The Youth Vote – FOR THE MANY

I first voted in 1983. I lived in one of the safest Conservative seats in the UK. The sitting MP was Minister For The Armed Forces and a toady to his leader. He was once trapped in a lift at the Ministry of Defence and insisted his civil servants pass papers under the door so he could continue working whilst unable to exit the lift. This was more about word getting back to Margaret Thatcher, that he carried on is site of obstacles such as a broken lift!

In 1983 there was clear distinction between parties. The Labour party presented (very badly) a progressive left wing manifesto. It scared the electorate in many ways. Their leader, Michael Foot was a passionate, intellectual who was vilified by the press and public for being scruffy and out of touch. They ran a poor campaign against the Tories riding high on post Falklands War euphoria. Two pivotal players in Labours future were elected as MP’s in 1983. Tony Blair and Jeremy Corbyn. They represented the idealogical poles of the party although in those early days Tony Blair could be said to have been closer to Jeremy Corbyn’s beliefs than he became. Blair represented Sedgefield, a constituency in the North East of England, Corbyn won in Islington North, a London constituency.

Tony Blair underwent a transformation, believing that the only way a Labour government could come to power was by appealing to the middle ground of British politics. The party eventually moved with him and they were elected in 1997. He went on to win two further elections. The Iraq war damaged his credibility and left a legacy of mistrust from many in society.

The Tories were returned to power as part of a coalition in 2010.

But you probably know all this. You will have read much about Jeremy Corbyn the protestor, the Man who fought against military action in Iraq, who sat down albeit briefly with all parties in Northern Ireland. The press make much of him meeting Gerry Adams and most is made up. Just because you sit down and talk with someone doesn’t mean you agree with them. After all John Majors government and Thatchers before had been secretly meeting Sinn Fein/IRA as well. To understand conflict, you must be prepared to listen to both sides?

So back in 1983, a young fresh faced, ginger haired 19 year old civil servant from Kent voted Labour. I have voted Labour in every election since. I do not vote because of the leader. I vote because I believe in what they stand for. I was most tested in the two later elections during Labours last stretch in government. I profoundly disagreed with the war in Iraq. I felt uncomfortable that they relied on big corporations and the City of London to prop them up. They were still however preferable to the Tories.

In 1983 I bothered to voted. I have always voted because this is how you change your political system. I always vote because I would hate to sit back and complain about the outcome if I had done nothing to change it. I vote because millions of people around the world have fought for the right to vote and we should use that power.

This election in 2017 is a crucial one. The parties have not been as ideologically divided in years. The young must realise that it is one thing to register and another to actually vote. You are the future. You will be the ones that have to live with the loss of the NHS, state education, civil rights, The increase in food banks, the loss of opportunity to own your own home. The older generation have much to look back on but will also be robbed of a future as much as you will. The difference being, you will have longer to live with the despair and inequality.

You have the chance to build a society for your future as well as ours. I want opportunity for all not based on privilege, money and postcode. I want my children to shape the future for the many not sit back and say no one listens. If you want to be heard, make your mark on June 8th. Don’t watch others cast their vote and think there’s no point because THERE IS!

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Stories. 

I read. I read other people’s stories. I often start reading other people’s stories, get drawn into their worlds, their experiences, their love and pain. I feel their pain. I often move onto the next story before the end of their story. 

I write. I write stories, relive my experience through characters. My characters live sometimes fantastical, desperate, lonely lives. I am not lonely. I am a little lost but aren’t we all? I have someone to get lost with. We walk the road, hand in hand, knowing wherever it takes us, we are still holding hands. She holds my hand because she wants to see where the road takes us. None of us know the destination, the goal, the final outcome. That’s why the walk is good. It’s maybe why I don’t run. That and a certainty that I’m not designed for running. My feet hit the ground too heavily. My legs concentrate on moving me around at a speed I can cope with. I’m a quick walker, always have been. An efficient walker. But never a runner. I hated running at school. I loved rugby and cricket but that required balls, of differing shapes and dimensions. I don’t know if I shall ever be a runner. I know I’m too old for cricket and rugby and was never very good at either. But the balls made all the difference. Maybe that is another unfinished story. The road to becoming a runner? 

Our lives often pan out as unfinished stories. There is rarely an ending. When we die the story doesn’t end. We take our loved ones with us to find a new story. My ghosts are always with me. Their force diminishes over the years but stays with me. It makes us what we are. They stopped walking or running but the connection with them keeps on going. The final stage of the grieving process is acceptance. Being able to see the loved one as they were. Not someone to idealise, to venerate, to worship. They had flaws. They would be angry, argumentative, selfish, sad. They loved, smiled, laughed, made you happy. 

The story however doesn’t end. I take their stories with me. You carry other people’s stories with you. You carry their love around with you everyday. We all have enough space to accommodate the stories. 

My last novel was about ghosts. Why should only the lost, the hurt be ghosts? If ghosts exist then every dead person should have a ghost. Every animal should have one. Every organism that has ever existed on earth still exists today. Their atoms have dispersed and exist in another form now. I sit in my room surrounded by the atoms of a million blades of grass, thousands of birds, animals and other plants. Every one of those had stories. The humans may well have read other people’s stories too. May have not always finished them before moving onto the next one. Surely we should learn to appreciate the continuity of the road rather than the destination. ‘Are we there yet?’ isn’t a question that we should really be asking? 

I hope you read my stories. I hope you enjoy them enough to read to the last page but I understand if you don’t. I could never finish Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky because it was so desperate. I’m sure The author has forgiven me. He is probably watching me write. Or at least an atom of him is. 

For the Sake of Humanities!

We live in a world dominated by big business. By money, the accumulation of, the investment of. Money, Business are seen as the cornerstone of western society. To be rich, to want money, to make money is seen as pre eminent. Science is also seen as important although I suspect as a means to yet again make someone very rich. Yes I know we all need the invaluable work that scientists do to further our understanding of how our world works, to save lives, to make breakthroughs that will advance our society. We need engineers, mathematicians, computer wiz’s.

These people create wealth, create jobs, make a country’s economy strong. I have a son who is a mathematician and very proud of his efforts I am. He will be an asset to many potential employers. Interestingly though, he did not choose Mathematics because he would earn big money on graduation but because he loved the subject. There is great beauty in maths, physics, chemistry.

Then there’s this other lot. The artists, designers, musicians, historians, geographers, classicists. They make the world erm, well, what do they actually do to make our world better?

Humanities as a broad umbrella term, covers a wide range of studies that are concerned with the study of human culture. Law, politics, languages, education, philosophy, literature  come under the umbrella.

Humanities, particularly the creative however, have been under threat from successive governments across the world. The need to train future workers and scientists is seen as the key to our future. Why do we need more writers, artists, actors, musicians, historians, classics scholars? They are not always vocational courses or subjects. What job will a classics scholar go on to do? Why do we need to know about the language, culture, history of ancient Greece or Rome? What relevance does it hold in todays sophisticated hi tech society. Why do we need those that study performing arts, fine art, writers, historians?

The arts and humanities are a hugely undervalued area. Schools, colleges, universities are all living in increasingly competitive worlds. Finances are tight and decisions have to be made. Priorities must be established. The UK government has made it abundantly clear that education is there to produce the workforce of the future and that funding must be focused on subjects that will provide that future workforce. It kind of reduces education to a car factory where the only valuable subjects (components) are those that make the country (car) work. The only students that have value are those that pursue subjects with clear career goals.

The arts are after all a bit woolly and lets face it, who needs to know what happened in history. We don’t need geographers to tell us how our world works or what effect we have on it. Scientists will do that for us and they are far more valuable. This simplistic view of society and education is promoted by politicians to explain how funding education can be controlled. They think that by keeping the message simple, it will be understood. This is patronising as well as inaccurate.

The performing arts bring in billions of pounds to the UK economy. The world is enriched by British music, cinema, theatre, ballet. British cinema, theatre, music is hugely respected throughout the world. The visual arts have a rich and influential effect on the rest of the world. We are a country that continues to challenge, fascinate, inspire the wider world. They also generate large amounts of wealth for the economy. Historians hold the knowledge that can predict the future of how our world operates. By understanding the past, we can better predict the future for societies, nations, continents. The classics also lead us to understand the nature of modern society by studying the birth of civilisations.

Language is the vital tool that enables us to understand each other. The study of literature teaches us much in the same way as history. To reduce society to its mere productivity value removes the civilisation from society. We become empty, meaningless. Let’s suppose we make enormous amounts of money and our nation becomes even wealthier than it already is. Firstly, that wealth is never evenly distributed and what do you do with that wealth? Do you buy more ‘things’ ? Do you horde your wealth so there can’t have it? Do you show your wealth to others in order that you feel more satisfied? What does wealth bring? It will never enable you to be able to paint, sing, act. You will have to buy the services of those who can.

So all of a sudden, the arts have a value! They enrich, entertain, stimulate discussion and ideas. They bring beauty, joy, warmth to our lives. We cease to be cogs in a big machine. George Orwell’s 1984, stripped society of its humanity. It was a stark prediction of how the world could be under control of an unquestioning power that denies any culture, art, intellectual discussion.

Right wing politicians for many years portrayed communism as the greatest threat to our freedom but in truth, hasn’t rampant capitalism done the same? Orwell’s view of a possible nightmarish future is more sophisticated than dictatorship or communism. Government will never encourage you to question their motives because they are there to govern. It is not a dialogue as some would have you believe. Various U turns in policy of the present Conservative government have been more about the preservation of power than listening to the electorate. The politicians that persuaded millions to vote leave in the EU referendum did not do this for the greater good. The promises have already been broken and those that shouted loudest have gone remarkably quiet since. It could argued that those who argued to remain also did this motivated by self interest. Maybe politics is one part of humanities so corrupted by power and greed that we could reduce funding for courses designed to produce future career politicians (such as PPE degrees)!

We must as a society, place a monetary value on the humanities. We must treat the arts with equal respect as the sciences. Both are vital to the successful maintenance of our society. There are those that will never be scientists, technically minded, skilled in finance or business. They will however be blessed with creative and artistic talent. There are those gifted historians, students of ancient and modern languages, philosophers who have a great deal to offer. We should support and value their input not marginalise and starve of funding. So, for the sake of humanity and the humanities, please ask your government to share the cake evenly amongst education.

Thoughts of This Middle Aged Writer

This fella was very unfortunate. He was hunted to extinction. He now lives in the Natural History Museum London, partly as a lesson to us to not eat those birds in such great numbers, whoops they’ve all gone. They were apparently docile flightless birds who more or less sat there whilst ‘hunters’ despatched them.  I’m saying he because I can only speak as a he and he looks like a he. Well I think he does. He most likely sat there watching two strange creatures approaching and before he could ask them politely their business, he was bumped off. Dead as a Dodo. There’s something very sad about those eyes. As if he knew his days were numbered but couldn’t do anything to prevent that.

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Some days I wake up and I feel older. Not as old as him and certainly not stuffed and on display. But he is knocking on a bit. He probably never reached middle age. Mind you the alternative isn’t too appealing.

I can’t remember what it was like to be 20. Its further away now you see. Did I think, behave, act differently or have the years taught me something? I am reminded by some of how old I am. Some delight in telling me I’m past it. They have their own agendas of course. In truth I generally don’t see middle age as the descent to decrepitude. I lost my career too early. My close friends who remained in nursing have gone on to greater things although we all have experienced loss and hardship of some sort. They have careers though. I have had to reinvent myself (which at times doesn’t always feel like its going very well). I cannot blame anyone else only my lack of ambition. Early retirement is a curse in many ways. Yes its a new start but on the other hand it is a curse. No job, no status or identity that goes with a job, loss of respect. Respect is still associated with position, wealth, material accumulation.

Deciding to become a writer seems at times a foolish decision. There are thousands, tens of thousands of accomplished writers out there all chasing a very small and illusive market. We all want our work to be published and to earn money from it. Admittedly most of us also write because we have to because the alternative would eat us up. I enjoy writing enormously but it is frustrating and at times hugely disappointing.

It is hard to live with the feeling that you may have outlived your usefulness. Speaking from the male perspective, the prospect of becoming a grandfather does not reverse that. Grandfathers seem to have less status than Grandmothers, slightly  more detached. Having a growing family prepares fathers for this. Teenagers often detach from their parents which is and how it has always been. It is a preparation for adulthood. It is hard to be an active father to teenage children as they often fail to see your relevance. Why do you need a father when you’re growing up and becoming independent? Mum can be a taxi, bank and the other roles often carried out by fathers. Maybe that’s why some men take up golf or mend things in sheds. I don’t play golf and my handiwork is rudimentary at best. To top that of course, I don’t have a proper job. If I was a published author bringing in handsome book advances then maybe it would be different.

I’ve said before that none of my children have ever read any of my work. I don’t expect that to change. I am past worrying about that. I am in truth not worried about being over 50. It has its advantages (apart from Saga Holidays) and I haven’t died early. If I died tomorrow would it still be regarded as a tragic waste of one so young? No, more like he was only 52. To a 20-year-old however, that must feel geriatric. I still have all my limbs, my eyesight, hearing, majority of internal organs ( although cancer treatment did remove a few) and my mental faculties. I only have a couple of years left on my mortgage and debts only equivalent of a very small insignificant African state. I look around at friends with successful careers, lovely houses, new cars, endless foreign holidays and I’m not the slightest bit envious. I am also a terrible liar as you may have gathered. Yes they all have worked for their wealth and good luck to them. They didn’t decide that they were going to be writers. Maybe if I had started writing at 20, I would have been a success now? Maybe I would have ditched it and got a safe steady job instead. I think I’ve got things arse about-face frankly but it’s too late to change that now.

I’m not really sure what conclusions I can reach from this rambling stream of consciousness other than it is easy to feel lost, empty, invisible, forgotten by the world. I am lucky to have a significant other who feels otherwise about me and I her. It isn’t easy being a middle-aged unsuccessful writer. I won’t stop being a middle aged writer until I’m too old to qualify as middle aged but hopefully by then the ‘unsuccessful’ bit will not apply!

 

A Nation Divided.

The United Kingdom. Four countries joined/linked/coerced/invaded Ok whatever the historical connection. The sixth largest island on earth but still pretty small compared to many of our European fiends, tiny compared to USA or Australia. Under 900 miles from top to bottom and less than 150 miles at its widest. If you are rushing to Google in order to prove me wrong on the facts then you may as well stop reading this. 

I was born in York. An ancient city which was once briefly the capital of the Roman Empire. It’s in Yorkshire which is an amalgamation of 3 ridings or nowadays several counties and authorities. It starts about 170 odd miles north of London and 150 miles south of Edinburgh approximately. I grew up in Kent which is south east of London. I have a hybrid accent that reflects both counties. I can be understood in both hopefully. This is all background so you know where my rant is going. 

I have no interest in defining where ‘Up North’ or ‘Darn Sarf’ start or end. I don’t care if the midlands begin at Northampton or Coventry. I don’t think southerners are soft or northerners tight. I don’t exercise much energy wondering if all Geordies go out on the lash without coats whatever the weather. You see it’s all so tiresome. 

We live on an island which views it’s own citizens with suspicion and mystery. Some people I grew up with have never ventured as far north as I live now. I know folks who have never been to Scotland. This requires no passport, ferries or even flights. You can drive into Scotland and even use English money. It was not uncommon that before the invention of the motor car , some villagers would never travel further than the boundaries of their own village. Now much has changed since the 1890’s but that mentality still prevails in some. So there is maybe no surprise that the home nations occasionally view each other with suspicion born of ignorance. 

Division has existed throughout the centuries. The division of wealth and its lack of distribution. The division of work. The old industries were centred where the raw materials were to be found. These are largely defunct with thousands left to reinvent themselves and their region. However many schemes set up to decentralise government and finance from London, the capital retains the vast majority of both. It’s the capital of Great Britain and England although Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast are national capitals. That United Kingdom controlled hundreds of miles away from millions of its citizens. Admittedly the USA is governed from Washington DC but it’s formation is a nation of states. The UK is a nation of nations annexed by England. The English took control of their neighbours over the last few hundred years. By fair means and otherwise. 

We stand at a crucial point in our history. The UK has narrowly voted to leave the European Union. Scotland and Northern Ireland actually voted to remain in the EU but our lords and masters in Westminster fail to recognise the validity of this argument. This is driving more wedges between our nation of nations. That is also driving wedges between itself and our partners on the continent of Europe. 

Far right politicians across the European Union have seized the lurch away by the UK as a means of further fracturing the EU. This organisation was set up to partly help heal the wounds caused by the Second World War. The conservative and right wing politicians use Winston Churchill as their figurehead but he was an advocate of European Union. He fought against his own party’s insular suspicion of Europe because he wanted it to learn from the lessons of division and nationalism. 

Whilst I still can, I shall proclaim myself to be a proud European. To see what unites us and what we can achieve by working collectively. Our diversity is not a reason for mistrust but a reason to celebrate. That mistrust creates fear, bigotry and hatred. The UK feels a nation divided more so than in all my 50 plus years on this planet. We surely are grown up enough to throw our arms out and share with all. 

But what do I know. The little Englanders are in charge, dragging the islands further towards the orange tyrant over the Atlantic and away from friends a mere 22 miles away in mainland Europe. We are returning to our village mentality where mistrust of our neighbours is preferable to inclusive cooperation. I just hope the regression is worth it for you small minded insular nationalists. 

Letting Go

This morning, in fact just a short while ago, I threw my past away.

Three years of my past away to be precise.

It had been neatly (well kind of) stored in my cellar.

In this box .

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Hundreds of thousands of words, hundreds of diagrams, a plethora of articles, notes too numerous count.

Now being recycled or at least in the waiting room of recycling (the green bin).

I kept hold of them because

1.They may have come in handy.

2. They showed how much work I put in.

3. They were a physical copy of three years study.

4. I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away.

But now I have. No pieces kept for sentimental purposes. Just an empty box where my degree once lay. For interested parties to rifle through and select nuggets of wisdom. I once thought my children may find them useful but that idea long faded. I have said on several occasions that despite self publishing six books, My children have never had any desire to read any of my work. I realised a few years ago that my work counts for very little with those who are still forging their own paths in life.

I ended up with a respectable 2:1. A BSc Hons in Wildlife Management and Conservation from Leeds Metropolitan University. In truth the study took place at Park Lane College in Leeds which is now Leeds City College. Indeed I believe the University is called Leeds Beckett University. Is nothing the same ?

I enjoyed my three years of study immensely. I came to university late in life and threw myself in with comparative abandon. Those were good years although the final one was more of a slog than the first two. A not uncommon experience in higher education.

I finished my degree and believed that the world of conservation or land management lay in wait for my skills and knowledge. The world of conservation particularly land management is being squeezed and shrunk because of central government cuts. Private companies use very small workforces and organisations such as the RSPB and National Trust have also felt the pinch. My completion also coincided with a life threatening illness to one of my children and then my own treatment for cancer a year later. It slipped away. I have kept my hand in although less so nowadays. I still do ecological surveys in summertime and volunteer when possible with the countryside service in Bradford.

I have worked in films and television with the civil service, in the employment service (also civil service), trained as a psychiatric nurse and worked win mental health for 15 years. These are my past. I have added my degree to that list as well. As I said in a previous post , I believe you have to be defined by what you do not what you were. They tell a story. I write because I enjoy writing. A few people also enjoy my writing and even pay for it! I don’t write because I get paid, I write because I want to.

It will feel liberating to have a space on a shelf where thousands of pieces of paper once sat. I have let them go. I still have electronic copies of my work and if ever anyone is desperate to want any, it’s there. I may return to study one day in the future. History of Art or English Literature both appeal. Study for study’s sake. So many go to university with a career outcome in mind. My adult life has taught me that however many plans you make, life takes over. This box of papers should be the beginning of a de cluttering process. To rid myself of useless history. It may help in a tiny way to live more in the now than the past.