“It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee.

Since the rumours of Gove’s most recent nail in the educational coffin began to surface on Twitter yesterday, I’ve been trying to translate my utter despair into written word, but my mind has continued to return to the above quote from the great novel at the centre of this story.

Continue reading

Advertisements

A heartfelt plea to friends and young people everywhere – please, don’t listen to Russell Brand!

There are a great deal of people on various social media feeds today sharing the Jeremy Paxman/Russell Brand interview with declarations of affinity for Brand’s ‘fuck the system’ attitude. If you haven’t seen the interview (link below) it really is worth a watch, Brand makes some very good points and Paxman really does have the most wonderful beard, but the comedian’s ultimate message is one that infuriates me into an uncontrollable typing frenzy (exhibit A).
I’m all for raising political awareness and encouraging people to voice any disillusion they might have with the current political climate, as I hope was Brand’s ultimate motive, but by encouraging people not to vote he will do more harm than good.
However broken the system may be it is the only one we have and by not voting you may do more damage than you can imagine – every vote wasted by the young and socio-economically deprived might as well be a vote for the Tories. I’m not saying vote for the best of a bad bunch, spoil your ballot paper if you must, but for your own sake vote!
As Sinn Fein say, vote early and vote often!

It’s the only way your voice will be heard no matter how angry your tone. Its all well and good for Russell Brand to sit in a cosy hotel room enjoying the luxuries of his fame while denouncing the political system but we won’t all have the opportunity to announce our discontent so publicly, no matter how many Facebook friends like our online rants or shares of this interview (yes I am aware of the irony, thank you). We can mouth all we want on social media about the ‘lies, treachery and deceit’ but unless you go out and vote with your feet in the next general election in 2015 it will count for absolutely nothing.

Get on the electoral register and vote.
For anyone who still believes that voting won’t make a damn bit of difference, open a history book to any page and enlighten yourself to how much better things would be if people had decided not to vote on issues such as health, education, welfare, justice, social equality or foreign policy.
In particular I’d ask all women and Northern Irish Catholics to bear in mind the struggle and human sacrifice that was made for your right to vote.
The system still isn’t perfect but Christ, its been a hell of a lot worse.

World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Awareness Day and over the past week or so it’s been practically impossible to avoid discussions about mental illness, isn’t that wonderful?

What with ASDA, Tesco and Amazon apologetically withdrawing ‘Mental Patient’ and ‘Psycho Ward Escapee’ Halloween costumes, Miley Cyrus and Sinead O’Connor partaking in a rather public tet-a-tet regarding the latter’s struggle with mental illness in the past, and The Scum newspaper weighing in with a typically disgusting headline designed to stigmatise and scaremonger, discussions of mental health have become centre-stage and front-page. And really it’s about time.

I’ve been reading and watching a lot about mental health recently, and today I made a pledge to ‘Rethink Mental Illness’ on Time to Change, a programme dedicated to challenging mental health stigma and discrimination.

Have you pledged?

Have you pledged?

In the past during discussions of mental health with friends, I have declared, quite ignorantly, that I just don’t understand, or believe, people who suffer from mental illness. I think what I meant, equally as ignorantly, is that I didn’t understand why people who suffer from mental illness don’t seek the help or support they need. What I actually meant, whether I realised it or not, is that I simply did not understand mental health at all.

Had I understood it, I would have known that people who suffer from mental illness, the 1 in 4 of us who do, face a real personal struggle to understand or acknowledge their own condition, never mind trying to explain it to anyone else. I might also have begun to understand that something that sounds as simple as seeking help can become a monstrous challenge when firstly, you consider the nature of depression and anxiety that some people suffer, secondly the stigma and discrimination they’re faced with when they do try to address their mental illness, and thirdly the lack of support structures in place to help those people who really need it.

While I am still continuing my self-education on the subject I am pleased to say that I have begun to Rethink Mental Illness and I implore everyone to do the same. 1 in 4 of us will suffer from mental illness, but we should all be taking care of our mental health.

Below are just a few of the articles and lectures which I consider essential reading/viewing on the matter.

1. Ruby Wax and Alastair Campbell in discussion for RSA.

2. Another Angry Woman on World Mental Health Day. 

3. Laurie Penny discusses The Scum’s Fear-mongering on The New Statesman.

 

 

10 Sure Fire ways to Piss Off the Bar Staff.

Do Not Feed the Animals.. Give them shots instead, they're very thirsty...

Do Not Feed the Animals.. Give them shots instead, they’re very thirsty…

Today marks the official end of the summer.

Today my summer break comes to an end, and rather than being a short-of-work freelance writer, I return to official status as full time Bar Wench at one of the city’s prime student bars.

Back to porridge, back to pulling pints, back to teaching eighteen year old freshers to remember their please and thank-yous… can’t wait…

Oddly enough, this is about the same time of year that I lose that carefree, happy-go-lucky summer feel and transform into a Ms Hyde beast who eats rude students for breakfast. There are a variety of triggers that set off the transformation and for some reason in a student bar it never takes long to set it off.

And I’m not alone – bartenders worldwide have the same ‘dos and don’ts’ for customers. Stick by the rules and it could save your life, or at least your night out, but if you do have some sick desire to be eaten alive by an angry bartender, here’s a surefire guide of how to piss off the bar staff:

  1. Be rude – you cannot fathom just how far a little please or thank-you will get you until you forget to use it, an order that doesn’t include the word ‘please’ becomes mysterious mute to the bartender, think of this as a game of Simon Says, if the magic word isn’t there, it doesn’t count. Don’t underestimate the power of a please or thank-you, they really are the magic words, the make the beer appear.

  2. Be vague – “wine” isn’t gonna cut it guys… be specific or you will be met with a spitfire of questions “Red/White/Rose?” “Merlot/Shiraz/Sauv Blanc/Pinot?” “Large/Small?” “Do you want fries with that?”. Similarly “Beer” is not a valid order unless you want it served in a shoe, specify pint, bottle, brand if you have a preference, it’s awfully helpful.

  3. Ask for a surprise – you will be punched in the face, surprised?

  4. Ask for a free pint – you will be given a pint of water, possibly over your head.

  5. Ask ‘What’s cheap?’ – how long is a piece of string? ‘Cheap’ is relative to what you drink or where you’re from, if you want to know how much a pint is, ask, we’ll happily tell you. And if it’s offers you’re after, this is a business in a competitive economic climate, chances are any offers will be advertised on/behind/above the bar, on posters/flyers/menus, on the tables/toilet doors/barmaid’s chest – open your eyes, pay attention, it’s the only time you will get away with looking at the barmaid’s chest (see #6)

  6. Sleeze – you are not being sexy, you are not flirting, you have no chance, just stop now. Every winning line you think you’ve got, we’ve heard it. Flirting is a wonderful compliment to the bar-staff, and often a great pick-me-up on a busy night, not to mention an excellent way to make an impression that will get you served faster or more efficiently in future (see #7) but there is a fine line between flirting and sleezing. A good rule of thumb is the drink/driver rule – if you consider yourself too drunk to get behind the wheel of a car, you are too drunk to make a pass at the bartender, don’t risk the car crash.

  7. Assume the bar staff will remember your name/face/”usual” – unless you’re an actual regular, have put long and pleasant hours conversing with the staff, propping up the bar and putting money in the till, and I’m talking years of dedication, don’t flatter yourself that the staff will adopt the same familiarity with you as you do with them. You don’t have a ‘usual’ until a bartender actually asks you if you’re having ‘the usual?’

  8. Assume that your contribution to the daily takings is the sole reason we are still in business – you do not drink as much as you think you do, and if you did, you wouldn’t be boasting about it. Do not make any great claims about your levels of alcohol consumption, we are not impressed, alcoholism is not glamourous.

  9. Assume the bartender has short term memory loss – most of us are quite capable of remembering up to a dozen drinks at a time, go on, test us. That is assuming you will actually order a round rather that ten of you coming to the bar to order a pint each,or worse still, gather orders for the round while you’re at the bar having the staff hovering around for an hour and half getting one measly drink at a time. It’s like the Cub Scouts say ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to have your drink spat in’.

  10. Get drunk – sounds counter productive I know, but knowing your limits is one of the easiest ways to gain the goodwill and respect of the bar staff, never mind being the secret to a successful night out. And if you don’t know your limits, trust that the bartender does, believe it or not we’ve got your best interests in mind… kind of. If we refuse to serve you it’s not a personal vendetta against you, we just don’t want to clean up your vomit or worse still your blood from our premises, we don’t want to hear you moaning the morning after the night before about how you ended up in a fight, got your phone/wallet/dignity lost or stolen. So behave yourself, it’s for your own good.

 

Oh actually, there’s one final thing…perhaps the golden rule.

 

  1. Sneak in your own drink – Bar staff will put up with a lot of shit, they can deal with the poor manners, the drunken antics, the spilt drinks and everything else that comes with the day job, but sneaking in your own drink is the big no-no. Would you turn up to a restaurant with a chippie dinner hidden in your bag? Would you expect to be handed a plate and cutlery by the waiting staff? Thought not, so don’t be surprised if you’re asked to leave and never return when we catch you with that quarter bottle in your purse. And if you do plan on chancing it, at least bring something nice so we can enjoy confiscating and drinking it at the end of the night. Thanks.

Macauley Culkin Syndrome

"Is that the good soup pot you're throwing up in??"

“Is that the good soup pot you’re throwing up in??”

We all loved ‘Home Alone’ as kids.

The gallant story of a brave young boy delivering moral justice and inflicting mindless, hilarious violence on a pair of good-for-nothing crooks, and it was Christmas! A winning formula!

It wasn’t all slapstick either, we learned some important life lessons from that film franchise – the true meaning of Christmas, a second sequel is practically always a bad idea, and something about not just assuming that your weird old neighbour is an axe murder. Serious stuff.

But there’s another important issue which ‘Home Alone’ raises in this Christmas Classic, one that I didn’t fully appreciate until recently, I call it the ‘Macauley Culkin Syndrome’.

You remember the scene, frustrated with the domestic chaos of visiting relatives, the stress of the festivities and ultimately tired of being undervalued as a member of a cohabiting family, little Kevin vents his displeasure, as I think we all have at some point in our lives, by jumping up and down in one spot and screaming from the top of his little lungs: “When I grow up, I’m living alone!”

It’s a sentiment I have repeated at similar volumes on a weekly basis since first moving into shared accommodation six years ago. Of course then I was in University Halls, and the biggest point of contention affecting domestic bliss was who had used all the milk/butter/toilet roll, or why there was a grown man dressed head to foot as a carrot kicking my bedroom door – silly, trivial little things that seem laughable in hindsight.

Since then I’ve gone through the full range of domestic discourse from noise complaints, bullying accusations and phoning the police to remove the throng of drunken teenagers running riot through the house on St Patrick’s Day.

All standard stuff from what I’ve gathered from friends. Everyone has had similar experiences.

It’s a tale as old as time.

You need to share the heavy burden of the rent, you’ve got a friend in need, you get on fine in a controlled environment such as work or college, it makes perfect sense to move in together!

That is, until you realise that this very dear friend is incapable of washing a cup, an avid fan of the Kardashians, or secretly a compulsive liar. Everyone has their faults I guess, but some are more unforgivable than others – lying about being terminally ill is the big no-no in my humble opinion. Oh and not paying your rent and bills for so long that the bailiffs come knocking, that’s also considered foul play in terms of cohabitation and friendship, and general human decency.

But it just goes to show, you never really know someone until you live them.

I certainly don’t claim to be perfect – I can be lazy, messy, moody in the mornings, loud, and guilty of letting the dishes pile up for a few days, but I do produce some excellent baked goods, so you know, silver linings.

And I’ve always considered myself fairly laid back when it comes to cohabiting grievances, I don’t sweat the small stuff, at least not to begin with. It’s only when the small stuff begins to prop up the mountains of fairly substantial stuff that I get irritated, or when the small stuff begins to grow a thick fur at the bottom of the fridge, or when the small stuff has a big, red FINAL NOTICE stamp printed on it. These are the things that lead you to jump up and down in the middle of the kitchen floor, screaming “I want to live alone”.

These are the things that lead to full screaming and kicking onset of Macauley Culkin Syndrome.

Little Kevin McAllister had it right, living alone is the way forward, it’s the dream!

I did it briefly for a few months while a flatmate was working abroad, and those quiet, peaceful, fairly naked months were some of the happiest of my renting life. Coming home to a mess all your own, knowing that there will be bread and milk and toilet roll when you get up in the morning, never having to put the toilet seat back down or dispose of someone else’s rotting carrots, never having to watch Geordie Shore or Match of the Day – absolute bliss!

It is a wonderful thing to rest assured that the rent and bills have been paid, to know that the oven and washing machine and telly remote will always be idle, awaiting only you, to know you won’t have to constantly chase a meffy housemate to pay her way or do his share, can you imagine it?

Independent living!

Because Macauley Culkin Syndrome isn’t necessarily triggered solely by bad housemates. Even wonderful housemates who hoover for sport, bring back treats from the shop and understand the need for respectful silence when Downton Abbey is on, even these heavenly beings will eventually lead you to that same, buckling spot of the kitchen floor where you perform the same old song and dance of frustration. It’s not anything that they’ve done wrong, it’s just their general presence, their necessary presence.

To live alone would be to live independently, self-sufficiently. To be a grown up with the privileges of walking around naked, should you see fit, of peeing with the bathroom door open, of leaving piles of dishes, clothes and unread newspapers wherever you choose, of never having to wonder how exactly to ask a friend if they plan on replacing the photoframe they broke or if they really need three different cartons of out-of-date milk in their fridge. Mama tells me there will be days like this… eventually.

So to all the cohabitors out there, I feel your pain as you feel mine, we’re all in the same shared boat, we all need to offer our live-in buddies the understanding and patience we often require ourselves, put the kettle on, call a truce and live peacefully … unless they’re a meff, in which case kick their messy ass out immediately.

A Correction.

A correction.

For writers, words are our daily bread.

We try and taste all new words that we come across, endeavour to maintain a balanced diet of verbs, adverbs, adjectives, nouns, pronouns, all mixed together in the pot, producing sentences and stories to tantalize the tongue. We consume books, magazines, newspapers, novels, poems, plays, anything we can get our hands on to satisfy our hunger for words and the knowledge that comes with them. We learn about new styles and tastes, explore recipes from throughout history and national flavours, we could simply not exist without words. Life would be bland, beige and unexciting.

As a creative writer and an aspiring journalist there is one word that stands at the forefront of everything I write, printed in bold, capital letters among all others in my repertoire, that word is TRUTH. Even in my most fictional offerings, the foundations are built with truth, an honest representation of some place or person or feeling. Throughout history writers have endeavoured to capture their world and the people in it with honesty, truth and integrity, I think of Dickens, Austen, Joyce. We know their worlds as clearly as our own.

I mention integrity because there is dishonesty in not telling the full story.

To recognise Father’s Day I wrote a brief, honest list of things which I had inherited from my father, lessons he has taught me over the years, but it was not our full story, not even a fraction of it. The truth of the matter is, and even now I only glimpse at that truth, is that the most important lessons my father has taught me have not been easy truths to accept. I have not made peace with them yet, as my father and I have not made peace with each other. He disapproves of my choices in life as much as I disapprove of his, that is perhaps the shortest telling of it. It has been a long time since I have wished him Happy Father’s day because ours is a tumultuous relationship, and truth means as much to him as it does to me, we cannot pretend and simply play happy families. We are each other’s catalyst, testing patience, breaking tempers, building character. The glimpse of my father’s influence on me which I tried to capture yesterday, did not do either of us justice. He will always be the most important and influential man in my life. He has made me who I am, the writer I hope to be, the shining example of everything I hope not to become. And someday I hope to be brave enough, at peace enough, to tell that story because I owe it to him as much as I owe it to myself. But not yet.

The most important stories we have to tell are always the most difficult to write.

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is To have a thankless child.

Traditionally, Father’s Day is a holiday upon which I fervently bite my tongue, recalling the good lesson learned from Bambi, passed down to Bumper from his father “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”.

Like Father, Like Daughter

Like Father, Like Daughter

But I will endure to say only nice things, to be thankful, unlike King Lear’s treacherous daughters, and celebrate those things, good and bad, which my father has given me.

 

1. My brown eyes.

2. A genetically low tolerance for bullshit.

3. Strength of character.

4. My first pair of football boots.

5. He taught me how to throw a punch.

6. Rubbish veins.

7. My love, adoration and respect for books.

8. Confidence in myself as a writer.

9. A tendency to the sentimental.

10. He taught me, by example, that not only was it OK, but often preferable to be a black sheep.

pops