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Archive for the ‘The Constant Unfolding of Events’ Category

Guidance

This blog almost certainly contains something that someone somewhere will manage to find offensive or at least annoying. To those people I respectfully suggest you lie down in a quiet, dark place for a short while, and think about how you might try to chill out a bit.

Meh indifference

Way back in the 2000s (remember them, eh, kids?!), the smart response to so much content online was meh, like, whatever. It seemed to be a badge of honour, an attitude, that you were, like, so not interested in all this trivial nonsense. You could rise above it. Who needed LOLcatz anyway?

Now Bento, ‘the keyboard cat’ dies and it makes the national news.

The amount of memes and content and reposting and churnalism has overwhelmed us. We’re increasingly incapable of setting our Slow Thinking System 2 to work, rationally processing and analysing the world. Ever-shorter attention spans are driving TL:DR, while ‘intelligent’ algorithms drive us deeper into social and political echo chambers where we only see stuff we already like.

Confirmation bias becomes embedded, debate mutates into violent shouting matches, and the idea of constructive compromise is an outdated weakness.

Anger Inside Out

From meh to outrage

The apathetic shoulder-shrug has long gone, now everything is outrage and offence, hyperbole and superlatives. With no sense of irony, it’s almost impossible to overstate the speed at which the internet can go apesh*t over anything and everything.

In case you’ve not experienced this, allow me to outline the (all too predictable) process.

  • Newspapers splash headlines about ‘fury’ or ‘storm’ as though the nation is up in arms, when in fact they’re simply reposting a few angry tweets or comments from random individuals
  • These headlines spark reactions in others (even if the headline bears little resemblance to the substance in the article). Remember, people aren’t reading the article, just assuming the headline is true
  • Outrage spreads like a wildfire, no one checks the actual facts and ‘an internet storm’ is born. 140 (or even 280) characters is never enough to convey the real nuances or shades of grey
  • The speed with which it spreads seems to validate the outrage through a herd mentality: if so many people are in on this, it must be something…
  • Scepticism or restraint is seized upon as condoning the outrageous behaviour. As President George W Bush made clear more than a decade ago, there is no permissible middle ground

Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists

  • And before anyone can draw breath, today’s trending topic of outrage is tomorrow’s ‘seen it, don’t care’. The relentlessness of 24/7 online news, and its ethos that no story is too small or extreme to merit a manipulative headline from which they can sell ad space, means that something else will come along, probably in time for the evening rush hour, or tomorrow’s breakfast news, or lunchtime.

Perhaps the first time I remember this was in 2001, before Social Media even existed, when the hilarious Chris Morris satire “Brass Eye” lampooned sensationalist news stories, often at the expense of MPs and celebrities. Its ‘paedogeddon’ episode about internet paedophiles created a storm among many of the Great and the Good, claiming it to be offensive and calling for it to be banned without having even seen it.

More recently there was Steve Martin’s tweet about Carrie Fisher in the aftermath of her death in December 2016. His attempt to pay tribute to his friend was swamped by moral fury and he removed it within 72 hours.

steve martin carrie fisher tweet december 2016

In the US, Starbucks’ has produced seasonal red cups to replace its usual white & green to celebrate the festive season. They’ve done this for years, such that their release has become a signpost for the season of good will. Until 2015, when the plain red ‘design’ was decried as an ‘attack’ on Christmas, part of the systemic societal ‘persecution’ of Christians and Christianity in the US.

Starbucks Seasonal Red Cups Christmas Festive

I can see a cheapskate cost-reduction that’s pretty offensive, but an attack on Christianity?!

The entertaining and insightful writer Jon Ronson has written extensively about our current culture of offence and shaming. This review of his book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” is terrific, and gets to the heart of things when it discusses

…a scuttling crowd of people who want nothing more in life than to be offended. Offence, for this lot, is not a straightforward emotional response, instinctive and heartfelt. It’s a choice, something they actively seek.

When did we move from offence being a spontaneous and unconscious response to a strategy for life?

 

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A recent thing that’s been doing the rounds on Facebook has been the 7-day Black & White Challenge: post one photo a day for a week that reflects your life. Photos should contain no people and carry no captions or explanation. And like the best (sic) memes, you’re encouraged to challenge another person to take the challenge each day. 7 times the fun!

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, this is hardly a challenge, and apparently it’s caused far more ranting on social media than I’d wish for from a civilised society in 2017. But never mind that, I took part and enjoyed it. But why should I let the pictures speak for themselves when I can speak for them?

Birthday Cake
The first day of my challenge happened to be Eleanor’s 12th Birthday, so there was cake. She’s an avid baker and indeed she made this red velvet cake herself, and the icing, and iced it!

Black and White Challenge 2017 Birthday Cake

Whiskers
We adopted Whiskers on 1st July 2016, almost on a whim. We knew the family of his elderly owner, but she had to go into residential care, so he needed a new home. We went round to meet him and he was so immediately friendly that we took him there and then. He’s 9 years old, adorable and adoring, he craves and loves attention. I can scarcely remember a time without him.

Black and White Challenge 2017 Whiskers Cat

Bedside Table
These are a few of my favourite and least favourite things, some of which remind me of my mortality every day. Is it a cheat to have these pictures of Rachel, Jamie and Eleanor? I love (not in the same way, obviously) cinema, films and Empire magazine. The Handmaid’s Tale is my current much-overdue reading material. We’ve been watching the stunning TV adaptation, and in fact experiencing the two simultaneously has in fact enhanced my appreciation and admiration for both. A rare feat.

I’m less keen on needing two pairs of glasses now, and two different daily eyedrops to keep my glaucoma under control. Nor am I thrilled about the Citalopram tablets, but after 6 weeks, I genuinely think they’re beginning to make a difference.

Black and White Challenge 2017 Bedside Table

Sibelius
This coming Saturday the Stroud Symphony Orchestra is playing Sibelius’ 2nd Symphony. It could prove to be an emotional evening, as it’s the first concert I’ll have played since Dad died in August. It will be something not to have him in the audience, as he (and usually Mum too) came to virtually every concert I’ve played in the last 20 years. Sibelius is one of our shared favourite composers, and this perhaps his finest symphony. The epic, triumphant final movement might be tough to play without tears.

Black and White Challenge 2017 French Horn Orchestra Rehearsal Sibelius 2nd Symphony

Headspace
Rachel has been a practitioner and advocate for mindfulness, meditation and self-compassion for a couple of years, especially after she took a course locally with Linda Thomas. I’m using the Headspace app (free for a 10-day basic trial, paid-for after that, packed with loads of good stuff). Just taking time out, focusing on my breathing and how I’m actually physically feeling, not suppressing thoughts, just noticing them and letting them pass on by without beating myself up; observing, not judging. It’s worth a try…

Black and White Challenge 2017 Headspace Mindfulness App

Map
I’ve loved maps since I was a child watching my parents navigate our way through France on holiday, and closer to home. I love OS maps and their symbols, contour lines and clarity. This is centred on Tetbury and barely a day goes by without me pausing to reflect on how much I love the Cotswolds. I’ve planned many bike rides on this. Strava is great, but it’s not everything.

Black and White Challenge 2017 Ordnance Survey Map Tetbury Cotswolds

Clock
My last picture was taken on Wednesday, a Bad Day. I’d been working at home but it hadn’t gone well. After a poor night’s sleep I was down, distracted and dismayed all day. Sunday and Tuesday had both been Better Days, but Wednesday certainly wasn’t. By the time I needed to go and do the school run, I felt like I’d achieved virtually nothing. The clock ticked on and I felt lousy. The volatility and seeming randomness of what can make for a Good or Not Good day is almost debilitating.

Black and White Challenge 2017 Kitchen Clock Cornish Blue

But today I’ve genuinely tried to be present, in the moment. I’ve not thought about next week or next month or should I go to that meeting or what about Christmas Shopping? And it has felt productive. Laundry, cooking food, writing this, doing yoga, going to the gym. It might not seem much, but it’s been a Good Day.

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Right now, in the afterglow of 2016, there are a few things I know to be true.

2016 was not the Worst Year Ever

  • To be sure, the ‘important’ celebrity deaths seem on a different level, especially as they now include stars who came to world attention in the broadcast media age. It’s very sad that Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (her Mother) died within hours. But please, it’s only a tragedy for their friends and family. It makes me sad for them, and a bit sad for me as I’ve loved their films, but it’s not life-changing or tragic or unbearable. Really, it’s not.
  • Brexit and Donald Trump have rattled my cage and dented my rose-tinted liberal view of the world, but they’re not massively unsurprising. With a smidgen of hindsight, it’s quite easy to see them as a natural progression of where we’ve been going in recent years, perhaps somewhat extreme, certainly upsetting for me, but actually almost inevitable.
  • Similarly, while stories and images from Syria have been uniformly depressing and the scale of destruction seems more catastrophic, how different are they from Chechnya, South Sudan, Iraq, Rwanda, Somalia, Kosovo and other conflicts of the last 25 years. The so-called ‘refugee crisis’ is  similarly the natural extension of what’s been building for a long time.

I’m done with thinking of The New Year as Something Transformative…

Just because the year changes on the calendar doesn’t mean I can swivel on a sixpence and turn things around. There are things I can control and things I can’t, things that actually affect me and stuff that simply bothers me. I’m trying to stop caring too much about celebrity deaths, or what Donald Trump has proclaimed about Vladimir Putin, or what kind of Brexit we apparently want today.

But I can’t shrug off or simply change my attitude about a whole shitpile of things that affect me directly and are at least partly beyond my control. I can’t pretend to even consider the sort of upbeat “let’s make 2017 AWESOME” posts that are just about everywhere. Because while I am privileged and lucky to be British, white, born to affluent parents (etc), and we had many fine experiences last year, I can’t hide that, overall, 2016 was bloody hard. And the things that made it hard aren’t going away anytime soon.

  • My Dad still has inoperable cancer and has been increasingly breathless, which unsurprisingly is taking its toll on Mum, so they need our support more than ever, emotionally and physically.
  • Christmas 2016 was the last that Rachel and I will celebrate in either of our childhood homes.
  • We’re still helping Hannah through a protracted process to get her the support she needs to make sense of herself, feel less anxious at school, and to give her a shot at achieving her undoubted potential in an education system that seems to be going back generations in its approach to testing and exams.

Believe in Better

I do believe that it will be all right in the end, but I can’t see the end right now. So please, try not to encourage me to make 2017 amazing or exciting. Please don’t tell me to ‘consume less/create more, frown less/smile more’.

If I’m lucky, stay focused and can stick to my intentions, I’m hopeful I can be enriched in 2017 by

  • moving house (while staying local)
  • helping my parents downsize into a smaller home
  • spending more time writing this than getting annoyed on Twitter
  • continuing my cycling evolution; ride more often (commuting), further (100 mile rides), in new places (Wales, Yorkshire, France?), and more with our children
  • (re)watching Mad Men
  • helping our children to thrive, laugh and be everything they can be
  • the love and support of Rachel, Hannah & Eleanor, as well as my family and friends

Wish me luck…

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I married my wife in a Catholic Church 17 years ago, where we both promised to raise our children as Catholics, and I’m sticking with that promise. I try to live by a lot of the teaching and messages in the Christian texts, even if I don’t accept the literal story or messenger. Last Sunday I attended Mass for the first time in a while, and listened to a reading from the Letter of St James (2: 14-18)…

How does it help, my brothers, when someone who has never done a single good act claims to have faith? Will that faith bring salvation? If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, “I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty,” without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that? In the same way, faith, if good deeds do not go with it, is quite dead.

Paris is worth a mass…

My thoughts immediately turned to politicians who claim that God inspires their every action. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Hundreds of years ago the Protestant Duke of Bourbon, on becoming King Henri IV of France, found that it would significantly strengthen his position if he were a Catholic: so he converted to secure the support of Spain and the Catholic League.

Especially (but not exclusively) in the US, being a God-faring Christian seems a hygiene factor to be an electable politician. The TV screens are full of mostly rich white men invoking God and Jesus at every opportunity. But their so-called Christian attitude seems largely unrelated to what I remember from the preaching of Jesus Christ: no compassion for women, even those who have been raped, who might want or need an abortion, no “Good Samaritan” attitudes to people living in poverty, ample protection and rewards for the rich at the expense of the vulnerable.

Setting the agenda

This week, the UK press has truly shown itself (as if any further proof were needed) to be ‘holier than thou’ bullies rather than enquirers after the truth. Jeremy Corbyn was elected by a massive majority to be leader of the UK Labour Party, surprising almost everyone with the scale of his democratic triumph, yet it seems that almost noone in the press (even the left-leaning Guardian) likes him, which has led to some shameful ad hominem attacks that don’t even get close to being worthy of the name ‘journalism’.

He’s faced criticism for wearing a jacket that didn’t match his trousers. He was pilloried for appointing a Shadow Cabinet in which no women held the so-called ‘Top 4’ posts, ignoring the fact that more than half of his total team are women. Currently just 1/3 of David Cameron’s Cabinet are women, and the last two Labour Prime Ministers (Tony Blair and Gordon Brown) ended their tenures in Downing Street with barely 1/4 women among their Ministers of State.

Surely it’s not about the bike…

Nothing seems too trivial or too tenuous to slip in a jibe, even if you’re the (sic) respectable broadsheet The Times of London. Mr Corbyn likes to ride a bicycle to get around his Inner London constituency. But because he’s left-of-centre, it’s now apparently acceptable to refer to his “Chairman Mao-style bicycle”… but look! David Cameron rides one that’s quite similar.

Chairman Mao Bicycle Jeremy Corbyn David Cameron

If that’s the Chairman Mao, is Dave riding the Pinochet?

Sing Up!

But that was Tuesday… Wednesday’s front pages were dominated by the scandal, the national shame that at a service to honour the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, Mr Corbyn did not sing the National Anthem. I’m prepared to concede that this is a PR mistake and lack of foresight, and even an error of judgement. But is it really more important than the facts that in the last 48 hours the UK Parliament has debated and passed two bills which both seem to target the hard-working people the Tory Party so vocally championed during this year’s General Election?

Don’t blame me…

The latest Trade Union Bill will require unions to give at least 2 weeks’ notice of an intended strike, allow employers to use agency staff to replace striking workers and require picketing strikers to give their name, address and email address to police. The tone of Government presentation of this bill would have an outsider believe that the country is held to ransom by Trade Unions. In fact, the days lost each year to strike action over the last 5 years has averaged around 650,000. This might seem a lot, until you understand  that it is 95% lower than when the country really was held to ransom during the 1970s and early 1980s.

During this same period there’s reams of evidence demonstrating how the top 1% or 10% receive a far higher proportion of incomes. The banks who caused the credit crunch have been bailed out to the tune of billions and austerity measures have frozen pay for public sector workers and ushered in an increasingly new normal of zero-hours contracts. I Reckon we are still being held to ransom, but it sure ain’t the unions that are the problem now.

Work to live…

Just a few months ago The Conservative Manifesto trumpeted that

We offer a good life for those willing to try — because we are the party of working people. The next five years are about turning  the good news in our economy into a good life for you and your family.

Except the new tax credits bill that was debated and passed yesterday will cut supplementary benefits for low income or part-time earners, by as much as £1,000 per year, and could affect 3 million of these precious hard-working families.

When is a refugee more than just a scrounging immigrant? When he sells papers…

Jeremy Corbyn’s suits have made the plight of the Syrian, Libyan and Sudanese refugees suddenly “so last week”. Then the media and politicians were brow-beaten or guilt-tripped by grass-roots groups into taking any kind of action. From scathing indifference or outright hostility, they suddenly discovered a streak of compassionate, all encapsulated in one horrific picture of a dead toddler washed up on a beach. Now they’re wondering why Corbyn wears brown and not a nice midnight blue.

The UK Government and press are alike in behaving like St James’ examples of a man with loudly-proclaimed faith, but no good deeds. They preach about making “right” choices to the people who do not have such luxuries of choice. They judge poorly those who don’t fit their simplistic paradigm, By doing so, I Reckon they demean us all.

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So, that’s two elections in a row that I’ve been left disappointed. Except this time it was much more surprising. The opinion polls were unanimous; it was neck-and-neck between the Labour & Conservative parties. Until it wasn’t. Or maybe the Labour voters just turned out in areas where they didn’t change the outcomes. Or maybe their campaign was flawed from the start with a leader who isn’t even the most statesmanlike in his own family.

Anyway, it was pretty depressing for a bleeding-heart liberal like me this morning. A Tory Government (technically a coalition) took over in 2010 promising we’re all in it together, but in reality passed swathes of swingeing cuts that hit the disabled, the single parents, the young and the poor disproportionately. Meanwhile the rich seemed protected under the guise of incentives while those receiving benefits were stigmatised. If you weren’t hard-working,  you were a shirker or a skiver.

Yet after 5 years they increased their share of the vote, command an overall majority in Parliament, and despite receiving only 37% of a 66% turnout, can most likely act as they please in setting legislation for the next 5 years.

But, as a colleague suggested to me this morning, “we live in a First World country… we’re not starving, we’re not under military law…” So I’ve been trying to keep things in perspective, and look forward with optimism. And I recall this piece I read yesterday by Simon Ricketts, which I Reckon is beautifully written. I can’t speak for anyone else’s voting intentions, or what shapes their thinking. But this is what shaped mine, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Here’s the thing I’ve never quite got. When I vote, I don’t vote for me.

I don’t vote for what tax cut, what pension benefit, what fuel price freeze, what VAT adjustment will benefit me.

I never have.

When parties promise me things, I can’t help thinking they are pointing at the wrong person.

I’m not rich – in accepted UK terms. But I’m not poor.

I’d love a bit more money. I’d love to be able to pay my rent without first checking that I can. It would be great to be able to pay for a restaurant bill without freezing momentarily when my card goes in the machine,

But generally, I can eat. I can survive, I can feed and clothe my cat. (Shut up).

Thousands and thousands can’t.

I never vote for me. I only ever vote for those who don’t.

I vote for those who never watch Newsnight, who have never heard of the IFS, interest rates, annuity funds, oil prices, deficits, retail price indicators.

I vote for people who need help. People who are much too busy feeding their kids to worry about what colour tie that man is wearing, what clever line that person has rebuffed, what apparent howler that person has been caught on video saying.

It seems simple to me. Vote for the people less fortunate than you. In every situation.

Vote for the people who aren’t looking up. Vote for those who are looking down.

The alternative seems so absurd: “Vote for the person who will enrich me in tiny ways for a little bit, and make sure the other person gets less.”

When my time is up, I can’t imagine happily thinking “I wish I’d grabbed a little bit more for myself.”

But I would be happy to think: “I tried to do something. For people who have less.”

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There is to be a General Election in the UK in 5 weeks’ time, and it could be the most complicated vote and aftermath in a long time, something that makes my misplaced optimism of 2010 look even more naïve.

It seems likely that no one party will command a majority of seats, just like in 2010. But since 2010 there have been two significant shifts in the electoral landscape, namely the (in my mind, more-than-slightly depressing) rise of UKIP and the astonishing surge away from Labour towards the SNP in Scotland. Add those to the grim slow-death of the Liberal Democrats since their unholy deal with David Cameron’s minority Conservative Government, and you have a mess, where even broadly ideological coalitions will struggle to govern.

UK election 2015 power share forecasts

See? Simples..!

No points for second place…

I’ve railed before about how my vote has failed to count in 5 out of 6 previous General Elections. In fact, if I’m being all Russell Brand about this, it probably didn’t really matter in the other one either, as the winning party won a massive majority anyway.

When I’ve voted for a ‘losing’ candidate, he (and it has always been a man) has always gained between 29% – 36% of the votes. That’s certainly a long way from winning, but it’s not insignificant. In all of these constituencies and elections, the winning party has barely won an overall majority, and at least a quarter of the electorate (usually more than 1/3) didn’t vote.

The Electoral Reform Group have long campaigned against this system, where so-called safe seats make up almost 60% of the entire House of Commons. But asking MPs and parties who rely on this for most of their power and influence is like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.

Really… Brian May?

And so, in the midst of this confusion and godawful 24/7 reporting that I won’t even go into (remember: just 5 more weeks…), I may have found a most unlikely new political beacon.

Dr Brian May, astronomer, badger-lover, and one of my musical heroes since I was about 8 years old, has launched a new political website and grass-roots campaign. In all honesty, it’s a bit of a mish-mash of his different concerns, but he’s speaking from the heart, and putting some of his money where his mouth is.

I like quite a bit of it, I recognise and connect with its optimism and desire for something better.  I admire its activism. Most of all, he’s (nearly) convinced me that there is a potential to shake the ‘safe seat’ system, even just a little bit.

In all of the safe seats where I’ve voted over the past 28 years, at least 28% of the electorate didn’t vote, which was (usually considerably) more than the entrenched majority at the polls. It’s often the case that people don’t vote because, like me, they’re depressed / annoyed / apathetic at the whole process; either because they knew it wouldn’t affect the result (either as a winner or loser). Well, I Reckon that the more people think and act like that, the more it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

My Cotswolds constituency has elected a Conservative (or equivalent) candidate since its creation in 1918. At the last election the sitting MP won a majority of around 20,000 votes. But more than 24,000 people didn’t turn out. Now I don’t think for a moment that those people would all vote the same way, but I’d wager they could make things a bit closer.

Make it count. Make them count you.

I shall be voting for Paul Hodgkinson on 7th May. I’m no fan of the path taken by his party since the last election, but I’m even less of a fan of the Conservatives, and the Labour Party have seen fit to abdicate responsibility for our constituency by selecting a candidate who has never lived in the constituency (and it seems has barely visited it until recently). It’s as if they can’t be bothered, and seems either complacent or patronising at best. I hope and trust that the Labour candidate is a good man, but why should I vote for him on purely party-political lines?

I Reckon we should all vote. Vote tactically if you want to, spoil your ballot if you want to. But the only sure way to ensure your vote even begins to matter, even starts to count just a little bit, is to actually make your vote be counted, by turning up on 7th May and making some kind of mark. It might not change the result – in fact, it probably won’t. But I Reckon our inactivity breeds complacency and apathy among our politicians, and we deserve better.

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…and I cry.

Last weekend marked the 4th anniversary of my blog. This is also my 200th post, and I’m fast approaching 150,000 words of Reckons. I had hoped to write positive piece about blogging, the things I like writing about, the things that have happened and shaped my recent writing. But in all honesty that’s not coming easily. I had hoped to write it at the start of this week, but it wouldn’t come, I just couldn’t find it in me to write it. There’s a lot of stuff that’s getting me down at the moment, that sits heavily upon me and within me. I think I just need to get it out here, so I can move on and be positive.

Apologies, but this compendium of hassles has come from deep inside. I need to express them, but can’t face writing about them in more detail. I have tried, but it leaves me feeling frustrated, impotent and often angry. And that’s no place to be when in reality I have so much to be thankful for; like the delicious supper I’ve just enjoyed in rare evening sunshine on our patio.

falling down michael douglas

No, not quite here, yet…

Thanks for reading my blog. The occasional feedback and comments I get help keep me writing. I’m often touched by who reads my Reckons and how they respond. Consider this an exception to my usual rules of trying not to moan on too much. Thanks for bearing with me while I try and shake off some demons that sometimes drive me to despair.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as consistently and depressingly disappointed in my adult life as I have been with the current UK Government. It’s one thing for my initial naive hopes for the Coalition to vanish into thin air, quite another for apparently well-educated people to show such a lack of imagination, such stubborn resistance to even acknowledge the possible benefits of expert advice from outside their closest advisors, and such a misguided opinion that There Is No Alternative. At least when the late Margaret Thatcher claimed that, we all knew that she had some guiding ideology, some deeply-set principles. There don’t appear to be any in this administration, short of supporting their own narrow class interests.

The poor are repeatedly demonised and scapegoated. Big Sticks are held over the most vulnerable as benefits are capped, cut or withdrawn completely. All this in the name of weeding out the shirkers. So divorced families are penalised for keeping spare bedrooms so their children can sleep comfortably as they shuttle between households. Anyone who doesn’t work full-time is implied not to be ‘doing the right thing’, not ‘trying to get on’.

Meanwhile, as the poor face cuts and falling living standards, the rich are given tax cuts and incentives to stop them from fleeing the country. The Government seems willing and able to clamp down on fraudsters who are poor or rioters who stole bottles of water, but utterly impotent faced with corporate tax avoiders or indeed those with enough money to support a failing country.

The Leveson enquiry seems to have achieved nothing. The nation was outraged as tales of phone hacking and deeply disturbing relationships between so-called journalists and elements of the police were uncovered. Amorality doesn’t quite do it justice. And all those months of enquiry, millions of pounds and politicians’ promises to implement recommendations have evaporated under the self-interests of the media moguls. I’ve noticed nothing tangible in the behaviour of the press on a day-to-day basis. Churnalism is still rife, and innocents are still paraded in public as suspects with little or no recourse later. Speculation is reported as fact.

I’ve long been frustrated with the way politicians from all parties seem to use Education as a football for points-scoring; in a way they would never dream of with other professions, they openly attack teachers’ credibility, undermining them before parents and children, desecrating morale and achieving very little that’s positive. They crow about achievements when exams passes rise, then criticise the same reports as evidence of dumbing-down and not preparing young people for work. This in itself undermines the children who have just sat the interminable rounds of tests. Cameron promised less testing at the last election, but Michael Gove has introduced more rigid formulae at an earlier age.

Michael Gove cartoon Stephen Collins

More brilliant work by Stephen Collins can be found at http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/series/the-stephen-collins-cartoon

It seems to me that Michael Gove doesn’t like the current cohort of UK children. They don’t read enough Middlemarch. They don’t, like, talk proper, like what he used to 40 years ago. He seems to want to beat the innate creativity and imagination out of them with tests, grammar and a one-size-fits-all approach that flies in the face of empirical evidence and even plain common sense.

You know what, there’s more; mostly the US Gun Lobby and the recent response of the UK media, the  so-called patriots of the right and others to the brutal slaying of a soldier on the streets of Woolwich in London – another relentless and soul-sapping example of finding enemies aronud every corner. Just when Cameron’s Conservative Party were threatening to tear themselves apart over Equal Marriage legislation and Europe, a common foe emerged in the form of a deluded, radicalised killer wielding a bloody cleaver. And the loutish thugs of the EDL make swivel-eyed loons look almost sane and certainly nearly civilised.

But I’ve grown weary of this even as I’ve written it. The birdsong from the beech trees that overlook our back garden is an ambient source of calm. The evening sunlight is still glowing in the vivid green of the beech leaves, and although the temperature is beginning to drop, it’s still warmer than it has been for months. I have a week off ahead of me, visiting family and then camping with friends on the Dorset coast. I can’t wait.

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