Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Why Libraries Are Not An Unaffordable Luxury in a Digital Age

Yesterday I noticed an advert for Brighton and Hove Debating Society. The motion was 'Libraries Are An Unaffordable Luxury In A Digital Era'. I nearly didn't go, imagining that I would get too angry and probably be thrown out anyway.

I needn't have worried.

Even the proposer did not wish to see the end of libraries and it was a majority victory against the motion, though the proposer argued that libraries still had to 'stack up' and be financially viable. I did not agree. Libraries are a public service. Nor do I accept the argument that cuts must be made somewhere and we need to decide what we want to keep. As long as we are paying for all our services through our local and national taxes. we need to RECEIVE all our services in my view. To talk about alternative methods of funding (as one audience member suggested) for public services such as libraries just means that we would pay for the same services in different ways twice over!

There was an interesting letter in the local paper this week pointing out how in the days when our city was truly broke (ie late 70s with 3-day weeks, endless strikes, not much cash around), we enjoyed immaculate parks with award winning flowerbeds, plentiful and spotless public toilets, free museums, bowling greens, leisure centres, a well-resourced library service, free social care and virtually no social housing queue, not to mention plentiful Police and a reasonably well-run NHS. Yet now in an age where the council has never enjoyed more citizens paying council tax and rakes in parking and parking permit revenue undreamt of in the 1970s plus the benefit of a year-round seaside economy, thanks to university growth, suddenly we are expected to accept cut after cut to our local services. If there is genuinely such a deficit we need to first demand to know where our money is going, rather than blithely accept what we are told. Nor did we receive a council rebate for our water rates when they left council jurisdiction to be farmed out to privatised companies under PM Margaret Thatcher in 1989.

But to get back to libraries, yes they have had their cyclical and fashionable ups and downs over the years and some are better supported than others, though this is largely down to how well they are run. Of course they have had to change with the times and run clubs, meetings and events and offer internet access, DVDs, CDs and even toys, but they remain an essential social hub in most communities, without which there is literally no non-commercial public space left for people to go when it rains or for people who can't afford to spend vast sums of money on education, entertainment or taking their children out. NB: It is a truth universally acknowledged that children LOVE libraries and regard them as something akin to magical kingdoms of endless possibility. They are also sadly more likely to get a story read to them at their local library than they are by their own exhausted parents at bedtime these days. Autobiographies abound by poor children made good or who survived bad childhoods crediting the library as their refuge or the key to their success as adults. Let's not forget that Andrew Carnegie himself was such a poor boy made good by libraries and determined to extend that privilege around the world.

In an age pushing us towards 'contactless' life libraries are also a lifeline for the lonely and elderly who are rapidly losing their banks, post offices and human interactions in shops, not to mention free museums. They are also a lifeline for those failed by schools but who cannot afford further education fees.

23% of the population still don't have internet access either, some because they have never joined the internet age and others because they live in parts of the country which don't have internet coverage. It can be a polarising and socially isolating phenomenon leading to some segments of the population suffering disadvantage.

I speak as one who spends half their life on computers and the internet for professional as well as personal reasons. I have nothing against the digital world, except for its threat to take over my life if I let it. The online world may be seductive (and I've had my moments of addiction) but nothing beats real life and spending time doing real things, hanging out with real friends and generally keeping it real. I have to regard the online world as a tool to be kept in life's toolbox for the sake of my own sanity. Often at weekends I refuse to check my Facebook or email for a whole 24hrs, occasionally a whole 48. It feels good and I feel healthier for it. It is rare that I miss anything of importance as a result as a real life friend can always phone me if it's urgent.

The average 18-25 yr old apparently checks their smartphone on average 85 times a day with up to five hours a day spent streaming films and music or on social media. Mental health issues are on the rise as a result of such behaviour as is bullying and that lovely internet trend known as 'trolling'. Concentration levels are also plummeting leading to serious mistakes in people's everyday lives and lower productivity at work.

So what has all this got to do with libraries? Well the true aim of a library is to provide information. To offer signposts in a confusing world. It doesn't matter if that information is multi-media in form or in a book. The modern Library can still provide and the public are still helped.

One also has the regular joy of discovering something new in a library or which you would never have dreamt of reading/watching/listening to had you not stumbled upon it. This doesn't happen on the internet. You search for something, you find it. no surprises. Your horizons are neither challenged nor broadened. And however high resolution screens become, I for one don't want to be staring at them 24/7. I love the smell, tactility and jacket of a book. Nor is it easy to wrap a download as a present for someone. Downloads make lousy presents to go under the Christmas tree! And many people remain unaware that digital downloads are never truly yours, no matter how much you have paid for them. You are merely renting them for life when you buy. Should you wish to leave your music or movie download collection to your son or daughter when you die, you can't. The collection dies with you. Buy a real librarysworth of  books, DVDs or CDs and they are physically your property to leave to whomever you wish

Aside from addiction, the online world carries the huge unspoken risk if we put all our eggs in its basket as we are increasingly driven to, the more real life services are transferred onto it. Almost everything online is free now, but the moment it reaches a tipping point of the vast majority of the real world being reliant on the online world to function is the moment we will begin to be charged for all data, including our own. Have you ever wondered what the true intentions of 'clouds' are, aside from making it easier to share files? Why, so that you no longer save your own information on your own C-drives or USB sticks of course. So that you have to pay subscriptions to carry on using both software and your data. And it won't just be financial control. Your data will be able to be stolen and used against you in all kinds of ways. Microsoft, Apple and Google are no benign entities. Each has world domination intentions or are owned by powers who do. Those endless compulsory computer 'updates' are not for our benefit, no, but to increase the stranglehold on us and our data (sic the recent case of an HP printer download rendering all HP printers unable to accept cheaper generic cartridges so that printer owners were forced to pay through the nose for genuine HP cartridges).

When this digital bubble bursts and our love affair with the computer age ends I predict libraries will enjoy a renaissance comparable only to their rise in Victorian times. Free information, education  and entertainment will be prized above all else once we have had a taste what digital Big Brother has to offer.

Meantime with national literacy and grammar levels plummeting and the rise of social media contributing to the shrinking and bastardisation of our vocabulary. we remain in dire need of our libraries if we did but know it. Social mobility and progress is currently going backwards to the bad old days when few people could read and write properly. We are well and truly in the age of the unenlightenment, but hang in there and this too will pass, for ultimately we are cyclical beings who learn, forget, make mistakes and then learn again.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Invasion of the Vegans...

At 22 a friend's son announced he was going vegan. There was a general rolling of eyes as 
a. Jason had always been an enthusiastic meat lover.
b. Jason wasn't known for sticking to anything for more than about ten minutes and had already dropped out of two universities.
c. Both Jason and his dad Paul were wind-up merchants and it was their greatest hobby to devise new ways to annoy one another, so it was a natural assumption that this was just Jason's latest thing to annoy his dad.

Merciless teasing inevitably followed along with various mealtime battles, some jovial, some deadly serious resulting in full scale morality arguments and fall-outs and Jason leaving home and disowning his family for several months at a time. Eventually his family got the message and always kept a pack of Linda McCartney sausages in the freezer, just in case.

Much to everyone's amazement, having lost a whole Facebook network through his relentless vegan proselytising (and doubtless gained a new one through joining various vegan FB groups), Jason is still a strict vegan five years down the line.

He is not alone. Like a new religion, veganism is sweeping the country and our youth with a fervency seldom seen, seemingly fuelled by a succession of young and glamorous 'Deliciously Ellas' with their clean eating revolution combined with the easy availability of horrific animal abuse exposes and films online. Vegan Facebook groups frequently descend into rabid arguments over the tiniest ignorances or points of difference and have to keep urging each other to 'Be nice to newbies' or close down particularly contentious threads altogether.

My late vegan father and campaigner would have been astonished. When he was hawking veganism in the 1970s and 80s, few people gave him the time of day. It was embarrassing to be around him as a child as all he ever seemed to do was lecture everyone about what they should (and shouldn't) eat. Going to a cafe was mortifying as he lectured every waiter and waitress on the merits of the vegan diet and the dire health consequences of not converting, rather than simply telling them what he DID want to eat or drink! If anyone he knew died of cancer or heart trouble, it was 'their own fault for eating rubbish' or 'smoking' because 'I warned them!'.

Not that I wanted to eat meat. I just wanted us to be normal apart from not eating meat. Instead we were known as local freaks in the small town in which we lived, bullied at school and never invited to other childrens' birthday parties or sleepovers. I learned being messianic about things won neither converts or friends. 

My late friend Jill Phipps (killed by a lorry exporting calves at the anti-live export protest at Coventry airport in 1995) would have been similarly astonished by the vegan revolution and I wish she could have lived to see it. 

Despite all, it fills my heart with joy going to events like VegFest and seeing queues around the block in their hundreds. I am glad to be a strict veggie (if not quite a vegan anymore - I just can't do that level of raw food!). I am glad my parents never got me vaccinated with animal tested products using animal ingredients, not to mention hazardous heavy metals). I am really glad we have so many great new foods and products nowadays, though I miss some of the old like the amazing Granogen soy milk powder. I am also glad I feel balanced and sane (sadly many vegan men were a little tooo eccentric for me and it wasn't the diet!). I will happily advise people on going veggie or vegan and share tips, but I will never shove what I believe down anyone's throat. Apart from anything else, I learned from my father's example that it doesn't work as a tactic to change the world. 

My partner is veggie-friendly, careful to avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen, and has reduced the amount of meat he eats, but it is not my business to convert him and I have seen a good friend lose her husband by trying to convert him and him pretending to embrace veganism and then sneaking off to burger bars to 'cheat' on her! This to my friend was even worse than him cheating on her with another woman! But I do see how converting to please a partner can lead to hidden resentments, which then build up over time, whether it is a religion or a diet.

Therefore I just encourage my other half to eat as organically and humanely as possible. The rest has got to come from him as and if he is ready.

Ultimately life has to be about each of us trying to do our personal best to live a good life with as little harm to our fellow humans and animals as we can manage. If each of us did this, how much better the world would be, immediately. Not perfect, but then nor are we.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Greetings (and apologies) From The Grave

Recently I felt prompted to book a sitting with a recommended medium called Louise Eaton of Hove just out of curiosity - to see if anyone I once knew had a message for me - and maybe a few words of advice or celestial wisdom to share.

After a stunning message from a young relation where she produced over 20 items of accurate information about her life (which I can't share here for extended family reasons), Louise brought through a surprising message which I can share, from my late father, who as a staunch atheist would have held no truck with life after death or any such 'superstitious nonsense' when alive.

All of the following is absolutely true though, including the very specific place he fell on the stairs before his final admission to hospital and then nursing home. This was on a mini landing in between two staircases and the bathroom in my parents' home. Not a usual house layout. She also referred to his mind - he suffered from an unspecified form of dementia in his final years.

Had a messy study 
Had collection of something in frames (coins or stamps?) (both)
Nice voice 
Didn't take any nonsense from anyone. 
Not co-operative or patient 
Was in army (National Service)
Chip on his shoulder 
Angry at being raised to eat meat 
Fell on stairs or in-between stairs and bathroom prior to last illness 
Something wrong with finger  
Something wrong with mind 
Didn't like catheter
Ran away from hospital (several times) in pyjamas. Caused nurses a lot of trouble
He'd had enough in the end 
Can think clearly now 
Good luck with researching building to save it (reference to a current project of mine)

A week later I found myself on a ghost night at Preston Manor where there were two mediums who surprisingly also had a message from my father.

Very organised and tidy but got messy as years passed 
Difficult character. 
Didn't suffer fools gladly 
Everything revolved around him 
My mother put up with a lot and did a lot for him. 
Chip on his shoulder 
Sorry that he was so hard on me as a child 
Watching over me. 
Is proud of me ten times over 
He can think clearly now

So he's apologised for my harsh childhood at last, albeit from beyond the grave...

My mother has now booked an appointment to receive her apology!

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Revenge Poem to a Former Housemate

Controlling The Weather

When you swear
You pollute the air
You say you're green
Yet can't keep it clean
You turn it blue
Shame on you
You claim to use hate to punctuate
Your narrative, my will to live
I suspect it's more to hide
A void inside
Or that you're about as articulate
As an invertebrate
A poor ambassador for our race
Should they visit from Outer Space
When you swear
You pollute the air
Turn it ugly and stormy
Where it was blue sky and balmy
Don't walk, run
From those who spite the sun.

LS King 2016

You know who you are...

Monday, 18 July 2016

Coming Soon to A Town Near You...

City Heritage Tour 2043

This blue plaque marks the spot of the last shop
And this plaque marks the spot of the last Library
This is a statue of a scholar where the College once stood
And here is a hologram of the old Victorian pier
To give a bit of atmosphere
Next we have a living museum of a drinking establishment
Known as a pub
You can have a Latte shake here at the end of the tour
Over here stood the Regency theatre
Over there, the Art Deco cinema
Next to it a Gothic-inspired church, would you believe?
This blue plaque marks where the market was
Before it became a block of living pods
And you'll laugh when I tell you
But this used to be a Post Office
Lastly we have a plaque to commemorate the public toilets
The last of their kind
Now we're digitising humankind

LS King 2016

Thursday, 30 June 2016

The Real Reasons for Brexit

There has been a lot of doom and gloom about Brexit, but I for one don't love our European neighbours any the less as a result and I've yet to meet anyone who does.

I prefer to see Brexit as the biggest blow to the banking and oil dynasties who really run the world and apparently want first, a European superstate, and then a world government - concepts I personally am far more uncomfortable with than the turmoil and tough times (for a while) of leaving EU - a wasteful and inefficient behemoth if ever there was one.

A friend has just sent me a link to the Kalergi plan. If you take out the word 'genocide' and assorted paranoia, it makes interesting reading. Not that immigration per se is the problem for most people. It is mass immigration, unplanned, unconsulted, and without the infrastructure to support it without turning various communities upside down and making them question their own identity that has caused the anger. Along with tax exiles, corporations and the super rich dodging their taxes, MPs fiddling their expenses, housing shortages, NHS pressures, Gulf Wars, Philip Green asset stripping BHS, bedroom tax. the fall of the steel industry, homelessness and all the other blows the working class in particular feel they have been subjected to without anyone noticing or caring. And even though not all of these are the EU's fault - this was Britain's big opportunity to register a protest vote - for better or worse - and they took it.

Notwithstanding, why shouldn't they be angry about imported workers who are prepared to live in garden sheds or 4 to a front room for the privilege of working in a central London coffee chain outlet and at being undercut in the labour market generally? For many natives (and I count established or second generation immigrants in the term 'natives') wages have been effectively frozen for the last ten years as the cost of living continues to rise inexorably. And that is if they have been lucky enough to keep their jobs. We are constantly being told Britain is a WEALTHY country, but the reality is Britain is only a wealthy country for the top 5% of those who live in it, not for most of the rest. When open borders were first proposed by Tony Blair back in 1997, it was estimated only 13,000 people would move to UK per year. That figure turned out to be nearer 300,000 per year. Meaning 180,000 new houses need to be built per year to keep up with the immigrant population alone, let alone the home market. This places towns and cities under the most enormous pressure from development and many are in the process of being over-developed beyond all recognition. Heritage in particular has never been more at risk. Separately to this overseas buyers - generally from the far east - are snapping up just about everything built in city centres off-plan as an investment (developers prefer selling off-plan in order to get their money back quicker). Many such buyers never live in them and some won't ever visit them either. They are simply gold bars in the sky, there to accumulate ever more wealth. However despite not serving local housing need, such developments are still counted towards each council's 'housing target.'

My Hindu newsagent was over the moon at the Brexit vote and gleefully started telling me how many other countries are planning to exit too. He is not the only established immigrant I know who could be construed as 'racist' by the PC brigade. But ultimately labels like this are just an excuse not to listen to people's concerns (valid or otherwise), an excuse to shut down all constructive debate and this is what leads to the enormous anger building. David Cameron has been proven not only to be a poor gambler with this Referendum (a professional gambler would never risk what they weren't willing to lose) but wildly out of touch with huge swathes of the electorate and their experiences of modern Britain and anger at being ignored and hammered by their government on all fronts. This also explains Corbyn's popularity against all odds - many working class people feel they have a chance of being listened to by him, rightly or wrongly.

But to end on a more positive note, Britain once ruled the world. Why should it be so impossible for it to rule itself? Especially now we have the opportunity to do so minus the slavery, child labour, sexism, racism and other undesirable traits of our forbears. I just hope we can recover both our independent spirit and our ability to roll up our sleeves and get on with things. As for controlling our borders, every country should have this right without being branded 'racist', That does not mean they don't let anyone in, just that they have proper procedures in place for doing so which strikes some kind of a balance between those emigrating and those immigrating in order that resources are not overstretched and wanted criminals and t.e.r.r.o.r.i.s.t.s not allowed in. Mind you, it took my Canadian friend and former colleague TEN years to be allowed into UK, despite having proved himself charming, polite, articulate, well-dressed and hard working, not to mention an Anglophile of the first order who knows more about this country than I do, so the powers that be had no hesitation in being unreasonable to him, a citizen from a Commonwealth country, for goodness' sake!

An alternative future scenario might be that enough European countries pull out of EU to cause its total collapse in order that something better can rise up from the ashes which truly represents our interests and listens to our needs.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Italy - where beauty and heritage are treasured.

A recent trip to Italy (these are only a fraction of the images I took) brought home to me how much we have lost of Britain that was special. Yes, the Italians have ugly towns and cities too, but by and large they don't touch their heritage and build the ugly stuff on the outside of their historic centres or in new places altogether. Rather than bulldozing their narrow, often-mediaeval streets for modern convenience, they have adapted their lives to suit, whilst still installing all the mod cons anyone could possibly need. Scooters and small cars abound. The majority of parking in city centres is UNDER the beautiful buildings and not exposed in open or multi-storey concrete monoliths. Supermarkets and retail parks have not yet stolen the place of city centres. Nor has internet shopping. The Italians have smart phones but they prefer real life. Cafe/bar culture looms large and while it is not unusual to see a customer with a glass of wine in their hand at 10am, we didn't see a single drunk person all week, drinking being regarded as an accompaniment to life and often interspersed with rounds of coffee. There is no race to the bottle bottom to get drunk first or fashion for binge drinking in the Italian culture. Talking and passing the time of day and cultivating personal roots is what matters.

Children often play late at night in town squares on their bicycles. No one seems to mind and they are not overly noisy. Relaxed as their upbringing may be, they are expected to respect their neighbours and elders, and they do. With the exception of surprisingly copious amounts of graffiti in various corners and white knuckle moped rides around the narrow streets and hairpin bends, that is.

To return to heritage, whether it is simply reluctance to adopt corporate ideas of 'progress' or mafia rule that has resulted in so many well-preserved historic streets, it has paid off. The tourists LOVE it and spend lots of money - particularly Americans - who have waited decades for the dot of retirement to flock to the country in their droves. 'Doing Italy' is top of their bucket list according to the many we met, and they have never had sufficient holiday to do it while working (the US being mean with its paid leave). The locals exhibit great nostalgia for their towns and cities too and revel in their cultural identity. Another stark reminder of how civic pride and a sense of place and identity is now seldom seen in the towns and cities of Britain, albeit still a feature of smaller conurbations.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Confessions of a Former Green

As the child of vegan, tree-hugging, organic-gardening atheists long before it was fashionable, let alone de rigueur, I had little choice but to grow up believing that green was good.

Nightmares about overpopulation even drove me to the GP at 18 and again at 23 to request sterilisation. On both occasions I was turned down on the grounds that I was 'too young' and would be 'bound to change my mind later'.  Last week I heard on the radio that 20 years later young women like me are still being turned away from their GPs on the same grounds, no matter that it is apparently possible for a four-year old to receive trans-gender treatment on the NHS these days and over a decade before reaching the age of consent (is this even legal?) who is clearly not deemed 'too young' to know his/her own mind, let alone required to go through the myriad phases, moods and experiments of a standard-issue child, before finally deciding who and what they are.

But to get back to the point, scared rigid by the oft-repeated threat in children's encyclopaedias that 'the world's oil supply is predicted to run out in 20 years' - a rolling '20 years' in hindsight it would seem, I was 100% wholeheartedly in favour of being green and lived frugally and carefully for years, doing my bit to recycle every jar, every piece of string. purchasing very few new clothes, until I realised my behaviour was sailing dangerously close to my parents' joint hoarding habit which meant we hadn't had friends to visit since 1981, and taught myself the reverse joys of throwing away 'that might come in handy one day'.

As I grew older, it dawned on me that my efforts were completely eclipsed by even truer greens in the family - my grandparents - to whom all such ideology was anathema. Childhood poverty the Depression and wartime rationing had dictated their green credentials.

I penned the first green policy of several early workplaces on my CV, before such things as Green Officers and even Global Warming (now Carbon Reduction) Managers came about, let alone a whole 'industry' of green experts, whose job it seems is to write impenetrable and interminable reports to help each company satisfy various industry benchmark criteria which they have created. Even Pest controllers now market themselves as 'Environmental Services', no matter that most of their activities are the opposite of harm-free when strong poisons and chemicals are deployed.

My green policy documents included such common sense tips as 'only fill the kettle with the amount of water you need' or 'swap your power shower head for a normal shower head' or 'Wait until you have a full load before using washing machine and program on economy cycle'. I pick up other people's nowadays and scarcely understand the jargon contained within. As if in sympathy, power bills have also become unreadable so we cannot tell what we use and what it costs any more.

Bit by bit, my commitment to greenness was being chipped away, not least when an anti-car activist of my acquaintance was espied taking driving lessons!

Now I don't know if global warming is true or not. We've had a few ice ages when no one was apparently around to cause them after all. And new motorway banks always seem to sprout up within weeks of the rock blasting, thus proving some kind of natural resilience. This doesn't mean I am a climate change denier, just an independent. Especially since I have noticed all the green taxes being levied by various governments make it somewhat expedient to carry on promoting that the world is in trouble. Well it may or may not be, but the world's management does not seem to be taking it seriously enough if so. Consumerism and built-in obsolescence is being allowed to continue unabated for starters. Countries are allowed to use carbon-offsetting to carry on polluting! For all our green pretensions we have never lived in a more materialistic or more throwaway age. Even buildings which used to last at least 100 years are constantly replaced with some in central London being bulldozed and rebuilt on average every 5 years. We have never lived in an age of greater global population. The list goes on of why it's hard to take the green thing wholly seriously for all the pious proseltyzing on the subject.

But to get back to basics, of course saving things and not wasting them is a good idea and absolutely fits into the 'good ideas box'. We should value earth's resources more than we do and not take them for granted. We should think of future generations and the type of world we want them to inherit (ie one careful
owner, though it may be a bit late for that). We should strive to be reasonably
minimalist when it comes to too many possessions, unless of special sentimental value, in which case they are generally recycled from previous generations anyway. This is the type of brass tacks greenness I understand.

I am not and never could be an extreme green who advocates 'depopulation'.
And what is that anyway? I think they should explain themselves. To 'depopulate' suggests some sort of fascistic activity with sinister overtones once human beings are already born and possessed of human rights. Free contraception, properly distributed and encouraged around the world, and I'm on board!

As for me, my main personal contributions to greenness have been lifelong veganism (unless you count the air miles of my mangos and spirulina), minimal personal flights (around 2 a year), oh, and no ankle biters, despite the unhelpfulness of my GP.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

NIMBYs Unite - Your Country Needs You!

It started with this Daily Mail lead letter from George Rome Innes. A week later mine was printed below. We need more NIMBYs. And let's face it everyone's a NIMBY when it's THEIR back yard. Fact. But everyone should care about what is in their back yard And what is in their front yard too. Let's make NIMBY a badge of honour, not a term of abuse. It is just a criticism to shut down debate anyway. But the more debate the better. All too often tax payers are presented wtih a Hobson's choice of abysmal planning options to choose from, if any choice at all.

I say towns and cities are for people, not developers or corporations who seek to play Monopoly with our lives, strip us of our assets and sell us short, never mind quite happily bulldoze everything about Brighton and Hove that makes it special. Even the Royal Pavilion has suffered serious threats to its existence twice in its history. It has got to the point in Brighton where families born and bred in this city are being urged to move elsewhere as the city can no longer 'afford' to accommodate them. Meantime our council has plenty of money for silly road schemes that no one wants while they neglect upkeep of our seafront, close our libraries and lavatories and tell us we have to face a future of high rise developments on our seafront and the construction of 'Greater Brighton' cutting a swathe through our city.

Monday, 22 February 2016

The New Immortality

My partner and I attended the opening of a thought-provoking art exhibition at Brighton's Phoenix last Friday. A collaboration of contemporary artists including our friend Guyan Porter had come together to produce - The New Immortality - a collection of musings on the human desire (and the scientific race) to create immortality.

Exploring the art works, I remembered my late father. An ardent atheist, he traded the promise of eternal spiritual life for a desire 'to live to at least 100'. Sadly, circumstances conspired to fell him a few months shy of his 80th birthday. Though he is far from the only example of atheism and veganism going hand-in-hand.

I also vaguely remembered the existence (if not the name) of a 1970s society which didn't believe in death, and presumably offered a discount if you joined it and its sister 'Flat Earth Society' at the same time. Apparently each time one of its members dropped off the perch it was explained away that he/she had simply not believed strongly enough.

It seemed to me that anyone who seeks eternal life on the earthly plane through scientific advance is also likely to be an atheist and seeking to put off what they perceive as oblivion for as long as possible. Whereas anyone with faith knows that it is only the body which dies. The spirit or soul cannot die for it already is immortal.

One piece of work expressed the alarm that the scientific art of immortality would be cornered by a wealthy elite who would promptly exert their life and death powers over the rest of the world, deciding who could live and die. To take this line of thought a step further; does really anyone want an immortal Simon Cowell, Rupert Murdoch and Piers Morgan or, god forbid, Donald Trump?

On a human level, would the art of immortality also deliver accompanying eternal youth or would we still age to look 110, 120, 130 accordingly? We are all only too aware of what a shallow looksist, ageist world we inhabit. How would we cope with an ageing body that just went on and on ageing until we could scarcely remember that we had ever been young? Conversely, keeling over at the age of 150 whilst still looking and feeling 25 would also be weird.

Then we have the rising social acceptability of 'assisted suicide' when life gets too much, sitting incredibly uncomfortably with all the anti-suicide campaigns and charities.

It's a somewhat mixed message. Life is precious, but it is also increasingly throwaway, at both ends of life's spectrum. No longer a 'gift' but something that can be destroyed if and when expedient or inconvenient, no guilt, no blame, no sin. So why on earth would we seek to extend life indefinitely? Would that really be fun or desirable? (being as we are continually being told that the world is overpopulated anyway). What constitutes progress in matters of life and death?

Interestingly religion played little part in the exhibition, save for a mock and rather good 'hymn' In Praise of Renewal sang by Brighton Festival Chorus choir and a neon installation proclaiming 'God is in the mind'.  Reincarnation didn't get a look in, which would be the obvious obviation to the need for immortality.

Strangely, I have more than once come across the following sentence in books I have read lately: 'We are spiritual beings having a human experience.' What an intriguing thought, and one which potentially has the ability to turn a lot of earthly assumptions on their head if one day we all find it contains even a modicum of truth as we are greeted at the pearly gates.

I like to think that the Big G (if he exists) takes a somewhat Oscar Wilde approach to humankind  'There is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.'

The Big G's nemesis Professor Richard Dawkins is apparently hopping mad that Christians have been praying for him after his recent stroke. Maybe he will be the first guinea pig for an immortal solution to his mortality.

Racks and racks of cryogenically frozen millionaire bodies and heads already await reanimation around the world, But since they have already died, then according to atheist belief, surely they no longer exist? Moreover, even if the science bit was made to work, how (on earth) would the re-animators capture the lost personalities, let alone ensure the right personalities re-inhabited the correct bodies? Though perhaps there is no need to worry. They have already handed their money over. Who's going to check that anyone bothers to try re-animating them at all? Particularly after a few years have passed and they become yesterday's men/news!

I urge anyone likely to be in Brighton between now and 20th March 2016 to go and see this exhibition. Then go home and download Pandora and the Flying Dutchman to reconsider immortality.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Helping the Homeless - questions in need of answers

In the 1990s American comedienne Rita Rudner brought the house down when she revealed that every time a wino asked her; 'Do you have any spare change?' she replied 'I don't know. I haven't lived my life yet!'

Now it seems an increasingly hollow joke. On this side of the pond the dignified gentleman tramp of my childhood sporting the tired cords with string tied around his boot tops who never bothered anyone and lived in a tent on a grassy island where two motorways converged has been replaced by ever growing numbers of homeless of all ages, nationalities and hues in all manner of doorways and alleys, some making an attempt to earn their living with a painting, a sand dog or the playing of a musical instrument, many not.

No sooner do you give some change to a homeless person in Brighton than you encounter another one just a few yards along the street. Donor fatigue sets in fast. More and more locals skip their morning or evening constitutional and take the bus, stricken by moral paralysis as to how to react. I myself have been through many personal policies - only donate to those who attempt to earn a living, only donate to those with a dog, keep a pocket of 20p pieces and give one to each. Don't subsidise anyone's obvious drink or drug habit (if they want to kill themselves I don't want to be an accessory). Give them a sandwich rather than money. You name it, I've given it a go, but somehow have never arrived at a satisfactory personal policy.

A proliferation of Big Issue sellers have appeared who get shirty if you try to buy their 'last' Big Issue but still want the money and are clearly using the magazine not as intended, to help them get back on their feet, but as a begging tool.

Everyone has noticed how much worse the problem has become in the last few years, though there are a few mitigating circumstances in Brighton. A number of homeless were apparently given one-way tickets here to clear them out of the way for the 2012 London Olympics and have never gone back, or have come of their own accord believing (or having been told) that homeless services are better here. Others have (according to my GP who also treats the homeless) taken the view 'If I'm going to be homeless, I may as well be homeless by the sea' evidently not considering that a seaside area may be subject to more regular storms and high winds than inland, particularly out of season.

Earlier this month three homeless people died in the same week. A makeshift shrine to them soon appeared at the foot of the clock tower. The Big Issue seller outside Waitrose died. Gareth. I had assumed he was an old man with his greying hair and beard. Shockingly I read a tribute on the adjacent wall which (if accurate) showed him to be a mere 6 months older than me!
It is rumoured that 50 homeless individuals have died in the city in the last three years, though it is hard to pin down the facts, let alone how many deaths were a direct result of 'homelessness' (ie exposure) or other factors such as drug overdose, suicide, accident or misadventure.

One homeless advocate I met reckoned '1000 homeless people sleep on Brighton's streets each night.' The Brighton Argus reported '79' only days later. There is no agreement on how many hostel spaces are available or not, though the Salvation Army said in a recent meeting I was present at that arrangements have been made to accommodate additional homeless in three local churches temporarily if the temperature should fall below zero for three nights consecutively. Sometimes the figures move around for a reason - ie higher figures mean homeless charities are more likely to get projects funded, but the whole shifting sand nature of the homeless problem makes it hard to get a proper handle on it. Emotive ads on London trains showing young women who apparently risk sleeping with strangers just to have a bed for the night are said to be an exaggeration. Very young women are seldom seen on the capital's streets late at night because they are the easiest to find and get off the streets.

St Mungo's have just taken over Brighton's council contract to help rough sleepers and are said to visit them all every night to reach out to them. Personally I have yet to see any teams checking on the homeless late at night, though the regular gentleman outside the co-op seems to have a duvet which regularly changes colour.

Several years ago it was widely advocated by a national homelessness charity that the homeless should be offered a 'hand up, not a hand out' and we should all give our money to the charities who help the homeless, not the homeless themselves as that just kept them on the streets and discouraged them from seeking help. The charity has gone quiet since then but two local PSCO's echoed this sentiment the other week. 'It's tragic, but the last thing you want to do is give them money or blankets - you're just keeping them on the street. You're not doing them any favours. We see them day in day out. We know.'

Conversely, even if there were enough affordable homes to go round for those with day jobs (73% of the under 35s are now priced out of the housing market), let alone the homeless, many homeless are high dependency individuals with serious addiction and mental health issues who need a high level of support and treatment. Put them in their own flat and they often can't cope with the responsibility as has been proven in many such initiatives around the country. A supported hostel or halfway house (preferably one which welcomes pets) is the real first base need for most before working towards long-term independent living.

The other danger is that if (by some miracle) the homeless are given free housing in one area, it encourages an influx to that area, or for those one or two steps away from the streets, (in a short-term AST let room in an HMO for example) to intentionally render themselves homeless to join them if there is little or no prospect of securing long-term housing any other way. In Brighton rents are spiralling out of control to the extent that working class families were recently advised by the council to seek homes outside of Brighton. This is not just about shortage of homes though, but the fact that so many homes which are built in the area are immediately snapped up as second homes, holiday homes or investment buys and in an open market, there is no legal means for our council to ring-fence new developments for locals in housing need, nor obligation to ensure they are 'affordable' in the true sense of the word.

But to get back to the homeless, there are certain groups whom the military should be forced to demonstrate a Duty of Care towards - ie all the ex-servicemen who have been mentally of physically damaged as a result of doing their duty for their country. Moreover the military have many former army facilities which they could easily utilise to provide health services, training and housing for ex servicemen.

I myself lived in an HMO (shared house) until the age of 36 and was once photographed in the Daily Mail letters column holding a tongue-in-cheek 'Middle Class Homeless, Please Help' sign to demonstrate my point regarding the hopelessness of many of my generation in getting onto the housing ladder. Poor taste perhaps, but after 12 years of no movement on my local council housing list, I felt quite entitled at the time. Little did I know how much worse things would become in a few short years, albeit happily in my own case I managed to secure a Park Home (static caravan) where I lived very contentedly until moving in with my now-partner.

However housing remains a topic close to my heart and I really want to understand every aspect of it, but preferably without emotion getting in the way of how to help on a practical and meaningful level. It is all very well to be a bleeding heart liberal or do-gooder and these people do do good - up to a point. But is this the most effective way to help rather than trying to understand the full picture and all the strands that contribute and all the potential knock-on effects? On the contrary, I think we need to have our eyes wide open in dealing with this crisis. For example our country is now considering admitting 3000 apparently homeless and rootless youngsters from eastern Europe - but are they? Many are said to be young adults masquerading as children to get in or being used as 'trojan horses' by their families so that once they are allowed to stay in Britain their entire families will be able obtain leave to join them.

On a final note I find the psychology of homelessness fascinating. Someone sits in the street, often next to the trash, and decides they are worth nothing. That is the energy vibe they then project to the world. That is the mirror vibe they attract. Agreement with their own opinion of themselves as worthless and therefore public avoidance. Either that or pity. Probably most people have been tempted at their lowest ebb to give up on the daily struggle and sink into the gutter, but it is certainly a bad choice/strategy for anyone who wants to change their luck. The further you sink in life, the further up you have to reach to claw your way back out of the abyss - not easy if there is no self-worth or self-respect to propel an individual back in an upwards direction. I have come to the conclusion that recovery from any calamity in life starts with the decision: 'I will not let ____ ruin my life.'  Which may not solve the nation's housing crisis, but can solve many others if donkey-strength stubbornness ensues.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

A Titan of Talent - the remarkable David Bowie

Few rock stars have managed to shock the world by dying at 69. From cancer. But somehow David Bowie had us convinced that he was both ageless and immortal, as well as an undoubted musical genius.

The genie of reinvention, he provided the soundtrack to the youth of at least two generations of we fans. Then, just as he had started to reinvent himself as a recluse, along came music downloading sites, enabling today's youth to pick and choose their own childhood soundtracks from a plethora of eras and he rode the crest of yet another wave. Now in death he is set to have one last hit album - his parting gift to the world.

His death has affected me in unexpected ways. An endless stream of his hits have been playing in my head for the last week. I have found myself reading every tribute, playing his music videos, watching YouTube interviews.

I find Bowie an extraordinary example of how some individuals are just BORN to do something. What an accident of birth that he happened to be born at the right time (ie directly following post-war austerity and in time to capture the optimism, space race and 60s obsession with Sci-Fi) in the right place (London), with the right looks (pretty boy but could almost be an androgynous alien), the right talent (multi) and the hunger and single-mindedness to succeed! Not only that but he seemingly knew his destiny from an early age, forming bands and experimenting with music-making from his early teens onwards. His media-savvyness was also in evidence from an early age. A musician friend of similar vintage to David Bowie used to marvel at how in the 1960s, a young 'David Jones' seemed to pop up on every earnest TV documentary interviewing Britain's youth on London street corners about how they were in danger of taking Britain to hell in a handcart with their long hair and liberal views, so young David was cannily planting himself in the public consciousness long before he became a rock legend!  He even went so far as to form his own 'Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men Society' for tongue-in-cheek media coverage.

Even David's crooked vulpine teeth and mis-matched eyes served him perfectly in the 'alien' years and well into the 80s, though it's not entirely surprising that he got his teeth straightened when he married a supermodel.

Too many co-incidences to be a co-incidence indeed. The midwife who delivered him apparently remarked; 'This child has been here before', somewhat freaking out his mother.

One of the stand-out moments of my childhood was watching David performing Heroes on Live Aid in 1985 and it's nice to read in interviews that performing live in my living room was one of his life's highlights too!

The surprising thing about his TV interviews was how quietly spoken and polite he was. He wasn't prolific in his interview-giving but when he gave them he was chatty, warm and witty and very definitely still a sarf Londoner, even after living as an alien in New York for some years. The interviewer for their part, always looked as if they were somewhat nervously interviewing the messiah with The Thin White Duke in front of them and there was a palpable sense of the whole studio hanging onto his every word.

While they may yet crawl out of the woodwork, the number of ex-lovers queuing up to dish the dirt has been surprisingly absent, possibly because Bowie had a habit of politely asking them for sex and literally shaking them by the hand and saying 'Thank you' afterwards. Perhaps therefore, they felt less ill-used than the offcasts of other rock stars.

Now I read Bowie was also a business genius having weaned himself off industrial quantities of drugs in the 70s, partly as a result of realising he was being royally ripped off by his then-management, though responsibility for a young son following his divorce doubtless also played a part.

Kicking drugs in itself was a huge achievement. Bowie admitted he was 'lucky be alive after all the crazy sh*t' I did in the 70s' and 'Heroes' was partly a celebration of that.

So we are lucky he didn't accidentally join the '27' club and lived to contribute so much more to rock, fashion and everything else. We are also lucky, that despite a few close shaves with insanity, he managed to tread the tightrope and avoid plunging into the schizophrenic madness that claimed his tragic elder stepbrother Terry.

Apart from his enormous musical legacy Bowie gave we youth permission to go through many Ch-ch-changes before deciding who we really were. He made it normal to try on various 'yous' and find out which suits the best, just as it's normal to experiment with various fashions, and even sexuality and gender. Though for all that and his statement 'I think I've probably done everything it's possible to do' - I suspect he may have eschewed the tattoo!

My favourite Bowie track...? So hard to choose, but I have particular fondness for the lesser played ones such as 'Loving the Alien', 'The Wedding', 'Jump' and 'Lady Grinning Soul'.

PS: And just when you thought he couldn't get any cooler, apparently he was a cat fan!

Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Laws of Control

Interesting to see the new law against psychological domestic abuse come in this week. I am intrigued to see how it will be implemented, let alone proven and prosecuted.

I've had cause to think about this subject quite a bit lately (albeit happily not on my own account) and it strikes me that there are some startling similarities between the following:

  • Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)
  • Joining a cult
  • Finding oneself trapped in an abusive relationship.

First; target an individual who may either be physically dependent (ie a child) or emotionally vulnerable in some way.
Second; follow up with the seduction process - showing them your best side, appealing to what you know they want and convincing them you are the only party who loves/understands them/can provide this and has their best interests at heart, or if you are a cult, offer them what they might be searching for - ie a sense of belonging or purpose. Enlightenment even.
Third; install a world view (ie it's US against the world!) and convince them that your view is the only valid view.
Fourth; play some mind games for good measure where love and approval are withheld at certain points to incite desperation and dependency and then granted in abundance when the subject pleases by doing your bidding or ceding your righteousness and is duly rewarded. Undermine their confidence and make them doubt themselves. Insert some random madness, just to keep them on their toes, like punishing them for something they haven't done or over which they had no control. Be nice one minute and nasty the next. This can also have the effect of causing them to question their own sanity, playing right into your hands.
Fifth; separate to dominate. Discourage your subjects from seeing their family or certain friends who might (even unwittingly) undermine your programming or control of them. Make a big fuss if they do and find reasons why they shouldn't and why they are bad for them. Seize on minor or imagined slights to escalate into major feuds or convince them that your vengeance for a misdeed, misunderstanding or oversight is also theirs, eventually culminating in no contact at all and thus the severance of support and potential rescue networks.
Sixth; reinforce all of the above behaviours at regular intervals. If your victim shows signs of slipping from your control or even disobedience or rebellion, employ emotional blackmail. Shame your victim, point out their inadequacies and how they couldn't manage without you/owe you everything or threaten disownment or some other dire consequence. How many times have we heard of a parent who has a health 'crisis' every time a dutiful adult daughter tries to leave home for example? This may be on the milder side of the domestic abuse scale (and possibly not covered by the new law) but it is still emotional blackmail and coercion.

Luckily I have only once found myself in a controlling relationship. When very young I fell for a seemingly charming and attentive older man who really seemed to love me but, in retrospect, capitalised on my difficult relationship with my parents and need for a father figure in order to persuade me not to see said parents for three years, encouraged me to give up a job I disliked which seemed wonderful at first until I realised I was then financially dependent on him, and frowned on my going out or having any kind of life or friends apart from him, frequently starting an argument on the rare occasions I asserted my free will in the matter.  Conversely he was not a sociable person (once he'd stopped making the efforts of our courtship), quite moody and disliked holidays, so we were never going to have a social life (or much fun) as a couple. He also pecked away at my confidence, alternately telling me he loved me, and in the next breath; 'but your trouble is...'. Luckily I realised everything amiss between us couldn't entirely be my fault before he got down to dictating my clothing choices or worse, and called time on the relationship, ill-equipped as I then felt to deal with adult life alone. Finally he had a world view - in his case of the 'spiritual' kind - to convince me of and justify his treatment of me 'for my own good'. Anyone who didn't go along with his world view was against him in his mind, for he was right and everyone else was living in error.

This experience left me with a horror of control down to control pants and an ability to spot controlling behaviour a mile off, however it is dressed. Overly charming or effusive people immediately invite suspicion as to what they are really like underneath, particularly as such individuals can often turn on a sixpence if you say the wrong thing, and I would far rather associate with people who pay fewer compliments but actually mean them.

In my view controlling behaviour often goes hand-in-hand with sociopathy (think psychopath without the axe!). However there are plenty who do it for power kicks or out of a sense of inadequacy themselves (I suspect my ex was a severe depressive, though he never admitted it). Perhaps perpetrators have a pathological fear of being abandoned or alone owing to some bad thing which has happened in their past so they take desperate measures to try and prevent this happening by attempting to own another human being, having never learned how to cultivate and maintain relationships legitimately. Having children can also be seen by some as the perfect way to 'own' and control other human beings or regard them as 'mini-me' extensions of themselves, even though this agenda is almost always doomed to failure as offspring grow up and either evolve or rebel into individuals in their own right.

Finally a fascinating recent case of domestic abuse which fits into none of the above three categories, yet which employed all of the steps. And just to prove Erin Pizzey's point that women can be every bit as psychologically manipulative as men. In fact they are often credited with far greater ingenuity in the artform than most men, who tend to follow more predictable patterns.

Psychological domestic abuse does not always lead to physical abuse. However physical abuse seldom occurs without a pattern of psychological abuse preceding it. And sometimes the physical abuse will be excused as an act of love - ie a single parent kills their children to 'save' them from custody being awarded to the other parent or from going into care. Notwithstanding infanticide, or any murder resulting from psychological domestic abuse such as a boyfriend killing a girlfriend, actually represents the ultimate act of control as in - 'if I can't have you, no one will', if not also a desire to punish a third party.