Monthly Archives: May 2015

Down the drain

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In Focus

I took my bicycle out today, for the first time in a long time. Usually I use it as a means to an end; a conveyance from point a to point b. This evening, I just cycled. Until recently, I would have said one of my favourite sounds was the noise of horses’ shod hooves clip clopping down the road – as a child I would have literally run out to see the horses pass by if there had ever been any down my road, which there weren’t.

Ever the thrill seeker, I rode horses, in part for that sound. Time passes, things change. As I rode my iron horse out, wheels turning, I reflected that perhaps now, my favourite sound might be that of my thin road tyres spinning round on tarmac. There’s not a word to describe that noise exactly; it’s not a hum, but like hooves it has its own music.

How little we know ourselves, as we change, almost impercetibly.

Earlier today, I had to fill out a form. It caused me to ask questions of people who know me.

Do I do this? I said.

Do I do that?

Yes, they said.

I thought about it. When I work with people who have bipolar disorder I think, to myself, sometimes I ask them directly, Do you know your bipolar cycle? (Keep up at the back, I’ve moved on from penny farthings.)

Today, for the first time in a long time, I directed the question to myself. Do you know your bipolar cycle I said.

In my late twenties, my psychiatrist (and I was lucky really to have had that one and not another who I had post-natally and who liked me to hope for the best and prepare for worst) asked me to keep a mood diary for some months. He made it as easy as possible for me, I only had to rate my mood with a number on a daily basis; it didn’t take long to complete every day. I think it was when the diary was eventually reviewed during a consultation that he mentioned the phrase rapid cycling bipolar to me. It was the first time I had heard it, and it was of only passing interest. My up and down life continued on its rollercoaster ride.

Before my diagnosis my moods followed what might have been considered typical bipolar, weeks if not months of lows, followed by the same period of highs. My behaviour was classic for both sides of the pendulum, although I never was psychotic – although some on the receiving end of me at that time might disagree.

I am now approaching twenty years of diagnosis. I now accept, as my doctor told me a long time ago, that I fall into the category of ultradian bipolar (where the cycle is broadband speed, hours rather than days even). I’ve also nearly accepted that this is it: mercurial moods are never going to leave me.

Yet after twenty years of managing moods, and where did that time go to for goodness sake, the strangest thing has happened – strange to me anyway. Firstly, the more I have become alert to the mood upswings and downswings, the shorter the periods of the highs and lows. That’s not the strange part – when I know where I am with it, I can do things to counteract the pendulum, and get myself back onto an even keel more quickly. No, the strange thing is that the more I have noticed my moods and managed my moods, the more I have crystallised the very moment of the sudden slip down – I am not quite as sensitised to the rapid ascent up, although talking loudly and quickly is a sure sign that others are quick to point out and take refuge from…

The slipslide downwards is an extraordinary feeling. And it is just that, a feeling. One moment I can be ok, and then suddenly the old unpleasantly familiar feeling creeps into my bones, its bulk pressed in my chest, its hands round my throat. I am reminded then of Philip Larkin’s poem Toads.

For something sufficiently toad-like
Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow,

However, as slimy yuck and toadlike as the feeling is, it is the rapidity of the change in internal weather that throws me off. It’s like crashing your mood car straight into a brick wall, on a fine day, on a good road. Of course, with depressive feelings I know mainly know what to do, and I do it. Hence the bike.

Maybe in another twenty years I will have worked out my triggers. I am often heard to say that I am a very slow learner, but maybe it is more that we really are, in larger parts, often a mystery to ourselves.

dandelion clock

My daughter took this shot, and I love it. The mood and subject speaks of time and focus – like how we drift in and out of focus to ourselves. I have wanted a DSLR camera myself for years, but because of all of the above, I have become wary of purchasing big ticket items, particularly for myself, in case it is feeding a small mania. My daughter recently became a teen, and even as a proud parent, I would say she has an eye and a feel for things. I bought her the camera for her birthday and she’s doing an interesting job with it.

London II

Big city closing in

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London I

The city holds my heart
Seated at the right hand
Of a lead-grained and calloused
Well-thumbed Mount of Venus.

The fingers
Close
Squeeze

Until the city

Breathes us

2015-05-22 08.25.08

On Malcolm’s Birthday

The man the world came to know as Malcolm X was born in Omaha, Nebraska, ninety years ago today.

I want to mark that occasion.

Some three years ago I began the process of talking to Malcolm’s only surviving sibling, Hilda Little, and from that sprang what is essentially a book. Like Malcolm, like the Little family he was born into, the project is not conventional, it does not fit it in. It is not a book about Malcolm, but it is a book about his family.  It is not quite a biography, but it is about his mother Louise, and the heartache and suffering that was inflicted on her by a system that was not just indifferent, but actively and openly hostile.

Malcolm’s legacy, his mother Louise Little’s legacy, that of the entire family should be one that inspires us to change those systems for the better, for good. I hope that Malcolm, his parents and his brothers and not least his sisters, would approve.

Happy Birthday Malcolm.  I am sharing this in hope, with respect, and in good faith with all.

By the mid-1920s, the Little family’s time in Omaha was coming to an end. In a period covering about five years, having established a UNIA presence in the city, Earl and Louise Little had achieved what they had set out to do. The Omaha UNIA division’s regular meeting was held at Liberty Hall on a Sunday, as with all UNIA divisions. On Sundays in New York’s Liberty Hall the UNIA leader, Marcus Garvey, presided over a grand affair – seated on a throne-like armchair on a dais, flanked by men in faux military uniforms. Although the Omaha Liberty Hall on Lake Street was an undoubtedly a more humble setting, the order of proceedings followed a set pattern very much rooted in a Christian, although non-denominational, tradition. The meeting always opened with the same missionary hymn , its opening lines in part speaking to the depth and breadth of Marcus Garvey’s geographical ambitions for the organisation.

From Greenland’s icy mountains,
From India’s coral strand,
Where Afric’s sunny fountains
Roll down their golden sand,
From many an ancient river,
From many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver
Their land from error’s chain.

After the hymn singing, the division members were led in prayer, often by the president, so in Omaha the job would have fallen to Earl Little. It was not church, but to the casual observer it must have looked awfully like a religious congregation. In place of minister’s sermon, someone would read out the latest thoughts of their leader, Marcus Garvey, from the front page of that week’s Negro World. Following that there would be an address, from either the president, visiting UNIA officials, or local clergy. As a member, and the Omaha Division Secretary, Louise Little must have spent many an hour on a Sunday at the Liberty Hall with her small children Wilfred, Hilda, Philbert and now the baby, Malcolm, at her knee. They were probably too young to remember much of the proceedings, but on some level the values of Garveyism were embedding themselves: cultivating an ethos of success in the black community through self-sufficiency and commerce; fostering an American dream of equality. As Garvey himself said ‘Let Us Give off Success and It Will Come. As Man Thinks So Is He.’

Labour = Social Justice, Equality & Fairness

Under its One Nation banner, these are the values that the Labour Party stands for. I am hoping that whoever ends up leading the party into the next election, these are effectively and tirelessly communicated to the populace.

Meantime, at Number 10, David Cameron has appointed two anti-gay equality politicians to ministerial posts: Minister for Culture and, ironically, Minister for Equality.

I don’t know my history well enough to say where the political terms left and right came from, but it occurs to me that they are not helpful – why should social justice, equality and fairness be ‘left’ values, when they are so self-evidently right for everyone.

And in making these appointments David Cameron is all in the wrong.

On Britain: Sleepwalking into a Nightmare – Part II

After last week’s general election the dust is settling… or is it?

Nigel Farage who resigned, is back in charge of UKIP; the Tories, unbridled by the now decimated Lib Dems, have gone immediately on the offensive. As was their modus operandus last time around, they are going to cut hard and fast at the beginning of the term, and hope the good times are sufficiently rolling in 2020 so that most of us will have all but forgotten the pain of the now. If you dare to read their first 100 days in power plan, you may agree that their ruthlessness is breathtaking.

2020. Sobering to type that date. I am old enough to almost think 2020 belongs in the domain of sci-fi. Sadly it does not – if the Conservatives have their way, it will be how long we have to wait before we are given the opportunity to shake them loose once again.

Sadly, I believe we will be saddled with them until that far-off and frabjous day and furthermore that they will ride us hard. I never, ever, thought the coalition government that formed in 2010 would hold. I was convinced that the Lib Dems would revolt, at least once, more, if I’m honest. However, for whatever reasons, they did not. The cynical amongst us may say it was so that they could hang on to some sort of power, at least. Nick Clegg would say it was so that he could be the No man to the worst aspects of David Cameron and his gang’s policy of slash and burn. Since all these Nos came behind closed doors, I am not convinced. Clegg says that the history books will judge them more kindly than the electorate did – I am not so sure.

And so to the Labour party. I am afraid I misjudged the electorate as much anybody in the Miliband inner circle. I took it as a self-evident fact that the Tories, even with the Lib Dems tugging at their trouser hems, were a destructive force across the country. I thought that even those people who were not being demonised as workshy would grasp the fact that they too would be at the mercy of the great Tory monster, were they to ever stumble and fall. I thought that the safety net of the welfare state and the NHS would be too precious a resource for the electorate to gamble with. I thought that the words of Neil Kinnock, before the general election in June 1983, would be remembered or, at least, recalled.

If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday–

– I warn you not to be ordinary

– I warn you not to be young

– I warn you not to fall ill

– I warn you not to get old

But in May 2015 it seems that the electorate preferred to gamble on keeping the little money they had in their pocket now, rather than the certain but temporary inconveniences and inevitabilities of life. Somehow, over the last five years, the Tories had controlled the popular narrative. Somehow, the party called Labour, was not the party of the worker – the Tories were. Somehow Labour stood for taking money to give to the poor. Somehow the nonsense that held that Labour had caused the deficit had stuck and try as he might, Ed Miliband could not persuade the public otherwise.

I have learned this. Winning the next election starts the day after the last election. Controlling the narrative from the centre-left is hard when the majority of the print press is centre-right, if not outright right. People are influenced by what they hear and read, almost subliminally during a term of government and if the message has taken hold, you can’t turn it on a sixpence in the six weeks of an election campaign before the ballot. The message has to appeal to the majority for the majority of the time.

I know Labour is the party of working people, but that needs communicating at every opportunity from this moment forth. I know Labour isn’t out to take the money from the modestly off to give straight to the poor, but that has been people’s fear. I know that when I vote in a general election, I’m voting for my local MP and not the leader of the party, but the self-evident fact is that hardly anyone sees it that way, so a party leader has to have kerb appeal. I know I won’t look down the list of candidates at the next election and wonder what he or she can do for me, but I’ve come to realise that is how some people approach the vote.

So what I’ve realised is that I have fallen into the trap of thinking that others see what I see. I’ve realised that as much as political parties want to change the world, the effect they can have in terms of the majority and how they choose who to vote for is limited. I may belong to the Labour Party with grand aspirations of making society a better place for all, but the fact is most people don’t have the time for all that jazz. I can’t expect people to use their precious vote in an solely altruistic manner once every five years. Although I would disagree with Richard Dawkins and his belief in the selfish gene, and go to my grave insisting compassion and selflessness is the only way forward, I have to admit that for many, life ain’t like that.

We might want to change the world, but the electorate don’t want to know that. They want to know how they might be a little bit better off than they were before you were elected. They want to know that their lives will continue as usual or better. They want to know that nothing remarkable will ever happen. The facts are that the English, for whatever reason, are conservative (with the small c) in nature. Labour can aim to change the world for the better, for all, but for the next five years they are going to have to make sure they are planning to do it quietly.

Personally, I’d rather we went down the radical route of the SNP in all its social justice glory. But actually, based on the numbers, the SNP can’t afford to do it, without the English tax payer. And that’s the problem with English socialism I suppose, that people think that Labour are good at spending money, but really crap at creating the conditions in which people can start making it.

I may prefer to hug trees and hope we move to a post-capitalist society in my lifetime but the electorate don’t seem much up for it. That being so, for the next five years the Labour Party, myself included, will simply have to work with what we’ve got and make sure we make a better fist of it than last time

On Britain: Sleepwalking into a Nightmare – Part I

The general election has been a huge wake up call, both for myself and the Labour Party. Since the BBC released their exit poll at 10pm on Thursday night I’ve been through just about every emotion there is – even schadenfreude when the Wirral West recount went against the Tory Esther McVey. I’ve plenty to more to say on this but it’s currently percolating. In the meantime, amongst all the anxiety that is rightly felt about what the future holds for the majority of us who voted to not have 5 more years, I have to look on the bright side. Three positives to take forward:

  • Nicola Sturgeon is the best thorn in David Cameron’s side that I could have dreamt of
  • Boris Johnson back in Parliament offers a rival which rebel Tory MPs (and there always are a few) can rally round to rattle David Cameron
  • Ed Miliband can stop taking so much horrible personal flack, which was an absolute low in my view, despite his own previous fratricidal tendencies

We rolled the dice

Voters

A dear friend always insisted that there was no point betting on anything that the public have a say in because what you may get, is what you least expect. It will be interesting to see then, tomorrow, how things finally shake down in the voting booths as compared with the incessant polls that have the two ‘main’ parties in a photo finish.

It will be interesting also to see how many of us turn out. I am glad Russell Brand changed his tune on not voting, and I credit Ed Miliband, at least to some extent, with influencing that particular U-turn. If you do not use your voice to make a difference, then a difference will not be made. We all need to make a difference tomorrow, whatever that turns out to be.

These are two disgruntled characters, on the sofa. One can’t vote because he is an immigrant. No matter that he volunteers hours of his time keeping the street crime free. No matter that he single-pawedly keeps the marauding packs of urban foxes and delinquent nature-murdering felines in line. He is from Ireland, he has no vote. He’s been upset, lately, by the anti-immigrant rhetoric he’s heard bandied about. All he wants is a better life for himself, and his family, and he’s prepared to work for it.

His friend is a member of the so-called underclass. She didn’t register to vote because she didn’t think that she could make a difference. I think if she could vote, her vote would be one of the most important of all. We all know the choice available has turned out to be a bit of a dog’s dinner, but sometimes you just have to work with what you’ve got.

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Britain: For the Love of God, Please Stop David Cameron

Third party interprets the numbers for voters who simply don’t get it.

Benjamin Studebaker

On May 7 (this Thursday), Britain has a general election. I care deeply about British politics–I did my BA over there and will return to do my PhD there this fall. But more importantly, David Cameron’s government has managed the country’s economy with stunning fecklessness, and I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do my part to point this out.

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