Archive

Archive for the ‘Living in the UK’ Category

Common Decency and Animal Welfare

March 25th, 2015 No comments

Common Decency logoMusician and astrophysicist Brian May recently launched a new campaign from his charity the Save Me Trust. It’s called Common Decency with a mission to reform Britain’s democracy.

We want nothing less than a complete reform of the Parliamentary system. It’s about not just removing the unfairness and injustice that the present Government represents, but removing the corrupt system that spawned it and all recent Governments. And it’s about radically changing the composition of Parliament – moving it forward, consigning the failed two-party system to history.

Brian and Save Me’s CEO, Anne Brummer, kindly invited me to write the following article for publication on in the Experts section of the Common Decency website.

Common Decency and Animal Welfare

The common decency is to treat others as you would want them to treat you.

Perhaps this is easier said than done.

Certainly, it’s easier with those with whom we love. Our family and friends are special to us precisely because of our intense relationship with them. A bond that is grounded in love and respect, intimacy and loyalty. We know they will be there for us when we need them to be. As we would be there for them should they need us.

But what about those who are outside of our immediate circle? Other people whom we may know but not well or, if we do, we don’t like. Do we treat them as you would want them to treat you?

Maybe.

Then, there are strangers. People we’ve never met. We know nothing about them. Other than from what we see from looking at them. And then we may not always be correct in our assumptions. People often aren’t what they appear to be. Or how we think they should behave.

I’d like to think that if I saw someone — anyone — who needed help I would do my best to assist them. But I don’t always give change to the homeless people who I walk past. I don’t always think to wait for others when I board a train. I’m distracted. My mind is elsewhere. I’m tired. It’s been a long day. And I want to get home. I think of myself. Nonetheless, despite my failings in living up to the standard I hold in others, I would like to believe that if I ever needed help someone would come to my assistance.

Surely one of the definitions of a civilised society is that people generally help each other. We respect each other even if we don’t know or like them. We may not be perfect but we’re making progress. Within just a few generations, our feelings have changed toward others who we thought were not like us. But there’s still much to do. Clearly, prejudices persist. We don’t always treat others as we would expect them to treat us. Our society has yet to rid itself of racism and all the other prejudices that may appear to make us different. But on further study our differences reveal how we are all remarkably the same. ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?’ asked Shylock in Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice.’

A kneeling African in chains in a logo designed by Josiah Wedgwood in the 1780s asked, ‘Am I Not a Man and a Brother?’ Whereas Black Lives Matter declares a contemporary US-based international movement with the same name. Is this not part of a continuum of struggle for recognition and rights, and compassion and respectful treatment, which speaks not only for those subjugated but also for everyone?

Those campaigning throughout the world for animals and their welfare, protection and rights push the boundaries of common decency further and beyond our own species. They demand nonhuman animals receive the same respectful treatment that we hold (or should hold) for the members of our own species. Animal advocates don’t demand that animals should have the right to vote. But animals are like us. They bleed when they are cut.

It’s time for the golden rule of respectful treatment to be extended to include all species. This is why Common Decency is committed to animal welfare. We see our treatment of animals not only as an important political issue — animals deserve far tougher laws than they have — but also as a reflection of ourselves and our own society.

Post to Twitter

Animal Pasts in Hyde Park

October 14th, 2013 No comments
Although this horse stables in a nearby mews is relatively recent, London's Hyde Park has a long history involving horses and less recently sheep and cows.

Although this horse stables in a nearby mews is relatively recent, London’s Hyde Park has a long history involving horses and less recently sheep and cows.

On Saturday, October 12, I joined with 12 others on a walk, Animal Pasts in Hyde Park, led by historian Hilda Kean in London. This is the second walk I’ve taken led by Hilda. Here is my account of the first ‘Animal Pasts in London’s Landscape Today‘. Among Hilda’s books is Animal Rights. Political and Social Change in Britain since 1800, which I highly recommend.

‘Hyde Park is not just a site of human demonstrations and concerts,’ explained Hilda. ‘It is a space in which animals have also lived, died and been remembered and not only at the Animals in War memorial in Park Lane.’

Seen in the distance are the gravestones of the Hyde Park Dog Cemetery.

Seen in the distance are the gravestones of the Hyde Park Dog Cemetery.

Britain’s first pet cemetery is in Hyde Park. Although we were unable to gain access, the headstones were visible through the wrought iron fence. Hilda writes about the Hyde Park Dog Cemetery on her website:

It was originally called (it also admitted the corpses of three small monkeys, and two cats) was established in 1880 in the part of the huge park that lies adjacent to Kensington Gardens (and opposite Lancaster Gate). Although accounts vary as to the origins of the cemetery – either initiated by the Duke of Connaught or through a favour of the gatekeeper to friends who lived nearby – it is evident that the cemetery was not run for profit but as a philanthropic gesture towards grieving animal owners.

The walking tour also included two cattle troughs, the memorial for a defunct bird sanctuary which featured Epstein’s figure of ‘Rima,’ the bird-girl heroine of W. H. Hudson’s novel, ‘Green Mansions.’ The tour ended at the Animals in War Memorial on Park Lane immediately adjacent and to the east of Hyde Park.

This video is raw footage I shot with my iPad. The Animals in War Memorial is situated in the middle of a very busy road, Park Lane, with each side having at least two lanes of traffic, including many buses and coaches. So, the audio quality is not great but does improve. In any event, it is possible to hear Hilda Kean speak about the memorial and see it and how it is situated.

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt

Post to Twitter

Animal Pasts in London’s Landscape Today

October 2nd, 2012 No comments

On Saturday, September 29, I was lucky to be part of a walking group led by historian Hilda Kean which explored ‘Animal Pasts in London’s Landscape Today.’ As Hilda writes on her Web site,

Alongside our human ancestors animals have created the physical and cultural landscape of London as it exists today. In this walk of c. 2 hours we will look at traces left by cattle, horses, dogs and cats – and their human companions. Skirting the city, this walk will  offer a different way of seeing London.

This video shows how we started at Smithfield Market. It began as a place where once live farmed animals were brought, bought, sold and killed to a meat market today. Hilda read out from Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist,

It was market-morning. The ground was covered, nearly ankle-deep, with filth and mire; a thick steam, perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling with the fog, which seemed to rest upon the chimney-tops, hung heavily yabove. All the pens in the centre of the large area, and as many temporary pens as could be crowded into the vacant space, were filled with sheep; tied up to posts by the gutter side were long lines of beasts and oxen, three or four deep.

Smithfield is on the borders of the City, whixh is a place of many histories. For example, St Bartholomew’s, the oldest hospital in London, was founded here by Rahere in 1123. It was a site of executions and Protestant martyrs were burnt to death, including William Wallace and Wat Tyler. The live trade in cattle from C12 to 1860s led ironically to the first legislation in the world to protect animals in 1822, when it became illegal to ‘wantonly and cruelly beat abuse, or ill treat any horse, mare, gelding, mule, ass, ox, cow , heifer, steer, sheep, or other cattle.’

Samuel Johnson’s cat, Hodge, as represented by sculptor Jon Bickley in 1997.

On our way to Samuel Johnson’s house in Gough Square, Hilda pointed several key landmarks and buildings, which I will tease you with by saying, dear reader, you will need to join Hilda on a future tour to find out! Samuel Johnson, the famous essayist, lived in a house in Gough Square, between 1749 – 59, which was during the period when he published his famous dictionary. Dr Johnson opposed cruelty to animals, including vivisection which he defined as perpetrated ‘by a race of men that have practised tortures without pity.’ He also loved cats. One of them, Hodge, was described by Johnson as a ‘very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.’ Here is a link to an extract of a videoI shot of Hilda telling us about Hodge.

Sam, who had all the ideas.

Later on the walk, we saw another statue dedicated to a cat. This was Sam. Sam, who was a real cat who lived with Patricia Penn, and is now commemorated in sculpture by John Fuller in Queen Square. Penny, as she was known, was a local campaigner and active in the residents association. Penny and Sam lived nearby. Apparently when Penny wanted to reveal something or spread an idea, she’d say ‘Sam heard … or Sam has had an idea.’ We also visited another statue dedicated to a cat, Humphrey. Click on this linkto watch Hilda explain who Humphrey was.

I took this photo looking up to the door which horses were taken through. I am standing on the corridor leading down to the lower flower looking up at the front door. The cobbled steps, which were installed to help make it easier for the horses to walk, are clearly visible.

The last but one site we visited was what used to be the horse hospital but is now an art gallery on the lower floor and the contemporary wardrobe collection on the upper floor. The horse hospital is located at the rear of Russell Hotel in Herbrand Street and Colonnade. It was built by architect James Burton in 1797, who also built the Veterinary College in St Pancras and then redeveloped after 1860. Now a grade 11 listed arts centre, the interior still contains the moulded ramps and cobbled floor which enabled horses to walk from the bottom to be treated on the first floor. Apologies for this brief account of what was a fascinating two-hour plus walk through central London. Please visit Hilda’s Web site to learn more about her various projects in animal rights and other histories. Her book on the history of animal rights is also highly recommended. It is called ‘Animal Rights’ and is published by Reaktion. Please also check out this link. It is to a video of Hilda making a presentation at a recent conference of the International Society of Anthrozoology called, ‘The Changing Human-Feline Relationship in Britain c.1900-1950.’

Post to Twitter

Thatcher and Me

May 19th, 2011 No comments

Rumours of Margaret Thatcher’s departure from this mortal coil continue. I wrote about my anxiety on how to react to the news of the inevitable here. Here’s another take from Owen Jones, which I appreciate.

I doubt any Prime Minister has ever polarised this country as much as Thatcher. The right idolise her like no other, believing ‘the Lady’ rescued a declining Britain from creeping socialism in the 1970s. But a pretty significant chunk of the country hate her so much that her death will, undoubtedly, be celebrated. Over the weekend, rumours flew around Twitter that she is on her deathbed: unlikely, but her departure from this world is probably not that far away. Facebook events encouraging street parties to mark her death have been live for years and have thousands of excited members. Let me be honest: I will not weep when Thatcher dies. Her governments ruined entire communities, and many of them still lie in pieces. People have lost lives as a result of her policies: whether it be the Argentine soldiers on the Belgrano, or miners who committed suicide in despair as their futures were taken away from them. But I won’t celebrate either. For a start, there’s a universal principle at stake: I don’t wish death on any figure, whether they be Thatcher or Osama bin Laden. I think they should be held accountable for their actions, and I don’t think their death solves anything.

Post to Twitter

Osama bin Laden, Margaret Thatcher and Me

May 4th, 2011 2 comments

The joy expressed worldwide on the news of Osama bin Laden’s death is simultaneously understandable and disturbing.

Understandable because, like everyone else in the USA on September 11, 2001, it was impossible to pretend otherwise that the morning’s terrorist attacks changed everything. That day I was in Baltimore, MD, which is one hour north of Washington, DC, and two hours south of New York City, working at the offices of The Animals’ Agenda, an animal rights magazine I edited and published. We stayed in publication with the narrowest of balance sheets imaginable. If it wasn’t for the outstanding generosity of the magazine’s readers and grants from like-minded organisations and foundations, we would have ceased publication years earlier. But no one could have predicted that morning the significant impact that the psychological trauma would have, particularly on the country’s economy. The resulting economic slump pushed precarious enterprises like The Animals’ Agenda into severe financial distress. In 2002 we ceased publication, eventually merging with Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to form the Animals and Society Institute.

So, for this reason, and others widely shared by most people, I have no sympathy for bin Laden. Nevertheless, the scenes of celebration over his death disturb me. Taking joy in the death of another, including an animal, shows off our fear and arrogance. These raw emotions are hatred for those who we detest and pleasure in seeing their demise. What difference is there between the celebrations of those who were happy to learn of bin Laden’s death and his followers who found joy in the 2001 terrorist attacks?

The disgust I felt on seeing the recent celebrations forces me to confront how I feel about the forthcoming demise of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. For years, I’ve kept a bottle of Champagne in the fridge specifically for toasting on the “glorious day when Maggie dies.” Thatcher stood for everything I thought was wrong. She led a government which, in all but name, declared war on the British poor and working class. Tremors triggered by her premiership reverberate today. In fact, the present Conservative-led coalition government is Thatercherism revived and expanded. This is why the Champagne has been on ice for years, even on two continents. Further, I’ve made it clear to all who would listen that on the “glorious day when Maggie dies” I will be in my local pub celebrating. “Meet me there,” I said.

Now, I’m not so sure. To celebrate Maggie’s death in the way that I thought I would is to behave hypocritically. It is to be guilty of the same acts that I criticise those who celebrate bin Laden’s death and those who took pleasure in terrorism.

And just to be clear before anyone mischievously rushes to do so, I am not making any comparison between Osama bin Laden and Margaret Thatcher. If they do they will be guilty of hypocrisy, taking advantage hypocritically of Maggie’s death in the same callous way that they will no doubt be accusing me off while conveniently ignoring their own poisonous rhetoric.

So, how are we to recognise the death of someone who we hate so much?

It turns out that the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote much used lately is a fabrication. So, I won’t quote what he is to alleged to have said, “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.”

Another recently used quote is also not true! Mark Twain never said, “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” So, I won’t quote him either.

So, how will I recognise the death of Margaret Thatcher?

Most likely, I will stay at home, nurture a glass of bubbly, playing loudly Robert Wyatt, the Clash, the Smiths and Henry Cow. And weep a little.

Post to Twitter

Victory, Forests, Porritt

February 17th, 2011 No comments

Further to Jonathan Porritt’s critique of the UK’s environmental movement’s response to the government’s forest fireside sale which is now been chopped (forgive the puns), he commented (before the government’s u-turn announcement yesterday) further about their response to the coalition’s initiative. I like his strategic approach.

So my simple suggestion for the Big 10 is this: start all over again, but urgently. Develop a joint position to maximise the massive leverage that your collective membership still commands.

Then approach Mrs Spelman with a deal: if she withdraws the relevant clauses in the Public Bodies Bill, you will hold back from launching a national, joint, high-profile campaign to oppose the current proposals root and branch – in effect, to take on some of the heavy-lifting that has been carried so far by 38 Degrees and some brilliant local campaigns.

In return, you offer to work with Defra, the Forestry Commission and representatives of local action groups to come up with some genuinely radical proposals on how best to improve and extend the Public Forest Estate, how best to involve community groups, NGOs and the private sector, how best to turn the turgid rhetoric about the “Big Society” into a living, breathing blueprint for sustainable forestry in the UK over the next 20/30 years.

And this might well include creative ideas about different patterns of ownership, different ways of optimising public benefit, and indeed different ways of improving the conditions of the 60% of privately owned woodlands in England that are already poorly managed from a commercial point of view and are providing zero public benefit.

Post to Twitter

Porritt on Govt Sale of Forests

February 5th, 2011 No comments

Leading environmental campaign Jonathon Porritt critically assesses a dozen of Britain’s environmental/green/wildlife non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and their reaction to the British Government’s proposed sale of historic forests.

A combination of growing public concern (evidenced by the 450,000 people who have now signed the 38 degrees petition), more and more local action groups, and a sudden realisation on the part of the Lib Dems and even some Tories that they are on a hiding to nothing with this one, tells me that this campaign is eminently winnable. Especially if you bear in mind that not one of the major environmental NGOs has so much as lifted a finger in support of the campaign. A few cautious ‘words of warning’ when pressed, but nothing that anyone else would recognise as a campaign. Why not?

Post to Twitter

Squirrel Impossible!

January 28th, 2011 1 comment
Categories: Living in the UK Tags:

Monbiot on Badgers and Hattersley on Dogs in The Guardian

November 16th, 2010 No comments

Further to my post about the proposed badger cull in England by the ConDem government and in Wales by the Welsh Assembly, George Monbiot writes in today’s Guardian, and concludes

So why commission £49m of research then shred it? Because the National Farmers’ Union wants to see blood, and it is neither prepared to wait nor to accept measures as tough as Bourne proposes. Up and down the country it is whipping up farmers to demand that badgers are killed. Yesterday I spoke to a tenant farmer who had just attended an NFU meeting that unanimously supported the cull. A question revealed that not one of the farmers in the room had read the consultation document: they simply accepted the NFU’s word that the killing had to happen. Under this government, the NFU rules. According to the small farmers I know, it tends to be dominated by the biggest and most arrogant landowners – rather like the Tory party. Last week the government quietly abandoned its commitment to stop the de-beaking of chickens and to stop game birds from being kept in cages. The badgers are just another lump of meat to be thrown to the beast. The cull might help to destroy the industry these bloody-minded dolts claim to defend. But they don’t seem to care, just as long as something is done other than imposing rigorous controls on their business. Killing wildlife will do just fine.

Roy Hattersley, a Labour Party elder and prolific author including books about dogs, wrote yesterday in The Guardian about public policy on dogs.

Of course, the call for regulation will be greeted by cries of anguish from the vested interests. There will be particular opposition from the pedigree lobby, which makes its money out of pure-breed dogs – many of which have been inbred to the point of physical deformity in order to emphasise their exclusive features. They are right to worry about how a law requiring the proper care of dogs will affect them. Breeding dogs with genetic defects is another form of cruelty – made worse by the suffering being a callously premeditated way to charge exclusive prices. In this country we talk of dogs with a sentimentality that is not always matched by the sense and sympathy with which we treat them. Some are abused. Some are neglected. Some are damaged by misplaced indulgence. The best way to avoid all those tragedies is the regulation of dog ownership through a contract that sets out a duty of care. Real dog-lovers will not object.

Post to Twitter

Bravo to Johann Hari on Sky News

November 16th, 2010 No comments
Categories: Living in the UK, Politics Tags: