I wonder if Russell Brand had any idea just how much debate and analysis he would ignite when he shoved his wrecking ball off through the political sphere last week. Every wannabe journalist, writer and political commentator with an internet connection has weighed in on Brand’s controversial disillusionment with British politics, myself included. And in fact, I’m currently working on another Brand flavoured blog hopefully coming your way in the next few days.
You know when you stumble across something online that seems so utterly ridiculous and inconceivable that you know, despite all evidence to the contrary, that it just cannot be real, humanity cannot have stooped to such lows, it must be some elaborate hoax or spoof designed to expose the very nonsense that it appears to condone?
Yeah, this is one of those kind of things.
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.
“Whatever happened to the chase?” a friend asked the other night, drawing me out of social media world and back into the conversation.
“The chase?” I replied vaguely, “It’s still on ITV isn’t it?” Little did I know at the time, I had just proved her point.
There’s nothing quite like a Tory gaffe to brighten a Monday morning is there? And thankfully they appear to have become a weekly occurrence since the Coalition government took the helm – Thankfully! You gotta take the silver linings where you see them I guess.
In this week’s installment, The Independent jumped on the back of MP Daniel Kawczynski who, it is reported, told a one legged drug addict in a wheelchair begging outside Parliament to ‘get a job’.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love watching the Conservatives backtracking, apologising and tripping over the feet lodged permanently in their mouths as much as the next person, but on this occasion, as much as it pains me to say it, I can kinda see his point.
Firstly, Kawczynski was not speaking with a silver spoon in his mouth when he told Mark McGuigan to get a job. Having grown up in Peckham with an outhouse and two alcoholic parents, he’s not unjustified in his admonishment of the beggar, knowing all too well how difficult it can be to dig yourself out of the poverty hole. McGuigan claimed to have felt intimidated and ‘very small’ by the ‘sanctimonious’ and aggressive tone Kawczynski used in offering to help him get back into work or onto a Government scheme that might improve his literacy and numeracy. He claimed that the MP towered over him, humiliating him by asking what he was doing to find a job. Granted, Kawczynski is an imposing 6ft8in and would make any upright being of average height feel small, never mind a one legged man in a wheelchair, but I would question whether McGuigan felt humiliated by the asking of the question ‘What are you doing to find a job?’ or by the answering of it.
I expect every city has its own throng of drunks, drug addicts and homeless who, through a series of unfortunate events, have been reduced to begging on the street. Having worked in a bar on Seel Street I am practically on first name terms with Liverpool’s band of drunks and junkies who trudge up and down from the Sisters of Mercy to Eurowines, picking up discarded fag ends and approaching any kind looking soul who might spare them a few coins to put towards a tinnie. I’ve watched it happen. A “‘scuse me mate…”, a huddle around a handful of coppers, and the quickening determination of the shuffle towards the offie. I’ve hounded the slurring drunks out of the toilets, scolded those who rip open the wall mounted cigarette bins to loot for fags, and been accosted outside the off licence for any spare change. Which comedian was it who joked that they refused to give money to beggars who will only spend it on drink and drugs even if that’s all they would spend it on themselves? It’s the source of a great deal of guilt for a lot of us, our blue plastic bag of bottles clinking past the open palms outside the off licence. We turn for the warmth of home where we’ll enjoy a glass of wine in front of the telly, pyjamas on and feet up, and we can’t spare a measly quid for this poor soul to procure something that might warm his bones when he lays them down in a doorway for the night.
Being young, employed in the services industry and indebted to the tune of one undergraduate degree, I am, naturally, skint. I struggle enough to pay my own rent, bills and bar tab without taking costly bad habits of others. There are many, many reasons why I don’t do heroin, cost being just one of them, so if I can’t afford to be a recreational drug user why should I fund anyone else’s addiction?
That’s not to say that they don’t have my sympathy. That anyone in the 21st century should find themselves on the streets is a disgrace. It isn’t a choice that anyone makes, it is a last resort for those with nowhere else to turn, and sadly it is often the gateway to a much darker, hopeless existence.
One of my earliest memories is of an Eastern European woman begging in Dublin city centre. My mum and I would pass her everyday as we walked to the bus, she cradled a small baby in her arms and was usually accompanied by at least one other grubby faced child. Older and more cynical, I now doubt whether all those children were hers, or if the money she received went towards feeding them, but regardless my mum spared her whatever change she could, even though we weren’t exactly living in the lap of luxury.
I have never seen a begging mother or grubby faced child on the streets of Liverpool, but there have been a few fresh faced boys, young and desperate, and most importantly, sober, who have pulled on my heartstrings. Over a year ago a middle aged woman carrying a shopping bag stopped me on my way to work asking for change for the bus, she’d left herself short after getting her shopping, it was all she had. I had replied that I had no change and walked away before I’d even thought through what she was asking. It was automatic, refuse and retreat from anyone on the street asking for money or offering to tell you about the plight of rhinos in Africa. I suffered a guilty conscience for the rest of the night. That poor woman probably ended up walking home in the cold to a cold, dingy council flat. I was ashamed of myself. A few weeks later the same woman stopped me again around the same time of day, in the same spot, again asking for spare change for the bus. This time she was drunk, and the shopping bag, I noticed, was clinking. I passed her by again. I’ve seen her a few times since in similar states of intoxication, appealing for spare change.
I am less ashamed of myself.
What a difference the drink makes.
But the drunks and the drug addicts do need change, perhaps more so than others. Had I the disposable income, I would gladly donate it to the Saint Vincent de Paul or Sisters of Mercy or any other charitable fund that helps the less fortunate in any way other than buying their next hit. These people have been let down by the government, whether in education, employment, benefits or health. Mark McGuigan, for example, considered himself unemployable because of poor literacy and numeracy, because of his disability, but it shouldn’t be the case. There are schemes in place to improve these skills, there is legislation to prevent prejudice against the disabled and there are rehabilitation programmes out there for people struggling with addiction – there are plenty of people there to help, the problem is you must first be willing to help yourself, and with addicts that is often the greatest challenge.
But as to Daniel Kawczynski, perhaps the first ever Tory to evoke my empathy, I will offer a defence. The media will attack him for being insensitive, superior and out of touch with the real world but I commend him for adopting a tough love attitude on those who need it most. Here is an MP actually offering help to someone in need, providing firsthand advice, a handson effort to change someone’s life for the better – isn’t that what we want from our MPs?
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.
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.
Talk about coming full circle.
Last week the global spotlight sprang on my little hometown of Strabane when a photograph of this rather genius piece of graffiti began trending worldwide on Twitter, even reaching the attention of Academy Award winner Minnie Driver.
The original scrawl which decorated the side of this electricity sub-station in the Ballycolman read ‘Join the IRA’, not an uncommon sight in Strabane, but it achieved much greater media attention after a local man, naturally dubbed ‘Strabanksy’, altered the piece of graffiti to read ‘Join the Library’.
It was a strange but wonderful thing to see Strabane making headlines for reasons other than bomb scares, stabbings and shootings as it has done in recent months. For a place declared the eighth worst to live in the UK by Channel 4’s experts Kirstie and Phil in 2005, a town which once boasted some of the highest levels of unemployment in the industrial world, and whose only great claims to fame include semi-successful Eurovision stars and being the most bombed town outside of WWII, it’s quite nice to be put on the map for something a little more light-hearted, positive, even hopeful.
Locals have become almost immune to the paramilitary propaganda that cover the walls of the town, how refreshing to see a new message much more reflective of modern day efforts for a more peaceful, prosperous Northern Ireland.
The online responses to the photo spoke loud and clear ‘Books beat Balaclavas’, surely music to the ears of staff at the local library who admitted in a statement last week “We’ve never had a better advertisement”.
What a shame then, that Northern Ireland Electricity very efficiently repainted the wall of the sub-station, destroying the first masterpiece of our very own Strabanksy, stating that it is company policy to remove all graffiti from their buildings. With that in mind, I wonder how long it will take them to paint over the freshly scrawled ‘Join the IRA’ which reappeared this week.
What did I tell you, full circle.
However opportunist and illicit his actions, Strabanksy’s message on the sub-station wall is one to be celebrated. You should join the library and books do beat balaclavas, they prove much more useful when it comes to applying to college or university, or getting a job, or raising your children.
Strabane should be making a new kind of history for itself now that we’ve, hopefully, left the Troubles in the past.
Here’s hoping Strabanksy and others like him will continue to put our little town on the map for the right reasons.