Thatcher the Social Barbarian, Cherry Blossom and Sunshine!

Martin Rowson cartoon 15/04/2013Last weekend took on a celebratory nature with the demise of the greatest catastrophe ever to darken the UK’s green and pleasant land.  Some folk have expressed their disdain at the “over the top” reaction to her death. As a 50 something I can hark back to the dark 70’s and the poor industrial relations that threatened Britain’s competitiveness against the emerging economies of the East. On one thing only we agreed, the union leaders were too powerful, holding the government to ransom, her decision to challenge that had merit but that is were it should have stopped. Instead the “wicked witch” tried to dismantle the welfare state, kill the public sector and not happy with that she decided to kill four great industries coal, steel, shipbuilding and cars!

Lest we forget Britain was the cradle of the first industrial revolution with the iron-works at Iron Bridge in Shropshire, steel, railways, cars and shipbuilding all followed. She killed them all sentencing generations of families to a life without skills, without work and a life on benefit. This IS her legacy and I support fully the party’s and celebration that have been shown internationally this week.  I hope Wednesday’s sick celebration of her life (paid for from the public purse) is a day when working class Britain can say good riddance. Her arms dealing son will be there no doubt living on the offshore stash that the late Denis and the witch stored in offshore bank accounts. I have no evidence of this of course but did hear last week that she had limited wealth and had Tory party behemoths the Barclay brothers as benefactors.  She was just a grocers daughter but died in the lap of luxury at the Ritz! Richly deserved? Should the “Social Barbarian” rot in hell,  I will let the reader decide!

Will Hutton, a sensible man, writing in The Guardian today 15/04/2013):

“The early employment acts and the victory over Arthur Scargill‘s NUM decisively reaffirmed that the fount of political power in the country is Parliament, at the time a crucial intervention. But she wildly overshot. Trade unions within a proper framework are a vital means of expressing employee voice and protecting worker interests. Labour market flexibility – code for deunionisation and removal of worker entitlements – has become another Thatcherite mantra that again hides the complexity of what is needed in the labour market: employee voice and engagement, skills and adaptability. When she left office, 64% of UK workers had no vocational qualifications.”

On a more lofty positive note this weekend was the Yeouido Blossom Festival, Angel D and I attended and whilst we were maybe 2 days early we had a first-class day circumnavigating the Island. Yeouido is the financial/banking district of Seoul similar to Canary Wharf in London and is often called the Manhattan of Seoul. At its heart is Yeouido Park and surrounding it is Saetgang Eco-park and Hangang River Park.

DSC_0700On leaving the subway at Yeouido we stopped for latte and tea at The Coffee Bean and Teal Leaf, which proudly stated its inception as the year 1963. A truly memorable year remembered for my sisters birthday and an awful British winter. Miss D had latte, I had English Breakfast Tea, we both had breakfast bagels. The tea-bags were the size of pillows, being greedy and of an empty cup I also had Apricot Ceylon tea and a Fig scone, a satisfying start to the day. Across the road brave window cleaners clambering like ants, scaled the sides of an office building.

We crossed over to the park which was busy with vendors preparing their food stalls, hoping to enjoy a bumper income day on the Saturday of the festival. Significantly Michelle’s spirits dropped as the blossom seemed to be held in abeyance. She remonstrated that for the second time during her Korean sojourn spring had dealt a bummer in terms of her blossom quota.

DSC_0706We passed quickly through the park towards the National Assembly Building stopping to take pics alongside a public sculpture of a man sitting atop a wall. Reaching the Assembly Building there was a large police presence around a man who appeared to be praying! Turning right along the perimeter wall, a young lass head hung and sleeping, clashed with a “same same” couple sporting smiles, white outfits and green balloons. We were given a map of the island and the “Blossom Trail” and so on reaching the end of the enclosure turned left at a magnificent floral display to begin the trek.

The festival was well-supported by Seoul residents and visitors alike, the whole gamut of ages and styles were present.  I still struggle with the unwelcoming idea of masked volunteers and the pink masks are no more appropriate than those worn by the black cycling ninja’s. An orchestra was playing Mozart watched by classical music aficionado’s, wriggling kids and a guy with a beard-stroking obsession. On the verges of the Han River pianists played as lovers watched on and kids wrestled with oversized TV characters some trying to unzip the grandiose outfits.

DSC_0754We came across a military exhibition, ironic given the “war-footing” we are on, young girls brandished rifles which hopefully were not live.  A photographers exhibition graced the railings of the National Assembly, behind which kids frolicked in a pop-up park along picnicking families. Turning the corner the quality of blossom improved, elderly couples nibbled their snacks and people created works of art using their mouths and not hands. A man practised calligraphy and a young couple tied a love token to a line which spanned the blossoming cherry trees. A girl used electronic equipment to gauge her height and weight as did Michelle whilst demonstrating her facial gymnastics for the camera. We cane yo an over-populated area where folk queued for photos alongside the most garlanded blossom tree. We crossed the main thoroughfare that dissects Yeouido crossing over to Saetgang, to the left a K-pop concert was well underway and the roads were choca with cars and expensively clad cyclists. We crossed over the road and down to Saetgang Eco-park.

902506_502223536506689_1058401200_oAfter 5 minutes we arrived at the monumental steel serpent bridge that provides pedestrian access from Yeouido to Saetgang.  It is an architectural triumph! EWe climbed the central stairwell emerging some 30 metres above the park, and old couple nibbled on their lunch as families promenaded across the bridge. Crazy cyclists did their usual honking whilst displaying lycra so tight it could effect birthrates in South Korea. We noticed the usual sprinkling of ninja’s and sleeping pensioners as we descender the curving walkway back over to Yeuido Island. A further 10 minutes walk brought us to the 63 building and after a rest stop we found a restaurant for a Kimchi Stew lunch.

891919_502227046506338_2071640368_oAfter a hearty fill we scuttled over the main road emerging at the Hangang River Park with its mass of humanity taking advantage of the first fine Saturday weather for weeks. Families enjoyed pedalo’s in the shadow of the gold glistening 63 tower and kids flew kites as the wind got up.  The  floating restaurants were packed, lovers became entwined in passionate embrace, families hid in their pink pop-up tents protected from the bronzing nature of the sun. An eccentric rocker clad in leather swooped by on his roadster cycle and dogs clad in pink shoes ran crazily between the relaxing Seoulites. A young kid sat astride a bouncing horse overseen by her dad and groups of cyclists hovered under the arches of a road bridge with the silhouette f Mount Namsan and the North Seoul Tower as a backdrop. We left the park and descended the subway at Yeouinaru to take line 5 to Seodaemun, our intention to visit the former prison. The subway was like Wembley Way on cup-final day.

Leaving the subway at Seodaemun Michele suggested we go off-piste and we stumbled across a lovely little market running parallel to the main road, stopping for fresh donut’s at a 1000 won a bag! Exiting the market and crossing the main thoroughfare brought us to Independence Gate and the Seodaemun Prison. The park was busy with roller-blader’s, kids riding mini-sports cars, dog-walkers and old folk taking a spring stroll. We saw one toddler clinging to the back of a plastic motorised car as his elder sibling dragged him face down reminiscent of a Spaghetti Western.

902163_502228466506196_611240108_oThe prison itself has been renovated nd the visitor is well-directed through a circumnavigation hat brings to life the full horror of what the Japanese Colonial rulers did to the freedom fighters, the Korean Patriots.  It was a sobering end to a fulfilling day.  I had coffee with Michelle before she headed back to Chungju and I headed out to meet FOBY for fried chicken dinner in Jongno.

On Monday FOBY was meeting some visiting American friends for dinner and asked me about the Namsan Cable-car.  I’d never experienced it and so on Sunday we took the subway to Myeong-dong and walked up Sogong-ro to take the mini-funicular to the cable-car station.  We were herded into an overcrowded car and the 5 minute experience was less than enthralling as views of the mountain failed to materialise. This “Black Hole of Calcutta” Experience is NOT recommended unless the visitor is fortunate to be there very early in the morning when crowds (I expect) would be less cloying. It was a lovely spring morning and there were good views from the summit. We eventually had coffee at the terrace café.  I say eventually because a number of selfish Koreans decided to take a two-seater settee each to monopolise the view. I sat down next to one of them which prompted his evacuation, FOBY and I then settled for our 20 minutes; he less than impressed by the quality of the barista’s wares.

DSC_1004We used our return ticket and after another view-limiting, bum-crunching ride we arrived at the cable-car station. We followed the road that circumnavigates he mountain and followed the line of the old Seoul Wall down to Namdaemun and the recently renovated after 6 years) but still closed gate.  They are, it has to be said, working on a plaza behind the gate which will show off the gates full glory when completed. At Seoul station we took line one to Yeongdeungpo and Times Square. At the Mega-mall we had a Japanese lunch and enjoyed the roof terrace before poncing around Rolex and other “houses”; browsing without the ability or inclination to buy! The mall was packed despite North Korea’s declaration of war, the South Koreans have it completely right. America observe!!!!!

It was time to head to Gangnam and the journey home.

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