I’m angry. I apologise in advance if this is poorly researched, disjointed and incoherent. I’m not stopping to find things out, I’m writing from the heart, not the brain. And I’m writing as a northern English person who feels passionate about fairness both at home and abroad.
First, abroad. Africa – that vast, awe-inspiring place that’s believed to be the birthplace of humanity – well, humans.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Africa over the last 32 years.
On my first visits I was shocked to my core by apartheid South Africa. I would say, with hindsight, it changed my life.
I was pleasantly surprised – superficially, it turns out – by Swaziland.
I was amazed and charmed by a Zimbabwe frozen in what now we might see as Mad Men world – without the ad agencies.
After a few summers spent looking after diggers in Swaziland, I made my first visit to Zambia, because of my husband’s work.
At the time Zambia was very poor – materially. Shops had blankets, soap, worming tablets and dried fish. Rolls of cheap toilet paper were cut in half – even in hotels – to make them go further.
I learnt, from that first visit, that I must take everything – absolutely everything – I might need with me.
It was a great place to visit. I hate to write ‘people are so friendly’ clichés but it’s true. Is true. We’ve broken down often enough to know how much poor people will do to help a stranger for no reward. Yes, there’s corruption, yes, there’s crime, yes, there’s danger – but no more than in any other country, really.
I tell you this because these are my credentials for saying things I don’t like – things I don’t want to say.
It doesn’t help that I’ve been reading about the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the end of the Cold War. About the US government’s attitude to peace and war. The military industrial complex. But that’s for my book, not for now.
For now, I’m stunned by the news I heard this morning on BBC Radio.
An interview with a doctor – sounded Australian but I don’t know if he is – that had me frozen where I stood.
Two hundred girls were kidnapped in Nigeria – remember? This man tells us he has been talking to leaders among their captors. He tells us that they would be willing to hand over 40 or so girls – but that 60 more girls would be kidnapped to take their place.
But this is not the worst thing. He then tells us that Nigerian government officials are involved. That this is part of a political campaign, if you like.
My husband tells me of a report he’s read of four girls who escaped and say they were raped every day.
Dear God, what kind of world is this?
Is there no oil to make world leaders sit up and take notice?
Yes – but, silly me, the Americans are doing quite nicely without it, than you very much.
Why is nothing being done for these poor, poor girls?
Why is so little, so late being done about Ebola?
Fly back, for a moment to the UK.
We know, those of us who live in the north of England, that our concerns are far from the minds of our leaders. They live, most of the time, in and around London. They absorb (and create) the London and south-east news.
They believe house prices are rising everywhere (they’re not – surely that’s a good thing?) and people enjoy working for themselves for a pittance – aka becoming ‘entrepreneurs’ – because they can’t get a real job.
Some believe that paying hundreds of pound a night for a hotel – or a meal – is normal.
If we, here, in our small island have such a huge cliff of perception separating the north and south of just one part of our small island nation, what hope does the south of the world have of being heard?
But don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it is the north’s fault that nothing has happened in Nigeria. Yes, the north could apply pressure, but Nigeria has oil and thus money.
Nigerian politicians have western educations. But that doesn’t make any difference. Like the UK, apparently, one region really doesn’t matter – other than for votes. But the way this doctor says they are going about getting them is, to say the least, extreme.
I think back to poor old Swaziland. Corruption endemic, a King with many wives and cars, spending money like water while his people suffer. I had high hopes, way back when – because this King was educated at Sherborne school in Dorset, England. Pah.
It’s all our fault? Colonialism?
Give me a break. How long has it been? It’s like a fifty-something still blaming mummy and daddy for sending them to the wrong school or buying them the wrong clothes. Grow up!
My own, maddening, experience this week is a paltry thing by comparison.
I sign up to a day of ideas about how to make northern England an economic success story. Eight events in cities across the north of England, twenty people in each.
I spend time thinking about it, do a bit of research. I’m pleased that someone – even if it’s our deputy prime minister, whose party is haemorrhaging support – is asking us for our ideas.
Yesterday we’re told we’ll be filmed. And have to make a film.
Can we bring laptops – especially if we have video editing software – or smartphones or tablets – and leads to connect to a big screen.
What a naïve fool I am. This isn’t just partly a PR exercise, it’s entirely a PR exercise. I should have known. I might have organised such a series of events myself – but, ye Gods, I would have given them meaning, too. I don’t underestimate ‘ordinary’ people. I’m not that much of a fool.
One last thing.
At university I did a term of ‘historical geography’ and saw an image that made a terrific impact on me – though sadly I can’t remember where – of a world map.
Communist Russia up top, rest of world below it. Aggressive-looking arrows showed the way the commies would march down and take over us good guys.
Turn the map upside down. It doesn’t look so simple.
North, south. It’s an illusion in a spherical world, rotating in the universe.
But two hundred girls being raped daily is not. Imagine them in Massachusetts or Surrey. Something would have been done.