Remembering isn't enough ... (Part Two)
I have for the last few days been staying in Coverack, a small Cornish fishing village on the Lizard Peninsula. It’s not that far from my home town of Falmouth, situated a little further up the county, and so might seem an odd place for me to visit in this way. But, the village has much personal significance and both my parents are buried here. Although we only lived here together for nine months before my dad died at 55 years old my memories of that time are many and vibrant. I have written before, about how my dad walked with me along the sea front on my way to catch the college bus in case I got blown over on winter mornings. I also remember waiting up for my parents to come home after their evening shift as waitress and kitchen porter, for the stories were always entertaining, and I smile at the memories of the trips we took together in my then boyfriend’s Reliant Robin (my parents never drove and neither do I). I remember too; and this is true of my whole childhood, that although we didn’t always have much money, I always felt safe, cherished, beloved. My childhood experiences and my memories of them have shaped my life. This is not unusual of course for just as our present experiences inevitably influence what we will do in the future, our past permeates, and impacts on our present choices and chances. As sociologists point out it is usually within families where we develop our first memories and it is in the relational context of the family that many of us go on collecting memories for many years, if not all our lives (1).
The stories we tell that draw on our memories, our remembering, is a political act in terms of how we frame our stories, who we tell them to, with what intention. Indeed, all life – family life, educational and work life opportunities and experiences, our ill/health and the care we receive or not, who we date, what we eat and so on and so on – is political. Speaking out is political, saying nothing is political also. With this in mind I accept and appreciate that the rest of this piece (and all of my other writing) is a political act.
A few days ago I wrote a piece about my father and grandfathers’ wartime experiences which also included some reference to our current remembrance reflections in the 100th anniversary year of the end of World War I (2).There is an irony here which I pointed out in my piece. There are an estimated 13,000 homeless veterans and there are also obvious deficiencies in the health, work, educational and financial support (for this group and many others). Yet, despite this, it was Jeremy Corbyn’s clothes and his poppy that was the focus of much media discussion (3). This is surprising (or maybe not given that our mainstream media increasingly seems to be unfit for purpose (4)) given that on the same day the Labour Party made a pledge to veterans, summarised in the following tweet:
Our veterans deserve security when their time in service ends:
Here’s our pledge to veterans:
Proper mental health services to treat PTSD
And end to rough sleeping
Free education, retraining, and more apprenticeships
It’s clear, I think, as this pledge confirms, that ‘remembering isn’t enough’. For in/when remembering the past and those that served (in whatever way) to ensure our safety and security in the present we need to focus on the present and future needs of those to whom we owe so much.
Another significant anniversary took place on Wednesday. The 14th of November marked the 17th month since the Grenfell Tower fire and as usual a silent walk of remembrance took place. 72 people died in the fire, leaving very many people not only homeless but grieving for their loved ones, and despite the Prime Minister's promise that all survivors would be housed with three weeks of the tragedy as of the 9th of November (2018) out of the 204 households from Grenfell Tower and Walk, 32 are in emergency accommodation, 33 are in temporary accomodation and 138 are in permanent accommodation. Of 129 evacuated from wider area four are in emergency accommodation, 62 are in temporary accommodation and just three have moved into new permanent accommodation.
And this week too, today in fact, Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty, is giving a preliminary report following a trip to the UK this week. There has been four previous UN visits to the UK in the last 30 months and all have been extremely critical of the current and of previous UK governments. Add to this a report published in the British Medical Journal in November 2017 attributing 120,000 deaths to political ‘austerity’ and remember too that: ‘Men in the lowest social class, living in the most deprived areas, are up to ten times more at risk of suicide than those in the highest social class, living in the most affluent areas.’ (5)
‘Lest we forget’ indeed.
1. Smart, Carol (2011) ‘Families, Secrets and Memories’ Sociology 45(4): 539-553
2. ‘Remembering isn’t enough…’ https://www.abctales.com/story/gletherby/remembering-isnt-enough
3. Cloaks, coats and other things that REALLY matter https://arwenackcerebrals.blogspot.com/2018/11/cloaks-coats-and-other-things-that.html
4. #DontBuyTheSun, and while you’re at it …. | yet more reflections (sigh) on the mainstream media https://arwenackcerebrals.blogspot.com/2018/10/dontbuythesun-and-while-youre-at-it-yet.html
5. Samaritans Annual Report 2017 https://www.samaritans.org/sites/default/files/kcfinder/files/Samaritans%20Dying%20from%20inequality%20report%20-%20summary.pdf