On Wednesday, I was drawn to a Born Free Foundation post on Facebook highlighting the plight of Moon bears in China and Vietnam and encouraging the adoption of Bodo who was rescued from a bear farm minus a front paw.  Human nature at its best.  As it says in the post, ‘Moon bears are recognisable for the distinctive yellow crescent across the chest, their shaggy black fur and large elongated ears.  They’re excellent climbers and highly intelligent with an extensive vocabulary of sounds.’  However, sadly, their bile is highly sought after being used in traditional Asian medicine and, thus, these poor animals are subjected to horrific cruelty in its quest.  Kept in cramped cages in bear farms in the aforementioned countries, the bile is extracted from these sentient creatures whilst alive enabled only by the removal of both their teeth and claws …  Bodo, obviously, lost one of his paws as a result.

I have long been aware of the unimaginable cruelty to which animals are subjected in China through the work of organisations such as PETA.  Producing undercover videos for which I do not have the stomach to watch, I know that dogs and cats are snatched from the streets – some pets still wearing their collars – and thrown into tiny cages to be transported vast distances, without food or water, to meat markets.  It’s estimated that in China, alone, 10 million dogs and 4 million cats are slaughtered each year, the torturous transport and inhumane killing representing some of the most extreme animal abuse in Asia.  The Yulin Dog Meat Festival takes place on the 21st June, annually, celebrating the summer solstice in a 10-day event.  According to folklore, eating the meat during the summer months brings luck and good health, some also believing it can ward off disease and heighten men’s sexual performance.  All worth it, then ….

I have seen the images of cages packed with dogs, some alive, some dead; photographs of them hanging upside down and being stripped alive for their skins and meat.  Working in Cath Kidston, I used to look at the labels on the leather goods saying ‘Made in China’ and dread the origin.  Where is this going?  Stay with me.

In a country sunk beneath the weight of this never-ending Brexit, what are we really hoping to achieve?  Great Britain.  United Kingdom.  Not sure the first exists anymore and, the second?  On borrowed time, no doubt, thanks to the ongoing chaos serving only to play into the hands of Nicola Sturgeon and her supporters.  Britain was once very definitely deserving of its prefix.  It was ‘Great’ and a country of which one could be proud.  However, a century on since the valiance of WWI and, as the number of remaining WWII veterans rapidly declines taking with them their stories, it seems that the ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ has lost its voice.  I spend my time decrying life today – albeit tongue in cheek – but, in all truth, it has become a world driven by money and ego losing sight of human values and that which is surely important.  The family unit is a core casualty, its damage the catalyst for so much, but technology and its advancement has led to an epidemic of isolation and a loss of self-worth.  Manners are no longer important or expected and the fight for equality and to be heard is all-consuming.  Hold on, though, what of the ‘tyranny of tolerance’ and the demand for political correctness?  What happened to freedom of speech?  In reality, it has gone by the wayside.  People are frightened to rock the boat, speak up or stray from the crowd.  Dare to be different and one risks the onslaught of bullying, cyber or otherwise – although cyberbullying affords anonymity, the springboard for cowards. Racist, mysoginist, homophobic, elitist, posh … just some of the labels of attack directed at anyone who dares to voice an opinion contrary to the masses while the term ‘gender fluid’ would seem to be little short of a badge of honour.  I think, perhaps, the most alarming thing for me is the crowd culture, as it were.  One must adhere to mass opinion, be seen to be politically correct and never voice an opinion to the contrary.  The individual should be consigned to the past and, in its place, should be equality across the board, one’s brain programmed to accept.  Help!  It’s the reality version of The Stepford Wives …  What happens to those of us who refuse to conform, though?

So, establishing that there is little great about Great Britain as of now, let me return to where I came in …. China.  At risk of being called racist – a label which I refute – I am, however, wary of world domination!  Suddenly it is as though the Chinese are everywhere but, then, money talks and the Chinese have it.  Great Britain, it would seem, is more than willing to change its very fibre in its quest for gold and, thus, our prestigious schools and universities are flooded with those with the means but little desire to integrate.  It is common knowledge that many are anything but fluent in English and there are those who pay for their written work.  To what end?  To the detriment of those pupils and students, native to this country, who are denied a place instead given to one from overseas willing and able to pay more.  I shall never forget Manny being told by the Edinburgh University Admissions Secretary at the time that there were places available but that they were allocated to fee-paying students and, particularly, those from China with whom the university had an agreement.  A bitter pill to swallow and so wrong.

Becca, meanwhile, has spent the last three years teaching Classics at an independent Scottish boarding school the origin of which dates back to 1847.  A single-sex school for boys, it succumbed to financial demand and became co-educational in 1995.  That in itself, changed the very fibre of the school but, in more recent years, there has been an influx of pupils from further afield, shall we say, positively coveted by the previous Warden who travelled the globe procuring those for whom money is no object.  Yes, this movement towards those willing to pay the most, regardless, may keep these wonderful old schools and universities afloat but in name only.  The character and tradition upon which they were founded – and for which they were known – no longer exists.  Victims of a world in which money talks.

The other day I learned that there has been an influx of Chinese students paying to study at the Dick Vet – Edinburgh University’s world-renowned vet school.  Same story, they, apparently, move around en masse with no desire or attempt to integrate …  I remember when I was at Edinburgh in the late 70s, there were no more than a handful of girls studying to be vets, the envy of the rest of us!  How things change.  Does make me wonder about the name of this country, though, and the ultimate futility of Brexit?  In a world destined to be dominated by the Chinese, it seems one’s very identity is at stake, let alone one’s voice.

‘The British are brave people.  They can face anything except reality.’

George Mikes

This is Trish, signing off.