Thursday, 13 September 2018

Climate change is the major threat to our future

There was a recent lovely scene of a family, parents and two young children, out enjoying a sunny day.

It was a happy scene but what does the future hold for those children if we continue moving toward environmental Armageddon.

The world has been slow to recognise the damage being done to the environment, which has caused the extinction of hundreds of species and the advance of climate change.

The future for those children and indeed for all of us is not a pleasant one if we continue on the present route. Great swathes of the inhabited land mass will disappear under water, food and water shortages will abound and war become more prevalent. There will be a real danger of a turn to the law of the jungle, the survival of the fittest.

Political decision makers took a long time to act on the environmental threats. The mass of scientists have been warning of the consequences of not addressing the dangers but too many found it easier to be wooed by climate change deniers - often funded by those in the fossil fuel industries, who stood to lose most from a low emissions policy.

The warnings were clear. In 2006, Sir George Stern published his authoritative report for the British Government warning of the dangers and the cost there would be if radical action was not taken. Just in financial terms we now see the wisdom of that warning, with food prices set to leap on the back of the severe hot weather in this country over the past few months.

World leaders appeared to recognise the enormity of the challenge at the UN Paris Agreement of 2015.  Countries committed to reduce emissions, keeping warming below 2 degrees since pre-industrialisation times. Yet today scientists warn the world is heading toward 4 degrees over the next 30 years.

The environment is simply not taken seriously enough. Climate change and other destructive processes are the major threat to our future on the planet, yet still these concerns are put on the back burner, indulged in the economic good times and jettisoned at times of hardship.

There needs to be serious action taken, a change in our whole mind set and way of life.

A possible return to a more village like lifestyle. An existence where we grow more of our own food and what we can’t grow is sourced locally.

There need to be less carbon emitting devices, like cars and planes. Old polluting cars need to be taken off the roads – they are killing our children.

The Mayor of London has set out a target for 80% of journeys to be by foot, cycle of public transport by 2041.

Buildings should not be being constructed now that do not have zero carbon emissions. Beyond this, older properties need to be refitted with the technology to make them carbon neutral.  

We need to start putting back some of the trees and plants that have been removed. It was encouraging to see that 15,000 trees are going to be planted in Hainault under the Mayor’s scheme but this work needs to be spread and accelerated.

There is much that can be done, these are just a few ideas. What is for sure is that the crisis is mounting. The world is way past the point where doing a bit is enough. Everyone has to take responsibility for themselves and the community beyond, if all are to enjoy a safe and sustainable future.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

No need for those with hearing difficulties to be excluded by mainstream society

The recent street party held by the local Empowering Deaf Society (EDS) offered a glimpse of a whole new world.

Attending, I was struck by how everyone was communicating via sign language. If you did not have sign language you were an outsider.

Founder of EDS, Mangai Sutharsan, made the point that this was how deaf people often felt in day to day society when they can so often be excluded.

This struck a real nerve, as I have had worsening hearing over recent years.

It was only a couple of years ago though that I actually went to the doctor to have it checked out. He forwarded me onto the audio department, who did a test that took about 10 minutes. The outcome, I was borderline for hearing aids. So I accepted the offer.

That was it. Over the ensuing couple of years I have come to use the hearing aids more but do not find them comfortable or that effective.

It has been interesting though to observe society around me. I’ve done quite a lot of work over the years, as a journalist, on equality issues. Disabilities has been one strand of that work. However, despite all the articles, conferences etc, you never quite appreciate disability until you actually have one.

The stage that my hearing loss is at means that if people speak clearly and directly to me, I can hear fine. But softly spoken people are difficult to hear. Also people speaking off to the side or in an aside are difficult to fathom. Sub-titles on TV are helpful.

It can be embarrassing to keep asking people to repeat what they are saying. This can mean pretending that you have heard, when you haven’t.

You also notice in others, who may have a hearing problem but do not wish to acknowledge the condition. The tell tale trying to look as though they have heard and understood, when they clearly haven’t.

It has been possible, with declining hearing capacity to really appreciate what Mangai meant when she referred to how many deaf people feel excluded in everyday society. The condition can be socially isolating but doesn’t need to be.

So much could be done to remedy these problems, if our society really took disabilities seriously. Sound systems at meetings, people speaking directly towards who they are addressing rather than the back of heads, the provision of signing.

The number of meetings I attend where the shout comes up from the back “can’t hear.” In the past, I have often regarded these utterances, often made with more than a hint of irritation, as a bit rude. Now, I really understand where the people are coming from.

On a lighter note there can be some hilarious moments, when you mis-hear things. Also, sometimes what is being said is just not worth hearing anyway. However, all in all loss of hearing is a very frustrating and excluding business.

There are services in our society to make life better for the 9 million plus in our country who have hearing problems.

The work of charities like EDS is so vital in advancing the cause of those with hearing difficulties.

However, so much more could be done in our communities, to really help those with hearing difficulties and other disabilities. If we really seek to be an inclusive society then the needs of the disabled need to be factored into all elements of life. Failure to do so means what we are practicing tokenism, gesturing towards inclusivity, but in reality failing at so many levels.

*published Wanstead & Woodford Guardian - 6/9/2018

Sunday, 2 September 2018

West Ham beaten for the fourth time in a row, this time by Wolves

West Ham 0-1 Wolves
West Ham's woeful start to the Premiership season continued, as they recorded their fourth defeat in a row.
The game was in many ways similar to the previous home encounter with Bournemouth, the home side enjoy long periods of dominance but always looking vulnerable to the swift counter attack.
West Ham began brightly enough, with Felipe Anderson forcing a smart save out of Wolves keeper Rui Patricio after just three minutes.
Robert Snodgrass also had a shot saved by the keeper diving to his right.
In the second half, Michail Antonio headed against the upright but the warning signs were there from the visitors.
On the hour, Joao Moutinho crossed for Raul Jimenez to see his forceful header saved by Lukasz Fabianski.
Then with 12 minutes to go, Jimenez tripped over a cross from Ruben Nevesl, when it looked easier to score - alone on the edge of the goal area.
Sure enough, with home fans leaving in their droves, resigned to at least getting a point, Carlos Sanchez was dispossessed in the middle of the field, the ball was fed out, via Neves and Leo Bonatini, to substitute Adama Traore who rammed the ball home.
A tight lipped West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini admitted his team needed to defend better and eliminate mistakes.
Upbeat Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo felt his side were rewarded for pushing to the end.He declared " organisation" to be the most important part of the game.
Something Pellegrini might ponder, given that it is something West Ham plainly lack.
It now looks an uphill battle for the East London side, with games coming up away to Everton, home to Chelsea and Manchester United, followed by a trip to Brighton.

published -

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Action needed to save deteriorating lakes in Wanstead Park

One of the saddest sights of the summer has been the emptying lakes in Wanstead Park.

The picturesque Ornamental Lake has been particularly hard hit, with the water levels reaching record lows.

The wildlife has adapted. Herons and little egrets have descended on the lake, seeing the possibility for rich pickings, as the fish struggle to survive amid disappearing water.

The hot weather has obviously played a big part in the emptying of the lakes but there have been problems for many years now.

Back in 2009, Wanstead Park was put on the English Heritage at risk register, partly because of the state of the waterways in the park. Almost a decade later, the park remains on the register.

The exasperation of many locals at the failure of the parks custodians, the City of London Corporation (CLC), to seriously address the situation, has been regularly vented on social media.

At present the only water supply to the lakes comes from a pump linked to a bore hole that supplies the Heronry Lake. This then flows onto the Perch and Ornamental lakes. However, the licence with the Environment Agency limits the amount of water that can be pumped.

The pump can only ever be a part of a much bigger solution to provide water supply for the lakes.

Foremost, people need to know why (beyond drought) the water is disappearing and what can be done to address the situation.

There is already much evidence. The Heronry has always leaked water, going back to war damage that has never been adequately repaired. The Ornamental remains more of a mystery.

Recently, a calvert was discovered, which sees water run away, when the lake does hold water to a certain level – though, this would not be a concern at present. 

There has been talk of applying for a lottery grant but this seems to be a continually moving panacea.

At the last AGM of the Friends of Wanstead Park, members heard how the CLC has to address the flood risk or incur fines from the Environment Agency. This is likely to result in £10 million of expenditure over the next three years.

The irony of such work, set against a background of leaking and sometimes empty lakes, will not be lost on those who regularly visit the park.

Chair of Friends of Wanstead Park John Meehan recently suggested that the non-statutory elements in the work to strengthen the dams in the park could be used as match funding for a lottery fund bid. A good idea.

What is for sure is that something needs to be done. At present the lakes look in a terribly neglected, dilapidated state.  If the CLC came forward with a plan that linked the flood prevention work to restoration of the waterways in the park that would be a major step forward and would receive universal support.

One move forward whilst water levels are so low would be to at least remove all the debris that clutters up the lakes. This would be a forerunner to more comprehensive measures being taken to ensure that the lakes hold water for the foreseeable future.  What is for sure is that something needs to happen and soon.

Published in Wanstead & Woodford Guardian - 30/8/2018

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Stalwart of Greenham Common protest Sarah Hipperson dies at 90

26.10.27 to 15.8.2018

Indefatigable peace campaigner, Sarah Hipperson, has died at the age of 90.

So ends a remarkable life dedicated to peace and justice.

Sarah lived in the east London suburb of Wanstead for many decades but it was her decision in 1983 to up sticks and move to join the peace protest at Greenham Common that brought her to national prominence.

Sarah was in her mid-50s when she took the momentous step to go to Greenham.

There she joined the women’s camp, getting directly involved in peaceful direct action, like cutting fences and obstructing vehicles, to stop the siting of cruise missiles in the area.  

Sarah finished up serving 22 sentences, the longest being 28 days in Holloway prison for criminal damage. It was her proud boast that she “never paid a fine.”

Indeed, the court cases were seen by the women as a chance to make the case against nuclear weapons. The justification for their action being the prevention of the greater crime of nuclear war.

Sarah was very clear on what she saw as the abomination of nuclear weapons. She saw it as an offence against humanity and in defiance of God.

“The work is to achieve complete nuclear disarmament. We have all been involved in the crime that presents itself as nuclear deterrents. The bottom line is that we will use weapons more than 80% more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, in the case of Trident, as part of the defence of this country. As a Christian I have never been able to live with that,” said Sarah.

As time went on, Sarah and the other women saw their cause at least partially fulfilled. The Americans left Greenham Common with their weapons.

In the courts too, there were subsequent successes, with the Law Lords declaring the bye-laws used by the Ministry of Defence to remove the women from Greenham Common as invalid.

Sarah was part of the group that built a commemorative garden to all that had gone on there - a symbol of peace.

Greenham Common was returned, in its natural state, to the people of Newbury.

In 2005, Sarah wrote a book, Greenham, which chronicled the time on the peace protest, including a number of the court cases.

Sarah Hipperson had a tough upbringing. A native of Glasgow, she became a nurse and mid-wife in her late teens, delivering babies in the Govern area. She then decided to emigrate to Canada, where she lived for 16 years, nursing, getting married and having five children. She returned to England in the 1970, settling in the east London suburb of Wanstead.

Sarah became a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, where she continued to attend mass until her death.

Life in the 1970s involved being a member of the local justice and peace group at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, as well as sitting on the bench as a Justice of the Peace.

During the early 1980s Sarah became increasingly frustrated in Wanstead with trying to raise awareness of nuclear weapons .

She showed Helen Caldacott’s film “Critical Mass” about the dangers of nuclear weapons. “There would be a numbing effect but it went no further than that,” said Sarah, who became a member of CND and worked with Catholic Peace Action.

This all proved to be part of the formative process, that would lead to her dramatic move in 1983 to Greenham.

Sarah returned full time to Wanstead in the noughties, where she continued to campaign against nuclear weapons. She was also often called on by the media for comment on Greenham Common and nuclear weapons.

Sarah became involved, post 9/11, with the local anti-war Peace and Justice in East London group. This included some work in the campaign to oppose the interning of people without trial.

Sarah was always indefatigable in her approach to the struggle for justice. I remember her saying that the work was all that mattered – nothing must get in the way. Egos and personality clashes must all be put aside.

In later years, Sarah spoke from the pulpit at Our Lady of Lourdes about peace and justice, as well as taking a part for a time in the justice and peace group.

In her private life she was supported by her family, particularly over the past months of her final illness.

Last October, Sarah celebrated her 90th birthday – a joyous event for all of us who attended. She was on good form, ever defiant on matters of justice but still with that mischievous wink and smile.

A devout Christian, peace campaigner, mother and grandmother – a great person, who did much to make the world a better place.

She is survived by her children Mark, Jane, Martin, Alistair and Matt.

* Published - Wanstead & Woodford + Ilford Recorder - 20 & 23/8/2018
Morning Star - 20/8/2018
Wanstead & Woodford Guardian - 18/8/2018
Tablet - 25/8/2018


West Ham fans wonder how much difference £100 million will make after Bournemouth triumph at the London Stadium

West Ham 1-2 Bournemouth

The only people more confused than the West Ham fans after this performance will be the owners, who must be wondering what they have got for their £100 million outlay on players.

On this showing the team looks less organised than under David Moyes, with some of the most expensive signings, such as Issa Diop (£22m) and Andriy Yarmolenko (£17.5 m),  left warming the substitutes bench.

The swings and roundabouts of selection were underlined by the fact that three players who started against Liverpool last week – Ryan Fredericks, Michail Antonio and Declan Rice – were not evens subs for this encounter and they were not the worse three against Jurgen Klopp’s team.

New West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini seemed unperturbed by the latest display, acknowledging that it was always going to take time for things to settle with a new manager and so many new players.

Pellegrini highlighted how the team played well for the first 45 minutes but in the second half made mistakes.

He acknowledged that the struggle of last season could still be on the player’s minds and contributing to a lack of confidence when things go wrong. “We need to work for 90 minutes, not 45,” said Pellegrini.

West Ham started brightly enough, with some sharp interplays between Felipe Anderson and Chicarito. One such exchange on the half hour saw the Mexican striker’s legs swept from under him, resulting in a penalty, which Marko Arnautovic converted with ease.

There were though some warning signs in the first half with Calum Wilson having his shot easily saved by Lukasz Fabianski when clear in the penalty area and new striker David Brooks shooting narrowly wide.

Bournemouth were a different side in the second half, pushing on all the time and regularly carving the West Ham defence apart.

The equalising goal when it came was something special, with Wilson picking the ball up deep and ghosting past Fabian Bulbuena and Pablos Zabaleta before putting the ball wide of Fabianski.

Five minutes later, Angelo Ogbonna gave away a needless foul on the edge of the penalty area. The resulting free kick saw Steve Cook power between defenders to plant his header in the back of the net.

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe was pleased with the reaction he got from his players in the second half. He credited “Callum’s individual moment of brilliance” for swinging the game in the vistor’s favour.

West Ham fans though will not be unhappy with another poor start to a Premier League season, with the next opponents being Arsenal at the Emirates. And despite all the spending they must be wondering is this the beginning of another season of struggle at the wrong end of the table?    

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Growing your own

I have been growing my own vegetables for many years now. The whole back garden is turned over to veggies plus I have an allotment.

There are good and bad years for growing. The present heatwave conditions mean it is a battle just to keep the crops alive, in the hope that the rains come one day.

The whole process though of trying to live off what you can grow, really does bring a special type of discipline to life.

It means really only eating things in season. So tomatoes start coming in late July, early August, running through to late September. Lovely fresh tomatoes throughout the summer. But if you are going to stick to growing your own, it is only then that tomatoes should be eaten. It’s not a case of tripping to the supermarket and buying whatever you want whenever you fancy it.

Broad and runner beans come from June through to September. Excess of these can be frozen and eaten during the rest of the year.

Courgettes and squashes also come in during these months. The latter can be stored to eat as winter closes in.

Kale and broccoli prove good staples for the winter months, providing excellent greens from around November through to April and beyond.

There are many other things ofcourse. Onions, potatoes, salad crops like lettuce, spring onions, radishes etc.

The aforesaid represent my very limited efforts to be self-sufficient in vegetables. The plus is the satisfaction that comes with growing your own, the freshness of the food and the joy of being able to go out and pick the crop whenever you want it.

Drawbacks are sometimes a lack of variety and over production.  I’ve found there is a limit to what can be done with a courgette. I regularly produce far too much of one crop.

Last year, it was broccoli, which I was trying for the first time. It is a great crop but so much was produced that I ended up supplying the road for a while.

It can be a case of over production or total failure on a variety of crops, so its always touch and go. What growing in this way does do is to offer an insight into the challenges that  face the farmers, who produce food for us all.

When growing on an industrial scale to live, you cannot afford to have all your onions fail for some unknown reason. The challenge must be immense.

What is interesting if you try to grow all your own veg is the mixture of the joy that comes from achieving that goal but also an appreciation of the limitations that such an approach places on eating habits throughout the year.
It is though an exercise that I would recommend to all, a chance to reconnect with the earth, create something special and enjoy the rewards of your own endeavours.

published in Wanstead & Woodford Guardian - 16/8/2018 -"The discipline of growing your own dinner"