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This frightens me.

So it’s been published – the whole EU citizen settled status criteria thing.

Am I the only person who finds this more than a little insulting, condescending… terrifying?

They might as well have written, “Pay us £65 to tell us where you live so we can watch you.”

I didn’t ask for this, any of this. And I don’t know how to make it stop. I’ve tried voting, I’ve tried marching, I’ve tried writing… it’s not working.

I need something to work.

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Value and worth

Today, I want to talk you through our Renault Clio.

The car has been written off once, it’s going to fail its next MOT and it’s so old, that no one else wants it – it has no monetary value whatsoever.

But that doesn’t mean that it lacks worth. The worth of the car is found in the fact that we own it without finance, that it puts a smile on our faces when we rattle* down roads with the windows open and the music on, and that it allows one of us to take a weekend away without leaving the rest of the family stranded without a vehicle.

I’ve always said that the language we use for things holds power and it’s long-past time we begin making sure we choose the correct words for what we mean to say.  I don’t always get it right – much as I wish I did – but things like value and worth are so often confused, especially in the field of politics that I want to take the time to straighten this out, if only for my own sake.

So before we start this, let’s make sure we’re on the same page: When I refer to the NHS, I’m talking about the institution – the sum of doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, housekeepers, porters, paramedics, midwives, specialists in every field imaginable, vehicles, buildings, equipment and drugs. When I’m talking about the government, I’m talking about the current regime and not the concept of the thing itself.

Because right now, our government is in the process of actively devaluing the NHS. Whether they genuinely believe their own cries of ‘austerity’ or simply want to strangle it with underfunding as a way to justify privatisation, I wouldn’t like to say. But the fact remains that the service is straining for wont of money.

This is nothing new, of course. We pay our taxes to the government and in return, they use our money to buy healthcare – of course they want to keep as much in the pot as possible, paying out the bare minimum. They want what they believe to be good value. And in order for us to see what they’re providing as good value, they’ve ensured that we have begun to think of the NHS as being without value at all – liberally telling us at every point they can that we are enjoying free healthcare. Because what value is there attached to the word free?

By effectively denying our ownership of the NHS – denying the fact that we have paid for our healthcare in the form of taxes – they’re robbing us of what is rightfully ours. This process has been systematic – in fact, I can’t remember a point at which I didn’t think of the NHS as being a ‘free’ service – so it’s hardly something that we can pin on this government. Much as I’d love to blame them for this along with everything else, it’s been going on for so long now that we no longer notice.

The fact that we don’t think of the NHS as belonging to us any more is evident in facebook posts like this one:

Image result for minor ailments scheme free calpol

These things aren’t free – you’ve simply paid for them earlier, and unless you’re actually in dire straights and can’t afford the cost of the medicine (in which case, go right ahead!), you’re probably better off leaving your hard-earned money in the big healthcare pot to use for bigger, more important things like childbirth, and chemo and open-heart surgery.

In theory.

The issue is that at the moment, the government is preventing that pot of money from being accessed by the NHS, either through their failure to make the money available or through their failure to raise taxes to a point where the money can be made available.

We can’t do a great deal about the way the NHS is being valued at the moment (though we can plan on voting for a different government which prioritises national healthcare at the next general election, and lobby the current government, and treat the system with respect rather than trying to get free Calpol.)

What we can do now, is talk about the WORTH of the NHS. And we can stop calling it free.

So what is the NHS worth to us?

The NHS is our babies being born, being vaccinated against disease which might kill them, it’s help for depression, the training of breastfeeding peer supporters, the hearing tests, sight-tests, flu-sprays, school nurses, broken bones, stomach pumps, ambulances, contraception, HPV vaccines, cervical screening, counselling and therapy, physio, bowel cancer screenings, amputations, cataract surgery, hip replacements… it’s our lives. Literally our lives.

We need to stop talking about the value of the NHS and start discussing just how much it’s worth.

Because whilst my Clio might be totally without value, its worth means I wouldn’t accept any amount of money for parting with it.

And I’m willing to bet not a one of you reading this would want to be without the NHS. If we start changing the way we talk about OUR health service and start talking about it in the terms that matter then maybe we’ll have a hope of saving it.

___
*Husband takes umbrage to the fact I have said ‘rattle’. He insists that his car doesn’t rattle, which I suppose just goes to help prove my point – language is everything.

Camera

Recently, my facebook feed has exploded with absolutely amazing pictures.

There’s an old school friend who is now a professional fashion photographer, local peeps who are lifestyle photographers, numerous hobbyists with a huge degree of talent and one amazing woman who just has a real knack for showing honest and unfiltered life in such a way that I wish I could do the same (RM, I’m looking at you).

When we first bought our fancypants camera back in 2010 for our trip to Marrakesh I had delighted in playing with the tech. It was almost like a real life Pokemon game (bear with me on this metaphor) – adjust this thing or that thing and suddenly you have the ability to take a picture that’s Super Effective. Playing with the shutter time and the the ISO was like having a real-world version of video-game stats that I could legitimately take anywhere with me.

But my camera is massive, and heavy, and doesn’t magically get sucked into a red and white ball when it’s not in use. When I started carrying kids and a nappy bag, something had to be left behind.

I replaced the camera with my phone. The pictures were good enough, especially as photography for me had never really been about the image – Yes, I’m odd. The moment was captured, and that was fine.

And then I started seeing all of these amazing images appear on facebook and I remembered my gigantic camera. With both kids big enough not to need carrying, or the contents of half a house transporting with them on every outing, I started taking my beast of a machine with me again.

And you know what? All those social situations I once dreaded, I am suddenly happy to be a part of them again. Because there’s a screen between me and human interaction! And all those magical settings? They’re like dialogue options on an RPG.

Do you want to;
Make things lighter?
Make things blurry so it looks like someone is running really fast.
Do nothing.
Attack.
Defend.
Flee?

Chances are, if you see me with my camera, you’re not going to get any super magical pictures out of me (unless you happen to be very photogenic and/or happen to be in the right place at the right time and I haven’t buggered the settings up too much). But you are going to get a very happy Farn, and you should totally come and say hi.

Keep Talking

Recently, I keep coming back to that old adage – “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

We tote it out every time we want to make a point about why people need to take action, but I think it’s worth noting that we need to keep talking too. Because being quiet – even if you’ve said everything you have to say – is an equally unacceptable form of doing nothing.

I’ve not posted anything about Brexit since June last year. Not because I stopped feeling all those feelings, but because I don’t have anything new to say, any new information to offer – This is an absolutely dreadful idea. And honestly, there’s only so many ways that I can say it.

But in the absence of a voice of dissent, people are at risk of forgetting there is one.

On the 14th May, Axel Scheffler accepted the inaugural Illustrator of the Year Award at the British Book Awards. Nosy Crow published his acceptance speech which you can read here.

The speech ends with the following:

It makes me sad, and I worry when I think of a post-Brexit future for the UK families, especially the children, who are growing up with our books. What went wrong? What did they miss, the parents and grandparents who were reading Room on the Broom with its message of the importance of solidarity, partnership, friendship and kindness? The book wasn’t called No Room on the Broom.

And it shocked me. It shouldn’t have done, but it did – not that he’d said it, or that it was so painfully true, but because I’d almost forgotten that this shit is happening. Not because it’s no longer relevant to me, but because I’m no longer talking about it.

I’d sort of reached a plateau, thinking that ‘I want to keep talking but what else is there left for me to say on this?’ And in that silence, that unwillingness to repeat myself, I’ve been stripped of all my power. Because if we don’t keep talking, keep going against our better nature to not repeat ourselves, then we’re going to be forgotten.

I’m really grateful that Mr Scheffler spoke out. Because it’s reminded me what I need to keep doing.

Brexit is still a terrible, dreadful idea. To quote Frank Turner,

If I was of the greatest generation I’d be pissed
Surveying the world that I built slipping back into this
I’d be screaming at my grandkids: “We already did this”

Are we as a generation so intent on making our mark that we don’t care if it’s art, or shite smeared across the pages of history?

And despite all of this, despite all of my fears, I still want the Brexiteers to prove me wrong.

In response to: “Non-British citizens shouldn’t have the right to vote”.

Can I ask *why* you feel that non-UK citizens who pay taxes should be denied a vote? NB: “Because they’re not British,” is not a valid answer unless you can define “British” without the use of, “They possess a British passport.”

Commonwealth, Irish, Cypriot and Maltese citizens may be eligible to vote in UK general elections – can I ask your feelings in regards to this? If you’re OK with their voting, please specify why you feel they are more qualified than – for example – a person of Italian heritage who was born and grew up in the United Kingdom but who holds an Italian passport.

What is it that you believe qualifies a “British” tax payer to vote in general elections, when a tax-payer of another nationality is unqualified? NB: Again, “Because they’re not British,” is not a valid answer unless you can define “British” without the use of, “They possess a British passport.”

I’m honestly trying to see this from another POV, but every angle I look at it, those wishing to deny the vote to non-British UK taxpayers just looks like a bit of a dick. Sorry, not sorry.

One of the basic cornerstones of democracy is that there should be “no taxation without representation.” By denying a vote to non-UK citizens paying tax in Britain, the government are being turds.

And before some smart-ass makes a comment about my filthy, foreign name, I’m five generations Yorkshire on both sides (when there’s an exotic blip and a great aunt comes from Glasgow). I joined the ranks of “stolen women” when I married an immigrant nine years ago and from where I’m sat, I’d rather be anything than British right now, because the xenophobic, nationalistic, asshattery that’s going on makes me ashamed of where I’m from every time I take out my god-forsaken, laughing-stock-of-the-world passport.

And you know what, normally I’d try and be polite about this, and make measured arguments, and do my best to be a decent human being, but fuck that. This isn’t fucking fair.

This is important.

Here we are again, with all my cards on the proverbial table. You see, I’ve written this post about a hundred times since the events chronicled herein occurred and I’m still not sure I’ve said all I want to.

So, humour me and imagine you find a jigsaw piece. You recognise what’s on it and by itself, it looks harmless enough. As you would, you add it to the puzzle and step back to take a look. The picture you’re met with is hateful – it’s offensive to basically everyone. My question is this: Do you leave the jigsaw piece there – because on its own it seems innocuous – or do you remove it because you want to dismantle the whole?

I’m pretty certain that you’d take the whole damn jigsaw apart, right?

Last week, a friend of mine found exactly this kind of jigsaw piece while she was doing her shopping – not a literal, squiggly bit of wood, but something that is seemingly innocent and actually awful.

Some of you will have seen the original post – expressing outrage at a sweater in Asda with the words, “Boys will be Boys,” stencilled across the front. Some of you will have seen the subsequent “articles” on the topic in publications such as The Sun, The Daily Mail and LADBible. Most of you won’t have seen the stream of abuse my friend suffered as a result of her post.

Since said friend made the post, I’ve spent hours trying to explain why the phrase is so incredibly problematic, and I will cover that below, but first, I’d like to ask those of you who have jumped to Asda’s defence:Why do you need the phrase, “Boys Will be Boys”? Is it really that profound? Or, if you really think it is as innocuous, as banal as you say it is, then why fight so vehemently to defend it? 

At its most basic level, it’s a platitude – one may as well say, “Tables will be tables,” or “Glass will be glass.” If we take it literally, it doesn’t actually say anything.

The problem with language, though, is that so few things are taken at face value – “Boys will be boys,” is no exception.

So what is it that we’re reading into these words if, at their core, they don’t actually mean anything? As so many people on the original post pointed out, the phrase is as old as the hills – “People have been saying it for years.” Well, according to the Cambridge dictionary, we use the phrase to, “emphasise that people should not be surprised when boys or men act in a rough or noisy way because this is part of the male character.”

In that definition, I see many problems:

  • The phrase is not limited to children – the definition states clearly, “boys or men.” That the phrase could be used to excuse Friday night drunken brawling (“rough or noisy” behaviour) removes it from the realms of innocent fun.
  • “Rough or noisy” behaviour is not unknown in women. The very traits this phrase gives gender to are not exclusively male. This alone removes any truth from the statement – how can you claim that this “part of the male character” when it’s simply part of human nature?
  • That the phrase only covers “rough or noisy” behaviour as male is insulting – men are wonderful fathers, husbands and carers. They are creative, funny, kind and giving. Diminishing the men in our lives to a series of traits – which society generally views as unfavourable – is inaccurate at best.
  • The phrase implies that these negatively-perceived traits are “part of the male character”. This is the most dangerous aspect of the whole thing. By saying that this is simply ‘how men are’ it absolves them of the responsibility to be better.  It does not hold them accountable for the “rough and noisy” behaviour.

The last point is the one that most of the discussion on my friend’s post centred around – namely, the phrase’s place in the ugly jigsaw that is rape culture (see – I did full-circle analogy things there… and it wasn’t a bit cheesy, was it?)

By saying that men can’t help themselves – that unfavourable behaviour is simply part of “male character” – it shifts the blame in a situation onto the victim. If men are absolved of their responsibility to act in a decent manner, then when atrocities like assault and rape occur then logically, it must be the fault of the other party. Victim blaming is never OK.

No one is saying that every little boy who wears a shirt with the words, “Boys will be boys” on will become a rapist. No one is saying that every little boy who hears their behaviour excused with this phrase will go on to hospitalise another person in a drunken assault. We’re saying that this phrase and the outdated, tired rhetoric behind it will make it easier for those who do go on to do these things.

A seed can’t grow to a plant without soil or water. A man capable of rape, or assault, can’t get away with these things if the environment is not right. By removing phrases such as “Boys will be boys” from our vocabulary, we make the climate less hospitable for these crimes. Yes, they’ll tragically still happen, but hopefully there’ll be fewer cases and the consequences will reflect the severity of the crimes.

Up until this point, I have discussed male perpetrators and male perpetrators only. As people on the original post pointed out, women rape too. But phrases like ‘boys will be boys’, in combination with the fact that male rape is so seldom discussed – and consequently is near invisible – help to perpetuate these crimes too. So-called ‘lad culture’, which celebrates the sort of behaviour that ‘boys will be boys’ describes, leads people to believe that all men are only ‘out for a good time’, that ‘they don’t care who they shag’, that ‘no sex is bad sex’. Jokes about ‘double bagging’ ugly women reinforces the idea that men are base animals and only care about conquests – imagine trying to admit to having been raped by a woman in this environment. Aside from the usual sexist slurs like ‘throw like a girl‘ or ‘whining like a girl’ which portray women as being lesser than men, and so incapable of dominating them, male victims of rape have to combat an environment in which they’re expected to welcome any sort of sexual advance without question.

So whilst on its own, ‘Boys will be boys’ seems like a nothing phrase, it’s loaded with harmful undertones. It’s part of that ugly, ugly jigsaw which benefits neither woman not man.

Let me ask you again: Why do you need the phrase, “Boys Will be Boys”? Is it really that profound? Or, if you really think it is as innocuous, as banal as you say it is, then why fight so vehemently to defend it? 

 

Writing to your MP?

I said in my last post that I was a huge advocate of writing to your candidates for the coming elections. I promised a template letter, so here it is:
________

To XX

I am writing to you in regards to the upcoming local/general election (write to your candidates for both if you, but otherwise choose those who deal with the issues you would like to raise: The NHS is the general election, your village green is the local election).

At present, I am undecided about which way to vote. I was hoping that you could please clarify the following issues for me.

I believe that (the NHS needs more funding/local parks need better provision/Brexit needs to stop/Brexit needs to be more extreme and we should be leaving Earth, not just Europe… whatever you’re passionate about, this is the time to wax lyrical).

In order for this to become a reality I feel that (action to make your above thing happen) is a priority (i.e. funds should be redirected from MP salary to public services). Would you please inform me about what you are doing to achieve this, or of any other way in which you feel the above could be accomplished?

If you are unwilling to do the above, I would like to know your reasons – (issue) is a priority for me, but if our stances are otherwise compatible and your reasons for not prioritising (X) still align with my values, I would still be willing to cast my vote in your favour.

I look forward to your response and thank you for your time in helping me decide where to cast my vote.

Sincerely,

You

________

Firstly, if you haven’t already done so, PLEASE REGISTER TO VOTE. Then, complete the bits in bold.
At this point, you can either post your letter to your candidates, or email them. WRITE TO THEM is a wonderful website which allows you to do just that.

Otherwise, you can Tweet many candidates or reach them via facebook.

Once you’re satisfied and have found the candidate you feel will most represent your interests in the coming years, all that’s left to do is to cast your vote.

For those of you with the single purpose of stopping the Tories, this website gives you information about how to best cast your vote tactically.

To be counted.

It seems that we are likely to have a General Election. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. BEFORE THE GENERAL ELECTION, THERE WILL BE A LOCAL ELECTION.
    The local election will be held in May. EU CITIZENS ARE ELIGIBLE TO VOTE IN THIS ELECTION. Annoyingly, the local election is just as important as the larger, bonus-election that will be happening in June, but is likely to be overshadowed by the vote to decide the nation’s next leader. The local election will determine who is in charge of running your municipality.
  2. TO VOTE IN BOTH/EITHER ELECTION, YOU MUST REGISTER.
    British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens are eligible to vote in the general election. British citizens living abroad but who have been registered to vote in the last 15 years are also eligible.
  3. FOR PARTICULARS ON IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE TO VOTE, PLEASE VISIT THE SITE BELOW:
    https://www.gov.uk/elections-in-the-uk/general-election

When registering, this is the site you’ll need: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

Obviously, I can’t tell you how to vote, but unless you do, nothing is going to change, and I know that most of the people I know – if not all – are unhappy with some aspect of our current government. Or maybe you’re not, and you want things to go on as they are… regardless of your views, you need to express them at the ballots.

Over the coming weeks, I will be writing template letters that I will publish here so that if you feel so inclined, you can send them to those standing for office. I plan to outline what would sway me to vote in their favour and ask each politician what they intend to do to make that a reality. Campaign literature will only tell you what the politician thinks you would like to know and it is designed to be read and understood at a glance. Issues like NHS funding are so much more complex. Aside from anything else, direct letters are so much harder to ignore.

I hope you’ll all take the time to engage in this. Decades of voter apathy has left so many people feeling powerless, but in reality, if enough of us care and hold those we elect to account, we really can change things.

If you would like some inspiring reading, I’d recommend Emmaline Pankhurt’s autobiography. It’s available for free on Kindle.

The Shame

There are two things in my life that I am ashamed of. The first is a hideous, gut-eating, shin-bone-grating, teeth-popping sort of thing. The second is the sort of thing which leaves a lump of foolishness, sitting like a rock in your stomach.

When I was around eleven years old, I decided that I was going to write a musical. The charitable reader might allow that it was creative. It was not. The pivotal point of this operatic train-wreck was a concept so toe-curlingly ludicrous that I would rather procrastinate by paying my various bills than write the next sentence. Aside from the entire thing being sung to the tune of Don Mclean’s American Pie – by a girl who was asked by her junior-choir master to, “please mime lest the judges hear you!” – my musical addressed that age old question: What would happen if the USS Enterprise crashed into the Millennium Falcon.

I’m not even kidding. I had Kirk’s bastard alien offspring avenging his father’s death. I drew stage plans and made a lightsaber out of kitchen-roll tubes, sellotaped together.

I bent my friend’s ear off talking about it. Needless to say she saw it for the steaming pile of turd it was and went snickering behind my back to some of the other kids in my class… you can imagine where it went from there. It only took until that same afternoon for my rounding a corner to merit the thirty other children in my class, humming The Imperial March, or speaking Kirk’s Captain’s log, or any one of a thousand other very easy taunts.

But then we went to The Big School and all was forgotten.

Time passed and we grew up. And unique to our generation, the internet grew up with us. When I started my secondary education, the internet involved a blocked phone line and half hour loading times on simple html pages. Internet Explorer was still A Thing and multiple tab browsing hadn’t been invented. I had my first kiss to the news report that Napster had been shut down. By the time I started university, YouTube existed.

Which was a wonderful, terrible thing.

My friend and I both studied in Europe for a year. When we returned, we fell to talking about some of the things we’d done while we were away, and we fell upon the topic of German nightclubs. Had we been sober, my talented, musical friend would have pointed out that from what we saw on the continent, it appeared that our European fellows danced to the off-beat, rather than the beat (as we’d observed those in Norwich nightclubs doing). We were, however, far from sober.

To describe this cultural phenomenon, we kind of waved our arms about, “They dance like this!” I remember yelling, doing a little boogie. A housemate entered the room and asked what we were up to. We sat him down and told him that he should shut up, because we were going to teach him to dance like a German.

I cringe typing those words. But there’s no bills left for me to pay by way of avoidance, and besides, this needs saying: we made a video of our ‘tutorial’. We posted it to YouTube.
I took the video down the next morning but the damage had been done. Now that our video is on the internet, it can never truly be off the internet. If someone wanted to, they could search the archives and I’m sure that on some server or another, they’d find our hideous attempt at humour.

When I apply for jobs now, I fear that it’ll pop up on a search engine if someone types in my name. I worry that potential friends will somehow stumble upon it and mistake me for a close-minded fool. I worry that I will one day have to explain it to my children.

Thank goodness the internet wasn’t around when I wrote my musical. It’s one thing to explain away drunken shenanigans, but another entirely to have to justify the butchery of Don Maclean’s classic in the name of a sci-fi cross-over.

The thing is, the internet is around now. And more than ever, our children have access to the necessary technology for recording themselves doing all manner of stupid things in the name of entertainment. How will the boy who sung his own Minecraft-themed version of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ fare when he’s applying for university? How will he cope at University, when faced with a huge group of peers that has seen his Star Wars/Trek musical? Because my days of being haunted by Darth Vader’s theme tune ended when I moved to The Big School. I left my tormentors behind. Thing is… you can never outrun the internet.

With Love.

According to a distant cousin that I met once at an even more distant uncle’s funeral, I am related to Jack Crawford.

For those who are unfamiliar with the name, Jack Crawford was apparently a sailor whose story is the origin of the phrase, ‘to nail one’s colours to the mast’. Folk legend has it that Crawford was ordered to surrender during the battle of Camperdown and refused to do so – instead, he allegedly climbed into the ship’s rigging and hammered the Union Flag (thereafter called the Union Jack) to the mast. This act ended up winning the battle for the United Kingdom. Crawford was hailed as a hero, and presented to the king from whom he received a generous pension.

There’s a great deal of debate surrounding his story, and in all likelihood, his is not the Jack attached to our national symbol. That said, the rest holds true, as does his rise to minor celebrity and his subsequent fall to the bottom of a bottle.

I’d like to think that the centuries between he and I have done away with the inclination to alcoholism and strengthened that stubborn refusal to fail.

Because this is me, nailing my colours to the mast. They’re blue, and yellow, and unlike the Union Jack, are not marred by war. The flag of the EU is associated the world over with bringing peace to Europe, and it’s an ideal I plan to uphold.

Article 50 was triggered today, but it wasn’t done so in my name.

From where I stand, fighting something like this on an international stage sometimes seems insurmountable, especially when those in government keep ploughing onwards with little regard for the incredible amount of dissent amongst the population. But we can fight it. And we should fight it.

This isn’t maths. Two negatives will never make a positive – hate only breeds more hate. It’s hard to look forward and be hopeful right now when there is nothing but doom from both sides of the argument, but that’s the only way we’re going to fight this thing; with love.

Small acts of defiance can be as simple as giving a European food to the food bank, having some friends round for a European themed supper or singing Nena’s 99 Luftballon’s in the original German. Download Duolingo and learn a second or third language, or watch a weird Danish movie – I’d recommend Adam’s Æbler, or Blinkende Lygter. There are countless thousands of ways in which you can nail your colours to the mast – today and every day – and show that no matter what our government decides to do, that culture, love and hope with transcend petty borders. Like it did in the Enlightenment, like it did in the Renaissance, and as it still does now.