Referendum Groceries

We’ve had a lot of talk about the EU referendum in the UK of late, and much of it has been pretty nasty. Occasionally, when surrounded by argument, a person has to resort to a coffee and pastry to cheer themselves up: I did, and wrote this.

I’ve made a plan for this week, for this show-down’s not for me:

The bickering and posturing between rival MPs;

Mud-slinging in the media, both social and in print:

And prejudice from journalists once thought intelligent.

 

The Leave campaign yell: “If we stay, we’ll sink into the sea

Between the cost of membership and swathes of refugees

We’ll drown in Greek-style penury and then we’ll lose our jobs

Which will probably be taken by hordes of Turkish mobs

The politicos in Brussels will take our sovereignty

And force us to adopt the single Euro currency!

We’ll have no more such nonsense! And we strongly believe

We can pay for all our hospitals by simply voting Leave!”

 

And judging by their single bit of paper through my door

The Remain campaign’s main rhetoric is similarly poor.

“If you don’t tick the Remain box on June 23

Then our entire population will attempt to flee!

For businesses won’t deal with us: there’ll probably be war

Between Britain and the rest of Europe by June 24

There’ll be no more foreign holidays to Portugal or Spain

For nobody will let us in if we don’t vote Remain

The Scots and Welsh will both devolve and be off like a shot

And we hear that even Cornwall has a devolution plot

And lastly but by no means least – who do you want in charge?

Do you really want a country led by Boris or Farage?”

 

Meanwhile, arguments fly back and forth on Facebook and on Twitter

And many sound quite personal and not a little bitter

So I’ve made a plan for this week that will keep me quite objective

And ensure that I maintain a purely rational perspective.

 

I’ll start by having breakfast, and I know just what I’ll want:

An Italian espresso and a French almond croissant

Then I’ll stroll along the pavement in my shoes that came from Spain

(With my German car as backup in case of heavy rain)

On the way to work, I may decide to make a stop

And pick up my weekly shopping at the local Polish shop

I could buy olives (which might well be Cypriot or Greek)

Or a bar of Belgian chocolate to see me through the week

If I’m feeling decadent, Dutch waffles could be an idea

And for later in the evening, a Czech or Polish beer

And perhaps I’ll buy some port (exported by the Portuguese)

Which always goes quite well with slices of Danish blue cheese.

If I get a call, I’ll answer on my Finnish mobile phone

With a tune from Mozart (Austrian) as a tasteful ringing tone

My work will be obliged to let me leave when I am through:

Since the European Working Time Directive tells them to.

Finally, I might meet up for coffee with my mates

Who hail from all around the European member states

And as Thursday dawns, I’ll sink into my Swedish-made settee

And ponder what the EU has ever done for me.

Whatever your views on the referendum, please vote on the 23rd if you’re eligible – there is some impartial information out there. I found this lecture from the University of Liverpool very informative.

A Letter to the Education Secretary

My child is not a genius. He’s fairly bright at best,

He doesn’t have attainment medals glowing from his chest,

He’s pretty well behaved – at least, I don’t hear that he’s naughty –

He’s not a music prodigy, or known for being sporty.

He’s reading not too badly, can decipher what’s on signs,

His writing’s not too scrawly if he keeps between the lines,

He doesn’t have additional needs as far as I can tell,

And up to yesterday, I thought that he was doing well.

 

But then I got the test results, and thanks to you, I’ve learned

That instead of being proud, I really ought to be concerned.

A five year old that reads and writes seemed pretty good to me –

(Even though he gets confused between the letters B and D)

But it seems he’s way behind, and the levels that he meets

Only indicate a future washing cars or sweeping streets.

His spelling should be perfect, and he should be writing prose

That echoes that of Dickens’ or Edgar Allen Poe’s

He should know abstract maths and science, engineering too,

And write in perfect cursive – which I know that I can’t do.

 

And since he can’t, say experts, then the problem lies with me:

I clearly feed him crap and let him watch too much TV

I believed it when the experts said I ought to give him space,

To let him do the things he likes and learn at his own pace,

I didn’t teach him how to read before he started school,

Because they said I’d do it wrong and he would look a fool,

I don’t know what the others did, but rest assured, I see

That my five year old’s a failure and the fault is down to me.

 

You told us in the news last night that kids need to be smart,

To concentrate on SPaG and STEM and not on books and art,

Our children should learn more and more, enjoy themselves far less,

And the best way to ensure this is by giving them more tests.

Well, Education Secretary, I guess I don’t agree

For knowledge for its own sake’s an important thing for me

I want my son to love to learn, be curious, be keen –

Not just be another product of the UK’s test machine.

 

So when my son looks scared at every piece of work he gets,

When he only reads and writes under the greatest of duress,

When his teachers are burned out and stressed with no time to inspire,

And you tell the schools they’ll close unless results keep getting higher,

When all the joy of learning’s gone and there’s no time for fun –

That’s the kind of education you’ve created for my son.

Built-In Obsolescence

My phone broke!80s phone

What a bloody joke!

I hadn’t had it long.

Spend fifty quid on phones, you don’t expect them to go wrong.

I hadn’t stamped upon the screen or flushed it down the loo,

I hadn’t done much with it, except make a call or two.

I know it’s not in warranty, I know I’ll have to pay

I know I won’t get cross if I’m without it for a day.

I had visions of mechanics with tiny phone sized tools

With HNDs in phone repair from specialist phone schools

Who could put it on a platform and take it all apart,

And replace a mini cam shaft to make its engine start.

I might even get a coffee, if they smile at me and say,

“It’s quite a quick repair, love. We’ll soon have you on your way.”

But though I looked around and trawled the Internet for ages

There isn’t one phone garage listed in the Yellow Pages.

I consulted all the paperwork, which said to make a call

To an 0800 number listed somewhere in Bengal

Except there was one problem, which you’d think they might have known:

You can’t exactly make a phonecall if you have a broken phone.

There was only one thing for it. I wandered into town

And picked out a likely phone shop from the thousands all around

A twelve-year-old approached me and he asked if he could help.

I said “I’d like my phone fixed, please,” and then he gave a little yelp.

“Repairs?” he said, in tones reserved for dog shit on the floor,

“I didn’t think that people bothered with them anymore!

No, it’s much better for you to invest in something new:

Take this one, for example. Let’s see what it can do.”

He held up a bit of plastic that looked much like my old phone:

“If you purchase the right add-on, this one turns into a drone!

The basic pack allows you to watch films and browse the net,

It takes selfies, does accounts and tracks appointments with the vet,

It has email, Facebook, MySpace, Netflix, Windows version 10,

And you can use it as a notebook with a phone-adapted pen!

If you already have a contract – and I assume you do –

You can purchase it today for ninety-eight pounds ninety two.”

“But what about my old one?” I asked, “Where will it go?

I’m sure there’s not much wrong with it, for someone in the know.

It seems a shame to chuck it out, when we hear every day

That we really should recycle rather than throw things away.”

He looked a bit bamboozled and then he shrugged and said,

“I fear environmental stuff’s a bit over my head.

You could always check our website and drop Management a line,

I imagine that they deal with questions like this all the time.”

And so I thanked the twelve year old – though I declined the sale –

And went home to compose a suitably insightful mail.

I told them my dilemma and I offered a solution

Which might reduce their costs and offset much of their pollution.

“Just offer to repair your phones, and everyone will see

How ecological a manufacturer can be!”

They did reply eventually. They said it was a shame,

But repairs don’t turn a profit if you’re in the mobile game.

And so I have a broken phone. I’m not too sure what’s next,

But forgive me in the meantime if I don’t return your text.

Rich

A sort-of-spoken word about explaining what ‘rich’ means.

“Who does that belong to?” she says,

Pointing in the uninhibited way that kids and tourists do towards a really enormous boat that shares a name with a billionaire

And screams ‘I’m loaded, me!’ in a way that the boat next to it, which is small, covered in algae and has a yellowing ‘For Sale!’ sign stuck forlornly to the window, doesn’t.

This boat isn’t the kind of inflatable boat you can pick up for seventy quid in Costco,

Or the kind of boat that people hire for a holiday on the Norfolk Broads,

Or even the kind of boat that churns up and down the river on summer evenings, playing endless rounds of YMCA to parties of pissed insurance agents on a works do –

No, this boat has staff.

“Someone rich,” I say, for that much I know.

“So how do people get rich?” she asks. I don’t expect this.

Now, there are plenty of questions I do expect.

Where do I come from?

How are babies made?

Why isn’t everyone nice to each other?

What happens when people die?

You know it’s coming sometime, so you’ve got yourself prepared, carefully filed it in the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section and got the answer down.

But this is not in the Frequently Asked Questions section in my head.

How do people get rich?

I do the classic trick I picked up in my academic-wannabe years and say:

“Well… it all depends on what you mean by rich…”

Part of me is worried of the implications of this. Is she a Gordon-Gecko in waiting? Will I find out some thirty years hence that she’s screwed millions of workers out of their pension funds in order to buy an island somewhere on a whim?

I wince. I must tread carefully.

There is the obvious dodge – “You don’t need money to be rich, you’re rich already because you have so many friends!” –

But even that seems too woolly, too patronising, like a really inept talk at a school by a visiting curate, and it doesn’t answer the question.

I could be relational – “Compared to many people in the world, you’re rich beyond measure. Do you know that many people don’t have enough food to eat tonight?”  Too sermonising, too joyless, even if true – and it doesn’t answer the question.

The militant side of me pops up as it often does, probably in the black beret and German army shirt of my teens, and suggests – “Oppressing the workers, of course, in the great class struggle that has repeated itself over centuries! You’re doomed already because I’m not rich and connected – better get used to it!” Too fatalistic for a five-year old, I think.

Perhaps I should be aspirational. “Work hard and you can get a boat like that someday!” The doctrine that my generation heard every day – that work, and more work, brought reward.

Except they never mentioned the burnout, the casualties you looked up to once that are still on the dole, the flip of the coin that sends your industry spiralling into oblivion when it had once been the surest ticket of the lot, the sleepless nights and the nagging feeling that maybe nice guys do finish last after all…

No, she deserves a much better answer – but I don’t have one.

“If I knew the answer,” I say honestly, “maybe we’d be in that boat now. But rich isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, I don’t suppose.”

“I guess not,” she says. “If you were really rich and had lots of boats like that, you’d forget where you left them, wouldn’t you?”

And I can’t argue with that.

Charlie says

After the attacks in France last week, I couldn’t help thinking of Voltaire’s statement that ‘I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it’ – and my conflicting feelings about how people were reacting to it. This is why I’m not Charlie – or not exactly.

I AM CHARLIE said the world
As we read about the white cartoonists murdered in their offices
For drawing something that poked fun at something else –
Not for shooting, bombs or missiles; this was not an eye for an eye.
We were shocked, we mourned,
And I AM CHARLIE was beamed across public buildings, Facebook profiles, newspapers and the chests and the faces of the liberals who mourned the loss of people like them,
The people who went to work one day and never came back.

And I AM CHARLIE with its hashtag appeared in the Twitter feeds of the celebrities.
This was an attack on freedom, they said.
We must stand and fight, they said, and publish the pictures that the killers hated wherever we can.
The pen is our weapon, they said.
And anyone who refuses to publish the pictures that the killers hated is a coward, they said, and no better than a killer themselves.
And the world with I AM CHARLIE beamed across its faces and public buildings gave the celebrities a million likes, cause we were down with that. We don’t like bombs, we use cartoons instead. We loved that shit.

And I AM CHARLIE appeared in the newspapers and the journals where the intellectuals talked about why religion should be satirised, why culture should be ridiculed, why the pictures that upset the terrorists and extremists – for only extremists can be upset by pictures, after all – should be shown proudly, everywhere.
And the world with I AM CHARLIE emblazoned on its T-shirts and its hashtags and its million likes for the celebrities skim-read the articles and gave them a like as well, because we were Charlie and we were liberal and we mourned, so we were down with that.

I AM CHARLIE brought the politicians to the streets. We stand in solidarity with those who fought for freedom of speech, they said.
And the newspapers with I AM CHARLIE emblazoned on its taglines and its Twitter feeds and its hashtags took their pictures and talked about the solidarity and the Europeans who cherish freedom of speech, and how wonderful it was.
And nobody really talked about who marched, and why they were doing it, because they were Charlie.
And I was Charlie too, and so were you.

And then I saw the pictures, and I wondered why.

Why nobody was putting up I AM SYRIA on their profile page when the chemical weapons gassed whole towns;
The same weapons that had been supplied by the same nations that had I AM CHARLIE emblazoned on their newspapers and their public buildings and whose politicians marched to say I AM CHARLIE
When protests against repression turned into a war that seemed to have no end
And the whole reason for fighting seemed to have been lost in bloodshed.
No I AM SYRIA here.

Why nobody was Baga in Nigeria
When the terrorists attacked the town, just because it was there
The world was too busy saying I AM CHARLIE to say that I AM BAGA too,
Except for a few.

And why, behind the I AM CHARLIE signs
Nobody was saying it was OK to mind a bit
That it was OK to hate terrorism and hate the killing and still dislike things that offend –
Because not liking something is not the same as killing –
And to worry about the people who felt threatened
Because they shared a religion and culture with the killers
And feared someone might make them take the blame
If they weren’t screaming I AM CHARLIE loud enough
And to worry about the racists who might now attack,
So long as they had I AM CHARLIE on their Facebook profile and their Twitter feeds, because the celebrities said so and the intellectuals said so and the politicians said so and they could say they were part of a glorious fight for freedom of speech because only extremists can be offended by racism.

Perhaps it was easiest to ignore all that
And say I AM CHARLIE with the rest of them

Black Friday

Every year I swear blind that I’m going to be more ethical in my Christmas shopping, and most years I end up just swearing – not just at the consumer madness of Black Fridays, Cyber Mondays and the like, but at my inability to make anything that doesn’t turn into a complete disaster. Hence this festive verse…

I’m going to have a really right-on Christmas this year.

The news is full of pictures of the mobs that flood the stores

To get their Christmas presents slightly cheaper than before

They push and shove and jostle and they thump the other shoppers

They might commit a murder that’s unnoticed by the coppers

Cause a bit of bloodshed’s worth it for a cheap computer game

The kids all want that console, and it’s not a time for shame

The people don’t know what to do, should they join in or sneer?

But I’m going to have a really right-on Christmas this year.

I’ve got it all thought out. I’m going to shun the plastic tat

The lights that clog up landfill and the bows that choke the cat

The things we can’t recycle that just get chucked in the bin

This time I’ll be more meaningful to see the new year in.

I’ll support the local traders selling pricey crochet gloves

They don’t sell a great deal more than that, but make them all with love

I’ll make some homemade shortbread, though my oven’s on the blink

(and the smoke last time I tried to make some gave off quite a stink)

With jars of homemade marmalade, I’m sure to raise a smile

(Especially if they’re packaged in a homemade eco style)

The kids don’t need more plastic toys that get lost on the shelf –

Instead, I’ll make them outfits that I’ve sewn by hand myself.

I’ll give charity certificates to friends both far and near –

Cause I’m going to have a really right-on Christmas this year.

There is just one slight problem with my perfect, right-on view –

I should plan this in July, but now December’s halfway through

I’m not much cop at baking, and can’t sew to save my skin

I’m not sure crap homemade presents would appeal to all my kin

I’d need a second mortgage to buy artisanal craft

And I’m not sure Great-Aunt Elsie really wants a fair-trade raft

I’m running out of options, and it’s giving me the fear –

But I really want to have a right-on Christmas this year.

And so I give a heavy sigh and head off to the shops

To spend several joyless hours to the sound of festive pop

(‘It’s CHRIIIIIST-MAAAAAASSSS!’)

And spend money I don’t really have on gifts they might not like

My nephew gets a sweater when he’d much prefer a bike

The shopping bags are heavy and my conscience prickles too

I’ve turned into a consumer, and I don’t know what to do.

A tawdry commercial Christmas seems devoid of any cheer

And I really wanted to have a right-on Christmas this year.

So let’s bring out the brown paper and the berries from the yard

The charity donations on the back of Christmas cards

There might just be a middle way, for when I’m short on time

I’m crap at all the homemade stuff, but can compose this rhyme

A very merry Christmas to friends both far and near

I hope you have a lovely, moderately right-on Christmas this year.

Sainthood

Friday 28th November is Carers’ Rights day in the UK. A while ago I tried to write something that describes some of the frustrations and the grind of being a part-time carer, and the things a carer can end up taking on; here it is.

Sainthood

“Hey Dad, I got your paper!”

This is what I say, day in, day out,

While I’m getting out the key to get in my father’s house

Cause ever since something happened to his mind

Every day I turn the key and I don’t know what’s there to find

Don’t know if it’s my dad that’ll be behind the door

Or some medical emergency that’s sprawled across the floor

But hey, I got the paper so he’s got some routine

And while he’s reading it I’m OK to get his house clean

“Hey Dad, you had your lunch yet?”  Persuading him to eat

That’s another of the little challenges I got to meet

There’s always something wrong, always got some reason why

He doesn’t eat that sort of salad or that bread’s too dry

But I try, and I try, and I try…

“So how’s the golf? Who’s winning?” Conversation’s artificial

It’s not like I’ve got much to say, but some talk is beneficial

He has to be interested in something, right?

And I try not to worry how he’ll manage tonight

Because after all, at three I’ll be closing this door

Cause I have to be back home to my little one at four

From carer to a mother, there’s nothing in between

But every day I want to shout –  this isn’t me!

I’m not some safe, floral-clad retiree

Watching daytime TV and just waiting to die

Getting what kicks she can get from the WI

Nah, this isn’t me!

Of course I over-compensate.

Cause I’m only thirty-eight

So in my car I’m listening to drum and bass

Turned up so loud it makes the car shake

And my ears bleed

And for a second, I feel free…

And then I get out

And I’m back

At the school gate

With a smile

And a handshake

And I make small talk that I can’t take

And I smile and I nod and I tell them that I don’t work

Cause these days my situation’s all in reverse

I’m a parent to a parent and a parent to a child

I’m a lawyer with the doctor and a doctor with the lawyer

(And a pain in the arse to social services)

And I can speak in tongues.

In medical terms, in legal terms, in welfare terms, in financial terms, in parent terms, in teacher terms, in half terms, in inset days, in non-uniform days, in jolly bloody phonics cause I’m engaged in my child’s education..

And for this, I don’t get paid.

And for this, I don’t get thanks.

And for this, people say – nothing.

Except for a few that might call me saint

And tell me I should do all of this with a smile on my face.

Cause that’s what you do in the big society

Cause they say that we’re the answer to austerity

Be an example, carers! Be proud!

So this is me, day in, day out

Day in…

Day out..

Day in…

Day out…

Bring the paper

Bring food

Well and truly

Trapped in sainthood.

http://www.carersuk.org is a great resource for carers, and highlights many of the obstacles carers have to face. Do check it out and consider supporting their campaigns if you can.