Sunday, March 27, 2011

March 26th, 2011

Clearly these Lambeth Teachers' Association workers aren't about to cause any trouble, but rather are discussing what to grow on their allotments.

Yesterday's anti-cuts, union-led march has already made the headlines for mostly the wrong reasons. 'Police battle rioters', 'Luxury stores targeted', 'Hundreds arrested and dozens injured' are just some of the less sensational announcements, designed to sell newspapers. My own experience of the march was completely different. It was a day when I saw the good in people again, where I felt I wasn't the only one despairing or suffering from the threat of savage cuts in public services, and I also saw the real potential for the 'Big Society' - a country united across the usual dividing lines of class, race, and status, against blatant injustice from their government.

Of course, there was always going to be a contingent of radicalised, angry young men and women who felt the need to smash things up and have a go at battering the police. But for the majority of the 250,000 (
BBC estimates) to 500,000 (The Guardian estimates) people like me and my family members who marched to try and speak up for the common good, it was a day of peaceful protest, camaraderie and fellowship.

This feeling of togetherness was illustrated brilliantly in the pub we stopped into on Whitehall (yes, to use the facilities - but we also bought a drink, before you say anything about being heathens). The ladies' toilet queue was positively hilarious. People were striking up conversations over nothing at all, and discussing where they had travelled from and what they did for a living. We even got tired of waiting and -YES WE CAN- comandeered the gents' loo. What made me proud was how very un-British it all was. These people were actually choosing to strike up conversations - and how without fail, most of these conversations ended up with Cameron and Clegg really getting it in the neck.

Suckle Up Economics from our dear leader, the tit.

Whereas the downstairs of the pub was full of protesters, the upstairs was almost empty, save for a few groups of bemused-looking tourists, trying to have lunch. I asked two gentlemen if I could take a photo from the window they were sitting next to. "What is theees all-about?" came the query from one well-dressed middle-aged Italian. I explained that a lot of people were angry with our government, and that because we came from all kinds of backgrounds and had united today to protest, you really knew that the coalition was in trouble. "We can relate to you,"said his friend. I joked that however bad it was, we didn't have the same trouble as the Italians did, having Berlusconi for a leader. They looked shocked that I knew anything of Italian leaders. We shared a good-natured joke about Il Cavaliere. "Che cazzo, eh?" Ah, politics. Really warms the cockles.

Whitehall, yesterday

The march continued down Whitehall and began to slow as we reached Trafalgar Square. The atmosphere was electric. Not knowing what was ahead, the crowd began to get impatient and chants and cheers would break out every now and again, to keep the spirits up. No matter how ebullient we were, however, the pervasive feeling of malevolent surveillance was hard to shake. Sirens and helicopters were heard over our chants throughout. There was definitely an air of preparation for any trouble to be stamped out immediately, and we all knew how many pairs of eyes, both supportive and distrustful, were upon us at all times.

Reports of violence from Oxford Street and some parts of Piccadilly were certainly unnerving, and we knew something was afoot as we passed The Ritz with cracked windows - but for the most part, it felt like a peaceful, inspiring day that had the potential to spark real change. It felt like Britons from all corners of the country finally had a common cause to unite - something which I haven't felt in a long, long time.

Cameron may have had a different 'Big Society' in mind, but yesterday felt big enough to topple his government's shortsighted and irresponsible plans.

For those of you reading this who went, thank you for making it such an incredible day - you have my applause. Please feel free to share your comments below. It would be good to hear from others who had different (or similar) experiences of the day.

Now, let's all keep our fingers crossed for a similar outing planned for April 29th. Wouldn't it be a shame if the royal couple had to elope...?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Something for the Weekend?


Just a short one, this. If you:

a) live in south London 
b) live in London, 
c) live anywhere in the UK, in fact, 
d) know anyone likely to be using a hospital in the coming year, 
e) know anyone trying to go to university in the next year, 
f) know anyone who will be trying to get a graduate job in the next year 
g) actually DO quite like libraries, thanks, 
or just h) aren't a numpty, please try to get yourself down here, here, or here tomorrow. 

We aren't going to have many opportunities like this one. Photos and march-commentary to follow...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Coming Out, Standing Up and Being Counted

image credit:

I have a secret. (Shh - it's this blog).

Ever since I began writing here in February 2009, I have done so under a pseudonym. I have shown it to maybe four or five of my friends and work colleagues, but I've never made my posts public on my facebook or my own twitter account. At first, that was mainly because I wasn't confident about my writing, but more recently, it's been about not wanting to be too public about my thoughts, especially as so many of them are about jacking it all in and leaving London behind. The blog was always intended to be a diary and an occasional account of events going on during a particularly turbulent time in my life, but more of a virtual notebook; a place to store my thoughts, archive them, and be able to look back on them. I certainly still don't really know whether this blog is a foodie thing or a self-indulgent ranty thing, or just an online space to store musings. But a few things are happening that make me want to publicise a little bit more, and address some issues I feel are important.

Firstly, work is totally bonkers at the moment. People are leaving and throwing their toys out of various prams all over the place. I am trying to remain somewhat indifferent to the upheaval because it fits in with my master plan to pack my shit up and leave in around 11 months' time to try finding sustainable work somewhere in France running a jam farm. But these relatively minor HR storms rage within a sector-wide squall - I work in higher education, you see.


It's become increasingly clear to me that "this country" (as I write, I hear it being said in David Cameron's twattish little voice - shudder) has been, for the short term at least, monumentally buggered *polite term* by the Con-Dem government. All right, nothing new there; that's been going on since May. But specifically, I'm increasingly disillusioned with the prospect of talking excitedly about higher education to 17 and 18 year olds across the UK and EU this year knowing full well that they will be committing themselves, for the most part, to at least £27,000 worth of government- endorsed debt from next September onwards, not including their living costs. And that's my job, which makes things a bit tricky, really.

Thanks a bunch, Dave.

I feel like a bit of a fraud and a hypocrite, but at least part of my job is about trying to raise aspirations of young people who have the the ability to go to university but are facing barriers to progression. (It's also to help the university I work for increase their intake from as wide a variety of schools and backgrounds as possible.) But I don't yet know how we can really fix things to make university education more accessible to all, though. And I'm getting tired of feeling like we're all lying and just trying to make up the numbers to satisfy this government's guilty conscience.

But for the moment, here's what I'm doing. I'm trying to motivate a small team of people, keep my head above water, clear my own (relatively meagre) student debt, not lie to anyone (intentionally or not), get my bus commute down to under an hour a day, eat up all my greens, better my own personal best Scrabble high score of 420, and keep writing.

Oh, and given that influential people are leaving my workplace, I'm no longer worried about this blog being public anymore. You can find the real me on twitter here and here, and you can email me at the.bittersweet.cityAT gmailDOTcom. Holler at me and tell me what you think, or leave me comments and let's interact. And if you can, come and join me at this on March the 26th. It's important, for everyone, not just students.

By the way, I'm totally serious about the jam farm.