Monday, December 05, 2011

Respect

I like to say I'm the kind of person who respects her elders. I stand and offer my seat on the bus when an elderly, tired, or handicapped person is near. My Southern manners are well-ingrained and I always say please and thank-you, yes ma'am and no sir when dealing with older people. (This is considered strange in the UK, and even insulting to some, so I've been trying to stop, also out of respect for the people I speak to.) Elderly people tend to strike up conversations with me in grocery stores and I'm always cordial and friendly, keeping things light, pleasant, and of a courteous duration. I know a lot of elderly people are lonely and feel threatened by youfs like me, and I don't want to be a part of the cold, scary world outside to good people who have been through so much.

But some people really abuse this aspect of my personality.

This past Sunday the fiancé and I were walking down the street on the way to the co-op for some cereal and toilet paper. It was chilly and grey but not actually raining so we were chatting and meandering when we both nearly slammed headlong into an elderly man with a cane who was intentionally blocking the entire sidewalk, which was itself enclosed by a wall on one side and a chain of cars on the other. I don't claim to know his mental health history but he spoke coherently and appeared fully aware of his surroundings, so I don't find the ensuing intrusion excusable on those grounds.

He asked Boy if he was a Christian. Boy smiled politely, said no, and moved to step away.

Our new friend proceeded to grab Boy on the shoulder and rest his weight there--remember the cane?--and begin to express his disappointment with me for allowing him to get to this state. He then waved his hands at me--hands with clean, well-maintained nails--and declared me to be weak of faith. He implored Boy to lead me down the right path and to head our family in a godly way--the kind of demeaning language that has gotten drinks tossed into the faces of several of my acquaintances--and then shifted his stance so he had Boy around the back of the neck and demanded that we pray with him.

Biting back a lot of things I said no thank you, have a good morning.

He kept right on, began to "oh dear lord" while trying to press Boy's forehead down to touch his.  Boy straightened, smiled awkwardly and motioned that he did not want to participate. The elderly man ignored this, said "just a short one" and started again. Oh dear lord...

Out of patience, I stated, "Sir, you are insulting us. Stop it. Leave us alone." and walked away.

Boy managed to shake him off and caught up with me a few seconds later, by which point I'd worked up a really good fury bubble.

Who the hell does he think he is? Does the fact that it is Sunday give him clearance to go forth and say rude nasty things to people in the streets? Does the fact that he's elderly give him a free pass to foist his misogynistic and mindless world-view on innocent passers-by? Does the fact he's a Christian give him the right to accost people who he doesn't approve of in the most offensive way possible?

A few days ago a woman was arrested after a video surfaced of her saying astonishingly racist and xenophobic things to a diverse group of people in a London tram. All you foreigners, why don't you go back where you came from, I don't even recognize My England anymore, etc--all she needed to say was "baaah!" and show her teeth to fully round out the street-tramp cliché. People asked her to stop, first politely, then with rapidly dwindling courtesy as her vitriol intensified. At least two individuals caught this on their phones from different angles, and she was tracked down and charged with using discriminatory language intended to incite violence and hatred.

I see no difference between the Tram Tramp and the, what I'm sure most people would declare, sweet and well-meaning elderly man who tried to "pray over us." It was offensive, it was intended to be offensive, and it was clear that our confronter felt he had the right to interfere in our lives, regardless of the fact that we were in no way seeking to engage his attention or challenge his views.

I don't give a hoot what people believe in the privacy of their own homes. In your quiet living room you could think your microwave is sending messages on your behalf to the disembodied voice of Orson Welles floating in a gaseous cloud in space. You can think that you are the source of all goodness and light, or that your penis grants you some ineffable divine right. You can be as insane as you want to and provided you are not doing harm to anyone else and you aren't making a nuisance of yourself I do not care. But the second you bring it into the streets, the second you demand someone else listen to your ravings, you are getting into harassment and anti-social behaviour territory. 

Importantly to this discussion, this elderly, feeble man reached out and grabbed Boy. Any attempt Boy might have made to free himself from this grip might have injured the man, something Boy was far too decent to risk. Yes, technically, he was not being held forcefully. But he abused our inherent decency to restrain and insult us.

Like everyone in England, I have the right to pass unmolested in my streets. I have the right to think how I want to think and not be held down and bullied about my lifestyle or opinions. Anyone who does so or attempts to do so is in clear violation of the law.

But I would never hold down an elderly man and tell him that his belief system is absurd anyway. I would never grip the body of another person and insult his way of life. I know this is not only mean and offensive but intolerant and not in the best interests of my community.

But for some reason we are obligated to tolerate these bullies, these gentle xenophobes who do not tolerate us and believe they do have the right to harass us in the streets.What, you want to press charges? A sweet old man annoyed you about religion for a few minutes while across town girls were being mugged? Sod off.
But had I done the same back, had I grabbed him and told him that the clear path to enlightenment and a valuable life is atheism and respecting women as your equals without any form of qualifier I would have been hauled off for assault.

If he wants to shout and try and hand out leaflets in the streets that is his business. Provided he recognizes my right to not engage and walk away, while I don't like what he's doing I am not going to get too bothered. In the grand scheme of things, I'm really even okay with letting the KKK and the Catholic League set up tables at fairs and markets, 'cos I don't have to listen and people who want to engage have an opportunity to enjoy some cathartic screaming. People who make a nuisance of themselves must be prepared to receive it in kind, and more so the more offensive they are. I'm confident the reason the Tram Tramp was charged was not because she was an asshole but because she had a captive and unwilling audience.

You want to do your best to offend your neighbours? Fine. But I better have the opportunity to ignore you.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Some other ideas we're considering for a reception venue:

a Boat

a Pub Function Room

a Different Community Centre

Elopement

I read the news

Today folks in the home office are furious to discover that for a brief time document checks on non-EU nationals were relaxed at border control. Staff were reportedly told to examine biometric data at their discretion and to only give people a thorough going-over if they looked dodgy so as to streamline processing, but protocol dictates that each traveller must be thoroughly poked and prodded before being allowed to continue.

As a non-EU national, I naturally have opinions with regard to this.

I've been flying into and out of the UK for years as a foreigner. And you know what? At no time of day have I ever enjoyed a speedy or even efficient jaunt through passport control. Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted all have desks for at least 30 customs officials in a big two-tiered bank at the end of about a half-mile of queue switchbacks. No matter what time of day I've landed, however, I have never seen more than 4 people manning these stations. With an average processing time per passenger of 30 seconds, and an average of 3 planes of 400 passengers each landing at a time, even when you divide the queues into Domestic/EU and "Foreign" you still have about 600 travellers in your queue handled by 2 people, or a wait time of approximately 2.5 hours.

I have done that 2.5 hour trudge so f'ing many times the dread of it has actually put me off travelling.

So when I found out the reason behind most of these streamlining measures was to accommodate for job cuts at UKBA, I found it a little infuriating.

How can you possibly make job cuts when your staff is 0? There has never been anyone there, and now you want fewer?

Okay, maybe not 0. If the big 4 airports have 4 passport inspectors on at a time and they're running 24/7, I'd imagine they have 4 plus a break runner per 8-hour shift (or 15 people) plus part-timers on the weekend, so let's be generous and say 20. So 80 officials in the airports, plus another 20 dotted around at small airports and ferry terminals (oh who am I kidding, I've never seen a customs official at a ferry terminal.) plus the team on the Eurostar. Up to 110 in the entire country.

If they'd like to contest this and say "oh no, there's thousands of people on our payrolls--too many, in fact. We're paying too much!" I would like to very politely ask just what exactly they're all doing. Because they sure as hell aren't processing passports.

You wanna know how hard it is to get to Lewisham from Stansted when your plane gets in at 10pm? If you were able to get off the plane, go through customs, get your bag and leave in the space of twenty minutes like you can in Copenhagen, you could get a coach to Stratford Station in the space of about an hour and hop on the Jubilee line to London Bridge. By this point it's about 11:45, so there's a couple more Southeastern trains running toward your home (10 minutes) and if you have bags you could still grab a local bus from the town centre. Home by 12:30. Not too bad.

But no. When your plane arrives at Stansted and you have to queue for two hours at passport control, you come out and discover the coach service is partly suspended after midnight and the next one won't be around for another hour. So you get the coach as far into town as it will take you, which is still on the extreme north side of London, and at 2am you manage to find a night bus that takes you to a station where you can get another night bus to a third night bus which gets you somewhat near your town, allowing you to walk the last two miles home dragging your suitcase. Home by dawn with a blown-out knee and influenza.

Or you could pay £150 for a taxi and be home by 3am.

Note that I use the word "home." Home by dawn for someone who knows how to get around and already has an Oyster card. Think of the tourists.

But this isn't about how crappy London's public transit system is, or how it is run for use in 1954. Nor is it about how ridiculous it is that London businesses are only open when their customers are also at work. And for once this isn't about how it is patently obscene that pubs close at 11 on Saturdays and you can't find a pint for less than £3.50.  This is about the fact that there's not enough people working at passport control, and now they've decided to fire half of them.

WHY is it that when the people stand up and demand that their government becomes more efficient with their tax money, rather than stopping paying for pointless vanity projects, moat dredging on their personal property, private cars and jets, and funding the "privately run" transportation industry, they instead CUT FRONT LINE WORKERS LIKE CUSTOMS OFFICIALS AND NURSES?

What arrogant bastard thinks cutting the people who actually get anything done is the smart way to save money? You know how long people have to wait for treatment at hospitals? It's not because there's not enough beds, examining rooms, operating theatres or equipment. There's not enough practitioners. You know how long people have to wait to buy stamps? There's nothing wrong with their stocks of stamps or the scales or trucks or mailbags. There's only one postal worker at counter with positions for 11.

The university system here is churning out hundreds of thousands of qualified graduates every year who just want to work. State-run services have room to expand.  Indeed, there's desk space gathering dust for over 400 people in the airport passport control sector alone, more if people worked part-time.

Rather than expanding the state's middle--the paperwork-creator and paperwork-avoider cycle that always manages to occupy most of our nation's unproductive time and employment, why not cut most of that and focus on the workers--you know, the people who do things. Pay front-line employees a living wage to do a good job. Fill up the desks at passport control. Have nurses and techs available to handle minor injuries at A&E, and please pay my dustbin team and their truck maintenance crew enough to make it worth it to come to work when it's cold this winter.

We pay our taxes not so you can bicker about new laws or start new wars, but so that we can have services and systems in place that keep our society running smoothly. We need our bin-men, our nurses and pharmacists, our maintenance technicians and plumbers and teachers and dammit our passport inspectors more than you need so much as a taxi in central London. Calling all MPs: no one recognizes you. Take the bloody train and give us our workers back.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Site Visit Update

So yesterday I viewed Hall Place and Devonport House, as well as dropped in on a pub with a function room that was nice but up a flight of stairs (mean to grandmas) and rather small, so no.

Devonport House was like Ye Olde English Pubbe in Heathrow Terminal 4. Fake. Superficial. Devoid of any unique features or character. I hated it from the moment I stepped in the door. They had two rooms and a bar available for large events, and while one of them was merely soulless, the other had the ambiance of a Denny's--the sort of place that you know if you tried to decorate it, it would just look even more soul-crushing. The meeting coordinator asked me if I had any questions, and I had a hard time thinking of anything aside from "where is the nearest exit?" Curse my politeness. Any further details and you'd surely run away.  Moving swiftly on . . .

The first house I visited yesterday was a beautiful, amazing structure called Hall Place. Out about ten minutes away from Eltham, it a 16th century manor house, with a 17th century manor house stuck to it, surrounded by several acres of gardens and parkland. The duckling-covered River Cray cuts through this, and structures (including a wisteria-covered bridge) cross it at several points.

Great Hall at Hall Place. If I had a room like this in my house, I'd name the house after it too.

They offer their Great Hall, which is part of the 1537 build, as well as the adjoining Tudor Kitchen for parties and drinks receptions, plus access to the private courtyard (with a lovely knot garden), the minstrels gallery, and (in case of inclement weather) their upstairs Long Gallery which overlooks the Topiary Garden (which boasts a delightful collection of Heraldic Squirrels, as well as abstract pieces).
 
Tudor Kitchen, which sticks off the Great Hall like an L.

The venue boasts plenty of parking, as well as a greenhouse and café which are open to the public. As a gesture of formality, they open the main gates to the house (usually closed, and you have to enter via the public access point by the greenhouses) for cabs and limos and the like to drop the wedding party (and any handicapped guests) at the front door.

Long Gallery upstairs. The caterers would bring up sit-able chairs.

The place is gorgeous, that's a given. And everything is ready and right there.  The Great Hall is absolutely fabulous. The (substantial) hire fee includes paying a few staff members of the house to wrangle tourists, who would still have access to other areas of the house, as well as the informal areas of the grounds.

A couple of problems I have with it, though: you have to use their on-site catering. Now granted, they appear to be fine, and they know the place well and are prepared to set up for it. That is their only vendor requirement, but it is a big one--the building controls the food and drink, so the selections of meals and beverages are rather specific. They do have some lovely vegetarian options and can offer a buffet instead of table-service, but the booze is the big thing.  Boy and I aren't big wine drinkers, and the beers we like tend to be funny little micro-brews and local companies. I enjoy port and Boy doesn't mind it, but Champagne gives me an insta-headache and makes Boy want to run screaming from the room. I will of course offer wine to those who want it, but when it comes to ceremonial boozing, there are certain things we want that I don't think a caterer could offer.

Also, while it would be very difficult to take a bad picture in the whole setup, the bookings for this place are through the roof, which makes me feel like all of our photos would be...canned. As neat as it could be to take bride and groom photos nestled amongst the topiary chess pieces, they already have two other couples on their brochure doing just that. Lamezors. Their midweek rates included a full-operation package: ceremony, interval drinks, table set-up, meal, interval drinks, table clear-away, dj, cash bar, dancing, get out. Boring. You don't have to take the dj, but you do have to pay for him to not show up. Ew.

It is a perfect venue for a fairy-tale wedding.  But I don't particularly want a fairy-tale wedding--if nothing else, weddings in fairy-tales are usually mentioned in passing right at the end.  Before that there's ogres and witches and wolves and starving German children in cages.  Eeeek!




A venue which is getting a bit closer to my cup of tea (though I'm not sold on anything yet) is Shrewsbury House in Plumstead. The best way to describe it, I would say, is early 20th century mock-Georgian manor house, usurped by Greenwich Council in the early 1950s, kept and maintained as one might expect the state to maintain a community centre ever since. The lighting is Functional. The spaces are Clean. The electrical cables are Enclosed in Plastic Troughs. The pipes are Exposed. I feel sorry for it.


But it offers a wealth of potential! It is beautiful, in its way, and it's incredibly versatile. The room hire would include the library (which used to be the Plumstead local library) and the lovely back room, with access to the garden. It offers parking, handicapped access, and adequate facilities in the event of a nuclear meltdown. That's right, boys and girls--Shrewsbury has a bunker.

The facility is a community centre first and foremost, but there's not a whole lot on the books so they're flexible. The site manager, a lady named Cathy who I absolutely adored, explained that the centre has had their budget slashed and the building has not received the sort of upkeep and updating it deserves for a number of reasons (mainly the people who've been running it are in their 90's and think the Internet is a fad), but they are trying.  And as of tomorrow the library floor will be sanded and re-finished.


The beautiful back room has a potential hitch, but avoidable if we are in touch with them early enough: it is used during term-time as a day care, and as per Ofsted regulations it must be decorated in bright colours so as to designate it a children's place. Now, I'm planning the events for around Easter, primarily because a significant number of my Boy's family and our friends will be off work because they're teachers (so they'll be available to help out and hang out with my family, who regardless of vacation periods will not be at work). The pre-school teachers switch out their decorations and bulletin boards at the holidays, so if we let them know in advance, they can pull down the winter paper and hold off on hanging the spring décor until after the show. Then we get a pretty room that doesn't look like it's set up for toddlers. (And it does have such beautiful ceilings, and curvy walls!)


There is access to the upstairs rear balcony but not the front, but it is much prettier anyway.

 
The back garden also boasts a pleasant area with benches, a wisteria walk, and a rather utilitarian side garden that I may guerilla-plant some tulips in.

The institutional stuff can go away and be replaced with nice stuff. We can do whatever we want for food, booze, and furniture, as well as parlour games, music, and "Traditions".

I don't know, for some reason Shrewsbury is more attractive to me than Hall Place. What it lacks in Elegance it makes up for in Character.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Venue Shopping

This week I will be visiting Shrewsbury House, Devonport House, and Hall Place, all in Greenwich borough, as I begin to look for reception halls. I've phoned and scheduled visits, and only Hall Place's receptionist didn't attempt to re-invent my name so it's going to the top of my list. It is also face-meltingly pretty. Go on. Have a look. Now look at their gardens. I'll wait.
UPDATE: BEAUTIFUL.

Shrewsbury has already essentially said it's not the best idea, but offered to show me around anyway.  Apparently the local bridge club has called dibs on the pretty room on weekdays (and based on their society page I wouldn't cross them--too many canes)

Devonport House is a hotel, not exactly what I had in mind but they are very well-located (next to the National Maritime Museum) and would make accommodation easier.
UPDATE: HORRIBLE.

A list of decisions and declarations I've made in regard to this whole wedding thing:

NO DJs

NO marquees, tents, or making people wear heels in the grass

NO bouquet tossing or undergarment-groping-and-flinging

NO ceremonial standing-around of family members or friends

NO couple's first dance, dancing-with-one's-parent or f'ing DJs

NO veiling, head-scarves or wimples

NO religious paraphernalia or activity of any kind (offenders will be removed)

NO solo march down the aisle or gestures which allude to an exchange of my ownership

NO babies

NO speeches alluding to reproduction (offenders will be slapped)

NO chicken dance, electric slide, hokey-pokey, polka, Riverdance or group dances or DJs

NO Gifts

NO Smoking, Drinking, or Talking

NO Guests

GET OUT

----

I don't particularly like weddings.

In other news, why is beige chic these days? Even the prettiest of models look frumpy or naked in them. BLEH.

Bonus: Photoshop Hack-Jobs on Nordstrom's Dress Site Are Always Disturbing.  It's the blend of confusingly-proportioned women doing bizarre contortions, strange lighting, and that hilarious paper-doll style cut-n-pasting (sized to fit with the liquefy tool) that turns a genuine dress-inspiration session into a hilarious, if unsettling joke.  I enjoy going through the stacks of poses and dresses to try and find the original model-dress combinations. So far I haven't encountered anyone with an extra limb, but some of those double-sized heads look heavy.

Who has six inches between their thighs? What living person?

After a while you forget what human beings actually look like.

----

And finally, I've been rejected from two positions at the drugstore. Wow.


Monday, October 24, 2011

And then I spent a year unemployed

I formally completed my MA a year ago this month. Let's have a look at what I've accomplished since then.

I have applied for nearly 300 jobs.
I have landed 2, both short-contract and painfully underpaid.
I have been formally rejected from about 20, and never heard back from another 278.

Since October of 2010 I have had approximately 6 weeks worth of work.
Of that, 2 weeks have been spent volunteering. 1 week has been more akin to "volunteering" (e.g. I was told I'd be paid, but then wasn't.)

I have been highly qualified for everything I've applied for.  Some things I may have been over-qualified for but I gave it a shot anyway. I've applied for positions that offered a fair deal less than minimum wage, internships, very short contracts, permanent contracts, seasonal contracts, casual, ad-hoc, and even online gigs. Near home, far from home, impossible to get to, upstairs, downstairs, but not in my night-gown.

I gave up on applying for theatre positions a while ago and have been seeking development, administrative and reception-type work in pretty much any industry. Today I broke down and applied for three gigs in retail, as well as another half-dozen clerical positions. One of the retail applications asked me to confirm that I was at least 14 years old.

I need a drink.

I also need to get paid more than £1.50 an hour for the work I actually do, so I can afford to drink.

Even selling myself short has gotten me nowhere. This is absurd. I'm losing gigs to teenagers. In London it would appear that if it's not at one of the big 10 theatres it's simply not paid, and administrators should feel privileged to earn minimum wage--something I've always found stupid, because if you don't pay the people who handle the money enough to not be tempted by the money, you're begging for trouble.

My student loans are entering their 8th month of forbearance (after the initial 6-month grace period.) I can't apply for deferment because I'm not in the US and therefore can't register for unemployment. So they're just accruing interest while my MA gathers dust.

If I actually do find a position that offers minimum wage I may be able to start paying my fair share of the rent and the interest on the loans, but not the capital, and I will not be able to save anything. Whee.

I give it back.  The degree, the education, the year.  The waste of money and time and intellect. It wasn't worth it at the time, it isn't worth it now. I would have better luck finding a gig if I was still working on my GED. I'm not qualified to flip burgers.

----
Update: I have now also been rejected from all of the retail positions mentioned earlier. Woo!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Because that means I win (bad poetry alert)

Plate Tectonics
Are Never Ironic
A continent shifts with no regard for who's on't
The planet don't care
Or even know who's up there

Don't give mundane events
Cosmic Significance
No one decided where it rains

Outbreed or Outlive the competition
And if nature helps out it proves our conviction

You think God saved you because you knelt down and prayed
But your neighbour did too, and got swept away
You gave happenstance a name
You think you're winning some game

The beauty myth has been packaged and sold
on the notion that winners don't have to get old
And this time I'll win
I'll show you the perfection of my skin
I'll be thin
And svelte, and sexy and more
Until the day I'm nine-hundred and four
'Cos I earned it
I did everything right
I smiled and I knelt and I sucked and didn't bite
I gave you what you wanted
And you gave back a lie

You obeyed the rules
Financed the schools
And it gives me no real pleasure here to say
The men who lead
They don't believe
But it keeps you down and props them up so they
Perpetuate
The cunning ruse
Where you pay them well to do nothing for you.

Doloreta

I recently posted a photo of my next-door neighbours' two cats. They're very affectionate and playful, and their owners seem like nice, low-key people. They're in their mid-30's, moved here from Camberwell, watch chat shows and relax in their garden on sunny days.

I have no particular reason to talk about them.

My next-door neighbour on the other side, however, is a woman I've never met, a woman I've only seen twice in the nearly two years we've shared a wall. I believe she's somewhere between 30 and 60 and is Polish, but as I can't actually speak Polish I could be mistaken. I do not know her name, but for the purpose of this narrative I've decided to call her Doloreta.

See, I've gone so long with Doloreta as my anonymous neighbour that I feel like I know her, even though I know nothing about her, can't understand a word she says, and couldn't pick her or any of her visitors out of a line-up. From years of hearing bumps and murmurs, ringing and hammering, laughter and shouting I've crafted a picture of a very interesting woman who is almost certainly nothing like my actual neighbour.

Doloreta spends most of her time alone, and keeps a variable schedule. Some mornings her alarm goes off at 5am, other mornings at eleven--but most mornings it doesn't go off at all. I've decided this means she's a freelance journalist. I believe she sleeps in the back bedroom and leaves the front for guests, as I occasionally hear mobile phone alarms through the wall early in the morning but sounds of stirring more often come from down the hall.

Her garden is professionally landscaped, with a beige flagstone patio surrounded by spiny, pointy plants like pampas grass and bamboo that don't need tending but look discretely tasteful. It has a feel not unlike that of a spec house--generic shrubs around a reasonably-priced picnic table that no one has ever sat around and no one ever will. Nice, but impersonal.

I rarely hear her when she's alone, but when I do she's out in this garden, enjoying a cigarette and talking on the phone. She doesn't smoke often--I've decided she smoked regularly when she was younger but has gradually weaned herself off, particularly since she successfully separated from her husband.*

Every few weeks an angry man (let's call him Jakub) arrives to argue with her and drill holes in the walls. When the bickering starts I know to close my windows, because while the insulation between our houses is quite good they almost always take it outside. The reasons for their divorce or separation are many and complex, but as some part of their settlement he's agreed to fix up her house, possibly because they have a mind to sell it. Jakub is not particularly happy about this, and he's not much of a DIY guy, but he does it, sometimes for an entire weekend. He oddly never seems to be around when Doloreta's sister comes by, but the situation with him is frequently inquired after.

Doloreta's sister, a compassionate woman I've dubbed Sabina, has a jovial husband and young daughter, and the three of them drop round to visit every other weekend or so. Her niece is well-behaved, but Doloreta is inexpert and uncomfortable around children. She speaks to her the way I speak to cats, with an excited, half-whispered "oh boy! Look at you! Wow!" despite the fact that the girl is at least five and clearly doesn't appreciate that. Every half-hour or so Sabina's husband will usher the child inside and let the two women talk. On days when Jakub has been drilling holes in the walls the talk comes fast and bitter, and I imagine he's been pressuring her to sell the house and split the sale value with him. Then Roza will grow bored with her father and bound outside again for more of Doloreta's awkward praise.

Recently a stocky, middle-aged builder has come to share Doloreta's life on more pleasant terms than Jakub. His name, as I learned when I signed for a package for him from a flustered delivery man, is Piotr. A few weeks ago he spent an afternoon cutting down and destroying most of the bamboo grove that had been rapidly overgrowing Doloreta's garden. Piotr seems quiet but not unkind, and Doloreta's angry outbursts have reduced. I have decided Piotr is a Good Thing. 

One day Boy happened to espy Piotr skipping rope out in the garden, looking like a short Polish Mohammed Ali training for a fight. Whatever he does for a living, the man likes to keep fit.

I have never understood a word of what has gone on next door, so absolutely everything I've said or decided about Doloreta is of my own invention. She may be lovely. She may be vile. She's probably just a person with her own concerns. But as long as she remains a mystery to me she will remain intriguing and exciting.

----

*Last summer I was feeding my tomato plants in the garden when three women came into Doloreta's garden and began to talk. I didn't listen closely to what was being said, and wouldn't have noticed at all except that the conversation had a funny meter to it. One woman would speak in English, one in Polish, one in Polish, one in English, one in English...and round and round and round they went. At the time I figured it was Doloreta herself facilitating a conversation for someone in the community, but it only really dawned on me recently that this was going on in Doloreta's garden, not in an office or public park. Why on earth would she bring strangers into her home to translate for them? My neighbour was talking to a lawyer.

A few months after this Jakub started coming around--sporadically at first, but with gradually increasing frequency. His first work visits were quiet and short, but as they got longer and more involved so too did the arguments. The Sunday morning 5am shelving installation event, complete with shouting, hammer-drilling, banging, door slams, and books on my side of the wall crashing to the floor nearly landed them a visit from a police constable, but it subsided. Things have been quieter since then.

University Baseline

Several people yesterday linked Nicholas Kristof's "Occupy the Classroom" opinion piece from the New York Times, which got me thinking. While he had some lovely points regarding investment in early childhood education and socialization, and I would support such an investment of tax dollars wholeheartedly because I've seen first-hand the impact early development work can have on a child's life, it nevertheless calls into question a whole host of concerns regarding the structure of our society.

As Boy pointed out in our ensuing discussion of the article, the number of jobs available in our countries for uneducated people is diminishing rapidly. While high school kids and dropouts can still find positions waiting tables at late-night diners and (to a lesser extent) in retail, unskilled labour positions are fairly scarce and many community service positions have actually been usurped by the corrections sector. But I hastened to point out that what used to be "dropout" work now calls for a diploma, and what used to be diploma-level work now requires a degree. (Not necessarily arbitrarily: warehouse work used to just require a strong back and an honest demeanour; now forklift operators need to interface with complex inventory software and potentially-dangerous machinery.  Fair enough.)

Of course, we can't overlook the simple fact that when everyone is expected to go to university, university education becomes valueless.  The whole reason you go to uni is to make you more qualified than your peers for the career you want, so that you can get ahead in said field and make more money than you would otherwise. (Your mother wanted you to go to college so that you could get rich and take care of her in her dotage, not so you could smoke weed and discuss Kafka in a coffee shop.)  But now everyone has a degree, so in order to stand out from the crowd you need to go even further: either earn an advanced degree or wear a really, really tight skirt to interview. As education rates increase, so too increases the baseline level of education you need to exceed in order to be considered exceptional. (Or employable.)

The fact is, the more people who graduate, the harder it gets for every graduate to find a job. The market is flooded now with unemployed applicants--at least 14 million in the US--most of whom have college degrees that they're still paying for. And now that tuition costs have begun to skyrocket, as governments withdraw funding due to over-subscription to the university system, the cost combined with your unimproved chances of finding employment makes your education even less valuable than if you didn't have one at all. (My MA is just getting more expensive, sitting in the filing cabinet, waiting for a job to come along and free my loans from forbearance.)

When we encouraged everyone to go get a degree, what did we actually accomplish? Whereas 10 years ago receptionists needed a high school diploma to qualify, now they need a BA. What once was a minimum-wage career has become a minimum-wage career that costs $20,000 just to apply. And every job attracts hundreds of qualified applicants.

And universities are challenged now, in the face of growing awareness of the plummeting net benefit of earning one of their products, to convince people that their worthless documents are somehow better than other schools' slightly-cheaper worthless documents. It's either that or go bust when everyone signs up for The University of Phoenix Online just to slog through the next required stage of debt accrual before they qualify for the dole queue. (In order to do so I believe recruiters are trying to draw a distinction between students--people who genuinely want to learn and engage with their education--and those who just want to get a stamped document saying they paid their dues. And maybe that's how education will evolve in this country. In-person education will become the remit of professional academics while the rest of us are processed by the one-size-fits-all internet diploma mill.)

But what is the next logical step to all of this? Needing a Ph. D and $100,000 worth of student loans in order to be a garage attendant? Co-authoring twenty papers on oral surgery over ten years in order to be a dental hygienist? People need to be able to work without fighting up an ever-growing tower of requirements just to get started.  People need to know that their job won't be suddenly taken away from them when after five years they discover they're no longer qualified. Twentysomethings are still regularly becoming tenants, spouses, parents, and bill payers. They need an income that will actually cover their debts, even if they don't have an MBA and don't have time to study for one.

If we increase education for all, unfortunately, we make it harder for everyone to achieve. We merely reset the zero-point higher and longer away. I don't fault anyone who has enjoyed a good education who might not have in another age, but I also can't help but think that in the long run it isn't helping. I don't know how we can actually improve opportunity for everyone, but surely making it harder for everyone isn't the answer.

How Religion Lost

It was not the atheists that instilled doubt.

It was not the feminists who undermined your authority.

It was not the blacks or the gays or multiculturalism or other people and ideas you seem to hate who interfered with your claim to rule the world.

It was literacy.

When farmers gained the ability to read, understand, and interpret the sacred books, a power previously reserved for holy men, farmers began to notice inconsistencies. Farmers began to notice contradictions, incorrect statements, omissions, and--most importantly--clear points of distinction between what the priests declared and the books said. When the lies were revealed by the very people who had been lied to the illusion was shattered.

See, funny thing--pretty much all lies don't hold up under scrutiny.  That's why for thousands of years the clergy of the Catholic church made a point of preventing parishioners from actually understanding texts for themselves. Once higher education began to become necessary for the merchant classes, however, a new tactic had to be adopted--it was decided it was the burden of priests to learn Latin, read and interpret the books for the sake of the people, because, y'know, it's really hard. Rather than prohibiting reading, Catholics encouraged their audiences to be lazy and simply passively trust they were right and obey. That worked for most people (and still does for many), but within the Protestant persuasion (as exclusivity of knowledge was one of their bones of contention) just to be on the safe side the texts were re-written in archaic, highfalutin legalese (no, King James didn't really talk like that) in order to bore and confuse the inquisitive into stopping.

The same is true of the Glorious Qu'Ran--written in classical Arabic (the Middle Eastern equivalent of Chaucer), it is technically update-proof: any copy intended for general consumption or text which varies from the original, impenetrable writing style is considered an interpretation or translation and automatically inferior. The only way to have any idea what the whole thing Really Means is to study classical Arabic--an undertaking which only Imams and Islamic scholars would ever do.  Indeed, the idea of even praying outside of Arabic is impure among Islamic fundamentalists.

This approach to teaching is still upheld in many religions, and is generally agreed-upon to be the most useful way of holding onto followers. The rules are in the book, and the book is available, but no one really reads it. Bible study classes tend to skip around and repeat themselves in order to avoid the really embarrassing texts--Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Revelation, in particular--and they're always led by an authority figure who makes a point of quieting opposition and questions that get too nit-picky. The contemporary faithful are given enough to feel close without enough to understand just what it is they believe.

Because the second you understand it, you realize just how amazingly absurd it all is.

NatWest: "and don't let the door hit you on the way out"


Dear Complaints Department:

I recently transferred the balance of my NatWest step account to another bank and believe one of your employees may have attempted to subvert this process.  A full two weeks after the scheduled account closure and transfer date (October 7) I contacted your friendly and helpful customer services department to ask where my money was. No one knew. The first time I called I was asked to wait half an hour for a return call. When after two hours no one called back I phoned again and was asked to wait up to five days for a return call. Two days later a friendly and apologetic customer service representative phoned to inform me that

somehow the balance in question had been transferred INTO ANOTHER NATWEST CUSTOMER'S ACCOUNT.

This has been corrected, and I am happily doing my business elsewhere.

But the big reason I left NatWest is that every time I have had to deal with your company someone has screwed up. From the wrong statements being sent to the border agency to your Swiss Cottage branch employees flatly lying and telling me I could only have an international student account to the Lewisham branch employees lying and saying I couldn't have an interim statement mailed to me in time to prevent me being deported, I've had nothing but incompetence, lies, laziness, and insults from your staff from day one.  But this goes well beyond unacceptable and into criminal territory. Had I not contacted your friendly and helpful call centre someone in your transfers department could very well have gotten away with stealing my every last cent.

Why did I have to go out of my way to save my money from your employees' incompetence or sticky fingers?

How did you manage to successfully transfer my direct debit to my new bank but flatly fail to transfer my actual money? Yeah, my phone bill that went unpaid because my new account was empty. I had to go in and fix that too.

How did you manage to screw not only me over like this, but also my fiancé when he transferred his own account out six months ago? Yeah, the same thing happened: his direct debits were transferred, and his money never showed up. He wound up walking out of the bank with six months' worth of pay cheques in cash because your employees couldn't figure out how to transfer the balance for two months after he signed a transfer-and-close order.

Your business model appears to be "screw over customers until they complain" and is sincerely in need of an overhaul. What is preventing you from doing things right the first time? Why do you employ idiots and/or criminals to handle sensitive data and currency?

To sum up, your company's failures and lies have caused me to:

:pay for an account I didn't want after a viable free alternative was refused

:pay fees for non-payment of direct debits to my local council, gas company, phone company, and HMRS

:nearly be deported for incorrect balance data

:fight to have my money restored after its apparent internal theft

I expect nothing less than a sincere apology written by a human being, though a promise to review your systemic failures in training and employee screening would not go amiss. I'm sharing this information with my MP, except more politely.  I am among your most dissatisfied customers, and think you should be ashamed of yourselves.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Oh Right

Engagement. Not an upcoming engagement, a previous engagement, or a catered engagement. A declaration between two people of their intent to get married.

I has one.

We decided to tie the knot near the end of August, after I returned home from a visit to my family.  We'd been talking about it with increasing sincerity and seriousness over the past few years, and particularly at the airport before I left to visit the States, but something finally took when I reached the customs official at Heathrow. I'd been standing in the "foreigners and scum" passport control queue for about two hours, dragging a carry-on bag full of memories and dirty underwear, when I was called to the desk by a middle-aged man who looked surprisingly content for a state employee. He bipped my passport, glanced at his monitor, and asked me, not the usual question of "why are you here?" but "how long have you been away?" I said three weeks, and he smiled and said "welcome home."

Welcome home.  I realized then, with great clarity for someone who's been playing in-flight solitaire for eight hours, that home is wherever we are together. All the casual conversations and "we really oughtta"s took on a meaning beyond legality and convenience. It is time to commit ourselves to one another, not a nation. So after another serious and sincere conversation, we agreed to do just that.

----

As of Thanksgiving, Boy and I will have been together for seven years. We met when I was an Erasmus student at the University of Kent, about a month after I started this blog in 2004. Thanks to the modern marvel that is Skype we've been in constant contact since I had to return to the States to finish my undergrad--generally two to three hours a night every night of the week on the phone (and later, on video phone). We've enjoyed about three years of living in the same country, two of them consecutive, and are looking forward to many more.

----

We have an appointment to give Notice of Intent on the 23rd of November here in Lewisham. We plan to hold the ceremony in the registry office to make sure it's all done right. I've known too many people who've had weird things go wrong--from my mom being issued a new social security card without anyone ever writing it down, to couples sitting down to file their taxes after a year only to find out that they were never actually married, to people winding up with misspelled official names and brand new birthdays. Most of these things can be sorted out without too much trouble, but I'd rather not push it. UKBA nearly denied my visa because I was missing 8 days worth of bank statements thanks to NatWest's idiocy policy.

----

Our landlord still lives in Mexico and so far has no intention of moving back to London, so we can continue to keep our home. Since we cut down the huge cypress tree we've been getting more daring and may even hire a tree surgeon to hack some limbs off the ugly sycamore in the abutting neighbours' yard. If we make that investment I want to be damn sure we get to stay.

----

We are looking to buy an attractive ring for Boy in the next little while.  I would like to see him in a court-style 6mm titanium band.  They're shiny and scratch-resistant. And it's what my drill bits are dipped in so you know it's manly. I'm also open to him having palladium, platinum, or tungsten. Shiny. Sturdy. Simple.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Jumbled Thoughts

I'll try to make clear distinctions between them.

----

I'm getting married.  Soon.  Well, fairly soon.  I want April 5th. I like April 5th.  It's a good date. It's a Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays. Long-time readers of this blog may have noticed my spouse-to-be's arrival on the scene in November of 2004. Thanksgiving, actually. I've let my hair grow out since then, and started using punctuation.  He's grown a beard and gotten a job. I think that means he wins.

----

I've never liked children. (cue half of my readers finding something better to do.) But I think there is some sort of mathematical principle to the noise they make. I call it the Exponential Baby Figure. One baby, quiet, equals one baby, but one baby screaming seems to magically become ten babies, all screaming as loudly as they can from every point in the room. Two babies screaming is at least 100, three is over three million, and any number over 4 would make a calculator cry ERROR. This expansion property seems to have the capacity to bend the fabric of space to accommodate for all of the mouths--which would make day care centres and maternity wards the most fragile areas of space/time continuity in the universe. Scary stuff.

----

I've been having a lot of nightmares lately. This isn't wholly surprising--I'm nervous and worried about many things these days and I'm sure my circadian rhythm is reflecting that. But they all seem to involve terrifying dolls coming to life and chasing after me. I don't like this.

----

I smushed my thumb in a door this past weekend. It still hurts and is somewhat blue, but doesn't look as bad as some people's smushed fingers have. I think the nail isn't going to fall off.

----

I just realized that Sallie Mae no longer has a British bank account and I now have to send money to my US account in order to make my loan repayments, at a cost of at least £25, plus whatever my US bank wants to charge, per transaction. This sucks ass. Their .co.uk website doesn't even exist any more. I thought I had options.  Apparently I don't. Thanks, America!

----

I know the names of two of the four people whose houses are attached to mine: one of each partnership on either side. I have met two of the four people whose houses are attached to mine: the couple to the right. I wonder how typical this is.

----

dont let the dolls get me dont let the dolls get me dont let the dolls get me how on earth can i sleep?

Brown Thumb


 Moon over my tomatoes, a couple weeks ago.  The weather has been warm and beautiful for the past fortnight, and days and nights have been clear. Just lovely.

 Bowl of cherry tomatoes, with tea cozy for size. Each bowlful is about 120 tomatoes, and we've pulled in at least five heaping bowlfuls since I returned home from America. They've all been delicious.


 But I am starting to think that maybe I planted too many. I actually have fewer plants this year, but they're more productive than last year, somehow. Not complaining!

 This year's mutant. Not sure if it should be eaten.

 Still on the vine.  Taken this afternoon. They're really lovely.  I've noticed that they generally don't go fully red until after you've picked them.  They become a lovely deep orange colour on the vine, but if you let them go solidly red outside they almost always split and become food for critters. I pick them a day or so before they're deep red and let them finish ripening in the bowl.  They're still sweet, juicy, and delicious.

 A larger variety, just now beginning to turn. These are Marmandes and grow well in France.  They grow pathetically in London. We're expecting to hit our main cold snap in a few days here and these are nowhere near ready. Better never than late, maybe? I don't think they'll ripen before the cold kills the plants. Fail. Also failed this year: bell peppers, dill, coriander. Also pretty much failed this year: lavatera (one plant bloomed), Nigella Moody Blues (one plant volunteered under a table) salad greens (planted as a peace offering to the snails; they ate the salad and everything else as well).  Thrived this year: Gardener's Delights (cherry tomatoes, grow like weeds), courgettes (made several meals out of them), lemon balm (still haven't done anything with it),  flowering tobacco (still blooming at the far end of the garden) and actually we got about five tasty apples off our tree. Others were eaten by bugs and squirrels. The rosemary, mint, thyme, and sage are doing okay, the primrose is hobbling along. Now that the cypress is gone we have more room in the sunshine for tulips, pinks and daffodils in the spring.

This is my tomato hedge. It is actually just six plants--four Gardener's Delights, two Marmandes. The forsythia in the centre appears to have made friends with its nearest tomato, as it is absolutely filled with them. I built them a trellis this year, supported by the latticework, the beech trees, and the forsythia, but the plants on the far side still decided to grow straight up through the trees and to the sky--a climb of about 12 feet. The miniature rose in the pot was an engagement gift from Boy's aunt that I just put in a larger pot.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bornholm Dukketeaterfestival, Copenhagen and one bad photo of Sweden

So. I've been out and about. Lighting and puppetry brought me to Denmark this past week. A quick flight got me and the cast of the show I was working on to Copenhagen, and after a few hours of aimless wandering we hopped aboard the night ferry to Bornholm. This little number was equipped with quite comfortable and spacious cabins for a 6-hour trip, with loos And showers.  On the top deck you can see the shipping containers that accompanied us from the mainland being efficiently but slowly pulled to the pier. This ferry only does one trip each direction per day and is usually only ridden by a few lorry drivers. The trip back via Ystad, Sweden was only about an hour and was full of passengers and private cars.

A sample of typical Bornholm fare. These mackerel and herring were smoked on the island by a traditional smoke-house and donated by them to feed the puppet festival folk.  It was amazing--seriously, the best fish I've ever eaten. Delicate and perfectly balanced smoke and salt. I had a few handfuls, along with some cheese and some structural bread.

It is tasty. It is beautiful. It weighs about two kilograms per loaf. It is Danish Bread, and you will not forget it.

A typical Bornholm home behind Svaneke's community centre, Svanekegaarden. A group of highly talented children performed a fire show and some acrobatics for us out here the first evening we were in town. In addition to smoked fish and a variety of white cheeses, the Danish eat sausages as part of their daily routine, usually shoved into a baguette in a rather humourous way. Use your imagination.

Another Svaneke home.  My camera refused to capture just how vibrantly yellow most of the houses are. I think it's so the locals can find their homes in the snow.

The Svaneke harbour. It looks like there used to be a bit more of it. For non-Danish speakers, the closest phonetic equivalent is "Sffan-uh-kuh", with an a like in alcohol. If you pronounce it Sven-eekie you will baffle residents. Just FYI.

Ketch Tecla.  Probably 90' on deck, iron hulled. Cute as a button. In Svaneke harbour.

This house was moving very fast.

A medieval lamp on display in the Middelaldercenter, near Østerlars. (Eustah-laas). The staff of the Center very kindly allowed us to sleep in and around their grounds, from the office to the cinema to the log cabin covered in medieval-style paintings. Everyone was amazingly nice and patient with all of us lunatics invading their space and sleeping in their workplaces.

One of my cast (taking a picture) who was hanging out with one of the creatives behind the Hesbjerg Dukketeater's Tommelise, or Thumbelina.  This show was a very small, very short, very brightly coloured finger-puppet story for children that we didn't arrive in time to see, but they very nicely allowed us to play all of their musical instruments while we chatted afterwards--including the thumb piano, the bugle, the conch, and one of those nifty single-string instruments that you change the pitch of by squeezing. I didn't ask to play his clarinet though--that just seemed intrusive.

One of two cockerels who live on site at the Middelaldercenter. A costumed staff member informed me that so long as there are plenty of lady chickens to go around, dude chickens don't fight. So these guys were fit.

Me in a chain mail hood.  Yes. I particularly like the way it fits over my glasses.

A view of the Middelaldercenter and surrounding countryside from the central tower. We tried to play Rapunzel but nobody could jump high enough to reach my hair. Alas.

Cockerel number 2.  This one had lovely blue plumage but even creepier feet than the others. Bleh.  Feathery dinosaurs.

Wild mushrooms in the forest.  No, these were not woods.  It was a forest, and you could tell, because of all the fairies and the children dropping bread crumbs and the witches and the wolves in grannies' jammies.  No, I did not lick the mushrooms. It was all real!

Give puppeteers objects, and they will give you puppets. Nice folks. At the Bryghuset i Svaneke. (Brewery)

The only decent photo I managed to take out the train window on the way from Ystad to Copenhagen. This, dear reader, is in Sweden. The route was a short ferry from Bornholm to Ystad (Uh-sta), Sweden, then an hour's wait (in which I bought some salted liquorice-flavoured chewing gum just for the ew factor but did not get my passport stamped, sadface), then a train to Malmö (Mal-meu), then another train across the Øresund (Eur-sun) Bridge back to Copenhagen, a trip of roughly the same duration as the first from Køge (Cuue) but not nearly as comfortable or convenient.  I discovered on this high-tech train that something ugly happened in regard to Cairo and the Israeli embassy, but couldn't figure out who was out to get whom on account of the Swedish news reporting.

A shot of the Danish Parliament tower and a few state-esque buildings. I thought it was nice.

This drawbridge between the Copenhagen city centre and the neighbourhood of Christianshavn is pictured on the 200 kroner note. Interestingly, aside from the 50 kroner note (worth about £6.50 or $9 and will generally buy you one pint of beer) and the 10 and 20 kr coins, there are no people on Danish money.  Even the watermark on the 100 and 200 kroner notes is a boat.  I found this interesting.  And extortionate.

Someone's front stoop.  Sorry person who's house I spent five minutes crouching in front of.  I swear I was only admiring your nifty handrails.

A typical Christianshavn street. Bright colours, neat middle-road streetlights, and a delightfully eclectic mash of buildings surrounded by militant cyclists who defend their raised and well-paved bike lanes with terrifying (though polite) enthusiasm.

An older, quiet street in Christianshavn, near Christiania. I appreciated that this cyclist thoughtfully bought an antique-style bike to lean against her home for just this sort of photo-op.

At the end of the same street, second story.  Squee.

This was a really neat neighbourhood, apparently self-governed (provided everyone behaves, I think) that was populated with equal parts stoners and nervous middle-aged people in tour groups. Because everyone is free to sell and smoke light drugs on the streets here, they have a strict no cameras rule. I took a couple of photos away from the populated areas, but resisted temptation otherwise. Which was a shame, because there was some really beautiful street art and other things going on in there.

We stayed in Christiania for several hours during the interim between our train arriving and our plane leaving. I haven't mentioned yet that we did all of our travel--trains, ferries, boats, buses, cars, walking--carrying a 7' long muslin bag filled with the dismantled components of the puppet show's set. We named it Denise and considered it the most obnoxious and bitchy member of the ensemble.  Thankfully for the time in Copenhagen we were able to check Denise and our suitcases into the luggage lockers at the train station or we wouldn't have had nearly as nice a time as we did. I have no idea what this spire goes to but I really liked it and took about 80 pictures of it.

The Danish Parliament at dusk. It is difficult to tell here, but the ground floor is actually about three stories high--a disconcerting scale-twist that makes the building appear menacing and heavy. It appears to be only about four or five floors high, but is easily triple the height of a normal five-story building. We decided that the reason the Danish government is so nice and good to its people is because they fear the wrath of this building if they screw up.

Moments before we went back to the airport I noticed this weird anachronism--neat old buildings dotted with flashy-trash LED adverts.  I found it very telling of the relationship the Danes seem to have with their neat old buildings--they like them enough to keep them, but they don't find them remarkable enough to not decorate them with ugly contemporary tat.

I really enjoyed my time in Denmark and would love to go back, perhaps after I've learnt a bit more Danish and stocked up on some fruit and vegetables. The regular meals of bread bricks and cheese were always tasty, but after a while I was desperate for some vitamins. The beer is excellent, the fish to die for, the people friendly and happy, and the houses are YELLOW.

Yay Denmark!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bugs

There are so very many insects here in South Carolina. I can barely step outside without getting the screaming heeby-jeebies.

Sounds of nature. Mmm. Cicadas, birds, Boeings, crickets, roller-coasters...


Everything is So Big. The appliances. The rooms. The spaces between things.

Everything is so Straight. The walls. The roads. The sense of decisive order.

Everything is so New. The houses. The cars. The silly young religions.


I'm here for a week. Then I return home to little, to wonky, to ancient.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Deer interwebz

Plz look after Boy while I is away. He wud like lolcats and nerdage. Ssankou.

Monday, July 18, 2011

@GOP: Taxes are Not a Punishment

They are a responsibility. They are a means of collecting money from the people in order to turn around and provide said people with a functional nation.

Tax money is used to maintain the roads that your donors' corporations haul their products around on, ensure that their private jets are built properly, provide them with an educated and healthy workforce, sustain oil wars for the sake of maintaining their extortionate fuel costs (though, to be fair, it is their privately-funded lobbyists who stand in the way of widespread adoption of ecologically-friendly and inexpensive fuel sources, not the state directly), and continue to create and uphold laws that ensure that life-saving drugs and treatments never go generic so their profit margins never falter. Your donor base benefits from taxation every day--indeed, far more in fact than most middle-class consumers who even now you're trying to screw in the face by replacing their Medicare and public education with vouchers so you can fund fundamentalist churches who will give that money right back to you.

Your donors are the people who most often use the tax-funded court system, trying to prevent each other from making money. They're most often protected by the rigorous enforcement of laws against vandalism--without which I'm confident far more disgruntled employees would cause damage to their factories and offices. They're most often bailed out when their decades of illicit activity and irresponsibility finally catch up with them. Not us.

Not us--us middle class goons and others who don't qualify for state assistance and never will, even if we hit rock-bottom. Not us consumers who you've turned a blind eye to when we've cried out for release from the crushing costs of insurance and debt that your donors turned toxic. Not us for whom cars are a taxable expense, not an itemized deduction. Not us who don't have a choice of what country to do our banking in.

We the middle-class are sick of paying for the lifestyles of your donors while receiving nothing in return. The intellectual elite that you seek so vehemently to silence are aware of the necessity of reasonable taxation on all sectors to maintain functional domestic infrastructure and healthy global trade relationships. Appropriate taxation is the only way to keep our roads in shape, as South Carolina's rutted tracks attest to. It is the only way to maintain a trained and honest police department, as Chicago's bribe-funded force can attest to. It is the only way to educate our youth, as the evolution-denying home-schooled kids who will never benefit your science-industry donors clearly demonstrate. It is the only way to equip our military, as Boeing is quick to remind you.

So seriously, enough is enough. Stop trying to distract your hot-headed voter corps with meaningless fights over whether-or-not churches should get state power or brown people should be allowed to immigrate. The answers are clearly established in the Constitution (no and yes, respectively) and are not up for debate--if you'd like to debate them you can do so we're not in an economy-crushing crisis. Stop prodding the powerless into attacking each other so they forget to hold you accountable for your jobs. Stop wading around in fluff legislation, waiting for the emergency imperative that you're clearly holding out for, and draft rational tax increases for the wealthy so we don't fall into the abyss that you, through your neglect, excavated.

Social Security did not cause this. Medicare did not cause this, except inasmuch as you've kept drugs extortionately expensive for the elderly so as to keep your pharmaceutical donors smiling. My grandma's pain pills are not expensive to make, distribute, or regulate. (Speaking of which, my grandma has never asked for nor received a $50,000 toy aeroplane.)

What caused this was three simultaneous wars, massive loopholes in tax laws that only the wealthy can exploit, free trade agreements that have allowed American companies to dump domestic employees because they want a fair wage, and freewheeling banking and insurance systems that ensure that unwealthy people are screwed if they get sick or their jobs get outsourced by your donors.

Those "job creators" you keep harping on haven't 'created' any substantive employment opportunities yet, despite enjoying the lowest tax obligation in our nation's history. Those "job creators" are in a prime field to put Americans to work right now--there's 14,100,000 unemployed people right now who would very much appreciate a reasonable income and group health insurance--nothing fancy. They don't want gold plated toilet seats, butlers or Bentleys--just enough support to live with dignity. Everything is in place right now for them to create those jobs you keep talking about, but they're not doing it.

Would you reckon they're waiting to create all those promised jobs until those fourteen million people and their peers drop the "with dignity" clause? Are they planning to bring their production lines back to the US the second we disband OSHA, or do we need to obliterate the pathetically inadequate minimum wage, open up our ecosystem to even more dumping, agree to pay for the injuries and illnesses we develop from from our now-unsafe workplaces and toxic food ourselves, and promise to not make them pay any taxes at all too? Are they expecting us to re-instate the Antebellum South to lure them back? Is that the trigger?

The problem is not us.

It is you.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Another Note I Sent to my MP

You'd think I was retired, the amount of time I spend harassing my poor elected representative. Next I'll be writing terse letters to my local newspaper about disrespectful youths and how I've grown so fearful I don't let my corgis outside any more. Nevertheless:


Dear Ms. Ruddock,

Frank Field and Nadine Dorries' recent underhanded moves in regard to women's safe and timely access to abortion services have just come to my attention and caused me considerable concern. No doubt I'm preaching to the choir here, but I nevertheless wanted to reaffirm that your constituents will not stand for any more gross attempts on women's rights by religious fanatics and misogynists. If you can do anything at the legislative level to prevent their “little modifications” from being introduced into law, please nip this in the bud as soon as you can.

I moved to Lewisham in 2009 from South Carolina, an impoverished wasteland of Bible Belt Americana. While I would not describe myself as a refugee, my partner and I did very deliberately choose to move me here instead of him to the US simply because the UK did not appear to be teetering on the edge of a catastrophic Christian takeover at the time. So when I saw that LIFE ousted BPAS on the sexual health council a few months ago I greeted the news with dread—I knew more Fundie garbage would be dumped in our laps in time. And sure enough, now MPs Field and Dorries are seeking to sneak new regulations into the healthcare bill that will at once require women to receive unnecessary counselling and prevent abortion providers from offering it, a measure which would place private organizations with private motives between women and their reproductive rights. This, I'm confident you'll agree, is an outrage.

This sort of twelfth-century legislation crops up in the US all the time—most notably in South Dakota. There women must receive counselling from an independent “crisis pregnancy center” at least two weeks before receiving an abortion. All of these centres in the state are church-run, anti-choice, and make a point of misinforming women—from lies about cancer risks to fibs about complications, infertility, and God's Wrath, they'll make up anything. Then, of course, they don't stamp the necessary forms to prove that advisees came in—they just cheekily refuse to allow women to meet that requirement. Not that this matters—the state has driven out all abortion providers, even for when a woman's life is in jeopardy. Distressed women now have to cross to Wyoming to receive treatment--a trip of hundreds of miles, followed by weeks of paying for accommodation while they wait.

It is vital for the health, safety, dignity, and personal sovereignty of all women that these outrageous attempts are stopped in their tracks, and for the perpetrators of this attempted crime against women to be reprimanded. These scum have seen the “perforate and tear” approach crush women's rights in backwoods America and figure it is worth a shot here. It ain't. Please help them see that what they're attempting is unacceptable in any decent society.

Warm regards,

Ms. KG

P.S. Oh cool--I just discovered that a group of choice supporters will be rallying on the 9th of July in the Old Palace Yard, Parliament Square, from 13:30-16:30, over just this issue. I think I'll join them.

---And she replied!

Thank you for contacting me about your concerns over the amendments to the Health and Social Bill tabled by Nadine Dorries MP and Frank Field MP. I agree with your comments and please be assured that if the amendments are selected for debate or brought to a vote I will be opposing them. If there is an attempt to introduce them without debate I will certainly oppose that as well. Yours sincerely, Rt. Hon. Joan Ruddock, MP

And her assistant tacked on a reply too:

I hope you don’t mind me adding to Joan’s letter. I don’t know if you attended on Saturday – I was there and thought it was a very good event. Best wishes, Ms. Senior Parliamentary Assistant

Cherry O!

LinkNo, this is not a repeat of the same pie. This is a Different Pie and it actually worked out a bit better than the last one. I stuck with Smitten Kitchen and I'm very glad I did, as most recipes out there call for sour or tart cherries and a bucket-load of sugar, but this called for actual edible cherries, a bit of lemon juice, and far less white-n-sweet. I even cut the sugar down from 2/3 to 1/2c just because I thought the strawberry-rhubarb pie was too sweet and figured it might be a schtick of Deb's--and as it was, I'm glad I did. It was just right.

I served it on the 4th of July to my British oppressors with plain ice cream. Everyone said they liked it, even the two people who didn't want to eat it because they don't like fruit. We then hiked up Blythe Hill and released some floating lanterns over the city. It was lovely.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Almost Tomato Time!

Yep, it's another gardening post. Sorry, I can't help it. Plants are just so photogenic. We'll start with my lavatera, which looks like it wants to be violet this year: It's about three and a half feet tall with a laser-straight stem, covered in buds. Very excited. Last year the only one that survived came out white, and while it was lovely, I was surprised at the lack of colour.

And moving on to my courgettes, which I'm slicing off every Sunday to keep the plant active: Yes, that is a courgette leaf, and yes, that is my foot. I had no idea how big they would get. Mental note for next year: plant them further apart.

The hosta is doing its flowery thing: I know hostas are praised primarily for their leaves, but I think the flowers are pretty too.

The red shrubby thing has "bloomed" again--this is the second time this season it has put out red leaves. They're already fading fast to green. Whatever it is, I think it's happy. The red leaves are new, the lighter green leaves are from earlier this season, and the dark green leaves are from last year.

Boy's Mum has shared some of her flowering tobacco plants with me: I've managed to keep the snails off them well enough that most have gotten big and strong and are blooming in a very interesting and attractive way:
I don't think tobacco leaves this small are any good to roll up and smoke--they're purely ornamental.

But how are those 'maters? I think you'll agree they're doing just fine.