Monthly Archives: July 2015

The swarm

David Cameron carefully called human beings a “swarm”. Like a tedious, shock-stirring hate columnist might call people drowning in the sea “cockroaches”, there was only one purpose – to turn them into not-people. If they are a swarm, if they are a they, then they are a mass, not individuals, not people with families and stories and lives. They are insects.

If you asked me to describe my country nowadays, I’d say it’s somewhere that’s unfriendly, unwelcoming, insular, like an alleycat crouched snarling over the corpse of a dead rat, determined to cling on to the scraps it’s got and to hell with everything else. People in London might claim it’s the most diverse city in the universe, blah de blah, but we like rich “diversity” – we just don’t like people from elsewhere if they might have needs rather than pump in dirty money.

But this is what we want. We have government by focus group, and focus groups are made up of the man and woman in the street, and I’ve met the man and woman in the street, and the man and woman in the street are cunts. We don’t want our precious beautiful perfect soil to be tainted by human beings fleeing terrible poverty, war, death and destruction in their homelands. Sure, it’s terrible for them and all that, but we’d rather look the other way and pretend they don’t really exist. Could we shunt them a bit further away from Calais, so they don’t spoil our nice holidays so much? Can we stop them getting in boats on the Mediterranean? Shut down the borders. Build a huge wall. Stop them coming. Look the other way. This isn’t a humanitarian crisis; it’s about our right to a nice life, which is apparently under threat by showing a scrap of compassion to other people, people like us, who just happened to be born under different circumstances.

You feel almost apologetic nowadays, some kind of ridiculous bleeding heart, if you talk about immigration this way. You feel like you have to justify why you think it’s a good idea not to treat people like insects, why everyone should have the right for a good life, even if that means that the quality of ours might suffer a little to accommodate people who’ve got nowhere else to go. You think, is it me? Am I wrong? Is it just me who doesn’t mind if we help people who need help, because it’s the right thing to do? When did we stop doing things because it’s the right thing to do? But it seems so hopelessly outdated.

We chose this. Time and again, Britain has decided to make itself less and less welcoming to visitors, be they refugees, economic migrants or world-renowned artists. We don’t want you here: that’s the message that comes across, in speech and in policy. But it’s not just David Cameron and his party. There’s a points system in place that means there’s a huge skills shortage. It was a “red line” for the Coalition deal: the Liberal Democrats might bleat about an anti-immigration policy now, but they had five years of chauffeur-driven luxury and nice shiny offices by letting it happen. Labour had a “Controls on Immigration” mug for sale during the election. Ukip have thrived on back-of-a-fag-packet Little Britain racism. It’s a broad consensus. People don’t like immigration, therefore we must do something about it. Something; anything.

It starts with language like “swarm” and calls to bring in the army. Bring in the army to deal with people, many of whom are fleeing conflict at home. Run away from guns to be faced by more guns. Look for hope and help, be met with contempt. This is Britain, and you’re not welcome. We don’t like you and we don’t want you here. Why don’t you just not bother?

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Posted by on July 30, 2015 in Uncategorized


Dancing in the dark

My life has changed completely, but not changed at all. Apart from never sleeping, everything is pretty much the same. I see everything through that milky late-afternoon stayed-up-all-night haze that I dimly recall from my student days.

Every day consists of a series of tasks to be done, which I find quite enjoyable. But there’s a reason behind it. You’re there to construct the everything that another human being sees and feels and experiences, and everything you do contributes to that, from your tone of voice to the way you wipe the kitchen surfaces. Everything has a purpose. I have a purpose. I can’t remember when I felt I had a purpose. It’s rather nice.

I have something to do during the long summer holiday apart from think about work. (Work! I don’t think about work at all, which is wonderful, though part of me longs for a class of 32 bogey-flicking Year 6s) I can just do. We don’t enjoy doing enough, I think. There’s a pleasure to be had in just doing something, and doing it as well as you can. You can be quite zen about it all. Make this time the time you clean the feeding bottle in the best way you can possibly do it. Make this the best nappy change ever. Do everything well, because you must, not because you should.

I have no idea whether we’re doing things right or not. I’ve had impostor syndrome in my professional life many times, often because it was entirely justified, but here I literally don’t know. Am I doing it right? Are we okay? Are we getting everything spectacularly wrong? Would someone else do it differently? You agonise and worry and wonder. And then there comes a point where you’re so crushingly, massively tired that you realise you don’t have enough energy to do the stuff you’re doing and worry about it at the same time, so you jettison your worry like George Clooney floating away from that space station in Gravity, and it gradually recedes into the distance and gets quieter, and that’s quite comforting. All your worry doesn’t change anything. It’s a symptom that you’re probably doing things in the right spirit. And that’s all the evidence you’ve got, so go with it.

I have never felt this tired, this worried, this demanded upon… and yet, I don’t find it stressful at all. Stress comes from the things you have no control over, the things where you have to prove yourself to other people, where you have to wonder about that chasm between what you say you can do and what you’re actually capable of doing. I have no stress. Being a parent of a tiny living human being who relies on you to stay ,alive and be happy, and create neural connections that create its entire future ability to relate to other people, isn’t stressful. Because for better or worse, you’re in charge. You don’t have someone to refer to. You are in charge and you have to get on with it. Every decision you make is the final decision, and therefore the right decision. There is no pressure. There is no stress.

Finally I’m left overwhelmingly in awe of all those parents who came before me, the ones I know and the ones I don’t know. I think back to my mother and father, who looked after me and raised me, and I look back to their parents too, bringing their babies up in the aftermath of the second world war. Particularly I think of my mum’s mum, who brought her up as a single parent in the wreckage of the Blitz. You grow a new appreciation of people, of parents, of women in particular. All the things they have given and done and brought to make us all here.

You see glimpses of the past – your own past – and the future you hope might happen for your own child. All those fears and hopes you have sit neatly, calmly together, in a small piece of flesh and bones, whose eyes look to you like you are the whole world, because for those few seconds, and for all the time they have ever know, you are and you were. Tiredness doesn’t seem to matter, compared to that. Not a lot does. See you at 4am, woken by the crying I know so well, the sound that roars through the air and pushes your eardrums back, the crying that calls out for help, help, help right now, the crying which is love.

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Posted by on July 27, 2015 in Uncategorized


The unthinkable Jeremy

All week, it’s been fascinating, in a grisly sort of way, watching Labour slowly disintegrate into a million tiny insignificant pieces. As someone who’s voted for them in the past – even shoved leaflets through letterboxes back in the day, gone on marches and attended utterly tedious and never-ending branch meetings – it’s rather sad.

Everywhere, the question is why. Why is this stupid bearded bastard doing so well? How can this faded relic who we only let in as a bit of a joke, to try and pretend to the wing of the party we despise (but whose votes we need) actually be being taken seriously? Look, we let him turn up so we could make it look as though we’re a broad church; but for heaven’s sake, you weren’t meant to actually think he was any good. Now be sensible, you silly sods, and vote for one of the three nonentities.

It says something for the contempt with which Labour holds its own members that this incessant, witless spectacle seems most focused on putting Corbyn supporters on the naughty step rather than offering an alternative.

So much condescension. Tony Blair popped up with some unfunny zingers. Corbyn voters are either deluded, or idiots, or deluded idiots, or people who prefer splendid isolation to being in power, or whatever. It couldn’t be that he’s offering something that the others aren’t; that would be unthinkable. The others are election winners!

But elections – and this is one – quite often aren’t won by being the dazzling candidate with the best ideas. They can be won by being less inept than everyone else. Jeremy Corbyn might knock about with Gerry Adams and not be able to do up a tie, but he can actually answer questions. He doesn’t look or sound like a tedious PR wonk career politician. The others do. He can say things that connect with people who have been doing the door knocking, leafleting and attending those pointless branch meetings for decades.

Listen to the voters, they say. Well, Labour voters want to go into an election not holding on to their noses but actually voting for something they can believe in. Wait, not those voters! The ones who want to vote Conservative and shop in Waitrose – those are our people! Tory voters aren’t evil, we need them back!

Suppose Tory voters aren’t evil. But let’s also suppose they’re not stupid. “Hey, hang on a minute, Labour are now copying the Tories, that must mean they’ve changed their minds completely and I can go and vote for them again! Well done, progressive Labour! I feel right back at home!” Where are the big ideas, the sweeping visions? The three dull, double glazing sales types offer nothing like that. A bit of tinkering here and there. A fresh start. Being northern. Having slightly nicer branding. Maybe using different fonts. That sort of thing. No vision. No ideas. Just endless deserts of beige management consultant nothingness.

Deep down you wonder how long it will last. Soon, one of the three nobodies will come up with something, anything, anything other than being anyone but Corbyn. But time is passing and it’s not happening.

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Posted by on July 25, 2015 in Uncategorized


The Trance

As a parent, I always promised myself that I would never start sentences “as a parent”. And, unless the trance-like fog of sleep deprivation has descended over me and taken control of my ability to construct thoughts using words, I’m pretty sure I’ve kept to that rule.

A rush of air. A gurgle of fluid. And then there was a wailing, grating, gnarly little sound rising above everything in the operating theatre. You think that you process the world through your eyes, and only your eyes, but then there comes a sound like that. I – we; there is no real “I” at the moment – felt the slush of tears fall over my eyes.

This is happening; this is really happening.

People say you change straight away. I don’t think changed much last Wednesday afternoon, at six minutes past one; every second that passed since, though, has felt new. As a parent, I’d never say that you only understand being a parent as a parent, because you don’t. But things do change. You change, not because you choose to, but because choice is taken away from you. Certain choices leave you. When to sleep. When to be awake. When you can just walk out of a room. When you can go and have a piss. That’s just how it is, and how it’s going to be.

I’m writing this in the half-light of a dull, drizzly Monday afternoon. The school holidays, so I’m off work. Usually you’d hear kids outside on bicycles heading off down the river, but the rain has chased them away, and all that’s left is a grey, murky quiet. Just the laptop screen glowing in the dark. Two metres away, there’s the occasional snuffle and puff of breathing. And still it doesn’t seem real. But this is happening; this is really happening. Raindrops trickle down the windows. Wet washing, left out too long, flaps lazily, heavily in a whisper of breeze.

You find a connection you always knew was there, to your parents, and their parents, but which hadn’t always been so obvious. Every petty argument, every fight, every tear you shed, is seen through the feelings you’re having right now. It starts to make a kind of sense. We’re all just trying to make a job of it, and no one really knows what they’re doing. And if they say they know what they’re doing, they definitely don’t. Am I doing this right? Am I doing anything right? Can I cope with this? Can I really do this? This is happening; this is really happening.

A lot of things go wrong. You make mistakes, and you learn and start again. It’s frustrating and demoralising and difficult, but you do it because you have to, because there isn’t another choice, because you wanted to, because this is what you still want so much, because this is how it is, and how it’s going to be. There is no sudden epiphany where you look into the eyes of your child and you feel an amazing overwhelming heart-bursting sense of love. It’s there, it’s always been there and it will always be there. You don’t need to realise something that you know is there. But you clean up tarry black shit from a helpless bum, because that’s your job, and it seems like the most purposeful thing in the world, the most important job that anyone could ever do – and you’ve been given the job.

The whirr of the laptop fills the room. My baby daughter squeaks, lying back, helpless, arms raised up to the sky, already growing towards it. And I’ve got to stop writing, because writing doesn’t mean anything sometimes.

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Posted by on July 20, 2015 in Uncategorized



Suppose it’s a bluff. Harriet Harman says Labour won’t oppose welfare reform – it seems quite sensible that women who have been raped must prove so in order to deserve tax credits for a third child, for example – in order to rile the left into action. The more they agree with the the Tories, the more they shift the “centre” to the right, the more they throw their hands up and admit defeat on every argument they should be having, the more the fightback begins.

Say that’s the case. Say Harman is trying to rouse Labour from its slumber. Will it work? Will the lack of opposition prickle supporters into getting angry and active? Will it cause an outcry that forces people to demand a change of direction? Or will we all just shrug our shoulders, admit defeat, and get on with a straightforward choice between the Conservative Party or a rebadged, slightly more hand-wringing Conservative Party with a red rose on the logo?

Oh, but you can’t be silly and say that people are Tories if they support Tory policies and do everything the Tories would do, say One Labour, or I Love Labour, or Labour Are Nice And We’re Not Tories, or whatever the faction that votes Anyone But Corbyn call themselves at the moment. You mustn’t call us Tories, that’s not fair. We are Labour, because we call ourselves Labour. We identify as Labour, even if we aren’t. Therefore, you don’t get to decide whether we are or not.

“Do you want to win an election?” they snarl. And once again a binary choice is placed before the entire spectrum of left thinking in Britain. It is either The Centre or Socialist Nonsense. It is either Election Victory or Doldrums. It is either Convincing Marginal Voters or Being In Opposition Forever. (But seeing as “opposition” at the moment doesn’t appear to involve opposing anything, would that make such a difference?)

Perhaps Labour should forget everything they’ve ever fought for – and won – every principle they’ve ever had, everything they’ve ever wanted, everything they have historically stood for, and just try to win an election. Just as they gave up trying to fight the lie that they crashed the economy, they should give up fighting for the truth that austerity won’t work, and will hurt. Stop fighting. Give up. We lost that argument, so it doesn’t matter. Listen to the voters. They said – well, 30-odd per cent of them said – vote Tory, so we should listen to that, rather than the people who voted for us. (Forget listening to voters in Scotland, though. Can’t understand that. Very odd. Forget about Scotland, it’s gone now.)

In the meantime, a Government with a tiny, slim majority dismantles the BBC, attacks benefits, ruins schools, breaks up the NHS, erodes workers’ rights and sets its sights on even more – getting rid of holiday pay, maternity pay, sick pay. And Labour covers its mouth and watches. “Well, if this is what the people want,” they mumble, “then we must agree with it”. And then, just like that, it’s all gone.

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Posted by on July 13, 2015 in Uncategorized


Giving up

There comes a time, a few years in, when you start to realise. What you want to happen isn’t going to happen. You’ve given it a good enough go. You tried, and for whatever reason – it doesn’t matter so much – you couldn’t quite get there.

Four years ago, I first stepped into a classroom with a view to becoming a teacher. I really, really wanted to do it. I believed I could do it. I felt I could learn.

It hasn’t worked out. For a variety of reasons – at first, I simply wasn’t good enough – I haven’t been able to secure a full time job beyond a disastrous and traumatic few months of miserable, soul-breaking pain at a failing school. Every night, ten kilos of books to lug downstairs and take home and mark. Every weekend, the same mass of planning. Every term, the same vicious assessments, observations and pupil progress beatings. Ask for help with a child who’s hurting? “We’re not social workers, you know.” Never before have I felt such spite, unpleasantness and vindictive bullying from adult colleagues. Never again do I want to go through it. Blame someone else. Do it yourselves. I’m well out of it.

I’ve written before about what a privilege it is to teach, and it is. It’s wonderful to be able to make a whisper of difference to tiny people who trust you with their safety and education. When it goes well, it’s amazing. But it doesn’t go well often enough. It didn’t go well often enough.

When I started, I used to get terrible feedback. Now I get really good feedback, but still no job. “it was a really creative lesson… But we don’t need a creative teacher. We need someone who’ll do what we say.” And you begin to wonder if being a bit older might have something to do with it. The whole point of education is that people can change, and grow – yet you get looked down at if you want to change or grow, yourself. But so what? What does it matter about the how and the why? There is only what is.

You have to know when to give up. When to let go. When you’re past the point where it’s still possible to cling to those dreams you had. You have to look wider. See a bigger view, a bigger picture, if you can. So this wasn’t to be, but you tried. At least I tried. That’s all you can ever ask. You don’t know if you don’t try.

Not drowning anymore, just waving. 

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Posted by on July 7, 2015 in Uncategorized