MP’s just voted to give themselves yet another pay rise and we’re just about done with them.

So, for the fourth year in a row, MP’s have voted to award themselves another pay increase. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, and really, I’m not. But each year that they laugh in our faces like this, I do find myself getting angrier. The increase means they will get an extra £1368 a year each from 1st April. This is after the massive 11% rise they gave themselves in 2015, the 1.3% in 2016, 1.4% in 2017 and 1.8% last year. An MP’s salary is now £79,468, a massive £13,730 increase since 2010, and that doesn’t include expenses and allowances on top of that.

Many moons ago, I was a waitress. Scratch that, I was a terrible waitress. Particularly when it came to silver service. One afternoon, aged 17, we had a very large and wealthy party come in, and as I was serving Sunday lunch, I dropped a large piece of broccoli into the open Louis Vuitton handbag of an elderly lady who was dining. Rather than doing the mature thing and admitting my mistake, I simply pushed the bag further under the table with my foot and prayed the woman would blame herself and assume she knocked it in herself.

I was never caught for the misdemeanour, but if I had of been, how do you think my conversation with the owner would have gone?

“You can’t just cover up a mistake like that and blame someone else, it’s bang out of order”

“You’re right. I’ll resign”

“Good. How about I offer you another position instead. Maybe restaurant manager”?

“Sound, yeah. Do I get a pay rise”?

“Well that’s entirely up to you Bandita, what do you think”?

“Aye. We’ll make it a good one too. Those moats don’t clean themselves.”

It sounds ludicrous, but it isn’t a far stretch from what happens in the House Of Commons. In no other employment in the country is it acceptable to drink on the job while making landmark decisions that affect the entire UK and beyond, fall asleep on the middle of meetings and scream abuse at your colleagues from across the room. Nowhere else would you be allowed to employ your spouse for doing absolutely fuck all in order to squeeze more money out of a public purse.

George Osborne would roll in looking like that one kid you used to find trying to lick their own eyelids on the morning of the after party and you and your mates would all realise that not one of you actually knew him and had no idea how he got in. Yelling , jeering and deliberately loud laughing to drown out the opposition’s words is standard behaviour, yet if you did that anywhere else you’d likely be sacked for gross misconduct or a written warning at the very least, while they in the blink of an eye will demand that us proles be ‘civil’ if we dare get ideas above our station and challenge them.

Westminster is the only workplace where they will think nothing of kicking off when cuts to their champagne is suggested, yet will vote in cuts for the disabled and the nations poorest people. Last year taxpayers paid £2.7 million to subsidise bars and restaurants in the House of Commons last year.

A few drinks clearly gives them enough Dutch courage to then look us dead in the eye and say “All in this together”. If they are public servants, why can’t we see their annual performance reviews? Why has Michael Gove had so many roles that we are half expecting to see him in the next Oasis line up? Wouldn’t he have just been deemed unemployable in any other universe by now?

It would be funny if the rest of us weren’t having such a hard time at the moment trying to navigate a very unsure future for the UK. It would be funnier if a homeless man, Gyula Remes, hadn’t died outside Westminster not three months before.

So next time someone at work suggests a dress down Friday or Christmas jumper day for charity, suggest a “behave like an MP in the House Of Commons day” instead. I can’t guarantee you won’t end up slapped or in court for what ensues, but it may hit home what an easy ride we are giving a spoiled kids club with too much power.

Shamima Begum and the trial by media.

Sounds like the weirdest instalment of the Harry Potter series, doesn’t it? Like most of the country I have been following the story of Shamima Begum over the last few weeks, with my take on the issue changing several times over the duration. I’m not here to try and change anyone’s views, but several aspects about the decisions made about her and the public’s reaction to her story have left me deeply unsettled.

As most of us are aware already, Shamima travelled in secret to Syria from London in 2015 when she was 15 years old after she was radicalised online and is now trying to return home. She left with two other students, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana after communicating with Aqsa Mahmood, a woman originally from Glasgow who was now living in Syria after also travelling without the knowledge of her family in 2013 when she was 19 years old. Kadiza Sultana is now dead after she was reportedly killed in an air strike aged 17. Kadiza was known to have been trying to escape IS before her death and Amira’s whereabouts are currently unknown.

They are not the first teenage girls to have been recruited to IS, and almost all appear to have met a similar fate. In 2014, two Austrian teenagers, Sabina Selimovic and Samra Kesinovic also traveled to Syria in very similar circumstances. They appeared in Islamic State propaganda websites wearing burkas and carrying machine guns. The girls were reported to have married jihadist fighters and not much more was known about them until a report from a Tunisian woman who had managed to escape IS disclosed she had been kept in sexual slavery with the girls in a house in Syria, to be abused by newly recruited soldiers. Samra later tried to escape but she was caught by IS forces and beaten to death with a hammer aged 17. By this point Sabina was also dead after she was killed during fighting in Raqqa. She was 15 years old. There has also been Sally Jones, who was older when she joined IS and like Aqsa Mahmood was also involved in the recruitment of other young women, as well as encouraging converts in Britain to carry out ‘lone wolf’ attacks on home soil.

On paper it makes no sense why these girls would have left their homes and travelled in secret to a literal war zone in an unfamiliar country to marry unknown fighters in an organisation known for their murderous brutality and horrific treatment of women.

One of the most common arguments I hear is “well I knew right from wrong when I was 15”. That maybe true, but you definitely didn’t always care. Can you say that you never once defied a parent or authority, did something you knew that you shouldn’t and did so in secret? Of course you did. Teenagers are naturally secretive risk takers. It’s a normal part of our development as we’d never leave our families or caretakers side otherwise. I don’t know what you did. Maybe it was underage drinking or sex, maybe you took a bunch of drugs or got yourself an absolutely mortifying tattoo or a bad boyfriend. Who knows, maybe you did all of those things. Now you could argue that none of those things are in the same category as joining a militant terrorist organisation and of course you would be right. But take yourself back to that age for a moment, and throw in some highly sophisticated groomers in there who know just how to manipulate your desire for excitement and belonging, to be a confidante for all your worries and tell you how are amazing you are and far too special for a mediocre life in a materialistic society that hates you. If you think that wouldn’t have worked on you at such a young and vulnerable age, then you are lucky enough to have never encountered such people in your life. They won’t use a head carrying soldier covered in blood to do it. They’ll find someone who looks like you. In Shamima and her friend’s case, that was Aqsa Mahmood. They would have been told how great it was there, how respected by their men they were, free of islamophobia and safe to walk the streets in Islamic dress. They will have been told it wasn’t a bit like the corrupt press made out. “Trust me, I did it. I was scared just like you, but look at me now. My life is beautiful and has meaning and yours can too if you’re brave”.

The next point in Shamima’s trial by media was the disgust at her lack of remorse about the death she has seen, stating that she “wasn’t fazed” by the sight of seeing heads in baskets. Her lack of emotion has the nation outraged, unable to understand how she could be so callous. Out of curiosity, how many heads in baskets have you seen, because I’m twice Shamima’s age and I have seen precisely none. But I have seen trauma, and felt it too, and I know a little bit about how it works.

On a daily basis I have people disclose to me the very worst things that they have seen and experienced. The kind of stories you thought only existed in the very worst of nightmares. Very rarely are these tales told to me with tears and histrionics. The vast majority of the time they are relayed with a blank expression and a deadpan voice. Laughing while they tell you isn’t all that unusual and I don’t care how long you have been in the job, there will never be anything as unnerving as watching a young woman giggling in front of you as she recalls dozens of episodes of physical and sexual abuse. Does she find it funny? Of course not. It’s a nervous reaction, a defence strategy, because when you are repeatedly subjected to trauma your fight and flight responses become rewired. You will react in a way your brain tells you will ensure your survival. Again, how many heads in baskets have you seen? I’ve seen precisely none. I don’t know how I would react if I did, and you can be sure that you don’t either.

If Begum didn’t give you the x-factor style tears and heart wrenching monologue about every single horror she has seen or been subjected to-all the gory bits included- before you will even consider mercy for her or her baby, then I have some bad news for you about how you will view others who don’t fit your criteria of a ‘good victim’. Maybe you scan homeless people for track marks and bottles of buckfast before you consider sparing a few coins because you’re not giving money to a fucking junkie. You demand their story. You want to see war medals and an honourable discharge certificate to make sure they are the right kind of deserving waif to receive your generosity. Maybe it’s the victim of domestic violence that you will condemn for refusing to leave the man who beats her senseless every day, resulting in her terrified children being taken into care because she “chose a man over her bairns”. If I’m wrong, I apologise for my assumption because I’m glad you could show those people compassion and understanding. It’s those out of our comfort zone that need it the most.

Because her interview in the refugee camp in Syria where she is currently is too much to digest, let’s consider her before she ever traveled there. At the point Shamima had communicated knowingly with a notorious IS member, she was already condemned. If she had engaged in conversation that could even slightly be interpreted as dangerous, and her groomers would have ensured that she had, admitting it could have led to the arrest not just of her, but potentially her family and friends too and undoubtedly being put on a watch list. Who exactly could she have gone to for help in those early stages if she had even the slightest doubt about what she was getting herself into. By that point IS had done what all abusers of children do. They had shackled her to them with a secret she could never tell anyone, because she’d already done wrong, she was one of them.

With Shamima, there is no suggestion that she has actually committed any of the atrocities she has witnessed herself, though you’d never know that from reading any comments section of articles about her. So far I’ve seen calls for her to be executed, the Tower Of London appearing to be the preferred venue for this to take place. They asked she was tortured slowly, this while she was still heavily pregnant. Her baby who has since been born, elicits slightly more sympathy, though not as much as you might think looking at the dozens of comments stating that “it” will always be a threat to our country even at a few days old and should never be allowed to step foot in the UK. I’m always baffled by those who call for a slow and sadistic death on people they hate because they inflict slow, sadistic deaths on others, but this unflinching hypocrisy is always present in online conversations where IS comes up. The same people who scream that we shouldn’t allow muslims into the country on a piece about immigration because they want to bring in Sharia law are the same people who will happily call for the hands of thieves to be cut off in the next article down about an old lady being mugged with no sense of awareness whatsoever.

But actions do have consequences. I wouldn’t suggest that Begum should be exempt from this and I haven’t seen anyone else put this forward either. But it’s complex, as we have seen in the grooming gang cases like the one in Rotherham, where girls already in the clutches of the gang will be used to befriend and lure other young girls to the organised parties, some being present while those victims are then subsequently abused and doing nothing to try and stop it. Some do face criminal charges when they play such a part, but it’s not quite as simple to label them innocent victim or ruthless monster is it? If Shamima Begum has not committed any other crime other than membership of a banned organisation, what punishment should befit her given that there is a clear case of grooming?

It’s not that I believe all women who get radicalised like this are all naïve, innocent flowers who cannot be held accountable. Some will know exactly what they were getting themselves in to and what they are trying to get new female children into. I have particular contempt for Sally Jones who I mentioned earlier. She was quite a bit older when she decided to travel to the area, but she also took her small 8 year old son Jojo with her, and it is this that I just cannot get my head around. taking a little boy to such a known, dangerous area when he could have stayed safe with the rest of his family. Since then, pictures of who is believed to be Jojo show him in combat gear with weapons and adult hostages and he was believed to have already been fighting alongside IS militants until his and his mother’s reported deaths by air strike in 2017. Reports that have since been disputed, with some claiming that Jojo or Sally or both could still be alive.

We desperately need to know more about the tactics and resources of IS recruiters and Shamima Begum is a rare chance to gain some of that understanding given that most IS brides who travel from western countries to join them in Syria tend to end up missing or dead pretty quickly. I don’t claim that there are any easy answers. What I am sure of is that everything about this case is less about national security and more of a test about what restrictions we will cheer being put on liberty. It’s easy to do this with Begum. It’s extremely hard to have sympathy for her, with her at best coming off as an entitled clueless brat, and at worst as something dangerous.

How is it that the Home Office can revoke a citizenship in minutes without a full investigation but it can refuse to grant it to windrush citizens who have been living, working and contributing to the country for half a century? Brexit is upon us and we already know that there has been government talk of ‘reviewing’ or repealing the human rights act once we have left the EU, which would no longer be able to enforce it. The implications of that are dark. Despite what right leaning politicians or tabloids the human rights act was not born to protect criminals, rapists and terrorists. It was there to protect ordinary citizens from being abused by those who seek to exert authority over us. Before you applaud its potential repeal, make sure you would be happy for your rights to be stripped away. Because it could be you next much more easily than you think. Anti terror laws that we welcomed after 9/11 have already been used against non violent nanas for sitting in the road in anti-fracking demonstrations and hunt saboteurs, who are actually upholding the law against using animals to rip apart other animals for laughs and social status.

Shamima left the UK at fifteen and is now nineteen. She has just had her third child since leaving, her other children are dead, and she has been pregnant for most of her time in Syria, which gives you some idea of what her life has been like there. Hate her for her perceived indifference to the victims murdered by Islamic State both here and abroad if you must. But if you truly despise IS for their fanatical views and utter disregard for human life and liberty think carefully before you celebrate the government showing you just how easily they can strip you of legislative protections if they see fit and making you a little less free and a little less safe than you were in the interests of their national security.

As I was writing this, this song came on my playlist. I haven’t heard it for years but the lyrics seemed to take on a different meaning in respect of the subject content:

http://youtu.be/Tx6g0hVxCWU – Part Of The Process by Morcheeba

Prime Minister life hacks: How to misunderstand the young and climate change in just two sentences.

“But it is important to emphasise that disruption increases teacher’s workloads and wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for. That time is crucial for young people precisely so that they can develop into the top scientists, engineers and advocates that we need to help tackle this problem.” Theresa May

When it comes to getting the point, Theresa May is an absolute storm trooper. In one short statement, she not only managed to miss it once, but several times over in her cringingly embarrassing response to the school strike for climate action that took place in 60 towns and cities across the UK yesterday in a coordinated action that has also been seen across Europe.

As well as demanding immediate action to the imminent ecological disaster world leaders have been ignoring or denying for decades, the students are also demanding that the voting age be lowered so that they can actually participate in the processes that are effecting them.

Sat watching the footage this morning I was both inspired by protesters as they sang and blocked roads, as well as being appalled at their treatment by the authorities as we saw teenagers arrested, kettled and manhandled by police.

What the prime minister and many others don’t seem to understand is that there isn’t time for what she appeals. Her suggestion of staying in school, studying hard and getting good grades so you can grow up and become a scientist and save the planet is utterly ridiculous, not to mention a weapons grade level of patronising. They will not protest quietly or orderly or on a Saturday when it is convenient for you, and nor should they. Doing so has only meant they have been ignored.

Not one rational person on Earth, especially those currently in the field, believes that funding for environmental sciences will be anything other than as visible as the thousands of species we make extinct every year by the time these kids are adults. More worryingly, leaving it till then will be too late for the planet. We already know we have less than a decade to get our act together or the damage to Earth will be irreparable.

I’ve been involved in activism for longer than these kids have been alive, and I’m ashamed to say that in that time I’ve let myself become defeated and cynical. The school strike gave me a glimmer of hope that I didn’t believe was still there. They are self organising, vibrant and determined. The young are so often painted to be self absorbed entitled brats who can’t do anything themselves that their energy, their passion and their articulate words have taken the world by surprise.

It’s become apparent just how stupid Mays comment was, and many MP’s across the board, including some in the Conservative party are now tweeting support for the young protesters including Claire Perry, Caroline Lucas from the Green Party and Labour’s Rebecca Long Bailey, all declaring how their party is the one that will get them out of this mess and imploring them to all follow them. Which shows that they aren’t getting it either. For a start, most of these kids are quite a way off voting age and they are not, quite rightly, prepared to wait around until they are. This generation has been let down by the false promises of governments, while radical political organisations have grown bitter with constant infighting and online identity politics. It’s us that should be following their lead and not the other way around.

Stop trying to recruit this amazing generation to ideologies and agendas and actually let them teach us something. We have a situation now where the corporations who buy our politicians, the ones who block effective legislation against climate change, are seen as the visionaries, the ones who talk about creating a new, better world. While we know this is another example of their marketing doublespeak because their new world will only benefit them and is sure to destroy the planet, it is us, the once hopeful revolutionaries, who are now the cynics unless we find our fire again. We all grew so tired and weary with all of the hate and suffering that we see in this world that we make jokes about wanting to see it go up in a big white nuclear flash. We need to become the dreamers again. The ones with the daring and the creativity to fight against the rising damp of defeatism with beauty and with bricks. We need to believe in ourselves and in magic again. Thankfully, we now have a whole new generation to remind us of that.

To every environmental activist out there, be you young, old or immortal, thank you. You forever have my heart, and to the striking school kids, thank you for setting a new standard. We see you.

Your Next Bold Move- Ani DiFranco. Because she also reminds me of who I am again.

Tidying Up: The Activist Edition

Or: Things I Found While Marie Kondo-ing my house And What They Taught Me.

I try hard to not be a bandwagon jumper, I really do. Whenever some new craze sweeps our nation, I am almost always stubbornly cynical, refusing to participate so I can maintain my position of standing out from the crowd. I’ve been like that since I was very young. When my fellow pupils were all putting bottle tops on their boots when Bros came onto the scene, I abstained, declaring them to be ‘plastic’, my smug 8 year old face never dreaming that 30 years later I would be sat in my pants transfixed watching the ‘After The Screaming Stops’ documentary trying to figure out what spirit realm Matt Goss comes from.

Then, this Christmas, I got ill. Really ill. You too? Yeah, we’ve all had it I think and so you’ll know what a bastard it has been to shift. What started off as a normal cold turned me into Slimer from Ghostbusters if he’d looked a bit more disgusting and listened to The Smiths. I’ve had steroids, antibiotics and had an inhaler attached to me like a hookah pipe for a month. I’d never heard of Marie Kondo, ever. Then her name came up in a group chat with some friends with a mention that she had a show called Tidying Up on Netflix. Not really being able to move from the sofa anyway, I decided to give it ago so that I could snort in derision at how twee it was. I watched the entire series in a day and a half. Begrudgingly, I loved it. Then all of a sudden, she was everywhere.

If you are not familiar with Marie Kondo, though I’d be surprised if you hadn’t heard of her by now, she’s an organising consultant who has written books and methods of how to declutter our homes. Tidying Up has been somewhat of a surprise hit here in the UK.  Thanks to her, you will now not be able to find a tiny box or basket in the whole of the land as thousands of us have rushed out and gathered them so we can store all of the t-shirts that we fold to the size of postage stamps now, smiling smugly as we do it.

 With the popularity of Marie Kondo, has also come criticism of her. The main one was the misconception that she has told people not to have more than thirty books.  Bibliophiles everywhere lost their shit over a statement that had much lost in translation. The thirty book rule is a personal preference of hers, based on her upbringing in Japan where the humidity means that having a lot of books will only leave them severely damaged and unable to open. She also faced some criticism about gender and the unfair distribution of work in the home, which may be true in society as a whole, however the families featured on the show were fairly diverse and can’t say that one 34 year old woman is responsible for the imbalance of unpaid domestic labour. 

I don’t look like the type of person who would be a convert of hers to be fair, cobwebs are incredibly goth after all, and I’ve never taken any joy in housework, seeing it more as a thankless but necessary task. For a long time also, I never had a fraction of the amount of possessions to constitute clutter. At one point everything I owned fit in two small bags, having lived a fairly transient lifestyle in my late teens till my twenties. Probably in my circles, being a fan of Kondo and her method isn’t considered very cool. I literally spent Saturday night folding tea towels and tucking them into a little basket. It might be pretty, but it ain’t punk and I’m gearing myself for a bit of piss-taking and accusations of selling out. This doesn’t concern me as such, as the way I see it, all I did was make my life lighter and easier. It was something I have needed for a long time and I reject the idea that we are the scummy, scruffy riffraff we are portrayed as, some of the squats I have stayed in being the cleanest most organised buildings I have had the pleasure to reside in, dispelling the myth that without authority all would fall apart. But after watching the show it’s also safe to say that the kind of items I found in my home wasn’t typical of the families on Kondo’s programme. Below are samples of the clutter and the treasure that I unearthed, which taught me more about myself than I was expecting.

Dead people’s hair– There are several collections of this, all in little grey velvet pouches and none with names on, so determining whose hair you are holding is tricky at times. Keeping little locks of hair after someone passes is something my family have always done, and I was in my teens before I realised that this is not usual practice in the families of everyone I know. It became apparent when a mate of mine asked what was in the pouch of my dressing table and when informed it was hair belonging to an absent relative, she had slowly backed away. Her family don’t keep hair. I asked around. No one else’s did either. I refuse to believe it’s just us though. Someone makes these pouches for this purpose, so there must be a demand. Please get in touch and tell me all about your familial hair collections. I don’t want to have to go back into therapy.

An Anarchist  sex zine– This delighted my cold, dead heart, not least because of the pangs of nostalgia over the fact that no-one makes zines anymore, thanks to the internet being able to reach much larger audiences and the fact that every dickhead with an opinion  has a blog these days… making a zine entailed literally copying and pasting articles, poems, pictures (typed or handwritten)- whatever your zine was about- onto paper, making it look like a cross between a scrapbook and a magazine, then photocopying all pages as many times as needed, taking care to get them in the right order if your zine had one. I never had the patience to make them myself but they were a valuable source of information away from mainstream media in the days before the internet. I’d get them from gigs, meetings, squat parties, anywhere I could eager to learn about sexual politics or how best to d-lock myself to a building. If it all goes tits up after Brexit and we end up living in some isolated backwards enclave, we’ll find a way to communicate and organise still. There’ll just be less memes.

Mr T-Doll– Give me a break okay, I barely even remembering ordering this thing. eBay was pretty new in this country, and following a very messy night with some friends where we’d been on a nostalgia trip talking about childhood toys that we loved, I vocalised a lament for the loss of my Mr T doll that I’d had as a child. A few clicks and a fast lesson on being wrecked in charge of a computer later, this arrived a few days later. I’d forgotten all about it and it took a while to figure out why I was holding what looked like a tiny Mr Motivator. Us activists always like to think we are not susceptible to consumer culture, but his very presence proves otherwise in my case and he is currently stood on my bookcase as a reminder not to be seduced by impulse buys and also that the A Team never went out to buy a tank if they needed one. They just built one out of a dropped box of safety pins they found  on the floor.

Lots of mix tapes–  There are literally teenagers who have no idea what these are. I remember seeing something on twitter recently where someone’s kid had found an old Lynyrd Skynyrd tape in the creek and had asked if it was from the civil war. They will never know the pain of a snapped cassette tape caused by constant rewinding to a favourite song. They will never know the labour of love and anxiety that went in to making one for someone else. Most in my collection were made by my best friend who would send me them as gifts after I moved away to help me still feel connected to them. I didn’t own a lot of music at the time either, so each one was like manna from heaven, packed full of memories and in jokes in the form of punk, grunge, nu metal and indie. They still play too, but certainly make me realise how fast time and technology moves.

Class War stickers and other political curios– During any archaeological excavation of my youth, there was always going to be a box full of reminders to my political activity, mainly flyers for fundraisers, arrest cards which we carried in case we got nicked and of course some class war stickers which were always good for a laugh and outraging the masses. Twenty years of it has left jaded and disillusioned with left wing political movements than I used to be. You can see the beginnings of this in a furiously typed rant created on my typewriter with a ribbon on it that was probably older than I was. I thought I’d fallen out of love with anarchism, but realised years later that this  wasn’t the case when I stopped thinking of her less as ideology and more how I chose to be.  What I had really fallen out with was never ending, solution-less debates. Of in-fighting and egos and usually more rules, agendas and strategies than a game of Risk. Anarchy is the flowers that grow in the cracks that with nurture and light will bring down the whole building. It is already everywhere, in nature and communities and in people that will never ever call themselves an anarchist, which is more beautiful than I could ever have hoped for. I’m still in no shortage of things to be furious about but the stickers, along with the zines reminded me that although my knowledge has grown and politics have evolved a bit over the last few years,  my core principles have stayed more or less the same.

Terrible teenage poetry– When you use the KonMari method, you save the sentimental items till last, the idea being that by this stage you are more attuned to yourself to better decide what you feel you need to keep and what you are truly ready to let go of. Whilst going through the process, I always knew there was a large box under the stairs I knew was waiting for me, ready to make my toes curl all the way up with the sheer cringe of what I knew I would be sifting through. I wrote a lot of poetry when I was younger. I have written precisely one in the last ten years, much preferring sticking to prose nowadays. Now Im not saying that 15 year olds can’t be good poets. I’ve worked in arts based programmes with young people and there are some amazing teenage writers out there. I’m just saying that I maybe wasn’t one of them. But their credibility was never they reason they were made, because they were never for public viewing. Very few other people have seen them. They are in a box stating that only my best mate is allowed to open it in the event of my death. Much Iike keeping a diary, it was my only outlet to vent the horror of adolescence at one point. Something to tell secrets to that could be locked away and hidden afterwards. If it wasn’t for this, I wouldn’t still be writing now and I have always found solace in it. It’s easy for us to be down on ourselves about the things we create. Think about what it is you do. Do you draw, knit, dance, cook or code? Do you sing, but only when everyone is out the house and you know the neighbours are on holiday? I’m guessing you don’t do it for public recognition, however nice it is to receive sometimes. You do it because something inside drives you to and satisfies a part of you that you can’t even describe. Whatever you and your muses like to do, be that embroidery, playing the harp or computer hacking, we can be sure that there is an art for all of us and you must endeavour to discover which one will choose you.

My last psych report– This was something I involuntarily took a sharp intake of breath when I realised what it was, dropping it like a horcrux, convinced  my hand would become withered and black like Dumbledore’s from having touched it, never able to rid myself of its curse. It was written following…. While not the worst, certainly one of the weirdest periods of my life, when I finally realised that the past will catch you up as you walk faster and decided to get proper help and literally face my demons. The report was written at the end of my three year engagement with an NHS mental health service. It is strange reading a short biography of your life and the events that lead up to you becoming involved in such a service, along with details of what has occurred since then, written by someone else. I’d expected to find it deeply unnerving and upsetting, when in fact, the opposite was true. What I learned was that I’ve come a long way. Sometimes, on bad days, it’s easy to convince yourself that things will never get better. What reading this taught me is that it already has and that my circumstances, support networks and coping strategies are a thousand times improved from the dark days. Our NHS is massively under threat right now and I’m very aware how lucky I was to receive the quality of care that I did, and less and less people are getting access to this now. Mental health and addiction services are stretched way beyond full capacity, meaning people are in support for less and are usually much further down the road of self destruction than they should be before they get to the top of the waiting list. We fought to receive this and need to protect it with the same energy before we become hostages to health-insurance companies.

Documents revealing my ownership of an unknown quantity of camels in Somalia– These belonged to my grandfather and appear to be legal documents made when he left there. In what must have been his early twenties. My granda never liked to talk much about his life in Somalia, stating England was his home now and he wanted to leave it behind hm. I respected this, but was always desperate for stories, so when I was given a box of some of his belongings after he died I was ecstatic to have some glimpses into his earlier life. There’s some old passports and papers relating to his travels with the merchant navy. I was touched to see he’d kept almost every card I sent him from being small, always worrying that he was maybe secretly disappointed I never became the good Muslim girl he hoped for after a failed attempt to spark an interest in Islam in me. It wasn’t his fault. I think he’d heard I’d started wearing black veils and didn’t know what goths were, and our relationship remained as good as ever after I politely rejected it. I don’t have much to remind me of him; a few photos, this box of treasure and a recipe for ‘Somali soup’ which was our name for the weapons grade curry he used to make. I have a jar of homemade xawaash (a Somali spice mix) which smells so much like his kitchen that it makes me cry happy tears when I open it. But back to camels. It’s unclear how many camels  there were. I don’t know what a normal amount of camels is, and certainly he was never a rich man so I can’t imagine we are talking a huge number here. The documents stipulates that the camels are divided up between his own clan and ally clans and that some are to be cared for and given to descendants when they come of age. Even though camels can live an incredible 40-50 years, given the date on the document, it is unlikely that any of those camels are still around. Still I am hopeful that a legal clause means I will be able to claim any offspring of those camels and am converting the garage into a stable as we speak.

It took over a week for me to complete everything and go through the house as much as I can. There is still a little bit more that could be done, but doing this has given me more than just space back. My home is back to being the haven it used to be. My thoughts are usually disordered and utter chaos, the inside of my head looking like an Atari Teenage Riot song. Having a house that doesn’t mirror this makes life easier and I am rediscovering the non-material items that spark joy in my life. I am writing again for a start. For someone who is easily distracted, having a house full of stimuli is never going to be conducive to a creative process. I’m spending much longer cooking again with music on loud and eating better as a result. My neighbours are now welcoming the return of the days where they have to listen to me belting out strange mixtures of anarcho-punk and show tunes while baking pies. Because believe it or not, it was that activity that instigated this blog. Punkfoodbandita was meant to be about DIY food on a low budget and food politics, but a cluttered kitchen in need of repair meant I’ve been spending as little time in there as possible over the last two years, meaning you’ve all been subjected to my politico soapbox rantings ever since. But screw it, there’s lots of bloggers doing that other stuff much better than I would, so this is what  you’re stuck with.

Overall I’ve learned that I have everything I need and demonstrate much more gratitude for that. My 14 bags of donations to give to the charity shop were a stark message that I am as susceptible to consumerism as anyone.  Instead of buying more stuff, I’m remembering what I already have and using it. If something I really like or need is broken, I’ll have it repaired rather than “get a new one because they are cheap”. One of my resolutions this year was to not buy any new clothes, due to the impact on the environment and the realisation that I simply don’t need them.  If there is something I really require this year, I’ll hit the charity shops first…. And thanks to Marie Kondo, they are all jammed packed with the really good shit at the moment. 

This is playing a lot in my kitchen at the moment, I hope you like it too. Punks With Clean Kitchens by Evan Greer

http://youtu.be/_u2q1a9eigY

Happy Christmas (Austerity is over)

At 6:30am in the morning I am not the most stable of personalities, my fringe normally doing its best Don King impression as I sip tea with the cold, dead eyes of a serial killer while I overanalyse my dreams, the most recent one being about giant flying squirrels the size of otters, leaping from the trees and devouring what appeared to be a ruling dynasty in a strange backward, medieval world.

Yesterday morning was no different and as I was going about this normal routine and grimacing my way through social media, my eye caught the story of a harrowing phone call received by a charity worker in Dorset. Originally posted on Dorset Eye, the worker from Humanity Torbay told how they had got a call from a nine year old girl asking how she could get work. The child’s mother had died and her father was raising her and her two siblings alone. After her father was made redundant the girl was worried about how they’d make ends meet and wanted to ensure that at least her younger siblings would have a nice Christmas. Pretty soon I was doing my worst ugly cry into the empty shell of a boiled egg, both heartbroken and enraged for what was happening to this kid while also remembering my own childhood.

For we should never underestimate the love and tenacity of little girls. We forget sometimes, how much our children worry about money, believing childhood experience for the majority to be a magical carefree time, only becoming aware of how cruel and unfair the world can be once we come of age. Even I’m guilty of this, and I’ve been the child of a brilliant single father and I was very aware of how he struggled to pay the bills all by himself and hated it. He did well for a good few years to keep me blissfully oblivious. But as a family growing up poor in an affluent area, another, wealthier adult once took it upon themselves to inform me of our dire economic status at a very young age. After that I worried regularly about what would happen if we somehow became even poorer and was made to feel embarrassed that we never had a holiday together like all the other kids seemed to. Not because it bothered me particularly, for he always made sure there were fun things for me to do, but because I was so conscious that other people had thoughts about it. I was also that child that wondered how I could make money at a young age so things weren’t quite so hard. Adults on the outside had lots of opinions about our situation but didn’t seem to have any solutions very often. My dad, like so many other single fathers was either treated as a saint- as if it was so unusual that a man would want to take care of his child that it became noble- or with suspicion, society having an ingrained belief that a man does not have the first clue as to how to raise a girl child all by himself. Fathers even now are still often portrayed as aloof or as some sort of overgrown manchild who the matriarch of the family has to patronisingly take care of too, as they can’t be trusted to handle basic domestic tasks efficiently. This all came flooding back when I read the story over breakfast as I have a good idea of some of the things this family are going through.

Because single parents are always cast as the villain in someone’s eyes. They are criticised if they work for neglecting their child, but heaven also forbid that they aren’t in active employment, for how can they just sit laying about like that? It is always presented as a situation they put themselves in rather than acknowledging that sometimes circumstances find you, and the strain our society puts on people plays a large part on this.

My dad did work consistently, long and hard hours, with a crippling stomach condition. It was many years later when I realised just how serious it had been, because he hid it so well. I remember a period of a few weeks where he was barely able to leave his bed, but this sticks in the memory precisely because it seemed so unlike him, who had always been so energetic and active. While we may not have had much, there was always food and a warm house and he always strived to make sure I had access to as much as possible. Because of him I don’t feel I was deprived, but it shouldn’t have had to be that hard all the time for him and it shouldn’t be even harder for parents and children now.

As a professional I still see how difficult this time of year in particular is on our kids and how often they have to grow up far too quickly because of the decisions of other adults. For parents too, the pressure and competitiveness of Christmas increases each coming year. There has to be presents- oh so many presents- to be photographed and posted online. There has to be Christmas Eve pyjamas and festive experiences so you can ping ‘making memories’ on fucking Facebook to prove how good you are to everyone on your friends list or the whole of mumsnet. But if you can’t do these things, you will be made to feel terrible. Sometimes deliberately. One child in our service acutely sticks in my mind as I watched her become overwhelmed with gifts we had provided thanks to members of the public. Naively thinking that she might still believe in Santa and being careful not to say who her gifts were from she then told us she knew there was no thing as Father Christmas as she only usually ever gets one present at this time of year, and that is from her social worker. It had been that way her whole life. It’s not a unique story.

In the case of the phone call highlighted by Humanity Torbay, it is the voice of the child that has made the story spread far and wide both on social and mainstream media. Immediately it has made people ask questions about the state of our welfare system as it was revealed that after being made redundant, the father was left potentially waiting weeks and weeks before his claim for universal credit was processed- a standard reality for thousands in a similar position today in the Age Of Austerity.

Oh but silly me, haven’t you heard? Yes, austerity is over apparently. There was an announcement and everything. You might not have realised on account of people are still killing themselves over no longer being able to meet their or their children’s basic needs. It might not be obvious as all your vital local services to help vulnerable people are still having their resources slashed. Or you might not have realised because that ludicrous statement is yet more political gaslighting from this insane government. As I sat and watched Theresa May gleefully announce that indeed austerity was over at the Conservative party conference, my jaw fell open. Never had I seen such a preposterous misrepresentation of anything since Emilio Estevez tried to convince us he was high on weed in The Breakfast Club and instead of eating every carb within crawling distance, he bounced around a library like Sonic the fucking Hedgehog .

No one even falls for it any more, but we somehow accept that politicians lie to us time and time again, and where anyone in any other profession would be sacked for the levels of deception and incompetency they subject us to, they either go unchallenged or simply resign and get shifted into another well paid job role that they are completely unqualified to do.

Maybe instead if they were faced with a two month wait to get Universal Credit while their anxious child rang strangers asking if she could get some work sweeping floors they would be less flippant in letting us down time and time again. There are lots of schemes around the uk that allow people who are able to donate Christmas presents or essential items. Your local ymca, or domestic violence refuges along with organisations such as cash 4 kids who distribute to those in need in their local area. As someone who has seen the delight of toddlers and relieved cries of exhausted parents as they are delivered, I promise you these little things do make a difference to those that receive them. But while no accountability is put to those who make these decisions, their numbers will only increase. Some giant flying squirrels with an appetite for the ruling classes would be a timely intervention right now.

Here is Daisy Chainsaw with ‘Money’, because fuck every Tory and the capitalists who stole Christmas.

Beauty Is In The Receipt

Back in the days when Hotmail was my primary method of online communication the idea of targeted ads was the endless junk mail that came through. Mine were always for penis enlargers and links for dating agencies to connect me with the hundreds of Thai brides who were dying to meet me. This baffled me for years until I realised my best friend, who helped me set up the account so we could stay in touch when she went travelling, had listed me as a retired male in the profile. This was in the late 90s and since then we have found ourselves completely wired to social media on an almost 24/7 loop.

Unsurprisingly platforms such as Facebook and Twitter- as well as thousands of advertisers- have realised there is money in this, and what a better time to make money than in this golden age of being able to buy anything, anywhere, at the click of a button. One thing that hasn’t changed is retailers and advertisers knowledge that our insecurities will make them rich, and the list of things they are determined to make you worry about in order to sell you some utterly ridiculous product grows by the minute.

Among the essential items I have stumbled across have been camel toe guards- because I’ve reached the age of 38 now and should apparently start being embarrassed in case anybody knows I have a vulva. The obsession with my genitals does not end there it seems. There is also pubic hair dye available, which is strange, because there are also at least 2000 products out there that indicate it is completely unacceptable these days to have as much as a single follicle anywhere between your legs. Your lady garden should be tarmacced, and anything that tries to grow there should be lasered off by the pube daleks, or whatever those electrolysis machine thingies are called.

Then there is this:

At this point you would be completely forgiven for thinking this was satire, but stay with me here, for this contraption is a face slimmer. No you aren’t alone, I thought it was for something else as well and if you have a man in your life that is absolutely what they will think it is for too. All our minds are in the gutter.

While we’re here, let’s not neglect those products out there that promise you they will stop you being fat. Because you know that you ARE fat, regardless of what your weight or dress size is. You know this because you did that Facebook quiz to determine if you were a ‘skinny fat person’ and it told you that you are.

There are mountains of ‘detox’ products, which are literally nothing more than chemically induced dysentery and a really expensive way to give yourself the shits. Juice Plus, a company who are the nutritional equivalent of flat earthers are one of the worst offenders for this, using rhetoric that sounds like it was made up on the spot by an eight year old trying to convince you why letting them eat ice cream and syrup for dinner is a healthy choice. Their representatives have been known to hound new mothers on their social media friends lists days after giving birth, pressuring them to buy their products to “lose the baby weight”. The other day, after I had been looking online at Pilates techniques online, I started getting inundated with adverts for what looked like some sort of modern day corset, lined with plastic to make you sweat yourself skinny. Once you’ve lost all that weight of course, don’t forget to go out and immediately buy some padded knickers to replace the arse you just worked so hard to get rid of . Don’t forget to remove your eyebrows only to draw them back on again. It’s like modern day beauty standards were written by Kafka and Kubrick did the film adaption.

Targeted ads have also upped their game since my hotmail account, giving internet users products based on what it knows about them. It’s not just a case about what social media platforms know about you, such as age or gender, or what you search on, such as bikes or holidays. They know what Facebook pages you like, whether you are newly single or just had a baby. This is probably why I keep getting ads for cute gothy looking dresses. I don’t want to think about why, after a couple of tongue in cheek statuses I made about going rioting, I now keep getting adverts for face scarves- because Facebook knows I have no interest in mountain climbing. Maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe I’m on a watch list, maybe it’s Maybeline.

It’s not the only sinister thing about the adverts we see and some of the dodgier products that are on the market. Skin lightening creams for example, which are marketed predominantly at South East Asian women but are also popular in African communities. It’s unashamedly racist and misogynistic message- that women would be more desirable and more affluent if only they were whiter is rooted deep in the class and caste systems, but is sustained by global consumerism. Many of them are dangerous, containing ingredients such as mercury, which has left many women who have been using them horrifically scarred and in need of medical treatment.

You can’t even go for a poo now without being pressured to put a few drops of weapons grade chemicals into the bowl so everyone thinks your faeces smell like the Botanic Gardens in June. Now most women I know secretly think we are immune to this sort of advertising- you probably do too, but three Malbecs deep into a conversation shows we’ve all been sucked in to some extent. I am one of the girls who will say this. I like to think of myself as really unfussy. While I wear makeup and have a penchant for fifties style dresses, I genuinely have no idea what threading is. I’ve never had my nails done because it was literally pointless as a young person who had both anxiety and epilepsy. There was a period of about a decade where my hairdresser saw me less than the practice nurse who does my smear tests and for about two years I honestly thought that contouring and orienteering were the same thing.

I’ve worried about my shape on and off over the years, but I boycotted control knickers years ago. For starters, I’m pretty sure it was them that triggered a couple of bouts of crippling cystitis I had. I also made the mistake once of getting a pair that were ever so slightly too small and after an evening of crippling discomfort, I thought I was going to have to get the fire brigade to cut me out of them again. By the time I had eventually wriggled and struggled my way out of the knicker equivalent of a snare, finally able to breathe air once more, I had the exhausted smile of relief that I have since only seen on the faces of the Chilean miners in 2010 after they were rescued from their collapsed hell pit.

There’s now lots of adverts for plastic surgery popping up on my media too, presumably because I’m fast hockey sliding into middle age. Me and my friends have talked about cosmetic surgery extensively. Some of us are thinking about it, some of us have already had it and some of us, like myself, are afraid of it and don’t really want it done. Now my friends are all actually beautiful. I’m not just saying this because they’re my mates and I love them, they really are. Like a bunch of pre-raphaelite paintings sprung to life. Yet each of them also possess insecurities that are baffling to the rest. I have a deep wrinkle in my forehead which I’m fairly sure has been caused by me constantly grimacing and murmuring “wtf” at whatever Orwellian policy our government has inflicted on us next. We talked about Botox as a few of this have tried it already. Personally I don’t really want Botox on account of that fact that it is one of the deadliest substances known to man and people are literally having it injected into their face. Not to say that there are not some arguments for Botox treatment being used for some conditions. It is known to have been beneficial to patients with cerebral palsy for example, and is also used sometimes to effectively treat migraine sufferers. All treatments, however, come with their own risks and these need to be considered more carefully than is sometimes the case, to decide if it is the best remedy for the problem. There are other possible ‘solutions’ to my so called problem, but actually you know what? The wrinkle stays.

My decision not to go down this route is based on this: While my self image is still decidedly poor a lot of the time, my sense of self worth grows as I get older. I know that if I just ‘fix’ that thing I really don’t like about my appearance, then I will find something else to criticise . Then something else. Then something else. I know as this is what has happened with all I know who have had a procedure, be it their forehead, nose, boobs or stomach. I realised I don’t have to think of myself as pretty and my body as a flawless vase. I have chips and scars. Little bits of my tongue are missing. My eyes squint slightly in photographs. I have a weird tooth. My body is a storybook, full of tales of adventure and love and fighting monsters both real and imagined, not a painting that needs to be put behind ropes and glass so it can’t be touched or fade or age, only existing to appease someone else’s sense of beauty.

If you haven’t listened to this album, do so immediately. The great thing about punk records is that they’re only about 15 minutes long. This is Bata Motel by Crass the amazing album, Penis Envy.

Love Alice.

We’re All Mad Here?

Last week was world mental health awareness day. As I browsed through my social media that morning I was heartened to see so many posts encouraging people to seek help, telling their own personal stories of their struggle with the black dog and about how they climbed their way out of the darkest of times in that it might inspire others to open up. It had been a welcome change after a period of seeing and reading endless accounts of human misery and cruelty, both in the news and at work, had left me briefly frozen in depression with images of suffering on a constant loop in my head.

Something else caught my eye too. An article about the government appointing a new suicide minister, Jackie Doyle Price, whose job it now is apparently to reduce the number of people taking their own lives. I don’t know what sort of salary the role brings with it, but you can be sure it certainly won’t be minimum wage. She certainly has all the compassionate qualities you would want someone in such a job to have- This is the same person who wanted to kick the elderly out of their homes to pay for their care instead of passing said property on to their children- for why should the government have to pay for old people who have only worked themselves to the bone all their lives and actually paid their taxes instead of hiding them in offshore accounts like little capitalist squirrels that then demand everyone else’s pile of nuts .A woman who actively votes for cuts to benefits which is increasingly cited as a reason people are killing themselves. In short, it’s sort of like employing Nosferatu as a phlebotomist and expecting him not to drain the very life out of his patients. Forgive me for my cynicism on the appointment, but we have seen this same thing time and time again with very little effect and I can’t as yet see how this will be any different- other than the fact that Doyle Price will use the role to continue to justify her employing her husband as a secretary on a £30,000 a year salary.

For we have to ask why we need someone in office to find out why the nations mental health is so poor. It’s not as if frontline workers in mental health services haven’t been telling them for years what the issues are, free of charge. In all the years of austerity, it has never been ‘all in this together’. Maybe it would have been if those in government had been queuing at the food banks, had been forced to spend less and less time with their children as they take on more ridiculous hours in order to put food on the table. If they’d been forced to decide between dinner or hot water. If they’d been subjected to countless sanctions and humiliating fit to work assessments in order to access the decreasing amount of support that is offered to them. If it was them who were sniggered about in parliament as MP’s voted to deny firefighters and nurses a small pay rise. If they’d had to disclose rape on a form to be read by an untrained worker in order to get child benefit for a third child. But they never paid the price. We did. And we have paid with more than just money.

It is the same old routine from a couple of years ago when Theresa May had the inspired idea of appointing a domestic violence commissioner to find out why that was still so prevalent. There was never any need to give a nice fat salary to one of her mates because domestic abuse charities had been telling her for years what the problems were- which funnily enough are often the same that aggravate mental health issues, but it always fell on deliberately ignorant ears. Maybe they don’t listen because they never like the answers we give- that some of this is on their heads. Like those working in the mental health field, domestic abuse workers have been telling officials over and over again the particular consequences that austerity has for victims of domestic abuse. If there are cuts to services, then independent domestic violence advisors and support workers end up with too high case loads and cannot give each service user the attention they deserve. They foresaw that the restrictions to legal aid and the introduction of Universal Credit would trap victims of domestic abuse into dangerous relationships (as perpetrators will always ensure that any money from joint claims will go into their account) and that removal of PIP and mobility cars leaves disabled victims at the mercy of their abusers.

Those not claiming benefits are not safe from the assault either. Go to your local food bank and they will tell you that many of their recipients are in work and it would be a fool who would think that this can save you from the ever widening poverty trap. Really, it’s no wonder employers are choosing mindfulness training as their new big thing to help workers combat stress. Don’t think about whether we are actually going to give you any hours next week, or whether we are going to renew your increasingly shorter contracts, or the fact we haven’t issued more than a 2% pay rise in the last five years despite the cost of living going up massively. Take some deep breaths. Focus on right this second, of coolness of the water you are drinking, or the mint flavoured sweet melting in you mouth. Don’t think about all those worries you have, and you won’t have to go on the sick with crippling depression. Because, you know if you are ill too long, that’ll be a disciplinary. I’m not knocking mindfulness practice and techniques. I use them myself and find them effective at the times when I find myself mulling over the same things that no longer matter, or haven’t even happened, over and over again. But they are never going to help someone whose basic needs are not being met when their reality, that in the here and now, is miserable because of the catastrophic social problems that they are facing.

A study by Crisis and Heriot-Watt university 2017 estimated that the number of homeless people will rise by 26.5% in the next decade, whilst households in unsuitable accommodation will rise by 93%, which we know comes with a whole set of physical and mental health problems. The institute of health visiting reported in 2015 that homeless children were observed with developmental and speech delay, were twice as likely to be admitted to hospital, and are susceptible to infectious diseases such as scabies and lice infestation.

Even children with a roof over their heads are not exempt, as we see a rise in children experiencing mental health problems as schools focus on getting results and have a seemingly endless supply of tests and homework, not to mention the social pressures from their peers. In a 2017 poll of teachers from the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, a fifth reported that they had encountered children between 4 and 7 years old who were presenting with mental health problems, rising to over a third who had seen children aged 7 to 11 who were experiencing these difficulties.

But we are not mad, as a nation. Many of our fears are not actually irrational. What we are is a nation fast becoming poisoned by our own cortisol. When we are stressed, our bodies produce cortisol, which is a hormone our bodies make when we are exposed to stress . This is useful when we are in immediate physical danger as part of our fight/flight response. But it is not good for us when we are constantly producing it as a reaction to never ending amounts of stress. We are constantly alerted to incoming news of potential threats all through the day and night thanks to television and social media notifications. Terrorist attacks, gangs, knife crime, sex offenders. Bird flu, swine flu, ebola, anything that comes out of Morrissey’s mouth. We watched Grenfell burn to the ground with people trapped inside. We hear there are going to be more job cuts, more welfare cuts, that the company we work for has gone into administration. We are told, “think things are bad now, wait till the next lot of austerity thrown at you… just wait till…. BREXIT! You’ll be kept in a holding pen by the DWP and your children will turn into latter day Artful Dodgers, as they fend for themselves in Victorian style street gangs while you are forced to celebrate another royal wedding and be happy about footing the bill. The media also love to whip us up into a frenzy to introduce us to our brand new enemy, coming for us and our children, no matter how ludicrous. Every year one of my local newspapers likes to roll out an annual scare campaign about common house spiders, who they talk about as if they were the direct descendants of Shelob from Lord of the rings. The Daily Express has made an annual tradition out of telling Britain that it will be turned into the ice planet Hoth in the WORST WINTER ON RECORD that will kill everyone over the age of 47, as beloved by the nation as Christmas dinner and avoiding eye contact on public transport.

With all of this in mind, it is not surprising that we have responded with a now almost trademark cynicism on learning of Doyle-Price’s new job title. We don’t need a well paid minister to tell us why many are feeling so hopeless, because we are the ones living it. What we need is resources and community and less of the divide and rule that they try to enforce. Tired people don’t fight. But remember that the food and clothes banks and housing action groups were not set up by governments and politicians. It wasn’t them who took supplies to the survivors of Grenfell Tower. They were set up by us. People organising on grassroots levels to respond to unmet needs is what we have always been good at. If you ever feel hopeless at the struggles we see around us, remember that we are and always have been the only thing that has ever counteracted that. Kindness is contagious, literally, and by practising it we produce more oxytocin- the hormone which is the very opposite of cortisol that lowers our stress fuelled blood pressure and improves the health of our hearts. It’s almost like we are biologically programmed to co-operate in order to survive and thrive, like what Darwin did actually try to point out all those years ago but some of us just misinterpreted it and screamed “survival of the fittest” as an excuse to justify taking more than they needed. So when you feel overwhelmed by the things you see around you, be proud you retained your compassion throughout everything you have seen. Remember that while no one individual can save the worlds problems, you are not powerless. You never were.

Here’s ‘That Girl, Suicide’ by Brian Jonestown Massacre, which I’m going to use as a brag that I’m going to see these play tonight.

http://youtu.be/xCfTKpGjcIo

Love Alice

Domestic abuse and State Control

“I wouldn’t allow anyone to treat me like that. Soon as someone put their hands on me, I’d be out the door”. This is one of a few standard responses I hear when I first tell someone that I work for a domestic abuse project. And I always respond with the same thing. “You probably wouldn’t”. The reason for this, is that being assaulted by your partner is never how domestic violence starts. If you went out on a first date with someone and they hit you, or called you disgusting, derogatory names, or forced you to eat your dinner off the floor with the dogs, would you make a second date with them? But that is never how domestic abuse starts. First it seduces us, then it sabotages our fight/flight responses so we react quite unlike how we think we would in dangerous situations. It is so subtle at first that we never see it coming and perpetrators do a very good job at making abuse look a lot like love in the first flush of romance.

So too is our relationship with the state. Have you ever lamented that the party you voted for let you down badly, only to immediately vote for them again once the next election has came around because you believed it would be different this time? Or been presented with damning evidence about the politician you chose to represent you, only to immediately dismiss it as ‘fake news’ with no grounds to do so, because accepting it as true would mean you had to completely reevaluate your world view?

Domestic abuse and state abuse are not the same thing. That isn’t what I’m here to say today, and our strategies against it need to be very different. But they do work in the same way, so it is important to understand the parallel between two bodies that control every intimate part of our lives.

Our relationship with government begins when we are so young that we don’t even question it’s existence. That’s just the way things are. Sure, most of us might go through a bit of a ‘fuck authority’ phase in our teens after listening for a bit too long to Rage Against The Machine, but that is usually tamed out of the majority of the population by the time they reach 30.

We are constantly belittled and looked down upon by those in power. How many times are we told that we couldn’t possibly look after ourselves and that we’d all be killing each other if we were left unsupervised for even a day? That our children are dangerous and have grown feral? After the August riots of 2011, politicians were practically lining up to give long sermons about how young people had no respect and had become too entitled which led to the situation boiling over. They told us that kids these days didn’t fear any consequences and described the rioting was ‘anarchy’ rather than a byproduct of capitalism. I don’t know about you, but I had to rub my eyes a few fucking times at that one, as even just ten minutes of watching BBC parliament will provide more than enough evidence that you couldn’t find a more accurate description of themselves. Seriously, imagine going into work tomorrow and jeering at your colleagues in the staff meeting. Or maybe turning up pissed and then falling asleep. George Osborne and Maradona can go to work full of cocaine it seems, but not the peasants.

We are constantly told by politicians vying for our votes that only they can take care of us properly. That the other politicians don’t care for us the way that they do. That we should trust them and they shall protect us. Yet inevitably once we let them through the door, things start to go wrong. They let us down again and again, but never own their mistakes or try to make amends. Because it’s not their fault. Sometimes it’s someone else’s, but usually it’s ours, and we find ourselves trying to amend our own behaviour before it dawns on us where blame really lies. Ruling parties just love to tell you that they aren’t responsible for their own failures. It was those other people we voted in before, like a never ending political dick measuring contest that ensures we are never allowed to forget that we voted someone else once and they never treat us as good. Flick back then, quickly, to BBC parliament again and you will see them sniggering at tales of food bank users left impoverished by the bedroom tax and cheering when they vote not to give a fair pay rise to workers such as nurses and firefighters. That is the sort of love your government has for you.

Then they start monitoring your every move, checking your phone, listening to your conversations telling you how you can interact with others. Then they literally remove your human rights from your very eyes, and what is worse is you thank them for it. Because, oh! It isn’t you that they don’t trust, its other people, they tell you. This is love. They are taking away your freedom of movement because they love you and they want you to be safe and happy. You’ve never had it so good. You should see women/brown people/poor people in other countries. That’s oppression. You don’t know how lucky you are.

It’s state Stockholm syndrome. We are put in constant fear of whoever they have told us is our enemy today: Muslims, antifa, feminists, Neville Southall. People who may have been our allies are under our eye of suspicion when we are told they are coming to overpower us and want to ruin our wonderful way of life. We believe it every time and turn on each other in the thousands of little cliques and gangs that we are actively encouraged to form to assure ourselves of how special and different we are from all the rest. This is quite common in children growing up in abusive households. As everyone living under tyranny scrambles to find the safest place, many find that colluding with the tyrant gives them some sort of respite. Keep in their favour, and they won’t turn on you. Or they will, eventually, but by that point they have exploited the Just World fallacy in our own cognitive bias so much, that we think we deserved it anyway.

Just World hypothesis is a strong human desire to believe that the world is just and orderly. During experiments, participants were given details or footage of different scenarios, such as a collision and told who was hurt during the incident. They were then asked who was to blame. What they found was blame was attributed to whoever they were told was hurt. The more hurt they were told the person was, the more blame they were given. Why do our brains do this? For self preservation. For if we believe that this could happen to innocent people, then it could happen to us. So we tell ourselves the victims must have done something to end up in that predicament. This is why there are comments sections on social media full of people screaming “sink the boats” gleefully at the sight of desperate refugees stranded on the Mediterranean. It’s why so many turned on the residents of Grenfell Tower. Good old fashioned racism comes into play with those two examples as well, of course, but there are other forces at work here also. Melvin Lerner, a psychologist who has studied the phenomenon hypothesised that belief in a just world was vital for people to maintain their own well being, but it also explained how people come to accept laws or regimes that produce misery and suffering to others.

Another thing to consider: we always believe that domestic violence will happen to other people. We never think that it will happen to us, until the day that it does. While there are quite a few of us who believe that our government is more than capable of doing wrong by us, we usually think of our own selves as being immune to manipulation by them. That we are so woke and emancipated from their trickery and only the poor masses are dumb enough to fall for it. But all of us are susceptible at differing levels.

Love is supposed to free you, not bind you until you become invisible. We become the statue of Venus, with ivy creeping up her leg. You leave it, because you think it looks beautiful, but it quickly grows and envelopes her until she is completely smothered in leaves and you can no longer see any part of her.

We need to remove the ivy and start believing that we all deserve better. The current system works for no one who isn’t massively wealthy. We are allowed less and less control of our lives. We have the illusion of connection through the medium of modern technology but we are slowly becoming more alienated from each other than ever, and this is exactly what allows state abuse to thrive. It’s a relationship we can’t fix and one that will get worse rather than better if we don’t care about ourselves and each other enough to reject it and leave it behind. We don’t need to be warring children encouraged to fight by an abusive head of the household anymore. We can start by refusing to attack each other and not feed divide and rule. Migrants are not to blame for the problems in the NHS. The firefighters are not responsible for the deaths in Grenfell. While ‘terfs’ and trans activists war with each other, our prime minister quietly pours petrol on the human rights act put there for all of us. Hold hands and go out and play.

Love Alice

So with all this talk of taking our power back whether politically or domestically, there is only one choice for my speakers tonight. Old but gold….

The state of sexual violence.

In the latest instalment of ‘1000 new and creative ways to starve children’, or, as it’s more commonly known, ‘The Conservative Manifesto’, the Tories have unveiled a new level boss of cruelty. Not content with the disaster that is sadistic benefit sanctions to adults, cuts to money for children who have lost a parent and changes to free school meals, they have now implemented their two child policy in the ‘child element’ of universal credit. This means that the child benefit that was in place previously has now been capped to two children per family. There are a few exemptions: Those who are adopting, those involved with kinship care and multiple births. The final exemption, dubbed ‘the rape clause’, means that a claim can be put in for a third or subsequent child who was conceived as the result of rape, which involves the victim filling out a form to essentially prove that they were a victim of sexual assault.

The Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, demonstrating about as much charm, sense and sincerity as an entire album’s worth of Nickelback lyrics, said that the idea would potentially get victims of sexual assault “double support”. Now, I was never great at maths at school, mainly due to a preference of skipping off into the woods for a cigarette rather troubling myself with equations, but I’m pretty sure I remember being told that 1×0 was nothing. You see ever since the Tories ascended to the iron throne they have been systematically destroying care services for those experiencing sexual and domestic abuse. Everything from charity funding to policing, court and health services have been stretched to breaking point through austerity cuts and the disaster that is the introduction of the police and crime commissioners. Even the most tireless and dedicated services are finding themselves being forced to do more with less and less resources.

Her absolutely abysmal crack got even worse. I don’t know about you, but personally my favourite bit was where McVey claimed that applicants would not be “asked invasive questions”, as if questions demanding ‘proof’ of the rape that you were subjected to could be anything but invasive, as well as triggering, humiliating and with the potential to cause further trauma in such a situation.

Then today Theresa May and her band of chinless, braying twatrattles further defended their monstrous policy in the House of Commons by insisting that the tax credit claims would be handled in “as sensitive a manner as possible”. Really? And who will it be handled by? The same people conducting disability assessments who were asking people with Downs Syndrome when they ‘caught’ the condition? Or the ones who were sensitively asking mentally ill claimants why they hadn’t killed themselves yet?

One thing that we can be certain of is that it is not going to be handled by trained counsellors or independent domestic/sexual violence advisors who have the skills to care for survivors of sexual violence. The DWP have said it would operate a third party model, so survivors did not have to make disclosures to the job-centre staff and would instead talk to other professionals such as a social worker or an approved rape charity. However some bodies who may have been designated third parties have condemned the policy. The Royal College Of Nursing Scotland stated that it did not believe that it was appropriate for nurses or midwives “to arbitrate if a woman’s claim is consistent with rape”. In addition, Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland have refused to co-operate stating that third party processing is not compassionate. And those like myself who support victims of domestic abuse know that these forms will not help those who are still in a relationship with the person who raped them, or those who were attacked by an acquaintance or stranger, rather than within an intimate relationship.

Theresa May once smugly said “What do the conservatives do for women? Keep making us Prime Minister”. As if any man or woman would ever consider her or Thatcher something this country could be proud of. They are proof that this party does not have the interests of ordinary people at heart and are hell bent destroying the progress made by feminists over the last 100 years. The rape clause is not double support. It is an attack on vulnerable women and children, and watching two women in such a position of power stand and attempt to justify their actions is an insult to survivors.

Alice

As there is a Tori Amos song for every kind of intense emotion, I will reach as I always do for one of the most beautiful, Playboy Mommy.

Reclaim The Beats

A little bit of history today, more so for those who have grown up with social media. Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, we lived in a world with no facebook, whatsapp, signal or instagram. Finding out about protests was usually from stickers on lampposts, or from over photocopied fliers and zines filled with intricate DIY art that you picked up from squat parties or punk bands.

The nineties was a pretty interesting time as far as protest and politics went. Various battles were being fought by different groups with the authorities around the country. Then in 1994, the conservative government brought in amendments to a piece of legislation that changed us forever. The Criminal Justice Act.

The CJA was an unnecessary and oppressive piece of legislation that ended up creating the very movement that it feared the most. It essentially made a criminal out of anyone who voiced dissent or sought to live in a way that veered away from the status quo. We had a government who were still rattled by the ferocity of the poll tax riots four years previously and feared more resistance from different pockets of society.

There were several changes that were significant. One related to ravers and free parties as it made a disastrous attempt to essentially ban rave music, which it defined as “sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats”. It also made it a crime to congregate on land with more than 20 or more persons. A Shoreham MP named Michael Stevens wanted to define an illegal gathering as 2 people or more, which would have made sex rather difficult for those concerned with obeying the law if he had his way. Make no mistake, criminalising gatherings such as raves and free parties that weren’t sanitised to fuck by legislation was not for the sake of our health and safety. It was because they were afraid. When the police descended on Travellers in 1985 as they made their way to the Stonehenge Free Festival, it was not because they were dangerous- it was because they were afraid of a growing vibrant movement based on subversive thought and rejecting modern consumerism. They called it Battle of Beanfield, but ‘Battle’ suggests there was some sort of fair fight involved, rather than the horrific, violent ambush on peaceful adults and children which occurred. Nowadays, people don’t even have to get out of bed in order to interact with billions of people around the world, so inevitably their target now is the internet, instead of the sabotaging unregulated public gatherings.

It also ended our four hundred year old right to silence when being arrested by the police (though through working for a charity, I’ve seen how entirely possible it still is for a detainee to nearly reduce a tired officer to tears after answering only “nee reply, pigeon pie” throughout four solid hours of questioning). The bill also changed the right to protest, gave police more powers to stop and search you without just cause, and quickened the process for evicting squatters.

Like any decent poisoned chalice however, what the bill managed to do, much to politicians horror, was unite the punks, the ravers, the hunt sabs, Travellers and anti road campaigners who found themselves targeted by a police force and government that had new powers to arrest, beat and imprison them. New ager environmentalists were literally D-locked to formerly law abiding middle class middle Englanders to save the woodlands they both loved, protecting each other from the blows and violent spite of security guards or the Tactical Support Group.

Direct action was colourful and creative as activists found new ways to resist. During one Reclaim The Streets party, protesters hid under the large hooped skirts of carnival dancers to use drills to dig up the road and plant tree saplings. It would be massively naive to think there were never problems within the movement, but they were challenges that were overcome by explosions of colour, music and spontaneity, with no long soulless marches filled with boring chants. And no one ever, ever asked for permission. There was huge resistance to the bill, including a massive demonstration in London which was supported by Jeremy Corbyn. In fact many of the opposition had concerns about the bill, with an exception of the shadow Home Secretary at the time- Tony Blair, who I still dream may one day live out his retirement in The Hague like a sort of politico version of Last Of The Summer Wine.

Regretably the pressures of CJA did eventually wear people out with constant arrests and violence and no doubt assisted by the presence of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit- a spy cop group who’s most ‘famous’ employee was Mark Kennedy that were known to be targeting activists around this time, the full extent of which is only very slowly starting to come to light now.

Fast forward to today and we can see some similarities in the world we are living in. We have found ourselves still with an increasingly sadistic Tory government. The mainstream media still smear activists as unclean, lefty ‘do-gooders’, despite their predictions about dubious legislation always coming true. We have more communication technology and access to information than we ever have before and yet in some respects we are more fragmented than ever, as reasonable conversation is abandoned and becomes a germ filled ball pool of identity politics in which we all fight like angry children inside while clambering to get out. We can learn a lot from these times by realising that there is more that unites us than divides us. That the state views us all with total disregard and treat us like guard dogs that are to be starved, then thrown the occasional treat for appeasement with no care if we turn on ourselves for their attention once in a while.

It has been too easy to spend hours and hours ‘debating’ on line. I’ve been guilty of this very thing before . I’m in no way some technology hating Luddite. What we have now is amazing and I love it- I just think we need to use it better. All this results in is a bunch of passionate people wearing themselves out of precious energy trying to get other people to completely agree with everything they’re saying. This is not only impossible, it is also unnecessary.

Nothing should be uniform, especially our ideas and the way we think. Our attempts to do so bleach out the vibrant colours of this world into a hundred shades of grey. Our heartbeats which once raced with the love we had for Earth and our fellow humans and drove us to make meaningful change, slow down until the day they stop completely.

Close your laptop, open your eyes and heart, wave at the clouds as time goes by so quickly and go out and cause some trouble.

Love Alice

Today’s soundtrack for my rantings is Flutter by Autechre. It was released in September 1994 in response to the CJA, programmed so that no bars contained any identical beats.

Title artwork by Kate Evans, taken from some old copies of Schnews, a publication which opposed and exposed the CJA and its minions. See more of her stuff at http://www.cartoonkate.co.uk. I’m struggling to find out who did the others, so if you know, give me a shout so I can give due credit!