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Gissa column…

February 29, 2012 1 comment

… I can do that.

Columnists, eh? What’s all that about, then? For every witty, insightful, angry or thought provoking piece there are at least 10 others that make you want to cram your fists into your eyes and rip your brain out through the sockets. Perhaps I exaggerate. A bit.

As we know, that paragon of affable buffoonery, Boris Johnson, gets paid “chicken feed” for his, a mere £5k a time. Is this a gravy train anyone can jump on? As a subscriber to Time Out I read Michael Hodges’ ‘Slice of life’ every week and so have decided to write something in his style…

Last week the woman in our house I occasionally talk to (I would say “‘er indoors” but Arthur Daley already claimed that one) accused me of being a lazy, drunken oaf who does nothing for the well being and stimulation of the small child that lives in our house I occasionally refer to in these columns. I like to think I put up a good defence against this slight, however, I had been drinking a cheap but sturdy red all evening and so only managed to utter a few words before falling off the chair and landing face first in the dog’s food bowl. I have never been able to put an eloquent case while licking day old Pedigree Chum from around my lips…

The next day, ignoring my hangover and the piece of Winalot jammed in my left ear, I grabbed the small child that lives in our house and made off for the park, stopping only at the front door as the woman in our house I occasionally talk to thrust the dog’s lead into my hand. The dog was attached to the other end.

We made it to the local park with only seven falls (mostly mine and the dog’s) and the small child that lives in our house sprinted off to the play area. I took a seat on a bench that afforded a view of the recreational delights. I let the dog off the lead and it immediately sought refuge behind my legs as urban stereotypes with grinning shark dogs passed by. The dog has never been the same since it was mugged for its ball by a burly Yorkshire Terrier with tattoos.

An older urban stereotype sat beside me and started to talk about his life, pointing and jabbering with foam flecked lips. His dog, wearing a Muscle vest and with multiple piercings, pee’d on my shoes and glared menacingly at mine which had now taken to gnawing at the back of my knees with anxiety. Suddenly I heard a scream from the small child that lives in our house. I looked over and saw that it was hanging from the top of the slide while a younger urban stereotype, or maybe Banksy, started to stencil a design on the back of its onesie. At the same time the older urban stereotype crapped himself and kicked his dog, setting off a chain of events that culminated in my dog running in circles and wrapping its lead around my testicles. I decided that we should leave and seek a safer location.

Sitting in the pub half an hour later with a flat pint and the remnants of several packets of crisps strewn around me, I looked on in contentment as the small child that lives in our house enjoyed being nestled in the ample cleavage of the barmaid. The dog made itself busy between my legs hoovering up bits of crisp and the occasional torn beer mat. Then a gang of shaven headed urban stereotypes burst into the pub acting all stereotypical and stuff. One of the shaven headed urban stereotypes said something offensive to the barmaid concerning her ample cleavage and it kicked off. The small child that lives in our house bit the shaven headed urban stereotype on his nose, the other shaven headed urban stereotypes panicked, their shark dogs started fighting some table legs and each other, and my dog ended up on top of my head piteously whining a Coldplay song. I quickly calculated if I’d got enough out of the day’s experiences in order to fill this column and we took our leave.

On the way home I wondered at the lack of art galleries in the part of London where I live. Art galleries mean openings and openings mean free wine. I like free wine. Then I fell over and the dog vomited in my mouth. The small child that lives in our house looked on and slowly shook its head.

There. That’s nailed it. I doubt that Hodges gets £5k for his efforts so I won’t be asking for that. As one of many public sector workers who earn less than the average wage and face real term pay cuts for the next few years, 50 quid should do it. I promise I won’t think of it as chicken feed.

Playground bullies

February 22, 2012 Leave a comment

You know you’re winning the argument when your opponent can only respond with insults. The campaigners against the forced academy-fication of Downhills school in Haringey have put forward strong arguments against what the government is trying to do and what was Michael Gove’s response? He called them “trots”.

And then we have Iain Duncan-Smith’s response to those railing against the all-but-in-name workfare programme (something favoured by Blairites let’s not forget) – the best IDS can come up with while the scheme flounders and major companies pull out is to cry “job snobs!”.

Finally there’s Cameron’s all important summit regarding the health bill where only those who agree with him (a distinct minority) are important enough to be invited – and when he visits hospitals staff are disciplined and journos locked up.

If you were playing football against this government and scored a goal they’d pick up the ball and stalk off claiming that it’s their ball and they’re not playing anymore cos it’s not fair. And you know what? It’s not even their ball.

Keep up the pressure, folks.

February 18, 2012 3 comments

Think Left

BIAS AND THE BBC

The BBC should be an important voice, not least because we, the people own it- and its users, ( so that’s us again) – fund it. We would hope to be able to trust it to provide quality educational material and to keep us informed about what is happening in the world, and honest and accurate reporting.

Today, rather than report on Ed Miliband’s letter to the House of Lords about the Health Bill, the BBC bombards us with articles about the Falklands, Syria and disgruntled Christians.

So what is happening at the BBC? We are kept well informed about the goings-on in the Falkland Islands. Is that a co-incidence in that as I remember it was the flag-waving and cheering of the departing ships, which led to a recovery for Margaret Thatcher in 1982 when the public-service cuts were hitting hard?

The BBC inform…

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I’m Spasticus!

February 9, 2012 1 comment

Way back in the mists of time 1981 was declared the “International Year of Disabled Persons”. A worthy attempt at what would now be called inclusion, you might think, but not all thought that way. Foremost among the dissenters was the late Ian Dury, himself left disabled by childhood polio. Dury saw the “honour” as being patronising and serving only to further pigeon hole an already isolated group. Putting his words where his mouth was, he wrote ‘Spasticus Autisticus’, a loud declaration of his disabled self which was promptly banned by the BBC.

Watch as the calendar pages of temporality flutter us forward to a time three decades on where in our modern society we no longer have to consider well meaning but flawed attempts at inclusion. Do we?

Earlier this week the Guardian published an article claiming that rhetoric used in the debate around government cuts is fuelling abuse of disabled people. To follow this up the paper asked for the stories of people regarding the issue, the results being published today. The article gives horrific examples of abuse and makes for disturbing reading in these allegedly enlightened times.

I then thought back to a recent time when a close friend of mine was attacked. She’s suffered with severe physical disability since birth and further medical complications have lead to her being wheelchair bound outside her flat. Due to her disability she’s in essence defenceless but this did not stop a healthy mid-30s man punching her full on the side of her head in a Tesco car park. As he did this his partner laughed and continued to throw abuse. They then drove off and left my friend on the floor.

My anger at this was initially wholly aimed at the fact that someone had attacked my friend, not that they had attacked her because she was disabled, or female even. But then consider whether this lowlife would have done the same to me, a 6′ 2″ brick outhouse, or even a fit and healthy woman? Is it a coincidence that the first time my friend has been physically attacked comes at a time when the government and media narrative is full of misguided rhetoric about disabled “cheats and scroungers”?

A major concern has previously been that the sufferers of “invisible” disabilities such as Crohns, ME and mental health problems face abuse and questioning as they “look OK”. I suffer with clinical depression and it’s even been said to me, although my disability would probably be conceded if people saw me at my worse. But as one of my primary coping mechanisms when things are bad is to hole myself up in my flat and cut everyone off, that’s not likely to happen.

Now, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that people are suspicious, and in some cases (violently) contemptuous, even when there are clear physical signs that a person suffers a disability. It’s hardly a stretch to draw the conclusion that the constant barrage of government statements concerning benefit fraud or benefits being wrongly awarded has played a major part in this, no matter how much coalition ministers and MPs may deny it. Add to this the fact that the majority of the press, and virtually all of the broadcast media see fit only to parrot the government narrative, and the case for the prosecution becomes overwhelming. It would perhaps help if we had an opposition willing to take on the misinformation and outright lies, but instead we have Eds Miliband and Ball, Liam Byrne and others colluding in the narrative in a desperate attempt to stay onside with the blessed “squeezed middle”.

In this race to insist that the problems we face have been caused by “public overspending” and are not the result of three decades of neoliberal deregulation in finance, anyone claiming any kind of benefit is being demonised and the blame for our ills is placed squarely at their feet. While the coalition speaks of scroungers and cheats, Ed Miliband talks about the deserving and undeserving poor. Attacks are made on council tenants being “unworthy” of their tenancies and contributing to the housing problem, while nothing is said of the devastation Right to Buy has caused to social housing, or of the severe lack of regulation in the private housing sector in the name of the markets.

Disabled people claiming benefits are by virtue of their claims already part of a marginalised and increasingly maligned group. Their disability then places them within a further marginalised sub group – marginalisation to the power of 2. In a society where divide and rule is the main government tactic, and where it is aided and abetted by the mass media and even its opponents, it is sadly no surprise that the “targets” of this misleading rhetoric are being attacked. Divide and rule always seeks to dehumanise in some way those deemed marginal by those ruling – combine that with Neanderthal attitudes which already dehumanise a group in society (and are affirmed by what they see in the news) and you end up with my friend being punched in a car park.

My friend is now “OK”. She does claim DLA but uses that to run a car which has enabled her to work for more than twenty years. She is my friend, not my disabled friend; a person, not a disabled person. But as long as this government’s rhetoric is allowed to go unchallenged, there are many who will see her as the enemy.

I’ll leave the last words to Mr Dury.

Libraries Gave Us Power

February 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Eight weeks ago today I started my new job at the library. After 15 years in housing, spending the last two years at my old job being subject to bullying, corruption and lies, and eight months on the dole following redundancy, I was slightly anxious at what to expect. Two months later and it’s all going well: I like the work, like the people I work with, and like feeling happy at getting up in the morning. Sort of.

Don’t believe that working in a library is an easy ride – I’m based in the borough’s ‘flagship’ library which is a large two floored building with the day’s work being split hour by hour on a timesheet. This means shifting between floors, working in the back office, searching for books requested from all over London, and of course, shelving. All this and the sheer scale of the building means that we cover a fair distance during the average day, let alone the 11 hour shifts we do three times each fortnight. It’s tiring but in a good way, and the variety helps the day go quickly. I really can’t remember being bored at all, even when shelving!

The main aspect of the job is dealing with the public, helping them to get what they want or need. In this sense it’s not vastly different from working in housing, albeit at a different level of want/need, and no-one has threatened to rip my throat out. It has confirmed what I already knew really, that working within a public service is a kind of vocation for me – I enjoy being part of an organisation that seeks to help people, that is an essential part of local society. I had an idea of what a modern library service provides but working within it has shown me just how far it has moved on from ‘merely’ stamping books.

Last week a bloke came in looking rather desperate as he needed to email a CV to a prospective employer. I gave him a form and within minutes he was joined and had free access to our computers – I was able to tell him about the library near him where there is a dedicated service for the unemployed with extra time allowed on the computers and advice given on CVs, applications etc. – he was also pleased at being able to borrow books and left with a smile on his face having despatched his CV.

The library also provides services for adult learners, older people who want to get on the intwerwebs, and study spaces/resources for students. Another important aspect is encouraging children to read and weekly sessions are held. When I’m on the top floor and can hear a chorus of young voices singing it sounds oddly nostalgic, like a scene from a 50s/60s British B & W film.

On a personal level my new job has done wonders for me in terms of my mental (and physical!) health! I feel more settled than I have in over three years and the people close to me have noticed the difference. On a more general level my belief in public services and what they provide to society has been strengthened, as has my absolute resistance to those seeking to destroy them in the name of a ‘deficit’ caused not by overspending, but a corrupt and greedy ruling elite who shit on us and then tell us we have to find the money to clean the mess up.

Libraries are currently being threatened all over the country to the extent that there are now over 20,000 ‘volunteers’ helping to run them. This is hailed by those on the right as a wonderful example of Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, but in fact is a reflection on people being forced to run a service rather than lose it. And there are demographic concerns. As Tony Hoare of Chalfont St Giles library said in Private Eye: “Trying to follow the same model in a busy town library in a deprived area would, I think, not succeed”. This is not to say that there wouldn’t be the will, but there is a world of difference in the services needed and resources available in affluent Bucks with its time rich residents, and more urban areas where the majority of people are more in need of library services than being able to provide them. This, of course, isn’t taken into account by the government with its one-size-fits-all ‘remedies’ heavily weighted towards its own constituency.

I’ll end with this, again cribbed from Private Eye:

6 Myths About Why We Don’t Need Libraries Any More (and why we do)

People don’t go to libraries any more
New government figures show that 40% of adults regularly visit libraries, and 80% of children use libraries regularly.

Everyone is online
Millions of people haven’t got home internet including 3m children and many older people. (I can personally vouch for the popularity of our computer services – one of our libraries in a more deprived area has even opened an annexe in a shop to provide for demand)

Everything is online
Using basic reference sources and journals means buying multiple subscriptions. Vast amounts of fiction, historic documents, out-of-print material and even government information has not been digitised and probably never will be (not forgetting that e-resources available may not be compatible with proprietory hardware such as the Kindle).

Books are cheap
Supermarket paperbacks and charity shops offer a limited range of cheap fiction, which is still costly to many pensioners, people on benefits or children reading faster than pocket money will cover. Up to date hardbacks or textbooks can be prohibitively expensive for many.

A library service is not about buildings
It isn’t only about buildings. But there’s high demand for study space (last summer at my library there wasn’t a clear patch of floor), one to one advice on finding information and using the internet, meeting places and a place to go that doesn’t cost money.

Fewer libraries mean better services
Travelling to a big, intimidating building miles away is difficult, if not impossible, for those who need libraries most – young families, the old, disabled, poor and schoolchildren.

And remember, you really don’t want to upset some librarians…

Categories: big society, cuts, libraries