Category Archives: Society

Posts about society

The cobblers’ art

The guitar donated by Daniel's friend

The guitar donated by Daniel’s friend

Are there still cobblers in the 21st century? Daniel Fox, aka Beeston Cobbler, talks to Joanna Oleskow about his job, customers and sustainability.

There is a place in the middle of Beeston where time seems to have stopped.

Vintage in every sense of its meaning, it takes you back to a forgotten world full of rare smells and sounds.

It is Friday 4.30 pm.

A mixed aroma of rubber, shoe polish and glue wafts around, irritating the nose. Daniel Fox is operating a loud machine – it is called a finisher.

Few minutes more and the last pair of shoes will be done for today.

Cobbler by accident

Daniel is 38 and has been running the business for eight years.

“I fell into it just because I have never known what I wanted to do and I still don’t know. I am just very good at it and working for yourself is fantastic.”

The company was established in 1947 by an ex-policeman, Austin Allock who wanted to work during his retirement.

Daniel’s father, Anthony Fox, took the business over in the late 70s.

Daniel never had an official training. As it often happens with a craft job, it was just by helping his father when he learnt all the skills.

“Sometimes you just learn best by practising,” Daniel says.

He loved to mess around in the workshop observing his father and in the end he just picked it up.

Woody, the symbol of The Beeston Cobbler

Woody, the symbol of The Beeston Cobbler

However, at that time Daniel didn’t think of becoming a cobbler.

He went travelling to Australia and South America and it was just on his return when he decided to repair shoes professionally.

Job as any other?

“Many people are surprised when they come here for the first time. They don’t expect to see someone my age.”

But in fact re-heeling, re-soleing or even sewing in a zipper requires strong and skillful hands and good eyes.

What does he like about the job? He answers without hesitating – everything.

Own hands, old tools and tangible effects seem to be a nice counterbalance to the digital times.

However the assumption that his job is only manual would be very wrong.

As Daniel works alone, he has to be also a sales representative, accountant and cleaner. And of course when he has time, he works a bit with social media.

“Every day is different. I could be cutting keys all day, repairing or selling shoes or just talking.” And precisely the human interactions are really important for him.

Unusual stories

“People bring here shoes or bags for repair but they also have many interesting stories to tell.”

Among Daniel’s customers are artists, private investigators and policemen, so there is always something going on.

The small workshop in Beeston seems to have also an international fame.

There is one customer who comes every year from China to buy a certain type of heels.

“They have a metal quarter tipping which makes them last longer but it is impossible to get them in China. He takes tens of them for his father-in-law, who is a cobbler,” Daniel says.

There is also a loyal customer from Paris. She comes twice per year to visit her sister in Beeston and always pops in to buy a pair of English shoes.

Unique Character

It is not only Daniel’s personality and service, which make customers come back.

There is something special about the place. Just at the entrance two antique armchairs almost invite for an afternoon tea.

The old Singer machine

The old Singer machine

With the picture of Mona Lisa and an exhibition of leather goods the workshop could be an art gallery or a museum.

There is an old Singer machine, which was originally used at Nottingham Playhouse to amend costumes, an old horse collar from Lincolnshire and there is Woody, a cobbler doll, the symbol of the place.

“The majority of the items is from our customers. They know that we are also vintage so they will match with the place.”

New Move

In 2013 the shop had to change its premises due to a development plan.

For Daniel it was  a very hard time, but he knew that every change could bring an opportunity.

With twice as much space available Daniel decided to develop another branch of the business and became a stockist of Barkers.

“People used to come and ask us where to buy a good pair of shoes and we always said go for Barker. But I never liked sending people away, so once we moved to the bigger shop I got in touch with Barker and proposed to stock their shoes here.”

“The rubbers and plastic commonly used nowadays are hollow inside and this is the reason why they crack or crumble just after 6 months”, Daniel says.

The antique armchair at the entrance

The antique armchair at the entrance

“To make a pair like Barkers there are around 200 processes involved. This quality has its price but in exchange the shoe lasts better, looks better and cleans better,” he adds.

‘This job will never die out!’

Daniel does not know for how long he will be running the business and if this is something he wants to do for the rest of his life.

There is however one thing about future he is sure: This job will never die out.

“Many people think that nowadays no one repairs the shoes anymore. But just look at the shelf. It is not true.”

According to him people who have an expensive or just comfortable pair of shoes, will keep the comfort at any cost.

“It is all about the sustainability, keeping things going and lasting for longer. My aim is to help people with that.”

He agrees that in the 90s it might have been tough for the cobblers, as there was a decrease in shoe repair demand but now the trend is changing.

It is more fashionable nowadays to have the old shoes repaired rather than buy a new pair instead.

Daniel’s biggest challenge? Definitely not the decline in customers’ demand.

“Only that I have to much work to do and that I work alone, beside this, it is really fun.”

Cobbler's Clock

Cobbler’s Clock

From Twitter to Streets: Anti-Trump protests across Britain

Looking at what is happening now across Britain I am very proud of the thousands of people protesting across the whole country. But there is another thought which comes immediately to my mind. The protests would not have been possible on such a scale if it weren’t for the social media which enable people to organise themselves in a short period of time.

It is not the first time when I am witnessing a protest on a national scale being just a result of one post.

Back in November thousands of women in Poland went on the streets to oppose the inhumane proposal of a complete ban of abortion. The so called black protest started with a Facebook post by an actress, Krystyna Janda, who reminded the Poles about the women’s strike in Iceland in 1975. The response on Facebook and Twitter was overwhelming. 10 days later in majority of cities and towns women and man, old and young went to the streets to express their anger that the ultra catholic, right wing government wants to take away fundamental human rights.

Similar was also in this case. It was Owen Jone’s tweet which encouraged people in the UK to protest against Muslim Ban introduced by Donald Trump and against Theresa May’s lenient stance towards the new president and his decisions.

Gradually more and more people were responding and arranging protests in their local ares. From London to Edinburgh protesters united to show their support for Muslims banned from entering the USA and their disapproval of Mr Trump’s policies threatening democratic values.

The protesters dissatisfied with Theresa May’s recent visit at the White House were urging her to stand up for human rights and democratic values being destroyed by Trump.

The anger in the public was also fueled by Mrs May who invited Mr Trump for a state visit. The reaction of the British citizens was immediate. There are more than 3 petitions available on which aim to prevent Donald Trump to make a state visit to the UK. The number of signatures is growing constantly and within only 2 days one of the petition got more than 1,500,000 signatures, which means that the topic of the state visit will be considered by the Parliament for a debate.

Again the success of the petitions would not be so impressive without social media. Thousand of people are posting and sharing the links via different channels.

Even though, I don’t expect the petition to make miracles (in the end Mrs May wants to have at least one “steady’ partner after Brexit), it is really important that people are empowered to express the opinion and scrutinise the movements of the ruling elites. And especially now with so many authoritarian tendencies across western democracies this ability seems to be more and more crucial.

So in the end from a form of an entertainment social media starts to become a citizenship tool, which in the uncertain times brings people together across the borders.


Gina Miller: “No PM, no government can expect to be unanswerable or unchallenged”

Last Tuesday was one of the days many people in the UK and overseas have been waiting for. After weeks of uncertainty the Supreme Court ruled that triggering of the famous Art 50 is not the sole decision of the Prime Minister. Now it is more than clear – Mrs May, regardless of her belief in the prerogative powers she possess, can start Brexit negotiations only with a prior consent from the Parliament.

The court’s ruling is not as important as it refers to a precedent case when a member state decides to leave the EU, it is important because it reaffirms the democratic principles, often forgotten by the ruling elites these days.

If the UK had a written constitution, and If the UK wasn’t a modern monarchy with the prerogative powers being executed by the Prime Minister instead of the Monarch, the case would have been straight forward.

However, fortunately in this complicated circumstances there are people like Gina Miller who fight for democratic values and justice.

It was her, who filed the case to the court and it was her belief in democracy which won the appeal.

Despite being the woman who successfully challenged the government, she remains humble.

“The Brexit judgement isn’t a victory for me, but for our constitution,” that’s how she expressed herself in The Guardian.

Born at Guyana (which was a British colony at that time) she came to the UK with her brother when she was a teenager. Because of the political situation her parents weren’t allowed to send them the money, so both siblings had to combine school with part time jobs.

As Mrs Miller recalls in the article for Vogue “Whilst we missed our parents dreadfully, and it was difficult juggling our home lives with homework and school, it made us who we are today.”

She is an owner of a marketing company and fights for transparency and accountability in financial sector. In 2009 she set up a charity True and Fair Foundation encouraging the successful people to philanthropy.

Since November she is in the centre of public witch-hunt sparkled by the Brexit supporters and right-wing media.

“I have been shocked by the level of personal abuse from many quarters I have received over the last seven months for simply asking a legitimate question,” she said yesterday after the ruling.

She has experienced racial abuse and has been receiving rape and death threats.

She was forced to hire a private security company and is trying to avoid public transport, but she didn’t give up.

She taught a very important lesson not only to the UK but to the whole world that “no Prime Minister, no government can expect to be unanswerable or unchallenged.”
We need to learn that, before it will be too late.

Beeston takenover by Oxjam Takeover

Beeston OxjamLike in the previous years, Beeston Oxjam Festival turned the town on Saturday, October 15 into a big musical scene full of bands and fans of live music from different genres.

The Beeston Oxjam Takeover is a part of Oxjam Music Festival organised by Oxfam that takes place across the UK throughout October. The name Takeover refers to the multi-venue character of the event which, as the organizers emphasize, literally takes over the place.

The takeovers are usually organised in big cities like Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh or Cardiff. But Beeston with plenty of cosy pubs, coffee shops and restaurants seems to have what it takes to become one of the festival scenes.

Colin Tucker

Colin Tucker, Beeston Takeover Manager.

Colin Tucker, the Takeover manager said: ”The event works so well in Beeston because it is very compact. On a relatively small area we have so many different venues and it takes around three minutes to go from one place to another.”

This year there were seventeen different venues which offered life music throughout the day. The doors of the most coffee shops, pubs and bars were open until late night hours. Many events took place also in Middle Street Resource Centre, Royal British Legion Social Club or Beeston Methodist Church.

With the opening at midday and last concerts finishing just after midnight the festival provided 12 hours of life music performed by 80 different artists.

Mr Tucker said: “We have almost everything from post punk, folk, jazz to gospel, so those who are with us the whole day, can definitely find something suitable.”

When asked for the most catchy band names Mr Tucker pointed out the Dirty Scrouging’ Bastards from Long Eaton playing punk, the trio Zootz combining different music genres and the Hungarian folk band Foreign Accent.

But Oxjam Takeover is not only about fun and music, it is about fundraising for Oxfam.

Mr Tucker highlighted: “I like Oxfam because it does so many different things but also because it has a kind of political angle, it campaigns against poverty, and I think we have to campaign to change the way the governments are operating.”

The tickets could have been purchased in advance for £8 at Oxfam Books & Music shop in Beeston, or online for an extra 80p booking charge. The tickets purchased on the day costed £10. Unlike in the previous years, this time the number of tickets was limited.

Mr Tucker said: “We have to limit the number of tickets to 1000, so that we can be confident that everyone will have a safe and comfortable evening. I don’t think it is fair, if someone has a ticket but cannot go in anywhere, because the venues are too crowded.”

Beeston Oxjam

Last year during Oxjam Beeston Takeover £17,050 were raised for the charity, which was the biggest amount collected among the other Takeovers. This year, despite the ticket restriction there was a hope to raise even more.

Raphael Velt, the festival IT coordinator and a PhD Student at the UoN, introduced a new fundraising opportunity. Working for Mixed Reality Lab Mr Velt invited all participants to take part in his research project on building a mobile-friendly app for festivals, which would enable people in different venues to share their pictures, videos and comments in a real time.

Any action on the website resulted in a donation to the charity.

Beeston Oxjam has also a positive impact on the local community. Mr Tucker summed up: “I think that the festival is really a great idea in the local and global scale. It is almost a fixed date in the calendar of our community and everyone is rather very positive about it.”

He also added: “The only one complaint I have heard by far, is that people are going to be away on that day and they will miss it.”

For the ones who missed it, and the ones who enjoyed, there is still a chance to attend the last event organised within Oxjam Beeston Festival.

Classical Oxjam will take place in Beeston Parish Church on November, 12 at 7:00pm. The tickets can be purchased online, or in Beeston Books & Music shop or Guitar Spot.

The fans of classical music can enjoy two hours of performance and at the same time support the charity to fight poverty around the world.

For further information please visit the website:

EU referendum without EU nationals?

EU Referendum

On Thursday 23rd June 2016 British citizens will decide on Britain’s future either in or out the European Union. However over 3 Mil of EU citizens who live and work in Britain will not be given the voice on the matter which will affect their life more than the British people.

Alice Velt, a Dutch national who has been living in the UK for more than 20 years tries to raise the awareness why the voice of the EU migrants shall be taken into consideration. Half a year ago she launched a petition on the official website of the UK Parliament (­) in order to give the EU national the right to vote in the referendum.

In a conversation with Alice, I had the opportunity to ask her about her initiative, why the opinion of EU citizens should be taken into consideration on the 23rd of June and how their life might be affected by the so-called ‘Brexit’.


JO: When did you arrive to the UK for the first time and what made you stay here?

AV: Actually it has to do with the EU, because when I was at the University in Rotterdam, there were people from Northern College in Aberdeen,, who asked students if they were interested in coming over to Scotland and do part of their degree there. It was partially funded by Comenius and Erasmus programmes while the other part was funded by the Shell, which headquarters were in Rotterdam. So the European Union helped me to study in Aberdeen. I went back to Rotterdam to finish my degree but I decided to come back because I met somebody who I later married. We moved to Dover, where my husband got a job, but after a year we moved back to Scotland because my husband is from here. This is where we are now.

JO: How did you come up with the idea of starting the petition?

AV: I am a teacher. I teach Modern Studies which is like social studies and politics. So I teach my pupils about the importance of voting. We had the topic about the EU and it was actually one of my pupils who was really spurring me on. He said so, “why you don’t start a petition if you think is so unfair?” That was really very supportive. He kept asking me if I started the petition and so one day I did. That is basically how it started and I was very pleased to see that, in the last couple of weeks, it really took off.

JO: Once a petition reaches 10, 000 signatures, it has to be responded by the government. The Government responded by dismissing your petition arguing that “[u]nder the EU treaties, EU nationals have the right to vote in municipal elections and elections to the European Parliament in other Member States […] [b]ut this right does not extend to national elections or referendums”.. Are you satisfied with the answer?

AV: No, I am not, because I stand on my point that if Britain leaves the EU it will affect many EU citizens. I have spoken to other EU citizens, German nationals and Dutch nationals, and all said that they are very concerned about this matter and seriously consider leaving the UK in case of Brexit. The government also says that the British nationals did not vote in French and Dutch referendums in 2005, but it forgets that the British decided to take a special position to that issue. I feel that this will affect us more than the British people. Especially the Human Rights Act which the conservative government intends to turn into British Bills of Rights. It will have a huge effect on non-British nationals. I know that there is opposition because terrorist and criminals are receiving legal protection, but there are more people who are decent citizens and will lose their legal protection too, since they will no longer be able to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. That is really worrying.

JO: Do you think that reaching 100,000 signatures, which would make the petition considered for a parliamentary debate, would change anything?

AV: Actually, I am really surprised how much pace the petition has gained in the last weeks. However, I don’t think it would change much, because this issue does not affect the British people directly. Maybe, it would draw media attention and raise awareness. I would like that the conservative government acknowledges the enormous value that all EU nationals who live and work here brings to the UK. I feel that there is so much negativity in the press, about us, the foreigners, and it should not be the case because we are part of the community and we should not be treated differently just because of our country of origin.

JO: Have you ever felt that you were treated differently because you are not British?

AV: Oh yes in a certain way, but realised it later on.

JO:  Can you give any example of that?

AV: Yes, I live in a very remote area of Scotland. It is a very rural area with a strong community feeling. At the beginning, somebody misheard when I said I am from Holland and thought that I was from Poland so, from then on, I started to be ’the Polish woman’. Whenever I tried to apply for any little jobs, like shops and fish&chips, the jobs ‘were already taken’. I realised later that the reason behind it, it was just because I was treated as an outsider. It does not affect me much but there are people who see me in this way and I think that all the people who came after me from the eastern European countries had tougher times than I did. I came earlier and from the Netherlands, which is perceived a bit different from, for example, Poland.

JO: Do you think that Brexit is possible and which implications you think it will have on the EU citizens?

AV: If you believe what the media says, it is about fifty-fifty, so I think it is possible and I am really concerned. Especially taking into consideration that the conservatives want to turn the Human Right Act into a kind of ‘British’ Right Act, which would leave anyone without the British citizenship pretty stuck. If you are wrongly accused, where can you go to appeal?

JO: Do you think that visas and work permits will be introduced for the EU nationals?

AV: I think it could happen, because that would be the great excuse for the conservatives to stop the steam of immigrants from the EU.

JO: So, do you consider going back to Holland if that happens?

AV: It is a very scary thought, but yes, I think about it. I am very well settled here. I have children, animals, job, so I am attached to Scotland, but I also feel unsure.

JO: In your opinion, what are the advantages for the UK to stay in the EU?

AV: There are many. Especially in the area where I live, there is a lot of funding from the Regional Development Fund, which is an EU funded support for areas which are poor and remote. The funds are not only going to the Eastern European countries but also we receive a lot of them here in Scotland. We have had roadworks done and an airport built partially from that funding.  Besides, many farmers and tenant farmers benefit from the Common Agricultural Policy. Many universities are collaborating in scientific research with European universities and institutions. If the UK leaves the EU, we will not be able to get any funding and send our researchers over. Another thing would be that UK will become a single market without consumer protection. We need to remember that products such as dangerous toys and food labelling comes from the EU. I also think that the food will become more expensive, because there will be some import taxes. Worth mentioning is also the smoking ban, which is spreading around the EU. I think that this piece of legislation helped improved health of the Europeans. I know that there are many people who think that the EU interferes in our life in a negative way, to me it seems the opposite. I see the influence rather positive. Similarly, we have protection of the environment thanks to the EU, regulations on emissions, water quality, beach quality and tourism. Without the EU, everything would be very tangled.

JO: Do you see any disadvantages of staying in the EU?

AV: I think that many people will vote to leave the EU because of the fear spread by the media of the migration crisis. I am Dutch, so I read Dutch news and listen to the Dutch radio every day, and approximately one year ago there were published allocation lists, how many refugees will be allocated in the countries of the EU, but the UK was not even on the allocation list, the majority was going to Germany, Greece, Turkey, Netherlands.  The media makes you believe that every migrant just wants to come to the UK, which is absolutely not true.

JO: Is there any negative influence of the EU on the UK?

AV: Many people can say that we pay much more in taxes to the EU than we receive and also that we cannot negotiate own trade arrangements with the United States, so there is less independence. I think that these are the main reasons why people think is better to be out rather than in.

JO: If you were to persuade Euro-sceptics to vote for staying in, what would you say?

AV: I would say that the value of sterling will drop very badly and the prices of goods will rise due to high inflation. The farmers will struggle because even now they already have very low prices on their goods and it is the EU which helps them to survive. It would be a serious step back for the British producers because they would have to export the goods with import taxes. I think that many businesses and large institutions may withdraw from the UK which it would cost way more jobs than the Easter European migrants are accused to be taking. I hope that, in the end, the UK will decide to stay in the EU. I teach at a High School and the vast majority of my pupils are very pro-European, especially because they have been recently involved in a Comenius project with other 7 European countries. The project title was ‘Four elements’. We travelled every 3 months to a new country which hosted pupils in families from other countries. There were many events and presentations held by the pupils on how the four elements affect their countries. For example, water is very important for making Whisky in Scotland, and fire is associated with volcanos in Italy. It was a really good project. In the two years which lasted we had the opportunity to meet many interesting people and friends. It was a very international experience that helped to connect with and understand a foreign culture. We hosted Polish student in our house, my son was hosted in Finland as a student part of this programme and I, as a teacher, went to Greece. So I am sure that Comenius and Erasmus projects for schools and universities are really very important. Being part of the European community means stability, peace, understanding and exchange of culture and that is what we all should be proud of.

The deadline for signing in the petition is 24 of March 2016. If the petition reaches 100 000 it will be considered for a parliamentary debate.


‘You have to trust your gut feeling’: An interview with Jeanie Finlay

Jeanie Finlay

Jeanie Finlay. Photo by Jo Irvine. Image under copyright.

Fascinating, ethereal and concrete, the personal encounter with Jeanie Finlay, a Nottingham based documentary film director, evokes similar emotions to her recent movie ‘Orion: The Man Who Would be King’, which was released in UK’s cinemas in September. In a conversation with Joanna Oleskow she looks back at her career, talks about ‘Orion’ and her relationship to Nottingham.

Jeanie always knew she wanted to be an artist. She studied Arts and Music at University and worked with media installations and music compositions for soundtracks. However, one installation proved to be a break-through. ‘Home-Maker’ was an interactive work in which people were photographed in their living rooms. Jeanie quickly realized that the conversations she was having with the subjects were the most ‘important and valuable’ of the project and she started to film them. As end result, she accrued over 70 minutes of mini films. After speaking to a curator of one gallery, they decided to show a sample to BBC. That was the first time when Jeanie was commissioned with a 60-minutes documentary.

‘Once I made that I never looked back and I made another feature next. When I got the opportunity to show my features on TV, there was an intoxication in meeting the audience, I have never achieved though my artwork. For the first time, I felt I found the medium that I really wanted to do. And I just carried on. I just find an idea, I can’t stop thinking about and then I go out to raise the money.’

Especially fundraising seems to be ‘one of the hardest think you can do’, however due to good contacts with broadcasters, international funds and also with the help of crowd funding campaigns she makes her films happen.

Her latest movie ‘Orion: The Man Who Would Be King’, co-founded by organisations such as Creative England and Broadway Cinema, depicts the forgotten story of Jimmy Ellis, a doppelganger of Elvis Presley. Born in 1945, with an unusual gift – Elvis alike voice, Jimmy always dreamed about becoming a singer. Unfortunately, it quickly turned out that his talent was ironically an obstacle in his career. Trying to establish himself in the music industry, he was only perceived through the prism of ‘the King’. It was only Presley’s death, which enabled Ellis the success, however not as Jimmy Ellis, but as a made up figure in a mask, called Orion, who could continue Elvis’ myth.

Jeanie Finlay came across Orion 12 years ago, long before she started to make movies. She just bought one of his records and got interested in the story behind the man in a mask.

Orion Poster

Orion Poster. Copyright Jeanie Finlay.

‘I think you have to trust your gut feeling. With Orion I have always had this gut feeling that there is a story to tell. Because it was a story that happened in the past, and I could see the whole picture of a man’s life stretched out. I felt that I had the opportunity to tell the story about so many other things like the music industry, Nashville, about the icon, such as Elvis Presley, but without making it in such a straightforward way, because it is not a film about Elvis, it is a film about Orion, but Elvis cast a big shadow on Orion’s story.’

However making this movie, even for an established documentary filmmaker was very challenging.  ‘It was difficult to raise the money, as Orion is not a famous person, but also because this is a story which happened in the past, so I had to rely on archives. Many people involved had already passed away and it was very frustrating that I wasn’t able to ask the questions I wanted to’, Jeanie says.

Also the fact that Jeanie was a complete stranger in the American community did not always help. As she was not well known in the United States, people did not have much idea about the way she makes her films. She had to persuade her interviewees to trust her.

‘I generally do love interviewing people. I think if you have a passion for that and you are genuinely interested, so not just going through emotions, then I think that people really respond well to that. A lot of people want to tell their story, they want their story to be heard’.

And that is what the audience can expect from ‘Orion’. There are many intimate memories told by Ellis’ family and friends which build the whole picture of the singer. In her film, Finlay looks for Ellis’ real identity behind the Orion’s mask and reveals the difficulties he was exposed to as an artist.

One could ask what such a filmmaker with rapidly increasing international recognition is still doing in Nottingham, but Jeanie has a very straight forward answer.

‘I love Nottingham. I have chosen to stay and live in Nottingham. There have been times in my career over the past few year when I thought “Oh maybe I need to live in London to make it as a film maker” but actually Nottingham is an easy city to live in. You know when I am making work internationally, I am really happy to come back here and have a stable home in a quiet place, where people say ”Thank you’ to the bus driver”.’

She also points out that precisely in Nottingham there are many artists, like the writers Robert Macfarlane and Jon McGregor, and creative places, like Primary.

‘I feel like there is quite artistic time in Nottingham, there is a lot that is going on.’

In December, Nottingham residents will have the possibility to watch one of Jeanie’s previous film, ‘Panto’, at Broadway Cinema.

‘Orion: The Man Who Would be King’ is available on BBC iPlayer.

This interview was also published in Nottingham Post.

Who will eat the lion?

This time the post is not related to the UK, but the Danish zoos and the article published in The Guardian, just made me write what is my point of view.

Who will eat the lion?


Three days ago, in relation to the lion Cecil’s case, I thought about all the animals killed in the Copenhagen Zoo and of the ways in which zoos in general function, and today while browsing the news here we go! There is a continuation of the story – public dissection of a young lioness put down 9 months ago in Oldense Zoo.

So just to refresh the memory… the first widely discussed example of Danish zoos’ practice was Marius, a 18-month old healthy giraffe, who, according to the zoo’s representative, could not be used for breeding, because his genes were too common. Despite the offers from European or American zoos to take the giraffe and an international petition signed by 27 000 people, Marius was shot in his head and his carcass publicly dissected and given to the lions. Four of which, ironically, shared the giraffe’s fate one month later. This time the reason was the arrival of a new male who, as it is common in the animals’ hierarchy, he would kill the old and the too young males. If one of the main purposes of the zoos as it says on the Oldense Zoo’s website is to “ensure breeding with a healthy population generally, and to preserve endangered species”, I am slightly confused with the recent happenings. If putting down a young lion, just because in this case the Zoo does not have enough space (explanation quoted by Der Spiegel), aims to preserve the species, I think that there is a huge misconception of the whole idea.

In my view the main purpose of zoos in general is just exploitation of animals. Deprived of their natural habitats they are kept in artificial conditions for public view and of course for reproduction. Exactly the reproduction is a very important income branch for the zoos and so, at any price they try to create supercubs with healthy genes. It is more profitable either ways, as a commodity to sell the young ones to other zoos, or generally cheaper when it comes to upkeep. This is probably the way how the zoos are able to sustain themselves.

However the Danish ones, seem to find also other way to earn money. They allow reproduction, but once there is no space enough for the animals, they just get rid of the superfluous ones, by killing them and carrying out public dissections, apparently in the name of science.  What do the children and the parents learn from that? I would like to know. Is it not enough to tell the children that a giraffe or a lion are mammals, exactly like we are, and show them anatomy books or media visualisation? Are the biology class rooms in Denmark not equipped with specimen in formalin of animals that have been already killed for scientific purposes?

In the interview with Helen Russell Peter Sandøe, professor of bioethics at the University of Copenhagen, said that the tradition of dissection is ca. 400 years old  and is a “typical thing to do with school-aged children in the holidays – it can open their eyes to the world of science”. My question is then why not to take the children to a dissection room at the nearest hospital? How fascinating would be to see a human heart or intestines?

The next argument repeated by the Danish representatives of zoos in this whole debate, which seems to be convincing enough for the author of the article, is that zoos have an obligation “not to make nature into a Disney World,”.  So why then the whole pursuit for the best and most healthy genes? Are zoos not fairy tales, with happy animals that wait all day long for visitors? The Danish zoos want to break with the Disney myth and enlighten the children on the most cruel part of the nature – ironically, not when a predator kills a prey on a savannah, but when a human being does it in a zoo. If we want to use this logic, why not go with children for a lesson to a slaughter house? In the future, as long as they are not vegetarians, they will probably eat pork or beef, so maybe this knowledge is more useful?

Whereas with Marius the Copenhagen Zoo saved around 200kg healthy meat for carnivores, it is still unknown how much meat was gained out of the dissected lioness, and who will eat it.

Memory Walk – to commemorate and to remember

Wollaton Hall and the walk against dementiaFinally I made it. Last year I just had to satisfy myself with articles from local press and knew I cannot miss that again.  Why? Because for me as a new comer it seems to be an unusual and moving idea to walk together against dementia and Alzheimer’s – two illnesses which still seem to be marginalized in many countries, but not anymore in the UK.

Memory Walk is one of many initiatives run nationwide by Alzheimer’s Society, organisation which provides support for patients and carers, raise awareness in the society as well as invests in research. The walk is open to everybody and its main goal is to bring Alzheimer’s and dementia into the public discourse as well as raise money for care and research.  This year at Wollaton Hall met more than 2000 participants all of whom understand the condition of people with dementia and Alzheimer’s.  There were patients and carers as well as 2 or even 3 generation families whose beloved ones were affected. It was a time of commemoration of those who passed away as well as time to think about those who are currently diagnosed with the illness.  Many participants were wearing T-shirts with the pictures of the beloved ones, or statements for them. There was also a possibility to leave a message on a white memory tree.

“We are here in memory of my mama, she had dementia, and Charlie’s great grandma, she is 90 and she has got dementia and my uncle, he is 70 and has dementia too.” said Stacey, who came from Mansfield with her six year old son to take part in 10K and then 2K walk. When asked about the perception of Alzheimer’s and dementia in our society she replied:” I don’t think enough people know enough about it, which is why we want to raise awareness as much as money.”

Similar opinion has Deborah, whose father has been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  “: I don’t think a lot of people give a second thought, they just assume that it is to do with old people and is part of the way life is, when you are getting old. But it is not and it is not, how it should be”. She came for the event with her sister and aunt from Leicestershire, because they believe that raising money for care and research is the best think they can do to help her dad and others with this condition.  She also points out, how important is the proper diagnosis. “You can then figure out how to help him, so that he feels better about his daily life instead of constantly feeling that he is doing something wrong.”

The importance of understanding the disease was also mentioned by Flora, a care worker from Loughborough. “People get frustrated with dementia and they seem not to understand, that the person does not understand his or her behavior. Instead of getting frustrated, we should think how it would be if we were in their shoes”.

However according to the workers of Liaison Psychiatry at Kings Mill Hospital in Mansfield, the perception of people with Alzheimer’s and dementia has changed recently and the big share in that has Alzheimer’s Society. “Now dementia is much more socially accepted. People with dementia live now at home rather than are being placed in care placements. There are a lot of services for carers as well and families and patients with dementia, so we think it is fantastic.”

There is for sure still a lot to be done to sensibilise the society and there are many funds needed for care and research. But after talking to many participants of the walk I only can say, I wish that other countries would deal with the problem of Alzheimer’s and dementia as the UK does.


Great Britain in a newcomer’s view

Everything which astonishes me, delights me, or scares me in the UK

This blog is about impressions of a newcomer from Eastern Europe who temporarily settled down in the East Midlands – a region with green hilly fields and middle seized cities with industrial past, so similar to many others on the British Isles.  Is there anything special about that? For some it might be the Sherwood Forrest and the still alive legend of Robin Hood. For others the birth and work place of D.H. Lawrence.  For me however, it is  Nottingham with its universities and people who made me come back here after 3 months of an internship.

So here I am surrounded by green hills and red brick terraced houses and here are my experiences of how it is to live in the UK.  I am writing about how it differs from my expectations, what works better than in my country and what fails even more. I am also writing about  people, places and recipes – every encounter with the British culture.