Royals and dope smoking etiquette

Advice on meeting the queen, meeting foreigners and meeting your past...

Dear Marina

I am a young Arab male who has recently moved here from Iran to study, and I cannot tell if the UK is progressive and open-minded due to all the talk on multiculturalism, or if they are prejudiced and nationalistic and afraid of change. Does Britain welcome me earnestly or begrudgingly?

Omid, London

At a guess I’d say you are not at all welcome. However hard you study, however useful your skills base, the fact is, you’re not from round these parts, are you?

As a guest in a country where people from neighbouring villages treat each other with deep suspicion you’re up against it I’m afraid.

The Prime Minister’s from Scotland and that’s pushing it for many south of the border. But Iran? Blimey – they eat babies don’t they?

Once we start bombing your people it should become clearer to you. No doubt you’ll be rounded up with your fellow Iranians for incarceration leaving you in little doubt as to the true multiculturalism of this once great empire!

Multiculturalism by the way, refers to the fact that Britain is an island populated by people from all over the place.

There is nothing inherent in the reference that suggests we actively enjoy each other’s company.

But hey, the Brits are a complex bunch. They will happily berate the fact that foreigners over running the place while queuing for a takeaway chicken madras without feeling the slightest bit ironic.

No wonder you’re confused: so are we!

Dear Marina

I’ve been invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. As a republican I am loath to curtsey or address a fellow human being as “Your Majesty”. What should I do if presented to the Queen.

Liz, Lewes.

PS: Would it be disrespectful to smoke a spliff in the grounds.

I myself faced a similar dilemma just this week. Pulled from a crowd of 8,000 guests to meet the monarch was a surprise and to be honest I’d not given it as much thought as you have. So I had to think on my feet.

Last time I met royalty I stood in line next to Norman Baker MP as Camilla approached. “Are you intending to curtsey?” he enquired. “What do you think?” I replied. We both made do with a nod of the head.

So as the Queen approached myself and my friend whispered in agreement: “We won’t curtsey, we won’t.” Whatever the Lord Chamberlain recommends – a quick jerk of the knee, as it happens - they can’t MAKE you cowtow.

As it happens the curtsey bit takes care of itself. She’s so tiny one has to stoop in order to shake hands and that kind of passes as a curtsey if you’re quick about it.

I was much more concerned at the state of my hands. I’d just snaffled a cutting from her herbaceous borders and the royal dirt was clinging to my fingernails. But you can’t keep them behind your back when the regal glove is coming at you. Said dirt transferred and I can only assume a footman was later dispatched to remove them to the royal laundry basket.

She was surprisingly good company – we had a lively conversation covering gardening – she’s given it up but was most impressed with my muscles (from digging) - finding strength to go out and meet people when what you really desire is a duvet day and the need for her generation to get involved with the revolution. Expect the Queen to launch her own brand of community action against climate change soon. And we didn’t use Your Majesty or Ma’am (to rhyme with spam) once. Oops!

In short, while the minions that surround her seem to seriously believe we are not all equal, the Queen is well up for getting down with the people. I feel she drew great strength from our meeting. At least now she knows that while her government does nothing, her people care about the unsustainability of current lifestyle choices and some of us are actively trying to do something about it.

As for toking, I did notice a discreet sign just inside the grand entrance stating that it is against the law to smoke at Buckingham Palace. But it’s a big garden and if you skin up behind your hat, you will, like countless others before you probably get away with it. Indeed a quick toke might get you relaxed enough to enjoy dispensing with formalities. The revolution, is, after all, ON. And should you get an attack of the munchies, I recommend the Victoria sponge. It certainly worked for me.

Dear Marina,

Are you on Facebook and why do you think it's so popular? I'm finding it irritating everyone going on about it the whole time. Don't you think it's a bit sad, are we all living in the past or just plain nosey?

Thanks
Orlando Jones Birmingham

I recently tried to join Facebook and attempted to fill in details about the festival I’m organizing for September. That’s Out of the Ordinary (www.outoftheordinaryfestival.com) a community event designed to help us to engage with the landscape and do something about climate change. It’s going to be fun. I’m especially delighted with the response from the black community who don’t generally tend to get involved with such events, unless they’re onstage drumming, as a rule. A multicultural festival indeed.

The preparations are going well – but we do need to sell more tickets to balance the budget – hence me trying to use Facebook. But I couldn’t work it out.

I know Ming Campbell is very trendy and loves his Facebook, having more friends than any other political leader. But me, I just can’t keep up with this newfangled communications tool. Perhaps that’s why he’s leader and I’m a disenchanted town councillor.

As I have no idea really what Facebook is all about I can’t say what motivates users. Perhaps it signals the isolation in which individuals find themselves living in this ironically titled age of communication. Do please send a carrier pigeon if you work it out first.

Marina Pepper is a former glamour model turned journalist, author, eco-campaigner and Lib Dem politician. A councillor and former Parliamentary candidate, she lives near Brighton with her two children.
Why not e-mail your problems to askmarina@newstatesman.co.uk?
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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