Category Archives: diary

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.

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

Two into one

I’ve combined all my blog-posts into a single site, the musings here range  from knitting moebius scarves to the NHS, with a side salad of business process modelling.  All my public posts are now here in one place, including the ones from Facebook.

I am a skeptic and a blogger but I blog about too many things to count as a Skeptical Blogger though I may discuss skeptical matters more now that I’ve got a single place to post things.

Blogging takes me longer now than it used to; my standards are higher and I know more about writing so I no longer blog-as-therapy. In fact I find it less enjoyable now, than I did back in 2006 when I started. 

So no promises on frequency, but good intentions on quality and a resigned acceptance that I’ll tackle any topic which interests me, the shinier the better.

In the meantime, since this is the internet, here is a cat listening to pawdcasts.



Counting my blessings

A strong sense of entitlement is unplasant; it makes people unpleasant, and it makes them do unpleasant things.

The original version of this post was an extended complaint about a woman I have had a lot to do with recently who has a strong sense of entitlement and appears to be a seething mass of frustration and bitterness.  However, since then I have been reading Watching the English by Kate Fox, and I suspect that her tell-it-like-it-is American-ness has come up against my oh-well-mustn’t-grumble English-ness and that I may be being unfair.  So maybe I am being unduly harsh on Mrs Entitlement. But maybe not.

Despite the patronising nastiness of the British middle class attitude which came up with phrases such as “poor but happy” and “poor but honest”, I think a sense of entitlement can really screw you over.  It seems that complaining all the time creates a self-feeding loop of discontent: according to Richard Wiseman in :59 Seconds counting your blessings really does make you feel better, and if you write them down the difference is still discernible weeks or months later.

Reading Wiseman’s book confirmed something I’ve thought for a while. Some years ago I decided I would rather be happy than frustrated and, when I could just about pay my way but no more, I would give myself a mental bitch-slap and remind myself that the world is full of people who dream of being able to pay their bills.  Maslow tells us that we will always have something to complain about, if we are of a complaining frame of mind.

Mrs Entitlement is, as I said, a seething mass of anger and frustration even though she appears to be living the dream: she has an interesting and reasonably well-paid job, her husband’s a substantial earner, they live in the country, their children are in private schools, they are all healthy.  However she winds herself up with complaints about her au pair, about car accidents delaying her journey into work in the morning, about her mother-in-law, her colleagues, airlines, service in restaurants, the cat. Just about anything really. She is a hissing ball of barely suppressed rage.

I think if I really wanted to curse someone, I would give them a sense of entitlement.

In the meantime Nina shows us how to count our blessings better than anyone I know:

Aphra Redux

It’s been almost three years since I blogged here.

I stopped because I wanted to blog in my own name and I didn’t have enough mojo to maintain two blogs.

I am starting again because I want to post pseudonymously again.  Also, I liked Aphra and I miss her.

My life has changed quite a bit during these three years; I live elsewhere and I work for someone else for a start.

Unfortunately I have also become a lot fussier about what I write, which means it takes me more time to produce less.

But my interests are still eclectic.  And I still fizz with anger, rage and shock. And, guess what, the NHS is in crisis again, and the USA is madder and scarier than ever. Oh, and I still notice the banal and the ridiculous and pick it up and say “look… shiny….”.

Not funny, not funny at all

Ooops.  This one got through the net without all its facts checked and links in place.  I know I should finish editing it, but life is short and events have moved on. May 2013

Orwell portrayed a world where people feared Big Brother’s ability to monitor their every move. Our reality is stranger: it seems we crave attention so much that we rush to open up our lives to the public gaze, authoritarian or otherwise. And not just the wannabes on X-Factor, but those of us who tweet and blog as well.

The online reactions to the twitter joke trial and the joke itself shine a light on how we think about private and public spaces online, and just how much we have handed over to those in power.

I hadn’t paid much attention to the twitter joke trial until the #iamspartacus hash tag splashed itself all over my twitter feed and @TwJokeTrialFund raised the £10,000 needed for his appeal in [nnn[ hours. Paul Chambers was found guilty of [charge] and [sentence]. The criminal record means that Chambers cannot qualify as an Accountant, so his career has gone up in smoke. All in 140 characters or less:

Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!

Now there are a lot of different strands to this, and we need to disentangle them. It’ll help if I pin my colours to the mast. (Your colours may vary, and that’s ok).

Firstly of course the punishment indeed disproportionate: I’m prone to flippancy myself, and I’d hate to lose my job and my ability to qualify in my career and get a criminal record for nothing more than a throw away remark.

However, and this is important, what Chambers did was stupid.

Katherine Whitehorn used to sense-check her plans for children’s activities by asking herself “what would the coroner say?” and it’s a useful question to ask. If this goes completely tits up, what would the headlines be? What criminal prosecution would ensue? Could I end up with a Darwin?

Tweeting threats to blow up an airport is stupid, no matter how common that sort of joke is on Twitter. It’s been likened to shouting “Fire” in a crowded theatre, which is [reference’s] famous example of the limit to freedom of speech. Let’s be clear; if the security guys at Robin Hood airport had seen the threat but not drawn it to the attention of the police, or if the police hadn’t then checked that Chambers isn’t a terrorist, then they would themselves have been criminially negligent as custodians of public safety. It would be lovely to live in a world where people aren’t killed and maimed by terrorists

I’ve read several counters to this argument, and to save you the time, I’ll post them here:

But you just don’t get Twitter

Hang on a moment here, who doesn’t get it? Who’s behaving as if the new world is the same as the old world? Twitter, Facebook and the Blogosphere aren’t the pub, but we behave as if they are. So I am not won over by this argument, or by the tweeters saying “but he didn’t me-e-e-e-ean it”.

But lots of people make jokes on Twitter

Yeah, and..? Lots of people smoke. Lots of people eat so much that their weight damages their health. The fact that “lots of people” do something does not make it either intelligent or morally right.

But we shouldn’t have to live in a world where we jump at shadows all the time

Yes. I agree. But we do.

So what do we have here? As I said, we have several strands:

  • Stupidity which can indeed be characterised as criminal stupidity – and I feel for the guy, I really do
  • Apparent opportunisim by whoever still has Chambers’ posessions – and that really isn’t ok
  • Disproportionate consequences – Chamber’s supporters are right, what has been done to him is not fair
  • Two groups staring at each other across a generational or cultural divide and saying “you just don’t get it”

The orginal draft of this post ended like this:

It is Chambers’ irresponsibility which stopped me claiming to be Spartacus. My position is logically identical to anyone whose sympathy for the McCanns is tempered by the thought that they should never have left the children unsupervised.

But now I think that conclusion is fair but harsh, because I’ve changed my mind slightly after reading the pages I’ve linked to.

What has been done to Chambers is unfair and disproportionate. Yes, the Robin Hood Airport were right to get him checked out, but he should have been slapped across the wrist and told not to do it again, like a kid caught scrumping apples.

Two stupids do not make good sense.

The joy of hand-writing

I kept a journal sporadically for a while between 1998 and 2006 or so, and I’ve just been re-reading them.

I’m struck by how neat my handwriting was, and how fluently I wrote. Using a keyboard for everything except what I put up on whiteboards has destroyed my ability to write coherently without hitting backspace.

I’m also struck by how much I’ve forgotten.  I guess it’s reasonable to forget events that took place a decade ago, but a lot of my assumptions, attitudes and beliefs have changed too. In many ways, the journals are my working notes as I reviewed assumptions and beliefs that were no longer serving me well. But they explain why I’ve drifted apart from so many of my friends from that time.  A lot of them were alternative practitioners (and lovely women, every one) but these days I’d call myself a sceptic. I choose to consider this proof of the power of critical thinking. It’s clear from reading those old journals, and the blog I started in 2006, that it was very frightening for me to give up many of those old beliefs and that it was something I resisted mightily.

The the journals also mention forgetting things (moods mainly) across the span of a few days, and I recognise that. In some ways it’s good: as Jagger and Richards put it

Yesterday don’t matter if it’s gone

But it’s also a bit unnerving. Neil Postman believed that technology sucks out our brains, and that we’ve been making fewer demands on our memories ever since Gutenberg first poured lead, tin and antimony into moulds and created movable type. Or less euro-centrically, since Bi Sheng set chisel to wood in 1040 or so.  So it’s no surprise, given the wise words of the T-Shirt …

I have not lost my mind - it is backed up on disk somewhere

I have not lost my mind - it is backed up on disk somewhere

… that my journals give me better information about what I thought and felt than my memory does.

I feel I ought to start hand-writing a journal again. Blogging is too public. I had a nom de interweb for a while because my previous blog was more ranty and sweary than this one is and it also covered topics  this blog doesn’t (socio-political ones, mainly) which aren’t appropriate for a professional or semi-professional blog.

It’s not just about privacy though. The journals are physically satisfying things to read and look at.  My writing in them is legible (unlike the writing in my day-book) and although the metallic-gel-pen phase was a bit adolescent, the pages are pretty. At least I didn’t doodle with the gel pens.

So I should start hand-writing a journal again. But I know I won’t. Or not until I have something I need to work through and work out. But these days, I come to WordPress for that.

X marks the spot: go out and vote

My, but this election suddenly got interesting…

I like seeing politicians sweat, and by Friday morning the body politic is going to smell like the collected jockstraps of the Six Nations touring teams after being left in a locker for a month.  I shouldn’t be gleeful, but I am.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, go out and vote.  I don’t care who you vote for, but put your X in a box or spoil your paper.  Participate.

Own the government before they pwn you.

There are even tools of varying sophistication that will help you work out which party best represents your views.

  • I’ve put a link to the Political Compass here before.  It’s a shortish quiz that asks about your attitudes and shows you were you sit on a political “map” in comparison with the main parties.
  • I was impressed by choosing between the politicians’ answers to questions on the My Vote Advisor quiz – it’s time-consuming, but you can miss sections out if you like.
  • Votematch – is reasonably comprehensive and reflects policies not philosophy; the result is adjusted according to which issues are most important to you.
  • Vote for policies – does what it says on the tin and presents you with the parties’ policies to choose from.

None is perfect though they are reassuringly consistent in how they rated my views of the main parties. However, I discovered some big surprises in how closely my views match those of some of the smaller parties.