Corbyn could well have been moving into 10 Downing Street next weekend.
  • The Tories will not let Theresa May lead them into the next election whenever that that may be. They will appoint a leader with a much greater ability to connect with the electorate and far better political skills well before then. Instead of anointing the new leader as they did with Mrs May last year, there will most probably be a more rigorous selection process to properly assess the candidates.
  • There is talk of a Boris Johnson / Michael Gove joint ticket. Boris as the amusing frontman – or the limbic brain, and Gove as the frontal cortex of the duo to do the heavy lifting and serious thinking. It makes for an interesting image. Whilst there is no doubt that Michael Gove is a clever man, he is also like Marmite for many of us. To be effective, cleverness needs to be coupled with common sense and sound judgement. The high jinks and jolly capers of last summer’s Tory leadership election amply demonstrated this is one area where the Govester does not score highly.  When the term “loose cannon” was originally coined, Boris Johnson could easily have been the inspiration. The Tories need to think carefully about what they wish for.
  • The Labour manifesto promised a great deal but was rather disingenuous about how it would all be funded. Because the Tory campaign was all about Teresa May and because she hid herself away most of the time, the Labour promises were never really challenged by others in the Tory party who were better placed to do so. That’s not going to happen again next time around in my view.
  • The Labour manifesto tuition fees pledge got the full attention of young people and for the first time in my memory, got them out to vote in very significant numbers, predominantly for Labour. They’d slept through the Brexit vote last year to their detriment. They really helped to swing things for Labour this time. Full credit to Jeremy Corbyn for achieving this seemingly impossible task; albeit helped by social media, an effective, national & local Labour Party machine and a £30k sweetener…
  • The Tories will have learned some very bitter lessons about the hopeless manifesto they produced. They have already started cleaning house this weekend with the abrupt departures of the much disliked Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, May’s former joint chiefs of staff and pit bull enforcers who bear significant responsibility for the debacle. They will be utterly ruthless in doing whatever needs to be done to make the party electable, because that’s how the Tories behave.
  • Without doubt, the next Tory manifesto will be much more hopeful and positive. It will also have to match or neutralise the offer made to young people by Labour on tuition fees.
  • Many young people will be fed-up that the Tories are still in power and that their votes have seemingly had no effect. They may well be much more disinclined to vote next time or perhaps they may vote Tory, given the better offer the Conservatives will surely make to them?
  • If a newly installed Tory leadership has any sense, it will abandon the rush towards the US-style, drastically pared-down state, spending 35 percent of GDP, beloved of David Cameron and George Osborne and all their rich pals. The Conservatives have come a cropper with this before during the Thatcher / Major era. They cut taxes, looked after business and the wealthy with the result that our public services became threadbare and unreliable. They then got rightly tossed-out by a fed-up electorate.
  • The British are Europeans not Americans. We don’t like the high levels of inequality seen today in the UK, and we do like our NHS and our public services to work well. If politicians are straight and honest with us about their cost, we are prepared to pay for them too. A savvy politician will recognise this and aim for something between the Scandinavian model and where we are now. If the Tories are clever and wise, and they may well be under a new leader, then that is the line they could well take. The Labour leader will have to have something ready to counter this eventuality, should it come to pass.
  • In my view, it is almost certain that the next election will happen before the Brexit negotiations have got into full swing and well before the shape of the final deal becomes apparent. Because Labour has been all over the place about Brexit; because Jeremy Corbyn is ambivalent about the EU; and because very many young people want the UK to stay in Europe, the electoral implications of Brexit on Labour’s electoral fortunes are very hard to predict.

So where does that leave those of us who want the Labour Party to do well but who have had deep reservations about Jeremy Corbyn from Day One? I remain with my long-held view that it will be very difficult for Labour to win from the hard left. If it is to govern on its own, it will need to attract significant numbers of Tory, Lib Dem or SNP voters in at least an additional 64 seats to allow it, at a minimum, to scrape over the finishing line and to avoid having to be propped-up by another party. To do this will require a more moderate, centrist leader. He or she must be prepared to take on many of the manifesto promises outlined by Jeremy Corbyn and his team, because the direction of travel is good and they are popular with voters. They must also have a more honest and credible plan for funding those pledges which will stand up to rigorous scrutiny.

Jeremy Corbyn is going to be hard to shift anytime soon. However, if the Labour Party is to make good on its manifesto pledges and bring about the change that people so desperately want, then a new leader is needed urgently to take the fight to the Tories. Without a change at the top, Labour faces another 10 years in the wilderness.

Any ideas?

 

 

Tanna – the Movie

tanna the movie

Alerted in mid-February to Tanna’s first screening foray into the UK’s provinces, Rona and I decided to get ourselves over to the Harbour Lights Picture House in Southampton from our base in Devon to see what all the fuss was about.  We were not to be disappointed in the slightest by the cinematographic triumph that unfolded before us that evening.

Having now watched the film in its entirety, it is completely understandable to me why it has attracted such a high degree of attention around the world, both from film critics and film festivals alike. It is an extraordinary movie – intense, passionate, moving, spiritual and beautifully filmed. A complete one-off that explores the universal human themes of war and peace, love, loyalty and community, set entirely in the context of a small, South Pacific island which forms part of the Vanuatu archipelago.

The film was made completely on location in Tanna by two Australian filmmakers: Bentley Dean and Martin Butler. Both had previously worked together in making documentaries. Bentley Dean had initially visited Tanna in 2003 to make a film about the John Frum movement for Australian television.  The storyline is based on actual events on Tanna and was developed by the Australian filmmakers in close collaboration with the Yakel people. The film was shot is entirely in two Tannese languages – Nauvhal and Nafe and is subtitled in English throughout.

Based around the actual 1987 suicides on Tanna of two young star-crossed lovers, the story is a modern day, South Pacific tragedy. It follows the same dramatic arc described in Romeo and Juliet which in its time was the latest in a tradition of tragic romances stretching back to antiquity. In Tanna the film, as in Shakespeare’s play, the untimely deaths of Dain and Wawa, the eponymously named protagonists of the movie, help to enable reconciliation between those left behind. One important consequence of the very unfortunate events of 1987 was that “love marriage” between young people became socially acceptable as opposed to the Kastom or arranged marriage which had previously been the norm.

In addition to the central theme of a love frustrated, the storyline touches on the rivalry and competition that exists between neighbouring tribes on Tanna for land and resources. Also explored is the nature of community in that part of the world and how the desires and wishes of the individual are generally subordinate to the needs and security of the group in Melanesian societies.  Yasur or Yahul as it is called in the film, the volcano plays an important role as the spiritual home of the Tannese and a kind of Mother Earth figure.

The stars of the show are an attractive young couple called Dain and Wawa of the (real) Yakel tribe.  Dain is the handsome grandson of the Yakel Chief who has recently returned home from his travels. Wawa is a beautiful young woman who has harboured feelings for Dain from her childhood. In the context of the film, the Imedin people are their ancient enemies and there have been many conflicts in the past between the two peoples. In fact, it is mentioned that Dain witnessed the savage killing of his parents in their own garden by men of the Imedin tribe.

Dain and Wawa fall secretly in love and decide to marry which is forbidden under Kastom. When Wawa comes of age, her community decides that she should be married off to a man from the Imedin tribe. In love with Dain, she protests vehemently against this but to no avail. In one of the most revealing moments of the film she is told by an elder that “love marriage” is not permitted. Arranged marriage is at the heart of Kastom and it is about building alliances between warring tribes and preserving the peace. When Wawa continues to protest, she is told “It is not about you – it is about us” as the women of the Yakel continue to pile the pressure on Wawa to do the right thing for the tribe.

Undeterred, Dain and Wawa continue their romance and are discovered. Dain is expelled from the Yakel and sent into the wilderness. Preparations continue for Wawa’s marriage into the Imedin tribe until she runs away to find Dain. They try to find refuge in a Christian village on Tanna but that does not work out. In the end, frustrated that there seems no way for them to be to be together, they decide to take their own lives on the slopes of Yahul (Yasur) by eating poison mushrooms. This takes place in a spectacular scene with Yasur erupting violently in the background. Their bodies are discovered by searchers from their community and are brought back to their village. At their funeral ceremony in the village, the Chief of the Yakel declares that “We resisted the colonial powers and we resisted the Christians but if Kastom is to survive then we must make a place in it for “love marriage”. And so, it came to pass on Tanna.

One feature of Tanna that is extraordinary is the truly amazing standard of the acting by people who are not professional actors and who may have never watched a film in their lives. It has been reported that cast members did not regard the filming as being difficult because their roles were “performing what we were used to in our daily life!”  If you do have the opportunity to watch Tanna on a big screen take it. You will not be disappointed. The quality of the script, acting and cinematography are simply stunning in a film shot in extraordinarily beautiful locations that nonetheless must have been pretty challenging at times for its makers. The fact that Tanna has been nominated for a raft of awards including best foreign language film at this year’s Academy Awards, is a worthy testament indeed to the brilliant quality of its storytelling.

An Eulogy for Tim – Memories of a Very Special Son and Brother

1

DAVE

Tim was born on a warm, second Thursday in July just over a week after England beat Germany 4 – 2 in extra time to win the 1966 World Cup at Wembley. He was a beautiful and very affectionate baby right from the beginning. Like all the members of his family, he tucked heartily into his food from an early age, but fortunately for him, he never became as well-upholstered as the rest of us. However, as we shall learn shortly, sometimes it was not for want of trying! At the time, we were living over mum and dad’s business on the A48, between Newport and Chepstow. Our home looked out north to the great forest of the Wentwood and to the brooding heights of Grey Hill. There were plenty of lush green country lanes close by in which to take Tim for long walks which probably helped to keep him reasonably trim and fit.

Tim’s Down’s syndrome and complete deafness came as quite a shock to mum and dad and to all of us really, but they resolved to do everything possible to enable him to live as normal a family life as possible with us at home. Mum decided that she needed to find out as much as she could about how to help children with severe learning difficulties most effectively. When Tim was three, she enrolled on a two year, one weekend a month course at the Hill Residential Centre in Abergavenny to learn how best to stimulate and work with Tim to enable him to maximise the potential he had.

One of mum’s lecturers was a coordinator of special needs social services for Gwent. She provided excellent support for mum and dad and organised a place for Tim at the Hafod-yr-ynys day training centre when he was three. Although twenty miles away, Tim really enjoyed watching the world roll by during the daily minibus journey there and back. His love of riding in a car, or on a bus or train was something that remained with him for his whole life. Tim really liked to be on the move with all the wheels going around!

When he was two, our dear Grandma George who was almost universally called Mummums came to live with us. They adored each other and she was a very loving and calming influence on Tim as he tried to cope with his mental and physical challenges. As the years passed, Tim grew taller and stronger and dare I say it, quite stubborn and extremely determined at times. Without naming names, I wonder where he got that from mum? Being profoundly deaf and with absolutely no sense of danger at all, our parents were struggling to keep Tim safe and content at home even with considerable family support.

An expedition somewhere required at least three people and even then, sometimes disaster lurked not so far away. On one memorable occasion, he was returning from a lovely walk in the castle dell in Chepstow when he decided that it would be a fabulous thing to undertake a one-man sit down protest in the middle of Welsh Street and block the traffic. He could not be shifted and there were a number of unfortunate motorists that afternoon who returned home a bit later than anticipated from their errands in town.

In 1977 he went to live at Manor House in Frenchay, Bristol which was a residential home for children with a variety of disabilities. He came home most weekends and went on to spend sixteen very happy years there in the care of two fantastic women, Miss Tidder and Mrs Clark. They became extremely fond of him and looked after him brilliantly. Despite Tim’s profound disabilities, throughout his life he was able to attract and connect with the most wonderful people who loved him dearly and cared for him as they would their own. By 1992 though, he had become too old for Manor House and mum and dad were asked to find him a new home.

They looked at several, none of which they felt were suitable for our boy and were beginning to become despondent and worried that they might never find a good, kind, safe, caring home for Tim. And then one day they found Littlecroft and all of those concerns disappeared overnight. They knew immediately that they had found the right place and that they could put all their fears to rest. Tim and our whole family were so fortunate when he moved to the farm in early 1993. It gave him absolutely outstanding care, tranquillity, a real quality of life and genuine love for almost a quarter of a century. In recent years though, his health had deteriorated significantly. Early on Monday morning last week, after a short illness, he slipped away painlessly and peacefully, cared for by his dear old pals who looked after him so wonderfully right up until the very end at Littlecroft.

Thank you so very much to everyone who works there: to Lynn for having the idea in the first place and then putting it into practice wonderfully, for finding great people to work with and for always putting Tim’s needs before any commercial considerations; to Pauline for managing Littlecroft  with great competence, care and compassion, for stoically navigating the sometimes Kafkaesque care bureaucracy and never giving up, and for being Tim’s great friend; to Rob and Ben for being like true brothers to Tim and always looking out for him; and to all the staff for always being kind, caring and generally just brilliant. You are simply the BEST! Words alone cannot adequately express our immense gratitude and huge debt to you all. The Care Quality Commission once asked us in one of its surveys how we thought Tim’s care could be improved. We thought long and hard about the question for a couple of days but we couldn’t think of a single thing that we would change or alter.

We would also like to offer our sincere thanks to Dr Lane his GP, Dr Winterbottom and all the Community Learning & Disabilities team at the local NHS Trust for all the excellent care they provided Tim with during the last 23 years. And last but not least, over the last 50 years, various members of the family have given considerable help and support with looking after and caring for Tim. You know who you are and we are very grateful to you all.

Some of our Favourite Tales about Tim

PAULINE

Needless to say I have been thinking lots about Tim and all our adventures over the last 23 years. He had a marvellous sense of humour and often you would find him smirking behind his hand and you knew he had either done something or was planning it! My first memory of Tim and his “crafty antics” was on my second day at Littlecroft. We were all sitting at the table for a light, poached eggs on toast lunch. We all had 2 pieces of toast and an egg on each of them. We hadn’t started eating and Alan, a member of staff turned to Lisa on his right to assist her. Quick as a flash, Tim’s hand shot out, he grabbed an egg off Alan’s plate, stuffed it straight into his mouth and then put his hands down, flat on the table – the very epitome of youthful innocence. Alan turned back, totally unaware of what had happened to find only one egg left on his plate and Tim with a very crafty smile on his face indeed!

He learnt to do so many things for himself such as pushing the wheelbarrow up to the farm with the black rubbish bag. On arrival at the farm’s refuse bin, he would lift it out and put it straight in. One thing he would never do though was to turn the wheelbarrow around as you or I would do…no, it had to be done Tim’s way. He would go around to the front of the barrow and lift it straight up off the floor and walk around with it until it was facing the correct way to go back to the cottage. When we arrived back at the cottage, it had to be left in only one place in the garden – tipped up against the fence. If he was in the garden and you left anything about it would vanish, courtesy of Tim of course, but you always knew where to find it…over the garden fence!! This included on numerous occasions, the wheelbarrow itself. Tim was an extremely strong man.

Brixham became one of our favourite holiday retreats, it had everything for Tim to stimulate his senses. We would use the Western Lady ferry to and fro to Torquay on an almost daily basis. Tim would “ooo” and pat his chest, a sign he was enjoying the movement, wind, and sea air. We also regularly did the three-legged Round Robin or the Full Monty as it is known by some staff members. This consists of the steam train from Paignton to Kingswear, then a ferry to Dartmouth, a river cruise up to Totnes and finally an open top bus back to Paignton. On a warm and sunny summer’s day, it is a trip that is truly heaven in Devon! It was six or seven hours on the move with plenty of wheels turning. Tim was in paradise. We would arrange to meet up with Val and the family, usually at Squires, the award winning restaurant in Churston. Val would always treat us to a delicious meal of fish and chips which Tim would thoroughly enjoy. When we visit Devon again and encounter once more the “fishy smell” that could only be Brixham, we will always remember Tim and the lovely times we had there with him.

DAVE

One of my favourite stories is about an excursion that Tim took when he was about twenty years old to Thornbury with our parents. Mum and dad were taking him out for the afternoon from Manor House and they needed to obtain some essential provisions in preparation for their trip. Mum went into a local supermarket to make the necessary purchases leaving dad in the front of the car happily engrossed in his Financial Times and our hero apparently dozing quietly in the back. Well, Tim decided that taking forty winks in a parked car was definitely not living up to his expectations for the afternoon’s jaunt with mum and dad and he therefore needed to liven the proceedings up a bit. So he gleefully stripped off every single piece of clothing he had on and threw them all out of the rear window of the car. This was quite an unusual thing to do in the middle of a crowded supermarket carpark, even by the fairly relaxed standards of the mid 1980’s. Saying that my dear old dad would have been rather discombobulated when he glanced into his rear view mirror and realised what was happening in the back of the car, would have been to understate his reaction quite a bit.  Knowing him as I did, I am very sure that he would have been shocked and appalled! I can certainly imagine and indeed I can almost hear the “duw duws” there must have been, even now at a remove of almost 30 years!

Remember, these were the days before mobile phones and dad had no way of sending an SOS to mum, fully focused as she undoubtedly would have been on her vital mission to procure the cool beverages and tasty comestibles needed to sustain the afternoon’s activities. Thankfully, she soon returned, her task successfully accomplished. The scattered clothes were then quickly retrieved from underneath the surrounding vehicles, Tim was dressed appropriately once more and seemliness & serenity were restored to the supermarket carpark. Happily, for the world, Tim seems to have been the only member of our family who has ever had the slightest inclination or propensity to disport themselves publicly in their birthday suit.

PAULINE

Tim really did enjoy his trips to the local hostelry. One day, Lynn, Rob and myself were out at a darts match and we had taken Tim along to have a drink with us. Tim was stood at the bar with his back to a chap who was waiting patiently for his drink. The man did as we all do in a pub, and he looked up and down the bar whilst waiting to be served. Quick as greased lightning, Tim spotted his opportunity and his hand shot out, picked up the poor chap’s pint off the bar and down it went, whoosh!! in one go. He then quickly replaced the glass on the bar where he had got it from. It all happened so rapidly, we stood as if transfixed, unable to react fast enough. A few seconds later the man turned to pick up his drink, totally oblivious to what had happened. He looked down at his empty glass and did a double take with a look of complete shock on his face. Mr Innocent aka Tim stood there, grinning to himself as if it was absolutely nothing to do with him! We quickly had to step in, apologise and explain what had happened. The purchase of a replacement pint fortunately brought this potentially unhappy episode to a satisfactory conclusion!

I could go on and on as Tim was a real character and a very special person to us who will be sadly missed. I wouldn’t say Tim was part of Littlecroft, I would say Tim was Littlecroft and that will never change. Tim is still here with us, tidying up, blowing raspberries in the mini bus and grinning his cheeky smile of mischief behind his hand.  R.I.P Tim xxx

DAVE

Unfortunately, my very talented sister  who is facing her own health challenges, is unable to be here with us today to bid farewell to our boy. Soon after hearing the very sad but not unexpected news last week that Tim had left us, she wrote a beautiful poem which perfectly captures the very essence of him. I would like to take a moment to share it with you. 

For Tim

To a silent world our cariad brother came

He never heard or even spoke his name

Yet with a gift that many others yearn

Of being loved and loving in return

SO MANY thanks to those who loved our boy

As their own through sadness, light and shade

Who helped him be himself and give us joy

Memories of true devotion never fade

And when we’re asked how we’ll remember him?

As brave, endearing, funny, dearest Tim

Yn Awr Mewn Hedd

(Now at Peace)

The Power of the State versus the Right of a Citizen to Privacy

I’ve thought about the issue of the power of the state versus our individual rights and freedoms quite a lot recently. Events such as 9/11, 7/7 and the recent events in Paris and Brussels starkly illustrate just how important it is to get the balance right. Edward Snowdon, the whistle blower, was right when he said “…If we do nothing, we sort of sleepwalk into a total surveillance state where we have both a super-state that has unlimited capacity to apply force with an unlimited ability to know (about the people it is targeting) – and that’s a very dangerous combination. That’s the dark future…”

This is the dystopian vision of the future that Orwell foreshadowed in his book 1984 and nobody really wants to go there. I can remember watching Andrew Parker of the Security Service and Iain Lobban of GCHQ appearing in front of the Security and Intelligence committee to justify the intelligence gathering powers to be granted to the state by the Draft Communications Data Bill a.k.a. the Snoopers Charter. They provided a compelling case for the bill by emphasising the point that the primary responsibility of the state is to keep its citizens safe. Without the right to security and life, all other rights are meaningless.

In our modern communications age, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to track and intercept the communications of those people and organisations that would do us harm. Our security agencies need all the help they can get with this almost impossible job. But, as a well-known commentator in one of the UK’s lower rent national newspapers is apt to frequently observe: “…my golden rule is that if you give anyone a modicum of authority, they will always, always, abuse it.” And unfortunately he is pretty much spot on the money.

In another time and another age, back in the mid-1970s, the Nixon Administration had to grapple with its response to the Pentagon Papers leak for which Daniel Ellsberg was responsible. Donald Rumsfeld (erstwhile US Defence Secretary under President G.W. Bush and one of the principal architects of the debacle that was the 2nd Iraq war) the ultimate political insider who was then Chief of Staff to Nixon, observed on one of the White House tapes:

“….To the ordinary guy, all this is a bunch of gobbledygook. But out of the gobbledygook comes a very clear thing…. You can’t trust the government; you can’t believe what they say; and you can’t rely on their judgment; and the implicit infallibility of presidents, which has been an accepted thing in America, is badly hurt by this, because it shows that people do things the president wants to do even though it’s wrong, and the president can be wrong.”

And this is where people like Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowdon, Bradley Manning and even Julian Assange play a useful, if not vital role in keeping our democracy and our freedoms safe. Individuals on the inside or outside who are prepared to risk all to challenge, to question and even to expose the activities of a sometimes over-powerful state and who help to hold it to account, are in my view, an essential piece of the mechanism needed to ensure that the right equilibrium is established between the power of the state and the rights of its citizens. The old Quaker saw about the need to “speak truth to power” is as valid in 2015 as when it was originally coined.

Where do I stand with respect to the difficult question of safety versus liberty? I stand at the fulcrum wherever it is, where the benefits of safety are counterbalanced by our rights to freedom and liberty. This is not an easy thing to determine and it is an equilibrium that is constantly in flux. Right now, I think we are traversing an exceptionally difficult period where, in order to be safe, we may have to cede some of our freedoms.

At this point, the freedom obsessives will frequently quote Benjamin Franklin who said “He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security.” But I disagree with him on this issue. He could not possibly have foreseen the rise of extreme Islam or the power and reach of the modern internet and the impact of both on our security. These factors combined with the activities of hostile countries like Russia and terrorist groups like Islamic State and Al Queda, are creating some very serious challenges for our democracy and security that were unimaginable in Ben Franklin’s day.

Paradoxically, I think that the very technologies that are said to be making us vulnerable will be the instruments that help to keep us safe. Whilst social media can undoubtedly be used for malign purposes, they can also be used to help protect people. Hackers against ISIL is a recent example where techy bods are getting together to take the IT war to the terrorists. And good on them I say. Wikileaks is a useful mechanism for encouraging governments to think more carefully about what they do and how they do it. The Panama Papers have lit a fire under the tax dodging super rich who will never again be able to feel that their illicit millions are safely salted away in impregnable tax havens. Facebook and Twitter are fabulous instruments for enabling people to share ideas and information freely. After all, human progress happens a millimetre at a time, facilitated by a million conversations like this one.