Homes and Homelessness

sleeping-baby-dragon_med

I am continually torn in doing this blog. One the one hand I feel I write too much about politics, when I could be writing about much more interesting things and on the other I just feel continual rage about how inept UK politics is and perhaps need somewhere to vent my spleen quite regularly.

I have written quite a lot about Brexit, largely as I feel it is symptomatic of the core problem at the heart of Britain, our failed political establishment. For it is not only Brexit. The thing that gets me more upset and angry is the issue of homelessness. Yesterday some Tory twerp talked about how 19th century ‘vagrancy’ laws should be revived to move away the homeless from the streets of Windsor so the UK doesn’t reveal to the world how, well, rubbish we are to the world, in not having a decent society, when people  tune in to watch the Royal Wedding from Windsor this summer.

What particularly incensed me was the suggestion that Windsor has ‘attracted’ lots of homeless people due to the higher number of tourists. Obviously, this twerp doesn’t get out much. Every town and city in Britain has a lot more homeless people on the streets than there were. Every day walking through any British town you are repeatedly asked for help. I’ll wager Windsor is a long way from being a special case. Anyway, if there is money to put on anything more than a simple church ceremony for Meghan and Prince Harry, then that money should be spent on housing people. It’s a much bigger issue than Brexit, if only the government would eradicate homelessness we would all be much better off than any possible gains from Brexit. It is simply embarrassing, that homelessness isn’t the number one issue when there is such a crisis and ever increasing numbers of people have to rely on food banks when there are many with plenty of wealth in the UK. And then, even then, the idea is trotted out that people ‘choose’ to be homeless, like sitting in the cold and damp with no money and nothing to do all day is seen as a viable option.  We could all so easily be homeless in Britain: you are unlucky to lose your job, you miss the next months rent payment as the costs of living is so high, few can actually save money for a rainy day, let alone invest and then unless you are lucky enough to have family and friends with a floor for you then you are out on the street. It’s all so unnecessary.

I have tasked myself with trying to understand right wing people and more importantly what possesses people to ever vote for the Tories. Sometimes I appreciate that arguing doesn’t often work. People get set in their thinking and can’t listen to argument. So it is important that we use stories, to make things personal, to establish an emotional revelation. I am a deep thinker, I will have argued to the point of accepting an idea many many times before I believe in it. Yet, one emotional event that makes me feel as though an idea is right, will make a belief stick. It is those moments that have changed my thinking. What worries me is that people perhaps have the emotional resonance without the solidity of the rational arguments first. Or at least not feeling that it is important to check that the emotion has some basis in coherent argument.

Socialism is easy to understand, as it’s a movement to create a better more efficient society. For your home to be more secure, allowing you more time to be creative and give you time and energy to improve things. We all need homes and the better our homes are the better and more productive we are.v Yet now, most of us work away from teh communities we live, we waste time travelling, rather than doing. Okay, think about extreme possibilities, eventually, a socialist society would get to the point where society could regress as too many people take the easy comfortable options and the economy would falter. Surely we should create that society first, no-where in the world or in history has got to that point yet. In any case there are always people who don’t like comfortable options. Too much of anything  is simply a theoretical possibility and one that will generally get dealt with, before it is approached; especially if you have a functional democracy. Pragmatism, and opening eyes to what is going on in the world around you trumps looking for a far off theoretical possibility.

Toryism to me seems to be simply giving up on society, saying that nothing can be done and all we can do is do whatever we can to look after ourselves and immediate family. It’s saying that we would love to help, but all the other people wouldn’t help so it would be somehow morally wrong to help. Somehow these Tories claim to love their country and the people within it, yet they don’t feel they should do their bit too and they pretend to look down upon others. Perhaps the idea is that those who are lucky enough to end up with capital will spend enough of it to help their communities, but this has been shown not to happen, the rich give less proportionally of their disposable income than the poor to help others. To me Toryism is such a self-defeating doctrine. Forcing yourself to subscribe to their odd sets of rules to succeed in their games, to not be yourself to keep a hold of a comfortable income and find a weak excuse for why other people somehow actually choose to be poor. The Tory home is a castle for keeping everyone else out and all the energy is spent on fortifications, rather than building new things. In the 1980s the Tories sold off the council housing, to fund bigger walls for themselves, rather than the good of the economy as a whole. I don’t understand how Tories can justify this.

I am a Welsh nationalist, because I believe in society and the family of communities that makes up Wales, Britain and the world. To make a start improving society again I believe we have to get back to basics; making sure everyone has a home and enough to eat is surely possible in a world that has the technology we now have. To get to the point of things getting better we have to change the way politics is done, because the current system isn’t working; there are homeless people on our streets. So we need genuine democracy. Nation States, like the UK are too big to be governed as a single entity from a centralised establishment. It allows an establishment class to be cut off from ordinary people. The very last thing you want is the decision makers not understanding everyday life and the real economy; we could do with less career politicians who know how to do PR, rather than win arguments. So government needs to be smaller and more accountable. Hence Welsh independence, because Wales isn’t too big, it would be difficult to live in Wales and not have some idea of the issues effecting all the different regions of Wales, whereas in the UK we see decisions made that make things harder for Wales and then Wales get blamed for something it has no control over. Lets awaken the baby Dragon from her slumber, awaiting a home fit for her.

Which brings me to this whole Brexit con. Yes the UK leaving the EU, potentially, theoretically, gives the UK the chance for greater democratic accountability and more opportunities to improve. Yet, that isn’t happening anytime soon, until we get rid of the Tories and embark on genuine reform of democracy. i see Brexit as a wolf in the clothes of democracy. So, why are so many Tories so keen on Brexit, whilst denying any possibility of giving back control to the people of Britain? [where is the clamour for political reform?] It’s a power grab, from the very people who already have too much power. They can divide and rule and run the UK economy into the sewer to further amass capital for themselves. But eventually, all emperors fall. We need to start preparing for when they do fall, rather than wait whilst society crumbles, to start building the homes for a future democracy to live in now. We need to take back control, to re-build politics and our society. We need to re-build Wales, Britain and the world. Eventually we all get sick, our company goes bankrupt or some natural disaster happens. That is why we need society, we need those who were fortunate to have escaped the bad times to be able to help the unlucky, because next time it’s likely be the other way around and you or your kids will need someone able to help.

 

 

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Bubble Popping

Remembering being a child blowing bubbles and then chasing them around popping them is not the subject of this missive. Rather I wish to consider the bubbles I live in. These days we live in social bubbles based on where we live, work and socialise. Increasingly it seems that we live more in bubbles of people who think like we do than generations past. A consequence of this bubble living is that we understand less people who are not like us and due to this we seem to be living in a society that doesn’t consider what life is like for people who are different from ourselves. We don’t consider enough people’s backgrounds or how we are different. There seems to be a tendency for this to be exposed when families who live apart gather for Christmas, suddenly we are living with people who live in different bubbles and these bubbles can burst creating arguments.

As children we make a start in life thinking that other people think broadly the same way as we do. We learn to empathise by putting ourselves in others shoes. For example when someoen says that they are hungry, we understand because we know what hunger feels like ourselves. Yet somehow as adults we do this less, perhaps because we think we know enough not to have to do this thinking as often.

So how am I different and what insights have I gained over the past year and what has happened to me this year and to the society I live in.

I am different because I have suffered from anxiety. Living with anxiety led me to analyse my social interactions very deeply, too deeply. Overcoming anxiety was partly a process of letting go, of stopping analysis, of allowing a first impression to be generally correct.

I am also a scientist, which means I have lots of experience dealing with data sets in the attempt to answer questions, to remove sources of bias as much as possible. To be exhaustive in testing data and being cautious about any conclusions reached.

Really it is perhaps safe to assume that most people do not analyse things in such great detail. Indeed, i am often surprised by how little other people seem to analyse issues to what i feel is a decently robust level. So, what has happened this year?

Work

I have not been working in science this year sadly. Instead I have been working in the supposed ‘real world’ in an office working with the largest, but least robust or reliable data sets I have ever had to. I am managed so that i am not given the time to do any rigorous analysis and have to resort to processing data in a a rough and ready way withing very short time-frames. In terms of efficiency of the business, this makes sense as the broad results will generally be improve the business situation and in any case where the results are wrong, a major reason can often be reasonably assumed and the suggestions modified; rather than spending a lot of time getting things robustly right in the first place. Often rigour or deeper analysis is seen as a luxury if there is ever tiem for it. I have found it a challenging way to work, yet it is one that I have found to be shared by sciencey friends who work on the real world; speed is more important than accuracy. Working this way does make me a little uncomfortable at times and I do crave a return to science and ‘doing things properly’. Perhaps this is how most of the world works and how decisions are made, we thus live in a world which makes avoidable mistakes.

Cymraeg /Welsh

I am still learning Welsh, but can speak Welsh now and have become a part of the culture of the Welsh language. I am now exposed a lot more to opinions about the Welsh language from people with no knowledge of Welsh at all. For example complaints about bi-lingual signs. Bi-lingual signs are provided in two languages because there are two main language communities in Wales. If you don’t know anything about the Welsh language, then what exactly is the basis for an opinion on Welsh signage? When I hear the near constant criticism of the Welsh language, which you really notice when you are a Welsh speaker, it does feel like an attack. Yet, i don’t believe it’s an attack it’s perhaps simply a disregard for people with different needs. such ‘attacks’ happen to every grouping who is different from any individual. What i don’t get is why any individual would regard communities they are members of as being ‘normal’ and only these ‘normal’ causes are worthy of attention.

Brexit

Which brings me to Brexit again. The debate about Brexit should be about analysing likely impacts of Brexit on democracy in the UK and likely changes to the economy. Yet during the Brexit vote debate and ever since, this exploration of the costs and benefits of the two options barely gets a mention. Instead Brexit has exacerbated the tensions between people of the right and people of the left and been about which side you are on.

Brexit seems to be a division between those who desire a British mono-culture, similar to that which existed in the post second world war period and those that don’t. So, being of a range of identities and perhaps as a liberal “intellectual” I have to be on the Remain side, despite all my criticisms of the EU. There is no wiggle room for people to ‘switch sides’ even when we never desired to be on one side or the other.

British is one of my identities, yet the Brexiteers position seems to be attacking my British identity, which sees Britain as a union of diverse identities. I am Welsh, it is impossible for me to envisage Britain as a mono-culture, it hasn’t ever been and never will be. The terms of the debate now have entrenched the UK population into this division and the opinion polls suggest that eighteen months on from Brexit are still 50:50 and will probably remain so.

I fear this focus on this irreconcilable division at the expense of working out what is the best way forward isn’t helpful at all. If only someone could find a solution that everyone can unify behind, but it seems the likelihood of that happening is infinitely small.

Popping Bubbles

What I really find difficult to deal with, especially with the Brexiteers, is this adopting a position that doesn’t hold up to any serious analysis even when data breaks those positions. There is merit in not analysing everything to death, to adopt a position that works okay for now, but there should always be a readiness to accept that it is inaccurate and develop a new position. This maxim applies in science and social life and especially politics where we live in an ever changing world. It allows us to be independently thinking individuals and not suffer in a herd mentality of one size fits all.

The whole Blue Passports issue came up over Christmas. If people want the UK passport to be blue, fair enough. I’m not bothered about its colour, really I’d like a Welsh passport. However, when it is pointed out that 1, The UK passport was never blue, my parents had the old style ones and I looked at them at Christmas, one is black, the other is a very dark blue and not navy blue at all and 2, The EU did not prevent the UK government changing passport colour if it really wanted to anyway. Yet despite these two facts, people still try and maintain that blue passports is an important issue, in spite of the facts.

As I see it, life is about deciding when to engage with deeper analysis and when to just move forward with a quickly framed rough and ready position that is good enough for now, enabling us to live in the moment. As an anxious person, I needed to learn how to do the latter. However for the new year, I really believe that we need to consider other people more and that means accepting that our first answer may need some testing and analysis of data from beyond our cozy bubbles. Next year lets keep running around popping bubbles, be open to new ideas and consider other people.

I’m not racist but…

It can often seem very difficult to understand what Brexit is. Yet essentially to understand it requires the busting of a number of myths about Brexit.

Brexit has never been about a rational weighing up of the clearly identifiable negatives of EU membership to the UK economy against the benefits of membership. Neither is it simply a rejection of centralisation and diminished democracy, for that should have happened at the UK level a long time ago.

Politically, Brexit was bought about by the ‘Brexiteers’, the leadership of UKIP and many in the Tory party. The Brexiteers aim was to further the cause of laissez-faire capitalism, to free capital to make more money for itself to the benefit of those already with lots of capital. This can be viewed as simply the self-interest of those with capital, the leadership of UKIP and much of the Tory party.

Capital, or wealth is only one part of an economy. Capital with too much power diminishes an economy, capital alone does not make good decisions, it needs help. A free market is not one where capital calls all the shots. A true free market is where producers and consumers interact to produce a fair price for goods and services and what those goods and services are.

The aim of the Brexiteers has been to use their influence and control of the UK media to further their cause, to pass the blame for the decline of the living standards at the EU’s door, rather than the fault of laissez-faire capitalism itself. After all these neo-liberals have gained positions of power in the UK and have learnt how to manipulate the UK electorate.

The vast majority of the people who voted for Brexit, 52% of the UK electorate are not the people with large amounts of capital, who are greedy for more power and influence. The vast majority voted for entirely different reasons I believe. What most people want in life is perhaps essentially stability and the opportunity to improve things. This stability, or basis for growth consists of three essential things: Cultural stability, Economic stability and Community support. People in the UK are concerned about the decline of these things and the Brexiteers offered them hope for change, whilst the ‘Liberal Establishment’ mistook the issue of immigration being raised again and again ad nauseum to be closet racism, which it did indeed feed upon. The concern about immigration was not about race at all, but rather the issue of immigration was a proxy for the three fears:

Cultural Stability

People within a culture, naturally want to preserve their culture for the good things it provides. A culture can absorb new arrivals and over time the new members will be assimilated into the culture, or their children will. This is eased where there is a willingness to learn about and take part in the culture. However when the levels of immigration are high, the incomers can swamp the existing culture to the extent that it is possible to live in a different culture if those immigrants all come form a different culture. There are then fewer places for the existing culture to exist and the incoming culture can come to dominate. If you are a member of the native culture, you can feel to be an alien in your own home, you lose the ability to predict how your local society will react to events, you lose the cultural stability of your own culture.

This issue is well known about in Wales; there has been the decline of the Welsh language and it’s culture. I also experienced this growing up. My area of Mid Wales had increasing number of retired people moving in from outside Wales. It only became a problem when services and employment for young people declined, forcing the young to leave. This meant that Mid Wales now has the lowest economic productivity of all of Britain, largely because the population now has a very heavy post working age population and few young people to look after them and the loss of the local culture.

The centralised UK economic model has caused the young to move to seek work. The flexibility of the young displaces older people from their work and even their local area.

Economic Stability

People want to secure enough income to be financially secure, to be able to support their family and wider community. To have enough disposable income to be able to participate in the economy, to support worthwhile enterprises in their area, rather than scrape an existence using short-term solutions to make it to the next pay cheque. People also want there to be training and employment available locally for their children to become economically active and hence support them in their old age.

Young adults and immigrants moving to an area, are more flexible and able to tolerate the inconveniences of living in the most inconvenient part of an area. The young and immigrants are more able to take on job opportunities that the established population cannot as readily. The establishment population have cultural commitments and investments that restrict there ability to move and work longer hours. If the local economy is not growing, which is now the case across Britain, then emigration from your home becomes an option, giving you the chance to be the more flexible to out-compete a resident population somewhere else. It presents a tough choice between economic stability and cultural stability.

A lot of the fear of immigration is that the only major growth area of the UK is around London. So the jobs go to the young and other immigrants who are prepared to put up with the huge inconveniences of living in London [having to travel to do anything] and loss of the support of the home culture, rather than come to where there is ample Labour awaiting work, such as the Valleys communities in South Wales.

Community Support

The great thing about communities is that they have enabled humanity to move beyond subsistence farming, to pool skills and resources to create modern societies. In a declining economy people are concerned that there will not be a hospital bed for them if they become ill, that there will not be a good school place for their child. That should some disaster hit their family then the community will not be able rally around to help them overcome it as they are overburdened by struggle themselves.

Then there are immigrants, that they will place additional demand on social services. The Liberal economist will say that this doesn’t matter because as the population grows, there is  proportionally more money for services and service levels can be maintained. However, this academic economist is talking about an ideal theoretical world. The current reality in Britain is that Social services, such as Schools and Hospital receive a lower and lower proportion of the nations money pot anyway. So, incomers will indeed put additional strain on services. Incomers also tend to require more from Social services as they haven’t built up the social capital of community support or cultural investment.

Racism

I don’t believe a lot of the racism that exists in the UK is not purely racist. Racism is prejudice towards people of a certain race. There is also prejudice towards people of different religion, hair colour, cultural background, religion, height and so on. People are people and to be prejudiced against someone for their race makes no sense, for what does it matter what colour a persons skin is.

A lot of racism is by proxy. People will see a decline in their cultural stability, economic stability or community support and when immigration levels are too high to their area this is noticed. Instead of laying the blame at the political for not investing to equalise opportunity everywhere, they will blame the immigrants. So when those immigrants happen to all be a particular race, that label sticks and over time does develop into genuine racism.

In the UK, immigrants tended to live in the poorest connected areas of cities, the most inconvenient places to live. Areas where the native population wished to leave if they could. So over time these areas became culturally dominated by certain groups, often becoming the dominant culture. It is absurd to expect a dominant culture to integrate to a minority culture without strong motivations for doing so. This was so much of twentieth century urban problems in Twentieth Century Britain. By that point racism from the native population already exists, which acts to pull the discrimated against communities together, reducing the strength of motivation to explore the native culture, which is now a journey away anyway.

But…

It doesn’t have to be like this. The Brexiteers can be stopped. We can start valuing our own cultures again, we can provide economic security to all and use that to encourage real economic growth. We can ensure our communities are supportive of all their members again, rather than a privileged few. The answer is the slogan the Brexiteers used under false pretences; Take Back Control. What we need is decisions made by the people for the people. Not to produce some socialist utopia, but to ensure that there is balance in all things, between Capital and Labour, so capital can be used to invest in things we all need, rather than used to make the majority poorer. Create balance between Public Services and Free Enterprise to maximise the economic efficiency of our communities. To ensure that every region can survive and thrive, because it has strong support networks, freeing peoples time and energy to pursue innovation and economic growth. To not allow things to become inefficient through centralisation of control . To spread wealth around, so everyone can use a small bit of the capital generated to support their own families and  communities. To do this we need democracy and decision makers to be truly accountable to their communities, rather than an elite few. We need power to reside in communities, within areas like Wales, so we can grow and make our lives more secure year on year, to not allow any individual politician to cut themselves off from those communities, that is why we need independence in Wales and indeed we should apply the same principles everywhere. We should shift from laying the blame on people who are in some way different to us to those who made the decisions that caused our loss of culture, economic stability or community support and thus regain our freedom.

 

A British Brexit?

One of the traits that the ‘British’ claim is the ability to wing their way through problems, rather than plan things through, to end up pretty much as things started without much in the way of change. We seem have seen this today with the British government’s further winging of Brexit. I argued on here earlier that what the British wanted from Brexit was simply a loosening of the relationship with the EU, to remain effectively in the EEA Single Market and the Customs Union, but instead of planning this from the outset they seem to have ended up there through a convoluted winging it process through strategy rather than design. So who are the British and what after all is Brexit?

It could all have been plotted in the quiet confines of a Mayfair gentlemen’s club. It was clear from the outset of Brexit that the issue of Northern Ireland and it’s border with the Republic of Ireland and hence the EU presented a myriad of issues for Brexit. So the British governments solution was to say that a solution could be Northern Ireland remaining in the Customs Union, obeying EU rules and regulations whilst outside of the EU. Of course the hard line Unionists of the DUP would cry foul, the Welsh and Scottish governments would demand the same deal as Northern Ireland, everyone would declare an impasse and then the British government plays it’s masterstroke “Okay, let all of the UK remain in the Customs Union and effectively in the Single Market too, problem solved, we’ve resolved Brexit and made our political opponents look even dafter than we made ourselves look, even though they were being sensible at the time, aren’t we so very clever?” It’s almost like a cunning Jeeves solution to a crisis from the ‘Jeeves & Wooster’ stories of P.G.Wodehouse.

So how exactly is this especially a ‘British’ Brexit Solution’? Well, you have to understand what British means in this context. The notion of Britishness is one that even people who like me who have lived all their life on Great Britain often struggle with. Indeed it is a label few are comfortable with, let alone agreeing upon what it means. These days, most inhabitants of Great Britain are Welsh, Cornish, Scots and so on. Only a minority of Britons define themselves as ‘British’ as their primary identity. There are two different versions of Brutishness which sit uncomfortably in this one word, British. Indeed, I pity the foreigner who comes to Britain trying to find an easy word to use to describe the people of this island without offending any Britons. It is a tough challenge, to me the only really safe phrase is ‘the people of the U.K.’, which trips off the tongue delightfully does it not?

A lot of people forget that ‘Great Britain’ is simply the name of the island, the largest island of the British Isles archipelago. When the Romans left in the 3rd century, Great Britain was left to the Britons, the people of the Brythonic Celtic tribes, except for what is now Northern Scotland where the Picts lived, the Picts may have been Celts too, though not enough is known about their history to be certain.

A few centuries later, the Saxon tribes started arriving and settling in Britain, displacing the local Chieftains and assuming positions of political power, replacing the  Brythonic language (which split into Welsh, Cornish , Breton and Cumbric) with the Saxon tongue dominating in what is now England becoming  Old English and later Modern English, after some Viking influence. It is often forgotten that the legendary King Arthur of the Britons, was battling against the invasions of the Saxons. After all this the Britons were left in control of Wales, Cornwall and Scotland, which were ultimately too much effort to conquer completely, as the English crown could easily control the local Vassal Princes when required.

Then by the end of the Middle Ages, the English monarch ruled over all of Great Britain , having effectively annexed Wales and Scotland by political means. Everyone in Britain was ‘British’ again, kind of having rebooted the term back to it’s original meaning of the people of the island of Great Britain.

This British King then sought to increase in wealth and power though conquest and after another few hundred years was the British Empire formed. Again the meaning of ‘British’ changed to mean to ‘Ruling Classes of the British Empire’, the Britons didn’t really notice as it wasn’t really a big issue at the time.

The advent of the two European parts of the World Wars of the last century, dragged the British Empire to it’s knees. The Empire called upon the Britons and indeed the Empire to fight in the war on the promise of bringing Britain together as a nation, where no-one would be left behind, ‘Homes for Heroes’ , the NHS and suchlike. It worked, the Britons fought and died in those wars and afterwards, as a united nation, enjoyed the fastest economic growth they had ever seen and a sense of being a modern national family.

More recently, this sense of the British as the Britons has faded once again, as the Ruling Class / Tory governments have not cared about dividing the Britons in there fervour for capital and international influence for themselves. Ironically the Unionist politicians have done more to break the Union of the UK than anyone else with their neglect of the regions outside the direct influence of London. Britain is now a very divided nation again. The hardcore Brexiteers seem to have hoped that somehow by magic to restore the unity of Britain, when only a tiny minority sought this ‘Hard Brexit’ with a divisive Brexit referendum.

Or perhaps the British ruling class triumph again by being perceived to have played a blinder and won Brexit. The Brexiteers may squeal, but I suspect the Brexieers only really care about power and influence and to be on the winning side and will quietly return to the back room grumbling that is their true love. This is the thing I despise about the Tories, as long as their star stays in the ascendant, they care not a jot about the fate of the Britons or the economy under their rule. As long as you are rich enough to offshore capital, you can keep your family and friends safe from a declining economy and nation state.

I could be completely wrong of course. It is impossible to predict events, but it does seem a very British [read English Ruling Class] way around of solving this Brexit to produce perhaps the ‘Golden Brexit’ [Probably been coined before , every other adjective has been used to prefix ‘Brexit’ at some point.]

Boyfriend Clothes

I’ve just read a discussion about what ‘boyfriend clothes’ means. It has highlighted why I have had such difficulty understanding fashion and dressing up in general. Boyfriend clothes were described as ‘like jeans and a comfortable baggy top’, my immediate thought was ‘sexier clothes for their partner’. Yet actually, no it was the opposite it was meant as ‘comfortable clothes, not having to try to impress, just being yourself’.

The thing is, I am strange, I don’t know why, but to me jeans and a baggy jumper are simply the sexiest things a woman can wear. I really have never seen the point of the clothes that women wear on a night out. It is only when I see a woman in their everyday clothes, that I may notice how attractive they are. This has perhaps caused quite a number of dating problems for me, because I am perhaps the wrong way round.

I have talked recently about being posh and making the effort for social occasions when meeting new people. Respecting the opportunity to speak to new people, explore fresh thinking, to play with the world in a slightly different way. That is what people do when they dress up, as do I on very rare occasions, at times apart from when they invite people around for tea.

I do get it. I have been to a fair number of ‘fancy dress’ parties. On these occasions you make some effort on your costume and when you arrive at the party you expect people to take a proper look at what you are wearing and you expect people to comment on it, finding something positive to say about your efforts. Perhaps for most people, going out out is used as a posh occasion, to have fun dressing up and expect their clothes to be looked at and commented upon, it’s socially acceptable to so do. Whereas  for me I have often yearned to comment on the jumpers people are wearing, but I know people often find this odd, but they get to learn that I am odd, so that’s okay.

I do try dressing up sometimes, to respect occasions. The only times I wear a suit and tie are weddings, funerals, bar-mitzvars and job interviews.  I just dislike wearing uncomfortable impracticable clothes so much and I don’t like seeing them on other people either. All I think about is when i can take the ruddy things off and change into somethign more comfortable. I think it’s worse as an introvert. I know my social energy is always running down and wearing uncomfortable clothes just burns that energy all the more quickly.

Really, the whole concept of ‘boyfriend clothes’ is a bit repugnant as it implies that all other styles are for those seeking relationships. I suppose the real question of this marketing is whether the label is trying to be simply descriptive of the fit or style or whether trying to direct people into lifestyle choices to suit their own ends. There is this whole world of fashion that operates in exact opposition to my individual preferences, so that dressing up is mere play and serious life stuff happens in everyday comfy ‘boyfriend’ clothes.

Time for Tea

It seems that the tradition of drinking tea is in decline in Wales. It is a tradition fairly unknown or understood outside of the British Isles. Being a country boy and growing up in a family from a farming tradition, tea was always an important part of daily life and one I maintain. The tea tradition varies a lot from family to family and from region to region, to the extent that talking about tea reveals how diverse the tradition is. Often when I have talked about meals I discover how how much diversity in terminology and mutual incompatibility there is. So it may be of interest to my readers to understand the system I use.

A word of warning is that the diet does seem very bread and cake heavy, such foods were once much more prevalent in our culture. Prevalent in a farming community where people would spend their days out in the cold wind and damp, working the land all day and needed the calories! Furthermore whilst I identify nine meals, I don’t think I have ever actually had all nine in a single day, I am not a Prince or King.

The Eight Daily Meals

First Breakfast (optional) A quick light snack taken very soon upon awakening before doing a task before main (2nd) breakfast. Usually a ‘continental’ style breakfast of breads and fruits. Generally taken alone.

Breakfast (Second Breakfast if first breakfast already taken): Can be a substantial meal or something light, always informal. Accompanied by tea that is strongly brewed or ‘breakfast tea’ blends. However these days strong coffee often replaces tea at this meal

Elevenses: A mid morning snack usually taken around eleven o’clock, often just a cup of tea or coffee for a quick breather from work.

Lunch (or Dinner): If lunch, then a light yet substantial meal to carry you though the afternoon. Maybe a ‘packed lunch’ if away up in the hills or indeed in an office.

If dinner then the main meal of the day, often consisting several courses.

Whether lunch or dinner is taken at midday depends on many factors such as the day of the week, the weather or the season. There is the Sunday Dinner tradition which is taken at midday. Usually the remains of the Sunday joint would be the meat element of meals of most of the week, but this tradition seems to have declined a lot

Afternoon Snack/ Tiffin (optional): A light snack taken early afternoon, often just a quick cup of tea and a biscuit if you are peckish before tea time

Tea: both the following meals are usually just referred to as ‘Tea’, which is taken is inferred from context.

High Tea: From four o’clockish onward. A very formal, yet very jolly meal consisting of bread and conserves followed by cakes accompanied by rounds of tea. Usually only taken when a large group have gathered as a social event in itself. Welsh Cakes are almost always served as their own course. This is the chance for the host to show off their baking flair by offering a range of home made cakes. Guests often bring their own cakes to add to the range, diversity and celebration of relationships. If High Tea is taken then usually low tea is omitted. After a high tea I’m usually quite bloated from so much cake, that I don’t fancy much for dinner.

Low Tea: Often a light meal or snack upon returning home from work, including a cup of tea, usually informal, guests (not of the family or close friends) would get a high tea.

Dinner : The main formal meal of the day. Omitted if Dinner was taken at midday, when low tea would have been a more substantial meal, but not as substantial as dinner.

Supper (optional): The final meal of the day, usually quite light, tea is not taken.

What I have found odd is that this terminology doesn’t seem that widely understood outside of Mid Wales. The phrase ‘I don’t want much for Dinner, we had a large tea’ makes perfect sense to me, but I have found others mystified by it. As is the phrase ‘Will you be back by teatime’? (around four o’clock). Even the questioning of ‘Would you like to come around for tea?’ is quite a different question to ‘Would you like to come around for dinner?’ and the person asked should be clear what to expect, but outside my culture I have found this not to be understood.

The other thing about tea, is it is difficult to assess how much the culture has declined or indeed it’s uniqueness to rural Wales. Tea has always been very much a drink of the home. It has always been difficult to get a really good cup of tea away from peoples homes. In any case, when eating out at a cafe, people always want something posh. Coffee was once regarded as a posh drink, whereas it’s become an everyday drink.  The only evidence I have for this decline is that some supermarkets do not stock loose tea blends anymore. Tea bags have never been able to produce the quality of brew as loose tea made properly in a teapot. Yet, if people are only drinking bagged tea exclusively  in the home, this does seem to suggest that the tea tradition is very much in decline.

Crossing the Road

If we do something but can’t observe it’s consequences, we feel anxious. This sentence struck me as raising an important facet of anxiety, how it is about fear of the unknown. I have always been troubled by not knowing how other people react to my behaviour, partly because I’m aware that I am unusual, so can’t rely on how I would react as a reliable means of assessing the likely reaction of others. Overcoming anxiety is not overly worrying about how other people react, as long as what you are going is reasonable.

Of course, having largely overcome anxiety I am still sometimes anxious. So I still haven’t quite worked out what is normal everyday anxiety and what is overly worrying, but I just feel that I continue to make progress with this, knowing that a welded down definition is impossible.

The problem in the modern world is that we communicate far less face to face. Face to face communication is much easier because you can assess reactions straight away in real time and instantly modify behaviour. For example realising someone doesn’t want to discuss a particular subject at the moment. Sending a letter an e-mail or a text is difficult as you have no idea how people will react, you don’t know what mood they will be in when the message is received and it is difficult to express your intent without being overly wordy and often your meaning may be misinterpreted.

A good general strategy for for deciding when you shouldn’t be anxious about an action is to ask ‘What is the worst possible outcome?’. If this outcome is very unlikely, which you can usually assess, then you needn’t be anxious. Sometimes that worst possible outcome will happen, low probability events do happen from time to time. However, this doesn’t mean your action was wrong as the alternative is to do nothing, which often means sitting at home not engaging with the world.

I was incredibly unlucky in when I first overcame anxiety, the worst possible outcomes happened. I basically wanted to thank someone for helping me realise that I need not be anxious and the worst possible outcome was that they would be upset. So i was completely shocked when they did seem upset, it made no sense to me, because they didn’t reply and blocked me on social media, so to me they were upset. In my assessment that outcome seemed incredibly unlikely, yet it had happened. This confused me as i was unsure how careful I needed to be when communicating freely and honestly, as this suggested I needed to be incredible careful, even to the point where I shouldn’t initiate communication, ever. Years later I discovered that she wasn’t upset by my communicating, but rather that she had interpreted my being gushy and emotional as seeking a relationship, to black-mail them into being supportive, which was never the case. The fault seemed to be the everyday sexism of male attention to females that to them suggested that 99% of the time my communication would have been manipulative. These 1% unlikely outcomes seem to have a habit of cropping up when they are important, because it is the exceptional case anyway which people try to deal with using everyday assessments. As humans we are kind of programmed to  see exceptional events as unlikely to be true. Yet it is only these rare events when people make great leap forwards.

This all suggests that anxiety assessments are about dealing with probability and in the real world we never have nice large data sets to play with to get towards the truth, we so often get one data point and have to ascertain if it is a rare event  we have stumbled upon or is there somethign unknown to us (such as an aspect of what it is like to be a woman) that we have hit which is completely unrelated to our motive.

I grew up with an highly anxious mother and grandmother and I am also an only child. I became an adult with a much more limited understanding of regular social relations than the majority of people. So instead of naturally building up a database of social interactions to guide behaviour I had to observe the world as an outsider and try and build rule systems that seemed to work. So social interactions seem more like a game than living everyday life. The problem with rule systems is they are not good at exceptionalism and if there is a big factor that has not been included in the model, it can break down frequently until that factor has been quantified. There isn’t always time to study these down to root causes.

There are other areas where there are rule based solutions and more organic, interactive, transactional solutions, such as the simple act of crossing the road in the centres of large towns and cities at zebra crossings. In Britain where there are rules they are strict and if someone is standing by a zebra crossing or is close and looks like they wish to cross, cars must stop and wait until the crossing is finished. So a pedestrian doesn’t have to think they just cross and the cars must wait.

I was in Italy recently and I never looked up the rules, leading to a few anxious moments as the cars do not automatically stop for pedestrians. Nonetheless when walking across a zebra crossing, the cars will stop whilst you are blocking their lane. Sometimes they will toot their horn to suggest you have broken the unwritten rules.

After many crossings, it seemed to me that what Italy has a more social transnational system. If you wait for a gap in the traffic and then cross, cars happily stop. However if it’s busy and there are no gaps you can still cross, but get glared at. However when busy and you wait a few seconds to cross with a group of people the drivers seem happier. Basically, it’s a social and democratic system, everyone has the right to cross if you cause minimum disruption to others. The result is that traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian can move about smoothly, once the system is complex interactions is inherently understood. Such a system appeals to me a lot, that you can do whatever you want provided you try and cause minimal disruption to others. Nonetheless, if you have anxiety you do yearn a little for harder more precise rules.

In another European culture, Germany, it is much more rule based. On a pedestrian crossing where pedestrians have a a green and red ‘man’ signal, it is illegal and finable to cross when the red man is showing. What happens is that on a deserted road at night a pedestrian will wait until a green man signal, effectively wasting their own time to conform to the rule. In Britain, for contrast, we only follow this rule when it is busy, at other times we cross on red men signals. So, in Britain we only apply the strict rules to busy intersections but not universally like in Germany.

I think most people understand that perfection is impossible so there has to be a sliding scale of when rigid rules are obeyed and when not. For example we accept loud music of Friday and Saturday evenings, but expect things to be quieter during the week. Though there is no actual law covering this. However legally, anyone who official complains about noise has the courts on their side, whether the complaint is generally regarded as reasonable or not.

Culture is diverse, not only is our society made up of incomers from other cultures, but all sorts of different kinds of people with different attitudes to rules from within that culture.  For example Italian culture is very rule based, but doesn’t seem so in a town centre where people race down narrow busy streets at night on their mopeds and the scenes can seem quite chaotic.

Social rules do seem better than strict laws, as laws are impossible to get absolutely right. However there are always those who will push the boundaries for personal advantage, and societies need mechanism for to ensure this code breaking doesn’t pay off to general detriment.

A visitor to a culture, such as myself in Italy, who doesn’t know the rules, in some circumstances can raise anxiety levels. Cultural rules, usually give some leeway to visitors because they don’t know the rules, and are not seeking advantage by not knowing them. However cultures tend not to give as much leeway to the anxious or otherwise different. If you don’t know the rules in your own culture you are looked down upon, despite not knowing all the rules isn’t your fault.

I have moved around a lot and broken many cultural rules I do feel a lot less anxious in Wales, as I understand the culture more deeply and am probably have less anxiety about throwing myself into foreign cultures than most people. At home i feel much less anxiety and comfortable, there are less unknowns. However, for work reasons, I have often lived away from my native culture and have to re-learn new subtle changes to the rules every time, to the point where I am less wary of not knowing the consequences of my actions as I know my understanding of these things is poorer anyway.

The other aspect of anxiety is fear of being judged by other people. I suppose I have become hardened to a lot of judgement as it isn’t relevant to me. Perhaps in reaction to that there are other areas where I care a lot more about being judged, yet learning that I am being judged because of the actions of others rather than my own actions just makes me feel less inclined to be bothered by others judgements of me.

Essentially what i am saying is that anything is fine as long as you can justify it to yourself as reasonable, or to a peer group. Yet, I am aware that this is quite a dangerous attitude as there is nothing but my own conscience or people who think in similar ways to me guiding my actions. And if in moving away from anxiety means that i spend less time thinking everything through so deeply then I will do bad things without realising it and be judged even more harshly than I ever used to worry about. This is the thing with living in a city, you never make much progress before there is another big road to cross.

A Taste of Italy

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The biggest thing that struck me having just returned from a holiday to Rome, Italy was the food. I’ve been eating the best pasta, pizzas and probably far too much ice cream, the ice cream was amazing, so many interesting flavours to try. I’ve also been noticing a completely different cultural attitude to food. I did go to Rome and wanted to see the sights, which meant being in very touristy areas much of the time, yet feel i was still able to have a brief glimpse into a very different world. Italians love food in a way that the British don’t. The difference seems to be finding out where is good, rather than the British attitude of where is okay.

I think there is a  hugely different general mindset at play. The Welsh are sometimes described as people who don’t like to make a fuss, whereas the Italian understands the importance of making a fuss, of not tolerating avoidable crap. Generally, we don’t eat out very often in Wales, when we do it’s either out of the necessity of being away from home or to celebrate a special occasion with friends. We kind of accept that food will often not be that great, but have developed ways to not let this spoil our time. We kind of have the attitude that we are sure the cooks are doing their best, but are just not very good and that we shouldn’t blame them for that. We may even go back to the same establishment if it wasn’t too bad. I don’t think the Italian would do this, they would make it clear that the food was not up to standard and never go back. Essentially in Britain we have fewer ways of maintaining standards of good food.

Even in the supermarkets though the food is good. There are only small sections of crap processed food, whereas in Wales our supermarkets are mainly full of crap and finding the good stuff is more of a challenge.

Coffee is of course a big thing in Italy. It is difficult to find anywhere that does bad coffee. It’s also reasonable priced: 90c for an espresso or €1.50 for a cappuccino, provided you take it at the bar and not pay double for ‘table service’, compared to £1.50 for an espresso and around £2.30 for a cappuccino. Britain is just crazy, yet the interesting thing is the absence of the big international coffee chain cafes in Italy. The reason being that the chains could not compete with the independents or Italian chains.

I think that this is because of a different attitude in the countries. I get the impression that Italians take a pride in providing a service, of providing good food and drink to make their customers happy, rather than purely driven by profit. whereas in Britain there often isn’t this pride and the food sector is viewed purely as financial interactions. So if a business can get away with lower quality and hence reduced costs, then they will.

I love independent shops, they are more interesting and provide greater diversity. However so often in Britain some independents don’t care about service, whilst others do. Local people will support a good independent business, however some people and often seems to be the majority, don’t care about quality and will use poorer local businesses if more convenient. In Britain we seem to prefer convenience to quality. The difficulty for independents is that visitors have no idea which independents are good and which are not. The good independents will generally not be on the main shopping street as they can’t afford the high rents, so struggle. Then when the chain coffee shops came they dominated as the visitors like the chains as they know that the product won’t be too bad (better than a bad independent. Basically we are too tolerant of rubbish and we should be more Italian about food and drink.

When I was in Napoli (Naples), where there were a lot fewer tourists I got a lot more of a taste of the real Italy. Food was cheaper and generally better quality. Perhaps the less demanding tourists allow some drop in quality in the touristy parts of central Rome. It may be partly due to the warm climate, but Italians do seem to enjoy going out and eating out when they can. Instead of eating at home and then going out to drink, Italians go out to eat and drink. There seems to be more cultural mixing in Italy, rather than people settling in into their favoured pub, with a clientele similar to themselves, which is what happens in Wales. In Napoli whole families socialise out in the streets and seem to establish long term relations ships with the establishments they particularly like.

 

More Democracy

In the UK we have been in a situation where a small minority actually support the government. A larger minority vote for the government of the day, but only do so because they dislike the alternatives more. This isn’t democracy. A lot of people are fed up of it.

The problems of modern capitalism are fairly established as I see it. Western democracies were lucky that over the last century that technology and innovation produced enough economic growth that even those on low incomes quality of life improved. However we are now at the point where economic growth is sluggish at best and there is a decline in living standards.

It often seems as though people are more prepared now for change, to sweep away the failing establishment that has no answers. We have seen a rise in those who aren’t from the traditional political establishment. For example the rise of Donald Trump, the Brexit vote and support for Jeremy Corbyn. These populist causes have drawn support as being agents for a change from the established order.

There seem to be parallels with the 1930s, where political extremist causes both of the right and light of politics rose in prominence, offering the hope of a return to normality. However such extreme visions do not lead back to normality, but further away from it, such as Communism and the Nazis. While these extremes can gain popular support they don’t actually offer real solutions to the ails of populations, but rather offer a short term solution to a perception of the current problems.

The solution is simple better democracy leading to solutions based around the actual political centre of a society, where everyone is part of the system and buys into the system, creating patriots. Patriotism is really nothing more than I’ll help you if you help me or the idiom, I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine, it’s basically society that is necessary for organising ever more efficient use of dwindling resources. This patriotism need not be confined within a nation but extend outwards in looser arrangements.

The difficulty is that such radical centrists advocating more democracy, are often viewed as part of the establishment and not offering the chance of genuine change. I don’t think it has to be simply regime change, replacing one lot with another, but placing accountable politicians in power controlled through the democratic process.

Party politics is too much about winning power and retaining it, rather than exercise of that power for positive transformation of economies. If a politician argues for a policy but it is rejected then that politicians is of as much value as the one whose policy happened to be right or more popular. Democratic discourse should be about ideas and not a battle between movements.

True democracy comes from the bottom-up, so having smaller political bodies increases individuals voting power and forces leaders to live in the communities they govern. In large countries like the UK, the ruling class don’t have to live the life of ordinary people, so have no interest in ensuring the schools are the hospitals work well. It just seems that smaller countries, like Iceland or the Baltic states seem to do much better than the big ones. I don’t see what big states are for anymore. Supporting democracy is not about a desire to be separate, the reality is the reverse to create more accountable democracy that simply by being more accountable will aid economic growth.

Breaking the Silence #MeToo

Sexual harassment has been in the news recently and it is about time that this issue is more widely discussed. I’ve written on here before about how as a straight bloke it is very easy not to notice that sexual harassment is taking place right under our noses. I’m more aware of that now so I knew that there was a high likelihood of friends of mine suffering from sexual harassment. Yet it is a subject that is rarely discussed, or seems not to be with straight blokes.

So I wasn’t surprised to see on my Facebook feed lots of #MeToo postings. This social media campaign was a really good thing because it really brought the issue home when you know the victims personally, it’s no longer a statistical probability, it’s more real. Some of my friends were even brave enough to share details about what had happened to them.

Sexual harassment is perhaps the thick end and everyday sexism is the other. The everyday comments and banter just wears you down as it happens day after day.It’s a shame these things are not discussed more widely so there is greater awareness.

We are all different and sensitive to different things. As an anxious person, I too have suffered from the negative effects of everyday banter, which seems worse because it was nothing to do with my gender, so seems more personally directed.

I get the wearing down of everyday banter because I’m Welsh. When the Six nations rugby tournament is on, the banter of jokes directed between nations is part of the thing. However, being Welsh we get the jokes a lot of the time all through the year and mainly from men: The endless sheep jokes and attacks on our language, maybe be justified as merely ‘banter’ or ‘taking the piss but not meaning anything by it’ are really just tedious, but when we do get fed up of them we can usually find solace with fellow Welsh folk.

Maybe that is partly why women, the vast majority of victims of sexual harassment are women, seek solace with other women, rather than discuss the issue with straight blokes they know. and maybe that is why it is tougher on the anxious as there is no ready made group to seek solace in.

This isn’t saying that banter is wrong, it can be a bit of fun, especially between friends where we know where the limits of taking something too far are and it is established that we really don’t mean it. However men are generally more cautious about such banter with women, when they are not cautious then it is harassment. It is harassment because harassment is defined by the victim, they state when it is harassment, not the behaviour itself. Knowing the limits comes from knowing the people, which is why friends can take the piss out of each other, however when someone ‘wolf whistles’ at a woman in the street, they do not know the woman, so that is just pure harassment.

The issue with sexual harassment is that men generally don’t suffer from it, so men don’t understand it, so men are unable to know where the limits of banter are for women they know a bit from the workplace. In the same way banter affects the anxious because the non-anxious don’t understand anxiety. Really , if there were to be daily comments about how big our penises are, most men would quickly collapse sobbing in states of insecurity.

While being a victim of abuse is horrible, that such harassment is commonplace also affects blokes. To not be an anxious person I decided to be a lot more open about my feelings, which includes being open with women. Often I prefer to talk about my feelings with women as generally they listen more. However sometimes that openness can be misinterpreted as seeking a deeper relationship, or trying to get into their knickers. This troubled me because surely it was obvious from my words and how I expressed them that that wasn’t my intention. However, it took me years to realise that you can accidentally harass someone, when you don’t understand what the daily lived experience of being a woman is like.  The thing is I have been a harasser of women, but the blame for those events lies with the whole widespread commonality of sexual harassment.not anything i did or said specifically.

I’ve always been reluctant to touch women to express empathy and support because it may be inappropriate. Now I know the reason for that , because the woman may not know that I am not trying to take advantage of the situation to cop a feel. Yet straight blokes always desire copping feels, because women’s bodies are ace, yet we learn to restrain ourselves, it’s not something worth doing. Because of this blokes miss out on so much of warmth of human physical contact, to the extent that some men seek ways to slyly cop feels or worse to make up for this missing out. The solution has to be talking more about these issues, for abuse to be recognised, so these men don’t end up raping or otherwise abusing women.

Even today, there still seems to be a reluctance to take on board that everyone is different and jokes about gender, race, sexuality, nationality, mental health, religion, anything and everything else cause a lot of harm and there is too much casual banter.

This doesn’t mean that straight blokes have to somehow try and not be fascinated by women’s bodies, or that we are not allowed to talk to women we are attracted to, even if we do want to get into their knickers. What it means is simply respecting other people and realising that we can easily hurt people without realising it because we don’t know who they are. and who has been harassing them in their personal history.