01.01.2020

Such an auspicious date.  The start of a new decade.

And yet is has begun with horrific bushfires raging in Australia ; and the devastating prospect that half a BILLION wild animals, reptiles, insects and birds – such abundant wildlife – have all perished in these infernos.

More than 20,000 koalas – gone. Already ‘vulnerable’ to extinction. Now ‘critically endangered’.Only 5 % of koalas remain.

‘Going Down With the Ship’. Post scriptum.

There are several books  relating to our environmental crisis that I have read; and some that I cannot bear to read.

‘Wilding ‘ by Isabella Tree brought great hope and solace to me,especially because I learned about the reintroduction of critically endangered turtle doves into the Knepp estate.

‘The Garden Jungle’, ‘Or Gardening to Save the Planet’, by Dave Goulson, also brought a means of being proactive on an individual scale by encouraging the  re-wilding  my garden, which I have done.

I recently met and spoke to Matt ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ Haig at a Green Party gathering in Brighton, and he said that we must’nt sink into despair about the climate emergency, but ‘do our bit’ and be as positive and proactive as possible.  Certainly, one gains a little bit more control by rewilding a green space, and enjoying seeing an insect-dense environment emerging.

‘The Uninhabitable Earth’, by David Wallace Wells, has been required reading, and it is an absolutely terrifying view of the future.

Other books that I may one day read are: ‘Losing Earth: the Decade we Could’ve Stopped Global Warming’ by Nathaniel Rich,which  is regarded as significant as Silent Spring was in 1962.

But I am not emotionally strong enough to read it yet. ‘On Fire’, by Naomi Klein, and ‘There is No Planet B‘ by Mike Berners Lee are both on my reading list as well.

Meanwhile, I try not to despair too much, and hope against hope that more action is taken to save our  precious, exquisite planet in the coming years.

But  I am not optimistic.

 

 

 

 

‘The Sandison/Stirling connection’.

There  the parallels between the two women end.  Apart from the fact that they both enjoyed smoking cigarettes ( my mother managed to give up in her forties), their lives were quite different.

Monica made a long, successful and happy marriage to her husband, Peter Raban, a rural dean in the Church of England, and gave birth to four healthy sons: Jonathan, Colin, William and Dominic, and enjoyed the company of her grandchildren.  In fact, she longed for them.  Alex, born in 1973, was her first longed-for grandchild, but she was denied any access to him by his father, Jonathan, who would not allow her to be in any kind of contact with him.  This caused her, and myself, immeasureable pain, and robbed Alex of the chance to meet this remarkable woman.

I first met Monica in 1968, and liked her immensely. She was warm , kind and feminine, with a lovely, gentle voice.  She was also politically  left-wing, with a strongly- developed  social conscience, honed possibly from her exposure to poverty in the working-class area of Millbrook, near Southampton, where her husband was based.

We kept in touch, by telephone, over the years, and she was always supportive towards me and interested in Alexander’s development.  We lost contact towards her later years, because she left her house in  Market Harborough to go into a care home.

I’m told that shortly before she died she mentioned the existence of her first grandson – Alex – to her youngest son, Dominic.

Marjorie was a different kettle of fish to Monica.

Her marriage to my father in 1939 sadly didn’t last.  Like Monica, who was separated throughout the war from Peter, my mother, too, had to reconnect with my father in 1945, after the war ended.  I was born in that year, and the marriage struggled on until about 1950, when my mother finally left.  My father , unusually, obtained full custody of me in their divorce.

How interesting that these two very vibrant and beautiful women are now brought together in my son’s DNA profile. They live on in him.

I admired them both for their strength, poise and resilience.

Monica was a doctor’s daughter; Marjorie the daughter of an architectural draughtsman.

They both had style and taste.  Both were well-mannered, and ‘bien elevee’. ‘ Alpha -grandmothers ”that Alex can be proud of, and whose genes continue to power on in their great- grandchildren.

I see Monica’s beauty in the delicate features of my grand-daughter, Esther, (Alex’s 12-year-old daughter), and Marjorie’s intelligence and common-sense in Esther’s high academic and creative achievements.

Both women have contributed so many gifts to her; and she is more than worthy of them both.

 

‘The Sandison/Stirling connection’.

Recently, my son, Alexander, took a DNA Ancestry test . There are several of these kits on the market right now, I believe.  He paid in the region of £50 for it,  and all that was required was for him to send a swab of saliva off to be tested.

The results are truly fascinating and illuminating.

On a map of the UK and Europe, his ancestry was very clearly explained, and the range was interestingly wide and well-defined.  It extended from the far north of Scotland from the Orkneys and Shetland and other parts of Scotland and northern England across to Denmark, with a sprinkling of activity in the Channel Islands and various  parts of Europe, including Belgium and Switzerland.  France and Germany weren’t included.

Two family names stood out: Sandison and Stirling.

And the test linked him to putative  third or fourth cousins who share the same family tree/ lineage.  Obviously, these individuals have also taken the same test, and are part of a bank of genetic material that links them together.

In a way, Alexander had leap-frogged a generation directly back to his two grandmothers: Monica Sandison ( b. 1918) – his father’s mother, and Marjorie Stirling (b. 1918). My mother.

Both women were of Scottish origin.  Monica hailed from the Shetlands; my mother from Glasgow and Edinburgh.  Both were lively, hardy,intelligent, very slender, slight women, who lived on until their nineties.  Monica died at 96, I believe, and my mother lived on until a few weeks short of her 99th birthday. They were clever.  My mother left school at 14, but was in the top three of every class for every subject: Maths English, French, History – and so on while she was at Hill Head High School in Glasgow; Monica was creative and imaginative, and wrote short stories that were published in women’s magazines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Going down with the Ship’ cont.

By 1979, I had travelled to Australia and lived in Paris, teaching English firstly to ‘migrants’ in Sydney, and then to executives and businessmen in Paris.

I had thought that the TEFL  qualification I had received from International House in London, shortly after my son’s birth in 1973, was to be  only a temporary measure, to be used abroad.

But, when I decided to settle in Brighton, I found that there were many language schools here, looking for teachers. The hours and holidays fitted in perfectly with my son’s schooling.

During this time, I had joined both ‘Friends of the Earth’ and ‘Greenpeace’, both founded in 1969,  and my interest in environmental matters was stronger than ever.  I am a member of both to this day.

The students I taught were a mixed bag : lots of Swiss-Germans, a handful of Japanese and Brazilians, students from Saudi Arabia, Libya and the Yemen, and many Iranians ( however,they all vanished after the 1979 Revolution, and many language schools closed as a result ).

It was to these students and in these schools that I began to teach these young people, mostly teenagers, about ‘The Greenhouse Effect’. It was a useful teaching method and tool for discussion in class.

I would draw a pie-chart on the whiteboard showing all the factors that contributed to a rise in global temperature.  I remember being fascinated to see that nearly a quarter of all emissions came from animal-created methane. Sperm-like squiggles showed CO2  going up into the atmosphere.

The students were fascinated. It was their first exposure to this phenomenon and they thanked me for telling them about it.  Many would come up to me and say:’ When I go back to my country, I am going to study this subject more’.  They were all concerned.

Incidentally, I would sometimes write ‘CHINA’ on the board, and suggest the possibility  that  China might  become a super-power one day.  But this was hotly contested with howls of derision.  ‘No chance’, the students would say. ‘It’s never going to happen’. ‘China is communist’. ‘They have no natural resources’ Mrs Swell ( Sewell was hard for the students to pronounce).

It just shows you how wrong people can be.

As I wake  daily in the early hours of the morning in a complete panic about the fate of our beautiful planet, unable to sleep, I think of the fearful legacy we have handed down to our young people.  I pray that they may be able to save us, as young people have always done.  I support dear Greta and all the kids on the Extinction Rebellion protests.

After all, my  generation fought for civil rights and helped halt the Vietnam war.

But what is so wicked about the ‘climate change catastrophe’ facing us all  is that the consequences of global warming were known for many decades before now – and NOTHING was done.

So when  I witness the terrible floods and man-made drought in southern Africa, the world-wide wildfires in the Amazon, Bolivia, Peru , Australia ,California and weather events elsewhere, and especially the suffering of the poor animals and wildlife caught in this maelstrom, I break.

I am broken.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Going Down with the Ship’ (Doing my tiny bit for climate change).

For all of my adult life I have feared the prospect of ‘global warming’ increasing to a tipping point.  And this is happening now.

As Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general said recently ahead of  the 2019  COP 25 climate summit in Madrid:  the Earth may have reached ‘a point of no return’.

And I  now have to look into the terrified eyes of my 12-year-old grand-daughter, Esther, a little eco-warrier, frightened for the future of this planet.

In 1962, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was published. Truly the most prescient book of its time.  It launched the environmental movement. I was 17 when I, and many of my generation, read it. It was life-changing for me, and I still recall the ice-cold terror I felt  on reading how human beings could poison the earth with indiscriminate pesticide use ( aka biocides).

Thousands  of birds were dropping  dead  after the aerial spraying of DDT, used to kill mosquitoes.  Canaries in the mine. And this was years before Agent Orange – the toxic herbicide – was used so horrendously in Vietnam.

In 1972, I read ‘A Blueprint for Survival’ in  The Ecologist. In it, the ecologist, Edward Goldsmith warned:

‘Radical change is both necessary and inevitable because the present increases in human numbers and per capita consumption by disrupting ecosystems and depleting resources, are undermining the very foundations of survival’.