Not Exactly an Award

The very lovely Chizurue. nominated me for the Leibster Award, which was most kind. I’m something of a crazy rebel, so I’m not going to nominate anyone for questions, but I like promoting other blogs, so I’m going to link to a few that I would give an award to if I was giving out awards. I’m going to pick mostly bloggers I’m new to to try and shake up my attention span a bit.

Jeyran Main – Jeyran writes thoughtful, useful reviews of books and poems. She writes about a diverse range of writing, and the blog looks just beautiful.

The Story Hive -I’m just getting to know this collection of curious and intriguing stories, but it’s always exciting to discover a mind that takes odd twists and turns.

Fictionspawn Monsters – beautifully painted pictures, and bizarre, delightful short stories.

Living in God’s Pocket with ABI – Not a new follow this one, but  I think it’s important that this information is spread. Jasper’s writing about his experience of living with a brain injury, it’s well-written and wise.

Dominique the writer  – Poems and thoughts and some unusual posts, well worth checking out.

Today’s Echos – An entertaining reviewer who’s not afraid to criticise, making for entertaining reviews.

Be Your Own Light: A Mental Health Recovery Blog – a thoughtful and intelligent blog about living with bipolar disorder. Honest and practical well worth a read.

These are the questions Chizurue asked me to answer, anyone else is also free to answer if they fancy.

What is your crazy dream (may be the literal dream or something you want to be)? The craziest one yet or you could list ’em!

I’m terrible at answering this question. Since getting PTSD many years ago, my dreams have been haywire, they wrecked my sleep for three years. Part of learning to sleep again was being able to ignore my dreams. I’m dimly aware they’re still pretty intense (last night I dreamt I was locked in a bare room while the years passed, with people being hung outside my tiny window) but I try to ignore them.

A character you would like to meet in real life and be fast friends with (or maybe more than friends)? Why? (Anything from anime, manga, k-drama, books, tv series)

Dirk Gently would be good. Mostly life doesn’t seem interconnected, it just looks like a bunch of random, inexplicable events that haphazardly cause a bunch of other events. When something happens that seems like it was right to happen, that’s a great feeling, so I’d like that to happen more. I think Dirk Gently would achieve this for me.

To follow up that previous one: Which fictional character would be the most boring to meet in real life?

That’s tricky, because if they’re boring they’re forgettable, so I honestly don’t know. Many female characters from the past were quite dull, so maybe one of them They were so well-behaved and weak, but that’s changing (a bit) now.

Favourite music or album you could listen to all day? And why? Is it the lyrics, the melody or the vocals?

To listen all day, it would need to be something mellow like Yann Tierson. It’s the piano, I find it soothing and melodic. I don’t think I could listen to people singing all day if I could understand what they were singing, but incomprehensible chanting would be ok, something monk-like.

What book / anime would you recommend to someone who has never read / watched anything from that medium?

I don’t know anything about anime. If I had to recommend a book to someone who’s never read, then it would be The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Not because it’s really good (it’s entertaining but quite badly written) but when I was working in a bookshop a number of customers came in saying they’d never managed to read a book until they read that one, so it’s clearly a good starting point.

What are you deathly afraid of?

Serious, chronic illness, either me getting sick or people I care about getting sick.

What is the funniest word to you? (Mine is apparently ‘pengwings’) Or anything that makes you laugh when you hear it?

Biscuits! A colleague of mine often substitutes this word unexpectedly for swear words, and it’s always funny (especially since he’ll eff and jeff most of the time without pause). A sudden ‘Son of a biscuit!’ makes me laugh.

What mythical creature would you like as a pet?

Mythical creatures are often quite scary, aren’t they? I can’t imagine a Minotaur or a Gorgon being too domesticated or easy to toilet train. So I’d go for Pyrausta an insect sized dragon, it has filmy wings, four legs and dragon’s head. It needs to be in fire though, so it’d be tricky to look after, but dragons and insects are both great, so a combination would be awesome.

What’s the most useless talent you have?

I can write backwards, upside-down and backwards and upside at the same time. I recently (after 30 years of having the ‘talent’) found a use for the writing backwards, but it’s not exactly an everyday skill to use.

If you could level up humans as a species, what stat or ability would you increase? And why?

Stamina – it would be very useful in my job.

Would you rather live your entire life in a virtual reality where all your wishes are granted or in the real world? Explain your choice.

It depends. If everyone I cared about, plus lots of other real people, were in the VR world then I’d live there. I’m not that fussed about all my wishes being granted, but I’d like to have constant good health, no pain and to go on adventures to the ends of the Earth, and to the depths of the sea and so on. I don’t dislike real life, but I don’t think it has an automatic greater value than virtual reality. The brain makes our current reality real, so as long as I can fully experience the senses and connect with people in VR, I’ll be happy there.

Great questions! So if anyone fancies answering them too, that would be ace.

Questions and Answers

Last week I asked some questions, and got some interesting answers, for example atMilliwayswithapen and Pamela Spiro, plus plenty more in the comments below the last blog. I’m going to put forward my own answers, (but would still like to hear yours if you fancy taking part 🙂 )

First, the questions

  1. Would you rather be beautiful, an astronaut or able to walk up any surface (ie up walls and along the ceiling)? Why?
  2. Would you rather physically age, mentally age or visibly age?
  3. What was the last good deed you did?
  4. I’ve been watching the Good Place. It’s great. To give a spoiler-free description, it’s a comedy about a Heaven-like place, where you can live in your ideal house in a perfect village, eat all your favourite foods, and hang out with your soul-mate. What three things would you choose to have in your good place?
  5. You get a time machine watch that can only go up to an hour into the past or future. What would you use it for?
  6. You’re such an awesome person, that the mayor of your town has asked you to come up with a national holiday, what would you want the holiday to be for (eg Tree Day, Festival of Dreams), and when would you want it?
  7. What small something would you change right now?
  8. What are your plans for getting older? How do you want to spend your time when/if you stop working? Where do you want to be?
  9. You find out (probably from a magic floating wizard or by text or something) that nothing you do today will have consequences. What’s your itinerary for the day?
  10. When you die your ghost will be trapped in the place of your death, where do you want to die?

And my answers

  1. Would you rather be beautiful, an astronaut or able to walk up any surface (ie up walls and along the ceiling)? Why?

I’d definitely choose walking up surfaces. Being beautiful meh, seems like more trouble than it’s worth. All the focus on you would be on how you look rather than what you do or say, and I reckon you’d come to rely on the adoration and then get scared of losing it. Being an astronaut is nice in theory, but I have a feeling the reality is really hard work, with a lot of monotony in confined spaces for the most part. However, being able to walk up walls would never not be great. At the absolute least it would be useful for walking down a busy street, or walking up the side of a train, or hanging from the ceiling of a lift. Just endlessly great. And then being able to take a stroll up the outside of the Shard, or along the bottom of Waterloo Bridge would be great. I doubt I’d bother with the ground again.

  1. Would you rather physically age, mentally age or visibly age?

I’d most like to hang on to my mind and the ability of my body, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with looking old. If I can only keep one ability, it would be my mind, then I can still plug myself into virtual reality and go to beautiful places/ do amazing things there.

  1. What was the last good deed you did?

Bought some food for a young, scared man who’s started sitting outside my local Tesco.

  1. I’ve been watching the Good Place. It’s great, to give a spoiler-free description, it’s a comedy about a Heaven-like place, where you can live in your ideal house in a perfect village, eat all your favourite foods, and hang out with your soul-mate. What three things would you choose to have in your good place?

Cakes and ice cream. Warm rain. A place to walk without interruption.

  1. You get a time machine watch that can only go up to an hour into the past or future. What would you use it for? (I’m specifically not stating how this would work, if it would create lots of you, or if you’d just replay the same event, you get to decide)

I think (like Calmgrove) I’d use it for relieving anxiety, by changing all the stupid comments I make. I’m not sure about jumping forward in time, maybe if I had to wait twenty minutes in the cold for a train, but it’s like wishing a bit of my life away, I think I’d rather try to find some pleasure in the waiting.

  1. You’re such an awesome person, that the mayor of your town has asked you to come up with a national holiday, what would you want the holiday to be for (eg Tree Day, Festival of Dreams), and when would you want it?

A day of release, when people shout, scream, dance and smash things, without any judgement from others. A day to let out all suppressed emotions, bad feelings and regret, and howl, without any shame or embarrassment.

  1. What small something would you change right now?

I’ve got a migraine hovering at the back of my head, I would like to not have it, please.

  1. When you die your ghost will be trapped in the place of your death, where do you want to die?

I reckon in the ocean, that must be filled with so many wonders that most of us will never see. There’s real intelligence there too (octopuses and squid) so that would be fascinating to observe.

  1. What are your plans for getting older? How do you want to spend your time when/if you stop working? Where do you want to be?

I want to still be living with my flatmate who is also my closest friend, we plan to buy a house by the sea at some point. I want to get into computer games, so that when I’m too decrepit to do much else, I can escape into some mad world with zombies and flying kicks.

  1. You find out (probably from a magic floating wizard or by text or something) that nothing you do today will have consequences. What’s your itinerary for the day?

I think breaking into lots of important buildings to see what politicians and businessmen are up to.  Jumping off buildings, smashing up cars, setting fire to shops. Running up to strangers and hugging them. Driving a car really fast (I just sold my car, so I’ll need to pinch one, presumably the world without consequences would mean other people have no consequences either, so that’s ok). For those who didn’t understand how this would work, I suppose I’m thinking it would be like Groundhog Day, at the end of the day it all resets and nothing has changed, or maybe like many little Groundhog Days.

 

Psychometric Driving Test (and maybe how to pass one)

Most people at my work have to drive a van, and in the past having a clean driving license was considered enough to show that we could do that. However, that has now changed, and this week we all got given psychometric driving tests to do. We were told these tests used clever algorithms to determine how careful and conscientious we were, how quick our reaction times were, etc. There were three possible outcomes: to be low, medium or high risk. Almost everyone came out as ‘medium risk’, which is fair enough, but the two most dangerous (reckless, rude and impatient) drivers were the ones given a ‘low risk’ status, which made me suspicious. After doing some investigation, I think I’ve figured out why this was: the test doesn’t use clever algorithms at all, it isn’t testing reaction times and conscientiousness, it’s just bollocks.

Disclaimer: no promises here, presumably there are a few tests like this around, and I only have experience of one. I’ve done my best to figure out how the tests work, but it’s all guesswork.

I took the test first. It consisted of a series of very simple questions you don’t need any knowledge to answer, such as:

When a cyclist pulls out in front of you without warning, how often do you get annoyed?

When late for an appointment, how often will you exceed the speed limit to get there on time?

There are five possible answers, things like: always, often, sometimes, rarely or never and you have to pick one.

The questions seemed so simplistic that I assumed to just put ‘never’ to every negative trait and ‘always’ to every positive trait would raise a red flag that I was lying. It being a psychometric test using a fancy algorithm, suggested that there was something complicated going on. So I didn’t completely lie, instead I put answers that were a slightly better version of me, my answers to the above questions were ‘rarely’ and ‘never’.

I came out medium risk. I discussed it with another colleague, and he had much the same approach, assuming that to claim he never got irritated with another driver or never sped up to get through the lights before they change would be unrealistic. He was also medium risk.

Then today I asked the colleague who got low risk, how he did it (I was in the van with him at the time, he was speeding through lights and cutting people up as we talked about it.)

“Well, they obviously just wanted us to put that we’d never do anything wrong, so I did that. I don’t know why they even put options other than always and never, because those were clearly the only answers they wanted. I mean they’re just idiots really.”

So there you are. As far as I can work out, there is no fancy algorithm or subliminal testing, they assume that if you say you’re a great driver who never does anything wrong, that you must be telling the truth. When asked if you’ve ever sped up to get through an amber traffic light, you should put never. Having asked around other colleagues for how they answered, backs that up also.

The frustrating thing is that the kind of personality that is comfortable and confident about lying, is not likely to be one that is a safe driver. Those who put more cautious answers (the ‘rarely’s and ‘sometimes’ answers) are penalised. I’d quite like to find out I’m wrong about this though, so if anyone has a different experience, or knows more about how the tests are designed would like to comment, that would be great.

 

What It’s Really Like to Not Get Catcalled

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This is a huge lie: “You’ll miss getting hassled in the street when it stops happening.”

When I was younger (teens, twenties and thirties), I frequently got harassed in the street. It was probably because I walked a lot on my own – I did this because it was, and still is, one of my favourite things to do, a time when my imagination can let loose and fly. Harassment would vary from shouts, to being chased by cars, to being followed on foot; from a friendly chat that would slowly, inevitably become aggressive to being grabbed. It felt relentless and meant that I always kept my head down and tried not to look anyone in the eye. On a couple of occasions when I accidentally looked up and caught the eye of a passing stranger, they turned around and started following me so that I had to hide in shops to avoid them.

I’m not particularly good looking and I’ve never dressed in a sexy manner, I was just a young woman on her own, walking around. And I hated it. Not only because it was scary and dangerous at times, but also because it interrupted my flow of thoughts with something tedious and banal. However, when I complained, what many men and women told me was:

“You’ll miss it when you’re older and it stops. Then you won’t feel attractive any more, you’ll feel invisible.”

And since I’ve noticed this is a common message in our society, I would like to point out,

It’s absolute bollocks. Not being harassed is fucking great.

Firstly, I haven’t become invisible. People, more often men, still make eye contact, but instead of this leading to trouble, it leads to something mellow and friendly – maybe a smile, maybe a hello. It’s lovely, and because I don’t have to worry about it suddenly turning nasty (which almost always used to happen, and never happens now), I can feel safe making that eye contact. I don’t feel invisible, I feel like a normal member of the human race amongst other normal members, instead of feeling like a frightened mouse with a flashing light on my head drawing in trouble.

Secondly, I know we are taught that how you look is incredibly important if you’re a woman, but people ‘being attracted’ to you is a pain in the arse a lot of the time (I put ‘being attracted’ in quotes, because I’m not sure that’s really true, it’s more that you’re present and female). Useful if you want someone to fancy you, sure, but when I’m walking around with my head in a daydream, I don’t want anyone to fancy me. I’m busy.

And finally, I didn’t feel attractive back then. I think having constant comments on my looks made me too aware of them. Even if all you hear are compliments, it makes you aware of your flaws, tense about the prospect of not being attractive, so the result is you feel unhappy with your appearance. Now that strangers are polite and disinterested enough not to interrupt me to tell me how I look, I just don’t think about it that often, I can keep my thoughts to things I actually care about, such as rambling on like this.

Bust magazine image
Image: In the Crimean city of Sevastopol, February 29, 2012. Reuters/Stringer

TLDR: I’m aware that most men don’t harass women, but it is surprising the number of men and women who still think it’s not a big deal, not worth complaining about. When women do speak out (which they’ve been doing a lot recently) others get quite annoyed with them, “It’s only a compliment!” they say. My point is, I don’t think street harassment is just annoying and occasionally harmful, I think it buggers up how all people connect to each other, it makes both men and women angry with each other. Not getting hassled means that women can have calm, friendly connections to others, and it takes some unnecessary tension out of life. Which seems like a definite good thing.

Anyone else feel the same? Anyone think I’m talking nonsense? If so, why? All comments welcome, I love a chat.

 

London is not OK

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I want to remind you of a few news stories that broke just before Christmas, they show serious problems with poverty in London and the rest of the UK. These kinds of stories are often in print at that festive time, I guess because that’s when people are feeling generous and donate to charities. However, it also means that once Christmas is over, everyone feels the problems are finished too, they’ve donated, they’ve done their bit. The truth is, the situation in the UK is getting worse, and donating money to charity is only a sticking plaster. Austerity measures have destroyed lives, even ended lives, and the government show no sign of stopping cuts.

The focus of some of these stories is on London, primarily because that’s where I live, so I see news stories for here, but also because London is generating some disturbing statistics at the moment. People tend to assume because London is clearly a rich city, poverty induced problems must be minimal, but the opposite seems to be true. These stories might be familiar to you, so I’ll keep them brief, but there are links if you want to read more.

How Rich Are We

Out of all countries, the UK is ranked fifth for GDP (value of all goods and services produced. Article), and seventh for where the most billionaires live (article). Out of cities across the world, London is ranked fifth for where the most rich people live (London fifth richest city ) and also fifth in terms of GDP. Most of the inequality between rich and poor comes not from money being earned, but owned wealth (ie inherited or invested in property) (Wealth in London ). For a wealthy country, with a wealthy capital city, the following problems are ridiculous.

Homelessness

new homeless article

Article

new homeless article 2

Article

rough sleeper 2

Article

Up until 2010, homelessness had been declining, but since then has risen every year.

People sleeping rough  numbered 1768 in 2010 and 3569 in 2015 in the Uk. So double the numbers.

There are many more people homeless, but less visible, sleeping on floors of friends or in derelict buildings. It is thought that over 60% of homeless people don’t show up in figures.

However, in London the rise was biggest, from 400 in 2010 to 940 in 2015.

The other highest figure, and highest rise in figures, is in South East England.

Here are the facts and figures

2010 was when the Coalition government initiated the austerity program. It involved reducing funding for housing-related services, for example reducing housing benefit to a level that often didn’t cover rent, increasing sanctions for benefit claimants leaving vulnerable people without any assistance, introducing the bedroom tax (claimants had money reduced if they had an unused bedroom). It’s these measures, and rising rent prices that have lead to homelessness.

 

Foodbanks

foodbanks

The Independent did a poll of London families and discovered that 18% have to choose between heating or feeding their family.

33% (a third) struggle to afford healthy food for their family.

14% rely of foodbanks or free breakfast clubs.

Article about foodbank use

Austerity and the wider problem

There have been reports in the newspapers this month about a lack of beds in A&E hospitals and the cancellation of 50,000 operations. This situation has clearly hit a crisis point, but at the end of last year a study was brought out calculating that 45,000 deaths had been caused by austerity measures, many of which were caused by inadequate hospital care. Substandard care for the elderly was another factor.

cuts death

Effects of health and social care spending constraints on mortality in England

Note: this has been reported as 120,000 deaths, but that is a projected figure for 2015-2020, it may well prove to be an accurate prediction, but 45,000 actual deaths is shocking enough, there’s no need to inflate it.

Thank you for reading…

Just Brush It Off! (Sexual harassment at work)

Weinstein

Sexual assault in Hollywood has been a hot topic for a while now (Weinstein et al). I’m a bit slow to form an opinion, so I’ve kept quiet, but just when it seems the story has finished, a new victim steps forward and tells of some horror that happened to her (or occasionally him). I think I’ve finally worked out how I see this, so here’s my take.

On the whole, people have reacted to the Weinstein stories with disgust, surprise and anger which is good, although how surprised people have been that this happens has surprised me. Fortunately there are plenty of women speaking out to say that this is not an isolated problem, this is endemic to almost all workplaces, which is definitely my experience. However, I think there is a danger of the discussion getting diluted, with one line of thinking being:

But a lot of these experiences are not a big deal, why does it matter if someone puts his hand on your knee, just brush it off!

I do understand this line of thinking, because most of experiences I’ve had weren’t a big deal at all, and I wasn’t bothered by them.  However, the point is

                                 NONE OF THEM SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED.

No harassment, no matter how small, makes the world a better place, and while most instances might be nothing much, the accumulation of many many instances makes life more difficult than it needs to be, it drives a wedge between people, it wears them down. In a workplace the focus should be on the job, with a degree of professionalism as the norm. And each small instance makes the big, serious instances more likely to happen, because they normalise wrong behaviour.

For me there are two straightforward demands that should come out of this, and apply to all people of any gender and in any job:

  • Professionalism should exist in every workplace, and no sexual intimidation should ever happen. No one should have to fend off unwanted advances. Focus should be on the job, it shouldn’t be sexual at all. (I realise there may be exceptions, after all many people meet their partner at work, but I don’t think it’s extreme to say that actual sexual interaction and banter should be kept outside work, so that people can choose if they are part of it or not.)
  • A level of polite respect should exist between strangers in the street. No one should be demanding attention from strangers without good reason. No one should be shouting any insults, personal remarks or trying to touch a stranger. This also goes for racist or disablist comments too, or just personal comments to a stranger, why is it necessary?

I’d be interested to hear if you have some disagreement with those requests, maybe you think they’re too extreme and controlling. I believe much of how we treat each other (superficially, at least) is down to habit rather than some innate ‘rightness’ or inevitability, and so if the current habits are harmful, we need new ones.

So anyway, when people shout about the smaller incidences that have happened to them, it is not because somebody touching you on the knee is traumatic (usually, anyway), it’s because there needs to be a change to how we treat colleagues and strangers, and that includes the small stuff.

But why do the protestations have to be so shouty and demanding? Why can’t everyone make the point calmly?

This applies to not just this issue, but a few other matters of discrimination affecting small groups. It’s natural to recoil when you hear someone being unpleasant, even about  a legitimate grievance. However, I believe it’s essential to be shouty in order to bring about change. The thing is this:

PEOPLE DON’T LIKE CHANGE

And altering how people work together and interact, is a massive undertaking. In the past mistreated people have reasonably and calmly expressed that there is a problem in how they are treated, which sometimes lead to others thinking ‘Oh yes, that seems unfair’. However, because people don’t like change, just thinking this didn’t alter their behaviour at all. Everything stayed the same.

It seems the only way to get people to change is by making ‘staying the same’ more distressing than making a change. An effective (if highly irritating) way of doing this is by being loud, obnoxious, demanding and unrelenting. This is what I believe we are seeing at the moment, and it seems to be working. When change happens, which certainly seems more likely now than ever before, then all the demanding can stop.

However, my opinion is always a work in progress, if you spot any flaws in my thinking, or have anything to add, please comment below, I look forward to hearing your take on this…