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Stuart Lennon

Writing about stuff

G is for Grapes. Angry Grapes.

Grapes

“The Grapes of Wrath is an American realist novel written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939. The book won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and it was cited prominently when Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962.”

The lines above are taken from the mighty Wikipedia.

National Book Award, a Pulitzer and a Nobel prize for literature; that went OK then.

I want to write well, so it seems sensible to read a wide range of ‘good stuff’. Somehow or other, I had always managed to not read any Steinbeck so I approached this novel with a sense of anticipation.

Initially, it was the reading equivalent of running through treacle. This novel hardly springs out of the blocks with a flurry of high-octane action. For a while, I used it as a miracle sedative. Half a page and I was out like a light. I kept dropping the Kindle on the poor dog.

Gradually though, I adjusted to the pace and rhythm of Steinbeck’s prose and narrative. I won’t write a critique, or an overview of the plot – but as the novel progressed, I became more and more engaged. I became taut with indignation at the unfairness of the time and the situation.

It is no exaggeration to write that reading the final scene was like being slapped very hard in the face.

Read this novel. It should have won more awards.

Ugly Social Media

Click on this if….

No. Stop it.

Gradually, I am overcoming the dramatic gastric impact of Spinning, which is a great relief to the dog and many local residents.

However, I am increasingly annoyed by the tactics some organisations are using to garner positive social media statistics. You know the posts that I mean;

“Like this page if you believe that a soldier who saved his platoon, sacrificing his life should be honoured while this malicious paedophile should not!”

Seems a bit of a no-brainer.

Then you look to see that the post originates from a page called “Lovely fluffy British folk”. Curious fellow that I am, I look at this page.

It turns out that the page should more accurately be called;

“Racist, xenophobic dimwits? You have found your online home.”

Many of these ‘like-farm’ posts are using images of the military to lure people to anti-immigration or anti-muslim organisations. The implication being a polar relationship. “Military Good, Military fight Bad. Immigration Bad. Muslim Bad.”

I thought I might take a moment to relate to you an anecdote.

4-British-Army-Getty

(Getty Image taken from the Independent website)

I live adjacent to Salisbury Plain, home to Stonehenge and essentially an adventure playground for the British Army. I play golf (badly) at Tidworth Garrison Golf Club, which as the name might suggest, has strong military connections.

Tidworth is a garrison town.

On Tidworth high street, I went for a haircut in a busy barbers. Three barbers were working and four more customers were waiting. I’m fairly certain I was the only non-serving military man there. I was the only one not in camoflauge for a start.

The standard cut seemed to be, “number 2 back and sides and short tidy on top please Kemal.”

You see the barbers were all Muslim Turks. Really.

Immigrants too. Good heavens.

Please don’t associate images of the British military with stupidity, ignorance or prejudice. They’re way too good for that.

Incidentally – best haircut I’ve had in ages.

Guns

Gun-Control-Debate-Poster2

Gun control, a debate. There’s a subject that elicits sensible reasoned commentary from around the world.

As I have finished the first draft of my book, I am in the ‘cooling off’ period, where I leave the manuscript in a drawer until I can view it with some perspective.

So, from writing every day, whether I wanted to or not, I have gone to not writing at all.

I found this quite difficult, so I have started a journal and made a promise to myself to update the blog a little more.

It is with some trepidation that I enter into the arena of debating gun control. My first sentence is intended to be ironic. Rarely have I seen so much vitriol thrown about as I regularly see when there has been a mass shooting in the USA. Each side is passionately, irrevocably convinced that the moral high ground is theirs and that anyone holding the opposite view should be…well, shot.

Let me first nail my colours to the mast.

To my own very great surprise, I love the United States of America. Before visiting it, I adopted a peculiarly British position of regarding the USA as a bit of an errant child. A little too full of vim and vigour, but essentially too crass and stupid to do any real harm. Then I went there. Not everywhere, but Minnesota, Denver, Dallas, and California. I went mostly for business, but did manage to squeeze in a little golf too.

What a revelation! I found the people to be kind, generous and welcoming. I was intoxicated by the positive energy that seemed to course through the cities and towns. I loved it.

I own a gun. A shotgun. A Beretta Sportster, if you must know. I use it to shoot game birds and clay pigeons.

There. I love the USA and I have a gun. You are in the picture.

I am going to quote precisely zero statistics here. It is a curious thing, but both sides in the gun control debate have conclusively proved their case using statistics. Therefore, I can only conclude that statistics do not really move us forward.

Nor will I examine intensely the words and intentions of the Second amendment, as again, both sides conclusively prove their case using legal analysis.

In my opinion, it should be harder for people to get hold of guns. Whatever rationale is being used, I cannot reconcile in myself that any citizen has a legitimate need for a weapon that can bring down a passing aircraft or helicopter. Nor do I see that an assault rifle has a legitimate place under the Christmas tree.

I do not argue whether on has a right to these things, I simply believe that there is no need for them in the hands of an ordinary citizen.

“Ban all guns” is, I believe unnecessary, unrealistic and bound to fail. Many people are too attached to them. Regardless of any statistics, some people believe that they are safer armed than they are unarmed. People do hunt. People do shoot recreationally. I am an advocate of a system that licenses gun ownership. I acknowledge that criminals or deranged people are unlikely to apply for a licence, but at least some of them might not have such easy access to weapons – perhaps one life might be saved. Who knows? Maybe lots of lives will be saved.

Securing all guns is another area where I think that there is room for agreement. I believe that responsible gun owners do not leave their weapon loaded next to their child’s toy box. Tragically, there are incidents where a child has picked up a gun and blown its sibling’s head off. Some rules around this probably wouldn’t hurt.

The aim of gun control should not be to infringe on anyone’s rights, nor should it intended to make people feel less safe and secure – precisely the opposite in fact. It should be a national initiative, the idea of different rules in different states is quite obviously utter nonsense.

The United States of America is full of some very smart people, I am confident that those people will work it out.

cyprus-map-political

I spend a fair amount of time in Cyprus.

My parents retired here and I lived here for a while.

I have a holiday home not far from Limassol.

It’s beautiful. It’s hot and sunny.

Cyprus, island of Aphrodite, sits in the eastern Mediterranean, not far from the coast of Lebanon. As islands go, it has seen more than its fair share of turbulence and invasion.

For many years it was a part of the Ottoman empire and laterly was a Crown colony of the United Kingdom. In 1960 it became an independent republic.

Recent history is complicated – Greek Cypriots in the 1950s were fighting for ‘Enosis’ –  union with Greece.

Instead, they got an independent republic, where ethnic Turkish Cypriots had protected rights.

The Republic never really worked and in 1974, the Greek Cypriots staged a military coup (egged on by the Junta in control of Greece) with an eye to achieving Enosis.

Turkey resisted this with an old fashioned, but effective counter.

Paratroopers.

The island was partitioned and remains so to this day.

The above is a gross over-simplification, I am no historian.

There is a fascinating book called the Cyprus Conspiracy by Brendan O’Malley that does a good job of shedding some light on a dark corner of geo-politics. Well worth a read.

The United Kingdom, throughout all of this upheaval, has largely managed to maintain a strong relationship with the part of the island that was not occupied by Turkey.

The Royal Air Force has an airfield here and there are several other UK military installations on the island.

Cyprus is reliant on tourism and the lion’s share of visitors have always been British.

Certainly, one would never struggle to find an English Breakfast on the coast.

While I would not necessarily see the ubiquitous availability of an English breakfast as a positive, there can be no denying that the universal use of English and affinity with the British does make Cyprus ‘easy’ to work for the Brits.

This affinity, together with the tourist industry and turnover of military personnel means that thousands of UK citizens make Cyprus their home in retirement.

Greek is a tough language, and the British are notoriously bad at learning languages anyway.

In Cyprus, this never mattered. Cypriots speak excellent English and many have attended university in the UK or the USA.

Over the last couple of years though, I have noticed a trend.

A sort of militant “Greek only” trend.

In equipping the holiday home, I have visited that famous Swedish furniture giant – Ikea. As Cyprus is a small island, rather than invest directly, multinational firms tend to grant franchises. Ikea is no exception.

Everything in Ikea – from the labels on the goods, to the leaflets, to the signs on the door is in Greek and only Greek.

I have never seen that in Cyprus before.

Adjoining the Ikea store is a shopping mall. The mall has a food court where can be found the usual fast food suspects.

There is also a fast food version of more traditional Cypriot food.

Again – all of the signage was in Greek only.

A reasonable percentage of consumers in Cyprus will speak little or no Greek. Tourists generally don’t, and many expats don’t either.

Therefore this policy has a cost to the business.

Perhaps I am reading too much into it – but there seems a sort of militance to it – an intentional statement.

I am not sure why it should be happening and whether it might have a broader connotation.

 

immigrants

Stop spouting uninformed nonsense about immigration and immigrants.

I posted about this before.

I am prompted to do so again by the horrific images currently all over the media.

A school of thought is emerging that we have an obligation towards refugees but that economic migrants are a major problem.

I don’t want to pontificate, so I will limit myself to a story or two.

I married the daughter of two immigrants. Economic migrants in fact. In post-war Sicily, there simply was no work.

My father-in-law packed a bag and worked in Germany, Switzerland and Glasgow before settling in London and becoming a postman. Hardly the Cosa Nostra is it?

Once he had saved enough money to buy a house, he brought his wife and three daughters over. His wife and ultimately daughters got work in the local hospital.

My wife came along in London as a little surprise. Testament to the poor quality of British television in the sixties perhaps.

Margaret got a university degree and has never been without work.

Britain has done well out of these particular economic migrants.

I even got a wife out of the deal, which I’m very pleased about.

This year, my wife’s cousin has made the move from Sicily. In post-crisis Sicily, there is simply no work.

My cousin-in-law packed his bag, come to London and become a bus driver. He is hoping to soon have enough money to bring his wife and child over.

The parallels are obvious.

On the phone the other day, my cousin asked my wife why no English people drove buses in London.

All of his colleagues are immigrants. All of them.

I daresay that some would say that all the bus driver jobs are taken by immigrants.

For this to be true, I would need to believe that the major bus companies are intentionally filtering out indigenous English people at interview stage.

I really can’t see why this would be.

We might speculate why immigrants are that much more successful in becoming bus drivers than the indigenous population.

We might wish to look at motivations of employers and applicants.

Anecdotally, an employer might tell you that an immigrant is more likely to be flexible, and to find a way to work.

There are good people of all colours, creeds and nationalities. There are bad ones too.

That a man (or woman) wants to build a good life for his family is to be admired, not feared.

We must stop demonising immigration and immigrants.