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.

A Self-Portrait of the Artist as a Young Narcissist?

Earlier this week an article on the BBC website caught my eye, it addresses the social media phenomenon which has become increasingly prominent on our Facebook and Instagram feeds, namely, ‘The Rise of the Selfie’.

Being (shamelessly) guilty of more than a few self-snaps myself (see above, exhibit A), I usually reserve judgement on others’ offerings, let he without sin cast the first stone and all that biblical bollocks, but the article (this one, right here) got me thinking, why?

What is it that encourages people to flaunt these posed pictures to the digital world?

Why do people feel the need to plaster their mugs all over the world wide web?

Why do I feel the need?

I’ve never given it much consideration before, but now, casting a judgemental eye over my Instagram account I’m hesitant to admit that around 20% of my photographs could be deemed guilty of the selfie hash tag.

By that calculation, am I 20% vain? 20% narcissist? 20% attention seeking?

Even as I write the words I can foresee my dearest friends nodding their heads in agreement: “Yes love, yes you are… though 20% may be a gross underestimation”.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t consider myself particularly vain or narcissistic but as someone who spends 23 hours of the day looking like something that’s just been dragged through a bush backwards, I quite like having photographic evidence of that twenty minute period directly after fixing hair and applying make-up  before it all begins to go downhill. Its quite nice to look back and think ‘Oh, I remember that day, that was a good hair day’ or ‘I remember that night out, that was an awesome night out!’ and inevitably ‘I remember that hangover, that hangover was worth every aching moment’. That’s what I see when I look at the collection of selfies which I’ve racked up since diving into the sepia-toned world of Instagram, but other people might see it in an entirely different light.

Of course, the psychologist in me (making up under 1% of my whole self, after enduring just three months of psychology lectures in my first year of university) would concur that these self-portraits are indeed a manifestation of some underlying ‘love me, love me’ insecurity, no doubt stemming from some unfulfilled emotional need in my past (send you answers on the back of a postcard to…).

But the writer in me (making up 63% and increasing daily) is more hooked on that term ‘self-portrait’. Essentially that is what selfies are, a modern day expression of self, one self-mutilation away from Van Gogh’s masterpiece. We may be holding a camera instead of a brush, painting with flash and filter, but it is the same premise, ‘this is how I see myself’. This is how I would like the world to see me.

It isn’t necessarily the true me, or the whole self, as my bedraggled look for 23 hours of the day will confirm, but it is the filter through which we see ourselves, the fragment of self we’d like to be remembered by.

It is the same in creative writing, we hold the pen, we set the stage, give life to the characters, direct the fates, we show the reader a filtered image of ourselves, whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not.

It’s something I discussed with a fellow writer friend earlier this week, unrelated to the ‘selfie’ debate. As creative writers, everything we produce comes under the scrutiny of those who know us best, friends and loved ones, seeking out any autobiographical betrayals written between the lines. Sometimes we even surprise ourselves, not realising the source of inspiration behind a character of plot line until the second or third reading. Even the most fictitious stories are a kind of self-portrait.

As a semi-committed diarist, self-portraiture is something I’ve become cringingly familiar with. Anyone who has ever kept a diary will know what I’m talking about.

You flick through the decade old pages on which you confessed your most personal thoughts and secrets as a hormonal, thirteen year old girl and you just cringe, physically, vocally, most emphatically. And that’s you, that’s a shade of your former self making you cringe. The you who was still experimenting with fashion sense, hair colours, handwriting, friends, that is a self portrait of you becoming yourself.

Worse still when you flick through the pages of diary only three, two, one year old, and still cringe, perhaps not as dramatically because the emotions which spilled out onto the page then may still be a little raw, wounds may not have healed entirely. But there it is, the real you in black and white, a self portrait that you can’t edit. Blurring the edges or adjusting the filter won’t change it.

I kept another kind of diary a few years ago, one entirely made of up of selfies. I attempted, and inevitably failed, to keep a photographic diary, one picture a day for 365 days of the year. Looking back over the 200 or so images, they have an even greater impact than the cringe-worthy words written in decade old diaries with hearts over the ‘i’s. These selfies didn’t follow any of the Instagram standards, these images caught me not just in my preferred hour 1 state of perfect hair and make-up  they captured the me the rest of the world sees in hours 2 to 20, and sometimes the exhausted self that retreats home at hours 21 to 24. I smiled to camera when the day had made me smile, in some photos I just look fed up, in one or two it’s clear I’ve been crying.

One series of photos really brings me back, during the Rugby World Cup in 2011 when I was working two bar jobs, finishing a busy night in one bar at 3am and getting up at 6am to be in work for the televised matches in the other. Over a series of three or four days you can see the physical strain of burning the candle at both ends, running off two or three hours sleep a night, eyes still wide from the rush of adrenaline in one image, struggling to stay awake in another. The final selfie in the series is taken at around 5pm on a Sunday when I had just worked the last shift in a two week run, I had been up since 6am, operating on naps, and this picture caught me just before I KO’d for an actual real 8 hour sleep. The following day I am entirely myself again. And smiling.*

From my attempted photo diary: Candle burnt out at both ends.

From my attempted photo diary: Candle burnt out at both ends.

Weirdly, seeing the pictures now, I don’t remember how exhausted I was all that time, I remember how bizarre it was working in a bar full of drunks at 9am in the morning, serving full Irish breakfasts to people who had been going steady from the night before, these people were running on less sleep than me, but did have the advantage of alcohol on their side. I remember when cabin fever kicked in and there was no other way to keep going than by laughing and dancing.

It almost recollects as fun.

But I don’t want to do it again.

I’ve been there, I’ve taken the photo, that will do.

That’s what I like about selfies, the real ones, snapped at all hours of the day in night in various states of sobriety and mental attitudes, it’s honest.

The quote from the article which struck a chord with me was from Dr. Pamela Rutledge, from the Media Psychology Research Centre in Boston. She said that in selfies “we see ourselves alive and dynamic, a person in progress” whether that’s in weight loss or beard growth, its a snapshot of us becoming the person we want to be (very after school special I know, but we all need a taste of Sesame Street in our cynical little lives).

So if selfies are on the rise, I embrace them, after all I’m a seasoned people watcher, this way the people come to me. Yes people only tend to share the snapshots of themselves looking good (which, let’s be honest, none of us are really interested in) but it’s only natural, I’m sure even Van Gogh discarded a few self portraits where his hair just wasn’t sitting right over the bloodied bandage.

Self-portraits are a very personal thing, but all portraits are meant to be shared… unless you’re Dorian Gray.

* Further research and date checking has established that on the said date, rather than sinking into a long deserved eight hour sleep, I power napped, was in MOJO by 10pm, drinking jugs of sangria by midnight, playing darts by 2am and slipped into comatose on a friend’s sofa at around 6am.

Because you know, you can sleep when you’re dead.

A Day in the Life…

As part of the Guardian’s ‘Write a Book in Thirty Days’ drive I have been reading authors’ ‘A Day in the life…’ with the reassurance that everyone finds it difficult to squeeze some writing into their day to day life. Duly inspired I decided to write my own ‘Day in the life’ but it somehow became a ‘Morning in the life’. This much productivity and mental thought before Philip and Holly have taken to the ITV stage of a morning is very unusual and not a typical day whatsoever.

I wake uncharacteristically early, before my flatmate has left to catch his 7.30am train to his real job. I’m rested, but it feels like another night of tossing and turning, partly caffeine induced, partly because I still haven’t gotten round to putting up curtains in my room. Achy shoulders. Must get a mattress topper. Vague images of the night’s dreams – my mother sitting by a sickbed, bringing her tea, then later, images of Batman and Robin fleeing a building as the police turn up – wait, were they on the rob? Surely not…

Wide awake by 8am I lift my phone, a few unimportant emails, an unexpected Facebook message from a very old, once very dear friend, I will have to mull that one over. On to the news. I am still romantically fond of the physical, awkward to fold on the bus, print-stained fingers, actual newspaper, but a combination of laziness and living in cheap, cold digs mean that I am easily converted to anything that allows me to begin my day without actually getting out from under the covers.

I browse through the BBC and Guardian apps, save any stories that spark an interest or an urge to share, make some notes, vow to actually write them in the course of the day, inevitably delete the link from Evernote (another handy convenience I’ve been converted to in recent months) in a few weeks.

By the time my alarm goes off at 8.45am I am already contemplating breakfast. This is very rare, early mornings are extraordinary for me. I usually don’t finish work until after eleven. I am a night owl, which means I rarely start writing until after sundown. Inspiration never really hits until after 10pm and the real magic or clarity doesn’t kick in until around 1am. Last night after a few hours struggle, I had a breakthrough with a troubling character around midnight, something clicked, I wrote frantically for twenty minutes, getting it all down on paper before the magic dried up, and then felt immediately exhausted. I managed a few pages of the very brilliant novel I’m currently reading (My Dream of You by Nuala O’Faolain if you’re interested) and then succumbed to dreams of mum and batman (not always typical I promise).

With a recent addition to our little family home, I am now learning to incorporate cat care into my morning routine, which unfortunately today means emptying a litter tray before I’ve  put the kettle on the boil or brushed my teeth. I reassure myself that my mother has probably already done this for the five cats at home over an hour ago – but then I remember, it’s half term, she’s probably still in bed, Dad will be up, let the dog in to curl up at the foot of the bed, he’d have brought her tea and cereal, and she will be reading a bit of something before she gets up and takes on the cat litter. It’s a pleasant thought, to know for once, I am probably up and active before my mother, I reassure myself once is probably enough, I can lie in tomorrow guilt free.

Cat fed and watered, teeth brushed, Monday deemed a bad hair day (just two days till payday, then I can get it chopped…) and kettle boiled. I stack up the dishes I avoided during yesterday’s hangover, collect up any other artefacts of the weekend. By a quarter past nine I am at my desk (on the sofa) with a brew and BBC News. I make more notes. Steve, the cat, has taken up position on the windowsill watching the traffic on Great George Street. (Steve’s real name is Mimsy, but I feel it emasculates him, so I’m calling him Steve, he seems ok with it.)

More news. Teenage boy missing. Ban on Ash trees. Pasta bake for dinner today I think.

Usually by now I would be dragging myself out of bed after three alarms, and preparing for the weekly Media Team meeting at the Biennial offices – today however I am working from home, trying to sort out a faulty electricity metre which will no doubt ending up costing a fortune. Nearly payday.

My appetite slowly returns since brushing my teeth, and my mind turns to breakfast once again. And a conversation at work last week, about the benefits of both pre- and post-breakfast teeth brushing – the important issues you discuss during a quiet nine hour shift in a bar with no windows.

Nine hour days are the norm now that I am a contracted member of staff at LIPA Bar. A three day weekend, a four day working week, sometimes five. AFDs (All Fucking Days, for those outside the hospitality industry.) An odd way to work but a welcome structure to the week after a summer of discontent. Clocks went back yesterday, officially winter, chill in the air but nothing compared to the storm hitting the east cost of America this morning. Shan’t complain. Actually, weather looks promising.

American presidential campaigns. Vote early, vote often as they say at home. Afghanistan’s first female rapper – the new age revolutionary? Steve is on the move, watching me through the net curtain.

Steve overturns kitchen bin. I overturn a mug of tea over the coffee table. First moment of greatness today. Thankfully the other tablecloth is freshly cleaned and folded on the side. Kettle on (again). In a pot this time, separates us from the beasts. Mushrooms browned. Bacon sizzled. Bagel toasted. Mango chopped. Breakfast. How very cosmopolitan of you, I can hear my dad. Wonder how he’s getting on with the digital switchover. Must be like Christmas, more than six channels to shout at.

Breakfasts. There’s a FoodLink feature in there. Make a note.

Mental To Do List formulating. Steve watching me eat. No, Steve.  More news. Annual migration of farm animals through central Madrid. Endearing idea. Age old right exercised, tradition celebrated. I need a holiday. Scenes from Hurricane Sandy making itself known on the Maryland coast. I was in Maryland. Over ten years ago! Huge waves. Must be nice to watch from a safe place. Vivid memory of perching among sand dunes in Donegal watching huge waves thrash against the beach. And a late night barbeque on the beach, was that the same time? Were there fireworks? I haven’t seen a beach all year, not since Blackpool last summer, hardly counts. Didn’t even get my feet wet.

10am and not a wain washed. Must get dressed. Just finish my tea. Headlines are on now anyway. Jesus, I really am turning into my mother.