Sunday, 31 May 2015

Can you be tired of London without being tired of life?

I am coming to the end of the first, almost full week, I’ve spent in Sussex since last September. And the idea of going back to London is not filling me with excitement. You see, London and I have a bit of a love/hate relationship – and after some time spent away, I’m struggling with the ‘love’ bit.

I’ll take you back: I grew up in a tiny village in Sussex, you don’t really get more remote. I spent my younger years bargaining with my parents to take me places, to friends’ houses (all of whom lived at least half an hour away), to train stations and, as a last resort, bus stops. When I could drive, I spent all my time going back and forth too, it was just on my own clock. So the idea of London, with its extensive transport network, bustle and plethora of opportunities and events seemed like the dream – and, when I was deciding what university to go to, I only really wanted to end up in London.

But now I’m here, and I have been for 18 months, and it’s not quite everything I dreamed of. To be fair, the public transport is very frequent and there are always things going on, but that’s only the beginning. I envisioned myself spending days in museums and galleries, walking through the parks, along the Southbank, discovering the markets London has to offer, and being surrounded by so much excellent theatre. It hasn’t quite worked out like that, except maybe the theatre. I took my first walk along the Southbank since living in London last Saturday evening, and it was pleasant. But I went there with a purpose, to see a play, it’s never just somewhere I would, as I’d anticipated, ‘end up’. I’m yet to visit the V&A, the Horniman Museum, Victoria Park, Portobello Road Market, Tate Britain, and pretty much the whole of East and West London. And everywhere else iconic, I’d probably visited before I lived in London, on day trips.

You could, very convincingly, argue that it’s my own fault: that there are all of these things on my doorstep, and I am actively choosing not to do them…which is partly true. But I also think it’s part of ‘Londoner lifestyle’. It’s the same as anywhere: you never do the things that are right on your doorstep, because they’re always there, and you don’t quite get round to it. It’s the same wherever you live. I kind of expected Central London to be on my doorstep, but it isn’t really, and nor is for most Londoners. Central London always involves a bus or train journey (or a bike ride that I’m still too scared to do); it involves battling with tourists and day trippers; and paying over the odds for a sandwich/coffee/beer. It just requires a level of commitment and endurance that I don’t associate with ‘a day out at home’. All of this is fine if you are a day tripper, coming up, as I was, from sleepy Sussex, because you’re prepared for it: you’ve got a destination in mind, you’ve planned your journey, you’re going with a purpose – not just out, because it’s Sunday, and you feel like you should do something with your weekend. I feel like I’m already part of the rat race, even as a student, always in a rush in London. I feel like I need to get in and get out as quickly as I can…because that’s just what you do.

And that’s what I miss about home, about the countryside. Being at home means I can hop in the car, or wander into town, just because it’s nice weather and I want to. It’s effortless, it’s relaxing, it’s not battling with the busyness. It means that wherever I go, I’ll almost certainly bump into someone I know, see some friendly faces, rather than avoid eye contact with awkward strangers on the tube. It means space. It means time. It means not being exhausted by every day. It means calm. It means quiet.

So today I’ll go back to London, and revel in all the opportunities and events it presents. Sometimes I’ll love it and sometimes I’ll hate it. But I go knowing it’s not forever. Knowing that I will go to London and take what it offers me. But that, at some point, I’ll take it all away to the countryside, only returning to London for the day trips and theatre and culture (and probably work). Because the countryside is where I belong, it's where I'm happiest. 


Friday, 29 May 2015

New Statesman present 'An Evening with Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman'

Some poor advertising by the New Statesman led to an unexpected evening. We arrived at the Hackney Empire anticipating the conventional 'An Evening with Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman', characterised by the couple's fiction, fantasy, poetry and music. Instead, we were greeted by the New Statesman's take on 'An Evening with...' - slightly more directed, much more varied, but not quite the same. Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman are the guest editors of the current issue of the New Statesman, taking on the theme of 'saying the unsayable', and producing an edition focused on issues surrounding censorship, transgression and the freedom of speech. They collaborated with a range of eminent and 'edgy' authors, journalists, comedians and performers on this issue, to address these controversies in more creative and unpredictable ways. This 'Evening with Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman' welcomed some of these contributors: Mitch Benn, Roz Kaveney, Andrew O'Neill and Hayley Campbell. 

The evening begun with Neil, and a poem about ideas. He set the tone for the event: ideas are alive, constantly changing, moving but never dying; my ideas and opinions are my own and it is your right to challenge them, disagree with them and even find them objectionable; and it is my right to do the same to yours. He followed this up by an anecdote about his experiences at the PEN awards gala (an organisation I'd recommend you check out if you're not already familiar with), re-emphasising the principles of this movement - that freedom of speech and expression is everyone's right, it's not about whether you agree or disagree. 

The stage was soon occupied by guest after guest, Neil and Amanda only offering the occasional interlude. We first heard from Mitch Benn, a satirical songwriter most famous for his contributions to Radio 4's 'The Now Show'. He performed an insecurely entertaining song written about the Charlie Hebdo shootings - an event which became a recurring theme throughout the evening as a prime example of those 'saying the unsayable', or drawing the undrawable. Roz Kaveney recited one of her poems about the conflicts, personal and institutional, in her life as a trans woman, shining the light on a too-rarely talked about issue. My favourite guest of the evening was comedian, Andrew O'Neill, who did a short stand-up piece about offense...and his bum. I was offended, and it was hilarious. And lastly, we saw Hayley Campbell, Buzzfeed Journalist, talk about Twitter: the tweets we never publish, and what their exposure would have the potential to do. 

But Neil and Amanda were the real stars of the show. They not only took ownership over it, but made the most valuable contributions to it. I'd not heard a huge amount of Amanda's music before, but was blown away by the clever, sophisticated songwriting and fierce, compelling performing. Her song 'The Killing Type' was fantastic and, even in her extremely pregnant state, she owns it and performs it like a true professional - actually, better than a professional, like a true believer. She spoke about some challenging issues - 'the unsayable' - namely abortion (and various associated 'baby problems') and our response to the tragedy of the Germanwings plane crash. The absolute honesty and credibility of the way both Amanda and Neil speak is what really separated the evening from a corporate-ish, New Statesman promotion and a new, creative way of addressing the topics we very much like to avoid talking about. 

I felt like Amanda and Neil successfully took forward what is a fairly cliché idea about freedom of speech, and made it something different. It didn't fall into the trap of being essentially a political discussion, nor did it become boring or repetitive. I didn't leave the evening feeling like I'd learnt anything new, but I'd discovered new ways of talking about popular issues. Amanda and Neil not only forced us to think about saying the unsayable, but they showed us how to do it in a meaningful, artistic and light-hearted way. Arguably the evening was a little haphazard, and probably could have done with some better planning, continuity and direction, but I just don't really think that's their style. So whilst the evening I experienced was not the one I anticipated (and I still remain that I would have liked to have been informed of this before I purchased my tickets...) it was still a provocative, charming and inventive one. Next time, I just hope that there's more fantasy, more songs and more challenge. 

Some things to take away with you:
PEN International -
Amanda Palmer Patreon -
Amanda Palmer 'The Art of Asking' -
Neil Gaiman collecting 'Cool Stuff & Things' -


Sunday, 10 May 2015

Youth Inspiration UK

A lot has happened this week to make young people angry. The General Election represents both a time of power and powerlessness; unfortunately, it is the youth which are often left feeling powerless. 

I was once told, 'If you're under 40 and voting Tory, you're oblivious. If you're over 50 and not voting Tory, you're stupid'. I'm not sure I'll ever vote Tory, but aged 21, I certainly will not. And nor are a lot of other young people. For weeks my Facebook page, my Twitter feed, my Instagram stream has been filled with Labour propaganda...only interrupted by a reminder that, if we want to be really ethical about this, we should also consider voting Green. This can only suggest that me, my friendship group, and the young people I surround myself with, are predominantly voting Labour. And perhaps because Labour is the only party that's really made much effort to engage with the youth. 

We are fed up with education cuts, the tuition fees, the housing crisis, the ever-decreasing taxing of the wealthy, the ever-increasing inequality, the neglect of women, the ill (physically and mentally), the poor and the disabled that has erupted under the coalition government and we want to see some change. We are the #milifandom, drawn in by the promise of 'a future for all our young people, so they can get world-class apprenticeships and access to affordable, higher education'. And when we've finished education, being part of 'a Britain where everyone plays by the same rules, including those at the very top of our society'. The progressive sense of equality and demands for accountability that are engrained in our young people believe in the fundamental truth that 'Britain will only succeed when its working people succeed'. 

Not only were Labour leading the campaign for the youth conceptually, but materially. Where was David Cameron during the election debates? In fact, where was he for the majority of his campaign? I saw Ed everywhere, and engaging with everyone. I even saw Farage everywhere, and I wasn't even looking. But I appreciated the presence. I understood the engagement. And I think this is what we need more of.  Government policy arguably affects young people the most. We are victims of poor education standards, tuition fees, the housing crisis, the shaky job market – to name just a few. How can we have a democratic system that does not engage with an important 11% of the electorate? The youth are the passionate, the progressive, and the demanding. They are the backbone of the change the political parties are promising: the environmentalists, the educated, the (aspiring) house-buyers – and the future tax base.  We are not just the voters of today, but tomorrow – the parties that engage now benefit later.

I am extremely passionate about politics and youth engagement and, it is for this reason, that I would like to be considered for the Youth Inspiration UK group. National and international governance irrefutably lacks the youth perspective it so desperately needs - and this is more necessary than ever now that any chance the youth had has been pushed out by middle-aged, middle-class voters. I believe youth engagement should be about giving a voice to the masses: to react to existing ideas and create new ones. With 80% of 11-25 year olds using social networking sites, social media represents an important space for thoughts to be heard and shared. Twitter should become more prevalent; it became a powerful platform during #GE2015, but must become a space for youth discussion not just individual opinions. Networks of social media are needed; drawing together blogs, tweets, images and engagement events/resources. It’s about widening the scope and providing a safe and inviting space for discussion, advice and debate. We cannot appreciate and value the power of social media enough. 

My involvement within youth engagement has already been demonstrated in many ways. Most notably, I led a Youth Council in East Sussex to improve resources for young people in rural areas. We applied to the Youth Opportunities fund for a grant to build a basketball court in our village, which we were successful in, and provided a fun, social space for young people which also promoted physical activity. The popularity of this area increased participation within the youth council, and we were instrumental in deciding upon changes to play area facilities in the area. Furthermore, we were able to offer young people opportunities to attend courses in team-building and first aid. The youth council gave young people a space to voice their opinions, and get a taste of what opportunities are out there and how we can relate (and become relatable) to local and national governments. 

So this is it. I woke up Friday morning feeling powerless (and not just because I had a horrid, impending exam). I woke up Saturday morning feeling disappointed, and angry, and praying for proportional representation. But I woke up this morning feeling powerful. Like I could be in a position to help make a change. I won't deface a war monument today, but I'll probably keep writing...because we deserve to have our voices heard irrespective of the political party in charge. It's not about giving in, or giving up, but demanding a youth perspective on all global issues. 

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