Maastricht in my own words [written April 2016; covers 1991-present]

It’s been a long time since I took the declarations and agreements of 14 and 15 year olds as fighting words. Indeed, 25 years ago, I took them as fawning words. One begins to become critical of one’s older brothers and sisters, though this is not as threatening to the social order or contract as such a challenge to parental or professional authority would be taken.

Now that the fighters are slightly older and maybe a little wiser … one of the things I wanted to do as a teenager was to fight subtly and to fight fairly.

Could you look for a better example than your Member of European Parliament? If you are aspiring to a government or public service job, as the Americans do with shadows and internships, and we do with work experience.

I will not be too hard on my 13-year-old self in evaluating her, nor on the experiences that shaped and formed her through this path and other paths into me. Suffice to say that she never thought she would see 38 - or even 23.

In the middle of 1991 I copped my third head injury in nine years. This would probably be a good record in a First World country - and maybe a First World problem.

Bullying and harassment are no longer considered First World problems in the way they might have been in the 1980s.

This is the context in which Margaret Thatcher became the longest-serving leader that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland had.

Mitterrand’s second term of socialism must have been seriously emasculated in her presence. That was not my worry. Not then.

Still, it is true - that in 1991 I did have worries.

A good Freudian talks about anxiety. Indeed, yours truly did this in April 2009 - sometimes to her detriment. Fortunately after the session I bought two of the most awesome fantasy books there are: Overheard in a Dream - this was a long-deferred pleasure for the Anglophone world, who had not been able up to then to enjoy this radical divergence from the Torey Hayden material which had been foisted upon them before - and Midnight by Laurell K Hamilton.

The world of unseelies and feelies was an urban fantasy milieu. I was getting into the genre again with much belated encouragement. And while I’d like to say “It’s like I’d never been away” - that is not true, and I would be failing myself if I did.

Perhaps it would be enlightening to discuss the books I did read in 1991. Joan Flanagan’s Sister was a revelation for me as a 12-year-old beginning to explore her school and local libraries. I also may have read Wise Child. Our library sessions included free reading and boisterous shared reading.

Many people see the library as a refuge; an escape. In later life I was to see how true that was or at least how it felt to me. Certainly by 2002 I pursued aggressively its other function - to socialise its patrons, especially the younger and the elder ones. I spent a lot of my gap year mixing with children and pursuing with them their focused and intense interests. Even if for a week or two, it was a great way to see into someone’s world and how they integrate it into the real world.

That word - Integrate - is a sticking point. We talk about “ever closer union” in terms we inherit from Maastricht. I contend we are who we are as Europeans because of the tensions in that desire to integrate, and the risks and benefits we see in doing so.

However - Maastricht and its legacy - if you think about the stages of grief. I’m going to look at one particular one.

This is the first one which is based on an action - not a feeling. Yes, anger, depression, shock are feelings. I was not one who recognised shock until 1992, and in my undergraduate years when we talked about physical shock.

I am remembering Leszek B who was an important Polish political economist, who I had the pleasure to read about in the Tygdonik Polski in September 2008.

In 1991 shock therapy was all the rage for emerging industrialising economies such as those of Poland and Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Basically the Visegrad group - a source of continuing academic and personal interest - as well as some other nations..

In preparing these remarks, I read the Funk&Wagnalls New Yearbooks for 1988; 1991; 1995. Three distinct periods which history and geography run together. Certainly a narrow focus on news and current events does just this.

If we relied on news for everything we would be short-sighted and very short-term. In the art world we learn to collate and archive. Journalists, too, have a well-supplied morgue.

Would like to discuss some of my early library experiences with information science. As a young teenager this was the most inspiring and accessible part of the library. By the time I left we had a well-functioning information system with an EBSCO database more or less - but only sessional library people.

A university library, of course, is something else. An interlibrary loan is as important as a passport and a visa. If you are like me and wishing to explore opportunities within the European library network; the resources and skills and content are there. The last two have to be developed. I hope it is not an opprobrium to you.

It was a sharp economic world when I was twelve and thirteen. I learnt to drive a sharp bargain, probably later than my elders would have liked. I had moments of open defiance and incomprehensible and unpredictable responses.

The token economy was something I neither understood nor participated in. It was not that it wasn’t tried. Throughout the first half of 1990 I was highly motivated to achieve my autonomy as I understood it. That would have made me a good Thatcherian or maybe a useful idiot, in the Marxist sense of that term.

1988 was the time the Soviet Union was thawing. The writer of the Transition article made a good point that Stalin was the pivot point. I also read about a Hungarian leader leaving or resigning. This leader/prime minister/president had been there since 1956. 1956!

This weekend I made a much-cherished visit to the Hungarian Community Centre for contacts. After a breather in the hills for 10 minutes of a challenging ride and walk while we collected our bearings to go to a stately home’s opening day, I kept in mind what I learnt on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

It has been a challenging Lenten season for me. For the first time in 25 years I had a few challenging and personal goals I wished to achieve and I felt myself getting so tantalisingly close. Rarely had I been able to plan and project more than about 6 weeks ahead. Since January 2016 I have been more excited about things than I had allowed myself to be in the previous 10 years.

Still realism - realism - realism - as a Dutch mental health advocate mate of mine emphasised in the early 2000s when she was revising her paradigms - stands as an important part of the European project.

I would like to return to this mate really quickly. In 1996 I became aware that the mental health of our fellow Europeans was not all it could be.

It seemed almost a co-ordinated obstacle.

In 1991 there were real plans for expansion and for reform. Still the Western European Forces was a matter for the future. And we got to where we are because of who we were then.

This is a fairly fundamental point which I realised when I read the sixth volume of the Clifford Chronicles which is set in the 1970s and at the very beginning of 1980s.

As many of you will know the author of the said Chronicles - and this time I put the responsibility very firmly upon him and not his myriad fact-checkers - was a Conservative candidate for I think, Weston-super-Mare.

There is way too much going on in the Peterborough - Norfolk - Suffolk area at the moment. No, I am not longing for quieter times. Do have some current concerns for current 14 and 15 year olds who may or may not be able to fight in the way I had to and wanted to in 1992 and 1993.

Literacy is an important part of the arsenal, the citadel of learning and of enlightenment. Every Key Learning Area is tagged with -cacy these days, like it was a state or a power. I don’t think our brains and the world work quite like that. A legacy of constructivism?

There’s this Bulgarian-French theorist who is really cool. No, that theorist is not Julia Kristeva, who you all seem to have co-opted for the Abject and forgotten and ignored the rest of their work. The theorist is TT. He is a key figure in a Jewish school of my acquaintance.

There is this middle-year slump. It has a lot of us rushing to sixteen years old, and hoping for eighteen and twenty-one and twenty-five. Twenty-five at least I can understand, because then there is some distance and reflection. The other three are manufactured and constructed milestones which are only coincidentally linked. They are also treated as separate and modular, throwing us in the mud.

If you are 25 right now and you are wondering “What did I do ten years ago? What should have I done to prepare and protect myself from this onslaught?” you are growing up in a world based on me and the failures of me. I am not an outlier here, as you read this message from the past with open eyes and a strong heart.

When I was a girl, I wrote the words I would live by for at least the next ten years. I swear I might have got at least the spirit and the sentiment from a Commonwealth ANZAC day march. Those were always big things in the eyes of a most conservative professor with whom I did not try to curry favour because he was a secure and predictable presence in a life all too short of them.

By presence, I mean something closer to “point of reference”; though of course I could not have told you of “point” or “reference”. I was a wickedly bad geographer. There is a bar of my acquaintance who has this awesome sense of direction and learns well from repetition.

Another young man did not read until he was 12 or 13. An important part of progress that the behaviourists and cognitivists share is that that progress be socially valid and validated. Don’t worry - the validating spirit came to me in two ways. The intellectual side through information technology as part of the cycle of Information Processing and Management. The emotional side was through emotional intelligence. Two of the things which made 2000 very special for me.

It was a decade worth dreaming for and working in.

Another reason the 1990s were not a decade of waste was the much-vaunted Decade of the Brain. It brought neuroscience and its accomplishments to the popular consciousness. There are benefits and risks to that. I know that in the 1990s we did not talk about neurological conditions in our children and teenagers the way we do today. 

One thought leader who did this [Katherine Beals, I promise to think my own thoughts from this time forward] was Christopher Green. In 2001 or the few years prior, this gentleman had a stroke.

A public health preoccupation - and one which touched my elders - was cardiovascular phenomena. We learnt about the personalities involved. Some of these died in and for Maastricht and the European project like Mitterrand did at the very start of 1996. What they did we value.

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