Post-Glastonbury blues

Back all the way home (with a London stop-over), and have just had probably the longest sleep of my year – 10 hours, which I used to do at least once a week; man I’m getting old.  Not quite time to start getting excited about the next year, but it won’t be long.  And a fallow year (next is 2017) is hard to get through.

I can be quite evangelical about Glasto, but then I genuinely believe that anybody who goes will find something they love.  You might have to make arrangements if you can’t cope with a sleeping in a basic tent (and there are no shortage of upmarket options if you’ve got the cash), but it’s not like you’re out in the middle of nowhere; you have relatively easy access to everything you really need, and it’s all suffused with an aura of friendliness.  And I mean the last, not as some kind of hippy BS – it’s genuinely nice to be surrounded by people all having a good time.  Even if the rain comes down in buckets, you can always find a friend to chat with and maybe bum a fag off under the canopy of a tent.

Dealing with the complainers

One of the regular Glastonbury traditions is that a lot of people who didn’t go like to shower abuse on the festival and its attendees.  Some of these will be from people who wanted to go and didn’t get tickets, others from long-time opponents of other people enjoying themselves.  Now I’m not going to oppose peoples’ fundamental right to moan, but it’d be nice if the complaints were valid.  I shall respond to a few of the regulars:

  1. It’s too expensive.
    • look, I’m not going to pretend that £225 is money that everybody has, but you need to consider what you’re paying for.  This is not a few bands in a field, but a 5-day holiday.  Or to look at it another way, how much would you expect to pay to see the 3 main headliners?  I don’t imagine you’ll get much change from a ton buying pretty ordinary tickets to see The Who or Kanye.  And you can quite plausibly see another 30 bands on the bill (assuming you’re just going for the music, rather than the many other activities, or even just to sunbathe and have a drink with friends)
  2. Okay, the ticket is fair, but then you get ripped off inside
    • Firstly, you don’t have to spend another penny inside the site.  Unlike many festivals, which won’t let you take food or drink into the ‘arena’, at Glastonbury there is pretty much one restriction: no glass.  As long as you’re willing and able to lug the stuff onto the site – and plenty of people use trolleys for the purpose – you can bring as much for your personal consumption as you like (they will stop you if it looks like you’re going to sell it, but the limit must be pretty high considering the number of people you see with cases and cases of cider, beer, etc.)
    • Secondly, while there are places on site that will sting you, a little attention means that you can certainly eat for a pretty good price.  Don’t stop at the van that is asking £5 for a toasted cheese sarnie, but wander on and pick up a full thali for a couple of quid more.  And while a lot of people seem to baulk at the idea of paying £10 for half a litre of wine, that’s because they’re for some reason comparing with supermarket prices, rather than pub.
  3. The food is awful.
    • Again, there are the usual terrible burger vans but anybody who maintains this really isn’t trying.  This year I had, among other things; the aforementioned thali, half a rotisserie chicken with seasoned potatoes, a beautiful 3 bean stew, some of the best some-made sausages with mash and gravy, and a lobster roll.  While I was having the last, my friend ate some freshly-shucked oysters, and a clam chowder.  It’s particularly (unsurprisingly) good for vegetarians and vegans.  The general rule is to avoid the big vans and head for anything that looks like it’s run by a family out of their people-carrier with a bit of tarp propped up.  Trust me, these people cook because they love it.  And are often happy to let you try a taste, and ask for recipes and tips.
  4. Everybody’s on drugs.
    • I’m not going to deny that there’s a lot of weed on site.  Or that most people are probably going to consume their body-weight in alcohol.  But other stuff, not so much (as a proportion of festival goers – I’m not arguing that there aren’t thousands of people off their faces).   Unless you go in the late night club area, I reckon most people just aren’t prepared to risk the comedown when they’ve got several more days of sleeping in a  field.  Also, you generally want to be able to get to sleep at a homely hour, because by 8 in the morning, your tent is an oven.
  5. It’s a horrible mud bath.
    • This year we were lucky enough to get away with a few showers, but I was still surprised on my return not to see the few clips and photos from these periods being endlessly recycled by the Daily Mail.  It will rain at some point, because it’s England, but the site actually drains pretty well.  You really should take wellies or boots, but that’s just common sense.  These days I’m much more concerned about the dust when it’s dry.  Look, you’re going to get dirty, but if you can’t let your hair down for a few days here, you probably should never leave the city.  And if you’re really insistent on cleanliness, there are (heated) showers available on site.  You just might miss a few bands queuing for them.
  6. The toilets are appalling.
    • Can’t entirely argue.  But then your average pub toilets are pretty unpleasant.  Best avoid the enclosed portaloos, and go for the open air ones.  Although don’t camp next to those.  Also, in recent years they’ve been expanding the eco-friendly composting toilets, which really don’t smell much at all, as long as everybody remembers to chuck a cup of sawdust on their business.  In general, the first time you go on arrival it’s a bit of a shock, but within a day or two, you just don’t notice any more.
  7. It’s all middle-class these days.
    • Again, this is largely true.  But then most people in this country *are* middle-class.  Maybe it was different back in the seventies, but I don’t think it’s been something specifically for hippies and travellers in a long time.  Not that you won’t see many of both groups happily mingling with the families and groups of students.  Just get away from the main stages, and pretty much all of human life is here.  You will see some annoying gap-year types, but then you will also see three generations of a family sitting up on a hill watching Lionel Richie together.  It really is special like that.
  8. It’s all corporate.
    • This is simply not true.  Obviously, there are large companies involved in providing to the festival – security most obviously.  It’s basically a city (maybe 200k people on site at peak), so nobody expects a 79-year old man, his daughter, and few friends to run the whole thing.  But compared to pretty much every other public event, you’ll be struck by how little advertising there is.  The three ‘sponsors’ are Greenpeace, Wateraid, and Oxfam.  They’re the only people who get substantial coverage across the site.  Otherwise, it’s pretty much just the individual stands.  So it depends if your definition of ‘corporate’ includes complaining that EE get to put a banner on the tent they provide for people to recharge their phones.  I’m sure they don’t do this out of the kindness of their hearts, but neither do they get to spill out all over the site. The festival as a whole is still majority owned by the Eavises, and nobody else gets to make decisions about its course.
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Fancy dress

I’ve been invited to another party which expects fancy dress.  It’s in my flat, with my flatmates, so I shall be going and I’m sure it’ll be fun, but it’s such a pain trying to sort out a costume, and I don’t enjoy it.  I just want to get drunk, eat some snacks, chat about shit and maybe, if the stars are right, hook up with someone.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly happy for other people to do it if they want, but I’m sure I’m not the only person who gets annoyed.  And for what?  If I make an effort, I might get a few people congratulating me on it in the opening minutes.  But then it’ll soon become an irrelevance.  I’ve never come across a party that was actually more *fun* because everyone attired themselves as a character or celebrity.  At least not since I was five.

I think the trouble is that there are some people who do actually enjoy it, and they don’t see this.  ‘Oh, just put on some old clothes from the back of your wardrobe and come as the 70s or something’ they say, unaware of the fact that I don’t have any clothes I don’t really wear.  If your the sort of person who loves this shit, I’m sure you keep old clothes and bits and pieces that you can put together.  My wardrobe consists of lots of t-shirts, some shirts, and a few pairs of jeans.  Which I am fine with.  So dressing up either involves hunting round charity shops, which I hate as much as I do shopping of any variety – an ideal trip for clothes involves going into the first place I can find, trying something on, and buying if it fits.  Or finding an actual costume, from a party shop or hire place.  And these are invariably either shit, or totally impractical.  Like those with a cool rubber mask that renders one incapable of drinking.  Or is so hot that it has to be removed within a few minutes of arrival.

Anyway, that’s enough moaning for now. I’m sure the party will be fun, I just wish I didn’t feel that I have to fuck around beforehand in order to not look miserable.  Cos I’m not.

On not voting

I used to be a hardcore member of the ‘if you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain about the outcome’ gang.  It’s one of the few matters I think I’ve completely switched my position over.  I mean, I’ve changed my mind over various matters of policy upon learning more about them, and my overall views have drifted, and interests broadened, but in the most part I’m not that far from where I was at 18.

To be fair, the world has changed a lot since I first voted in 1997.  Maybe I and my friends were naive and lacking in political education, but everyone seemed a lot more optimistic (not least because of the state of the economy and the end of the Cold War and all of its knock-on effects), and the major parties actually looked a little different from each other.  It actually felt like things were changing for the better and, notwithstanding Tony Blair’s later exploits, I think they were.   This is not to look back through rose-tinted spectacles, as there was a lot still wrong at the time, but it does feel that various matters have been moving backwards in the last few years, for the first time in my life.

It’s just a shame that the whole idea of not-voting has become so dominated of late by the figure of Russell Brand.  Not that I’m entirely opposed to the guy – it’s good that he seems to have engaged younger people in politics, and I agree with him on a good number of matters.  But then he doesn’t exactly have the best record in other areas – particularly in his treatment of women.  And more dangerously, his rather silly public persona can undermine causes he associates with – it can be presented to show that *serious people* vote,and  only foppish comedy millionaires would think otherwise.

Anyway, I’m not going to be voting in the 2015 general election, due to the whole living in another country thing.  But I’m not bothered about that.  I can still participate in UK politics in a whole raft of other ways, and intend to do more when I return to London.  I still think that everybody should be political, and I’m happy for people to vote as part of that.  But marking a ballot paper shouldn’t be the end of anybody’s engagement.

Gloves

Today, walking through Wood Green high street, I saw a guy putting on what appeared to be gardening gloves.  Slightly odd, as he didn’t look like he was about to garden.  But then gloves are always a bit odd.  Mainly because they’re usually worn by criminals*.  You can tell a lot from somebody’s decision to wear gloves, which I shall elaborate upon:

  • Latex gloves – convenient for the murderer who needs to blend in quickly after the crime.  Easily disposed of.  Also possibly useful for medical types.  Who may also be murderers.
  • Tight leather gloves – murderers only.
  • Big leather gloves – murderers and chauffeurs.   Who may also commit murder for their employers.  Or be inexplicably murdered themselves.
  • Wooly gloves/mittens – acceptable on children.  Although really disappointing in snow, as any attempt to produce projectiles with which to bombard siblings leaves them soggy in seconds.  Since they are for children, on adults they must immediately arouse suspicion.  Although not really of a potential killer (too much risk of leaving fibres in the wound?).  Probably a barrator, then.
  • Furry gloves – makes me think of puppets.  So some form of fraudulent.
  • Gardening gloves – friend of a killer.  Useful for helping to dispose of the bodies.  Or possibly a gardener, but this does cover for access to a wide selection of weapons.

    Anyway, in summary, you should be extremely suspicious of anybody wearing gloves, as they may attack you at any moment.  Then again, so might somebody not wearing gloves.  And that’s an even scarier prospect, since you can’t spot them.  Basically, assume that anybody you don’t know is up to something.  And *know* that anybody you know definitely is.

Postscript

I don’t know why I harbour such suspicion of the wearing of gloves, but there you go.  Don’t wear them myself, unless necessary.  Like when I’m actually gardening.

*this may not be strictly true.

On Transience

I am cis.  I am not trans*.  I have no idea what it is like to be trans*  I’m not going to attempt to speculate about that.  But I will say that I find the attitudes of many other cis people very strange.  Particularly their insistence on the concreteness and physical determination of their nature.

I am not my body.  My body is just a collection of cells, tissues, organs that I happen to be situated in.  It is something that allows me to exist in, and interact with, the rest of the physical world.  Sometimes I enjoy it, sometimes I hate it.  But it is not me.

I am not an enduring thing.  I exist in the present.  The me of the past is like a relative, or somebody I have heard many stories about.  There is a close bond, but it is not identity, at least as philosophers describe it.  The future me will also not be the me I know now.  Maybe the future me will be closer to the ideal I’d choose.  I hope so.  I hope that the world can help me realise this.  I hope the same for everyone else.

No Children

Yesterday evening I eavesdropped, as it were (I’m sure there’s appropriate terminology, but I don’t know it), on a conversation between two people I follow on Twitter.  One has just had a child, and was remarking on how amazing being a father is, and the other concurred.  Rather than interrupting their shared reverie, I thought I’d ramble on about how I don’t entirely get this, and also how society’s attitude to the production and raising of children is rather odd.

Let me start by saying that I’m not criticising the fathers I was reading, nor parents in general.  If you want to have a kid, and believe that you can raise them to be a good person and have a decent standard of living, go for it.  Although these caveats touch on some of my thought: now it’s not my place – or anybody’s as far as I’m concerned – to make decisions for prospective parents, but I do wonder how much thought people give to having children.  Not, of course, that they don’t think about when to do it, and how they’ll reorganise their lives, but the pressure of expectation is so great that the idea of, y’know, not doing it at all doesn’t come up.  And of course there should be nothing wrong with saying ‘no thanks, having kids isn’t for me’.  Yet this is treated as a strange, or even radical position.

Nor am I interested in the purely biological imperatives to have kids/perpetuate one’s genes, etc.  There are fundamental reasons why other organisms reproduce – if there weren’t we wouldn’t be here – and I get that these contribute to human nature.  But this still doesn’t explain why society fetishises parenthood – human civilisation is one of the things, for good or ill, that differentiates us from the rest of nature.  As an aside, this is one of the reasons I don’t understand the pull of evolutionary psychology: trying to explain everything in terms of our hunter-gatherer past rather misses the point of what we’ve been up to for the past few millennia, and at best it’s a long distant starting point.

So you’re thinking about having a baby

Great, many people consider it to be the most rewarding experience of their lives.  You might too, but don’t count on it.  You’re about to invest a huge amount of your time and energy, to say nothing of money, in this project, so it’s probably worth giving it some thought.  Probably best to at least put your plans on hold if you’re only doing it because you think it’s something you should do, but without knowing quite why.  Ditto if you’re doing it because your partner, family, friends, colleagues say you should do it.  These people’s opinions are all important, to varying degrees, but they’re not you.  Most difficult is going to be the case of your partner, but if they want kids and you don’t really, it’s probably best to part ways amicably now.

Oddly enough, I reckon that the most commonly cited factor, that of money, is the least important factor in making this decision.  Plenty of people, generally those with money, will go on about making sure that you’re economically stable and comfortable.  Quite apart from the impossibility of knowing where you’ll be decades in the future, there is no such thing.  People manage on every conceivable income, and expectations tend to fit the circumstances.  For example, I have been amazed to read about a number of people who cannot even imagine not sending their offspring to a private school.  I remember reading a piece in the aftermath of the initial banking crisis which tried to give some perspective on the modern class system, and which featured a banker who genuinely believed that it was impossible to raise a family on a salary of less than six figures.  I guess he might have made some concessions for people living outside London, but he listed off various expenses as necessary, apparently oblivious to the fact that the vast majority of the population live without them.  Which tangent brings me to a real requirement: empathy.  If you can’t think of other people, you probably shouldn’t have kids, cos they won’t just be extensions of your self, however much you might like them to be.

Anyway, if you reckon you can muddle through, and genuinely want to, then go for it.  Billions of people have managed it before, which is not to say that it’s not challenging, as they’ve met with varying degrees of success.  But it’s not a completely outlandish idea.  Quite the opposite, which is my real issue here: why does society at large see the need to continually celebrate parenthood as if it’s the greatest thing in the world?

I get why politicians do, as there are a lot of votes in it, but that’s merely a function a) there are lots of parents, and b) that they think that what they do is worthy of recognition.  So that get’s us nowhere.  But as a broadly political matter, it makes no sense, as people kind of do it anyway, and besides the world is already full enough (in terms of the current infrastructure – I’m not suggesting that there’s an arbitrary limit).  I might make exceptions for people who take a narrowly nationalistic position and who’s national populations are in decline, but this is already a piece with the idea that a growing population is a Good Thing.  And besides, anybody who doesn’t view immigration as a viable solution to this is at least latently racist.

So if there’s no wider incentive, why get so much more excited about it than almost every other possible human activity.  I agree that we should celebrate people who do a good job of it, but no more than we should congratulate those who produce good art.  But in both cases we should withhold the praise from those who do it badly.  It’s true that the very attempt at either might be good for the person or persons themselves, but that’s no reason for the rest of us to weigh in uncritically.

Anyway, for all of the above reasons, and also because I don’t want to, I shall not be having children.  Good luck if you plan to, but don’t think you’re special.  Billions have done it before and more will after; some will do a better job than you, and many will fuck it up a whole lot more.  I hope that wilfull childlessness will gain something of the status of modern atheism – but without the Dawkins, if you please – it may always be a minority choice, but is a viable one where neither side gains any special moral currency from making what is simply a personal choice.

Postscript

One final point about the oddness of people who regard producing children as if they’re doing a favour to the rest of society.  The whole business about providing for the future of the human race is about the most spurious argument you can make.  Firstly, it doesn’t look like we’re in any danger of dying out from this.  Through destroying the environment, maybe, or even a massive nuclear exchange.  But there are plenty of people already having kids, and many millions of young people who could do with food, shelter, and dignity first.  Let’s look after the children we have before we start thinking about having more.

And this last brings me to my second and final point: it’s odd how those who go on most about looking to the future of the species here, and are most pro-‘family’ – which is to say conservatives – give the least consideration to others in the rest of their lives.  Anybody who has or wants to have children should really be a green (more-or-less, and I’m thinking of the ideology, rather than the party itself, as you can disagree on specific policies).  If you’re looking at the future in one fashion, you should really be looking at it in every area.  It makes no sense to want ‘the best’ for your offspring, while cheerfully screwing up their future.  And this isn’t really about people who deny anthropogenic climate change – that’s a scientific discussion that I’ll leave elsewhere – but the fact that even if you don’t think the science quite holds up, any ethical parent should probably at least be thinking about the, in no way outlandish, idea that we might have some effect on the world of our children, and adjusting their behaviour accordingly.

Stop Press: Fuck the Pope

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/11/pope-francis-the-choice-to-not-have-children-is-selfish

Code: Panic

Good morning; today’s feeling is panic.  Not a full on attack level, although the very thought of that is not unlikely to trigger as a result of the feedback loop that thinking about it produces.  But if it had hit that point, I wouldn’t be typing this.  Nah, thus far it’s just a constant background hum.  It feels a bit like I can hear my voice (it’s always my own voice, which is, maybe, a good thing) pointing out all sorts of terrible things that might be about to happen, and so I can feel the adrenalin just waiting to trigger the fight or flight response.  And it’ll be flight, not least because you can’t fight something so nebulous.  Anyway, my heart feels like it’s pounding, and has all day, and I’m struggling to concentrate on anything else.

Obviously this isn’t directly caused by external world events, but they might not be helping.  And that includes ‘good’ stuff – got a nice weekend away planned for Valentine’s.  Which I know will be lots of fun.  But it’s something I have to do, so it’s just adding to the pressure.  Not sure how I can fuck it up, but…

Code: Hopelessness

Now I’m sure that everybody who has ever experienced mental health problems has struggled, in addition to the basic issues, with how to describe their particular situation.  It’s incredibly challenging trying to share something when you have no idea if the other person(s) with whom you’re trying to communicate have any point of reference.  When you refer to the physical, you can generally start with some common ground: notwithstanding special visual issues, you assume that everybody else sees the same object in the same way.  This becomes trickier once you move to away from simple observation, but with physical injury and illness there is still somewhere to jump off from.  It’s not unreasonable to assume that one broken leg will have a certain amount with another, even though there’s no way to experience, and hence to know what somebody else’s pain is like.  Of course this assumes a willingness to empathise – it’s perfectly possible to simply deny the reality of another’s pain.  But this is unusual in the case of their being physical symptoms.

With mental illness you don’t even have that starting point.  You rely entirely on the rest of the world to accept your description of what is happening inside your head.  And all too often, your attempt to talk in terms the rest of the world can grasp backfires, because it allows people to file it away in neat boxes that they are already familiar with.  Maybe  you are sad? – well who isn’t at some time or other?  Or if depressed, they immediately look at meatworld factors, like how your job or family life is.  To be fair, I was equally guilty of doing the latter.  I only took myself to speak to a doctor about the situation once I’d looked at every aspect of my day to day life and failed to find a mundane cause (not that I’m bragging about how great my life is, or was at the time).

Flavours

Anyway, if the best way to describe something to somebody who hasn’t experienced it (and maybe cannot) is by finding something similar, surely the next is to talk in terms of difference.  So I’m going to try and describe the various different forms I experience.

Today’s is hopelessness.  There’s an underlying layer of exhaustion, but my lack of will is more based on a feeling – that obviously doesn’t square with my rational understanding – that nothing I do will change anything.  This was much greater last night, and is kind of fluctuating now, hence I’m actually writing this.  But it’s still there at the back of my head.  Will just have to see what happens after another night’s sleep; could be up, could be down, could just fix itself for no apparent reason.  But then that’s part of it – nothing I can do will affect the course.

“Hey! He lied to us through song. I hate it when people do that. “

It’s amazing how easy it is to lie to those around us.  Lying is generally regarded as a major moral failing, and we would all like to think of ourselves as good people, so we convince ourselves of our virtue despite the fact that we constantly dissemble and misrepresent.  As more than a few people have observed, true honesty is not socially acceptable.

I’m not thinking of of major untruths: the slandering of a rival, the concealment of one’s criminal actions.  Nor the petty viciousness a child might direct towards a sibling, or the way a gossip may massage facts to inflate their own importance (Twitter’s own version, perhaps, being reposting without attribution).  On the flip side, I equally don’t mean white lies proper, where one acts to protect from genuine harm, or shame.

No, the vast majority of the lies we tell are simply social lubricant.  A colleague asks after our health and we unthinkingly reply that we are well.  Or we avoid making a perfectly justifiable complaint in a restaurant in order not to make a scene.  Conversely one might pretend relative indifference to a topic of great personal interest, as we know that interest is not shared by others present.  As a Brit, I have been trained to take part in the great ironical game where a phrase like ‘mustn’t grumble’, which clearly is grumbling in itself, is used to suggest that everything is fine, regardless of whether or not this is the case in fact.  And none of this is to suggest that this is a bad thing.  If whenever one spoke on a matter, one felt obliged to point out every single little dissatisfaction, or to trumpet one’s delight, we’d probably spend most (or more, at least) of our time wishing everybody would shut up for a bleedin’ minute.

Although there is clearly a vast gulf between the way we would like to see ourselves, and how we actually are, there is at least one matter those who sing the gospel of probity have got right: small lies soon become bigger ones, and the few easily multiply.  Or at least this happens if we are not vigilant.  If we unthinkingly lie about the insignificant things, at some point we’ll slip and do the same about things that really matter, that require the truth.  As the title might have suggested, I’m thinking of when we say that we’re ok, but really are not.

Now I don’t want to come across as if I’m painting myself as a paragon, but I’d like to think that I’m particularly good at this.  While I hardly led a childhood of deprivation, I lost my mother at a young age, and yet I never complained.  When I say this, I don’t mean I never objected to anything, or protested about my treatment, just that I never stopped and said anything like, ‘I’m eight years old, and I’ve just had one of the most important people in my life taken from me.  I shouldn’t have to deal with this, and I’d like some fucking help, right now.’  It seems rather funny writing like this about my past self, because I really don’t remember it like it happened to me.  I’m not sure how everyone else looks back on their childhood, but for me it’s more like recalling the elements of a story someone else once told than sorting through my own more recent memories.  Anyway, I digress.

It’s possible that my particular case is exacerbated by my Britishness, middle-class background, or my being male.  I’ve certainly seen mention of the latter in regard to the poor record of men presenting themselves to a doctor when sick.  But it seems rather odd to generalise this way as I don’t see our public spaces flooded with women bewailing their many misfortunes.  Well, I don’t – some people seem unable to distinguish between the legitimate airing of political grievance, and ‘moaning’.  There may be minor differences in the extent, but everybody does it, at least most of the time.  And this may not always be healthy.

I’ll wrap up with the idea that this was just a very long-winded way of saying ‘I’m not ok’.  But I’m kind of ok with that.

Postscript

Maybe I have made an error in assuming that everybody lies.  If you feel that I have misrepresented you, I apologise.  I’d say that I admire you but, in an uncharacteristic moment of truthfulness, I’ll admit that I don’t.  Honesty has its place, but it can also be brutal, hurtful, and even malicious.  I might like to be more honest, but totally?  I think not.  I’d rather get on with those around me.