Category Archives: Probation

Brexit. Trump. Strictly. No, don’t click me away! Bear with.

Cards on the table, I don’t much like the tellybox. I watch, occasionally, stuff like Railway Journeys with Portillo, or that wonderful Canal programme with Timothy and Prue, but on the whole most of it passes me by. Most of what I do see is caught accidentally when the rest of the family are watching and I stumble into the room on my way somewhere else. However, I have become surprisingly interested in Strictly Come Dancing this last couple of series – maybe it’s because I remember watching the original all those years ago, usually with an altered state of mind which helped.

Bear with…….

This year has been in interesting year for anyone with half an eye on politics. We have, allegedly, seen a rise in the proletariat offering a bit of a slap to the people who have seeped and dribbled into offices of power and decided they know best. Not only that they know best but that the proles know nothing and need to be kept in their place. Our place. To that end, arguably, Education and Health, and to a large extent the Criminal Justice System and Housing, have been morphing in recent decades, leaving behind much of the social construct and responsibility that most of us value and developing a profit motive that no longer has to try to hide. Priorities in socially important organisations changed of necessity – it was do or die –  and in part that has been supported passively by people still believing that someone with a lot of money and a private education knows better than them. Pair that with the desperate need of many to simply keep body and soul together leaving little time to be involved in much else and a consistent lowering of expectations and we have a perfect storm of passivity and fatigue that allows people who do have the time and money (and the networks developed at school and Uni and by family connections) to buy a pathway into power. I mention no names…….

And then came 2016. Hands up who approached 2016 thinking “Thank Goodness 2015 is over, what a year, it can only get better”…..? Yes, well that went well, didn’t it? Apart from lots of lovely people dying who had created my history and the musical and artistic backdrop to my youth, we also had Brexit and Trump. Divisions created deliberately by the powerful to conquer the masses led to the very public murder of one woman, an increase in the confidence of people with shameful attitudes, a legitimising of all kinds of isms from ageism (the older generation have spoiled things for the young/the young don’t understand the issues) through racism (go back to where you came from/who will you blow up next) and a general atmosphere of mistrust and hatred. Conversation was replaced by brick throwing and chanting, voting was seen as an act of defiance rather than an inalienable right and duty and more people voted for Brexit than at any General Election for years. Public dissatisfaction with politicians who fiddle expenses and despise their electorate was having some practical results. Trump had already hopped onto the bandwagon and shamelessly – alongside some of his opponents and supporters – traded insults and lies rather than debate and detail, whipping up his gang to hatred of others, violence, intolerance and a lack of facts. Taking mansplaining to a whole new level, and behaving publicly in a way that many parents would justifiably have slapped their children for, he set new and deeply unattractive guidelines for public debate and demeanour. In both of these events we witnessed the powerless grasping onto something over which they believed they had some control, a new experience for many. In reality the power and control remained exactly where they already were but the illusion of influence was conferred, more expertly in some areas than in others. That precious vote, hard won by ordinary people over the years, wrestled from the wealthy and powerful and certainly not given freely by them, was being manipulated to support the very people who stood to gain most. And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is politics in the 21st Century. Ordinary people are encouraged to think they have had enough of the elite – by some of the elite – in order to get them to vote for the elite.

But something did happen. The idea of sticking it to the elite has taken hold. The concept that perhaps people can make choices, sometimes dangerous or wrong choices, and define their own reality and outcomes and live with the consequences is becoming clearer. And so we arrive at Strictly. I told you to bear with. Ed Balls joined the Strictly dancers and immediately gained the publics support for dancing badly, but with charm and warmth. The pubic enjoyed his efforts and his ineptitude, his determination to do his best and move forward – they liked it much better than some of the other dancers who danced better but were less appealingly human and had less distance to go to dance well. Someone who until recently appeared as part of the elite was shown to be Like Us. Not only Like Us, but likeable and funny. He charmed. The judges were ghastly to Ed and that just increased his popularity – they gurned when he danced, were outright discourteous, were way less encouraging to him than the other “better” dancers and generally behaved like, well, like the elite. Clearly they are the experts, clearly they are dancers, but their unpleasant behaviour rendered that immaterial – we liked Ed because he wasn’t an expert and wasn’t elite. We didn’t like the judges being smug and telling us what to like and what not to like. We Brexited them. We Trumped them. We voted in droves for the Little Man. Apparently. Well, job done. Ed is rehabilitated and the People have spoken. He has worked hard and redefined his place in the public eye.

Quite a few of The Elite are chums of mine. Quite a few of The People are chums of mine. I like them all – I think there is a little bit of fabulous about everyone, without exception. Their politics are not what I admire about them – if they charm me and make me laugh, if they have a brain and a heart, are kind, and hold a conversation well that is what I admire. What they do in the ballot box is not my business. What is my business is what happens when the votes are counted and policy decisions are being made. As someone who has worked for years in health, justice and social care and across all the sectors, and as a school governor, I have seen how public policy impacts actual people. Left and Right are almost irrelevant as long as socially important organisations and services remain at the whim of people many of whom will say and do almost anything to sit in a seat of power, many of whom have no meaningful experience of the departments they lead ( I am sure you know what I mean and who I mean……), and who potentially change direction regularly every few years. When there is actually a direction to change and not just a dogma to follow.  While we have no available Intensive Care beds for children anywhere in the country, while nearly 9,000 people slept on the streets in London alone in 2015/16 – and that is only the recorded figure – and 57,750 households were accepted as homeless and in ‘priority need’ in the same year, a six percent rise on the previous year, while mental health services are randomly delivered and under-funded and a false economy as so many people bounce around the expensive system, while almost as many people leave prison unable to read as entered it (this is changing, thank goodness, thanks to some fabbo people, but so slowly), while people with a criminal record are routinely excluded from jobs and housing denying them the opportunity to desist, while all of these things and more are happening Left and Right can argue until blue/red/green/yellow/purple in the face but it will remain a disgrace and the responsibility of all of them. And all of us.

There are some properly decent people in and around government and in and around some of the organisations that develop and deliver services, people who actually want to make a difference and not a fortune. I insist on feeling hopeful that the vote for Brexit – and Strictly – is an indication of the start of increased popular involvement in government. Whether or not I agree with outcomes upon which people vote does not matter – it is up to me to make a case for my view and debate properly. If votes go a different way to the one I would like I still rejoice that democracy has taken place. We have become a tad complacent in recent years, the freedoms and opportunities that have taken so long and so much painful sacrifice to attain are at risk. That complacency has allowed bad practices to slip under the wire – without some darn good journalism the expenses scandals would have remained unknown, for example, or at the least unremarked. Our inexplicable faith in people in positions of power, supported by the anaesthesia of media dependence, has let us take our collective eyes off the collective ball. My optimism tells me that people are perhaps willing to become more engaged and knowledgeable about the things that will affect their lives and less tribal in their allegiances. Brexit and Strictly both cut across most demographics…….

So, vote for Strictly! Vote in your local and general elections! Talk to your MP, find out what she or he actually thinks and don’t take it on face value – challenge, probe, question, scrutinise. And crucially, tell her or him what you think and what you expect of them. Own outcomes. Learn to Salsa and wear some fancy clothes. Dance and vote like no-one is watching.  And remember that T Blair is creating a global organisation to combat populism  – that’s you and me – and promote globalism – the thing that fills his pockets. We must be becoming dangerous……….

Hay Festival 2014

The Hay Festival couldn’t be more middle class if it changed its name to Pippa and married its cousin. And I love it. And if it becomes more Hay Market than Hay Festival at times, with the clear purpose of shifting tomes, then who cares? It delivers what it promises: a literary festival, a celebration, putting the word above all else and giving us all permission to sink into a proper vocabulary and literally indulge in wordplay.

 

I have spent most of this week sloshing around in mud listening to and talking with people who love words, people with something to say but who reached that point by listening to others and by reflecting and not by following dogma.  Joyfully reaching for the right words and finding them, hearing new ways of using them, turning context on its head and finding a new way to slip the surprisingly appropriate word prolepsis into general conversation – thank you Margaret Drabble! – has been a genuine inspiration.  Rustling about happily under the trestle tables in the Oxfam bookshop in the boxes filled with rummageable delights waiting in the dark to be found was the best time I have had in weeks. Possibly months. WarHorse and Michael Morpurgo  thrilled everyone, watching Marcus Brigstocke casually overtake a bunch of feathered aliens without a second glance on the path outside the Friends coffee shop was a little surreal, noticing the fact that we probably all had a proper education under our belts and were using it to good effect was a significant pleasure, and hearing children pronounce their words properly and insert the letter “t” in the right place was phenomenal! No extraneous or dropped aitches either, bliss! Not a baggy trousered foul mouthed rap artist in sight or hearing, and there were times when I was one of the youngest in the queue, and it is a long time since that happened………

Listening to a group of academics with serious life experiences attempt to shed light on prison life and its consequences – dear to my heart – it occurred to me that even in a room full of Telegraph readers, and I am one, the Grauniad Effect (my husbands media drug of choice)  was apparent. Most of us gave a damn, giving the lie to political drubmongers who like to insist on the differences rather than the similarities between groups of people.  That was also apparent in other conversations, and one that focussed on corporate greed was particularly pertinent. The workshops around Social Enterprise were a real pleasure and welcome at the heart of the Festival as a demonstration of how things can be done  ethically and well.

Downsides? Well……..I was unprepared for the ill mannered stampede of middle aged middle class audiences as they clambered over and around people to find their favourite seats! The wonderfully patient and charming stewards allowed those of us with mobility issues into the tents first to avoid catastophe – no-one wants Hay Headlines about mangled elders or the dissed disabled – but as soon as the hordes, or to use their title Friends of Hay (and I am also one) were released into the tents all Hell broke loose with disabled feet trodden into the dirt and bags ground into the floor as they shouldered and elbowed their way to “their” seats. Clashes were inevitable and there was,  I am sorry to say, a degree of braying involved at times. And although the lavatories maintained their dignity against all odds I did occasionally wonder, as I took my ease,  on  the number of buttocks that had been pressed against those seats during the week……..I was also a little alarmed to find I shared Jonathan Millers haircut and colour so startlingly that I wondered who had put the mirror on the table as I entered the bookshop……..

Being a seasoned Hay Friend I staggered my meals so that I ate between the usual meal times and avoided the crowds and it was very pleasant with all tastes catered for, although I did wonder if vegan and gluten free also meant salt and pepper free a couple of times as I searched for seasoning – but once I had found it the food perked up. In fact, the food even for us fussies was indecently good and I enjoyed it very much. Good choices, well prepared, charmingly served. The people running the show, from box office to stewards to food hall and more, deserve a medal!

The B&B, The Old Vicarage in Prestiegne, where I always stay was, as usual, perfect and this year they even have alpacas as well so I woke to the sound of sheep, alpacas and chickens and a real symphony of birdsong, and breakfasted brilliantly with a view over the fields and with the sound of a stream in the background. It couldn’t have been better. Best start to a Hay Day ever.

 

And now my Hay Days are over for 2014, but the mud is still on the car and my boots – and my jeans and my skirt and my jacket! And I have a fresh stash of books, images and memories and the certainty that words matter, that we can use them better, and that we should.  And I will plan for next year when I hope that we will make Hay in the sunshine and not the rain and I can rummage and read and rest and draw comfort from more wordsmiths. Hay Ho.

 

 

 

 

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