“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.

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Nick Clegg and the “Total abdication of responsibility”

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.

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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.

Any Spare Change?

'We're all in this together?'

‘We’re all in this together?’

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?

Sure it’s great for the town…

Join the Library

Join the Library

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”.

Strabane Library: “We’ve never had a better advertisement”

Strabane Library: “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.

Back to the dark ages...

Back to the dark ages…

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.

Why do the haters hate?

Hatred: The EDL rally in response to the Woolwich attack. (taken from ITV.com, credit Neil Lancefield/PA Wire)

Amid the aftermath of the Woolwich attack this week, as the shock and horror of the whole thing subsided, and questions were raised, there was one in particular that stuck with me.

This attack was an act of terror, extremism, hate.

We call it senseless, unjustifiable and unforgivable.

But those responsible didn’t think so. They called for an audience, displayed their bloodied hands to the world, they had a message to convey, to them it made perfect sense, it was an act of justice, a necessary evil.

What is it that makes people, human beings, hate so much, to such extremes that they could take another human life so violently in the name of some higher purpose?

They are born, kicking and screaming into the world just like the rest of us. They must learn to crawl, talk, walk like everyone else. They must make mistakes, learn what hurt, heartache and forgiveness feel like. They are taught what is good and what is bad. Is that where their path in life diverges from ours? Is there a moment in their lives where the decision they must make will cut a fork in the road, one good, one evil? Or is it something that happens gradually over time, is it a series of decisions, like wrong turns in a maze that brings them somewhere dark and angry?

Why do the haters hate?

 

We throw the word around a lot, freely, unthinking.

We hate our jobs, our boss, our parents, siblings, best friends, our hometown, our hair, thighs, knobbly knees. We hate our exes, we hate the old guy who creeps on schoolgirls at the bus stop, we hate Michael Ball, George Osborne, the Go Compare adverts. We hate brussel sprouts, PPI cold callers, cyclists, motorists, people who don’t understand the concept of personal space. We hate people who are self-obsessed, attention seeking, fake, people who lie, cheat, bully. We hate animal cruelty, child abuse, wife beaters, husband beaters, traffic wardens.

But we don’t always mean hate. It’s not always something as extreme as hate. Mostly, we’re just annoyed or irritated by these things temporarily, sometimes irrationally, in our otherwise blissful little lives.

 

To hate, is “to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest”.

We’ve seen a lot of hate in our modern, civilised era. We’ve seen planes crashing into buildings, school children fleeing indiscriminate gunfire, bombs explode on crowded high streets, buses, tubes.

To most of us, it is all senseless. The kind of hatred that pulls the trigger of a gun or pushes the button to detonate a bomb, that kind of hatred is difficult to understand for those of us whose greatest grievance in life is discovering that a chocolate chip cookie is actually raisin.

As infuriating as that can be, to my knowledge, there has never been bloodshed over the chocolate chip – raisin hoodwink.

So where does hate come from? If not from confectionary.

Religion always seems to be at the centre of these things.

I don’t understand this, how something that teaches of the importance of love can as a consequence, be the source of such evil. I’ve never understood it.

I’ve grown up in the middle of it in Northern Ireland, hating the kids on the bus who wore a different uniform, without really understanding it.

I was dropped into hatred at the age of eight when I moved to the North and found myself on one side of a divide I didn’t understand. But in hindsight, I don’t think any of us really understood what it meant at that age.

I remember tracing the letters ‘IRA’ onto the steamed kitchen window one evening, I was so big and clever. My mum just looked at me, “Do you know what that means?”

I didn’t. And when she told me, like the good history teacher that she is, I never wrote those letters or any like them anywhere again.

Perhaps that was one of my moments, had I drawn a different conclusion from the lesson on the political history of Northern Ireland which my mother fed me that evening, perhaps I would have gone on writing those letters on windows and walls, and who knows where it would have led? Had I been taught the same lesson by my father, who as a Dubliner, is in general much more fantastical and nationalistic in his take of the North’s political divide, perhaps I would have taken a different point of view. Had I been brought up and taught the same lesson in a different house, a different townland, where the curbs and gable walls were painted and flags and bunting flew from the streetlamps, who knows where I would be, what I would believe, or who I would hate.

Pretty much every biblical lesson I can recall from my misspent Catholic youth taught that anger and hatred and violence were generally frowned upon by the big man upstairs. In all shapes and forms, hate and evil were a no-no.

That is the long and the short of it. That is the enduring sentiment that I took from the years of religious education spent doodling in my jotter and endless Sunday mornings staring into space and anticipating the fresh scone bread cooling on a rack in my Granny’s kitchen.

It is the lesson that my parents, grandparents, godparents and teachers all instilled in my pliable young mind.

Be good.

Treat others as you would like them to treat you.

Forgive those who trespass against you.

I don’t remember any footnotes by those teachings, any asterisk following the commandments.

 

“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. There is no commandment greater than these” * [Mark 12:31]

(*except the gays, hate the gays loads.)**

 

Religion doesn’t teach you to distinguish between who you should hate and who you should love, it teaches you to love all, regardless of colour, creed or sexual orientation. Granted my knowledge of Islam is pretty sketchy, but from what I gather, the same basic principles apply as they do in Christianity and in Bill & Ted: “Be excellent to each other”.

So why do people who hate homosexuals or Muslims or Women use religion to justify their own prejudices?

Why do idiotic groups such as the EDL, BNP and UKIP tell us that Islam is to blame, Muslims are behind the death of a British soldier? How is their hate and disposition to violence any different from the hate of the two extremists who spilled blood on a London street earlier this week? These political groups have launched a campaign of hate and incited violence against a religious community who have absolutely nothing to do with the extremists responsible for the Woolwich attack. Mosques have been attacked up and down the country, innocent Muslims have been threatened, spat at in the street, attacked.

Yet the EDL, BNP, UKIP do not distinguish between the murderers with blood on their hands, and innocent people going about their day to day lives. And all the while Islamic religious groups have cried out the same words that the people of Northern Ireland have cried out in the face of political violence: Not in our name.

Senseless, unjustifiable, unforgivable.

But those responsible don’t think so. They call for an audience, don balaclavas in the face of the police and the world’s media, they have a message to convey, to them it makes perfect sense, it is an act of justice, a necessary evil.

Funny how two beliefs at opposite ends of a spectrum can meet in the middle.

 
(** Incidentally, I believe gays should absolutely have the right to marry. However, in an entirely selfish sense, I hope that they choose not to, because in the ever more likely inevitability that I will end up rocking spinsterhood I’d like someone fabulous to go dancing with on a Saturday night).

Keep Calm and Do What Now…??


Stop me if I’m being sexist here, but I’m going to go ahead and assume that the person behind the now infamous ‘Keep Calm and Hit Her’ t-shirts was a man.
The story goes that the series of ‘Keep Calm and’ t-shirts produced by Solid Gold Bomb and sold by Amazon, were created by an automated computer dictionary and a scripted programming process, which to my technophobic ears equate to as much as “Computer says no”, or in this case, “Computer says rape a lot”.
The scripted programming process in question was compiled by only one staff member of Solid Gold Bomb – incidentally anyone sensing some massive overcompensation in the company name? The founders obviously follow the Gillette school of thought, just whack three relatively masculine sounding words together and watch the money roll in  – they might as well have called themselves Massive Throbbing Cock. But then, going to work everyday might have been a cruel reminder of the sad, pathetic truth he carried around in his Y Fronts.
But anyway.
This single member of staff, or Scapegoat, as he will be go down in history, is the only figure the company has put forward as any source of blame, or at least incompetence. Only one person was responsible for the automated scripted programming process, and sorry Scapegoat, that’s you. Good luck buddy!
It seems incredible that no one else at Fusion Titanium Pimp had absolutely no duty or interest in what their automated computer dictionary was throwing up all over Amazon, or that in designing the scripted programming process, no one thought to restrict any obviously offensive or risky language, say for example, RAPE or KNIFE.
It’s all pretty hard to believe.
And in my experience, if it’s hard to believe, then you shouldn’t.
The sorry excuses being rolled out by Raging Steel Dragon are as unimpressive as their t-shirts, unoriginal, unacceptable and offensive.
The least the company could have done was have the Solid Gold Balls to come out and admit that they were trying to make a cheap buck out of uneducated, overcompensating teenage boys, you know the type, they wear huge baseball caps saying ‘THUG’ that their mums’ bought for them in Matalan.
The truth is, offensive as the t-shirts were, having the word RAPE emblazoned across some guy’s sagging moobs is the tip of the feminist iceberg, and actually the image is laughable. It’s about the only thing in this whole saga that has raised any humour, the general response on twitter is a resounding ‘Rape is not funny’.
I am always amazed by people who make rape jokes, it’s a sense of humour I hope never to get. But in a bid to try and understand this kind of mindset a little better I did some research. Why would a businessman (which I am still assuming the braincell behind Turbo Platinum Excel is) ever consider branding his product with this kind of distasteful and disturbing humour?
So as well as researching testosterone-pumped words to ridicule Huge Matrix Hustler, I also looked into what Google had to say on the query “Why do men rape?”
Let me assure you, it doesn’t make for pleasant reading. The first result was perhaps the most disturbing even though the nature of it was simply someone on Yahoo! Answers asking the same question as I had, but the phrasing of it was still disturbing. He (I checked) asked why men “indulge” in rape, as if it’s just a slightly more expensive bottle of Rioja you let yourself buy because you’ve had a tough week. The responses were just as worrying, most notably because it took four answers before anyone pointed out that rapists aren’t indulging, they are committing a violent crime.
But thankfully, RapeCrisis England and Wales had a more educated answer. This is what they had to say:

(There is a huge Google world out there with a million different answers, but I settled with this answer, mostly because I couldn’t quite stomach reading any more opinions on the psychosis of rapists at bedtime.)

“Rape is an act which is totally controlled by the perpetrator. During rape a woman’s right to be self-empowered and sexually self-determined is completely denied. Our sexuality is fundamental to our sense of ourselves and such a violation takes away the control we expect to have over our bodies and our lives.”

If this is the case, whatever the sexual desire or intention on the surface of the attack, if rape is perpetrated in an effort to defy or violate a woman’s self-empowerment or sexual self-determination, surely the perpetrator’s own emasculation is a given? If a man resorts to rape in order to determine his own masculinity he is a testimony to the empowerment of women. It certainly seems to be the general consensus surrounding the culture of gang rape in India, that women are being punished for having a mind of their own, for refusing to live as second class citizens.

I realise this kind of theorising offers absolutely no consolation to the victims of such a horrific crime, and I don’t pretend to offer the suggestion as such. But I hope it sheds a little light on the idiocy of Solid Gold Misogynists or whichever Scapegoat they are trying to pin this on.
‘Keep Calm and Rape A Lot’, roughly translated through this theory, means ‘You are a weak and emasculated man who has no other humane or civilised way of exerting his own sense of self worth than by wearing a t-shirt which promotes the violent violation of another human being’.

I’d like to imagine that any receipt of purchase on this product just said ‘Is your mother proud of you?’

Because that’s the really sick part in all of this. We know that companies and businesses and corporate operations will do pretty much anything to make money, no matter how offensive or disturbing it seems to the everyday man or woman. We’re never really surprised by their abhorrent behaviour. What is most disgusting about this whole thing, is that most of us know someone who would have seen that t-shirt and laughed, maybe even bought it.
These t-shirts are just another by-product of a misogynistic culture which has normalised the violent abuse of women. And it’s still not funny.