Category Archives: Politics

You Lot Are Ridiculous

Facebook is getting ridiculous. I know I have a lot of applications; I use about three of them, if you count ‘Video’ as an application rather than just another aspect of Facebook Proper these days. I also use Lexulous and have just got Farmville just to see what all the hype is about. I’m not sure yet why it’s so popular, to be honest. Perhaps if I were, what, eight? We’ll see.

Other applications are just downright annoying. ‘What kind of character from history would you be?’ ‘What DC Superhero would you be?’. Stupid questions with no relevance to the ideas and descriptions they come out with defining you for utterly spurious reasons as this or that. What Disney Princess would you be? What Psychological Disorder Should You Have? Yes, that’s a real one. IQ tests, grammar tests, the whole lot. Yes, I do them, with the same healthy dose of scepticism as I expect most people who answer these quizzes actually have. Or rather, I did. I’m getting bored of large swathes of the internet, I really am. It’s a pretty stupid addiction. I read fewer comics these days, keep up with fewer blogs. Although you should definitely read The Daily Kitten. Everyone needs a regular dose of Insanely Cute.

Anyway I just wanted to drop by and say, I really hate Causes. Yes, we all don’t like Child Abuse, Animal Neglect, Rape, or Torture. Most people don’t approve of these things. But there’s no point in standing up and saying so by joining whatever Cause it is. Don’t go thinking you’re doing something about Saving The Donkeys just because you’ve joined a cause. Don’t think it’s an active step saying I Don’t Support Child Abuse. It’s not helpful to think of joining a Cause as an active step, as a way of Doing Something About whatever-it-is because then whatever you could really do to help – which probably involves a little more effort, or money, or signing a petition, or whatever – will seem like just a bridge too far, and does, to many people. If you really want to do something about something in this world, don’t just meekly sit and be counted with all the other six million twenty-somethings, think what you could actively do. Joining a Cause doesn’t make you a better person, it doesn’t make you look like a better person, not to anyone with half a brain. If you have no money, give time. If you have no time, give money. If you have no time or money, feel guilty, like me, or find some time or money (I know I’m no saint). But don’t just sit about telling us what a giving, sharing and kind person you are, because you’re not, seriously.

There we go. Rant over.

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Filed under Beliefs, Consumer, Internet, Life, Politics, Society, Thoughts, World

Where Your Toothbrush Is

That’s the E. Rivers theory on Home. Home is where your toothbrush is. So, across the country, I have four. One here in my parents’ house in Home Town. One at my house in Uni Town. One, now, at P’s, after I yet again forgot to put mine in my sponge bag before I went to stay at his (and before you say anything, no, this wasn’t strategic encroachment-by-toothbrush, I’d never sink so low!), and one at my friend TH’s where I spent most of my last summer and at least part of this summer.

Home is where you feel at home. Where you can wander freely round the house, where you know where the wherewithal for tea and coffee is and you are free to make tea or coffee as and when you want it, and to bandy it around to other people as and when they might want it, where you can bring back friends if it’s convenient, where you can take a bath or a shower when you want one and borrow a dressing gown when you need it, where you can retreat to bed and not feel like you’re being antisocial, pick through the CDs and DVDs and put them on yourself, offer to help with lunch and dinner, borrow keys and waltz in and out. These are four houses in which I feel at home, increasingly so in some cases.

Anyway, there we go. That is home, to me. That, and my own company, and no-one else’s, anywhere, any time, with no obligation to think or move and hopefully music or a good book and a cup of tea.

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Like Some Kind Of Ticking Time Bomb

Friends for times and places, that’s the thing.

Do you know what I mean? Every summer I’ve had a different ‘main’ group of friends which I’ve spent most of my time with. Well, I say ‘every summer’, I mean ‘every summer since I’ve had friends’ i.e. from the summer after my GCSEs onwards because I am Just That Cool.

After my GCSEs there was mainly The Posse, as we called ourselves, about ten of us, long afternoons at my house with ice-cream and table tennis and swingball and badminton and pizza and things. A frisson, no more, of gossip, and always something to say to one another. Idyllic. I don’t know what else we did – not much. Some of us went to the field parties that were what our whole year did that summer, but that was a slightly different group who I lost touch with after we all went to college.

The Posse kind of fell apart at college and if I’m honest that was in a large part my fault – I got too comfortable with my Queen Bee role and I wasn’t terribly nice to all of them in a vicious social-climbing attempt which partly backfired, so I moved from group to group all that year but really, I was growing closer to my groups outside of college.

Then the next summer I was friends with a couple of groups from the year above and our social life centred mainly around badminton and a whole host of surreal in-jokes. But of course they left for university and meanwhile I found my place in my out-of-school group that mainly consisted of people from the local private school, in the pub. Then there were two groups I was partly in, and I threw myself out of one of those groups by being unspeakably horrible to most people in it in one fell swoop. Cue major gossip and scandal in the other group, all – well, exactly 50%, my fault, and a real sea-change in just who I hung out with – a group consisting of elements from different groups who Didn’t Actually Hate Me Completely.

Then I moved house, and the previous year’s Gossip and Scandal caught up with me further, and so I retreated to the safety of a different side to the same group where I sheltered for a summer.

And this year although I’ve seen those people a bit, here I am mainly socialising with P’s friends. To be fair, I’ve not done a lot of socialising full stop, but that would be mainly due to Those Wretched Exams What I ‘As Done. The thing is, my group-switching before has been due to circumstances shoving me out, which is fair enough – I haven’t exactly always been a brilliant friend to everyone. But now I’ve been in the same group, nominally, for two years – and a bit; I got to know them all firstly about three summers ago – and two or three summers is the longest I’ve ever spent in one particular group. Many of my friendships have lasted a lot longer than that, but not a single group has remained a constant, even allowing for slight cast-changes.

The weird thing is, I adore every person in that group, I really do. They have all been great friends to me, and we’ve had some wonderful times together, and I should be so happy with them still, but instead, two or three summers, that seems like a lot to me, and if I’m brutally honest, for reasons I really can’t put my finger on, I’m bored. Maybe it’s because now I’m taken there isn’t that frisson of what-if I used to get about some of the guys. Maybe it’s because I’m not secretly having it off with one of the guys. And maybe it’s just because they were my ‘safety’ friends, a sort of harbour of friendship, when the whole Gossip and Scandal scenario was being a real struggle. People I needed to make me feel OK, however much they might secretly disapprove. I think it’s a mix of all of those things, really, and so I feel disloyal to think that maybe we’ve reached the end of the road, that I’ve now met some more exciting people; and I hate that I’m turning into a sort of social drifter, never able to just settle down and enjoy years of friendship and the sort of harmony and comfort that that might provide (or not; I wouldn’t know).

To be honest, it’s not that bad – I just spent a very nice relaxed weekend with the group I’m talking about and we had a perfectly pleasant evening together. Some good laughs were had, one or two pretty decent arguments, and I got to know a bit better a girl I thought would justifiably never want to actually talk to me, which was wonderful. I can see how the group is evolving and I can see that it could grow and change, but in some ways I sort of feel like I’m already saying goodbye, and I really don’t know why that is. I’ll keep seeing them; perhaps I’m just worrying too much, perhaps we still have millions of reasons to stay friends and I would like to always be able to go back and see them… I don’t really know what I’m saying at the moment.

Anyone have anything to contribute to this confused mess?

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Yes, We Can.

You know that in the US people have to pay crippling health insurance bills if they are to get the healthcare they need, and that many people simply cannot afford to do this, and therefore go without decent healthcare. You know that Obama is trying to do something about this. However the American Right, and those who profit from the current US system, are trying to stop him, spreading lies about how the NHS works or does not work for us in Britain.

The site where I found this petition says the following:

It’s incredible, but Obama’s health plan, and with it his entire Presidency, could be derailed because big corporations and the radical right manage to convince Americans that the UK health system is a rationed service that refuses to treat patients and abandons the most needy, such as Stephen Hawking, without care.

We need a huge popular outcry to reveal the truth — how proud and grateful UK citizens are to have public healthcare, even despite its drawbacks. Sign on to the message to America — if enough of us sign and tell friends, we’ll be a story in US media and help change the debate.

US healthcare is far more costly and lower quality than almost any other system in the developed world. But reform threatens Obama’s majority in the US Congress as happened in 1994 when Bill Clinton attempt to extend health care. If this occurs, progress on every global issue is endangered, from climate change to the war in Iraq.

Obama’s health care bill will be championed or buried this month so we have no time to lose. Together we can help turn the debate away from the fear tactics by giving American politicians and the public the truth about government health care in our country.

August is the most critical time in the debate as insurance companies and interest groups begin their lobbying in earnest before the September sitting of Congress.

Obama’s plan for universal health care is at risk because the powerful medical insurance lobby and right-wing propaganda machine is undermining critical political support in Congress. Our chance is to show that, despite its drawbacks, our national health care system works and should not be used as the bogeyman in the US debate.

The truth is, government funded health care is vastly cheaper, more efficient, and more effective than turning health care over to large corporations whose only bottom line is profit. The US spends twice as much on health as any other country and ranks 37th in the world in health quality. While 40 million Americans don’t have health care, health companies make giant profits. Yet in the US, citizens only hear corporate propaganda that our health care in UK is a disaster.

Certainly, our health care in UK is not as good it could be — but it’s a damn sight better than in the US. Let’s stand up to the lies about our health care, and let the American population and their politicians know the truth about why health care reform is so important.

References

Myths about the proposed health care reforms
http://www.communitycatalyst.org/projects/national_reform/alerts?id=0066

Extreme tactics of the conservative right
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/04/health/policy/04townhalls.htmlhttp://www.voanews.com/english/2009-08-17-voa45.cfm

UK’s health care system under attack
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/08/18/the_most_outrageous_us_lies_about_global_healthcare?page=0,0http://mediamatters.org/research/200904290032
http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=N2M0ODk0OTNkZjkwNGM4OGMyYTEwYWY3ODUzMzFiOTc=

Brits across the board support NHS
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2009/08/time_heals_all_wounds.htmlhttp://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/15/world/europe/15britain.html?scp=35&sq=health&st=cse

Paul Krugman on health care
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/17/opinion/17krugman.html?_r=2&scp=31&sq=health&st=cse

The extent of the health care lobby
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=aZdbr0YXz5jI

Health insurers stocks rise as health care plans fade
http://www.reuters.com/article/hotStocksNews/idUSTRE57G4BU20090817?sp=true

And by the way, if you want to join or find out more about Avaaz, there you go, have a link.

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Dear Rational Readers Of Mine:

In my recent post ‘Another Feminist Moment…’ someone named Randy has posted a link to a site entitled Harriet Harman Sucks, which in itself is a hysterical inaccurate collection of mindless diatribes about Harriet Harman based on a complete misunderstanding of, well, everything. Words cannot express how twisted the logic the writer(s) use(s) is – for a really good example here is a post on why ‘Equality between Men and Women is Not Achievable’. I may not entirely approve of her conduct myself but, well, read it. A lot of it is completely illogical and would be amusing if it wasn’t for this particular essay on rape statistics and allegations – there’s another link to this in the comments thread on the post mentioned above. Anyway, read this article, and please, please, please come back to me with some kind of reasoned response that gives me faith in my fellow human beings! Please tell me this is the work of some insane male chauvinist supervillain, and not a fairly common opinion; that the statistics are not founded in fact, that I’ve not accidentally fallen through the looking glass? Please help!

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I Am Too Bloody Nice By Half

Honestly, yes. I am. Take my coat, please, you look colder than I am. Ooh, I’ve got a belt that would go really nicely with your dress. Yes, I was going to wear it, but I’ve got another one that’ll look OK. Are you sure you’ve got enough money to get home? Have the rest of my change. My room’s bigger than yours, of course you can have people stay over in my room and I’ll go in the spare. Yes, I’ll pay for our holiday, and yes, you can owe me until our loans come in even though I won’t be able to eat until mine comes in too, and we seem to have a deficit I haven’t been paid which we can’t account for, oh well, I’ll pick up the slack. Please, yes, have the nicest rooms in the house, after all, I’m moving in last and I don’t take up much space, it doesn’t matter to me, even though I was really looking forward merely to having a room on that floor, don’t mind where, no, let’s not toss a coin, you probably deserve it more than I do, it’s fine, I’ll have the small room next to the shower or something, it’s fine. You look hungry, please have the contents of my purse, yes, that was going to buy my food for the week, never mind. Do you want to borrow my phone too?

Fuck you, all of you. It’s my own stupid fault for being such a pushover, and that doesn’t mean I like you any the less, but I am ridiculous sometimes and it’s all my own fucking fault. Fuck you anyway.

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Time, I Think, To Rant Some More

I have always been a staunch supporter of state education. Still, am, ideally. If I had children, and I honestly thought that my local state school would honestly be the best place for my children, in terms of their intellectual and social development and in terms of making them well-rounded, interesting beings with the best start in life, or at least a reasonably good start in life, then I would send them to that state school.

But it seems to me, more and more, that this is almost never the case. For an example close to my heart, read on. The vast majority of the medical students I know went to an independent school. A number of them were even educated at public schools, some were even boarders. This trend is repeated all across all the medical students I don’t know, as well (and don’t get me started about how many of their dads are doctors too, or how they are all, almost to a man/woman, upper middle-class, safe, shiny, pretty people. Not that I’m not in the latter category, well, if you think I’m pretty, I don’t know. But I can be shiny and wear cardigans and look safe!) For a well-worn statistic in a slightly different area of study, try this: 6% of all children in the UK are privately educated at secondary school level; over 50% of students at Oxbridge come from independent schools.

Here are my perceptions of my education. I don’t really remember infants’ school. I was in a central London primary and was one of only about two children in my reception class for whom English was our mother tongue. This meant that a lot of the pupils were learning how to speak and understand spoken English at the same time as learning how to read and write it. A lot of them, too, came from very difficult backgrounds. I remember feeling quite isolated at that school – I didn’t make many friends and I did get bullied, but then, I was an August baby – I was significantly younger than the oldest children in my year. The thing is, I think this school was good for me, at that age – it taught me before I’d even learnt to think about it to be inclusive and fair and to not be afraid or even aware of my differences from other children in terms of race or disability or socioeconomic background. We were quite well integrated with a school across the road that catered for children with special needs and so once a week a group of us went to play in their fantastic indoor play area, full of those squashy slides and climbing equipment and interesting bubbly lamp things and ball pits and stuff, and it was great fun, and we were all children together. If I’d been sent to some prep school and had been wearing a little blazer and a hat and neat grey socks and regulation brown shoes I think I would have missed out on a lot of things that were fairly crucial to my early social development.

The same cannot be said of my education once we moved out of London. From then on I was the new girl, and therefore an outsider, to start off with. I was quiet and a dreamer and teachers therefore regarded me as stupid and possibly deaf or autistic for quite some time. Because of the constraints of the national curriculum I was not allowed to progress onto books which actually challenged and interested me for two whole years, stuck instead on various reading schemes and tedious non-fiction books about things I didn’t care about. Middle-level maths bored me so much I’d spend hours sharpening my pencil to the finest point known to mankind (why I never fantasised about/carried out said fantasies of stabbing the aforementioned pencil into the eye of my frankly awful year three teacher Mrs Mallett, I do not know) and never got to progress onto the top level stuff – but then, occasionally, I’d sneak a look at this supposedly top-level stuff, and it was equally dull and unchallenging and stupid.

And so it goes on. Fourteen years I spent in school, and for thirteen of those years I was very rarely challenged by anything I encountered. (The fourteenth of those years was spent in the second of the two huge impersonal sixth forms I went to, where I was a mature student, doing Chemistry and Biology in one year (well, Human Biology, because my secondary school in a misguided Gifted and Talented program forced the top science set to, having done the dual science GCSE early (which was a good thing) then take Human Biology AS in year eleven, surely the most obstructive and non-useful A-level ever if you want to do anything seriously scientific with your life. It’s almost as ridiculous as Sport Science or something) – anyway, yes, the first time I got seriously challenged at school was because I was doing AS and A2 Chemistry simultaneously, which meant I was actually having to cover the AS stuff twice – with my AS class, and also because the A2 course was in a totally different order, pre-emptively so that I could cope with the A2 stuff. Serious organisation required). Teachers were uninspiringly stupid and rule-bound, hiding from answering difficult questions by saying things like ‘I don’t have to teach you that under the curriculum’, or ‘never mind, it won’t be in the exams’. Exams, exams, exams. I walked through my GCSEs. I then stopped working almost altogether, preferring to go to houseparties and down the pub and into various nefarious field scenarios involving epic quantities of vodka and JD and such. I stopped paying attention in lessons, and my huge 3000-strong sixth form barely witnessed any of this – we were supposedly responsible adults now, and meant to take responsibility for our own learning. If you’re not enjoying the stuff you’re learning, or not learning, at age sixteen, you’re not going to try very hard to do well in it, especially if by not trying  at all you can still come out with respectable B and A grades.

The thing is, if I had been in a smaller school, if there had been a sixth form as part of my school, it might have been noticed that I was really not cut out for arts subjects. It might have been noticed before I even signed up for those subjects, and I might have been convinced to go with my original plan which was all sciences anyway. I wouldn’t have allowed the fact that my best friend had essentially ‘shotgunned’ medicine to stop me from even considering it as a career choice. If the school I was at wasn’t all about just getting as many people as possible through with five Cs, and letting anyone like me who could do that blindfold go hang, perhaps I would have been challenged more as I went along.

If it wasn’t for things like the national curriculum, and comprehensive entry, I might have routinely been in sets full of people who weren’t just going to scrape by with the minimum. Not that I have some kind of crazy intellectual-elite kind of agenda going on here – I know that’s what it sounds like, but this is from my point of view as an academic, geeky and intelligent young woman. I also believe that state education often fails people who aren’t as bright by making them hate the very idea of learning and all the rest of it, that smaller class sizes and less rigid curricula are the key to well-rounded, happy pupils, and to every child attaining their potential, and I can’t see how state education could possibly provide all of this but it should, oh, it should. Teachers might have had the time to inspire us and not just drill us. And yes, independent schools are competing in a market, and so yes, of course they’re fighting for good exam results from their pupils, but usually that means good exam results from all their pupils – I wouldn’t have really been able to get away with slacking and coming out with two Bs at A-level the first time round when I could so easily have got As. I needed structure, and discipline, to really do my best at that age, as much as I needed inspiration. Inspirational teaching is pretty rare wherever you look but if there’s no time or room for it in a situation where you’re still struggling at GCSE level with some pupils’ basic literacy it’ll become even rarer. That said I cannot thank enough some of the wonderful teachers I had along the way who took the time to inspire me and others of their pupils – Mr F’s amazing socialist diatribes and debates, Mr M’s utter madness on occasion and realisation that part of my problem was a total inability to organise myself, the way both of those men protected me on occasion from the hell school was socially, Mr L, back in junior school, starting the fight with my organisation skills, among other things. But by and large, there are probably ten times as many teachers I could rant on about with bile and lots of swear words and you would all hate me so I won’t.

And there are other things I gather about decent independent schools – the opportunity to actually get involved in worthwhile music making, or debating, or rowing, or acting, or whatever else floats your boat. My school music-making was done out of a sense of pity and of duty when others of my friends at other schools got to do all manner of fun and interesting ensembles, had orchestras which were worth listening to, had decent peripatetic teachers actually teaching at their schools (my sister and I always had private music tuition, usually stealing our teachers from local public schools, if you must know, but then, we held County Music Awards that bagged us free tuition from London professionals otherwise well beyond our means) and all the rest of it. The social education one gets at independent schools – learning how to be a civilised human being, being given the opportunity to be curious intellectually, rather than being branded as a boffin from the off and from then on being made to feel ashamed of who you really are. I’m not saying it’s utter heaven, for one thing, I wouldn’t know, and I do konw that many of my friends who were privately educated weren’t much happier than I was – ages eleven to fifteen, roughly, are horrible for the vast majority of people.

There were a lot of faults with my state education, and I don’t know how much better life would have been for me in any of the independent schools to which I could theoretically have gone. But I do know this. The people I know now, who were privately educated, are going to better universities, no matter how intelligent they are. They are socially more adept – knowing how to make any guest or outsider seem instantly welcome, moving conversations along with grace and tact, knowing how to order wine and open doors for people and talk to waiters and baristas and so on in a way that many of my old school friends still clearly haven’t mastered. They are the ones that get through interviews into Oxbridge or for law, or medicine, and so on. Who know about music and literature and what’s on at the theatre. On a daily basis I feel academically and socially at a disadvantage, and that makes me feel terribly belligerent about the whole thing. I feel somehow that if I’d had my time again, and been differently educated, I would have made the right decisions and known how to manage certain situations and of course life wouldn’t have been perfect, at all, but I do, crucially, feel that I would be better off. I would have done the three sciences at A-level, and probably philosophy, those would have been the right choices. I would have worked for them. I would have possibly been more socially secure. I would have got those interviews to medical schools and walked through them. Because I know I am good enough, but I never got the guidance when I needed it about how to actually show that to the people that really mattered.

Right, that’s enough of my bitter failed-old-woman rant. Here is why I am still a supporter of state education. Everyone, for goodness’ sake, everyone, deserves a decent education. GCSEs are getting easier and easier every year, that’s why grades are going up, everyone knows it. Everyone who wants to go to university should be able to go. Everyone who doesn’t really want to study until they’re 21 shouldn’t feel obliged to do so. A friend of mine claims that if you can afford to pay for a better education then surely you deserve it – but how on earth am I undeserving of the better education that this friend had, just because my parents couldn’t pay the fees?

If I ruled the world, I would probably base my own state education system on the German one where, at the age of eleven, all pupils take exams which then put them into one of three schools: the Gymnasium, for the brightest students, which focuses on academic subjects and where the hope is that most students will then go on to university; the Realschule, which is a mix between academic and vocational subjects, for students somewhere in the middle; and the Hauptschule, which mainly focuses on vocational subjects and helping their pupils become skilled in a useable trade, getting them onto apprenticeships at the end of school, and the like. The way the system works means that there doesn’t seem to be any kind of stigma associated with what school you do or do not get into – and also there are end of year exams, every year, and your placement within the Gymnasium or the Hauptschule or the Realschule can be reconsidered. I gather there is a certain amount of fluidity. The curriculum isn’t as tight or as dictatorial, and from what little I know, general studies and life skills are far better taught than they are in state schools in England as well.

What I’m really saying is that everyone should deserve the kind of education that some people decide to pay for. I’m not saying at all independent schools are perfect and all state schools are terrible because I am well aware that that is nothing like the case. I’m just saying that in some ways I feel I missed out. That there is a certain amount of social inequality which means that people from a certain kind of background still find that doors are opened for them by dint of who they know and where they come from rather than their knowledge, potential and who they really are; and that those same doors are closed to other people because they don’t know the right people or come from the right places and they haven’t the polish that certain kinds of education and upbringing instil in one. And yes, of course I’m bitter. There are so many what ifs, but if a number of things had been different I could right now be a more than competent medical student.

Next (but this is for another post) I shall talk about university fees, and the end of the cap, and what that will mean for people like me – for whom Mummy and Daddy hand over a lot of money and support and things and it’s all just about OK, at a stretch – and what that’ll mean for that 6%/50% factoid I mentioned earlier.

Sorry I’m so full of bile at the moment. If anyone so much as mentions the word ‘hormonal’ I may rip their hair off their heads and force them to eat it. Because I’m not. Honest.

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My Grandfather’s Granddaughter

Insofar as I am not really a massive fan of the monarchy. The monarchy has got to at least be more tightly financially managed, on principal – look at these figures. I know that in the scheme of things it’s not much, but it is still something, and there is no reason for them to be given all of this for what little we get in return as a country, do you not think? I don’t think I necessarily want the entire abolition of the monarchy, I just think that the system needs paring down given the times in which we live.

Found these figures, incidentally, through the very interesting blog Washminster, which Fi put me on to. Meanwhile, you can check out George Monbiot’s latest, on the prohibition/legalisation of Class A drugs. I really don’t know what I think, but it is definitely worth reading. It’s a hard argument to precis, so you’ll have to go and read it, but then please come back with your reactions, yes? I’m always interested to know.

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I Cannot Get Over This Man

Yes, it’s George Monbiot time again. I am always astounded by his incisiveness; but this is something else… .

In his latest article he theorises that the reason we’re all getting our knickers in a twist about the expenses scandal and demanding major political reform here and now is because of the credit crunch (of course) and that the credit crunch is going to hugely affect us because over the last three hundred years we have profited as a country on the backs of those we colonised, and furthermore, completely rode roughshod over, importing the food those countries so sorely needed to fend off famine in eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain; and that even after we gave up all the colonies we still made treaties with them to keep having the same advantages we’d enjoyed for the past three hundred years.

We’re a major world power with no right to that power because we cannot support ourselves except by essentially stealing from other countries, and now, it seems, we can no longer do that, and as reality hits home, we hit out at our government. Or something like that. The full article is excellent and you should read it, here.

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Birthdays, Presents And Surprises

OK, here’s the thing. I don’t like birthdays, and I don’t like surprises. Probably because I’m too much of a control freak, which for someone as messy and disorganised and otherwise happy-go-lucky as I am is probably a bit odd.

Let’s start off with the easy one to explain: surprises. I don’t like them because what if I don’t like whatever it is that someone has prepared as a surprise for me? How am I meant to react? The whole thing terrifies me. I mentioned an incident on Cloudlife once when S ducked back inside a shop we’d just been into and I knew he was buying something for me, and I had no idea what – what if he spent lots of money on it? What if I didn’t like it? What if there was no way I could ever reciprocate? I know that isn’t the point. For all the time he was in the shop I was quaking with fear – and yes, it was a bad day, but even on a good day I’d have been pretty jumpy. He came out with a bag of chocolate raisins. I like chocolate raisins. It was thoughtful of him and a lovely gesture but I just wasn’t in a chocolate-raisin/eating anything kind of a mood, and in the end I gave most of them away. But the whole incident terrified me. There have been a very few surprises in my life and all of them have turned out well, because they were in a very strict remit: things I had already said I really wanted to have or to do that I’d been told, for whatever reason, I couldn’t have. Presents I’d seen in the toy shop in the High Street that I really wanted but were too expensive, or silly, that then, oh what miracle, turned up on my birthday. Like the time I got my ears pierced. Everyone, it seemed, had pierced ears, and I really wanted my ears pierced, but I’d been told by my mother that it would be a special thing and that I could get my ears pierced on my thirteenth birthday or when my period started (as it happened, my thirteenth birthday pipped my period to the post by millenia, but that’s by the bye). So when we were shopping for birthday presents for my twelfth birthday, I really wasn’t expecting to be led upstairs to the hair salon over the pharmacy and to get my ears pierced, and it was a wonderful surprise. To this day I have probably more earrings than any other kind of jewellery and usually will wear earrings when I want to look in the least bit well put-together.

Equally, presents. What if I already have whatever-it-is that I get? What if I don’t really like it? What if it’s so amazing that I then feel pressured to do something equally amazing for that person’s birthday when it next rolls round, or if it’s Christmas and I know that whatever I’ve got simply doesn’t match up? I hate buying presents for people, it makes me so ridiculously nervous. I worry about getting presents from people, I worry that they’ll notice if I don’t happen to wear or use whatever they’ve given me, even if I do regularly enjoy the possession of that object. Some things only come into their own when I’ve had them for a while, and that worries me too – why didn’t I realise what a perfect gift this was earlier, do I think they’ll notice? I would far rather just make a pact with anyone and everyone, here and now, to stop with the presents thing – but then I would feel churlish, so I muddle along somehow, pick out a nice card, plump for flowers or a bottle or money if I really don’t know what else to do or because, frankly, I really, really like flowers, and so should everyone. I got flowers from a friend on my nineteenth and they made me so happy. But picking out flowers is stressful – they’re expensive, if you want to get a good bunch of them, and then there’s the whole issue of does this go with that, how should I arrange it, do they have a vase to put them in, are they the kind of people that would just put them in a measuring jug or something and not mind, because hey, they’re flowers, they’d look nice in anything? Every so often – very rarely – I’ll spot something that’s perfect for someone and buy it straight off, save it for their birthday or send it as a belated gift, but so many friends miss out on getting presents from me at all for ages before I go all out on the perfect thing, or perhaps they never do get that perfect thing. And then stepping out of the borders from standard lovely gifts into something really individual that will make that person laugh – hell. Joke presents are the absolute worst. Everyone has a couple of friends whose favourite thing about getting presents is whether they make them laugh or not, and picking out ‘funny’ presents is impossible because I just don’t really have that kind of sense of humour. And then some people are lifesavingly easy to buy for – they have a hobby which always needs this or that bit of kit which, thank heavens, I know how to buy, and that makes a good present – sheet music, say, or poi, or something.

As for birthdays, well, for years I’ve been on holiday for my birthday – it’s in August – so I’ve had a lovely day with my family, we open the presents in bed with my parents or round the table in the tent or over breakfast, I get to choose what we do that day, which if we’re in the right sort of area is usually a cave – I love stalagmites and stalagtites and all those formations, and the weird strata in the rocks from years and years of debris compressing together and forming all kinds of fascinating kinds of rocks, perhaps there are fireflies or a boat ride, and if I get the chance to hang back and turn my flashlight off I love the fear of being all alone in the pitch black. That said I hate the idea of proper caving – I’m far too claustrophobic to go swimming about in tiny little tunnels which I’m not sure I’ll be able to get out of and where I’m not sure there’s any air above my head to breathe if I’m underwater, and the whole thing sounds too terrifying. There’s nothing else I’m scared of, really – just small dark spaces and drowning miles under the ground. Heights are fine by me, swinging about on the end of a rope with nothing between me and instant death but that rope, the harness, and my own (scant) ability to haul myself up; or the idea of skydiving or bungee jumping or canoeing down some rapids or a waterfall or something, yes please – these are all things I want to try some day. Just not caving, or potholing, whatever the difference may be. Anyway, I’m tangenting. Which is clearly a word, shut up.

So yes, for years I didn’t celebrate my birthday with my friends. And now I feel I ought, and I’m going to be at home on my birthday, so I can. Last year I was at home too and that time I invited some of my closest friends round for dinner and we went to a lovely restaurant and everyone as far as I can remember had a wonderful time. It was a chinese restaurant, and there was a cello/guitar two-piece band playing covers of hits from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, and we all sang along, and did a conga round the room, and it was hilarious and happy and everyone rallied around and then we had hungover fried eggs and I got chocolates and flowers and things and it was wonderful. I could do that again with the same group of people but when I’ve tried to organise similar things at Christmas it hasn’t worked out, it’s too far for people to come, or something. And circumstances have changed. Back then I was just recovering from a big dip, and a fairly public dip at that, so I wonder whether everyone felt they should come because it would be the nice thing to do; T was already away in Germany, so all her usual protests about coming all the way to my city (oh, come on, it’s a 40 minute drive and you don’t even have to drive it if you don’t want to) didn’t apply (that’s a massive problem, incidentally, T’s massive reluctance to go out of her way on any specific point. Which is probably the real reason why we always socialise at her place and nowhere else – things are on her terms and in her patch and she doesn’t need to make any extraordinary effort; and everyone follows her lead, which is fine, I certainly don’t want to take on that role, but at the same time, she could be less subconsciously autocratic, and try and see things from our perspectives some of the time). There was one group I was especially close to, and I’d more or less lost contact, if only temporarily, with everyone else, so there was only one group I could feasibly invite – and of that group, several people weren’t on good terms with me, which cut it down to a nice neat number – and most of us had all just been away on holiday together so we were a tight-knit, easy circle, by and large.

This year I just don’t know. I’d like to do the dinner thing again but I have real doubts that it would work. There are far more people I could invite, and far more people I’d like to invite, and they don’t all know each other, and they don’t all get on with one another, and then there’s my friends up at university, do I invite them or not? Then back home there’s a whole new group, if not two, to be considered, who I feel very close to already and who I want to include, and if I invited everyone I want to celebrate my birthday we’re really looking at more like houseparty numbers, but houseparties terrify me, because then there’s fewer criteria for who to invite, the bar is lowered, and then you’ve got the whole group politics thing to consider. Different groups party in different ways and I don’t want to scare people and make them think my friends are all completely debauched, and houseparties almost always seem to involve some kind of major situation with someone flying off the handle or getting hideously depressed, a couple or ex-couple having some kind of Big Conversation and taking over a whole room and the atmosphere with it, and I have to flit from group to group being all things to all people, all the while stressing about whether anything has broken yet and have we got enough to drink or eat and is anyone bored and has someone honestly just set fire to the shed and what if there are gate-crashers or if specific people who I really don’t want to see take it upon themselves to show up?

The situation I’m in this year with friends is that there are far more people I could technically invite. But there are major tensions between a lot of people. Shyness, and resentment, the ex-factor, it’s all seemingly insurmountable. There are other issues too: if I invite one person from a given group, should I invite other people from that group, the whole group, even if I don’t feel so close to them, or none of them; and if I do that will the person I originally invited have anyone to talk to? If I do invite all these people will enough of them show up to make the party go well anyway? If I go for something smaller I risk offending people by being oddly selective with my guest list because if it was a dinner of just my closest friends very few of them would know or like each other, so I’m better off just going for inviting one specific group and then risk offending everyone else who I am close to but not close enough to let that kind of thing slip by.

Birthdays and parties are politically impossible minefields to me, and perhaps I’m getting myself worked up about this. I love the idea of celebrating my birthday with all my favourite people, but not the reality of it. I’d half love it if someone took it upon themselves to book a venue, pick a number of my friends, and surprise me with a party – but again, we’re onto the surprises thing. It would have to be organised by someone who knows me as well as I know myself, and who knows my friends, and who knows what they’re doing and isn’t afraid to badger guests and arrangements until it’s all perfect. It would have to be one of my favourite places to be – a picnic somewhere, or one of my favourite restaurants, or something, and it would have to be a careful selection of my friends who would all get along just fine, and to be honest, the idea of a surprise party scares me becuase I don’t want anything to be got wrong, so really I’d have to be consulted to make every detail perfect, but then you’ve got the major issues outlined above rearing their ugly heads all over again.

It’s going to take a lot of persuading to get me to celebrate my birthday this year with anyone except my parents and my sister. And no, please God no, this isn’t by way of a very extended hint about surprise parties. Perish the thought.

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