United No More

This is an editorial I wrote last year. I was given the subject of unity and how this works in the 21st century. These are my thoughts. Just my own thoughts. You don’t have to agree.

 

Editorial

 

United No More

When did the world become such an uncaring place? Has it really changed so much?

It saddens me I when hear the hate rhetoric that is not only spewed from the misguided masses, but now it is part of our politicians’ manifestos. The frightening thing is that we are listening to them. We believe that refusing to admit all refugees who have nowhere to live, other than in the middle of a war zone or under the canvas of a makeshift tent that has been cobbled together to provide the minimum protection, will save us all from certain terrorism. We believe that taking away benefits from the most vulnerable in society, simply because their illness is mental, therefore not visible, will make the hardworking among us richer and happier. Because, after all, the mentally ill are simply scroungers who could work if they really wanted to. My mind is blown by this kind of thinking.

I don’t understand when or why everyone became so selfish. There was a time, and it wasn’t so long ago, that we felt united. People helped one another. People cared about one another. This is no longer the case. Yes, there are people who will always be there for you: your family and friends. But, in general, we are in this for ourselves. It is true that everybody has a “Just Giving” page nowadays. We have to be seen to care. In reality, though, ask those fundraisers to house a refugee family, or to donate their own money to buy a family living in poverty one hot meal every week, and we are in a totally different situation.

Unity is a concept belonging to the past. The end began with BREXIT. I hang my head when I think about what this country started with that vote. What is so bad about being united, standing together? Why do we think that standing alone is a stronger, safer place to be? Alienating some of our closest allies seems like a terrible idea to me. We are a tiny island. It won’t be long before Scotland breaks away from the rest of the UK. Wales and Northern Ireland, I am sure, will follow shortly thereafter. It’s okay, though, because we are English, and we will be looking after ourselves. I shake my head and sigh.

I am discussing the UK because I am British. But this feeling of unease and dislike for our neighbours is a worldwide phenomenon. Leaders with all the morals of a preying mantis have been elected (and self-appointed) the world over. The tectonic plates of unrest are rubbing and shooting off sparks in all directions. There is only a certain amount of time before the world will shake so hard we all fall into the cracks. Unless we change.

Why not love people who look a little different from us, people who hold different beliefs? What is wrong with acceptance, rather than opposition? I appreciate this is the real world, and my ideas are somewhat fantasist. But wouldn’t the world be a much better place if we could all make a change? I know it won’t happen. The world will be nuked beyond belief before we make friends with our foes. That, apparently, is preferable. I don’t understand it. I wish I could change it.

 

A Christmas Miracle

This is a short story I wrote this time last year. Bear that in mind when you read it: I wrote it in a different political time. This is story is a fantasy story, so I appreciate there is no chance of any of it ever happening (I did actually get a couple of people telling me the story doesn’t work because it’s not possible!), but I thought it was a cool idea for a story. I’m a bit of a dreamer, at heart.

A Christmas Miracle

For most of the year a small, round table stood in the centre of the Blue Room. Made of the finest mahogany, it sat underneath the two-hundred year old crystal chandelier. Barack lost count of the amount of awestruck gasps he had witnessed over the previous eight years.

With Christmas two days away, the chandelier had been removed in order to make way for a twenty foot high Norwegian pine. This year, Michelle and the girls had insisted on decorating it themselves. In keeping with the decor of the room, Michelle chose a colour scheme of silver and baby blue.

As he stood before the towering Christmas tree, the scent of pine needles filled his senses. He reached out and touched his fingers to the needles; jabs of pain shooting through his hand. Memories of Christmases from another lifetime, when happiness came easily, danced before his eyes.

“Sir, there’s a telephone call on your private line.” He spun around to see his personal assistant, Kiara, standing in the doorway. His cheeks flushed, as he took a moment to recover his thoughts.

“Who is it, Kiara?”

This time, it was she who blushed. “She says her name is Sophia Claus. She . . . ugh . . . she says she needs to you speak about her husband, and that you know who he is.”

“What? That’s a little cryptic. Can’t you get rid of her?” He pinched the bridge of his nose and turned back to the tree.

“I can’t, sir. I mean, I tried. I hung up the phone and cut off the line, like, twenty times. But she’s still there. She said she can’t go until she’s spoken with you.”

A shiver tickled the president’s spine. Sophia Claus? On the private line? About her husband? No way. A rash of adrenalin spread across his chest. “Okay. Thank you, Kiara. I’ll take it in the Oval Office.”

As he slid into his leather swivel-chair, he took three deep breaths, then hit the loud speaker button on his phone. “Mrs. Claus? It’s Barack here.” A line of sweat formed on his upper lip. There could only be one reason for this phone call.

“Barack? Mr. Obama? Hello, deary. You sound far away. Can you hear me?”

The old woman’s buttery voice reminded him of his Grandma. He smiled as he said, “Yes, I can. What can I do for you, Mrs. Claus?”

“Oh, wonderful. My husband asked me to speak to you. We’re in a bit of a bind. It’s my Fred, you see. The silly man had an accident on the chimney entry practice pad. Truth be told, he’s getting a little old to be shooting himself down chimneys. He could use the front doors, I tell him. But he prefers the traditional approach. Now he’s broken both his legs. He’s completely incapacitated. The most he can do is oversee the elves in the workshops from a wheelchair.”

Barack’s head buzzed as he tried to sort through the barrage of information. He turned and glanced at the Grandfather Clock behind him. The thought of what sat underneath, of the magnitude of this telephone call, sent shockwaves through his body.

“I’m so sorry. I hope he makes a speedy recovery.” Lifting the receiver from its cradle, Barack held the mouthpiece close and said, “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

A pause crackled through the airwaves. “Yes, deary, I am. Invoke Operation Rudolph.”

Before he could prevent it, a gasp escaped the president’s mouth. His hands trembled. This was the pinnacle of his career. “Okay. I will need you to give me the password, Ma’am.”

“Of course. The password is sprouts. Good luck, Mr. Obama.”

With that, the line fell silent. Barack stood and faced the Grandfather Clock. Never, in his wildest dreams, did he think he would be the president to push the Rudolph Button.

Every president, when they are sworn in, is told the location of the Rudolph Button. The clock is a replica. It’s made of cheap, light wood: easy to move on your own. As Barack stood before it, searching for a sign of its inauthenticity, he shook his head. This can’t be happening.

Throwing his arms around the clock, he heaved with all his might. He exclaimed as he stumbled backwards. Wow. That was easy. Cream carpet pooled where the clock once stood. You would never guess something so important could be concealed underneath it. Barack crouched down and peeled back the corner. There it is! A square cut into the wooden floor: two inches by three.

Three taps to the bottom, right-hand corner, and the president held his breath. His eyes widened as he watched the wood give way to a scarlet, shining button with the letter ‘R’ engraved above it in diamonds. The force of the movement sent him reeling backwards.

Eyes closed, he pressed the button before he could chicken out. He could only imagine the reactions of his fellow leaders as the Rudolph Alarm sounded in every corner of the world. The next move for him was to gather his own military and political colleagues in the Situation Room. First, though—for the next minute—he had to regain his breath.

“Sir, the switchboard is crazy. Every line is jammed up.” Kiara’s dark ponytail swished as she entered the room. “Are you all right, sir?”

“Yes. Can you patch each line through to the conference call system please? I need to speak with everyone.”

“But there’s at least twenty people on hold. I can’t put them all through.”

Barack exited the room, and said her his shoulder, “Normally . . . no, you couldn’t. But today is no normal day. Today, Kiara, I think you will be surprised at what is possible.”

Every screen in the Situation Room came to life as Barack entered the room. World leaders from Teresa May to Vladimir Putin, and from Angela Merkel to Xi Jinping, sat in squares on the five large wall screens. The Rudolph List had gathered as promptly as he ever thought possible.

As he began to speak, he steepled his fingers in front of him. “Thank you all for responding so quickly. Time is of the essence. I’ve just finished speaking with Mrs. Claus, and they need our help. We have two days to organise our countries’ aircraft. Christmas Eve deliveries must be carried out as usual.”

The room filled with voices muttering. Barack wasn’t clear whether it was excitement at the challenge, or annoyance at the enormity of the task. He scanned each face, and it occurred to him how foolish he had been. These people had one thing in common: a deep-seated hatred of one another. He pinched the bridge of his nose, and rested his hand on the black, leather chair in which he always sat with his government.

“I appreciate this is a tall order, folks. But we all signed up to be part of the Rudolph List. We can’t back out now just because the button has been pushed.” A silence settled in the air. “Okay. Y’all know where your warehouses are. You all have your bombers on standby at this time of year. The warehouses have lists and addresses. For those of you who finish early, check the main computer log—details will be sent in the next ten minutes—and see if you can help anyone. You know what to do.”

One by one, the screens turned black; save for the solitary face of Ash Carter, the president’s Secretary of Defense. The older man cleaned his glasses without looking up. “You sure about this? You really think we can pull it off.”

“We have to pull it off, Ash. Christmas depends on it. We have our B-2s and Lancers ready to go. There’s even the old B-52s waiting for the signal.”

Ashton Carter shook his head, as he placed his spectacles back on his head. This time, he looked Barack in the eye. “Okay. Let’s do it. I’ll notify everyone from my end.”

Barack sat at the head of the empty mahogany table, with his hands behind his head. All he could do now was wait. His part of the deal was done. Whispers of world leaders pushed to their limits clung to the air around him. If this works, it will truly be a Christmas miracle.

As the day moved along, Michelle joined her husband in the conference room. He wasn’t supposed to speak of Operation Rudolph: it was top secret. But, heck, he had spoken to Mrs. Claus: wife of Santa! The farther away he moved from the enormity of the situation, the more filled with wonder he became.

“She sounded like Grandma Madelyn. You remember her voice, right? The way she always sounded like she was smiling. It was incredible, Michelle. I actually spoke to Mrs. Claus.” A grin spread from ear to ear, and he hiccuped with delight.

Once Kiara set up the data for each country on one of the large screens, it surprised Barack how quickly some of the boxes were checked. It helped that there were varying time zones around the world. It meant everyone could pitch in to help others.

The resulting friendliness and goodwill toward previous sworn enemies was a side effect of Santa’s broken legs no one could have foreseen. Barack felt his heart stop for a moment when he saw Putin video high five-ing Petro Poroshenko. Whoever would have thought delivering millions of presents to children at Christmas time could cast such a unifying spell over the world?

At four-thirty EST on Christmas morning, the last presents settled underneath the tree of Jackson McNally in Alaska. The Rudolph spreadsheet lit up, and an animated Santa danced across the screen. Barack glanced at the faces of each world leader. They had all thought this would be an exercise of great stress and pressure.

In fact, it had the opposite effect. Each leader smiled at him, and their smiles stretched all the way to their eyes. Contentment filled the room. When Barack spoke, he stood and steepled his fingers in front of him.

“That’s it: we’ve done it! Every child will receive their presents this Christmas, and it’s all thanks to us. We worked together, as a world at peace. We helped our neighbours, put our own needs aside. I know I am not speaking only for myself when I say the feeling that fills me is one of pride. Folks, let’s build on this pride. We’ve seen what we can achieve when we come together. Let’s not waste this opportunity.”

Barack moved to his end of the table and loosened his tie. “I propose we safeguard the goodwill that is in our hearts today. No more nuclear weapons. No more wars. No more bombs. These evils are not necessary. We have so much more in common than in opposition. Let’s make this world great. All those who are with me, check the final box on your section of the spreadsheet.”

Tension crackled in the air. Some countries took longer than others to reach their decisions. Barack looked at his wife who was stood in the doorway beaming at him.

The final yes came in twenty-three minutes after Barack’s speech. Every country agreed. Lightness washed over the president’s body, lifting him high into the air. Cheers rang out from every screen. World leaders he had known for twenty years looked happier than he had ever seen them.

“This is the best Christmas ever,” he shouted. “Everyone, pour yourself a drink to toast the occasion. Here’s to a Christmas when peace and goodwill has reached every corner of the world. May it last forever!”

 

An Intercontinental Union

UK-and-USA

 

There is so much hatred and bad blood being spilt in the press these days. As human beings, it used to be that we had an inmate desire to be with others. That doesn’t seem to be the case any more.

Brexit, Trump, extreme nationalism. It all comes back to one thing: we only want to care for ourselves. There is no togetherness any more. We don’t trust anyone. A lot of this is due to the perpetuation in the media of horror stories that vilify certain groups of people. They incite fear, and in doing that, they incite hatred. And it scares me. It really scares me.

So, for today, I decided to write a story about how wonderful it can be to work together, even when you are from different cultures. You see, I’m British, and my husband is American. Okay, so they aren’t the most diverse cultures in the world. But,trust me, you would be surprised at how different they are. We work, though. We are best friends and we love each other to bits. It’s our differences that make our relationship extra special. So I wrote this story. It’s not a true story, but it is based heavily on my own relationship. I hope you enjoy it.

 

America

“Nana, Nana,” said Poppy as she bounced into her grandmother’s front room. “I’ve got a project from school.”

“Sorry, Mum. She’s been excited about this project for the last few days,” Anna said, placing her hands around her young daughter’s shoulders and squeezing.

“Oh, that’s alright, darling,” said Kathleen. Smiling, she turned to her granddaughter and said, “ So, you’ve got an exciting project have you, pumpkin?”

“Yes, Nana. America. I must do America.” The rosy-cheeked little girl clambered onto her grandmother’s lap. She swiped away the rogue strands of dark hair that didn’t quite reach her ponytail.

Once she was comfortable, she grabbed her favourite treasure; the gold locket with which Kathleen never parted. Poppy opened the locket and studied the pictures inside. “Grampy?” she said; her honest, blue eyes searching her grandmother’s face for confirmation.

“Yes, Poppy. Grampy Bill.”

“He’s in Heaven now? But he used to be in America, didn’t he, Nana?” Poppy fiddled with the gold chain while she waited for her answer.

“Yes. That’s right, pumpkin,” Kathleen’s voice faltered. Clearing her throat, she said, “So, what is your project? What do you have to write about America?”

“Lots. I’ve got to do a project.” She scrunched up her face and looked to her mother. “That’s right, Mummy, isn’t it? A project?”

Anna nodded, then turned to her mother. “She has to create a folder about another country and she’s chosen the U.S. You know how she’s been obsessed with it, ever since she found out Dad was from there.”

Kathleen chuckled and, when she smiled, the lines around her eyes highlighted the clear blue, passed down from generation to generation. “She does talk about it a lot. What kind of things does she need to know?”

“I think it’s pretty much anything goes. Things like geography we can do at home from the internet, but it would be really good if you have any photos to spare. Anecdotes as well; anything about the cultural differences between the U.S. and the U.K.”

“Nana, I’ll record you,” said Poppy, “Mummy has a recorder.”

“It’s just a phone, Mum, that’s all. I can record your voice on there.”

Kathleen sat back in her chair, sucking air in through her teeth. “Oh, I don’t know, darling. I don’t want everyone listening to my voice.”

“No, it’s okay, Mum. They won’t. It’s just so we can remember what you say.” Anna set the phone on the worn out arm of her mother’s chair and said, “I’ll make some tea. I’ll just set this recording and you can go. Thanks, Mum.”

Eyes wide with uncertainty, Kathleen pressed herself against the back of her chair. “So, you want me to talk about America, Poppy?”

“Yes! America,” her little granddaughter replied.

“Hmm. Okay, let me think.” The sitting room faded away as memories of her late husband and their home in Arizona came to the forefront. Her nose twitched as she smelt the dust that had a habit of stopping by.

“America is sunshine,” Kathleen eventually said. “Blue skies, freedom, and happiness. Long, open roads and lazy days stretching in front of you. Laughter, love. People who are welcoming and friendly. But, I guess that can be true wherever you are.”

Kathleen hugged her granddaughter. “You would love it there, pumpkin. You are very much like Grampy Bill.”

“You always say that, Nana.” Poppy was eager for new information. “Mummy said it’s different to here. She said you speak different.”

“It’s differently, Poppy. And yes, we do.” Memories of discussions over the pronunciations of so many words flashed through Kathleen’s mind. Her face animated as she reminisce. “Americans pronounce their vowels differently, that’s the main change. Like the word pen. It’s spelt pen, isn’t it? Spelt with an e, but your Grampy always pronounced it pin, with an i. It was a running joke between us, we always argued about who was right.”

Anna walked in and agreed that she remembered her parents constantly arguing over words. “You always thought you were right, Mum, and Dad would wind you up so tightly.”

“Yes, but in the end we laughed, Anna. Hover, that’s another word, Poppy. Hover, he pronounced huvver, like it was spelt with a u in the middle. I never understood that. Compost was compowst, elongating the o. Really rather strange. Your Grampy used to call it the ‘New Improved English’. But he was just wrong.”

“I’d forgotten how much you argued about language, Mum. I miss that.”

“Me too, darling. But it wasn’t just the language that was different. As long as I live, I will never understand American sandwiches which are described as ‘chicken salad’ or ‘tuna salad’. Poppy, what that means is they are chicken and mayonnaise, or tuna and mayonnaise. There is not one item of salad involved. It would be like me saying I am a twenty year old man. Just for the sake of it.”

Poppy giggled and said, “Don’t be silly, Nana. You’re not a man.”

“That’s right, Poppy. And for that reason, I don’t call myself one. There are different words for lots of things in the U.S. as well. You know jelly, Poppy? Like you have with ice cream?”

Poppy nodded her head.

“Well, Americans call it Jell-o. But jam, like you spread on your toast, that is jelly. It’s all very confusing.”

Anna noted the way her mother’s eyes sparkled and her face lit up as she spoke about her dear, late husband. New life seemed to flow from her fill her body. Tired, arthritic arms gestured wildly, and her words tripped over one another in her rush to relay every single memory.

“Come on, Mum. You shouldn’t get so worked up. Drink your tea and calm down a little.”

Kathleen took a sip, then continued. “Television is different in the States. There seem to be adverts every five minutes or so. And they advertise things like prescription drugs. That was a big shock, the first time I saw an advert for anti depressants. It reminded me that it’s all a big business.”

Kathleen paused to take a deep breath. “That aspect, I didn’t like so much. But I got used to it. There were lots of good shows, but the sense of humour is different to ours. They don’t really understand sarcasm, as a general rule. Things are a lot more literal. Humour tends to be more visual in the U.S., whereas over here, we used words more. They also have shows called roasts where they take a celebrity and have people who know them belittle them and make fun of them in front of an audience. I just don’t understand how that’s funny.”

Anna watched her mother’s face smile, then fall, and she wondered what was really going on behind her eyes. “All right, Poppy. I think that’s enough for now. Your Nana is getting tired.”

“They were such happy times, Anna.” Kathleen grabbed her daughter’s hand. “I’d go back to them, if I could. You know, all these differences made our time together more interesting and exciting. We laughed so much of the time. Do you remember that, Anna?”

“Yes, Mum, I do. You and Dad were always happy. It was lovely to grow up with.”

“Yes,” said Kathleen, feeling far away.

“Come on, Poppy, we have to pick Daddy up from football practice soon.”

“Football, that’s another one, you know? In America, football is called soccer. The game they call football is one where feet rarely go anywhere near the ball, let alone touch it. Very, very strange.”

Laughing, Anna said, “We really should go, Mum. Will you be all right?”

“Yes, darling. I’ll be just fine. I’ve got my memories.”

 

Innuendo

The challenge my writing group has given me this week is to write seven short stories or poems, inspired by Queen songs. I love this challenge because I’m a huge fan of Queen. The only difficulty is narrowing it down to seven. We can use lyrics from the song, or simply be inspired by the song and build on that. I’ll share my writings over the next few days.

So, onto the first one. I chose the song ‘Innuendo’ because I love the message at its core. It’s a song about breaking down boundaries and living limitless lives. It’s about being accepting of others and fighting for what is right. Plus, it has an amazing flamenco guitar section. Anyway, here is my poem:

 

Innuendo

Babies born to babies
living on minimum wage,
failed by education;
a system that doesn’t
care . . .

Where is the justice
for those who cannot speak?
Why the apathy
as we pass by the
bundles of people
sleeping
under cardboard?

We have to keep on fighting,
surrender our egos . . .
The man at the top must lead
the way to love,
or hope cannot survive.
While we rule by blind madness and
greed
the world will never be free,
while our lives are dictated by
tradition
superstition
false religion
our tempos fall out of
sync with goodness . . .

But you can be anything you want
to be
if we all come together,
stop living according to
race, colour, or
creed; lose our
entitlement greed,
be free to ourselves.

This is my
innuendo,
imploring you, give me
a reason to live or
die
and I’ll keep on fighting
till the end of time,
till the end of time.