8 Jul 2016


I did it. Four years and four months. I did it. Fucking hell, I did it.

I need to thank some people.

First, my ex husband for leaving me. If he hadn't, there is no way I would have been able to do this degree. I wouldn't have been able to afford it, I wouldn't have had time as I would have still been working, and I wouldn't have had the rage-powered drive to prove him bloody wrong and achieve something.

Second, my beloved and perfect sister Perfect Jess who has proof read EVERY SINGLE ONE of my essays and told me they're brilliant, even when they aren't.

Thirdly, the OU for charging me a whole £5 to do my degree based on their old financial support system. I was in the very last year group to qualify for this, which was immensely lucky, and I am proud to have got good grades and proved that poverty doesn't equate to idiocy.

Then all my helpers. My friends (particularly Jack, Eleanor and Helen) who have given me professional advice where I've needed it on health and social care current practice, and ALL my friends who have given me wine, and support, and excused me for months at a time while I try and catch up. My twitter friends who are often on OU journeys of their own and given me so much inspiration and confidence.The FB OU support groups who have always remembered where I read something when I'm writing up an essay, and then sat nervously (if remotely) with me while we wait for results. Studying at home is more isolated than at a brick uni, but it doesn't have to be lonely.

My family - by blood, by marriage and by ex-marriage - who have been there, encouraging me, even if they're not wholly sure what I'm doing or why. They have all believed in me when I didn't believe in myself.

My kids haven't exactly been HELPFUL during all this, but they have been there. When I started, Jim was two and Jack was ten months. Now they're seven and five, and we have baby Alex as well. They have grown up watching Mummy do her 'portant work, stealing my highlighters and spilling drinks on my notes. They have reminded me why I started; to do something better, to be someone more.

Most of all though, I have to thank my Tom. Whether it's been giving me a cynical look every time I've bemoaned how awful my last essay is, or winding me up about social care so I rant out all my revision at him, or trying to scry my awful handwriting to test me on revision notes, or simply presenting me with cider or flowers on TMA-writing-day, nobody has done more than him to get me through this. I don't know how many times I have cried on him when revising because I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING and he's gently reminded me that yes, yes I do. I love him. He is my favourite.

1 Jul 2016

An Englishman's Home Is His Castle

The British are constantly harking back to a nostalgic time of yore. Do other nations do this, by the way? Do tell.
My own parents tell me how much better it was in the sixties, despite being tiny children at the time. My grandparents tell me it's not like the old days, as their grandparents told them. I'm sure, if I knew anyone who was an adult in the 1940s, I would be told how RUDDY MARVELLOUS the war was, what with it's unpredictable air raids, and death, and nothing much to eat, and before that, the first world war, merrily decimating the men of the country. As a nation, we look back. We live on a tide of nostalgia, having whole conversations based around Things We Watched On TV As Children (Poddington Peas and The Family Ness) and Sweets You Can't Get Anymore. Our TV programmes show us how life used to be, and we watch them in droves, on the internet, apparently forgetting that golden era of barely fifteen years ago when the internet came through the phone and your mum could pick the phone up, shout at you to get off the internet and you could...hear it in the modem. Ah, the olden days! 
Perhaps, since the dawn of broadband, life is changing more rapidly than ever. I can do my shopping on the internet and a person brings it to my house and it's kinda magical. If I want to know anything, I can go and google it rather than traipsing to the library (which probably doesn't exist any more) to look it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica. If I don't see a friend for six months, it's easier than ever to find out what they're doing and keep in touch. But sometimes, it's a terrible thing. 

We are a nostalgic country. There's nothing we like more than a 1940s tea party, or a medieval re-enactment. The prevailing theme of the Leave campaign was to make Britain great again, to put the great back in Great Britain, to go back to some mythic perfect age where we were self sufficient.
I'm not sure this golden age ever existed, nevermind that we can get back to it. We have always, as a nation, struggled a bit with being tiny. We've been trading with the middle and far east for thousands of years, invaded regularly by anyone who fancied a go, from the Romans onward. William the Conqueror basically annexed us, and we were part of France. Then we had a shot at turning the tables and running France as an annexe of us. This didn't work because Henry V died, sparking the War of the Roses. We played politics in Europe for a while, and then discovered that we were Quite Good at sailing (as you'd expect from an island nation) and started colonising the world, largely in an effort to take over places before Spain and France did. Competitive colonisation! Fun for all the family!
And so the Empire was born, and it got bigger and bigger until we ruled vast swathes of the world. But then the buggers started wanting independence. First the US, then slowly, everywhere else, often after huge and difficult internal struggles. We still have a few foreign territories (notably Gibraltar and the Falklands) but generally, we are back to being a little island on the Western edge of Europe.

Alas then that we haven't lost this colonial mentality, which was borne from feudalism. How dare all these immigrants come here when we used to govern them? How dare they be all free and able to travel here? Feudalism, in which you are owned or at least tied to a landowner, working in exchange for protection, allegedly died in the late medieval era, although I think there are modern parallels. We kid ourselves that we have a special relationship with the US because we MADE them, when really it's because we are a useful military link to Europe. We shun the rest of Europe in favour of the US because we never managed to colonise it and thus, it is different. They don't speak our language. They kiss each other a lot. 

England itself (with Scotland and Wales) is like a castle, with the channel tunnel being a drawbridge to Europe and Border Force being a portcullis. In the olden days, we built ties to other nations through dynastic marriage. It was politically awkward for France to invade us if our king was married to their king's daughter or sister, not that this stopped us invading them. European empires came and went and were reshaped often, but it wasn't until after World War 2 that we realised dynastic marriage, keeping ourselves to ourselves, and politeness alone weren't going to stop another war.

The EU was born through the EEC (itself the result of many post-war treaties), which aimed to unify Western Europe and provide a single market, partly in opposition to the Eastern bloc. The EU allows the member states to trade with each other without having to broker individual deals for each country, and without any need to organise complicated treaties pledging allegiance or military support.
The Conservatives, they fucking hate this sort of thing domestically. They believe in market liberalism, which encourages markets to develop 'naturally' (i.e driving prices up as high as possible, see the housing market). However, because our imports are almost twice the value of our exports, it has worked well for us within the EU, particularly as we don't trade with the euro which gave us a bit of an economic boost. Being part of the EU meant we had to allow in EU citizens, but unlike the rest of Europe who are part of the Schengen Agreement, our borders have been closed, aside from the Irish land border. The drawbridge will not open unless you have the right documentation or some means of illegally getting round it. I have been reading the right wing newspapers from around the time the Channel Tunnel opened. Not one refers to immigrants, to refugees or asylum seekers. The greatest fear was of fire risk and the ferries going out of business. Truly, we lived in less fascist times then. Can you imagine if they said they were building a bridge to France now?

We are a strange bunch. An Englishman's home is his castle, and our greatest aspiration in life is to own a home. Seriously, all anyone bloody cares about is the price of houses. Can they afford one? Will they have to live with their parents until they're 54? Will they have to sell their own children into slavery so they can have a three bed semi in a reputable area? We have one of the lowest home ownership rates in Europe, and yet obsess about it endlessly, as though it is the be all and end all. Renting is seen as a type of serfdom, despite 42% of the nation doing it, and landlords live up to their lordly names as renters' rights are eroded. Our adulthood is now marked by our financial success in home ownership. I have a theory that everyone in Britain has an enormous superiority complex, a desperate urge to climb not the housing ladder, but the social ladder, and that this is a cultural memory of feudalism and later Victorian values. To own a home, to own land, to be the lord of one's own manor, is very important to Britain, and this extends to the borders of our country.
Why else the rampant xenophobia that accompanied the leave campaign, and in fact all political discourse recently? Even Labour got in on it at the last election. There seemed to be a belief (at least before the referendum) that leaving the EU would stop all immigration, and all the immigrants would leave and we would be left with all the British people. I spoke to someone a couple of weeks ago who thought that, if we left the EU, the Pakistani population of the city would leave. Quite aside from the fact that a massive proportion of them were BORN HERE, what brand of special idiot do you have to be to think PAKISTAN is in the EU?

Immigration is an odd issue for the British. We are a nation of immigrants. Italian, French, German and Danish blood is AWASH in our veins, and that's just the white population. The very idea of indigenous Brits is ridiculous, yet according to the media, we fear this invasion of immigrants and the dilution of Great British Blood as much as anything. I suppose it comes from being repeatedly invaded A THOUSAND YEARS AGO. The last successful invasion of Britain was 950 years ago, and by a man who lived less than 50 miles from the British coast. The Second World War was effectively propelled by a terror of The Hun turning up in Dover and having his way with all the housewives, but the irony is that prior to the outbreak of the war, many richer Brits thought fascism was a fucking marvellous idea and longed for a return to Tudor values. The Daily Mail was a massive advocate of fascism, Mosley and Hitler, not because they wanted to kill all the Jews (although, partly) but because they wanted the poor to know their place and the rich to prosper. The general disruption to class society after World War One really pissed off a lot of people, and the idea of no democracy clearly appealed. It was only after World War Two that a lot of British institutions were founded, such as the NHS, in acknowledgement that you can't expect people to go off and die in droves in return for no social security. Now the same people who would have been ruthlessly oppressed if fascism had 'won' in the 1930s and 1940s want it to come back for much the same reasons as Hitler did. Too many foreigners, a hope for a better economy, a hope to make the country great again. I'm not trying to invoke Godwin's law, but the current political and social discourse is not dissimilar to Germany in 1932. The difference is that they were being crippled by war reparations and their money was so worthless, it had to be carted around in wheelbarrows. I'm fairly sure our country is massively overreacting in comparison.

Our nation, or at least parts of our nation, resist change. Diversity is a dirty word for the predominantly white British parts of our isles, where it is the least in evidence. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE OLD DAYS WHEN EVERYONE SPOKE ENGLISH?? they cry. I don't think it's existed since the second world war, but this is an unpopular viewpoint. I live in a railway city that was singled out for a documentary about immigration as a terrible thing, but nobody mentions the large Italian population, settled in the 1950s to work at the brickworks. Nobody looks twice at all the Italian surnames, or the ladies speaking Italian on the bus. There's a strong British Pakistani community, founded in the 1960s, with Ugandan Muslim refugees following about a decade later. Recently, there's been a lot more movement from Eastern Europe into the city, which is widely reported as a Good Thing economically, but a bad thing by the BBC. The only time I've ever been remotely pissed off by Teh Forruns is when some drunk Polish lads decided to play an electric organ in the middle of the street when I was trying to get my kids to sleep. How bothered you are by the ethnic makeup of your home depends a lot on what you expect from it. If you expect to hear nothing but English and see nowt but a sea of white, northern European flesh, you might be disappointed. If you prefer to judge people by their character rather than their ability to speak English in conversation with their friends, you might be happier.
The ubiquity of news sources make it much easier to view immigration as a terrible societal evil knocking on your door. Nevermind the front page of the Daily Express, you can't even log in to facebook without a news strip telling you what hateful thing Katie Hopkins has said this time. Twitter in the last week has been like a 24/7 apocalyptic news channel. Every single second of the collapse of government has been detailed in real time, with nobody taking a step back to look at the wider picture and put things into context. Honestly, if your only experience of Britain was through the eyes of twitter and facebook, you would probably think we had literally fallen to bits. I was really ill during the referendum, and simply being stuck in bed with my phone for company made everything feel like AWFUL DEATH. There is a loss of perspective with constant rolling news.

And I think it is rolling news and social media that has made this referendum, the result and the emerging chaos feel so much more personal. Yes, it has endless repercussions for the whole world. Yes, everything has gone to shit, but everything has gone to shit with alarming regularity since humans started living in large groups. We tend to forget that, as a nation. We romanticise our failures (Dunkirk, The Charge of the Light Brigade) or whitewash them entirely. Social media and the internet has allowed us to hold our leaders to account better, because the internet never forgets and it gives the common folk a voice with the potential to be heard by millions. It has also allowed us unprecedented access to information, allowing us to research anything that takes our fancy. But it means that there is a note, not so much of pessimism, but awful DOOM about this result. It means that in the build up, you couldn't move for someone's viewpoint on whether to leave or remain.  It means that Racist Rob from Rugby's view was given an equal standpoint with Sensible Sue from Staines'. It made it intensely difficult to sort through the rhetoric and lies and find any grain of truth. It was information overload, and it remains so.

In the old days, there was no internet. You believed what the BBC and the papers told you about current affairs, or you just didn't know until someone wrote a tell all book years later. Now we have the ability to educate ourselves, and ignorance really isn't an excuse anymore, and yet in its way it is too much. We can no longer draw up the drawbridge on the rest of the world. The portcullis won't keep them out even if Theresa May herself starts prowling the borders, breathing fire. The rest of the world is in our computers, our phones, our tablets. On our bedside table, in our hand as we fall asleep and wake up, winking at us from the corner of the screen as we work. The world has changed since 1975 and we can never go back.