Wednesday, 27 October 2010

A Quiet Week in Ealing, London

The week after we returned from Scotland was fairly quiet on the home front, catching up on domestic chores such as laundry and getting Benedict to and from school. Things were pretty busy around the rest of England, though. While we were in Scotland the Liverpool football club changed owners from a pair of intensely disliked Americans, who drove the club to on-the-field mediocrity and financial destitution, to another American, the owner of the Boston Red Sox, who is seen as someone with the funds to return the team up from the lower depths of the Premier League to the heights to which they are accustomed. They lost their first game with him as owner.

The other big news was the soap opera orchestrated by Wayne Rooney, the star striker of Manchester United and the hope of England's national football team whose onfield performances of late reeked with lackluster efforts and who first scandalized the nation--if that's possible--by intimately hanging out with a woman not his wife, and then announcing that he would not sign another contract with Manchester United because the club wasn't surrounding him with enough quality players to win, and then the next day signing a contract with United that increased his income from a pauperish 130,000 pounds per week (that's right, per week) to the grander 250,000 pounds per week to which a man of his estimable talents is certainly entitled. The team is also owned by unpopular Americans who will undoubtedly be blamed for the lack of cash to hire the mercenaries necessary to please Mr. Rooney's desire to play for a championship club.

Nevertheless, a nation breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Almost overshadowed by the shenanigans going on in Manchester and Liverpool, the United Kingdom's coalition government announced last Wednesday what austerity measures they would impose in order to escape the deep debt the country has incurred. They had been preparing the nation for weeks by leaking how large the cuts would be in various social services and other departments, thereby bracing the nation for such deep budget cuts that they make former prime minister Margaret Thatcher look like the Mushy Dame instead of the Iron Lady. But the cuts proposed last Wednesday were less than what had been leaked, suggesting, according to some critics, that the government leaked false information for the purpose of muffling the inevitable protests when they set forth the actual numbers. The government could then say something like: 'See! It isn't going to be as bad as you thought it would be! And we're still going to save the country! Isn't that grand!?' The government argued that the severe cuts were necessary and that it was able to prevent large cuts in education and for the very poor. It also made cuts in the military budget, resulting in the Gilbert-and-Sullivanian farce of paying for the completion of a pair of aircraft carriers, at least one of which won't carry any airplanes for at least 10 years because there is no money in the budget to build them.

The new budget will raise fees for college students, raise fares on buses and the tube in London (good thing we're here this year and not next), cut support for low-income families, and eliminate tens of thousands--hundreds of thousands, some say--of public jobs in an economy where unemployment is already high. Escaping unscathed are those who many blame for bringing about the crisis in the first place, the bankers. The fear is that by taxing them even a little they will take their expertise and millions of dollars the their industry adds to the national, and especially London, economy somewhere else.

The idea is that this shock therapy to the economy will eventually result in new jobs created in the private sector. What puzzles is how this will help those tens of thousands of families whose breadwinners no longer have a job and must wait an uncertain period of time for the private sector to create jobs they probably aren't trained to perform.

The usual  newspaper editorials, commentaries, and letters to the editor appeared protesting the unfairness of the cuts and pointing out the people who will suffer most from them are the least able to deal with them. Meanwhile in France, facing similar cuts in its budget, people protest by taking to the streets and going on strike. Perhaps the protests in Britain would be more vociferous if the people most directly affected were likely voters. In general, for example, retirees and the affluent aren't asked to make large sacrifices.

At the same time an inquest was being held regarding the cirumstances leading up to and after the terrorist bombing attacks on July 2005 carried out by three Muslim men at a couple of tube stations and on a public bus. Fifty-six people, including the bombers, died and scores of people were injured. Strangers acted heroically to help those who were injured and comfort those who were dying. What is remarkable is that after the attacks and the damage to tubes were repaired, life seems to return pretty much as it was before the attacks. I don't think that would have happened in the America.

On Thursday Eriak conducted her class in our downstairs rooms while I hid upstairs, and that went off successfully. By the time Friday rolled around Erika and I were ready to get out and see something. We hopped on a bus that took us across the Thames and dropped us off at Kew Gardens. The bus ride took maybe 15 minutes, so the gardens are practically in our neighborhood. The sky gave us a more or less typical overcast morning, chilly and threatening rain drops. We waited at the Victoria Gate entrance for some of SU students. Erika had some cash to pay for their entrance tickets. About 8-9 SU women came within minutes of our arrival, but no young men. Garden aesthetics apparently didn't appeal to the guys.

I apologize for the lack of photos. We brought the camera, but I forgot to put the memory stick back in. With any luck we'll visit again, perhaps on a sunnier day.

Susan and Jim Kilfoyle also showed up and we wandered around the gardens with them. The garden promos brag that it has 1 out of 8 plant species in the world, giving it one of the largest, if not the largest, collections of plants in the world. Roses bloomed, palms and coral reefs in the warmth of Palm House looked exotic (though parts reminded me of California), a tour through Evolution House showed us what plant life must have been like hundreds of millions of years ago, and the Treetop Walkway gave us a bird's eye view of the garden and tree canopies from nearly 60 feet above the ground.

After lunch in the Garden's cafe Susan and Jim were off to pick up John from school. Erika and I stayed a little longer to take a closer look at the Pagoda and Japanese gateway. Then it was time for us to get Benedict. We waited for the bus outside the garden's Victoria Gate, but it seemed to be delayed. It was getting uncomfortably late and while I continued to wait for a bus, Erika took off for the tube station a couple of blocks away. The bus came right after she left. I took to South Ealing, where I jumped on a tube train and made it to Benedict's school just after he was released. Erika arrived within a couple of minutes after I did, and we went home together on the bus.

Saturday, after playing some soccer in the morning, I snoozed in the afternoon. While I snored--so they claim--Erika and Benedict left and found a huge mall near Hammersmith with a movie theatre. They saw 'Despicable Me' in its 3-D version, and aftewards discovered a very large Apple store where they played with the different electronic devises. They had fun and I got some sleep.

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