A couple of things I’ve learned from lockdown 

These are interesting but difficult times as the country, indeed much of the world, learns to deal with Covid-19, and it will be fascinating to discover at a later date how we’ll all emerge from the current state of lockdown. There are things happening now that I’d never have thought possible several weeks ago, before all of this started. For example, I didn’t imagine that a local shopkeeper would be mugged for some toilet roll. He’s fine, as it turns out – he hurled the mugger onto the street by the scruff of his neck! In fact, I felt a bit sorry for the assailant who’d reached a crisis point of panic, faced with the insecurity of having to deal with the prospect of a lack of toilet hygiene. People are anxious now about normal things they took for granted two months ago.

I didn’t imagine there being a time when I wouldn’t be able to see my friends or family whenever I wanted to but, all of a sudden, we can’t. I didn’t imagine living in a world where there was no football on telly. I had no idea how lonely some people might become in such a short time and it didn’t take long to realise that I share responsibility for others’ welfare. I now message and ring friends more regularly and that I try to find nice things to do to make others’ lives better. Some have lost jobs or are still working under intense pressure. I know some feel lonely or stressed or in need of human contact or unsure about the future as, indeed, we all do. But how suddenly grateful have we become for all those things we took for granted.

All people manage anxiety and deal with problems in different ways and it’s not fair to judge those who deal with the situation in ways we wouldn’t do ourselves. For example, I have been inundated with friends who want me to share hugs on Facebook or post a photo of something silver; others have asked people not to send such requests. It’s about trying to reach out but being safe at the same time – there are plenty of scams attached to opening chain mail, and plenty of fake news being bandied around on WhatsApp.

I live in a place where it is possible to roam about outside without meeting another person and, because it’s a rural area, those I do meet by chance can stand at a distance and even chatter before we move on. I’ve noticed how much people want to socialise now. I met a great couple in the woods while I was collecting firewood (culling herbs, listening to birdsong…) who simply wanted to pass the time of day with another human. I would have invited them round for a cup of tea but… of course, that’s for future times.

I am delighted that everyone is now saying openly that they are fully behind the NHS workers: whether it is an opportunity for weekly applause or for supermarkets to allow vulnerable people early access to shops or for publishers to give away free novels, it is good that indispensable key workers are in a spotlight and that we are all united in appreciating what they do. 

More importantly, if and when we return to normality, it would be good if their work could be rewarded by better pay and conditions. They deserve much more than a retracted promise on the side of a bus and a few well-meant words of recognition for the immense job that they do.

Lots of other people deserve credit too: teachers, police officers, care workers – how tough must it be to work in a supermarket or a shop at these times. I’ve always been in awe of postal and delivery drivers who bring communication, food or goods to our doors and, in these difficult times, it has become normal to wave thanks to someone as they rush out of the gate, having left the parcel on the porch.

I wrote to my MP six times about better pay and conditions for Amazon delivery drivers before the lockdown; sadly, she never found the time to replied to me. I live in hope that things will change for the better for all key workers who have done so much for society during these hard times. Our representatives have a responsibility to step up and make that happen.

The rest of us have probably found a daily routine which is so repetitive that  we can’t tell one day from another. I received a great poem from a friend of mine recently that simply repeated words like ‘wake eat phone eat phone TV phone sleep’ on many lines, suggesting that for herself and possibly other people in lockdown a routine was emerging which didn’t necessarily inspire challenge and opportunity.

One thing which is really important is that we use this time to try new things that will  improve our lives, taking us away from humdrum repetition and boredom. We need to make each day as meaningful as we can.

People are reading more, cooking from scratch more often, spending more time planting vegetables in the garden or making quality time to talk with their families, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many things people are doing that are inspirational.

One friend is learning to play the guitar; another is crocheting blankets for homeless people; another is learning Italian; another is painting each day. I’m writing another novel – I wonder if it will be finished by the end of lockdown. One thing is for certain – none of us know exactly when that will be or what it might look like. 

And that is my point. We wished for more time with those we love; we wished for a cleaner planet, more leisure time, to be able to work from home. Now that we have the chance to make some of those things a permanent part of our lives, how can we integrate them into a future world that we’d most like to live in? How can we turn this time of challenge into a time of opportunity?

The most important factor is that we all come through this period of time as healthily as possible, through staying indoors, through being sensible about contact with others, sharing resources, shopping carefully and wisely, talking to others at a distance and keeping those who are alone as safe and happy as possible.

But when the dust clears, we may have the opportunity to make the world better. We can care more for isolated people than we did; we can try to see the positives in new situations and try not to spread fear and negativity; many people can now work from home, spending less time travelling to work in their cars,and we can appreciate all the friends and family and freedom that we already knew we appreciated but perhaps we needed to remind ourselves.

For many people, these are times of fear about our own well being and that of those we love; fear of the unknown and a panic and anxiety about things we’d taken for granted which is, in the case of some people, so powerful that it sends them into the streets to accost the shopkeepers. 

However unprecedented this may be,we can channel what we have experienced to bring about improvement. We can use the situation to spread cheer and solidarity, to practise neighbourly behaviour, to be kinder, more appreciative of others and to find ways to retain both quality of our own lives and ways to improve the lives of others. We can find better ways to care for the planet, which appears to have become healthier after just a few weeks of lockdown.

Whether it is baking for the lady next door or giving away free books, distributing food parcels or phoning someone who lives alone, we all have the chance to move forward and make the world a better place for us to share. Dickens wrote about the best of times and the worst of times. It would be nice if, out of a bad situation, we could create the best of times for everyone making such great sacrifices now, especially those who have been so profoundly undervalued until this lockdown. We owe them so much.

Autumn is here – what will it bring, though?

I have to admit, I’m a summer person and the warmer months always seem to pass too quickly. It’s good to be outside in the sunshine, walking in the countryside, travelling to new places in the van, enjoying the open space on the beach. I love to cross the channel, go to France and beyond to favourite places. In spring and autumn, it’s still possible to do all these things, ignoring the extra layer of clothing you have to wear against the cooler weather, or just braving the elements. In winter, of course, it requires a mind-set change to enjoy walking in the cold and damp, but it’s possible to find joy in squelching mud and wet hair. I think that’s a good metaphor for life, trying to adjust to the climate, to external conditions and learning to celebrate them.

But September brings the autumn months and with it, Brexit. It is difficult to accept changes that almost half of us didn’t vote for, with the prognosis of food shortages, prescription shortages, higher prices, possible job losses and a great deal of uncertainty. A no-deal Brexit looms as a possibility. As a firm Remainer, I fear for the stability of my European friends in this country, for the stability of us all. I have enjoyed the right to be European for a long time. Those who voted Leave had no idea what quitting the EU would entail when they made a choice and there must be so many regrets from those voters now, since many people chose to leave Europe based on misinformation, lies and empty promises. We are living in difficult times where division of opinion, whatever party you support, is becoming the norm. There is anger, confusion and bitterness.

So, as winter approaches, I feel the need to search for positives. Cold weather, incessant rain and dark evenings don’t necessarily bring optimism. Open fires, crumpets, brandy and hot chocolate are temporary fixes, although those of us who have homes are ever fortunate to be warm, dry and under shelter. A good book will always lift the mood for a while, an engrossing film or an evening spent with good friends.

Winter months can also bring loneliness and solitude. Hallowe’en, Bonfire Night and Christmas festivities are family times and it is a pleasure to share and celebrate with loved ones. A huge family, a tribe, is something special and belonging to an extended family is a privilege and a joy. Having parents, children, a circle of relatives, people who welcome each other into their houses, to their tables and into their clan is a priceless thing – ask anyone who doesn’t to belong to such a group. Families and friends are like a blanket protecting us from being alone and without them we are diminished. Winter is a cold time to be alone.

The cooler months are for me a time to write prolifically and I am blessed on that journey. I have several books in the pipeline, several finished, a great deal with a brilliant team and two new books ready to go next year. I am lucky that, when it’s cold and damp outside, I can sit at the computer and create new characters, new worlds, and to write stories that I hope will entertain others. I am lucky to have something positive to occupy me.

It’s a long time from now until the spring and it’s easy to be demoralised by the grey skies and bitter winds. But each month brings its compensations. I love the mists of autumn, the blackberries to be picked, and then the sloes. I love it when the skies hang heavy with snow and we can go out in scarves and gloves. I love sitting outside, warming hands in front of an open bonfire, gazing at stars. Christmas lights always do it for me too; although the words commercial and artificial may echo in my ears, I’m a sucker for the bright twinkling colours and the simple songs about winter wonderlands and merry little Christmases. Nowadays, I’m at the point where Christmas needs redefining; gone are the times when we enjoyed family fun around the table, the kids pulling open presents and laughing. But something else will take its place – life has to be celebrated while we can, every moment of it.

Then a new year will arrive, with much to look forward to, more to celebrate – a new spring, then summer. It’s important to believe that we are on the verge of exciting new beginnings over which we have some control or choice, even if there are changes afoot that we can’t predict or prevent. It is easy to see the end of summer as the end of warmth and freedom and the arrival of winter as something cold and sad as the year comes to an end. But, even in these worrying times where precious institutions such as the health service may be under threat, where supermarket shelves may become emptier and the everyday things we took for granted may become less affordable, we have to remain positive. We can write letters to leaders, sign petitions and demonstrate in our cities, and we can vote – that in itself is a positive.

Hope and joy will keep us alive. The summer may be fading, but each season brings its own gift, however cold the weather. Whatever we may feel about the end of an era and the prospect of uncertainty and changes we cannot prevent, we still have each other and we can still retain friendship, solidarity and humanity. Whatever may come, we must insist that there will be good times and laughter, happiness and opportunity. A new chapter may be beginning, but we can write our own story within the confines of a blank page.

We don’t tolerate bullying. Or do we?

From our first day at school – maybe even before that – we are told that bullying is wrong. It’s not difficult to work out morally. When a person is marginalised, abused, made to feel isolated, hurt, it can’t be right. Schools and institutions do their best to eradicate it yet, headteachers admit, it is part of the culture of schools, part of human behaviour. It goes on.

We’ve all been bullied, haven’t we? Sometimes it’s obvious – a gang of kids puts on pressure, or there is name calling, intimidation, attacking. Sometimes it’s less obvious, but just as vindictive, as any child isolated in a playground with no friends knows too well. Sometimes the bullying comes with insidious threats about what will happen if the victim tells someone, which not only prevents a cry for help but also forces the victim to inhabit a place of utter loneliness and helplessness.

We may also have all been bullies. Either deliberately or inadvertently, we have hurt someone or looked the other way when someone is hurt. Perhaps this is the schadenfreude effect, deriving some sort of perverse pleasure from other’s misfortune. Perhaps it’s the human behaviour that Orwell demonstrated in 1984 when Winston said ‘Do it to Julia. Not me!’ If someone else is being bullied, then we are not. Not this time.

I remember flushing a girl’s ham sandwiches down the toilet, my friends cheering me on while she sobbed. I walked away from the act feeling that, in violating another, I had violated myself and it wasn’t a good move to behave this way in order to ingratiate myself with others. I made a point of befriending the bullied girl afterwards, sharing my lunch with her, and it was uncomfortably humiliating to see how quickly she forgave me and wanted to be my friend.

I’ve been bullied, too. Not just as a child, either. I’ve had my share of name calling, rivalry put-downs, being on the end of others’ controlling behaviour. I remember my A-level English teacher at school telling me I wasn’t anything special and I’d probably manage an E grade. I got an A. Nietzsche was right.

Image result for Nietzsche That which doesn'tSo why do we do it? Why is bullying so commonplace? I read somewhere it is an atavistic and tribal thing. The alphas bully the ones they consider rivals or suitable prey, and the masses adhere to the stronger group because it is safer there and prevents them from being victims themselves. So, basically, cowardice sustains a culture of bullying and it’s easier to hang with the perpetrators than defend the weak. Not an impressive bunch of cave dwellers, are we?

It’s quite hard to stop bullies, too. The insidious and repetitive nature of their attacks, not always in the open, not always visible in their needling, makes it difficult to analyse what’s happened after the event. I’ve seen it in the workplace: in schools, defined as the natural corporate  fabric of an establishment, used to suppress and deflate anyone who seems a little different to the company norms and certainly anyone who thinks outside the box. Bullying expects conformity, demands it. It goes on unchallenged and that’s why people shrug it off and don’t stand up to it, but accept it as part of the dominant culture

It has even pervaded the media. I’m no fan of Theresa May’s politics. I believe her policies have stretched some of our public services close to breaking point and pushed many people closer or further into desperation and poverty. That said, the glee of the reporters and some of her opponents, in her own party and in others, that her disastrous conference speech, marred by the farcical incident with the P45 and her unfortunate coughing fit was, I think, an example of bullying. By all means disagree with her perspectives and her politics, but to take pleasure in watching someone squirm in the public gaze is a cruel example of schadenfreude. The enjoyment of someone else’s public discomfort, revelling in their humiliation – this is almost the definition of bullying.

Related imageBeing a bastard when you’re a kid is one thing. As an adult, to take any joy from someone else’s pain shows how little we grown since we left the playground. We can do so much better. We can differentiate between disagreeing with people who don’t share our views or behave how we would like them to, and wilfully wishing them harm. The way forward is conversation, writing, listening, debate, education, joining groups of likeminded people and campaigning for change.

We may disagree with someone strongly; we may even find someone’s views or behaviour (or policies) abhorrent, but the answer certainly isn’t going to be found by flushing away their sandwiches or their self-esteem. Because, if we’re not careful, we may be playing into the hands of another bigger bully with even more malicious intentions and doing their dirty work for them.

If the EU vote had been a second hand bike…

After the EU vote went the way of the Leave Campaign, many people have said, ‘The country has made a choice and we must stick with it.’ Others suggest, ‘You can’t keep having another vote until you get the result you want.’ The British people are, essentially, stoics, especially the English with our stiff upper lip and our Carry on and Keep Calm. A majority vote is after all a fair, democratic majority vote.

But then I thought, what if the EU referendum had been a second hand bicycle. Imagine.

For sale: second hand bicycle. Two wheels, two pedals, handlebars. All the usual trimmings. Goes really fast. Beautiful vermillion colour. Contoured comfortable saddle. One previous owner, Bradley Wiggins. £100. Can deliver. Must be bought unseen.

So, you buy the bicycle. It sounds ideal, doesn’t it, and you pay your £100 without a second thought and wait eagerly for the bike to land on your doorstep.

When it arrives, it isn’t vermillion red, it’s grey. And scratched. There is only one pedal so your ride will be uncomfortable. The saddle is going to give you a pain in the backside. There is only one wheel although you were promised two. It will wobble and be unsafe. You thought you’d get the bike you were promised. What do you do?

Do you climb astride the bike and say  ‘Well, I ordered a bike and it is, certainly, a bike. There were a few misleading details… the wheel, the saddle, the pedal, but that’s only a few details. And I did order the bike. Bradley Wiggins has never been near it but, hey, I’m not Sir Brad, so I don’t deserve as much in the way of being able to stay upright and the bike hopefully isn’t an accident waiting to happen. Maybe other road users won’t think I’ve been stitched up and settled for a bike which didn’t fulfil it’s promise. I’ll just Keep Calm and Carry On.’

Or would you take the bike back, complain, demand a refund and suggest that the advert lied?

I know Brexit is not a bike. I know Article 50 will be triggered on Wednesday 29th March, and we will make the best of it, as we always do, and maybe there may even be the odd opportunity, or the chance that we may not take a fall at every corner and land flat on our faces.

But how many people who voted Leave now feel they were lied to? The NHS logo on the campaign bus, for example. Millions were promised, an extra £350m a week to be exact, but the next day Nigel Farage claimed it was a ‘mistake.’

Then Tory MEP Daniel Hannan suggested that taking back control of immigration did not necessarily mean cutting it, although taking back control of immigration was the central and pivotal issue throughout the campaign. And despite promises to the contrary, impoverished counties will be much worse off: Cornwall would have made £2.5billion from EU money.

I did not buy the bike. I never believed the £350m promise. I think the majority of immigrants embellish our country, through their payment of taxes, their hard work and diversity. But I am prepared, always, to work alongside a democratic system which is fair, honest and balanced. A vote is a vote, as long as it’s honest and democratic.

But perhaps the bike was always flawed. Perhaps the details were misleading: outright lies, in fact. Perhaps the purchaser now feels duped and misled, even cheated? Perhaps we should complain, send it back and ask for a refund. Perhaps we have been sold a dud? After all, there are Trading Standards which govern such transactions and protect the buyer’s rights.

Words to stem the storm or at least hold the tide back for a moment.

So the world is imploding. All sorts of worms are crawling out of the opened can.The negative feelings of the disenfranchised are manifesting themselves as widespread disagreement and arguments and dissatisfaction and we’re seeing Facebook memes of Pooh Bear and Piglet healing rifts between polarised friends. Everyone has a strong opinion – thank goodness for Free Speech, but now we live in a world where the Emperor’s new clothes are off and no-one will acknowledge the nakedness. Lies are legitimate political currency now, and so are double crossing and hatred, all coming fresh from the mouths of the political right this week. Before the vote, the unhappiness and untruths were an undercurrent, now we have a tsunami: Gove spitting vituperative statements of Johnson’s ineptitude, the Tory leadership oven hotting up to explosion point and Jeremy Corbyn, though many still love him, lugging a Labour party which might snuff itself out in the next General Election. And Farage, the most ineffectual and dangerous of stand-up comedians, humiliating himself with his pathetic hubris at the European Parliament.

This week was all too much. It’s time to rise above the stench of the detritus. Thank goodness for the solidarity of a writing group.

Most writers agree that a good writing group is what makes a difference between basic writing and honing our skills. A regular writers’ group is essential, using the balance between astute critiquing and positive praise if we are to improve and develop style. I’m fortunate to still be in touch with many talented writers from my MA group and I have a number of trusted readers, who are writers and poets, who will always give me a straight opinion.

Then there is our local writers’ group, a group of some ten or twelve people who write short stories and poems and memoirs. I joined the group in September last year so that I could keep myself on my toes, finish my first novel, start a second and dabble in creating  different characters and perspectives and genres.

Our tutor is a real enabler, a poet and always full of ideas, offering great stimuli and weekly feedback on our work. Then there is the group itself with so many clever writers. One talented woman may well now embark on completing an exciting children’s book. A woman whose memoirs of life in London in the fifties and sixties thrill her listeners each week. An ex-policeman’s writing is invariably warm and measured and dry and witty. An artist/ musician’s stories of local life are genuinely moving, funny, clever and hugely entertaining. An actress/ performance poet, professional and iconoclastic is always uniquely surprising whether she writes comic or poignant pieces. Each week, local writers deliver smooth stories, witty and lively responses and ideas which leap off the page. Even better, it’s great to see creative people flourish and become even more confident and articulate.

Tutor and writer listen to others read. Photos by Julie Mullen.

Last night we celebrated with  a writers’ party, a local reading in a cafe where several of us came together to stand in front of a microphone in turn and humbly offer our poems and stories to an audience. It was a great way to end our summer course, and an opportunity to revel in how far everyone had progressed. There were stories about a gifted magical girl, drunken bets on racehorses, childhood mischief in Paris, sex and washing machines, a nasty uncle who raced greyhounds.Every tale was a gem and truly entertaining.

Politically, it’s a changing world and a pivotal time for us all now. We’re expected to accept lies as truths whether they are promises on buses or vows not to stand for PM. The Bullingdon boys and the Etonians and Gove now have it their way and they have become reckless, their mayhem is all around us and many of the disenfranchised people have voted with their emotions and their misplaced trust. We will live with the consequences as best as we can.

Thank goodness for friendship; thank goodness there is talent, that we can share creativity and meet with thinking people. This is, of course, not to ignore or stop the fight against xenophobia and dishonesty and corruption and political  duplicity and ongoing perfidious betrayal of the ordinary person. But it is important to remember that there is much in our world to love, to enjoy and to celebrate. There are so many people to say thanks to, for friendship and support, whatever their views, however they voted. This blog is for them all, to remember that the way forward is to be joyous and mindful and that we are bigger than any divisions; we will change what we can when we can and, meanwhile, we’ll celebrate the present. After all, it is just that, the present, and the present is a gift, isn’t it?

 Our MC for the night. Photos by Julie Mullen 

On momentum, mayhem and revolting minions

… some moments are nice, some are
nicer, some are even worth writing about.

– Charles Bukowski

I didn’t intend to blog about politics so frequently, but the changes in the political climate in Britain at the moment are monumental and too elusive not to savour on a blog post.

We’re in a unique time where change is happening as we speak. Yesterday, shortly after the Observer reported that Hilary Benn might challenge Jeremy Corbyn after a vote of no confidence in the Labour leader, he was sacked. Since then one moment’s change has led to another; co-ordinated resignations of shadow cabinet members throughout the day yesterday, and spilling over into today – with Angela Eagle, Lisa Nandy and Owen Smith amongst the latest – hack away at what remains of the crumbling edifice of Corbyn’s authority.

Since Sunday 26th June more Labour shadow ministerial team has resigned than there are Liberal Democrats MPs – several times over. Confidence in Corbyn is so low, and despite his victory last year,  it isn’t a surprise as he has lurched from one disappointing move to another, culminating in his inability to offer any whole-hearted support for the Remain In campaign last Thursday. This scoop from Paul Waugh exposes just some of the ways in which Corbyn and his team failed in their duty to back a Remain vote.

It’s  sad but not surprising  to see the vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn; he’s always struck me as the sort of man who might be interesting to share a chat and a kale and avocado smoothie with, but he’s not ever going to inspire a win for Labour the next general election. That is clearer than ever now.

Some people think Corbyn is wonderful and they will be sorry to see him go. However, since last Friday, the door has been opened to negative behaviour between people on social media and on the streets, legitimising xenophobia, racism and expressions of blind, uninformed prejudice. Pandora’s box is open.

At the same time, figures in the Leave campaign are slowly rowing back on their promises. Iain Duncan Smith and Nigel Farage have poured cold water over the idea that there will be £350 million pounds a week to spend on the NHS. Michael Gove and Dan Hannan seem to have already admitted that net migration is unlikely to fall. People will realise they have been sold a lie by the Leave campaign and the Tory right. And that’s before we even consider Johnson’s (I’m not indulging ‘Boris’ anymore) bizarre Telegraph article.

We now need an inspirational leader to counteract the Johnson and the Farage impetus. It needs to be someone who can gain voters’ trust and loyalty against a backdrop of blatant Brexit lies – the shameless betrayal of the voting public over the next few months. I’m not sure who it is but I do know who it isn’t. Jeremy Corbyn was never properly committed to a Remain vote and his efforts to back the party line have been interpreted by many as dishonesty. He is the party’s most Eurosceptic leader in over 30 years and many Labour party members blame him for failing to inspire a Remain vote last Thursday.

Corbyn won the leadership vote hands down in September, many fans believing him to be a principled man whose policies and ideas were an antidote to right wing hegemony. He certainly seems to adhere to his personal code of ethics but the legacy of his appointment is the leadership of  a man who treats the Labour party  as a rest home for his intransigent speeches and stubborn personal ideals.

It certainly hasn’t worked. Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter, called Corbyn’s leadership ‘abysmal’ on television yesterday. Corbyn is now believed to have put his party’s future in jeopardy. Alex Massie of The Spectator says ‘Jeremy Corbyn has killed Labour’.

We are in interesting times. Nicola Sturgeon says that the Scottish Parliament could try and block the UK leaving the EU. I won’t pretend to know the legal or the constitutional ramifications of such an issue, but the political consequences could be seismic. We were assured by the Leave campaign that the spectre of a second Independence referendum was simply ‘Project Fear,’ but Nicola Sturgeon has cannily waited for her moment, and many English and Welsh voters have given the SNP exactly what they wanted.

Our politics are in turmoil – and Jeremy Corbyn’s weak leadership of the Labour Party is part of the malaise. I don’t know exactly who I want to fill the gap – Hilary Benn and Lisa Nandy, both touted as potential contenders – have ruled themselves out in recent days. I know the new leader will need to be able to unite a fragile and disparate party. I know he or she will need the courage and the nous to take the fight to the Tories and hold them to account for the post-Brexit deal they plan. I know they will need the charisma and the nerve to fight a tough snap general election this Autumn, if the eventuality arises. I know Jeremy Corbyn can’t do any of this, and that’s why he has to go.

We face mounting political and constitutional crises. The government is in paralysis. The opposition is dysfunctional. Scotland may be on the verge of a second referendum. The pound has fallen to its lowest level in 30 years. Britain is nervous. Someone has to step into the vacuum – either that, or we allow it to be filled by the toxic smoke of Nigel Farage and the fug of our own fear.

On Stronger In, the Brexit victory and what happens next…

The days have gone when the Labour Party were the party of the working people. I think this is the case now, given the huge numbers who voted for Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage’s Leave campaign and who contributed towards their majority. I’ve read a variety of slogans and opinions on Facebook and articles in newspapers, and followed TV and newspaper debates, and the one factor which seems to epitomise the Brexit Campaign is the validation of emotion over logic and fear over fact.

The Brexit campaign has gathered voters with slogans like ‘take back control’. Of course, those words don’t really mean anything, but it is meant to suggest that Britain has little control over its future prospects while it remains a member of the European Union and, by leaving the EU, we somehow have the capacity to maximise the future potential of the country we live in and move towards equal opportunity and prosperity while, at the same time, improving education, housing and the NHS.

The Labour party has failed to do what it should do – inspire, support and represent the (wo)man in the street. This has left space for Farage and Johnson to gain popularity, to appeal to ‘the ordinary person, the decent person’, despite having no clear plan and despite having propelled their campaign forward on the back of lies and bigotry.

So where does that leave us today? The people have made their choice, a marginal victory for Brexit,  based on a response to debates and discussions presented on television and through the media.

Today, the day after the vote, the pound has fallen to its lowest level in over three decades, David Cameron has resigned. Although Cameron is a Tory, I came to admire his comparative integrity and liberalism, and I believe his perspective throughout the campaign was led by honesty and  fairness. On the other hand, Nigel Farage has stated on TV that the early promise to divert an extra £350 million a week to the NHS, a promise emblazoned on his battle bus, was ‘a big mistake’. Showing an insensitivity which borders on indecency, he said in his winning speech that he won the revolution:

“without having to fight, without a single bullet being fired”.

So here we are on what he’s calling Independence Day, and the people of our country are bitter, divided and in shock. Holland and France have rightwing, populist politicians calling for a similar referendum. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to stay in and strongly wish to remain. We are now at the brink of an isolationist period where peace and prosperity are under threat.

England may once have been a beacon for tolerance and compassion – we were inclusive and democratic, but we are now promoting  isolationism and it highlights the widespread political disaffection across the country. Johnson and his cronies know this, and their campaign of shallow truths and brittle policies, based on populist language and impossible promises,exploited ordinary people’s insecurities.

Since the campaign began, there has been a change in the tone of our debate about immigration which now legitimises xenophobia: this cannot simply have been caused by nihilistic press reports and the overt racist language and semiotics used by some Leave campaigners. It appears acceptable now to give voice to narrow minded bigotry and, so long as it is prefaced by ‘I’m not racist, but…’ it is often accepted as a valid perspective. Before the campaign began, it might have been challenged and rejected as dangerous.

I am concerned for the people who are perceived as ‘outsiders’ who live and work here, and I wonder what their experience will be now in this climate of fear and hatred. The country has been divided into so many ‘us’ and ‘them’ groups who will possibly blame each other for what happens next. It was seldom mentioned in the campaign that it is government policies, not immigrants, which have caused the problems in the NHS, housing and education. So many of the wrongly scapegoated immigrants make a really positive and vital contribution to our economy and to institutions like the NHS. Now the young are blaming  older people for the Brexit vote, despite pensioners being told they will ‘rue the day’ and despite the example of Sheila Hancock’s passionate speech about the European alliance having kept peace for seventy years.

Brendan Cox and his children are bereaved now. Yvette Cooper was threatened on social media. The New Statesman tells us that even Boris Johnson has had his share of voters’  dissatisfaction, so high are emotions running:

“You’re an idiot,” one tearful passerby can be heard screaming. “Fucking arsehole!” yells another. “Fuck off Boris!” screams a third.

I have admired several politicians’ contribution to this campaign, whatever their political party allegiance. Nicola Sturgeon, Sadiq Khan and Ruth Davidson led the Stronger In campaign with the conviction, candour  and rationality which was markedly absent in many other politicians’ delivery. (Jeremy Corbyn himself was markedly absent for most of the campaign.)

The best thing to come from the referendum debacle was the opportunity to observe inter-party politicians’ positive  and collaborative contribution. So one of the worst things was to witness the weakness and apathy of the Labour leader who failed to offer any valid leadership on the issue. Another down side of the campaign was the  transparent lies and shallow truths of other politicians who had a vested interest in Brexit and a clear personal agenda.

It will be interesting to see what happens next. The choice of new Prime Minister will be pivotal. Boris Johnson was accused of self interest, thought by many to be seeking the post for himself: his ambition may have propelled his actions throughout the campaign. Nigel Farage has called for a ‘Brexit Prime Minister’ today.

We now have a divided country where unrest and insecurity prevail. Yesterday, we were part of a European community. Today we look down into an abyss from the brink and have no idea whether a path will miraculously appear or whether we will plummet. Many voters have been persuaded  to listen to empty Brexit rhetoric rather than to heed the experts who gave valid warnings of what would happen financially. And there is now a strong sense of divide which is not just about race, class or party politics, but there is a gulf separating so many people throughout the UK into different groups of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Sadiq Khan touched on this when he named the Brexit campaign ‘Project Hate’.

England is in a state of turmoil. It is likely there may be another Scottish referendum. Many jobs may be lost. The environment, the economy, so much is in limbo and under threat. Whatever happens next must not be based on fear and hatred, but on a sense of fairness and community spirit.

Liverpool, a city which understands the effects of social poverty and personal hardship, voted to remain in the EU at the referendum by 58.1%. In total 118,453 people voted to stay in the European Union, with 85,101 wanting to leave. However, Councillor Paul Brand warned:

‘Whatever the national result, all of us elected to office need to listen to people who feel left behind. Many believed (wrongly) they had nothing to lose by voting for Brexit. They are often the hardest hit as the Government cuts bite in the City.’

His comments should  be foremost in our minds as we move forward to the future. I still haven’t forgotten the words of an audience member of one of the televised debates, when a man referred to the Brexit politicians as World War I generals sending their men blindly over the top towards the unknown.

I hope he was wrong but he may well have been exactly right. I’ll leave you with a song which sums up the result for me.

11 pictures of Pushkin the cat that tell us why we should vote ‘Remiaown’ in the referendum

Introducing Pushkin. Alexandra Pushkin or Alexandra Pushkin-Boots. Or sometimes Pyuuuuuuuuuushkin or Little Pushkin or Ditta Puuuushkin or Puskh. Or Puuuussshhhy. Or Ditta. As T. S. Eliot says in ‘The Naming of Cats’: ‘a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES…’

Eliot says that a cat’s

… mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name

So, let’s settle for Pushkin. Her background is a mystery. She was found by some friends among the dustbins in Anfield; she was scrawny and begging for food and a home. She was so hungry she’d become desperately affectionate, she’d have made friends with anyone and that put her at risk so we checked with a vet that she had no local owner or identity chip and then I brought her home.

The local vet said she was about eighteen months old-in a poor state: underweight, weak, all sorts of health problems hovering on the horizon but, almost a year later, Pushkin is strong, happy and full of fun. She does all the cute catty things: head butts, bleps, kisses, hugs, face licks, rolling over for tummy rubs; she’ll gently  bite a cheek or a nose and then purr and stick her butt in your face. She’s a totally different cat now, full of energy and well-fed. She’ll beat the other two cats, Colin and Magick, to the food bowls and she can be quite assertive if there is a treat or a biscuit on offer.

Has the cat got your tongue? The answers are on the tip of hers!

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And she can be highly purr-litical…Here are some of her mew-sings and hy-purr-theses on the current EU referendum. You’ve heard of Buzzfeed? This is Pushkinfeed. This is her EU Fel-IN-e campaign.

Why we should vote to stay in the EU

1. Paws for thought! If we leave, who can predict what is a whisker away? No-one!


2. Thoughts to chew on. Get your teeth into the facts not the fear!


3. Hold on to this thought a minute – when you have a good thing, why let it go?


4. Free trade means a lower price for your weekly shop, and more money in your pocket.


5. A strong and stable economy is good for job creation, and the EU protects workers’ rights.


6. Pensioners can retire and live abroad and their state pensions will be more valuable.


7. Brits can holiday, travel and work throughout the EU without difficulty.


8. Better security: the European Arrest Warrant will make it easier to deport criminals across the EU.


9. Money for jobs and small businesses. 8.7 billion has been allocated to create new jobs and start up small businesses.


10. Studying abroad for young people will be easier.


11. And if we do vote Remain, then we can all sleep safely at night… sweet dreams!



On the E.U. vote: wars, words and perceptions of truth.

The referendum vote on June 23rd is one of the most important political decisions in our lifetime and, I have to admit, at the beginning I didn’t think the Leave campaign was likely to win.

I spent some time in Europe last month and I had lunch with some French and Belgian people who told me they were genuinely worried. If Britain left Europe, they said, it would start a precedent for other countries to consider leaving. One Belgian man, in his seventies, was concerned that European peace, a stability we have all taken for granted for seventy years, might suffer as a consequence.

Last week I watched the debate programmes EU: In or Out on TV. I’m not David Cameron’s biggest fan, but I remember the slick job he did on TV during the General Election of 2015, and how he spoke competently  and won the battle of words which finally saw Ed off, and I will concede he can be both dignified and articulate, and capable of demonstrating integrity.

He did well in the televised debate, despite being heckled by some aggressive people. There was a woman who scoffed ‘I’m an English Literature student so I know waffle when I see it.’ I gave her comments little credence: as a Literature graduate and postgraduate, I’ve read lengthy works, such as Joyce and Proust, Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ and most of Dickens’ novels. But I don’t recollect being offered the Waffle Recognition module, and perhaps one person’s waffle is another’s epic poem. However, her comments were received by Brexit campaigners as an insightful put-down. And then that great philosopher and orator, Nigel Farage, judged Cameron’s part in the debate  as ‘poor.’  I didn’t understand how he could have possibly seen the performance as anything less than very competent: David Cameron stood firm and articulate in the wake of some nasty snipers.

The following day, Michael Gove, for whom I have little time, having worked in education, took the stand. Faisal Islam made a good job of questioning him and Gove responded by becoming angry, supercilious or by evading the questions. On the Sunday Politics show, Gove was heralded as the winner of the week’s televised debate. I don’t get how rudeness trumps integrity and how distorted statistics trump careful, logical answers founded in fact and research.

So, now it appears that the margin between the In and Out campaigners is becoming closer than I thought possible.

Again, I’ve never been a John Major fan, but he spoke out well this weekend against the Brexit campaign. He said the NHS would be at risk from Gove and Johnson. On the BBC1 Andrew Marr show, Major said:

“The NHS is about as safe with them as a pet hamster would be with a hungry python.”

He added Johnson was a ‘court jester’ although Andrew Neil on  Sunday Politics referred to him with the familiar Boris: he was the only politician not to be called by a full name or just a surname.

Boris Johnson  has been photographed doing what he does best, ingratiating himself in front of the media with the British people. I saw him pretending to auction a cow at a Farmers’ Market, surrounded by a bunch of jocund clapping chaps. I was surprised that any farmers thought it wise to consort with Johnson: the National Farmers’ Union passed a resolution to back the Remain campaign,  following an overwhelming vote in favour of staying in the EU, which it said was based on the ‘balance of existing evidence’.

Johnson was seen waving a pasty at the public in Truro from his Brexit battle bus, and he now faces the embarrassing fact that the pasty itself is protected by Europe. The ubiquitous Cornish pasty was given protected status by the European Commission in 2011 to prevent cheap imitations being produced elsewhere in the country.

I am mystified, given the huge amount of logical and factual evidence which overwhelmingly backs remaining in the EU, how the Brexit bunch are doing so well.

However, there is now a most worrying tide of overt hysteria, based on fear and scaremongering, which is rushing in with the Brexit campaign. Brexit has given people an opportunity to scream disturbing anti-immigration propaganda on live TV and in public forums. Recently I was handing out Stronger In information leaflets in a town centre, and a man shouted abuse from the other side of the street, saying something about allowing the ‘bloody Turks’ to come into our country in droves.

I don’t like to contemplate where such xenophobia might lead.

So, at the time of blogging, there are just over two weeks until the referendum. I cannot imagine how opinion will change or how the ‘undecided’ will decide. It seems to me a straightforward battle between logic and common sense, and blindman’s buff scaremongering.

One audience member in the ‘In or Out’ TV debate put it perfectly  last week: he told Gove that he was like a World War 1 General, waving the ordinary soldiers over the top and into battle with no idea of what is out there in no man’s land and without any clue about what will happen to them. It’s a case of the ordinary person propelled blindly forwards and taking all the risks.

I hope all those people who haven’t yet registered to vote do so quickly and use their votes wisely. I am extremely worried about the next Big Push.

What if Jeremy Corbyn were more like Jürgen Klopp?

Jürgen Klopp came to Liverpool six months ago, inheriting a tired team who played slack and lacklustre football. He has brought with him a reputation, a rock star charisma, a keen and articulate intelligence and a unique sense of humour and mischief which would quickly endear him to fans. More importantly, he has brought the scent of success with him. We believe he can change things, a little at first this season, leading to the big impact all fans crave for in the future.

Klopp is changing the way his team play, imposing a demanding tactical remit. We now have more intense football which presses high up the pitch, more committed players who believe they can score goals: this is a great change from the stagnant play and the stale atmosphere in Anfield which was sadly becoming routine under Brendan Rodgers.

We hope for new signings next season, but Klopp has made a difference already, with current players such as Adam Lallana,  Mamadou Sako and Dejan Lovren noticeably upping their game. Improvements have also been made by many other players, Can, Allen, Firmino and Origi being a few names who have achieved far better form under Klopp than Rodgers.

Klopp has been honest about the team’s initial inconsistent form. He has been straight with his fans after defeats; he is always passionate and angry and committed to what we all want – results and change and the chance to have our blood pressure raised during every game with the ever-present belief that we can win.

The atmosphere has altered around Anfield. The Kop bounces and rocks; the fans have sensed the commitment and the desire which Klopp exhibits and it has affected his players and all of us who watch the games. He is infectious in his determination and desire, and every game is a game we believe we can win, whether a league match or European clash.

We believe he can do it. His fresh approach, energy, enthusiasm and passion have given us something we can believe in.

And then there is Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn was elected last September. Ed Miliband resigned in May after Labour had lost the last election, the majority of the voting population having decided he was not as strong a leader or as safe a bet as David Cameron.

So, little known MP Corbyn won the leadership race with nearly 59.5% of first-preference votes. He began his leadership by apologising for the Iraq war, holding a pally rally in London and promising to fight for the downtrodden. Many party supporters were hopeful; many new members signed up, desperate for victory. Then came the gifts to the Tory media: the no-tie incident, the National Anthem incident, the scepticism he expressed about the shoot-to-kill with regard to armed terrorists and, more recently, the disappearing tax return straight after he had called for Cameron to publish his details.

Rigid, awkward and with no visible signs of charisma, Corbyn is no Jürgen Klopp. Whereas Klopp inspires trust and motivates his team, Corbyn has allowed Labour to fragment. Klopp could win us cups; he is a contender for the top places: Corbyn is considered unelectable by many of his own party.

Klopp has brought a visible ferocity and  energy to Liverpool, making each fixture intense and vital. Corbyn, however, is a complete contrast. Watch him in news and interview programmes. He often mutters in a monotone, offering the same bland platitudes which might have just about held up in the 1970s and 80s.

Klopp has an in-your-face, gegenpressing, immediate ball recovery  style, a polar opposite to Corbyn’s laid-back pusillanimous rhetoric.Corbyn comes across as dull and disinterested during Prime Minister’s Questions, too. It is difficult to see how voters might invest in our new leader against the smooth or chummy styles of Cameron and Johnson. Corbyn chooses dry, tame questions, often clearly vicarious, as he has crowdsourced them. This may be, in his defence, that he wants to take the pantomime out of Parliament and this is, of course, laudable. But unless he can make his opponent acquiesce, and Cameron seldom does, he is giving the Tories a free opportunity to knock the stuffing out
of Labour and to demonstrate to voters which party has the strength and power to be the next government at the expense of Labour.

Klopp’s tactics involve pressing his opponent, never giving an inch: while remaining witty and fun. Klopp is gritty and determined. Corbyn gives more than an inch at PMQ and Cameron and his cronies take a mile!

I am not suggesting that, since Klopp is the ‘rock star’ of football management, Corbyn should be the Labour Party’s Lemmy Kilminster. But he has too much of the opposite: his calmness makes him look weak, his monotone renders him diffident. All of this makes him fair game and he pales into insignificance next to the more charismatic characters of Cameron and Johnson.And, sadly, if the Bullingdon Club charisma is winning votes, then Corbyn needs to promote a better, more plausible version of political energy  which demonstrates a self-belief and is infectious to voters, inspiring their confidence.

Jürgen Klopp will, despite any minor setbacks, take Liverpool forward towards league and cup victory. He is consolidating what he has this season and from next September, we are confident of a Champions League spot: we hope for even more victories and we believe that we can win trophies and top the League.

I  wish Jeremy Corbyn could offer me similar hope. He seems a nice, sincere guy. His road trip with Diane Abbott on a motorbike in the 1970s makes him sound like a dude and he obviously has a heart, but that will not win him elections. He is too frequently the butt of media jokes: people are talking about him in parody terms – the Jeremy Corbyn musical is an example of this –  and I see no evidence that he is uniting the party, demanding with belief and charisma that Labour moves forward  and putting in a few shrewd and effective tackles against the opposition.

To continue with the language of football, I don’t want to see Labour at the bottom of the League table; the penalty is too great. But is Corbyn able to take a leaf from Klopp’s book of management and up his game, to score the winning goal for us? I  fear that we have no really good substitutes on the bench and, in the long run, the next big title clash between Labour and the Tories will result in a hard-to-take defeat which can only suggest another season of bitter relegation.

I really hope I’m wrong.