Monday, June 30, 2008

Primark in the news

Last Saturday while out trying to get stuff for husband's birthday we got stopped by a socialist. He alerted me to the TV expose (sorry, don't know how to put accent in) on Primark and I duly signed a petition.

I don't shop at Primark. Call me snooty if you must. But I smell a fish when clothes are sold so cheaply. (See previous post.) In any case I have eschewed 'fast fashion' for some time and prefer fashion on the slow, classic lane.

Any way I went home and sought out the programme on BBC iPlayer. The three things that struck me were
  1. women quarrelling over drinking water in a village devastated by a huge textile factory (of which effluence has poisoned the natural water supply and drinking water has to be trucked in every day -- criminal!)
  2. the smiling faces of the boys being rescued from sweatshops because they know they are headed for a better life, and
  3. big corporations like Primark simply washed their hands off the whole issue -- buried their heads in the sand -- by not giving their properly contracted factories new work for six months.

Our yearn for cheap, fast fashion has had a direct impact on the livelihood on people elsewhere on earth by way of poisonous dyes, pesticides, detergents, etc making their only source of drinking water undrinkable.

The reporter asked if taking employment from these young children would mean leaving them with no livelihood. I used to struggle with this. The interviewee replied without any hesitation, "Why can't the jobs that the children do be given to their parents?"

Why not indeed, except that the employers, contractors, big corporations, us consumers, must be willing to pay more.

As for withholding work from these factories which employ hundreds and thousands of workers legitimately, the likes of Primark are merely running from an opportunity to 'engage' with their contractors to thrash out terms that would allow them to have the clothes made and finished (with elaborate beading) at a fair and reasonable price. Meanwhile the company goes elsewhere to exploit another group of factories, another group of children, away from the gaze of investigative journalists and their cameras.

Sometimes when I look at the sad state of education, health provision, youth crime, etc in this country I think we need some root-and-branch reforms. When we look at the issue of child labour, unfair wages, corporate greed, etc, the same idea of root-and-branch reforms come in. But how?

Do I go into politics to strive to make that change? Or do we do what us little people could do in our little local area? Is what I do with young mothers and their young children at a toddler group, for example, more effective in imparting support and lessons in parenting than in becoming an MP?

If I help these young parents now to manage their children, would they be better disposed to manage their children when they are older?

What if everyone of us were to do the very little that we are able to do, would that make a difference?

Then I read: Hello, class, I’m the 16-year-old head

A 16-year-old started his own school in India (when he was 11!) to help children in his village who did not have the privilege like him to go to a private school. This is an example of how the 'little people', the real people, could make a difference and change the world.

Now, how can I become like this 16-year-old?

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hay fever, cold, virus infection

Husband came back from work on Tuesday looking rather rough. One eye was bloodshot. He went to bed early.

We both had a difficult night. I was up blowing my nose, struggling to breathe, etc. He was up counting the hours to the next lot of pain-killers.

Next morning he was aching all over and so stayed in bed. It is difficult enough when a husband who has been as healthy as he could be suddenly finds himself not able to get out of bed. But I found that I was now also full of cold and feeling extreme tiredness.

So after school drop-off I too went to have a snooze to make up for the rather sleepless night we had.

I tried to get life back to 'normal' as much as I could. But husband appeared to be deteriorating and at one point was groaning in some pain. So it was decided that we needed a doctor to call.

But it was "too late" for our GP practice to send a doctor. We had to wait for some three hours till "after hours" for the out-of-hours Harmoni doctor to call. Why? I don't know.

School run, late today as there was Fun Choir. Then a quick change-around as today was also the day he had to get down to the park to test for his Cub's Athlete's badge. Made arrangement with the neighbour to let the doctor in should he/she call when we were out.

The tests were completed quickly and we rushed home. Neighbour was standing at her front door, looking out for the doctor who, as I thanked my neighbour, was being driven up in a "Doctor on Call" car.

He checked out my husband who appeared to have improved quite a bit, tested urine sample, etc and decided that it was a virus. Little we could do. We know that with the immuno-suppressants he is on, any infection would be a bad one. Off I went to the chemist to get him some stronger pain-killers.

Thankfully husband made a gradual recovery on Thursday. He wanted to get back to work on Friday but eventually decided that it was best that he had complete rest and recovery before going back to work.

But I had to discharge my usual Friday morning duties with a community group. It was a particularly stressful session. The person in charge was away and while we had extra helpers there was a lot of 'unusual' activities that only I could tend to.

When I came home in the afternoon, I was exhausted. Son was on a school trip, which meant coming home late. Then it was a quick change and feed before taking him to Cubs.

The weekend found me between bouts of dizziness and extreme tiredness requiring bed rest and sudden bursts of energy enabling me to, eg, iron son's school shirts.

I am looking forward to some 'normality' next week. But tomorrow is another stressful day: piano exam in the morning and clarinet exam after school for son. I will be very glad when I see 4.30pm tomorrow.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hay fever

Didn't really kick in this year till about two weeks ago. Even then it has not been at all bad.

But Saturday was a different story.

Cousin has flown in to see her supervisor. As she often does, she took us out for a meal and we went to a nice Thai restaurant. Good food it was.

Took my anti-histamine pill as usual. Fell asleep at some point.

Then at about midnight it seemed, fireworks went off. Someone close by were letting off fireworks with loud bangs at every second for a while. Why do people wait till midnight to do this?

And to celebrate what?

Totally inconsiderate.

Any way, didn't manage to get back to sleep with my nose thickening up. After getting up every minute or so to blow my nose into hankies which were getting sodden, it was time to move into the bathroom.

I sit on the 'throne' reading, and blow my nose into the sink whenever necessary. Dab hot water all over the face. That way it gets a 'steaming' effect and the tubes are cleared a little.

I read my book. I blow my nose. I blow my nose. I read my book.

Nothing more intellectually challenging than my son's Famous Five books, I'm afraid. He has graciously loaned me those for the season.

Was in the loo then till about half-past three. Finally tired enough to drop off, thick nose or not. Managed to stay asleep for another two hours.

Father's Day, right?

Son duly came in and deposited his card and present. We decided that I was in no fit state to get to church and the others decided that -- since none of us has any 'duties' this week -- we'd skip the service.

Had breakfast and went back to sleep.

Strange, how even in the depths of my tiredness I kept thinking, "I haven't ironed my son's school trousers." (Did the shirts on Saturday.)

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Friday, June 13, 2008

"Retcro©": or how retro is eco

Take ironing for example. As a young child one of the first tasks I was allowed to do was sorting the clean clothes, folding them up neatly, and putting them away.

Then I graduated to being able to 'moisten' the clothes that needed ironing. This entailed getting an enamel jug of water and sprinkling water all over the clothes with some deft wristwork and rolling them up.

I've often wondered why we didn't just iron the clothes while still wet, rather than wait for them to dry and I had to wet them again. These were then bundled up in a large piece of cloth for a few minutes.

Then Mum would do the ironing. She would have a bowl of water with her and would sprinkle the clothes with water when she saw fit.

That was 'steam ironing'.

Later I watched for the first time my sister-in-law use a steam iron and I thought how marvellous the steam iron was.

In my married life -- just coming up to ten years -- I cannot remember how many steam irons we'd gone through. The hard water here means the holes get caked up. Sometimes I banged really hard on the ironing board for the limescale to clear.

Or they start leaking!

Once someone managed to trip the relay, cut off our power supply, triggered the security alarm system and somehow the men at the local fire station got a message that there was a fire in our house. (When these hunks/"men in uniform" arrived I was trying to get my toddler son to sit on the potty. They were bemused, pointing out, "That is a real emergency.")

In short, these steam irons do not last. They soon end up in landfill. As far as I know my mum used one iron in all the time I lived with her!

My son's organic cotton school shirts and trousers are hellish difficult to iron. I've recently returned to using the "spray - wait - iron - sizzling steam" method. Works a treat. (Using a spray bottle designed for watering house plants.)

Then there are the wicker baskets that my mum and everyone in her generation used when shopping at the 'wet' markets.

Even my father used a bamboo basket -- his 'briefcase' -- when he was a butcher. (It contained his float -- which he sometimes let me prepare if I was good, a notebook and pen, and his KNIVES, very sharp ones. What would the local police think?) These baskets were mended and used for as long as they were safe to use.

Yesterday my cousin flew in from Singapore and brought me some bak chang -- glutinous rice with all sorts of fillings wrapped in leaves shaped into a tetrahedron and then steamed. Yum!

Put the bak chang in the microwave to reheat it -- perfect! The leaves (I can't say what sort of leaves, but they are long and narrow-ish) are a perfect 'container'. No need for glass or plastic. Totally biodegradable, too.

What else can I think of which is retro and eco?

Too late now. Good weekend to all!

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Finding a fit

Many years ago at university someone -- who's now someone very important in Singapore -- said to me, "You have old men and women who like to tell stories, and young boys and girls who like listening to stories. Why not just put the two together?"

There are scientists who argue organic agriculture will not solve the world's food problems because there is not enough people to do the labour. Or it gets too expensive.

In the UK we have an exploding prison population and concerns that prisoners do not get to spend more than an hour outside their cell.

Why not put these prisoners to work in organic farms? Lots of sunshine (are you seriously talking about the UK?) and fresh air to give them lots of exercise. Tire them out and keep them out of trouble and off the drugs. Why not?

Prison has become so comfortable that for some it's a better place than to be on the streets. I hear stories that illegal migrants controlled by 'gangmasters' prefer a prison bed to themselves in a warm cell to sharing a bed in a cold room.

What is the sense of locking up perfectly able men and women 'on Her Majesty's pleasure'? Her Majesty takes absolutely no pleasure in doing this, I am sure. If prison means hard work, then people will think twice about offending just so to avoid prison.

Or is this thinking too alien to the thinking of a 'developed nation'?

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Blood, Sweat and T-shirts -- an addendum

Didn't get round to saying it before.

The workers that the six British young people got to see in India in this TV series can be said to be caught (up)/trapped in a 'culture of poverty'.

While education in most countries allow people to experience 'social mobility', those trapped in poverty do not have the wherewithal to better themselves. Once they stopped working, they stop eating. Education or any form of training really becomes a luxury. (Something that Richard in the series learned, eventually.)

That is why everywhere where education becomes available and children are able to make use of it, they do better than their parents: social mobility. (And also family size comes down, easing over-population.)

In Britain, however, we are negating the effect of universal free education. At least some parts of the population are.

Instead of using education to achieve social mobility, it is easier for some to choose a 'culture of dependency': the government will provide.

Why work 35 hours on minimum wage when you can sit around all day, watching TV and getting fat when you can get the same amount of money for doing nothing?

In my studies on migration I've learned that first generation immigrants see the opportunity for a free education as a passport to a better life. Where previously parents had to slave to earn school fees, free education means a chance to better oneself minus the sacrifice needed.

Parents press their children to capitalize on these opportunities.

In some families you can clearly see how free education has lifted the younger generations from a labouring to a professional class.

The problem is when things are 'free', it quickly loses its value. Brand name goods will not be worth anything if they are sold cheaply. Likewise, after a generation or two people do not see free education as something of value.

We hear stories of parents taking their children out of school to go on holidays because it is cheaper. Would they do the same if they had to pay school fees?

When children in a class take turns to go on holiday the progress of the whole class is slowed. Teachers have to give time to children who need to catch up? Who suffers? Those who cannot afford to go on holiday.

When services are provided for free, taken for granted, we promote what I call a 'culture of dependency'. This is the 'something for nothing' culture. There is no sense of responsibility and no sense of obligation; the benefits system is there to be milked.

What is troubling this nation? Though the present government talks a lot about 'lifting children out of poverty', it is not material poverty that is the real problem. I believe it is a 'poverty of the spirit' that is levelling every aspect of this once great civilization down.

It is not for me to just criticize, surely. My community work puts me in contact with a lot of functional and dysfunctional families. It is great to see that there are some who accept help and try very hard to make a better life for themselves and their children. There are struggling parents who take advice on how to discipline their children, etc.

But I also see some who are -- for want of a better description -- milking the benefits system for as much as they could get out of it. There are young single mothers, for example, who have child care paid for by the tax-payers so that they could get an education. My friends who provide such care have stories about how they are abused.

How do we stop this cycle of dependency?

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