Where do we go from here?

Despite their alarming success elsewhere in the country,  on Friday I was selfishly quite cocky about the fact that UKIP hadn’t managed to win any seats in the local elections in Exeter.  What an enlightened,  multicural region I thought. My gloating was brought to an abrupt halt however as the last thing I saw before bed on Facebook last night was an article from the local paper announcing that they had beaten everyone else in the European elections in pretty much every area of the south west and now have 3 MEPs representing the South West (compared with the Conservative’s 2, Labour’s 1 and Green’s 1). My heart sank.

With only Scotland left to declare, UKIP got 27.5% of the vote in England and Wales and are the first political party in history with no MP’s to win the European elections. Farage has confirmed that he will stand as a candidate for Prime Minister in next year’s general election. A sombre day for British politics.

So where do we go from here? I’m not really sure but I know that I definitely dont want to live in a UKIP led Britain. The thought terrifies me; this meme is going round with some of their policies and when you look at it, it seems unbelievable that almost 30% of voters would have picked them. The only saving grace is that hopefully a lot of those were protest votes. But even that is small consolation, voting in protest is not the answer and just gives more power to those you don’t actually support.
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Add to this the increasing frustration and anger at the media’s (especially the BBC’s) bias against the Green Party. To quote one petition on the matter:

We feel the BBC News coverage of the European and, specifically, Local Elections has, to date, been unfairly biased against the Green Party. This bias is not only evident in the almost complete absence of coverage of the Green Party during the Local Election results, but also prior to this during the campaign for the European and Local Elections on Thursday 22nd May.
Whilst we understand that UKIP have made gains in the Local Elections, it has gone largely unreported that the Green Party currently have a total of 162 Councillors and are now the official opposition in Liverpool, Solihull, Islington, Lewisham, and Norwich (15 councillors to Labour’s 21). They gained two seats in Bristol, one with over 47% of the vote and retained a third seat, bringing the total to 6. They have one MP, one member of the House of Lords, two MEP’s, two MSP’s, two London Assembly members, as well as a Green-led Council in Brighton & Hove; none of these (with the exception of the MEP’s and House of Lords members) are privileges enjoyed by UKIP.

To quote ‘Tim G.’ in the comments section below: “The continual swamping of our news services about UKIP (a single topic campaign party), gave them an unfair advantage over parties trying to address the real problems in the UK, both political & environmental…”

The BBC prides itself on painting a fair and unbiased picture of events, however in this case we feel they have not done so. UKIP should be receiving coverage proportional to their achievements, acachievements which are currently less than those of the Green Party.
(You can sign this petition here)

So we have three main parties that have isolated much of the population with not much difference in policies and a habit of keeping the rich rich regardless of how that impacts everyone else, a far right party gaining support and attention with sensationalist tactics and outrageous statements and as far as I can see, just one major party that seems to actually care about the people, the environment and is committed to evening out inequalities in our society and working towards a sustainable future.

What I do know is that those of us that are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs and what looms on the horizon need to stop just complaining and actually get up and do something. Which is why I will be joining the Green Party and doing what I can to campaign for them in my area. If we want the status quo to change and improve for the better we need to get in on the action and become participators, not just spectators.

What are you going to do?

There’s not much left to say at this point so I’ll leave you with the words of the Once-ler at the end of The Lorax:

‘UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
It’s not.’

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Capturing a moment

After a busy but lovely trip to Paignton Zoo yesterday and with a big girl suffering a bout of tonsilitus, today has been a very quiet one. But we’ve had a lovely day nonetheless and I wanted to record it after being stuck in an apparently endless (but obviously not) cycle of sibling bickering and 4 year old meltdowns where I seem to be stuck in a loop; please don’t shout at your brother,  have you actually asked/talked to him, guys just CALM DOWN.

Whilst I took Isaac to church this morning Dan and Sophia worked on her new book that she was very kindly given after the trip to the zoo yesterday.  I think it was the perfect activity for someone feeling a bit poorly and she was proud of herself for having done most of the construction herself.

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After lunch we transferred the butterfly chrysalides from the pot into their hatching container and hung it from the window much to the excitement of both the kids.

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Then Isaac accompanied me whilst I weeded my onion and garlic bed and planted out some dwarf broad beans into one of the beds. Whilst out there we heard some very noisy cows so went for a walk down the country lanes near us in search of them.

I was impressed with his walking as we meandered a good half mile down the road chatting about tractors, animals and keeping a keen eye out for elderflowers. To my joy we spotted a bush and tree just yards from our driveway but they’re still not out yet and I’ll need a stepladder to reach them! I’m thinking it could be a family endeavour next weekend!

Much to Isaac’s delight we found a field of cows and another of sheep to say hello to. He didn’t want to leave until I suggested picking a bunch of wild flowers for Sophia on the way home. He took to this task with utmost enthusiasm and proudly presented them to her upon our return. She was incredibly happy and grateful and said smelling them makes her feel much better. And this was really the moment I wanted to capture, a loving gesture from brother to sister, received with gratitude and recripocated with love. There are days when it seems they can’t stand each other but I try to hold tight to these moments;  where one has cared for the other, when Sophia reads to Isaac, when they disappear to play some complicated secret game which engages and satisfies them both. There are a lot of these moments but it’s easy to let the shouting,  the snatching,  the crying,  overshadow them. They are growing not only as individuals but as siblings,  figuring out how to live alongside each other and how to enjoy each others company. And when they get it right, it melts my heart to watch.

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More than just numbers

I tend to shy away from political posts but in the run up to the forthcoming election and in the light of some of UKIP’s ridiculous statements and the worrying amount of support they are garnering, I felt moved to write something. It’s easy to spout out (misinterpreted or false!) statistics confidently and start shouting about our rights but what UKIP do is completely gloss over the fact that the anonymous ‘them’ that are apparently sponging off our welfare system and taking our jobs are people too. People who deserve a roof over their head, food and clean water and to live without having to fear for their lives.

A good friend of mine has spent several years travelling around Europe and met people whose stories are nothing less than heartbreaking. One particular story that has stuck with me is of a 5 year old girl and her family whose fate is still unknown. They are originally from Afghanistan and crossed the border into Iran and made their way to Greece where they are living in a squat or temporary accommodation. Greece offers no help to illegal immigrants; obviously the economical crisis there means they are struggling to even support their own citizens but the rise of the neo-nazi far right party Golden Dawn means that life for illegal immigrants is full of fear and discrimination (sometimes violent). This family (6 children and 1 on the way) have been surviving on scavenging through bins and handouts from political activists and the few charities that are still operating in Greece. A year or so ago they made the unimaginably tough decision to scrape some money together to pay smugglers to take one of their older sons to Germany. They did this because they knew that once in Germany the system there would authorise papers to bring the rest of the family and they might finally be able to start a life together, able to work, go to school and live freely.

However, the authorities in Greece are horrendously slow in processing such requests and the family were struggling to feed them all so when they heard that a young relative and his friend were planning to cross Europe to Sweden they asked them to take their 5 year old daughter with them. I’d like to pause to put this into perspective. So desperate were they that they asked 2 adolescents (16 and 17) to take their young daughter illegally across several countries as this was the best option for the survival of the whole family. I cannot begin to fathom how hard this decision must have been to make, when I look at Sophia (currently flinging herself around the room), I just cannot imagine having to send her into an incredibly dangerous and unknown situation as the best way to ensure the families survival. To say goodbye and know that you wouldn’t hear from her or the people she’s with for months, to have no way of knowing if she was safe, if she was even still alive. And for this still to be the best option. It makes me feel sick.

The boys agreed and walked to Macedonia (carrying the girl when she got tired, look at a map…it’s an incredibly long way. This would have taken days, if not weeks) before boarding a bus to the Serbian border. They got stopped and put in a police cell for a while before being taken back. They boarded a train to try again and were stopped by another police officer but appealed to his better side and he turned a blind eye due to the presence of the girl with them. However, despite getting across the border they were caught and put in a detention camp. They managed to escape and continued on their journey before trying to cross into Croatia. They were stopped again and returned to Serbia where eventually they decided that the best course of action was to use what little money they had to pay smugglers to get them into Croatia. After a fairly terrifying night in a forest they walked across the border through the night but were then caught again and transferred into a detention camp in Hungary. As they counted as minors they managed to run away and claim asylum (although I think Hungary are fairly merciless to refugees so it was of little relief). They were sheltered for a few nights by activists and then caught a train to Frankfurt where miraculously they managed to arrive unnoticed. They were met at the station by activists who then took them and looked after them.

The girl has now been reunited with her brother in the German foster system and they are awaiting the arrival of her parents and siblings and the boys have been granted a temporary permit until they are 18. But it’s not a happy ending at all. At 18 the boys are likely to be deported to Afghanistan where neither of them have lived since they were 4 and where they know barely anyone. They will fight deportation  but who knows if they’ll be successful. They are stranded, residents of nowhere, wanted nowhere, being pushed from pillar to post with support only from a handful of activists who although passionate, are limited by their resources.

The rise of parties like Golden Dawn, UKIP and the BNP are making situations like this more and more commonplace. These families are by no means alone in their dilemma. And their crime? They are guilty of simply wanting to live without fear for their lives, where starvation isn’t a constant threat, where they can sleep with a roof over their heads and clean water in their taps. Things we take for granted, as given. They can’t help where they were born but we can help what happens to them now.

I’m well aware that this story sounds absolutely unbelievable. It sounds fabricated and ranty. But it’s not. This is is the life of millions of people every day, having to make agonising decisions about their children, having to fight tooth and nail for survival, for a home, for education, for food and water, for safety.

My friend has provided me with the links to some websites if you’re interested in finding out more or supporting people like the family I’ve written about. Right to Remain is a UK based human rights organisation that provide information, advice and support about remaining in the UK and Welcome to Europe provides independent information for refugees arriving in Europe about the situation they can expect to face in each country.  Clandestina is a blog which talks about the situation in Greece for migrants including details of unreported deaths that occur at their borders. Finally, No Borders might be of interest as well for further reading and research on the issue.

Take from this post what you will but if you were considering voting UKIP on Thursday, especially if you were doing so as a protest vote, I urge you to stop and reconsider. Life for millions of refugees is already unbelievably tough, please don’t be one of the people that makes it even worse. I am just as frustrated by the main three’s failings as you. They’ve dominated the political landscape in the UK for far too long. But UKIP aren’t the answer. Vote Green, vote for a local independent, there are other options. Please remember that. And above all, remember that the nameless ‘them’ that the right wing parties refer to are not just numbers, but people too.

Waiting for elderflowers

I’ve been getting a bit hung up recently with the fact that we haven’t been going regularly to any kind of outdoor learning group; we went to Exeter Forest School’s group for under 5’s for two terms last year (which we loved) and went to Embercombe’s Natural Learning Group a grand total of once earlier this year! We stopped the former as Sophia was somewhat outgrowing it and haven’t managed the latter again due to a combination of mitigating factors, the abysmal weather of the first few months of this year, distance and sometimes just plain forgetfulness. I was starting to beat myself up about this and our lack of intentional nature studies when I paused, took stock of what has been naturally occurring in our lives and laughed  a little at myself for being a worrywart (again).

The first thing that came to mind (probably because I can see them from where I’m sitting on the sofa) is Sophia’s latest project of ‘growing’ butterflies. One of her birthday presents (thanks Uncle Ed!) was a kit where you send away for caterpillars and food, watch them eat and turn into chrysalises and then transfer them to the provided butterfly ‘aviary’ to watch them hatch before letting them go. They arrived on friday and we’ve all enjoyed seeing them get noticeably bigger every day. Sophia has decided that they like watching shows on the iplayer with her to wake them up a little if they aren’t wiggling enough! She’s decided to draw them and write a bit in her learning book about them and then do it again when they are in chrysalis stage and finally once they’ve undertaken their final transformation into butterflies. I think we’re all equally excited about the process!

To try and tie in with the life cycle theme we went to explore our landlady’s pond in hope of finding frogspawn or tadpoles. There were neither but seeing as we were there and had a lot of relevant books, we began a pond survey. Sophia and Isaac sat in our tent nearby (left up from our party) and painted the pond as they could see it and then we carefully began to try and identify what plants we could see in and around the pond. I was impressed that we managed to identify four different species. We’re going to go down again when the sun is out to measure the pond and possibly dip if I can find a net. We might also try and survey our section of stream which is apparently sometimes visited by otters, we haven’t spotted them yet but hope we do soon!

I mentioned our chickens in my last post and as I was pondering realised that all three of us are constantly learning as we feed them, collect eggs and watch them interact. This isn’t quite so intentional so much as part of our daily life (I’m impressed that we haven’t yet forgotten to let them out in the morning!) and joins our attempts at growing our own in being an ongoing informal learning experience, and a most enjoyable one at that.

Talking of vegetables, our potatoes, garlic, onions, pumpkins, tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, peas and runner beans are doing really well and so far we’ve only really failed with our broccoli, cucumber and sweetcorn (the first 2 died inexplicably as seedlings and the latter just never appeared!) so I think that’s not too bad going really. I’m hoping for some sunshine this week as I really do have quite a lot to do in the garden, as any gardener knows, there’s always more to do than you  have time for! But I really need to put the pepper seedlings in bigger pots, plant out the sunflower seedlings and earth up the potatoes. Hoping I find time for it all.

This season of growing is a funny one, there’s the hurry of trying to plant everything you want to and nursing tender seedlings when they do appear coupled with the waiting, waiting for seeds to sprout, for plants to harden, for buds to bloom. Sophia has been quicker on the mark at wanting to spot elderflower this year than I but it’s just not quite time for them yet, all the buds I have seen have been tightly closed and green. So I’ve promised to point them out as soon as I see some in flower and she asks all the time, especially as we drive through the country lane and the banks are covered in the lookalike (to a young eye) that is cow parsley. But soon they’ll bloom and then we can’t start harvesting and making cordial. I’m going to try champagne this year as well. I’m also determined to persevere and make more. Last year we made a measly 4 bottles of cordial which disappeared in no time so I’m on the lookout for an abundant source of the beautiful flower so that this year we can make plenty.

And this is pretty much how my train of thought went last night. At which point I concluded that

a) we are already learning a lot from the outdoors, without going to any formal groups

b) we have started down the nature study route with the butterflies and pond survey

and most importantly

c) that at 4 and 2 there is plenty of time for us to attend formal groups and do serious nature studies and that right now, we’re doing more than enough by just spending as much time outdoors as possible.

They paddle in streams and the sea, dig in the earth, run through fields, chase chickens and cats (lovingly of course) and are happier outside doing pretty much anything than being inside confined by 4 walls. And we’re all pretty happy with that.

A British oddity

I refer of course to the thoroughly sunny and enjoyable bank holiday we are nearing the end of. Easter started nice and ended in downpours so I am enjoying the unusal (for a bank holiday!) sunshine, especially as we had a party planned which is just a green light for rain clouds to go ahead and congregate!

Saturday morning was consumed with planning for the party,  there were salads to make, a tent to pitch and home made lanterns to finish but I was somewhat distracted.  The arrival of our chickens was imminent and I needed to prepare their hen house and pen. And then before I knew it the smiling face of my friend arrived at my window and I shouted, rather overexcitedly, BRINGER OF CHICKENS.

We carefully carried three large boxes to the pen where I opened the lids and was pleasantly surprised to see 6 beautiful hens cautiously emerge into their new home. We had been expecting ex battery hens but actually rehomed some 18 month old free range hens. I’m assuming that they are killed routinely at this age due to a decline in egg production so I’m happy we’ve been able to give them a home. Sophia quickly chose one for her own and named her ‘Ruby red bum’ (she’s obviously been bullied as is missing a lot of rear end feathers)!

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The party was a lot smaller than anticipated due to illness and various other reasons but we enjoyed gathering with our friends in the sun to share food, music and company. I was blessed that our friends who are experienced animal keepers were there and able to advise when darkness was almost upon us and the hens still hadn’t all made it inside their house. She skillfully picked them up, like rugby balls one under each arm and ushered them into their new home.

Isaac and I were delighted in the morning to find two eggs and some very chirpy chickens. They seemed to be settling in well! This was further observed as we saw the cheekiest hen of the group (who I’ve subsequently named Maggie) escape into the adjoining run and spend a good while trying to squeeze through the wooden gate to the wide world beyond! She’s an absolute character and comes to you as soon as you enter the run and seems to enjoy being picked up and stroked (not by me though!) I can’t lie to you, I have been struggling to pick them up. I’ve always been nervous around animals and as well as the eggs/learning opportunities/rescue side of things, getting chickens was my way of making myself get over my nerves and be able to handle animals confidently. After some YouTube videos and instruction from friends I have now successfully (more or less!) picked up a chicken twice! But I feel much less nervous and am loving their presence in our lives, it’s only been 3 days but we’re all in love with the chickens!

After tidying up we took our friend up into Cadbury woods to stretch our legs and were delighted to find bluebells as far as the eye could see. It was beautiful. We climbed trees, picked flowers and foraged a bit of wood before heading home. I actually took our camera for once so managed some ace pictures.

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I have a funny love/hate affair with photos. I love being able to look back and have a visual prompt to remember things now past but I also hate feeling like I must record everything. Does a memory, an event count for less if there is no evidence of it? Of course not but sometimes I come back from a lovely day out and feel sad that I don’t have photos of it. Which is a bit silly really. It still happened, we still had fun. As my friend commented as I chewed her ear off on the subject ‘the best parties have no photos’…presumably because everyone is having too much fun to take any! I think we’re all prone to being a bit snap happy these days; not that there is anything wrong with that as long as it doesn’t become more important than actually joining in and enjoying what you are trying to document!

Anyway, I digress! The bank holiday was made complete with a spate of gardening today; runner beans and pumpkins planted out, more seeds sown, weeding and watering, beds dug over. Dan started to build a wood store. Numerous trips to check for eggs. Just bliss. We are loving life in the sticks.

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I hope you all had a great bank holiday weekend as well, I’d love to hear what you got up to!