Sunday, August 14, 2011

In defence of David Starkey

Wrote this piece for my friends in Singapore: my perspective of what Mr Cameron called the "sick society".

David Starkey in using the phrase "The whites have become black" has been branded a "racist".

I am no fan of Mr Starkey. As a social scientist from outside the UK, one who is not weighed down by the guilt of British colonialism (but is in fact a product of it), one who is colour-blind except when it is culturally significant, I feel that Mr Starkey is only using this statement to make a "shortcut" to what I had alluded to in my original blog piece referenced above.

There is something in the black African/West Indian/Caribbean culture/s that is preventing their younger generations from benefitting from all the resources thrown at them in the UK. The same is happening amongst a certain class of young white generations.

Taxpayers should be keen to ascertain what exactly are the factors (fatherlessness, lack of disciplinary boundaries, benefits culture, lack of role models/role model substitutes, etc) driving this and come up with solutions. And soon. Before another generation is "wasted".

To shout "racist" every time a cultural reference is made does not make the problem go away. On the contrary. This is an ostrich mentality. It stifles discussion and does no one any favours.

Put it this way, if research shows that black people are more prone to certain diseases, and further studies show that this is due to their diet, would it be racist for the researchers to flag up this problem by saying, for example, "black (or white, Chinese, Turkish, whatever) people should reduce the consumption of abc as it increases their chances of contracting xyz"?

To muzzle those who wish to spread this message by crying "racist" is to ensure that the people group concerned are forever doomed to poor health because no one would dare, or is allowed to, speak the truth.

Likewise to sweep obvious facts under the carpet on spurious cries of "racist" is to condemn a people group forever, to ensure that they would never enjoy the trappings of happiness and success now reserved for those outside this group.

Was David Starkey being racist on Newsnight last night?

If David Starkey is racist then so is everybody 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sourdough Bread

After building up my sourdough starter for two weeks (details in the next post, perhaps) I was very excited about making my first sourdough loaf. The diary was cleared.

This was my starter in the morning. The volume has reduced from its evening time high, as you might have noticed from the "tide marks", but still bubbling when viewed from the top:


I am trying to followed a "recipe" from Dan Lepard in a newspaper and combining that with a recipe by Daniel Stevens (River Cottage No. 3).

Emptied most of this into a mixing bowl, added 500 strong wholemeal (because I don't like eating white) flour and about 300ml tepid water and mixed into a ball.

Left it for 10 minutes. Then decided (perhaps wrongly) that it probably needed a little more water. Added what I thought was about two teaspoons of salt, but probably much less.

Left this for about two hours and it became like this.
Notice the holes on the surface.

Removed this onto an oiled surface and kneaded it for a bit. Not a lot, and returned it to the bowl.

Waited for 2 to 3 hours for it to become like this.

Sprinkled lots of flour onto a tea towel and placed it into a casserole dish as I have no proving basket. Took the dough out and kneaded it. Asked for husband's help in getting some more flour to stop it from sticking too much. Put it first in the casserole dish. Realized the dish is too small. Got husband to bring out his grandmother's old roasting dish.

The dish looks like this.

And like this from the side. Perfect, I thought. It even has a lid to keep the dough from drying.

At least 2 hours later, and I kept checking and flouring the sides of the tin, we got this.

The holes on the surface (as noted in Stevens' book) were very reassuring. From the side it appears to have risen reasonably well.

Time to turn on the oven. Whacked up the temperature to its highest. Put a roasting tin in the bottom, and a baking tray in the middle. A baking sheet would be better, but I don't have one. Boiled up water.

Then came the tricky bit - and DISASTER!

Oven came up to temperature. Removed the tray. Tried to tip the dough onto the tray. But it got stuck. Had to scrape off some dough with a spoon. What I saw on the tray was a flat, flat bit of dough, DEFlated. The tray had cooled and I reshaped the dough into something more of a loaf shape with even more flour. My heart had sunk with the dough.

Nevertheless it went into the oven and I put boiling water into the bottom roasting tin. This produced steam which is supposed to give the loaf a nice crust. The water dried out faster than I expected. So, more water next time.

20 minutes on the highest temperature and then down to 180 degrees C for another 20 minutes. It rose quite a bit -- thankfully -- in the hot oven. And finally:

We could not resist having a bit for dinner. (It was morning when I started this bread and it was dinner time when I got the loaf out).

Yup! Good size bubbles. Crust was good. A bit sour, but mostly BLAND. I really needed some 25g of salt. But as I was mixing recipes, and this is my first go, I think I can be forgiven.

We plan to eat this very rustic bread with a hearty soup tomorrow.

Would I bake another sourdough loaf? Of course -- I do have a jar of sourdough starter now. But I would probably do a few things a bit differently. Starting with using more salt to counter the sour taste.

Salt and leaven (yeast). What did Jesus say about its use in our daily lives?

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Charlie Gilmour -- what is a "privileged" upbringing?

When I read how his mum tweets about how he was being locked up for 23 hours a day, my heart bled for her.

But not for long.

Instead I found myself mulling over what is meant by a "privileged upbringing".

Was young Gilmour privileged on the basis that he has a loving mother and stepfather?

Was young Gilmour privileged because he was given every material need?

Was young Gilmour privileged to be an above-intelligent person (assuming that as he had gone to Cambridge)?

In court it was argued in mitigation that young Gilmour behaved the way he did because he faced rejection from his birth father. He was drugged up to the eyeballs when he was swinging from the Cenotaph.

Would my biographer (if I had one) also describe me as having a "privileged background"?

On the basis that my mother never worked, and never made us do any household chores. Though she was criticized by the extended family for being so, her response had always been, "I want my (six) children to concentrate on their studies."

Was I privileged because I observed sacrifice on the part of my parents?

Was my biggest privilege that of having a father for whom my every achievement was "not good enough", leaving unsaid the words "Child, you can do better. I know you can do better."?

And then I looked at my own child. Would they say, when he's 21, or 61, that he too had a "privileged upbringing"?

At this point of my life when my son would soon be out of my hands and I'm trying to find employment, I am finding that I have become quite unemployable.

The past 11 years of caring for son (and the husband who was quite ill for years) has left a big gap in my CV.

I don't mind not having a guitarist for a husband, I really don't. But in mulling over this I suddenly realized that part of me wished I could be described like Mrs Gilmour as "author", but I am not that, though I write a lot.

Like my mother who sacrificed much of her life doing the mundane things in life so that her children could focus on studies and therefore upward mobility, I realized that I have sacrificed an opportunity to develop my academic career.

Make professor at 60? No chance. Return to my alma mater to teach? Dream on.

We cannot choose our parents. (Mine turn out to have very little education but they learned to educate themselves, learned to read Chinese!)

But we can choose how we parent.

I stuck around because husband was often in too much pain to get out of bed. I had to reassure our son that Dad was OK. Then I cried my own tears of fear in private.

Then son had a spell of trouble at school. Everything was going too slowly for him. I stuck around to help him get over that difficult patch. And he is a much happier, more assured person these days.

Maybe they would describe my son as having a "privileged upbringing" after all, not because his mother is a professor, but that she did sacrifice time, career, travel, fame, whatever, so that the family could move on together.

Just as his father sacrificed his dream of retiring at 40 to play golf, and instead continued to work (despite the illness) to pay the bills.

We cannot choose our parents, but we can choose how we parent. Perhaps we should take it one step back and say, "We can choose (carefully) whom we wish to parent with."

Only then can we hope to reduce the number of Charlie Gilmours -- with or without privileged upbringings -- to ensure that we meet the needs of our children where they are.

This might be news to some: Sometimes parenting requires making sacrifices.