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Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Growing Up

Ears flapping in the breeze;
tongue out, tasting the fresh air rushing through the window crack.
The excitement of the journey.

Don’t tell him we’re going to the vets;
let him enjoy the pure thrill of just going.
Until the reality of the destination dawns.

Just like growing up.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017


Life is a series of choices. Big ones, little ones, clear-cut ones, difficult ones, ones that creep up on you without you realizing you’re making them. We’re all constrained by a finite amount of time, money and energy, and what we choose to do with them reflects our priorities. Should I apply for that job? Should I move? Should we have kids? Should I go for a run? Should I sit on the sofa with a double pack of Jaffa cakes watching Aircrash Investigation? Who should I vote for?

We choose our representatives in parliament, and government makes choices on our behalf. With the finite amount of money and time they have, governments’ funding and policies have to reflect their priorities. Do you, for example, prioritise a multi-billion pound nuclear missile system designed to vaporize hundreds of thousands of people in nanoseconds, or do you prioritise something less useful, shiny or tangible… say health and social care?

If you lead a party, you need to convince the electorate that your priorities reflect theirs. But what if they don’t? Well you still need to be elected don’t you? Just blur a few lines, muddy a few waters, shift a few blames. Government talks of compassion but the words don’t match the action. It jars, like if Joe Pasquale was asked to narrate a documentary about the Hindenburg disaster.

2016 was a dumpster-fire of a year. We were encouraged to clamber over each other to escape from it, whilst turning round to blame the charred corpses for getting in the way. The “anti-establishment” triumphed over the “metropolitan elites”. Finally. Thank goodness. And whether your preferred anti-establishment candidate was a multi-billion dollar property tycoon who spent his entire life milking the establishment, or a privately-educated tax-avoiding ex-commodities broker who is currently losing his shit about not getting a knighthood from the establishment, at least now is the time to bask in their victory. They’ve taken back control. I just wished they looked happy about it rather than flailing about with a mixture of confusion, anger and panic, like a dog handed the controls of the Space Shuttle and asked to complete re-entry.    

So how do you project a unifying message, a message of hope in troubling times? You don’t. You just blame the situation on someone else. Remember when those nurses, firemen, teachers and policemen crashed the entire global financial system? What were they thinking? Thanks a lot guys. Sheesh. Now we’re going to have to “live within our means”.

I say we, but it’s only fair some people are excused. We don’t want to go too overboard. Better give MPs a pay rise, they’re going to have to work hard to sort out our mess. And bankers too, let’s not forget them. Better start increasing their bonuses again, we want to attract the top talent over here. And if worst comes to worst at least we can blame immigrants or refugees, because nothing shows you live in an inclusive, caring society like focusing on exactly which part of our tiny orbiting projectile vulnerable and desperate people were born on.

The crash was a great excuse for austerity, which was a great excuse to cut public services. And when the deficit went up, they didn’t change course: cut further, cut deeper. Like a malaria-riddled Victorian missionary struggling through dense jungle, just machete the holy fuck out of everything. We’re on a mission. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. We hear the mantra “we need a strong economy first to fund services”. I can see that. It’s not like having a healthy, happy, educated, safe and secure population ever helped anyone is it? Maybe think of it the other way round.

After the crash we thought there might be a light at the end of the tunnel. Just keep our heads down, work hard, and it’ll all get better eventually. But it didn’t. Then things turned to Brex-shit. *Sighs* It’s like the end of the Shawshank Redemption, you’re Andy Dufresne, crawling through that sewer pipe towards a life of freedom. But when you get to the end of the pipe, you realise there’s another, and another, and another, until you can’t remember what it’s like to not be crawling on your hands and knees, surrounded by fetid stench, yearning for a different life. But by then it’s too late. You’re institutionalised. One of the pipe-people. Make the most of it. Raise a pipe-family. Little Billie and Rowdy Roddy. The Pipers

But how do you convince people that cutting services is the right thing to do? After all, these are national institutions that people are rightly proud of. Well, you don’t. You just “control the narrative”. Be creative. Use the right language. Say things like ”Overspend” rather than Underfund, Efficiency savings” rather than Crippling cuts, “Sustainability” rather than “Privatisation” and Ringfencing” instead of Failure to keep up with an entirely predictable increase in demand.

Ringfencing or protection of budgets is a great one, as all it relies on is convincing people that things don’t change over time. I could have “ringfenced” my pocket money back in the 80s, but although at the time that was sufficient to fund my ‘sitting around watching He-man and drinking Um-Bongo’ lifestyle, demands on my finances have increased and it would no longer fund the ‘crippling mortgage, wife, three kids and despair at humanity’ lifestyle I lead today.

If that doesn’t work, just remember to use really really big numbers. Like properly huge ones. It’s less obvious if one number is substantially smaller than another if it still seems pretty big. If you feel it isn’t big enough, make it seem much bigger by combining a number of years together, and if you can, compare it to a much smallerr number, ideally from the mid 18th century when you could buy a house for a tenner. If all else fails, just keep repeating a number and repeating it and repeating it, with the absolute confidence of a cult member. Say for example “An extra 10 billion pounds for the health service”. Don’t worry that it’s not true, that it’s been disproved by countless people including fellow government ministers, that you’ve stretched the time over which it’s given and that in order for it to be given you’re asking for over double that amount in cuts. In the end it sounds like a really really big number. Whoah - check out Billy Big Budget over there. Thanks mate, we’ve never had it so good. Because the trick is not just convincing people the real news is fake, it’s also convincing people your fake news is real.

And here’s the problem. To make proper choices you need to have an honest debate and weigh up the evidence. And we’re not getting that debate. Our priorities and choices may be different but at least let’s talk about it properly. Don’t let them sell us their image of a society when they do everything they can to avoid paying their fair share towards it. Don’t let them tell us something’s unaffordable or unsustainable, just because they think the 1% deserve a tax cut instead.

Keep a close eye on their choices. They’ll show you what their priorities really are.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

One Country

We planted the flag, but it didn’t grow

Oh no! Let’s find something different to sow

We’ll pull up the drawbridge, we’ll turn off the lights

We’ll round them all up and we’ll read them their rights

We’ll build a huge wall, and we’ll get them to pay

(But if they say no, we’ll push on anyway)

We’ll strengthen the army, campaigns will be planned

(For ease we’ll find foes that are closer to hand)

And when that’s all done, we all should unite

One country, together, to fight the good fight

Bobby Bee

A heart warming tale for children of all ages:

Bobby was an idealistic little bee. He spent his days buzzing around the meadows, bringing back pollen for the hive. It was exhausting and dangerous work. And he thought to himself “Why do some bees do all the hard work, putting their bee-lives on the bee-line all day, while others get the prime spots in the hive just because of inherited privilege?”

The bee rulers said to the bee workers “Aren’t we lucky to have our hive close to the sunny meadow with plenty of flowers? Aren’t we lucky, because some bees have nothing?” And while other bees felt happy with their situation, Bobby knew that this was just a distraction, a con-trick to make the workers grateful for the basic shelter and sustenance they needed to survive whilst the rulers hoarded obscene quantities of honey, enriching themselves at the expense of the masses.

So Bobby started to protest, he handed out bee-leaflets, he held up bee-placards, he wrote bee-protest songs. But other bees said “Bobby – Why do you have to make such a fuss? Why can’t you just be like the rest of us?” And they mercilessly mocked him for being different.

Bobby cried for days and days. But from that day on, Bobby realised there’s just no telling some people. So he decided to give up and just play along with the system. Because although he’d never be truly happy, it was just easier that way. And later he got promoted to middle-management, which was great. 

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Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Riding the Tiger

*sighs* *shakes head* *tuts* *sighs some more* *drinks* *tuts louder* *writes a sonnet*

Riding the Tiger

In our world of post-truth, with wool over our eyes
we should all go and see if the land truly lies.
"Debates" are a shit-show; the "experts" are stumped,
there's no place for fact-checking, when facts can be Trumped

Government's clogged: nothing's passing its Khyber
- it's diet is lacking enough moral fibre.
So how will we get their position to shift
to one where a right is a right not a gift?

Where all life is sacred, not just life in the womb
Where those fleeing war aren't told "Nope - there's no room"
Where spiritual leaders can give their "hot take"
on social injustice, not just words on a cake.

Because if we can't, if it all is in vain,
We'll have forgotten the lessons of "Never again"

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Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Address to Haggises In General

So, it's Burn's night. I've always felt a particular affinity with the Scottish people, mainly because I really really like fried food. I also like Haggis, as documented in this poem:

Address to Haggises In General

Haggis is such a tasty treat
For connoisseurs of oddball meat
Scottish folk are always pining
For offal served in stomach lining

Haggis that’s grilled, haggis fondue
Haggis en croute, haggis in stew
Haggis deep fried, Haggis dry roasted
Haggis concasse, Haggis that’s toasted
Haggis tempura, Haggis by Heston
Haggis with extra assorted intestine
Haggis that’s stuffed with Haggis rilettes
Haggis paninis and Haggis baguettes

It’s true that if I had my way

I’d eat some haggis every day 

What is haggis? The centerpiece of Burns Night Suppers explained

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Aoife / Invitation

It’s December 2016. We’re in the Labour Suite of the Infirmary. A home away from home – your brothers were born here, and your Mum and Dad work here. It’s been a bad few months – in which governments encouraged us to clamber over each other to escape this fucking dumpster-fire of a year, only pausing to turn back briefly to blame the charred corpses for getting in the way. But now you’re here. The light at the end of the tunnel. What kind of a life have we brought you into? No wonder you came out screaming.

Which idiots decided now would be a good time to bring you into the world? One that’s so far off the rails we’re starting to forget what the rails looked like? “Forget about the rails” they tell us, “Rails never really existed”.

Maybe it’s because we think that you, in your own way, could make the world a slightly better place? I hope that’s true – that you become one of those people who put in more than you take out, in whichever way makes you happiest. But most of all I hope that you realise you’re loved, and have the chance to love others.

For now, you’re lying peacefully in the cot. Small in size, big in potential. Are you a blank canvas? Completely free to choose your own direction? What has been predestined? Will you have your Mum’s strength, her determination, her selflessness? Will you have my poor eyesight? My high blood pressure?

One thing I know you have is an opportunity. A chance to experience this wonderful, crazy, frustrating, exhilarating adventure. Your invitation was sent. And now here you are. Welcome to the party. It’s BYOB.

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