Saturday, 27 November 2010

An Uneventful Saturday Night

This update is mostly going to be a stream of random consciousness so apologies in advance if it doesn't make much sense, i'm tired and keep zoning out.

It's been a while since i've updated this blog, mostly because i've not thought of anything particularly ramble worthy recently. But i'm determined not to let this blog just peter out in the way so many of my projects in the past have.

I have at last count 8 different stories with over 2,000 words written, but which are still a long way from being finished. I had 4 drums lessons before abandoning that as a lost cause (a growing understanding of my complete lack of co-ordination or sense of timing has left this seeming like a wise decision in hindsight, but at the time I think it was just a result of a lack of focus and sticking power).

I miss playing football a lot, but I know I could probably have fought harder to keep that part of my life going. Due to a mix of good, lazy and just self-conscious reasons I barely play any more, and it strikes me as a bit odd that despite it being something I valued incredibly highly, i've let it go remarkably easily.

I think it's just representative of me as a person, I get passionate about things, some for a short while, some for much longer, but when that passion begins to die I don't really try hard enough to maintain it. My focus is too weak and too fleeting. I'm too easily put off by even the slightest difficulties or lack of results.

It annoys me and i'm sure at times it must have annoyed other people.

It's this previous lack of persistence and my desire (possibly doomed but hey i'll try and be optimistic, there's a first time for everything I guess) that is making me really hope I can keep this blog going.

I'm sat watching x factor currently and laughing at the term 'rock song' being stretched to breaking point. I'm not as against x factor as some people, it's well marketed and frustratingly addictive and there are some pretty decent performances on it.

I'm looking forward to going to two gigs in the next fortnight, it's been ages since i've been to a gig (unless i'm forgetting one then it was back during the summer holidays when I saw Bedouin Soundclash in a tiny little pub in the centre of London, a truly great gig) and I can't wait to go to a couple of gigs and just feel that thrill I always experience when listening to live bands.

I'm seeing Pendulum on the 4th in Nottingham, which i'm looking forward to, though it has to be said i'm more excited about seeing my friend Emma than I am about the actual gig. However i'm sure by the time i'm in the arena there'll be that familiar gig based excitement as well. The week after that i'm seeing Frank Turner and I am almost giddy when I think about that. Frank Turner is one of my favourite artists, several of his songs mean a huge amount to me and I listen to him probably as often as anyone on my iPod. The only negative that occurs to me when thinking about going to this gig is that, just like when I saw bloc party, there's pretty much no way he's going to play every one of the songs I really hope he does. The price you pay for seeing an artist with several albums worth of good material I guess is that a 60/90 minute set is unlikely to completely do their back catalogue justice. I'll almost certainly leave that gig fairly hoarse from singing along and I frankly can't wait.

An evening i have more mixed feelings for is this Monday. Nottingham Forest are playing Leicester City and as most people who read this will now, I'm a Forest fan who lives in Leicester (at least for uni). I wasn't able to get two tickets for the game in the away end (I could have got one but i didn't want to sit there on my own, despite how tempted i was to be in the middle of the crowd), so me and my house mate are going to a pub to watch that, and the El Classico derby which is on the same night. I'm looking forward to seeing a Forest game live, looking forward to a night in the pub watching football. What I'm not looking forward to is the fact that at least for the first half I'll be unsure how passionately I can safely react to any Forest goal without getting my head kicked in by a pissed Leicester fan. So either if Leicester beat Forest then I'll have to watch loads of people celebrating right in front of me, or, if Forest beat Leicester I won't be able to celebrate completely naturally because i won't be entirely relaxed.

Either way it should be interesting.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Enjoying the little moments

This update is going to have a literary theme.

Firstly one of my friends, Abbie, bought me a book for my 20th birthday which i began reading last night. It's called "One Day" and is by David Nicholls. It looks pretty promising both from what Abbie had previously told me about it and from the first chapter. I've been looking for a new novel to read, something to read as an alternative to histories of American politics and excerpts from classical political theorists.

Printed on the page that precedes the first chapter is a quote from a truly fantastic novel, "Great Expectations", the classic by Charles Dickens. I'd forgotten the quote since i last read the novel, but seeing it again last night i remembered just how perfectly i feel it captures a pretty abstract concept that has always intrigued me.

"That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it and think how different its course would have been. Pause, you who read this, and think for a long moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns and flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on that memorable day."

I love that quote because it sums up the idea that a single day, 1 out of hopefully tens of thousands at least, can change your entire life. That the beginnings of a chain of events can be humble yet affect so much which follows. We're rarely aware of the importance of a day until the gift of hindsight is given to us. It's a very similar idea to that of 'the butterfly effect', the idea that even the slightest change in our history could produce a drastically different present and future. It does make a slight mockery of the degree to which we believe we have control over our own lives. How much control can we really have unless we analyse every tiny decision to the point of getting nothing done? Most of the time we just have to let life run it's course, enjoy all the little moments and hope that we don't end up regretting one of more of the myriad of things we do each day.

Also it is impractical to try and attribute all the praise of blame for an eventual destination on an individual decision. So many little decisions combine to bring us to the big decisions which impact on our lives in a more distinct way. Without any one of the many smaller choices we may never have reached the place where that bigger choice would have been possible.

So there you go, this is the kind of thing that goes on in my head when i should really be focussing on something useful.

I don't have any deep or important point to make about this next quote, i include it solely because it's one of my favourite quotes from any book and when i was typing out the Dickens quote this one sprang to mind as well. It's from "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen.

"We can all begin freely –a slight preference is natural enough; but there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement"

Right, the rest of this update is going to be a short story i wrote quite a while ago, the summer before i came to university, but it's one i've not grown to dislike over time which is quite unusual.


Kindred Spirits

A quick glance at his phone told him it was nearly half 11. He’d been dragged into town by a couple of his friends, determined despite past evidence that he would have fun in the bars in the city centre. Now both friends had wandered off, their attentions drawn to girls who’d caught their eye. So he was sat alone at a long and fairly empty bar, perched on a tall bar stool that looked like it was straight out of an IKEA catalogue, all cheap plastic and shiny metal legs. The bar he was in was very student friendly, almost seeming to make a unique selling point of everything being cheap but cheerful.

The beer bottle in his hands offered some minor distraction, both through drinking it at a rate that gave away his discomfort and boredom, and through playing with it, tearing the label, spinning it around, doing anything menial to take his mind off the night. He really wasn’t cut out for the clubbing scene, far too busy living inside his head to enjoy the thrills of a night out. He couldn’t help feeling incredibly jealous as he watched the confident boys and girls of the city meeting, greeting and pulling. He felt like he was doomed to always over think things, to complicate what should be a simple and fun night out into a tumultuous and confusing mess of emotions. He watched people finding a connection, even if only a brief one, with people they’d never met, and he felt that loneliness that had been weighing heavily on him recently, press down all the harder.

He stared unseeingly straight ahead of himself, into the mirror which stretched along the entire length of the bar, but he wasn’t paying much attention to his reflection, his eyes had simply settled on that point to avoid making eye contact with anyone. He resolved himself to wait out another half hour, have another beer and then go home, either with his mates, or alone. He wouldn’t resent them wanting to stay, he wasn’t self obsessed enough to think that they should share his reasons for not enjoying the night; they were more confident creatures than he was, and were both single. This was exactly the kind of night they were supposed to enjoy. Part of him knew that it was the sort of night he should enjoy.

He glanced to his right, half hoping to catch the attention of the barman and order another bottled beer. He’d still got a third of the last bottle left, but he reckoned that the sooner he drank that and drank another one, the sooner he could feel he had fulfilled his promise to himself and could leave. The barman was busy; pouring what seemed like a fairly epic number of pints for a rowdy bunch of lads. The group of guys were all stood around the bar, laughing at each others jokes a little bit too loudly to be completely natural. They had arrived at the bar about 10 minutes ago, clearly already several pints south of sober and though they were in good spirits they had changed the atmosphere in the room by drowning out anyone else’s conversations with their banter and seemingly competitive laughter. He’d not really paid them too much attention until now, having no interest in joining them or annoying them, but as he looked towards the barman he saw reflected in the mirror a sight which focussed all his attention on that section of the bar.

Sat at the edge of that storm of alcohol and testosterone, perched as far to one side of a bar stool as physically possible, and still leaning further away, was a girl. Next to the crowd of guys, so noisy and unpredictable, she looked so small and vulnerable that he felt a sudden urge to protect this girl, even though he’d never seen her before and she probably didn’t need protecting. He imagined he’d be a long way down on her list of the guys in the bar who she’d want to protect her anyway. As he continued to watch the girl in the mirror, he was surprised to find it had taken him this long to notice just how stunning she was. She had shoulder length brunette hair, with a fringe which she seemed to be using as a shield against the world, a slightly tanned, very cute heart shaped face and delicate, kissable lips, but what struck him most was her eyes, peering out from under the fringe, they were such a dark shade of brown that at this distance they almost looked black.

Suddenly she glanced up, away from the drink in her hand that she’d been focussing on, and her eyes met his in the mirror. With a start he realised he’d been indirectly staring at her, so absorbed in both her situation and her beauty. A different guy may have met her gaze, may even have mustered a smile to her, and taken it from there. But he wasn’t that guy and he panicked looking away and staring intensely at the label of his beer, hoping the embarrassment he felt at getting caught staring wasn’t manifesting itself into too obvious a blush on his cheeks. He suddenly felt 10 degrees too warm and considered making a dash for the door. But instead he found himself, slowly so as to try and be subtle, glancing up at the mirror, back at the point halfway between him and her, where their eye’s had met. To his horror she was still looking at that exact point, and his heart seemed to forget quite how to go about its job, as he saw a shy smile spread across her lips as their eyes met. All the sounds of the bar seemed to become muffled as he looked into those dark eyes. He quickly looked away again though, assuming the smile was one of pity, she probably just felt sorry for the blatantly out of place and awkward boy sat a few seats away. He briefly wondered where the girl’s boyfriend was, a girl that good looking almost certainly had a boyfriend, it would be bordering on an injustice if she was single by anything other than her own choice. He’d probably be a guy not that dissimilar to any one of the group of drunken lads that had moved a little further away from her now that they had their pints. At least, he felt it was fair to say, he probably wouldn’t be a guy like him. Girls like her didn’t go for guys like him.

The barman wandered past him and he asked for another beer, paying the guy quickly, while managing to avoid looking to his right at all. He glanced around to see where his mates were, considering going and joining them just to give him an excuse not to sit there, so hyper aware of this girl sat at most 20 metres away. Both his mates were busy talking to girls so he ruled that one out, he’d rather be the weird but potentially a little mysterious loner than the third wheel. Some small part of him, some minute but optimistic part of him made him glance over at the mirror again, tempting his imagination with the idea that the smile might have been born from something other than pity. That maybe she had seen something of interest in him, a hint of a kindred spirit perhaps, someone else who at that moment in time, clearly didn’t want to be sat alone at a bar. What he saw in the mirror confused him; he didn’t know how to react to the sight of her unmistakable sadness. Her head was down, her eyes locked on a seemingly random point on the bar, and it was clear even at this distance that something had disappointed or upset her. He was contemplating going over to talk to her, for he knew as well as anyone the sensation of loneliness, but his body and thoughts froze simultaneously as she glanced through her fringe at the mirror. They froze because the moment her eyes met his, the sad look vanished, replaced by one that despite his better instincts, he could only describe as hopeful and happy.

His eyes went to his beer again, unable to meet her gaze for the sudden string of images that had filled his mind when she smiled made him feel instantly awkward. In that one moment where there eyes had truly met, her hopeful smile and the glint in her eye had thrown his pessimistic and cynical defences aside and caused him to hope as well, and he’d found himself entertaining images of them as a couple. He knew it was foolish and naïve to even dream those things on the basis of a smile and a brief moment of eye contact, but he had done, and now those images were going round his mind; now he’d imagined them, he couldn’t shake either the images or the way they made him feel.

He felt something coursing through him, an optimism and confidence that were fairly alien to him, so he took a long drink from his beer and then before these new found feelings could desert him he stood up and turned to face the girl.

As he started to walk towards her, his heart rate rising with every step, his mind ran through what he could say. He’d gone too far to back out now, but he realised he hadn’t the faintest clue what to say to a beautiful girl. He ran through lines he’d heard other guys use when chatting up girls, but they all seemed so fake and sleazy that he ruled them out. If he was going to do this, he wasn’t going to pretend to be someone he wasn’t, it just wouldn’t feel right.

Suddenly he realised that he was stood only a couple of feet away from her and she was staring up at him from beneath her thick fringe, those deep, dark eyes managing to take away what little breath he had left. He was out of time and so did something he hoped would serve him well. He simply followed his heart.

“I, I think you’re beautiful and I want to kiss you.” He paused, unable to read her reaction, but decided that now he’d come too far to turn back and so he had to keep going, in the face of her silence, “I can think of some clever lines if you’d prefer,” he felt his heart soar as she smiled, a smile so infectious and awe inspiring that he couldn’t help but feel more confident than he’d felt in years, “But I wanted to say that first.”

He finished speaking and just looked at her, knowing that he meant what he’d said and that for once he’d been impulsive and brave, rather than letting fear cripple him. Slowly she reached out a hand to him, the contact between her fingers and his making the hairs on his arms stand up. She took his hand and gestured to him to sit down on the stool next to hers. She’d still not spoken a word, but their eyes had not left each others, and they were telling him enough to make him fight the terror that was lurking beneath the surface and sit down. He wasn’t sure a girl had ever looked at him like this, looked so deeply into his eyes, that he felt like she was examining some deep and important part of him. And by the way that smile which was still ever so slightly shy lit her face up; he dared to hope that she liked whatever she was seeing.

She looked like she was about to speak when a sudden urge struck him, a most atypical urge for him, but following his heart had worked well so far, and his heart was screaming at him to do something he wouldn’t have dreamed of doing even 5 minutes ago. As she started to open her mouth, he placed a finger over her lips and she stopped, slightly startled but not unhappy, merely curious. He took his finger away and started to lean in, moving slowly so that she had every chance to tell him no or move away, but as he’d been staring at that smile, he’d felt like he wanted, no needed, to kiss those lips, right then. He kept his eyes open until the last moment, checking her eyes for any sign that he’d misjudged the moment, but her eyes continued to sparkle with what he was sure was happiness, so he gently, delicately kissed her lips, feeling like all the sensation in his body had transferred itself to his lips. He was more aware in this moment of the contact between his lips and hers, than he could remember being of anything else in his life. Reluctantly he pulled away, because no matter how incredible it felt to kiss those lips, he was already starting to worry. He worried that he’d misjudged the situation and she was going to be angry. He also worried that they were in different places emotionally. He felt so intensely about this girl already, and though he didn’t believe in love at first sight, he was certain he wanted the chance to fall in love with her, wanted to talk to her, hold her, and learn how to bring that smile back to her lips as often as possible. What if she just thought this was a bit of fun? The thought scared him, but he couldn’t deny that by being impulsive like this, he couldn’t be sure even of his own emotions, let alone hers. He realised he didn’t regret it though; he knew in his heart that he hadn’t acted merely out of lust, but out of some deeper emotion, some combination of hope and desire driven by the fact that when he looked into her eyes, he could already imagine a future with her. He didn’t regret acting on an impulse, because the idea of never seeing this girl again didn’t give him the freedom and confidence he’d heard other guys talk about, it scared and upset him.

All these thoughts filled his head in the seconds as he pulled away and as he waited for her to speak they almost overwhelmed him. But she was still smiling as she opened her eyes again.

“Well, that was, special. I bet you say that to all the girls.” Her voice was ever so slightly sing song and though he reckoned she was teasing him, he became a little defensive, worried she’d misjudged him.

“I promise you I don’t.”

Her laugh erased his defensiveness, it disarmed him completely. “I know.” She grabbed his hand again and gave it a comforting squeeze, “If I’d thought you were just yet another guy, like any other, I wouldn’t have kissed you then.” Those few words soothed his fears and he relaxed in his seat. It seemed like she’d felt it too, that strange, indefinable connection.

Maybe this would work. Maybe his dreams of a future with her weren’t completely naïve.

She was beautiful and he had kissed her. Minor details like what she was called seemed insignificant right then.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The challenge of living with yourself

Right, the 3rd update for the day as promised.

This one's a bit more personal and i've been debating how much to put on here in terms of what i'm thinking about the arguably more important stuff, because i reckon there's a limit to how much i should really share, both for my sake and my reader's.

I've been feeling, for lack of a better term, out of sorts for the longest time now. Most the time not unhappy, just most the time not particularly happy either. I really don't know how to describe it well without sounding melodramatic or making it seem like i'm feeling worse than i am. I guess it feels like i'm waiting, waiting for something that will make all the uncertainty that is inherent in everyone's teenage years seem, i don't know, worthwhile, or maybe just make things make a bit more sense.

I'm not entirely sure what it is though that i'm waiting for. My gut instinct suggests it's romance/a relationship/love/whatever you want to call it, i reckon it's the thing i'm most conscious is missing from my life atm. I have a great group of friends, i like my course and i'm reasonably happy with the career i feel i'm heading for. I've always been hyper aware of romance and relationships, it's just the way i'm wired i guess, but i've always put a much greater importance in relationships and trying to find someone than other people seem to.

Recently though i've been thinking that it's maybe that i'm just more open about it, rather than really so much more eager to meet someone. You see i reckon companionship is one of those primal needs, we're a social species and finding someone to be with in a long term way is surely just the natural conclusion to that particular desire. However admitting that, admitting that you need someone else is kind of scary. A lot of people get scared by the idea of a relationship, of something "serious" because despite as i said earlier being social by nature, we also have a pretty strong instinct for self-preservation and the avoidance of pain, and let's be frank, love and relationships can hurt like a bitch. So life ends up being a sort of balancing act, where we try and weigh up whether another human being might be worth the risk. Most people keep their guard up, have some defences between them and the rest of the world that they instinctively put up when it comes to romance.

Plus it's not considered 'cool' or even all that desirable (believe me that realisation didn't exactly fill me with hope) to be overly keen on relationships, or at least that's the way it seems. Turns out that people seem to want to find someone who's as guarded as them, because someone who's open and maybe a little too keen at times, that scares them away more effectively than having a whole load of trust issues and being unwilling to commit. Go figure.

I do dislike that side of our culture (though maybe it's the same in all cultures), the feeling that really caring about something or someone, loving them, openly, isn't something people want. I hate that being openly passionate is either something which scares people or that gets mocked. So most people try to act cool and indifferent, like in some way if they act like it doesn't matter to them, it won't. But i think that's just denying what's going on. I refuse to believe that people don't want to love and be loved, don't want to be free to be passionate about whatever takes their fancy. Maybe i'm reading too much into it, maybe i'm making sweeping generalisations that no one who reads this will agree with, but it just seems we're all so busy hiding how we feel that we run the risk of missing out on what to me makes life worthwhile.

I don't really have much of a defence system when it comes to girls or romance. I'm a complete and utter hopeless romantic as anyone who really knows me will probably have realised and become sick of. I wrote an 80,000 word story trying to lose myself in a created world of romance and relationships. I threw myself into writing that when i should have been revising for my A-levels. It's of pretty questionable literary quality but i love it mostly just because i managed to focus on something for that long and finished it. I was just putting many of the hopes, fears and dreams i had going on in my head onto the page and it kind of developed into a moderately coherent love story. I struggle a lot of the time with the fact that the life i live every day is quite so far away from even the more modest elements of the narratives i've written and the stories i've read. I write quite a lot of the time as an outlet for that frustration i guess, because as i said earlier, to express those things outside of the world of fiction would make people uncomfortable. (maybe this will, i don't know anymore)

I do find it tough a lot of the time being single, i just don't think i was cut out for it really. But that's the reality of my situation and i'm fully aware that if the worst thing i have to complain about right now is a sucky love life and an irritatingly constant feeling of loneliness then i'm really pretty lucky and life could be a hell of a lot worse.

I know i let it get me down too easily a lot of the time but i just hope it doesn't seem to people that i'm not aware of or grateful for how good my life is in so many ways, espescially in terms of the friends i have. Also despite the down sides to the way i am, i don't think i'd change even if i knew how, so i guess that means i need to start trying to like how i am.

Now i debated for a long time whether to post this, or at least the second half of it. For a start it doesn't exactly paint me in the greatest light and it's also a little bit more intense than i'm going to usually aim for with these blog updates. But if i'm honest with myself anyone that knows me at all properly will have worked out most of these things already and despite everything i'm proud of who i am, even if it hasn't always worked out in my best interests.

If this post seems a little intense, that's because i'm a little intense. If it seems melodramatic, soppy, cheesy, weird, incoherent, that's because i'm all of those things half the time.

So i guess i just hope people can deal with that, because i'm really trying to.


I'm thinking i might post on here a short story i wrote ages ago that i'm quite proud of. Not sure yet though, i'll have a think over the next couple of days.

Angry Students and Indifferent Governments

This is the first of 3 updates I plan to write today, two politically orientated, one more personal.

Today students from all over the country travelled down to London to protest against the proposed raise in tuition fees. By the sounds of it the estimated 30,000 students have protested passionately and for the most part peacefully, though of course as with any big gathering there's been some trouble, which will inevitably get a disproportionate amount of media coverage. The direction of the anger is spread between both parts of the coalition, but there is a definite focus towards Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. I, like many students, especially those who voted for the Liberal Democrats in May partly because of their stance on tuition fees and the importance of higher education being affordable, feel that they have betrayed their principles and their promises with their neatly executed about turn.

There's going to be a lot of attention paid to the trouble and destruction caused by what was a minority (though from the pictures/videos a decent sized minority) of the protesters. I don't support it, it spoils the day for the thousands who wanted to protest peacefully and it gives the media and politicians something to be outraged about rather than focussing on the actual issue. However i struggle to really be annoyed at the instigators of the violence and destruction. They've done it at least partly because they're angry and that's an anger that I share. It's an anger born out of being told by wealthy politicians who never had to pay for their education that we will have to pay higher and higher fees, and face increasing debts, in a university system that is having it's funding dramatically cut to gain a degree which, in the case of many subjects doesn't actually offer particularly promising graduate opportunities. So yeah, students are angry and so we damn well should be.

That anger only intensifies when we see the very same politicians who spoke out against tuition fees, who PROMISED that there wouldn't be a rise, advocating the rise as not only necessary but fair. I saw Nick Clegg speak before the election last may, he came to De Montfort University and there was a genuine sense of hope in the crowd that he might be different, that the message he was selling was one of change and honesty. Thanks to him and the other Liberal Democrats who got on board with the Conservatives quite so eagerly, the perception that politicians are guided more by a desire for power than a desire to help the people has only intensified and become entrenched among a group of young adults who, for many of them, May 2010 was their first involvement in British politics at a national level.

I am not against the coalition in it's entirety, i actually support it as the option that was arguably the one most likely to offer stability and cohesive government after the election. Compromise is undeniably a part of coalition government and I'm sure the Liberal Democrats will do some good things while part of the coalition. But to compromise on what was to a huge swathe of your vote the flagship policy reeks of political manoeuvring and dishonesty.

I didn't go to the protests today for a number of reasons, but there are two that stand out. The second one will be explained in the second update i'll post in a bit, but the first is that deep down i don't believe any amount of protesting by students or the people in general is likely to influence government policy making. In countries like ours, where we elect someone and then sit back and hope they don't do anything too abhorrent during the 5 years in charge, i'm cynical about the likelihood of any progress being made by this protest. My belief in the power of people marching in a democratic country like England was damaged in the wake of February 2003.

On February 15th 2003 between 750,000 and 2 million people (depending on whose estimates you believe) marched in London in an anti-war protest about the imminent Iraq war. I was just starting to become politically aware and i remember watching the news that day and listening to the commentators saying it was one of the biggest public protests the UK had seen and feeling inspired to see that people cared enough to travel across the country and protest. It was democracy in action i thought, an expression of freedom of speech and a clear message to the government.

And it was a message they ignored completely. We went to war, and according to wikileaks over 100,000 people died and a country was torn apart. The masses made their voice heard more clearly and publicly than it had been in a long time and the government just went ahead and did what they wanted anyway.

I'd kept a belief in a protests being worthwhile until this autumn. What finally put paid to that idealism was looking at France. During September and October there were widespread strikes and demonstrations throughout France at a highly unpopular reform of the pension system and a rise in the pension age. Several estimates suggest that on 4 or 5 separate occasions the turnout at the marches all over the country topped 2 million. The strikes saw petrol stations run dry as oil refineries were blockaded and schools blocked off by protesting students. Trash went uncollected in Marseilles for 3 weeks and Charles De Gaulle airport almost ran out of fuel. For the most part public support stayed behind the strikes and demonstrations even as they hit the infrastructure of the country and many felt it was a comment not just on the pension reform but Sarkozy's presidency in general. By most standards it was a well attended, well organised and effective protest.

And what happened?

The reforms were passed in full and eventually people had to go back to work.

People get riled up and protest and i'm glad they do, on a different day i might quite possibly have gone along and protested too. I just struggle to think of many examples i've seen where when it comes to the big, national issues, the protests have made much difference to government policy and that's a shame, but it's a flaw in our democratic system where leaders are only accountable once every 5 years and for the rest of the time we have very little power over them.

Studying politics for the last year and a half has definitely made me more cynical and pessimistic when it comes to politicians, their actions and their intentions.

One thing to come out of the BBC's coverage which suggests something interesting could happen is a plan by students to pressure Clegg into implementing a policy he suggested during his election campaign, of voters being able to recall their MP if they feel he has committed some serious wrong doing (Clegg suggested it after the expenses scandal). The students want him to implement it so that they can then get enough signatures in his own constituency (and my home constituency) of Hallam, in Sheffield, to recall him and have another election for that seat. If this goes ahead, which i think is sadly unlikely as Clegg will probably make the decision he's unpopular enough already that it won't make much difference if he goes back on another promise, it would be a much more effective way in my opinion for voters to make it clear they don't approve of a politicians actions, thus making them surely more accountable.

Taking Clegg's seat in parliament away from him would be a brilliantly damning statement by the public of their opinion on his and his party's actions.

"Only in America..."

If you've read my earlier post you'll know i didn't go to the student protest today for a number of reasons.

One of the major ones why i didn't travel down to the protests today was that i wanted to attend an event held at my university called 'Congress to Campus'. The basic premise was that two former congressmen, Jim Kolbe, a Republican member for Arizona in the House of Representatives from 1985 to 2007, and David Minge, a Democrat member for Minnesota in the House of Representatives from 1993-2001, were going to be taking part in a series of lectures and Q&A sessions throughout the day and i went because i felt it'd be useful for the American politics module this year. I'd been braced for it being a pretty dull experience, one of those educational days where you know you're benefiting from being there but it still doesn't really make you feel any better about sitting there. However if i'm honest i quite enjoyed it, the two congressmen came across very well, and due to them being from different parties, often offered nicely varied opinions on a whole range of issues which came up, from the threat of a nuclear Iran to the Tea Party to the realities of working in Congress and the problem's facing President Obama's remaining two years of presidency.

It inspired me to write down in this blog a couple of the things that i've been wondering about when it comes to the politics of the USA and the conclusions i've come to.

Firstly there is something bordering on the paradoxical about the reaction to Obama's first two years that captures the terrible irony of being leader of the United States. Obama has been slated by the right wing press and the Republican party for being a closet socialist forcing his radical left wing agenda down the throats of hard working white Christian Americans, who, while they were choking on his healthcare bill, he mugged so he could pay for abortions for illegal immigrants and terrorists. Oh and he's apparently a Muslim. And not American. The vitriolic abuse he has come in for is to those of us, like me, more used to the relatively subdued conditions of British politics, bordering on terrifying. By attempting to expand healthcare and use a stimulus package to save the American economy from a depression of 1930's proportions he has made himself a target for the entire of conservative America, and alienated huge swathes of American's who loathe government intervention in their lives. He is seen as having done too much, been too aggressive in forcing bills through that the right wing perceive to be not just against the will and consensus of the American people, but actively anti-American. The right wing of America is also doing a genuinely impressive job of ignoring the fact that most of the problems they are now blaming on him, were actually created by the Republican Party and Obama is having to try and clear up their mess.

However left wing commentators and liberal voters feel instead he has done too little, too many of the promises he made during his campaign have failed to be followed through on so far and the liberal left are getting restless waiting. In my opinion that impatience seems to display a staggering ignorance of just how inefficient the American political system is. Because of the separation of powers and the checks and balances laid in place by the constitution it is not as simple as the President wanting something done and getting it done. He has to appease all sides of his own party, both in the Senate and the House of Representatives, and at least try to tempt some of the opposition in to support any bill he wants passed. Creating a bill which will be passed by both houses of Congress is an incredibly delicate and intricate act, yet a lot of people seem to expect Obama just to wave a magic wand and solve all the problems facing America today.

That's not to say Obama has done a great job so far, or couldn't have done more, it's just that it strikes me he was in a no win position from the moment he took office. He'd made a rod for his own back with his euphoric, change promising campaign, and was never going to be able to satisfy all the demands of his party within the first two years of being in office, yet to do less than that seems to be considered failure. And no matter what he did the Republican Party and their increasingly partisan mouthpieces like Fox News were going to attack him and his policies and pretend that the Republican's hold all the answers rather than being the cause of most of the problems.

The other big issue in American Politics is the Tea Party, a collection of like minded extremely right wing conservative Americans who have managed to gain large public support and media attention by advocating small government and huge spending cuts. They are portrayed as a grass roots organisation, spontaneously springing up all over the US in response to Obama's perceived aggressive expansion of state power, spending and control. There is a genuine element of it being a collection of small, localised groups campaigning under a national banner rather than a centralised organisation. However with the rise in media interest and growing involvement of Republican figures (though Tea Party members have been highly critical of much of the Bush administrations actions) it is a serious power as shown by the recent victories in the mid-term elections.

Third Party movements in American politics regularly spring up, full of passion and vigour and often capture the media and elements of the public's attention for a while, but they tend to fade out over time, largely because the Republican and Democrat parties are so heavily established and engrained within American politics that it's very tough for any third party to gather the staying power and support needed to threaten the status quo in the long term. I'm not sure whether the Tea Party will grow and grow or fade away once the economy improves and the anger about the deficit begins to die down, i don't know enough about the specifics of the situation and it didn't seem either congressman i listened to earlier knew either what to predict.

I suspect the more lasting legacy of the Tea Party will be the politicians it thrusts into the limelight like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, as well as the added attention it has given to Sarah Palin.

Overall i'm finding the American Politics module really interesting, and it's had the added and slightly unexpected affect of making me grateful for the political system we have in the UK, despite all it's flaws.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Meeting the mother

Sadly this isn't a post about the awkwardness of meeting a girl's parents. That's a scenario i'm yet to experience. Instead it's a post about something i know arguably a little too well.

How I Met Your Mother.

Right now this and Spooks are the only shows I almost compulsively HAVE to watch as soon as a new episode is shown, and Spooks cheats by ending every episode with a ridiculous cliff hanger which means I lose any element of conscious choice. HIMYM (not a huge fan of abbreviations but in this case it will save time) on the other hand rarely uses cliff hangers, unless you count the legendary carry over between seasons 2 and 3. Despite that, without fail as soon as a new episode is shown i find a way to watch it.

For anybody who hasn't seen it yet, and i'd advise you give it a try if you haven't, HIMYM hinges on architect Ted Moseby recounting, in detail, how he met the mother of his two children to those same, increasingly exasperated children. In reality it is merely a plot device to see Ted and his group of friends' experiences as they become fully fledged adults, with all the relationships, uncertainty and pressures that come with it.

I love the show. I love the characters. I love the plots. I love the one liners (especially the lines Barney, played brilliantly by Neil Patrick Harris, delivers).

It has been pointed out to me, and it hadn't completely escaped my notice previously, that i have some things in common with the central character Ted. I guess that plays a pretty major role in my affection for the show, he's a central character who I find it all too easy to relate to; the hopes, neuroses and confusion are all very familiar. There's also the fact that we share an attitude that we'd be quite happy if the next girl we met was 'the one' rather than feeling any real need to play the field or whatever other cliché you want to use.

I was given series one and two on DVD for my 20th birthday and there's two episodes in that first season which are the reason i initially fell in love with the show.

First is an episode called "The Pineapple Incident" focussing on what happens when Barney get's Ted drunk to stop him over-thinking. The results are in places hysterically funny but it was the jokes about how Ted needed to stop thinking and just act that made me relate to him; anyone who knows me will know that there are times where I really could do with thinking a little less.

The second episode is the series one finale and as I don't want to give the plot away i won't say too much, but the combination of a big, stupid romantic moment and a heart breaking moment in the final 5 minutes, to a soundtrack of 'This Modern Love' by Bloc Party was pretty much guaranteed to make me a fan.

I have mixed feelings about actually meeting the mother. On the one hand I have no real desire to see the show end, while I still await each new episode with genuine anticipation there's a part of me that just wants it to go on and on. Also I can't help but fear that the mother will turn out to be a bit of an anti climax. After all the women and stories that have preceded her during the show's run she's going to have to be something pretty special to justify the wait and for it to truly work as a conclusion. The second half of season 5 and the first few episodes of season 6 have given the audience a few more clues to the mother's identity and we've met her flatmate (Rachel Bilson, who I kind of wish could have been the mother) so it seems the end may not be too far away though they've still not committed themselves to any kind of time frame for revealing her.

The other side though is that many shows go on for too many seasons and end up spoiling their own legacy rather than going out on a high. So far the consistency of the show (now over 100 episodes in) has been really good and it would be a real shame if they dragged the concept out to the point where the quality threshold started to slip. Also I am excited to find out who the mother is and I have pretty high hopes that it will be a suitably epic romance between her and Ted, the kind which I am a complete sucker for.

So i guess that leaves me anticipating the end but in no rush to get there.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

"It's just a story"

When something matters to someone, like a book or a film or a tv show, and they get worked up about it, become passionate about it, one of the most annoying things it is possible for someone to say is

"It's just a story."

They say it to rubbish the passion the person feels, to mock them for having it mean so much, dismiss it as unimportant because it is fiction rather than fact. The biggest flaw with this is that they are suggesting that stories are somehow inferior and don't matter.

But stories do matter. They can change a persons outlook, change their day/week/month/year. Whether it's a relationship on a TV show, or the narrative of a book, or a dramatic moment in a play or film, it can matter. It can affect you deep down in a way that reality rarely manages to. We live most of our lives in relative mundanity, and there's nothing wrong with this, but stories offer an escape, a vicarious thrill, allowing us to dream of a life different to the one that faces you when you open your eyes in the morning. We can lose ourselves in a story, care about the characters with a degree of passion that takes us by surprise. We love them, we hate them, we pity them, we judge them for their mistakes and praise them for their successes. They can move us to act, move us to take a step we might not have taken without their inspiration. Stories can provoke a person to realise their feelings for someone, take a risk they wouldn't have taken, stand up for what they believe is right. fiction it may be, but it sometimes can mean more to us than fact, the novelists, screenwriters and playwrights understand this, they are performing a valuable service, because the world would be a much darker place without stories to brighten it.

And there's also the stories told by word of mouth, the 'you'll never guess what happened', the 'i can't believe they're doing this', the 'we have to change this', the 'and then they did' stories which are passed from one person to another, whether simply told by one friend to another as they walk to school, focussing on last nights 'fun' or told by a political speaker to the masses in front of them, provoking, inspiring and challenging them to believe. They're all stories. From the "Well last night, i was in plug and you'll never guess who i saw kissing..." story to the "I have a dream" story, we cherish these little insights into another persons life, these little escapes from our own.

Look at it this way, we've come a long way in the last 2000 years, we've moved from caves to houses, we have cars, planes, computers, TVs, we've moved beyond waving sticks at each other and we have a much wider choice in fashion, but one thing hasn't changed. we still gather around the proverbial fire to listen to a story.

So to sum up this little ramble, stories matter and don't let anyone make you believe anything else.

Musings on music

Many may argue it's medicine. Others may claim that it's planes. Some may suggest the internet. Probably a lot would say it was fire. But for me the advancement that i am most grateful for in the course of humanity is the moment when some caveman or woman, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, started banging two bones together and decided that they liked the way the beat affected them.

I am of course talking about music. I know in the grand scheme of things it may not be the greatest discovery made my mankind, that other things have improved the quality and length of our lives much more. But i struggle to think of one thing which improves my life more in terms of a man made affect. I'm ignoring stuff like love and friendship, which top it, because i don't believe we had a choice. It is human nature to fall in love and try and surround ourselves with friends. I reckon we had a choice with music, someone, somewhere, sometime discovered that by creating sounds they could find enjoyment.

Pretty much every civilisation to exist has had music; most human beings will at some point in their life hear some form of music. Whether they're checking out the latest release of their favourite band on spotify or itunes, or listening to the tribal drumming of the elders of their tribe, their lives will encounter and in most cases be enriched by music.

From a personal point of view music is my inspiration and my saviour. I've never found any interest in religion, drink can dull the pain occasionally i guess, but it is music that can lift me out of the deepest of depressions. Whether by listening to lyrics which remind me that i am not alone in feeling this pain or by hearing a riff or drum line which fills me so completely as to make thinking about whatever has got me down impossible. It brings me back to the surface when it feels a hell of a long way away.

I'm a melodramatic chap (as anyone who knows me has probably grasped) and for me music is the soundtrack, the cause, the catalyst and the cure for most things in my life.

Music has the power to inspire in me the most intense happiness, a kind of comfort and bliss which people strive all their life to discover. There've been times during my teenage years when i fought through hours of school i didn't want to endure, only to hear that final bell, stick my ipod in and forget for a time anything else. Lose myself in a piece of music and stop caring about my teenage dramas.

I've got a corkboard full of gig tickets in my room, and every piece of paper reminds me of happy memories, nights spent in the company of great friends and great music. Memories of dancing to songs without a care in the world for the fact that i am one of the worst dancers ever to grace the planet. Memories of singing along to songs i know every word of, that mean more to me than a few well chosen words and guitar chords.

I made a kind of collage on one of my walls of a bunch of CD sleeves and i've never been more pleased with an attempt to decorate my room because every time i look at it it makes me smile for the same reasons that the cork board does. Those albums have so many memories wrapped up in them, so much emotion and importance that it seems only fitting that it decorates one of the walls of my room.

It is a rare scenario where music is not in someway involved in my life. If i'm in my room then i will have music on, unless i'm watching a film or it's the 15 minutes before i fall asleep. If i'm out on my own then i'll have my ipod in. If i'm with friends then there is almost certainly some set of lyrics or some section of tune bouncing around my head. When i run, i run without an ipod, but i find my breathing ends up being in time with the song filling my mind.

I analyse everything, try to find meaning in every miniscule moment, and often, due to the less desirable aspects of my personality, i find reasons to be sad in most things. But music, it frustrates that side of me. Even the most depressing song moves me in a way that i find impossible to view as negative. I fell in love with music at an early age and it's a love that's lasted, without a sign of faltering or fading.

One reason behind my certainty that no matter what else happens in my life, i will still love music, is the fact that is limitless. It is a constantly evolving thing, every day someone somewhere picks up an instrument for the first time, with dreams of creating something that someone might enjoy.

Sadly i was never gifted with much potential for creating music, but i will accept my failings as a creator so long as i can continue to enjoy listening to it so much. The list of things that matter to me as much as music can literally be listed on one hand, and that is a testament in itself to it's importance.

There's a quote from a song that annabel once told me about, a quote that i believe means quite a lot to her, which seems kind of fitting as an ending note here.

"music is my first love, it will always be my last"

Have to start somewhere and re-visiting my childhood seems as good a place as any

After being told countless times over the first few weeks of this term that as an aspiring journalist I should start a blog, I've caved into peer pressure and started one. I guess it's good practice and it'll be an interesting test of whether I have the focus and willingness to keep going with it after the initial novelty has passed, but only time will tell with that one i guess. I hope i manage to keep writing new entries, but I have to admit it is definitely a fault of mine that i tend to lose interest in things far too quickly after a previous intense burst of attention.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to revisit a fairly cherished part of my childhood. Me and my flatmate Jonners watched 'Where the Wild Things Are', the 2009 film directed and co-written by Spike Jonze adapted from one of my favourite books from my early childhood. The story, originally written and beautifully illustrated by Maurice Sendak , focusses on a young boy named Max, who after being sent to his room for bad behaviour, escapes to an imaginary world inhabited by fearsome looking monsters who eventually befriend him. The idea is wonderfully simple yet hugely enjoyable, it taps into every child's (and let's be honest most teenagers and adults) wish that they could escape to a world they created, without parents or rules and with creatures and events that conform to their own wishes.

It's one of the few stories i remember with real clarity from my childhood, one which the mere mention of the title often can make me smile, so when i heard there was to be a film version of it, the fan of the book and the film snob in me both baulked at the idea of a film adaptation. Like with any form of art that is held dear to someone, the idea of someone else, who might not appreciate what makes it so subjectively brilliant to an individual, tampering with and potentially sullying the memory of the piece is rarely welcome.

I sat down to watch the film, braced to dislike it and already coming up with scathing comments about just how bad a decision it was by Jonze to even attempt to make this film. I definitely think doing Film Studies at A-Level has made me more cynical about films than I ever used to be but that's a blog for another time.

Thankfully though, not only was my pessimism unnecessary, it was highly unfair. The film managed to capture the childish escapism of the book pretty much perfectly; the surreal touches, the bizzare yet somehow familiar characters, the spectacular scenery. It was all there, loyal to the book yet adding it's own take on it. That's not to say it's a classic, it's a very good film that probably falls just short of being a great one because, ironically when considering my intense love for it, of the limitations of the source material. It's a brilliant story, undoubtedly one of my favourites even after all these years, but it's a short story, merely 48 pages long, and that doesn't really leave a huge amount of scope for a feature length film. At an hour and 40 minutes it is as long as the concept could have been sustained for, anything longer than that and there'd have had to be a lull in a plot that is moderately serene, if a little unpredictable, already. Also the character's, as figments of Max's imagination, though far from simplistic, are limited. Apart from Carol, the wild thing Max befriends most intensely, the wild things each almost have one individual characteristic, almost reminiscent of the seven dwarves in that there is the angry one, the quiet one, the kind one, the wise one and so on. This works well within the context but is another example of Jonze working within the limitations of the source material and maybe not being able to give the supporting cast the depth and complexity of character that would make this film great. But then again perhaps it simply isn't a story that needs complicating and so should be acknowledged for maintaining the childlike feel throughout, both in terms of characterisation, visuals and narrative.

Overall i can definitely allow Spike Jonze to continue to live, he did a very good job of turning my favourite short story into a beautifully imagined film.

With the upcoming film version(s) of 'The Hobbit' to look forward to/fear, I hope that Peter Jackson pulls off a Jonze and manages to make a successful adaptation of a pretty damn important source text.

Hopefully i'll be writing again soon.