Closing Thoughts

The presents have been put away, the mince pies are almost gone and as we quickly approach the last day of the year, it seemed only fitting (or perhaps a bit of a cliché?!) to pull together some thoughts about the tumultuous year that has been 2016. To be fair, on an incredibly selfish and personal level, it’s not been half bad. It’s not been particularly eventful either but if I cast my mind over the last 12 months I mostly have positive memories and they definitely override the few bad ones (walking out on Mothers Day wasn’t my finest moment but we can talk about that another time). On a global scale though, it’s been a bit of a stinker hasn’t it?! Brexit (regardless of which side you were on, I think we can all agree it was a bit of a drama), Donald Trump, the escalating war in Syria, a plethora of well loved celebrities leaving us, an increase in terror attacks across Europe….I could go on. It’d be hard to argue that this year was an average year when you think of all this.

But (and I’m so glad there is a but!), I came across an article the other day which listed 99 positive things that occurred this year with little or no fanfare in the mainstream media. The list included such wonderful news such as the facts that this year more than 20 countries pledged more than $5.3 billion for ocean conservation, that for the first time ever, the amount of money it would take to end poverty dropped below the amount of money spent on foreign aid, that world hunger reached its lowest point in 25 years, that a new survey showed the ozone hole has shrunk by more than 3.9 million square km since 2006 and the news that humpback whales, green sea turtles and white-tailed deer were taken off endangered species list. And that’s only to mention a handful!

So I guess that whilst I completely understand the thoughts of those wishing that 2016 would hurry up and end, I also think that if you look for it, there are a lot of good things happening that you can get behind and celebrate. It’s easy to fixate on the negative news that dominates the headlines and our newsfeeds but I reckon that next year, we should all try and make a little more effort to search out the things that will lift us up and start sharing all the amazing things that mankind is achieving instead. If I can say this without sounding cheesy (and I probably can’t!) let’s build each other up and get inspired for all the good that we can do in the world around us, both on a local and wider scale. Let’s make 2017 a year that is remembered in history, not as a year full of political turmoil and deaths (sorry 2016!) but as a year where we all worked together to help each other, protect the environment and generally were bloody brilliant.

An alternative reality…

As I woke up this morning, I suffered a horrible case of dejavu as I asked Dan to pass my phone so I could see the outcome of the US election. An ominous feeling, almost a physical manifestation of dread, sat in the pit of my stomach, like a twisted gleeful troll. The unthinkable (to most of us) had happened, the absolute joke that is Donald Trump has been elected to be the next President of the United States of America. For the third time in two years, politics has taken a surprising and wholly unwanted turn. 

Of course, it’s not actually unwanted by everyone or even the majority. A flawed democratic system it might be but it is still a democracy, the votes were cast that led to this result. If anything though, I find this even more depressing. That a significant proportion of the American electorate chose to back a sexist, racist, homophobic, inexperienced thug of a man over a woman who, whilst admittedly has many flaws of her own, is at least experienced with some semblance of moderation and equality. Misogyny is alive and well it seems.
Comparisons to the rise of Nazi Germany are rife, social media is (as it was post Brexit and after our general election last year) saturated with bewilderment, satirical memes, general despair and fear at what might happen next. I won’t add to the fray with my similar thoughts. I’m taking it as a given that many of us are outraged by these results and feeling even more stirred to action than we already were. But, will we follow through? Will our rage and desire for change grow and incite us to action? Or will it simply dissipate, returning us back to our lives as they were before in a matter of weeks? 

I will ashamedly put my hand up to the latter. Since last May I have done nothing more than sign petitions, go to the odd demo and complain loudly about the state of affairs. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what else I can do. I alternate between burying my head in the sand and focusing on trivial, personal matters and being your typical disillusioned middle class hippy who simply complains a lot. My ability to actually do anything more than that is somewhat hampered by the three small beings I seem to have almost permanently in tow but I’m sure there is something I could do. I just don’t know what.

So for now I’m sticking to my theory that you’ve got to start small and that doing something (anything!) is better than nothing. I am committing to building up the culture of love and inclusivity that already exists in our society at a grass roots level. We need to carry out acts of kindness and wherever possible, promote equality and acceptance. We need to teach the next generation to be better, to make better choices. We need to talk to our children about politics, about being brave and standing up to hatred. We can turn this result into something positive and I think it’s imperative that we do. 

E+E Column: The Big Picture

I’m lucky enough to have been given a fairly free reign in this column but sometimes choosing what to write about can be tricky, I don’t want to be too serious or evangelical but at the same time, I feel there should be a point to what I’ve written. I’m not a fan of aimless writing and although I’m aware that an anecdote about unintentionally teaching my toddler to swear is quite amusing with your cup of tea on a Monday morning, I feel obliged to try and provide some more substance. Over the last few weeks, the news has been consumed with the increasingly bitter EU Referendum debate, interspersed with tales of tragedy and human loss, the mass shooting in Florida, the horrifying death of a toddler at Disney World, the unbelievably heartbreaking death of MP Jo Cox.

In the face of such sadness, anger and loss, I am reminded just how important it is to think about the bigger picture in our day to day lives. It is far too easy to get consumed in our own spheres, to focus on small, trivial issues that really will have no lasting impact on ourselves or anyone else. We can spend hours agonising over the most insignificant of things and forget about the things that matter more. We need to step back and remember what’s important. Being kind to each other, fostering good relationships in our wider community, looking after the environment that we live in, standing up for the downtrodden and mistreated. It can feel overwhelming at first though, how do we start to tackle so many big problems? How can one person make any difference at all?

But they key is to start small and build up. And if every person spent just a few minutes each week focusing their attention outwards, soon all the small things would build up to something bigger. Today I was at an African drumming workshop organised by the local home education community and felt really blessed by the network of friends and acquaintances there. Whilst taking a break from drumming, I momentarily lost sight of Eli pottering on the grass in front of the hall. There’s a fairly busy road through the trees, he can move at a surprisingly fast pace for someone so small and I started to panic. Several other parents instantly started to help me look and within a few seconds (though it felt like much longer) a friend called that she’d found him just inside the edge of the woods. It’s a small example of people helping in a situation that doesn’t affect them but it stuck with me. If there were more moments like this, perhaps there would be less tales on the news that make your blood run cold. Perhaps instead, we’d be seeing stories of people joining together to do incredible things, of people affecting change, of a more peaceful world.

Thoughts On Unity

After months of bitter campaigning from both sides, I woke up this morning, smugly confident that the vote on whether we should leave or stay in the European Union would have gone the way I voted. I rolled over, asked Dan to pass my phone to check and loaded up BBC News. Shit. I was actually rendered momentarily speechless. Although I knew there were a lot of folk wanting to leave, I didn’t think they’d actually get a majority (though 1% is such a measly majority, it doesn’t quite seem to count in my head). It seems like a lot of the Remain campaigners had felt the same, I think we became complacent in our confidence that people would see through the lies and propaganda and make the best decision for our country. (Or at least, the decision that we think is the best for the country, can’t ignore the fact that 17 million people thought different although, after today, I have seen many saying they regret their choice).

Fast forward a couple of hours, Cameron has resigned and Farage (git) is on breakfast TV backtracking already on campaign promises, namely, that the NHS would get £350 million a week if we left the EU. A mistake he claimed, can’t be helped I’m sure. I won’t bother list the rest of the initial fallout, no doubt you’ve read about it over and over again on the news and your facebook feed. I’ve read more stories than I’d like to about people who will be losing their jobs, about families who future here is looking uncertain. A friend summed it up perfectly this morning when she said she kept getting hit by waves of sadness. I think that’s my overwhelming feeling surrounding the whole affair, sadness. Sadness that this issue has so bitterly divided the country, sadness that people chose to believe lies from the far right rather than do their own research and find out the truth, sadness that so many people don’t know what to expect regarding their residency or businesses in the coming months and years, sadness that far right groups around Europe are congratulating us and calling for the same, sadness (and straight up fear) that we might end up with Boris Johnson as our PM in October, sadness that this decision seemed to be fuelled by misplaced fear and ignorance.

All day I’ve been pondering on whether to add my two cents to the fray. Words seem meaningless at this point and besides, I’d just be preaching to the converted. The fact that everyone I speak to is so angry and dismayed goes to show they’re all on the same page as me already. (Although I do feel blessed to be surrounded by such a group of sensible, compassionate people). But I did want to say something. Because as several wise folk have said, the challenge now is to pick ourselves up and make the best of what we’re left with.  Much as I’d love to go and hide somewhere pretending none of this has happened, that would achieve nothing. Now, more than ever, we need to be united. United against fascists, against hate and fear and discrimination. We need to be united in our thoughts and actions, in challenging those that do not have our best interests in mind.

We will not be downtrodden or ignored. We will not accept this culture of anger and prejudice that has swept over England. We will not let the fat cats in Whitehall control our lives. We will continue to show empathy, love and understanding to all. We will promote multiculturalism, inclusivity and tolerance. We will fight, for what is right, and just, and fair. We will not let them take our country and break it.

E+E Column: Should I stay or should I go?

I tend to apply the same rule to column writing as I do to friendships, avoid talking about religion and politics. Although actually, when you think about it – that’s a rubbish rule! True friendships should be able to withstand some healthy debate and it’s certainly more interesting to have deeper conversations with people than the usual platitudes and pleasantries. Anyway, I digress. So, no politics. Except on this occasion I’m kind of breaking it as I want to talk about the upcoming referendum on the EU. But, I will preface it by stating that I am completely on the fence at the moment.

I tend to be a fairly impulsive person, that’s how we ended up shedding all our wordly posessions and moving onto a boat less than 3 months after the thought first entered our minds. Dan briefly mentioned the possibility of moving abroad earlier this week and by today I found myself about to register our ‘expression of interest’ on New Zealand’s immigration site. I tend to follow my first gut reaction when faced with a decision and actually, as things go, I haven’t found myself regretting those choices very often. When it comes to political leanings I’ve been the same. I’ve always chosen a more socialist, environmental option when it given the choice and in my personal blog, have been positively evangelical about the Green Party.

However, this time I am stumped. I have no gut instinct. I am confused by the sheer volume of propaganda being shoved down our throats and am struggling to wade through it to find out the truth. On one side, the bremain team are claiming the average family will be worse off by the tune of £1000-3000 a year if we leave and on the other, the brexit followers are claiming it would save us billions in tax and would give us more accountabiliity. I’ve just discovered fullfact.org which claims to be an impartial source of information on topics regarding the EU and our membership so am currently scouring it to try and make things clearer in my head so I can make an informed decision.

One thing is clear to me though, it is massively important that we do all utilise our democratic right and go and vote on June 23rd. We all love to moan about the state of affairs (me included!) and regardless of which way the country votes, it seems inevitable that big changes will be coming. So I would urge you not to be apathetic but to go and take the few minutes it does to vote in a few weeks time. Make a decision, put a mark to it and then whatever the outcome, at least you’ll know that you had your say, you did what you could to have your say in the future of our membership in the EU.

25.05.16

Update

I wrote this for the Express and Echo almost a month ago and since then have concluded that I am most definitely voting to remain in the EU. I’m going to take this opportunity to say please don’t get sucked into the sensationalist claims of the brexit camp and their smoke screens. I won’t ask you to vote to stay (athough let’s face it, I basically am) but if you are voting to leave, please please make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Democracy?

I, along with thousands of others around the country, have been growing increasingly frustrated over the last few weeks and months. Unhappy with how our government are acting and angry at being so completely and utterly ignored. In fact, angry isn’t a strong enough word. I am furious. Since coming to office the Conservative government under David Cameron has first targeted the weak and vulnerable in our society; cutting benefits and tightening rules to an extent where our papers are full of stories of severely disabled and dying people left with little or no money to survive on or the indignity of being asked to attend a fit for work interview when it is quite clear that they can’t. They moved on to attacking our public servants, we’ve seen protests and strikes from our firefighters, our doctors, our teachers. Their concerns have been brushed to one side, they’ve been accused of lying and melodramatics. They are sneakily trying to sell off our national parks, to push through fracking despite almost universal opposition. Our Prime Minister has gone through two major scandals (‘pig gate’ and more recently, the Panama papers) in less than a year. Enough is enough. Twice in the last month, several thousand people have flocked to London to demand a change, to see Cameron leave, to call for another general election. We’d have gone ourselves if we could have afforded the fuel to get there. Several online petitions have received hundreds of thousands signatures demanding action.

And what has happened in the weeks since? Not much. I received a reply from The Petitions Committee effectively brushing off the petition, saying it’s claims weren’t true and that they cannot call a general election under rules that were passed under the coalition government (how convenient). Then tonight I read an article on The Canary about censorship and some legislation that Cameron is thought to be trying to push through. This new legislation apparently will ‘include measures to gag individuals, close down premises and ban organisations’ who fall under the Domestic Extremist category. This sounds legit until you realise that they’ve somewhat changed descriptions so a ‘large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose’ whose conduct is ‘motivated by a political or ideological viewpoint’ could qualify. You can’t get more vague than that, bit of a convenient catch-all category that could be applied as and when it suits the government, from people protesting the privatisation of our national parks to civil servants striking. Scary stuff.

To be honest, it feels like democracy is Britain is a complete and utter farce.How can it be that so many people are so desperately unhappy with the state of affairs, that people are protesting and striking in unprecedented numbers, that petitions are gaining near half a million signatures, that opposition parties memberships are sky rocketing and still, nothing is changing. What more can we do to get them to listen and either make changes so they are actually representing what the people of Britain want or call a general election? I genuinely don’t know the answer. And along with many, I’m starting to get more and more concerned about what is going to happen over the next few years. If things continue the way they’re going, things are going to be a hell of a lot worse for the majority of us before the next general election. As a Christian, I believe God has a plan for us but I also believe that Jesus told us to look after those in need, to stand up for those without a voice, to love our neighbours. So I want to do just that.

I’m aware that my readership is small but if you’re reading this and share my concerns, please please comment. If you have any ideas, any helpful words, I would absolutely love to read them. Let’s get a discourse going, let’s start brainstorming. We can’t stop fighting this. We need to stand up and unite in our opposition to the selfish, cruel government that is currently driving us into the ground. We need to make change happen.

E+E Column: Not Safe, Not Fair

The ongoing dispute between the junior doctors in England and the government (or at least Mr Hunt) was front page news for much of the last month but the media, in it’s increasingly short attention span, has stopped giving it so much coverage recently. One could be forgiven for thinking that it has either been resolved or that the junior doctors (that is, all doctors below consultant level) have resigned themselves to unfair contracts, forced upon them despite their protestations. Neither is true. The face of the mainstream media has merely been turned to other matters. The battle is still ongoing and I wanted to take the opportunity to add my voice to the fray, to publicly show my solidarity for the hard working, dedicated doctors of our NHS. I’d also like to address some of the misconceptions being propagated by some of our less than classy national papers.

First and foremost, this is not about money. Some coverage has suggested that the proposed contracts offer a pay increase and therefore, by rejecting them, doctors are just greedy and after more money. This is not true. Due to the proposed restructuring of what are standard hours and what is on call or out of hours, doctors will end up being significantly worse off each year. I think anyone in their right mind would object to a new contract that saw their pay being cut, especially in such a mentally and physically demanding profession.

Secondly, a seven day NHS already exists despite the insistent cries from Mr Hunt that it doesn’t. If one of my kids broke a bone on a Sunday and I took the to A+E, guess what? They’d be cared for! When I had to transfer to hospital after the birth of Elijah on a Saturday morning, guess what? An ambulance turned up! And when I got to the hospital…it was pretty busy with staff and patients, despite the fact that it was a weekend. There is a massive difference between access to routine and emergency care and I for one, think that we should cut doctors a bit of slack. Yes, it is vital to have emergency care available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But routine care? It is not unreasonable to suggest that we limit it to Monday-Friday (although from what I gather some aspects have already leaked outside of those boundaries).

Our doctors are already exhausted and sacrificing precious time with family and friends. What more does the government want from them? It doesn’t seem physically possible for them to work the hours that the new contracts are proposing without a serious strain on their physical and mental health. At the end of the day they are just people. People who have chosen a most noble and challenging profession but people who still deserve a personal life outside of work, that deserve the opportunity to rest and whose patients deserve to be treated by doctors who aren’t so overtired they could make fatal mistakes. So, on the 26th and 27th April I urge you to join those protesting outside the RD+ E if possible to show your support and join the thousands of voices telling the government that what they are asking of our junior doctors is Not Safe, Not Fair.

29.03.16