I thought I Understood Mental Health, Until January.

The whole thing is so ironic, I can’t help but laugh about it now. The professed key to me gaining back control of my life sent me down a vicious spiral, which if not reversed, could have ended it. To unravel that riddle for you: in early December I was put on new anti-convulsant medication for my epilepsy, the high dosage of which sent me into a deep depression and left me suicidal. I feel rather ridiculous and over-dramatic even typing that – my nickname is Perky for goodness sake…

I am not here to relay to you my every thought and feeling during this time – it is the weekend after all – but this dramatic shift in my behaviour and mentality taught me some valuable lessons. I, like so many of us, have had my fair share of second hand experience with depression and suicide. I have seen loved ones suffer and/or lose their battle. I have endured my own periods of sadness as a form of inevitable collateral damage. But I, like so many relatives and friends, am not a depressive. At least, not usually. If there has been any silver lining to my most recent debacle, it’s that I now get it. I thought I did before, but I didn’t.

Firstly, it is only with hindsight that I can write this. At the time I was too tired to take to the keyboard; that’s presuming I had anything to say. I was also far too immersed in a thick fog of nothingness to have anything to say. So consumed by my paranoid delusions and sense of nothing that I could’t comprehend for a long while that there was anything worthy of discussion. Nothing was wrong, other than with me, of course. Everything was wrong with me.

Many of you who know me will also probably be reading this thinking “really? I never noticed anything was up!” (or maybe you did, but I’m guessing you didn’t jump to this extreme). But it was. I also learnt this year then that it’s really quite easy to pretend nothing’s wrong. To show up just enough to make people think that you’re just “really busy at the moment”, when really you’re avoiding 8/10 plans only to find yourself in bed for the fourth day in a row, feeling lonely. As I’ve seen with people close to me who are on that downward spiral, this method works until the day it doesn’t. People then tend to wonder, I used to wonder, where the burn-out came from. What changed? Why, suddenly, can’t they get their sh*t together and stick to a plan? Selfish, lazy, self-indulgent. That’s what comes to mind all too easily. Turns out, they’d had a whole load of sh*t to get together every time they got out of bed for quite a bit longer than any of us realised. And if we’re honest, we didn’t really want to be made aware of the situation while they could still pretend everything was OK.

Upon reflection therefore, the most important insight I gained was rather oxymoronic: that the behaviour displayed during a time of mental illness is 100% out of the sufferer’s control (no, they can’t just ‘snap out of it’), but also: it’s not permanent, and in some cases it’s even avoidable. Things can be done to prevent affliction, and help those who do suffer conquer their battle. The problem is, the grand narrative still dictates that it is the sufferer’s fault, and little seems to be being done to help manage this quite probably manageable problem (easier said than done, I’m aware).

I’m no doctor but I’m also not oblivious to the fact that mental illness, just like obesity for example, is clearly on the rise. And just like obesity, mental-health problems may be (partly at least) a symptom of modern life. I am not talking about a complacency society in our times of relatively high standards of living. I am talking about: the added pressures that come with social media, and the 24/7 connection provided by technology; our obsession with material goods as an indicator of success; the chemicals that we pump into our bodies with the food we eat, and/or indeed the medication we take. The list goes on.

If you look at the status-quo, however, it appears we have no clue what we’re doing. While we’re definitely talking about our ‘feelings’ more, and that cannot be underestimated, we’re certainly not making any discernible effort to modernise the infrastructure of our society to match its changes. For instance, food stores (supermarkets, take-aways, restaurants) have pledged no commitment to make the customer aware of the hormones and chemicals that many of their products contain; nor are they under any pressure to do so. Furthermore, advertising companies know exactly how to make us want more, and are relentless in their campaign to move the goal-posts of success and fulfilment. And Instead of preserving the carefree innocence of childhood – an increasingly precious phase of life – primary schools spend their time preparing for exams, starting with KS1 tests, which children sit aged 7. To put that into perspective, in Germany children have only just started school at 7. These are examples of the many facets of modern life that are largely out of the individual’s control, yet have a colossal impact on our well-being. Logically then, altering sectors such as: food production, advertising, pharmaceuticals and education to act consciously, in a way that is supportive of our mental well-being, is a necessary tool of prevention. Sadly it appears that money-making and league tables still matter more.

Of course not all mental illness is preventable, and for those who suffer it is rarely due to their lifestyle choices. However, astonishingly, while mental health problems account for around 23% of disease in the UK, it only takes up 11% of the NHS budget.*  If we all agree that the situation is much like being hit by a car or having cancer, which the NHS deals with so effectively and admirably, surely the treatment of those who fall mentally ill should be covered proportionately by the budget.

Am I wrong? If not, then where is the evidence of any such alterations? So much for the commitment by politicians to concentrate on solving Britain’s mental health crisis, the policy which shaped many of the campaigns in the 2015 general election.

My experience seems so alien now, so distant and long ago that I am able to discuss it openly, even joke about it. But I’m excruciatingly aware that for many others those thoughts and feelings are a daily battle – and that’s no laughing matter. While I don’t begin to suggest that everyone should chemically induce their own mental instability, I do make a plea for a shift in attitude. A more active approach. One that is enlightened to the genuine suffering of those with a mental illness and one that provokes change. Just like obesity and other pervading social problems, such change must be top-down if it’s to prove effective. Hence as well as educating and looking after ourselves, we must put adequate pressure on the government and big companies to invoke the necessary changes to their methods of employment.

This is a problem far bigger and more systemic than someone’s inability to ‘pull themselves together’, and it sadly cannot be solved simply by ‘talking about it’. I’ll put my hands up and say that, until this year, I myself didn’t fully understand that.

*Figures as of 2015; sourced: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/projects/verdict/has-government-put-mental-health-equal-footing-physical-health

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I thought I Understood Mental Health, Until January.

Time’s Up, #metoo and the Culinary World : A Personal Response

2017 saw the exposure of sexual harassment and the abuse of power that has been a systematic characteristic of Hollywood. Many hope now that 2018 will see the movement disseminate across all sectors and walks of life. Indeed, such exposure has already been heralded as the next great step in the feminist cause. But is it possible that such optimisms and exclamations are all a bit of wishful thinking?

All the hype got me thinking about my days as a chef. After quitting university, and training at Le Cordon Bleu in London I felt sure that a career in the restaurant business was what I was set for. My time at college however could not prepare me for being the only female chef in a working kitchen. The mutual, jovial, innuendo filled banter between us while training was a totally different beast to the one-sided flirtations and inappropriate attitude towards women in the restaurant environment that I experienced.

After my trial shift, whilst being offered the job, I was made to feel as though I should be thankful for being the successful applicant: something about hiring a girl being the risky option. Upon arrival my nickname was instantly “Princess”, and my intentions to be a restaurant chef promptly mocked due to my age (20) and gender. I will never forget the breakfast chef’s first words to me. When I was introduced as the new commis he jibed that my attempts were sweet and that at least while I was there I would learn how to make top quality dinner party food for entertaining my rich City husband’s friends…charming. While I’m still waiting for my rich husband, the misogynistic breakfast chef was right about one thing: I didn’t last 3 months.

I did not experience any particularly violent acts of physical sexual harassment, and it would be wrong to say that I was treated like a piece of meat from the moment I accepted the job to the moment I left for good. In fact, in many ways I was treated well. They took my mentoring seriously, and gave me responsibilities that matched those of my male colleagues. I often felt included, and when the pressure was on we worked utterly as a united team. It was during the hours of prep before the pressure hit, or at the end of shift when the last cover had been sent out that the gender divide became apparent. I was the easy target for a cheap joke, or the obvious vehicle to inflate their egos. Of course the “Princess” could not carry an industrial sized mixer across the kitchen; how frail she must be. Of course she could not whip 2L of cream by hand in less than five minutes. Oh how they sneered as they announced their assumed superiority. My sous chef, when I couldn’t find something he’d asked for, used to mock pity me, take me by the hand and march me like a naughty child to show me where I should have looked. How mighty and masculine he looked rescuing me from my own feminine incompetence.

And of course it wasn’t just chauvinistic power play they were concerned with. Flirtations were put upon me without any notions of their efforts being desired or requited. They would relinquish their boredom, take out their frustrations or express their double-shift-plus-hangover-induced exhaustion by whipping me with their oven cloth or asking me endlessly about my sex life. I could not touch a piece of meat with out being asked if that was how my boyfriend liked it. I could not be friendly with a female stage without being labelled a lesbian. My every movement was sexualised and ridiculed. In my attempts to avert attention, laughing along and plainly ignoring them were equally redundant responses. And if I didn’t play ball they regaled comparisons between the previous female chef and me – who ended up sleeping with some of them – as some sort of yardstick by which to prove my insufficiency. Their game was relentless.

That is why Jo Brand’s comment on Have I Got News For You was so poignant, and gained such an uproarious applause from the audience. It is not just the presence of rape or explicit acts of sexism that need to be combatted. The #metoo and Time’s Up movements are also about the continuous, subtle, implicit degradation of women in the workplace that make us so exhausted, feel so exploited and that lead to many of us just giving up.

New waves within the food industry show signs of rebuking the bigoted culture I describe. The Supper Club phenomenon for example seems wonderfully anti-chef-y. I did a trial shift at a health café prep kitchen not long after I quit the restaurant job and the bosses there said that it was set up for the sole purpose of escaping restaurant life. And not surprisingly, most (but not all) of the employees were women, the hours were 9am-5pm, and everyone seemed happy. Having said this, whilst such a revolution in food production suggests that the food industry may have actually been ahead of the game in terms of fighting structural misogyny and harassment, the mainstream section of the industry remains as backward as ever. What about those who wish to remain in fine dining?

There are reams of further examples which I could include here of the infantilisation and sexualisation that I endured during my time as a restaurant chef, but my point is this: many women in restaurant kitchens are not in a position to change their working environments like the women of Hollywood are. It’s absolutely right that in many industries, even in parts of the food industry, women have reached a place where they are able to, and should take control of their future. However I would also argue that large swathes of the hospitality industry, especially high-pressure restaurant kitchens, are not ready for #metoo. Time is very much not Up for some these men. Individual women do not have a voice loud enough to change the heavily macho culture, often led by middle aged men who do not sleep enough and who like their narcotics a bit too much.

If change is to happen it needs to come from the customer. We need to concern ourselves with the make-up of kitchen staff, and the treatment of them. From there we need to make ethical choices about where we eat and whom we support. Just as anyone with moral integrity wouldn’t watch a Weinstein movie in 2018, no one should be eating in a restaurant whose kitchen is living in 1818. For the #metoo and Time’s Up movements to really make a difference, and not just in Hollywood, every member of society – worker and consumer – is going to need to take responsibility for the treatment of others. It cannot be left up to the fragile, often silenced individuals who already have to deal with constant and continual attrition of their self-worth while trying to make ends meet. If 2017 taught us anything, it’s that a united voice can be a force to reckoned with. Let’s make 2018 the year we use that force to help ordinary people.

 

Time’s Up, #metoo and the Culinary World : A Personal Response

Why We All Deserve Two Months Of Advent Festivities

Last night I went to my first carol concert of the year. And I can tell you now, I left feeling the most genuinely joyful that I have in 2016 so far.

It’s safe to say that when my fellow caroller and I arrived at Saint Stevens we were both pretty, ok thoroughly, depressed. Deadlines, cold to the bone from student-flat heating (or lack of…), tired, bored of  the semester, missing family, missing home, missing dogs, missing summer, missing warmth, missing freedom. The list that fed our wallowing self-pity was never ending. Yet when we left the church, we couldn’t stop laughing, we couldn’t care less about our imminent deadlines, and we no longer needed central heating to keep ourselves warm.

On my walk home, such a turn-around of emotion got me thinking: why are we so much more stressed this year than last? We aren’t in an honours’ year, and we’re no longer living in the prison of student halls. Then I remembered: 2016 has been a true car-crash. As if I could forget… Our petty stresses were a reflection of the more general events of attrition that has led to the global population’s general sense-of-humour failure.

Every day we are reminded of the utter insanity that this year has consisted of. Let’s remind ourselves of a few examples, just for fun:

Today BBC breaking informed me that Thomas Mair is indeed guilty of -what I proudly previously thought of as being absurdly un-British- the killing Jo Cox MP. This cruel act occurred just a week before the unprecedentedly revolutionary *cough* outrageous *cough* Brexit vote. On top of these, for the whole year we’ve had running commentary of a head-to-head, evil-meets-evil, lose-lose situation, presidential election campaign. Such narcissistic displays of power play has sapped our limited positivity despite it not even being our own elections. We are now totally, and utterly, exhausted as a body-politic.

Syria meanwhile has been shaking things up more than ever, both through their ongoing, terrible suffering on the front lines, and through the refugee crisis. Not only are we exhausted but we are now knotted in an attempted mixture of genuine empathetic grief and charity.

Then we have the multitude of European terror attacks. France has been the focus of several attacks: Paris and Nice to name the biggest. This brings all the terror so much closer to home; we are now not only exhausted and trying desperately to be empathetic, but (often conflictingly so) we are also truly fearful of our own safety.

There have been fatal earthquakes in places such as Italy, and another massive hurricane in Haiti. And on top of all these political and natural disasters we have lost so many of our national treasures, our idols. We’ve genuinely grieved the loss of many of those figures who usually we rely on to comfort and entertain us when everything goes a bit tits-up, gets a bit serious and stressful (see above 3 paragraphs…). No more inspiration from Prince, no more dry wit from Wogan, the last of the Ronnies gone. We can’t even get angry at Alan Rickman for almost cheating on Emma Thompson anymore, without forgiving him and begging him to come back to us to say “Potter” one more time.

And as it’s the era of a social media orientated, globalised world our reactions are forever scrutinised. We care too much, but if we don’t express our care whole heartedly in public we are ignorant to our surroundings. We are cruel if we don’t “pray for Paris”, but when we do we are accused to not caring about civilians in Libya or Israel or Palestine. We are so tense and stressed and “concerned” that every move we make at this point seems to make everything worse.

Normally I am a true advocate for not starting the Christmas fun until December 1st. It just makes sense right? Starting in October like that one crazy aunt, or in August like the money-grabbing retailers, is simply madness that must be protested against. Why? In case we get *bored* of Christmas before actual Christmas, or as positive action against consumerism. But this year, I say screw convention, I have had enough of protesting. There is no way that singing jingle bells whilst dancing around a Christmas market in my ridiculous chunky knit is going to get boring this year.

We’ve been through enough. My pre-carol woes were a microcosm for social anxieties concerning the global economy, global diplomacy and quite frankly, at this rate, the fate of the human race. Yet forgetting all of my problems, the petty and the slightly more serious, did more good for me than being “concerned”, or “involved” or “trying to make a difference”. I may have spent most of today in bed, watching iPlayer and eating, but I’m happy and I’m calm and I’m ready to face my to-do list whilst retaining some sanity. Turning on radio 4 this morning I laughed at the sound of Trump’s voice, rather than shiver with disgust and fear. Wouldn’t 2016 look so much better if we could laugh at the absurdity of it all and celebrate the fact that it’s going to belong to the history books oh so soon? Wouldn’t we all make better, more rational decisions if May and Corbyn wore santa outfits, and their cabinets dressed as elves for a while? Ok, maybe that’s one fantasy to many, but the idea is still valid, no?

Christmas is about uniting. It’s about celebrating. We may no longer all give it the religious focus that it once had. And yes, most of us have a pretty grim 25th with dry turkey and wet relatives. But the festive season is there to lift the spirits. It’s the one time of the year where we can really, truly, take some time to sit back and appreciate the good, have a belly giggle, and have fun without worrying about having summer bods or tickets to the best festivals. All we need is family and some Christmas lights. How refreshingly simple.

So screw the December 1st rule. We’ve tried caring and being serious, it’s quite frankly not working. This year we need a double dose of “festive”, two layers of Christmas jumpers and two rounds of We Wish You A Merry Christmas. Now excuse me while I go to my local German Market and freeze my bum off on a merry-go-round, with some mulled wine in-tow.

Why We All Deserve Two Months Of Advent Festivities

“If Only Millennials Voted The Result Would Have Been Different”…So What?

 

Dear British and US media,

Please kindly stop isolating demographics and blaming results of democratic elections on certain groups of people. I get it. I too am here to defend the liberal assets of Western society and to celebrate the diversity that it ensues. And yes some people are attacking our increasingly lovely liberal world. And yes a lot of these people are older, stuck in their ol’ racist ways that are kind of ok at Sunday lunch, but not ok on the bus or when it comes to the ballot box. But since when does that give any of us the right to dismiss their opinion? Doesn’t that entirely contradict the liberal mind-set we spend our lives lording over everyone else? And how are we doing anything for our democracy if we think results shouldn’t count unless we agree? I think you can probably answer those questions yourself…

Let’s start with the elderly. Yes, I was indeed one of the thouands of millenials  who took to my facebook wall, to the safety of my opinion echo-chamber, to declare my outcry. If only 18-24 years olds’ votes were counted, it would have been a 74% vote for Remain! How dare the older generation ruin our future! They won’t even live to see the consequences!

Woops…This is why I refrained from further voicing of my opinions at the time.

First of all, 56% of the 45-54y/o category voted to leave actually. Akward. It would be barmy to suggest that a 45 year old would be unlikely to live through the consequences. These days someone of 45 years old has barely left their parent’s home…but that’s a whole other article. The people who had the most idea (who let’s face it had really very little idea)- the fact machines, or economists as some people call them – told us that it was in the short-mid term that we would experience most economic problems. Well then, I’d say that a 45 year old, hey even a 54 year old, was voting for their future then. In economic terms they have as great a vested interest in our country not going tits-up as we do. After all they have their dreaded pensions to save for. At this rate they won’t get one until they’re 80, so I can imagine they want our economy to be in a state that allows for them to receive one before they die. Moreover if we aren’t earning enough to provide for a family, how will we help our ironically pensionless OAPs? You get the gist. It was pure, selfish naivety to suggest that it was only our poor young souls who would be affected for better or for worse by the outcome of the referendum.

Other virile, bitter remarks were spat at our elders saying that they harked back to a ‘rose-tinted’ past; one which was no longer symbolised Britain as we know it today. I agree. But. Democracy. Just because we don’t all long for a Britain with Churchill (the PM, not the dog, kids) sings us rhetoric and butters us up with notions of imperial power and independence. Our different perspective doesn’t mean that their visions are less firm-footed or valid than ours. More importantly it doesn’t make ours more. For example: I wanted to stay so that I didn’t need a visa to see my boyfriend, who lives in the Netherlands. I’m sure I was not the only young person with personal reason that affected my vote at the cost of someone else’s preference. And just like I’m sure ol’ grandpa Joe didn’t just vote based on drunk Churchill circa 1940, I didn’t just vote based on my ability to hop over for a weekend in Amsterdam. Just as Brexiteers were fed lies about NHS funding and the like, I’m sure if Remain had won we wouldn’t have reaped many of the benefits promised, or.lol..World War 3 would still probably on the cards…

Basically, the EU referendum shouldn’t have happened in my opinion. As I’ve made perfectly clear above, none of us really had a clue what was going on, what was best. We still don’t apparently. I’m not sure that the courts, who ruled against the Government last week really have it sussed either… But the American election is a pretty crucial element of the US’s democracy. Preferably not to be missed, one could say. Similar problems have popped up with the American Presidential election this week, and henceforth my silence ends.

Although official stats aren’t out yet, it seems that, like with Brexit, young people wanted Hilary to win. Whilst I, like many others, had a little cry to myself on Wednesday morning, and thanked my lucky stars that my mum’s house in London has a basement, I do not think that Trump voters belonged to one demographic, who’s voice should have been silenced. In a way it’s kind of (not really, but urgh! I suppose it must be) magical to think that despite all attempts to degrade, shame and shut-down those who were rooting for him, their voice was still heard. Yet still on my facebook wall, after everyone went out to vote and play along with the system, I see cries of the election being unfair. Such voices included articles calling for the elderly to not be allowed to vote as young people were supposedly robbed of their futures. All I can think is how hypocritical, less that 24 hours after proudly posted you “I voted” sticker on instagram, you’re now slamming the system and other proud voters because you didn’t get your way? Almost as childish as Trump, really.

Disclaimer alert: I understand the horrific nature of the ‘Whitelash’ associated with the outcome of this US presidential election. I think that some of the opinions and acts that the result seems to have supported and sparked are disgusting. And I think it is truly sad that many minorities sad suffer greatly. As a white Brit I am aware that I am complacently writing about sulking and media coverage that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t matter all that much. I also understand the ideological stand-point behind the isolating the young’s vote in the media. We are in, general. more liberal; we have grown up in a much more diverse society than most in older generations. However in America, plenty of Trump’s racist, misogynistic, intolerant supporters were young. During the Brexit referendum (regardless of whether it should have happened) it was more than an issue of age which split public opinion.

Ultimately then it comes down to an issue of democracy. We can campaign and we can express express express our own opinions, and we can argue with the other side(s) until the cows come home. But it is in this way that we must change results, rather than refusing to accept the end result and asserting superiority of opinion. As liberals, we have sort of shot ourselves in the foot by being liberals, really. To be liberal, to believe in democracy (and I believe the two do go hand in hand), you’ve got to accept other sides’ opinions. In fact you’ve got to cherish them, absorb them, let them be expressed too. You can think something different, by all means, but you can’t silence them. You can think the opposition is full of abhorrence: passionately believe that the other person could not be more wrong, more vile, or more hateful. But it’s the isolationist, protectionist, conservative has chosen the easy side because they’re the ones who can live in ignorance. They can shut off any opposition, not us liberals.

So, fellow freedom loving, self-expressing millennials and media junkies. Stop excluding other demographics. Stop thinking that your problems, your priorities and your fears for the future are superior, and others are superfluous. Stop sulking. stop being hypocritical. Instead, why don’t we concentrate on moaning about our pathetic turnout. Maybe if we spread our positivepolitical expression more we will see progress that pleases us. We need to encourage the non voters to take an interest, and this cannot be done by sounding vulgar, deafening noises. Campaign is as important as elections, and the nature of a campaign is crucial. If we want less extremism, why don’t we appeal to greater human sensitivities such as compassion, instead of feeding off the poison of political point scoring.  Maybe then we’d make ours the hegemonic voice of the people. Or maybe we wouldn’t. But it’s not just the young, liberal person’s world. And that’s what sucks about democracy…

Thanks for listening. I hope you heard me.

From a loving millennial.

“If Only Millennials Voted The Result Would Have Been Different”…So What?

Oh Well Hi, Hey There, Hello

Hey strangers, It sure has been a while. A small, but significant number of people over the summer holiday asked me “are you still writing on your blog?”. At no point was my firm “no” met with a positive reaction, which I should probably take as a complement, but at the time I found it rather irritating.

Whilst I sort of stopped out of sheer laziness (it would be wrong to deny it), there are several reasons that, I believe, justify my absence. Time for an explanation, I hope you’re sitting comfortably:

Firstly there was the generic student excuse. Having written essay after essay revising for social history exams, the idea of writing at all, let alone a heart-felt piece on contemporary social issues, quite frankly filled me with dread. I needed a break from wheeling out the obligatory analysis of our society and it’s flaws/delights. I needed a break from writing all together.

Secondly, related I suppose to the previous point, writing for The Student on a weekly basis made me realise how monotonous comment writing can be. I wrote pieces on issues ranging from religion to Barbie to obesity, yet my general views remained consistent (not a bad thing to be fair). As such, each piece came at the issue at hand from the same angle and often led to the same conclusion. Whilst it was pointed out to me that its good for feature/comment writers to have a unique and defined style for gaining a loyal following, it became increasingly challenging (and irksome) to write a captivating and original piece. After a handful of weeks I no longer cared to tell readers that freedom of speech trumped all, or that modern complacency was the ruin of our society; neither did I want to think about it myself. Plus…constantly having to judge the actions of others started to feel rather ironic when I kept saying that freedom of expression was of paramount concern.

Thirdly I lost faith in the industry. I came to university last year with a burning desire to be a journalist. However after following The Tab (a nationwide student online paper/blog) and Facebook exploding with blog posts gone viral, particularly around the Brexit vote, I felt like journalism had lost its credibility. From what I could see, no longer did a piece consisting of an educated argument that was conveyed with: the tightest focus, most pristine use of language and superior articulacy equal success and a loyal following. Now, it seemed the key was a strong ass opinion, written in a way that raised eyebrows and captivated the biggest audience, who largely weren’t looking to read anything at all. Furthermore with the rise of The Blog came the rise of The Sponsor. Social media is nothing more than product placement and fake opinions. It seemed ludicrous to me that these are the people making money now, and I felt (as we are repeatedly told) that the days of the national press were gone. Totally disheartened and sickened by the whole thing, I didn’t see the point in pursuing my dream of being a journalist. And if I had no end goal, what was the point in putting pen to paper, or my fingers on the keyboard, anymore?

But I’m back. What brought me here? Probably first on the list is the fact that, it now being October, deadlines are back and this feels like productive procrastination. Also having had four months off, writing seems rather appealing again.

On a deeper, more serious level though are two other reasons. I’m not Zoella or Deliciously Ella: I don’t have a brand to promote or a following to keep satisfied. Not only does that not matter, it’s a bonus. Just because I may not be tailoring my thoughts or interests to match what the people of social media want, it doesn’t mean that what I write can’t be valued for what it is. The internet has room for both os us: those who aim to make money and feel popular, and those who wish to use this space as a creative canvas. It’s still a magical place to practise one’s rough-as-coal writing skills and develop a style that may, one day, hopefully, produce a diamond of a ‘writer’.

Secondly, and importantly, I have Caitlin Moran to thank (as I do with for solving a significant chunk of life’s problems) for restoring my faith in the future of the national press. I never thought I’d thank Brexit for anything, but for this I have Brexit (and Caitlin) to thank. Brexit was a manic time. Everyone reacted quite like they do to the X-Factor. To break down the analogy (insert tangent):  the majority had no concrete knowledge on the subject (not many people are in the music industry, not many people know the ins and outs of European politics or the economy), and few actually thought about the long term (hardly anyone buys the winner’s 2nd single, a lot of people who voted Leave didn’t realise we’d actually leave). Yet everyone (including me) had a passionate belief in whichever contestant/side of the vote they instinctively felt attached to. The world ends, or faith in the Nation is restored depending on whether the chosen contestant loses or wins the X factor. Brexit was the same and everyone seemed entitled to publish their opinion- either by blogging furiously, or writing a “I don’t normally do this, but…” status on Facebook. Yet how many of us really had a clue what was going on or what we should be doing? I certainly had no idea.

Back on topic: This shit-storm saw a spike in the sales of national newspapers, and with it revived my faith in professional journalism. Caitlin pointed out in June that you will only ever get honest opinions, based on factual evidence if journalists are paid by an established and accountable company. And Brexit proved this. The reputation of a national paper is upheld by mandatory transparency and the calibre of their readers. When the average Joe doesn’t know what to think about a serious topic, they look to paid journalists to communicate to them the facts. I did not realise this until the purgatory of the Referendum campaign made the British public do just that.  Press columnists, who are paid to research expert’s findings and craft an opinion full time, became like a current affairs Jesus: passing down expert knowledge to us mere humans, in a way which we could understand and relate to, and had time to examine. Just like the good ol’ days.

What an epiphany: Anyone can write down their opinion in a blog, but not everyone can be counted on to be an learned advisor who has the authority to help us react rationally to contemporary dilemmas. Journalists are paid to figure out and convey their honest, considered opinion of what is going on. Bloggers are either opinionated attention seekers (hi) writing in their spare time, or professional ambassadors for hidden sponsors.

So – whether I’m back on the reg, or just popping my head up to say hello, I am back. My faith is restored, and my fingers are ready to to type furiously.

Oh Well Hi, Hey There, Hello

BANKSY’S WORK IS A LEGITIMATE VOICE OF THE VULNERABLE

If you think Banksy’s work is no more than an act of vandalism you are wrong. It may be that graffiti is illegal, but one thing’s for sure: his work goes far further than him pissing on a street wall to mark his territory. And his newest piece is no exception.

 

Over the weekend Banksy’s latest thought provoking message appeared on a street corner in Knightsbridge. The piece – which depicts Cosette from Les Miserables, emerging from a fog of gas with her eyes streaming – is a clear response to the French Police’s night raid on refugees in Calais. Next to the mural is a barcode that allows passers by to watch the police attack for themselves on their smart phones.

 

No one can deny that it is clever or powerful. Fundamentally it is not so much the message that Banksy is presenting here that is of importance, but the act itself: bringing the conversation, which is so needed, to the realm of popular-culture.

 

Purely through his conscious anonymity and the cult following that entails, he wields a power in conversation unmatched by politicians or identified activists. Said activists are too in-your-face and politicians would rather not have the conversation, unless it will win them votes. The vast majority of people avoid listening to either at all costs.

 

His message, though, is also incredibly important. Banksy has once again provided a voice for the vulnerable: those who cannot legally or visibly be heard. Without a whisper, or pledging allegiance, Banksy has managed to become an advocate and speak for a group of people in dire need of attention. People whose own attempts are being drowned out in the media by football scores, Corbyn drama and the Great British Weather.

 

When officials aren’t averting our gaze they soothe our angst by patting the heads of those helping from afar, as if that’s sufficient action. They’re perfectly happy to congratulate Germany on their warm welcome to those who made it to Europe. Well up for considering those Greek islanders, who helped so many, for a Nobel Peace Prize. But actively help them themselves? Unlikely. Apparently the government has got 99 problems and helping refugees ain’t one.

 

Banksy’s depiction of un-humanitarian police action, so vulgar that it would hurt the children of a Revolution, may not go down so well with those who think ignorance is bliss. But I don’t think there are many Brits who wish to remain in the dark. That’s why the voices of popular artists like Banksy are so necessary: we need to be aware of all, not just official opinions.

 

That his voice comes in the form of vandalism is part of his point; his protest is against the State, testing the rules of our society that he believes are unjust. It’s illegality and accessibility adds a dimension of authenticity that can only be achieved in public spaces.

 

In true ironic style the council have now, (as they often do with a piece of vandalism as valuable as a Banksy) covered the mural, not in the name of the law, but to save it so that it can be sold for huge amounts of money. I doubt that any of the money raised will go towards helping the real-life tear-stained Cosette’s wipe their eyes dry.

 

No matter: it looks like Banksy’s job here is done. Enough people saw it for it to go viral, make the news and lead many news websites to include the all important video that the barcode links to.

 

Once again it shows that rules are there to be broken. Big up Banksy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BANKSY’S WORK IS A LEGITIMATE VOICE OF THE VULNERABLE

I’M A BARBIE GIRL, IN THE REAL WORLD

Mattel has announced a new range of ‘realistic’ Barbies. Customers will now be able to choose from three body types, seven skin tones, and twenty-four hair shades. While the collection may have limited direct social implications, and is undoubtedly a ploy to regain lost traction in the toy market, the latest additions do sport the badge of realism and diversity. This has to be seen as a step in the right direction.

 

As an icon and the most realistic doll out there, the plastic figure has a heavy responsibility, serving as a role model to millions of young children across the globe. So far she has failed in her duties. Adults criticise and blame her for embedding all sorts of insecurities, while their children play innocently. All the while they are unknowingly yet another generation to be conditioned to think that being anything other than a white, blonde, blue-eyed, tall ‘woman’ with a pinched waist, thigh gap and perfect boobs, is no good.

 

It’s in Barbie’s very nature to evolve: she was after all modeled on a German hooker doll, ‘Lilli’. The creator, Ruth Handler has been known to say that “every little girl needed a doll through which to project herself into her dream of her future”. Funnily enough, mothers haven’t tended to be so keen on their children dreaming of their future involving being paid for sex.

 

But so far, by way of social awareness, the company’s modifications of Barbie lie merely in her clothing: astronaut Barbie in the 60s, disco Barbie in the 80s. Never before have they dared such radical progression as to allow her to eat. Never before have they accepted that children of different races might like to play with a toy that lets them dream about their own personal future.

 

What Mattel has done is not revolutionary. Barbie isn’t the first in a line of brands, like Dove, to respond to growing resistance to society’s obsession with the visual utopia that is presented to women. Consumer demand has called for a reality check. Producers have been, albeit slowly, responding. It’s simple economics, not groundbreaking morality.

 

But the change is still significant. Even if it is the smallest of steps towards social equality. Even if it is to keep up with competitors. Even if people only buy the already existing, outdated Barbie. It’s important because toys are important cultural symbols: they reflect what we as a society deem appropriate for our children to identify with. Dolls help to shape our children’s – aka society’s future’s – view of beauty. For the individual, ‘realistic’ Barbie will hopefully go some way to show children that their own looks are iconic. Broadly speaking, children playing with dolls that are of a different colour, or body shape, or are ginger, instills acceptance, even a love of diversity.

 

Beauty ideals are not a fixed, but they are pretty entrenched in our culture. Dove may make already insecure adult women feel better about their ‘flaws’, but to really change our perception of what is beautiful, to really create a society which unanimously celebrates diversity, we must look to the impressionable souls of the future generation.

 

The designers of Barbie’s endeavours most probably boil down entirely to a need to respond to increasing competition. But so what? Their response to consumer demand is a mark of how our culture of prejudice is waning; so much that an item that has been an icon for 57 years requires dramatic revamping to avoid fading out of the market. For that reason I could not be happier with this new line of Barbies.

 

 

 

I’M A BARBIE GIRL, IN THE REAL WORLD