Category Archives: diary

In a nutshell

I found this snippet while tidying up the blog.  Since today would have been my Ma’s birthday, I am posting it now.

While emptying the house before my father died we found a packet of letters addressed to my grandparents and labeled in my mother’s writing: “Congratulations on our engagement and commiserations on Martin’s death”. Martin was her brother, killed aged about 26 in combat. She’d added: “Must have been difficult to write”.

Quite.

It’s my Ma’s shrewd sarcasm that I miss the most.

Feminist mammoths

The current upswing of feminism is rightly re-igniting debates about bodies and judgementalism.  As the meme goes

If you want a bikini body, put on a bikini

The idea that our bodies are there to be judged is common-place and getting more-so.  In the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame  women step out, we show off, we reveal and display ourselves (our long legs, our cleavages, our baby bumps, our  holiday tans and bikini bodies), we bare ourselves.  In relationships we are happy, proud, smiling, or with mystery men.  In Dacre’s world, women cannot do something for its own sake or for ours, only for our audience of watchers or because of a man.

I  have a tattoo.  (Stay with me, it’s not as wild a change of subject as you’d think).  I could never see the point in a tattoo I couldn’t see, so it’s on my forearm and I chose mammoths because I like them.

They raise the question though, of who is the tattoo actually for?

It’s hard to work out what they are, especially from a distance. The design is based on cave paintings and is an awkward mix of line-drawing and shade. The only time they’ve been complimented spontaneously was once in a pub when I stood up with my arm held horizontally, reaching for the back of a chair.

Mammoth Tattoo 01 Mammoth Tattoo 02

In Daily Mail terms they are a failure. But from my (literal) perspective, they are great, and I love them.

Mammoth Tattoo 03

I like seeing them trample down my arm towards whatever it is I am doing. (Hitting “post” in three… two… one….) They are a comforting sight first thing in the morning.  They even have names, though I am ashamed to admit this.

So, is a tattoo for person who has been tattooed or is it for other people?  Well, as it turns out, this particular tattoo is for me.

These aren’t just mammoths, they are feminist mammoths,

Goodbye NHS – we miss you now you’re gone

The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it - Nye BevanWould I lose my job to save the NHS? Yes, in a heartbeat. In a fraction of a heartbeat. Even in this shitty economy with the shitty attacks on the unemployed. If that was all it took to save the NHS I would be typing my notice now.

Would I lose my job in a futile gesture of distress that will be ignored by a minority government with no mandate for what they are doing? Well, no. And it is eating me up. Which is why I am typing this at half past four in the morning.

Today the NHS is 65 years old.

Earlier this year the Tory government and their Lib Dem partners killed it.

In April, the coalition government passed legislation which means that NHS service provision must be put out to tender and so hefty percentage of every pound spent on healthcare in this country must go into the pockets of the likes of Richard Branson and the MPs with financial interests in UK healthcare companies. They were kids voting for Christmas. They passed this legislation despite the fact it was not in their manifesto and they have no mandate to do so. The media were silent while they did it; the good guys found the story too complicated to tell, the frightened guys were silent because they were cowed by the Leveson inquiry, and the venal guys were lined up side by side with the MPs and their friends in the healthcare companies.

The NHS was imperfect, especially after so many years being undermined by New Labour. But it is no where near as imperfect as the smear stories masquerading as news items these last five years would have you believe. The smear stories are propaganda designed to let us assume that it’s not worth saving.

The thing is, if you ask the question “what do we do about the NHS?” the answer must not be “sell it off to the lowest bidder”. We are already seeing that profit-taking companies fail to provide an improved service, that they actually provide worse services, and that they force people who work in the most emotionally demanding jobs in the world to work in perpetual crisis mode. This is not only bleeding patients for profit, it is bullying staff for profit too.

Today those who care to fight for free healthcare for all are marching for the NHS. But I can’t be with them because I have a presentation to give on Monday, and I lost three days this week to migraine, and I am not prepared to lose my job in a futile gesture.

I’ve marched three times in recent years, each time against the Labour government, once for peace, and twice to protest their ignorant destruction of rural life. I did not feel as hopeless then as I do now. But what I learned is that a government driven by dogma will ignore a million peaceful people in the streets. And revolutions since the start of time show that raging mobs produce governments no better than the ones they overthrow.

Democracy is broken. I don’t know if it ever really worked but here it is broken. MPs milk the system for expenses and sell their votes and influence to whoever will pay them. The whores I’ve known have all been infinitely more honest.

What frightens me is that there is no place in the world and no time in the world that I can think of where freedom has been sustained. I think of all those acts of British rebellion from Wat Tyler, to the Levellers, to the Luddites, to the Rebakkah Rioters, to the Jarrow Marchers, to the General Strike of 1929, to the Miners in the 1980s, to the million of us who marched for peace in 2001, and know that all the government have to do is say “la la la, we can’t hear you”. The only way to overturn an established order, it seems, is over their dead bodies, and that’s no solution.

I have come to suspect that the stirling example and unprecedented experiment in justice and social democracy of Europe in the last 65 years was only possible after the shock of a world war, and a war in which fascism was defeated by the collective actions of coalition governments. By, in fact, the will of the people.

The late 1940s were, I suspect, the only moment in history when the NHS could be established, when enough people were used to acting in consort for the greater good of their fellow men and women. At every time before and since we have been fractured into little silos of selfishness and self-interest.

And today I will go to work to keep my job, because I no longer believe that peaceful protest works. And when the election comes round, I shall cast my vote because, like a beleaguered spouse, I keep faith with democracy though I no longer trust it.

And now I shall take some triptanes (which cost me nothing) and some asprin (which cost me 35p) and go back to bed because crying gives me migraines, and migraines are the reason I can’t go to London in the first place.

PS – apologies for spelling mistakes and typos.  This piece is posted as written, which is something I never do these days.

The problem of Stuff

My problem is not acquiring too many things. My problem is to do with getting rid of the things I already have.  As a result I am surrounded by Stuff which fails William Morris’s test that I either know it to be useful or believe it to be beautiful.  I keep stuff only because I find it too agitating to throw it away.

The one I share my hoard with bought a copy of this book the other day and we read it with separate feelings of awkwardness and unease.

My particular epiphany was that I feel an obligation to dispose of things responsibly.  I cannot blithely throw something away unless it is useless and biodegradable.  I have to reuse, reduce recycle, in every way I can.  

This is inhibiting.  Yesterday in an effort of self-liberation I threw away a perfectly reusable jiffy bag. (I have boxes of the buggers upstairs on a shelf, waiting for the moment I need them).  I don’t mind throwing away the bio-degradeable kraft paper outer, but the bubble-wrap inner makes me feel uneasy. Why can’t jiffy bags be filled with paper waste any more?  Note the tense of that sentence: it makes me feel uneasy now, even though I threw it away yesterday.  Yes, it was worse at the time, but the agitation remains. We should not fill landfill with plastic bubble-wrap.  We certainly should not fill our seas with things that we use once and which then bob around for hundreds of years, killing marine animals for generations to come.

http://blog.etoncorp.com/index.php/2013/04/green-perspective-how-long-trash-really-lasts-infographic/

Although this is not quite a compulsion for me, it’s more than a moral imperative which I can comfortably ignore.  Every time I went to a beach the last time we were on holiday, I ended up filling  bin bags with rubbish.  I am shocked and horrified by the amount of trash blowing in the wind.

But it’s not just about preferring recycling to landfill. It’s avoiding waste in the first place.  My Grandmother could Not Abide Waste. She and my Ma raised me, and both were adults during WWII and both had a pack-rat sense of scarcity. Both kept things “in case they were useful”, like the jiffy bag. And both would be horrified by the idea that two people can fill one wheelie bin in a week.

So the only way I can dispose of something in good working order is by making sure someone else gets to use it.  Freecycle saved my sanity the last time I moved house.   Before Freecycle I had a “jumble sale box”.  (I remember picking over it once to make sure any erotica I was giving to the Village Hall did not have my name in it. Small village, small world). I take things to Charity Shops, give them to friends, give them to volunteer groups and charities.  Plastic toys upset me hugely; why can’t they still be made of wood? I’ve had three bags of  toys in my shed for four months waiting for me to take them to a charity which cleans them and gives them to impoverished children.

I do feel a sense of relief having read the book. I stand by my logic (we should be far more careful with plastics, we shouldn’t waste landfill on things that still work), but I now know my agitation is unusual.  It’s helped me throw things away rather than keep them, like the jiffy bag, and it is energising my attempt to find new owners for the things that are too good to bin.

The next thing is to strengthen my resolve to get rid of family things and things I’ve been given.  Not sapphires.  I am keeping those.

Cupcakes (Not Safe for Work)

I ordered some cupcakes for a raffle, as a tie-in to a humorous talk on pelvic floor exercises by @gussiegrips – her website explains more about her work.

The cakes were made by Vanilla Kisses in Edinburgh @VKCupcakes

I am very grateful to Dawn for the fabulous photos.

The cupcakes stole the show.

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Thinking and feeling

Updating this blog has been a tour down memory lane.

The thing that strikes me most is how badly I write when I am angry and the NHS junior doctor recruitment debacle of 2007 made me very angry indeed. Those posts irritate me  six years on because so many of them lack information; too many are articulate emotional rants.  They communicate badly because the reader has no room to respond. I am irritated and repelled by my former self.

It’s partly to do with speed. Writing coherently takes time and the conversation was moving quickly. I was part of a community of bloggers and activists, very much swept up in the fight. There was a lot being said and little time for reflection. It shows.  (This lack of time to reflect combined with a permanent medium is the reason why I don’t use twitter much.)

I heard Maryam Namazie speak a year or so ago and was impressed by the calmness of her anger. Her anger is powerful but not loud. It fuels a clear and contained rationalism which I struggle for, instead I become enraged. She is calm but driven and focused, and this is what I now hope for when I write on subjects I feel passionate about.

A couple of years ago I did one of those courses which elucidate your working style. This one looked at your style when calm (mine is “analytical” and “thinking”) and compared it with your style under stress.  It was illuminatingly accurate. When I am stressed I become more emotional and less rational; I lose the ability to think.  Discovering this has given me permission to step back from fraught situations and wait until I can think clearly again. I am a more reliable colleague and I hope I am a less emotional blogger.

I aten’t dead

I was touched by this. 

Ole to Aphra