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Because You Are Actually Worth It…

How’s the new regime going?

The “new you” that you promised yourself last year? Not good? Don’t despair! You’re not alone.

Part of what makes it tough is that you’re never quite sure if it’s worth it. Deep down we suspect that life is, in fact, a genetic lottery. You can take the very best care of yourself and still drop dead at forty or you can abuse your body and still be hauling your scraggy carcass around nightclubs well into your sixties. Bruce Lee has been dead for years and Peter Stringfellow is still laughing on his speedboat with his stupid mane of hair and his big grey tits flapping in the breeze…it’s understandably galling. It makes no sense. But the very reason these quirks of nature are so visible is precisely because they shirk expectation. So don’t be fooled – it is still worth it.

Pile of glossy magazines - photo: bravenewtravelerAnd yes it’s hard. Until you actually try to get fit and stay that way you’ll have no concept of how hard, as an adult, it is. No concept mainly because you’ve been misled by magazines. Magazines that promise that you can “drop 2 dress sizes in 2 weeks”. Which of course you “can” – if you have violent dysentery or if you exist on rainwater and your own toenails, but you can’t do it safely, healthily or permanently.

Don’t be fooled by magazines’ supposed examples to prove it’s true. “LOOK EVERYONE here’s healthy happy Kerry Katona doing it and surely she eats food from Iceland”. She’s on the prawn ring / profiteroles diet. Scant weeks later she’ll be back in the same magazine under the headline “Belly Fatona lets herself go – nation fears for her health”

For the magazines it’s a circus, a fairground hall of mirrors which has really nothing to do with health and everything to do with bikinis.

If you’ve had kids it’s even worse:
They’ll have articles about supermodel mothers proclaiming they were back in their size zero jeans a quarter Old magazine advert for deodarant and slimming.  Photo: Nessterof an hour after giving birth to massive triplets and before the placenta came out: ready to wow the paparazzi and presumably the midwives in tiny blood drenched denim. As if society is really standing in the maternity ward with a stop-watch and a little black dress, desperate to make you feel inadequate. Talk about a “bloody show”.
And it’s just as bad for the boys, worse perhaps because men don’t want to be thin, not really, they want to be “ripped”. Men’s magazines guarantee “a six pack in six days” which is barely enough time to read this article, let alone grow the chiseled abs of He-Man in time for the summer. They’re just SELLING YOU STUFF really, for every decent article on running plans there are a hundred trying to sell you ever bigger jars of creatine or “luminous solar powered GPS sweatbands” or spray-on hair. Page after page of deeply unconvincing before and after pictures. Men who look like they’ve been painted orange and are just “breathing in” alongside their “old selves”. Men who have painted the bald patch with shoe polish and now “get all the girls”.
And although we can laugh at the obviousness of this trick the glossy magazines are doing exactly the same thing – only better.

And when you realise that it can’t be done as quickly as you’d hoped it can take the wind out of your sails. So there is a period of adjustment where you have to realign your expectations, where you realise that unless you do it slowly and sensibly it can never be a permanent thing, that actually it’s not about a concentrated effort in order to look good for a specific occasion but it’s a change of lifestyle forever. Or at least a good long time. For that you need the support of friends and the advice of people that have done it.

As far as I’m concerned the best thing you can do is reduce your intake of processed rubbish and stop buying these magazines.

Art of the Poster

As a teen, I’d presume like most teens, my bedroom walls were covered by posters. Blue-tacked images of my sporting, musical and motion picture heroes festooned my sleeping quarters, long before I had any understanding of art as decoration. They were badges, rather than aesthetic tokens – a display of my favour for certain cultural markers. As an adult, I’ve gained an appreciation for an art form that could adorn the home of both my adolescent and mature self: the gig poster.

The playbill isn’t a new concept by any means. Think of the Victorian printed sheets, with lists of acts in varying type and sizes depending on their prominence in the running order. By the punk rock era, home-made posters appeared that reflected the pathos of the movement. Out of necessity, they were cheaply made, utilizing newly available methods like Letraset, to promote smaller gigs, rather than large, professional concerts.

Today, there is a rich, growing community of artists, carving their own niche in the world as gig poster designers. Posters, as a creative endeavour, have advanced to a point where they no longer only fulfil their original role as entirely promotional material, but are now desirable works of art in their own right. Although not quite at the level of T-shirts or hoodies as gig merchandise, increasingly, well designed, limited edition prints have become collectable. “I think people are becoming more aware of the art form,” Drew Millward, a prominent gig poster figure, told us.

Glyn Smyth, professionally known as Scrawled, agrees it is emerging from its underground roots, but not quite yet in the wider public consciousness, in the UK at least. “It’s still very much a niche concern,” he said, “and still only of passing interest to the average music fan. I think it’s still more of a Stateside thing.”

'Wolves In The Throne Room' by Glyn Smyth

At this point, I must confess a degree of self interest. For those that don’t know me or haven’t read the blurb, I am an experienced graphic designer who, in the course of his career, has created the occasional gig poster. Let me be clear, I’m in no way putting myself on the same pedestal as some of the other artists I here mention, because apart from being great art what sells a poster is the name. I could spend hours name dropping recognized bands, but suffice to say from Beck to The Beastie Boys, and from Sonic Youth to Scissor Sisters, which might give you some idea of their cultural significance. My success so far has been limited to the smaller end of the scale, although I count a few recognizable names, such as Grandaddy front man Jason Lytle and emerging British band Pulled Apart By Horses.

What inspired this article was a browse around a trendy Edinburgh clothes shop – the type that also sells over priced sweets and coffee table books. On display were copies of Gigposters Volume 2 – an A3 collection of prints and artist profiles, gathered from the best talent on I am a member of the site, and although my work does not feature in this book or its predecessor many artists of my acquaintance do. I stood in slight awe and marvelled that this was the level it had reached.

This attractive tome aside, at their peak, venues like Madison Square Garden may commission a beautiful, not merely functional piece of poster design, but its roots are firmly planted in local pubs, bars and clubs. “Putting on shows got me into poster design,” said Drew. “We needed posters, so I doodled some. They sucked, but it got me interested in drawing.” This home-made approach is a nod back to the DIY origins of the movement, and it’s how most established poster artists started. From small acorns, as they say. In Drew’s career he has worked for the likes of The Black Keys and Flight of the Conchords. Great oaks indeed.

'The Black Keys' by Drew Millward

The community is large and widespread, with literally thousands of artists on gigposters alone. But thousands of gigs occur every week, and the promotion for most is merely functional. The number that utilize this art form is tiny. There are certain venues and certainly a number of bands who encourage gig poster artists. American artist Rob Jones famously created a series of posters for the White Stripes, accompanying their Under Great White Northern Lights box set, for which he received a Grammy Award for best packaging design. He has also worked extensively for singer Jack White’s other band, The Raconteurs. Satisfied customers always come back.

Partially this close relationship is out of practical considerations – the band need to promote their gig – but a large part is due to a real appreciation for the art form: that’s the explanation as to why many of the same band names crop up often. “Some bands will commission them because they are passionate about art,” said Drew. ‘They strive to have a visual identity to the music they create; others will do it as a way of getting some extra merchandise and subsidising their dwindling income from record sales.’

For the artist it is also a means to an end, although, as most would agree, by no means a cash cow. “More than seeing them as particularly lucrative themselves,” Glyn summarized, ‘I see gig posters as oversized business cards.” As Drew Millward more directly put it “When people question you for selling a hand drawn, hand printed, limited edition, screen printed poster for £10, you know it’s not something that has fully seeped into the public consciousness just yet.”

They’re a beautiful, collectable piece of advertising, for both the band and the artist. The culture hasn’t yet reached a stage where a decent living can be made by aspiring designers. It is just another tool at their disposal.

Aside from the prestige, promotion and minor financial reasons, many artists create merely for the love of it, and to be part of a supportive and sympathetic collective. In addition to Gigposters, Flatstock – a regular international expo of poster work – and Poster Roast for example, offer a structure to their exploits. With this kind of networking, and their continuing emergence, it can’t be long before the art form is regarded as highly as the music it accompanies.

Other than the artists featured, also check out the work of Luke Drozd, We Three Club, Graham D. Pilling, and my own, humble efforts here.

Mums vs Business

I belong to an online group for photographers, and recently the conversation turned to starting to charge . The comments were supportive and fun until somebody decided to butt in and tell us what he really thinks of people who suddenly decide to become a photographer while on maternity leave. He claimed that stay-at-home mums steal the clients from him (and the other ‘professionals’).Child using a toy camera

So what is so annoying about a woman deciding to change her career path and give her talents a chance, to bring in some extra money and to spend some time in the world outside nappies and projectile vomiting?

One of the arguments is that it’s not really possible to change career and skills overnight. I changed from teaching to photography, and it took long evenings of reading tons of tutorials, lots of patience, even more practice, expensive gear, and even more expensive computer programmes.

I would never claim I’m a photographer without all the preparation and confidence that I can provide my clients with the quality photos that they paid for. And all my preparation, learning and shooting takes place next to cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, shopping,  and taking care of my 3.5 yr old daughter.

I’m not complaining about life and my responsibilities, I’m just stating the fact that being a Mum doesn’t mean women can’t achieve success on a new career path. When a mum goes back to her previous work after having a baby and continues to gain experience and climbs up the business ladder not many people will claim she is rubbish, purely because she is now a mother.

But when a stay-at-home mum starts a new career, making the effort to learn a new skill from scratch, devoting all her free time (there’s not much of it, trust me) on practice and spends some savings to get needed equipment, then this mum is considered a time-waster and unqualified person.

I’ve seen thousands of photos, thousands of photography related websites and designs, and it just so happens that the ones I liked the most were those of women who became photographers/digital designers alongside their maternity status.

One of the things I love the most about their work is the difference between their first photo they took of their baby and the one they took just 5 months later on someone’s wedding as a booked photographer. The transition and development is so outstanding in many cases that I don’t understand why there is any doubt about their skills.

Does it really matter how many years that person was in the business or how many degrees that person can flash in front of our eyes? When we pay for a service isn’t it the end product that we want? And if it happens to satisfy a group of clients, stands out from the crowd and is done by a mum, is that a problem?

We have to give mums more credit for trying to go out there and make a difference in their life. Most of us find our true talents, hobbies and business ideas during those long sleepless nights nursing our babies. Mums starting something new are not trying to take shortcuts and pretend they know stuff. They will put double amount of energy into everything they do. Because that’s what mothers do in life, whatever they do.

Quick Reviews: Real Life, Alive…

Every week, one of our writers will be given five tracks – they could be unsigned, they could be international superstars.  Any genre could be included, and the writer gets one week to give their verdict on each song in under 100 words.  This week, Janice Jong takes her turn.  If you like what you hear, click on the band names to visit their website, and if you want your music to be included in the future, send an MP3, picture, short bio and link to

Wirescan, Amps, from the Album VectorWIRESCAN – “Amps”

I’m not usually a fan of electronica, but this track was a pleasant surprise.  It is a cheery song with a sunny disposition that reminded me of ‘80’s music without being cheesy.  At first, I thought this would be great music to play in the background at a party, but my kids both loved the track and it got them dancing – it’s definitely fit for centre stage.   This track is the perfect length – it is interesting the entire way through and there are no slow bits, even without any vocals.

Jo Hamilton – “Alive, Alive”

Jo Hamilton has a beautiful, haunting voice.  She sings like a human cello, with clarity and emotion.  I loved the first thirty seconds of this track where Jo Hamilton reminded me of k.d. lang with her soulful lyrics and serious temperament.  Then, the beautiful sounds were invaded with otherworldly alien noises.  This ruined the track for me – as soon as the strange sounds started, the piece took on a cartoonish quality and the delicate emotional balance was destroyed.  I found myself unable to focus on the lyrics – I could only hear the invasive sounds.  I kept thinking about Bjork and outer space and the entire experience was ruined.  Pity.

Pepper – “Running Rings”

This is a song that I would turn up to full volume in the car.  It is also a song that I would be tired of listening to after a couple of weeks.   (Ahhh…such is my fickle nature.)

“Running Rings” is a high-energy pop track with a repetitive and pervasive raw acoustic guitar backing.  It has a slightly angry vibe that showcases Pepper’s gorgeous voice as it intertwines with the choppy guitar.   Our local pop radio station loves to play chipper tracks like this; it would fit right in to their regular playlist.

Padraig Whelan – “Off & On”Padraig Whelan writing in the dark

I wanted to like this track.  It is exactly the kind of music I love to listen to – a folksy-slow track sung by a man with an interesting voice.  Problem is, I found the song boring.  At full volume, it barely seeped into my consciousness, the music and lyrics did not pique my interest, and the emotional effect of the track was entirely benign.  I loved the relaxed feel of the song and Whelan’s smooth voice with the pared down band and clean guitar notes.  It was just so boring…

Alonestar feat. Ed Sheeran – “Real Life”

Listening to hip-hop, rap or urban music of any sort is way out of my element, so I was not sure what to expect from Alonestar.  My impression of this track is that it is hip-hop “lite” – it is not particularly gritty or tough.  The “Real Life” lyrics are appropriate for an after-school special, with a peppy and utterly unconvincing hook about how “this is the real life and it will only get harder…” This track reminds me of the only old school rap I had any contact with – Will Smith in his “Fresh Prince” days.  It is easy to listen to and not offensive.

The Benefits of Hypnotherapy in Chronic Illness

Mind-body interactions include the techniques of relaxation, meditation, music therapy, hypnotherapy and other complementary therapies. Many of us have used some of these techniques to help with a single symptom such as anxiety, stress, or to quit smoking. In chronic illness such as cancer, patients often present with a complex pattern of symptoms, including anxiety, pain and sleep disturbance.Figure dancing within the shape of a head, to represent the inner self

Hypnotherapy in particular, has proven benefits in smoking cessation, weight control and treating phobias. But it is also useful in maintaining a positive outlook on life, mainly by changing perceptions. Shortly after my mother died from lung cancer, her hypnotherapist and I wrote a short article on the benefits of hypnotherapy in chronic and terminal illness. This was first published in the newsletter of the Spirit Fitness Club, Guildford. I reproduce part of the article below (Hypnotherapy with Stephen Rigby), by kind permission of Stephen Rigby.  We felt that there was more to write, however, and I have been looking into recent research papers* to further substantiate our (largely) anecdotal evidence, and to show that there is good evidence for the use of complementary therapies in patients with chronic illness.

The Marie Curie Cancer Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne, published a small pilot study, looking at the role of hypnotherapy in the palliative care setting, by relieving stress and helping patients to cope with their illness and the prospect of dying. The audit established the demand for a hypnotherapy service, and the practicalities of providing such a service in a busy centre. It also identified the benefits of hypnotherapy, as perceived by patients and therapist. The study was conducted over 5 months, involving just eleven clients (seven staff and four patients), using questionnaires. The main findings were a unanimous positive coping and relaxation benefit, with 82% of clients reporting it had assisted in improving the presenting problem, and 91% felt it had been of benefit in general. Similar findings were published in 2008, where mind-body therapies, not just hypnotherapy, were found to improve cancer survivorship. Two studies carried out more recently further suggest strategies and methods for the use of hypnosis in complex oncology.

Other studies have looked at the role of integrative complementary therapies, including mind-body techniques, on specific cancer-related neuropathic pain, a complex physical and psychosocial pain; indeed in all types of chronic pain, hypnotherapy is shown to be effective on a variety of pain outcomes.

Another aspect of cancer treatment is the sleep disturbance many patients experience. Hypnotherapy can effectively help manage the pain-sleep disturbance cycle in people with cancer, by helping with relaxation. A good night’s sleep is fundamental to well-being, for both patients and families. A report in 2010 found that further studies on mind-body interactions in the treatment of complex sleep disturbance could help patients with all aspects of the pain-fatigue-sleep disturbance cluster.

In a specific case of the management of leukaemia, researchers found that patients were looking for complementary therapies to be used in conjunction with traditional cancer treatments to reduce side-effects of the drugs, or as a coping mechanism during treatments. In this study mind-body interactions such as self-hypnosis, meditation and breath awareness such as is practised in yoga, massage and reflexology, acupuncture, and a healthy diet and exercise were analysed and found to be useful for these patients. Just a word of caution here, botanical extracts and vitamin supplements may interfere with cancer treatment, so ask before using these.

And finally, in a randomized trial of mind-body interactions on a positive/negative effect during breast cancer radiotherapy, forty women were randomized to receive either cognitive-behavioural therapy and hypnosis or standard care, and their analysis showed a reduction in the negative effect and an increased positive effect, which was significantly more intense. Patients receiving this therapy also had significantly more positive days during their treatment, and the authors conclude that mind-body interaction therapies have the potential to significantly improve the experience of women breast cancer patients receiving radiotherapy.

It seems obvious to me that these complementary approaches together with traditional cancer treatment should be more widely offered to patients during treatment, both as outpatient chemotherapy and radiotherapy patients, but also as inpatients in hospital. Sometimes, as a cancer patient, despite all your best efforts, a hospital stay is necessary. That in itself is traumatic, but it shouldn’t have to be without complementary therapy too. By writing this blog, I am hoping to raise awareness of the possibilities, and to encourage patients and their families to ask for more help along the cancer journey. It can make life so much easier.

*You can search the Pubmed database for these and many more science and medicine topics.

Heal Thyself - Eastern StyleHypnotherapy with Stephen Rigby
Ask somebody how they feel about being hypnotised and you will get a wide range of responses – fear being one of them.  Yet, without knowing it, everyone reading this article is likely to utilise the hypnotic state every time they visit the gym – that music you hear may be just music but it helps you to get into “the zone” of heightened performance.  I am a hypnotherapist and I use hypnosis in conjunction with other therapeutic techniques to teach my clients how to utilise that high performance state to overcome habits, fears, weight issues, anxieties; it even helps with some medical problems (like Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Not surprisingly hypnotherapy can also be useful for improving sports performance and over the years, I have been asked by professional and Olympic standard athletes to help them improve their game.

How does hypnosis work?
Maybe because of the misrepresentation of hypnosis on stage, screen and literature the most frequent question I am asked is “How does it work?”  The goal of all therapy is to create a new perspective; hypnotherapy achieves this by helping us build new mental pathways.  Hypnotherapy is far more effective than other forms of therapy because it is extremely efficient at achieving perspective changes.  Where people may attend other forms of therapy for months on end, I expect most people to get the change they want within four sessions using hypnotherapy.

In this first article, I am going to talk about how hypnotherapy helped one lovely lady change her perspective on life.  Vivienne, the lady in question, is the late mother of Lesley Beeton, one of the members at the Spirit.  Here is what Lesley says about how hypnotherapy helped Vivienne.

Lesley talks about how hypnotherapy helped
“Mom was extremely ill and there was no cure for her cancer. She was very afraid of her diagnosis, devastated by the prognosis, and felt unable to see any positives in her life. We knew that Mom needed to come to terms with her disease, to decide how to live the rest of her life, and to tell the clinical teams how she wanted to be treated. I asked Stephen to work with Mom when conventional anti-depressant therapy was withdrawn and she was not offered any counselling. Stephen adopted a personalised approach to Mom’s needs. She was very fragile and cried a lot during the initial sessions, but she seemed much calmer to us almost from the beginning. Mom learnt to trust Stephen and enjoyed the one-to-one time, working hard to change her perspective as her disease progressed. Although she never understood how hypnotherapy worked, she acknowledged that without it she would never have achieved the insight and focus to make informed choices about dying at home or plan her funeral. She was calm and at peace, happy to be alive each day, right up until the end. On the day she died, Mom declined all drug interventions and passed away quietly at home, pain-free and in her own time.”

Peace and quiet
Most chronic illnesses, including cancer and heart disease, are complex – having more than one cause and often more than one treatment. The medical teams work very hard to treat the disease but often the patient gets trapped on a medical ‘treadmill’ without the peace and quiet they need to consider their own needs.  Patients suffering with these serious conditions also have all the small niggles that rest of us do – headache, stomach upset, coughs and colds, dental pain, period pain etc, and it’s often these small things which can really bring a person down. So there is a real benefit in investing early on in diagnosis in a plan for managing ongoing symptoms, medical interventions and the emotional side effects of chronic illness – hypnotherapy can help with this.

Holidays or Truancy?

A leak from Department for Education has suggested that Michael Gove, Education Secretary, will ban the discretionary up to 2 weeks leave of absence that Head Teachers are permitted to grant during term time, according to the Telegraph. Apparently, this will help cut down on truancy.Rows of empty desks in a classroom.  Photo: evemaiden

Ostensibly this leave of absence is supposed to be for cases of illness, bereavement and bad weather, but is regularly used by parents to take holidays during term time, when it is cheaper. According to a survey by the website,

Prices increase by up to 42 per cent for a family of four taking a two-week trip to the Algarve during the school holidays.’ 

The justification in this draconian measure is that it will stop parents putting pressure on Head Teachers to authorised holiday absences. As a parent myself, with a child about to start School in September, this is something of great interest to me.

So what are the arguments for and against this move?

Arguments for :

There are holiday periods built in to the school calendar so you should take your holidays then.

If you can’t afford a holiday abroad during the holidays you should set your sights lower and go camping in the lakes instead.

Nobody NEEDS a holiday. It is not a human right to have one.

It disrupts the education process.

Arguments against:

It will have no affect on persistent truants. They are the ones who bump up the figures, whose parents never even ask permission anyway.

The biggest cause absence was due to illness, not holidays! Perhaps we should be banning sick days instead as that will have a bigger effect on attendance?

Again it is an attack on impoverished families. I think it sends a very clear message that poor people shouldn’t have holidays. I would argue they need it more, just a week where a family who is struggling day to day can have some quality time together just having fun.

It will affect people who have family abroad. Families generally don’t schedule weddings, birthdays, bereavements and other family events around the school holidays. It may be only time parents can afford to take their children to see overseas families is during term time. Certainly, this is something that I have experience of, seeing that I am half Spanish and my Dad lives in Spain.

Some parents may struggle to get time off work during the holidays, especially if others in their workplace are all wanting time off then – this is something my husband struggles with.

The holiday companies share some of the blame with the ridiculous hikes they put on holidays during the school holidays. Even campsites charge premium rates for pitches during the holidays. The argument is that they are there to make money and it is all about supply and demand. Surely though, if they offered cheaper holidays then more people would go?

To illustrate a typical price rise, I picked a popular UK holiday company, it has caravan parks all over the county. I priced up a 4 night stay for 2 adults and 2 children, in a one up from basic caravan, in a park on the Yorkshire coast.

For week commencing Monday 27th August, the cost was £325.50. Go the following week, and it would cost you £197.50 – a saving of £128! For a family only able to save a couple of quid a week for the family holiday, this is a big difference.

There are times when parents are taking the piss and absolutely this should be clamped down on. No-one needs to take their child on an uber expensive holiday to Disney Land, and Disney is horribly overpriced anyway. I would argue that some holidays can have value to a child’s education, teaching them about geography, allowing them to experience new people and places.

Perhaps an overhaul of terms and holidays is needed, to spread them out, with different schools having their holidays at different times?

All I know is this; once again the government are attacking families. Nice one Tories!

Workfare Slavery

Earlier this week it was seen that Tesco were (apparently mistakenly) advertising for permanent slaves. tesco logo on the side of a store to illustrate an opinion piece on workfareOops. In fact I believe the slavery contracts are supposed to be temp only. So, whatever, does anyone fancy going and working night shifts at Tesco for free? You know, learning really valuable skills that will look great on your CV? No? Well, I hope for you you’re not unemployed because you may actually not have the choice.

Anyway, there was justifiable outrage. There are calls to boycott Tesco. It’s a good reason to boycott them. Another good reason. If I lived in the UK I wouldn’t set foot in the place. For me it is the most despicable of the supermarkets, ruthlessly bullying farmers and small business owners in its quest for profit.

Other businesses are falling over each other to tell the world how they will not use Workfare. Tesco are mightily embarassed. They are working 24/7 furiously deleting critical posts on their Facebook page.

Tesco are not the only bullies outed by this furore. The world is finally opening its eyes to the government’s schemes to starve people back into work, to thieve back the benefits from those who need them most. The Department for Work and Pensions, led by Ian Duncan Smith are still churning out abhorrent policies which seem to be a deliberate attack on the most vulnerable.

What can you do? Not much actually. Write to your MPs, tell them how appalled you are at the government sponsored slavery and other initiatives aimed at stealing from the poor. Lend your support to the Boycott Workfare campaign. Boycott companies who are benefiting from the disgusting schemes.

And remember the Tories will not do anything to help you and me. It is all about helping the rich people. They may have squealed a little about the bonuses of the bankers a few weeks ago. But honestly? A few people’s bonuses aren’t going to change anything. Bonuses, despite what the press said, don’t create the recession. They may be pretty huge sums of money to you and me, but they are in fact peanuts in the whole scheme of things. Rich people are getting richer under the Tories. Which is fine. Nothing against rich people at all. It’s just when the government steals from the poor to enrich its friends that I feel very very very nauseous.

Have Your Cake and Eat It.

The other day I ate a piece of cake and felt a little bit guilty about it. That might sound like a perfectly normal sentence for a young female to say. Isn’t it? Now I’ve never felt guilty about eating cake before in my entire life, unless it wasn’t my cake. And even when it was someone else’s cake I only pretended to be guilty so I wouldn’t lose friends over it. I’d changed.Home made cakes decorated with bright icing.  Photo: Nona Fara

I was equating myself with those people who decline a solitary Monster Munch from their friends’ grab bag because they’re trying to ‘be good’. It was horrible. Not because I didn’t want to be like those people, but because I didn’t want to fall into the ‘hate yourself’ trap that society has set for everyone, but more so women and especially young women. I didn’t want to have to eat Special K for all my meals and I didn’t want to fit into a size 8, really. It was never really a priority.

But I felt guilty.

I felt guilty because I’d inadvertently taken in a message which I’d always challenged and discarded. The weight loss and diet industry had got to me and it had made me feel worthless. Worthless like so many people do every day. Yet somehow it’s become taboo for actually fat people to speak about how daft this is. It’s taboo for fat people to be happy with themselves. Hell, it’s taboo for most women to be happy with themselves. Think about that for a second. Then think about how ace you are. I bet you all have really good hair and are excellent at judging exactly how much ketchup to put on your plate, or something like that. Mainly, though, think about how you shouldn’t let anyone shame you for how you look. You especially shouldn’t let anyone shame you for how you look then proceed to make vast amounts of money off said shame. You shouldn’t have to resort to thinking about how great your condiment measuring skills are to feel any sort of pride in yourself or even for confirmation that you’re not subhuman. Fuck that shit.

I’m overweight, yeah, but I’m not unhealthy. And even if I was, who gives anyone the right to judge any other person for something which is so personal. You can’t tell if someone leads a ‘healthy’ lifestyle, or a lifestyle that you approve of by looking at them. There’s a lot of research which shows that, yeah, you can be healthy and fat. Imagine it! I mean I’ve joked before about tricking people into not thinking I’m a vegetarian by being fat, and even though it sounds pretty ridiculous, it’s true. I get funny looks if I dare eat something unhealthy in public. Why do we let this happen? Is it because we’re told to hate not only ourselves for being fat, but other fat people?
Even if you have your own opinions on what is a ‘healthy’ body is, surely you can’t deny letting people have a healthy body image and the chance to not feel guilty and ashamed about how they look. You can’t deny people’s right not to be mentally tormented about their weight.
If you don’t want to be seen as ‘fat positive’, you don’t have to be. Just don’t judge people for their bodies, reject stereotypes about fat people and don’t buy into blaming fat people, shaming them and making them feel guilty. Come on, guys, we’re better than this.

The Right to Create

We hear a lot about rights. And rightly so, in most cases. Human rights, equal rights, the right to vote, the right to free speech, the right to work, the right to a living wage, the right to a free education, the right to bear arms, the right to party, the right to take a dump in public and such like. Much is written about these rights (well, most of them), so I’m going to write about another right, one which you may not have heard of, because I’ve just it made it up: the right to create. Right, so moving on (with no more crappy plays on the word right I promise)…

I do some creative things. I’ve hosted a few art exhibitions and displayed my stuff in public and all that kind of arty crap, so I like to consider myself an artist. (No, please don’t stop reading. It makes me feel better  to consider myself an artist when I’m at work stacking shelves in a supermarket at 3 in the morning). But because I need to earn a living I have to go to work full time, so I can only be a part time artist. And this pisses me off. And gets me thinking.Artist Studio, with paintbrushes, illustrating the right to create.  Photo: See-ming Lee

I’m faced with two choices. One, produce commercially viable art which makes me enough money as a full time artist that I don’t have to work but which compromises my art. Or two, produce art which satisfies my artistic integrity but which compromises my ability to make money and therefore means I have to work as well. (Don’t anyone dare mention three, produce art which satisfies my artistic integrity but which is also commercially viable, because rather like a relationship with Laura-Mary Carter of Blood Red Shoes, this is The Impossible Dream).

I choose the second route, because I feel that my art is something I should do to make me happy, not to make me money. Though I have even been a full time artist in the past. An actual arty artist too, doing the art I wanted to do and not the art I had to do to make money. But then I ran out of money and had to go on Jobseekers Allowance. And this meant that I had to find a real job. It didn’t matter what job I wanted to do or what job I could do well because those jobs weren’t available. I was obliged to get a job as soon as possible. Any job. I got a job in a call centre. It was very,very, shit. I was working shit hours for a shit wage in a shit job. It was a shit life.

But that’s fine, because at least I’m working huh? At least I have a job. At least I am paying my taxes. I am paying my way. I am not a burden to the working man. I am not a turd-encrusted pube on the asshole of society. I am not some scruffy arty tosser sponging off the state (I am just a scruffy arty tosser). No, I work. I am a good and useful citizen. Well if that’s all true, why was I miserable as fuck?

Because I was just existing.  I wasn’t creating.  I was a walking National Insurance Number. And I’m not the only one. I know countless artists, musicians, actors and actresses, dancers, writers, photographers, film makers, designers, performers and poets who work not in artistic fields but in call centres, shops, garages, offices, care homes etc etc. I don’t mean to demean those jobs and the people who do them, but my point is on the issue of choice . Many people want to work in those jobs, but many need to because they don’t have a choice. Shouldn’t a person be free to try and pursue the career they want? How many thousands of creative and talented people across the country are stuck in their non-creative jobs, compelled to waste their creativity and talent and ultimately their life by the conventions of society and the pressure to earn money? How many people are compelled to go through their life miserable as fuck, just so they can work and contribute and pay their rent and pay their taxes and therefore be a good and useful citizen?

Too many, I say. There is however, a solution to this sad state of affairs. It is based upon the idea that a person’s value to society is not based upon their monetary value. It’s not about the amount of taxes they contribute weighed against the amount of benefits they receive. It’s about the non-monetary value they can provide to society. Imagine if a person had the right to do the kind of work they enjoy and are good at. Imagine if they had the right not have to work in any shit job just because they have to. Imagine if  a person was allowed to use their skills, their personality, their talent and their passion to benefit others. Imagine being helped by that person. Imagine being that person. Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for. And no religion too. Man, wouldn’t everyone be much happier?

And to help create that happiness? I propose that artistic and creative people are given the right to create.

I propose an Artists Allowance. This would allow an artist to pursue their artistic activities without the need to work and without the resulting financial worries. Instead of being forced to work in shit jobs they are allowed to do what they want to do and do what they are good at doing. They are given the right to create.

What is this idealistic tosh? How could this possibly work? Naive? Ridiculous? Do-gooder lefty hippy bollocks? In these times of austerity, a whole load of people are going to get paid by the state to sit around on their arses so long as they call themselves an artist? I have got to be kidding, right?

No, because it’s not as simple as that. Firstly, the allowance should only be the equivalent of what the artist would receive if they were not an artist – i.e on Jobseekers Allowance or Employment Support Allowance or Housing Benefit – no more. A person would clearly be better off financially if they were working, thus ensuring that the Artists Allowance was not pursued just for the money. Who would give up a full time well paid job to receive a subsistence poverty income? Certainly not everyone. Those whose heart isn’t in it, wouldn’t. But I would, if I could do my art.

Secondly, the artist would have to prove they are an artist. They would have to attend the Jobcentre regularly to prove that they are pursuing artistic activities. Rather like filling in the oh-so-impervious-to fraudsters little Jobseekers Diary. Except the artist could prove they are pursuing artistic activities. A film maker would have to show their films. A painter would have to show their paintings. You couldn’t make it up.

Thirdly, and this for me is at the heart of the point I am driving at, the artist would have to contribute to society with their art. This is where we see the value of a person not just in monetary terms. Isn’t it right that a person is judged for what they can do for others rather than for how much money they earn? Yes, the state pays this person, but this person pays back society. There are many, many ways an artist can use their skills and create art to benefit their community. If the artist can’t think of a way, they won’t get the Artists Allowance and they can sell their shite and their soul to Ikea instead. This is a mutually beneficial allowance. Give and take. Not something for nothing.

And here we also have the state creating work. Not taking it away. We all know there are not enough jobs to go round at the moment. So let’s enable people to create their own. Let’s give people the work of their choice. Working for the state, for themselves, and for the community. Give an artist some money to spend on art materials and arts activities and arts events and their increased spending stimulates the economy. We would move away from the perception of art as a luxury for those who can afford it, but towards art as a more accessible, more local, more essential, part of the community. Furthermore, thousands of community or state artists who would now be working within the arts would mean that thousands of other people would be able to do the other jobs the artist would otherwise have been pushed into. Damn, we could even get the good old private sector involved too so they quit their tedious whinging about the bloated public sector and privileged public servants. Companies could sponsor an artist on the Artists Allowance. The artist could work for them on joint projects. The company could even get a tax break in return for their support (that should get them onside)…

So will there ever be a right to create? Will there shite. Our esteemed politicians go on about “progressive government”  and “Big Society” but they’re about as progressive as a brown Ford Cortina with a flat tyre stuck in reverse gear and as for the Big Society, well something else with the initials BS springs to mind instead. Should we have this right though? Bring on the debate…

Bastards of Shop: Revenge is Sweet

Off Licence selling cheap boozeSo, we got busted by Trading Standards/The Filth. And just to get serious for a minute, how the bloody hell is this legal? If an undercover copper approaches you and asks you for drugs or sex, it’s called entrapment and gets thrown out of court, but if they send an undercover 17.8 year old in to buy a bottle of Kopparberg, that’s us in the shit. They went about it sneakily as well:

  • The lad they sent in was tall for his age (17 and a half). Besides which, 17 and a half is old enough to be blown up in Helmand but not old enough to have a pint on your return? What fucking lunacy is this?
  • He was buying a premium brand, not the cheap nasty stuff the underagers normally try to buy.
  • He was dressed like a student. If he’d had his trackies tucked into his socks and a shaven head, we’d probably have asked for ID – as it is, we serve about 1000 19-22 year old uni students a week.
  • Besides, ask any 16 year old in Plungington and they’ll tell you that (Name removed for legal reasons) Convenience is where you go if you want 4 Kestrel Supers, 10 L&B, some hardcore pornography and a crossbow with no questions asked.

Yeah, I know, blah blah antisocial behaviour blah blah public nuisance blah blah corporate responsibility, you know as well as I do that’s horseshit. Everyone who works in the shop lives within 3 streets of it, we KNOW who the little trouble-making shites are and don’t serve them. Not that it makes a blind bit of difference, as their white-trash parents just come in to buy chemicider, WKD and own-brand vodka-type substance for them anyway. But it’s one more result for the crime statistics, so we get hit.

End result of which is: one of my comrades loses his job, gets an £80 fine and a caution on his record. Which, when you’re a year away from graduating and competing for jobs, is a bit of a kick in the nuts. Also, we now have to operate “Challenge 25” – anyone who looks below that age gets asked for ID. And the local 5-oh were very clear on this point; The only forms of acceptable ID are a photo driving license, a valid passport, or a PASS card. NO EXCEPTIONS.

Cut to two nights later.

“Next please!” He puts 8 Stella on the counter. I scrutinise his face. Could be 26. Could be 22. Could be some freak with a gladular problem specifically picked out by the Babylon just to get me in trouble. Play it safe. “Do you have any ID please sir?”

“ID?” He looks baffled. His girlfriend giggles slightly.

“Passport, driving license…?”

“Uh…no. I’ve got this though,” he says, and pulls out…

A Lancashire Constabulary warrant card.

“I’m sorry sir, this doesn’t have your date of birth on it.”

“You what?”

“Your colleagues were very insistent on this point sir. I’m afraid I cannot accept it.” I hand back the card and put his beers behind the counter. “If you’d care to return with a passport, driving license or PASS card showing your date of birth and the PASS hologram we’d be delighted to serve you. Please close the door on your way out.” He looks as if he’s about to kick off, but thinks better of it, just gives me the Standard Issue Copper Hard Stare and walks off. At least two people in the queue behind him are openly laughing as he leaves.

Petty regulations? We can play that game too, you bastards.


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