Tuesday 8 December 2015

The Last Word (flash fiction)

Arts venues close for dubious reasons, libraries close because no one really needs books anymore, certain books are deemed unsuitable - and I remembered writing this flash.

The Last Word

The poets were the first to die. Shunned, scorned, their souls poisoned by the angst they couldn’t vent. Unused rhythms burst their over-flowing hearts and strangled their creativity – they choked on their rhymes.

The philistines smiled.

The playwrights didn’t mourn the poets - those twisters of words - but untold conversations soon spun their brains into frenzy. They talked, shouted, argued and made up with their own egos. They wandered, muttering, taking their final bows to empty seats and empty heads. Their sense of drama decreed that poison was the most fitting finale.

The philistines laughed.

The novelists sneered. Playwrights were melodramatic fools. But then they wondered, in this new world, who would print their novels? Who would read them? Had they ever been good? Was the purge justified by their inadequacy as artists? Paranoia bred despair, despair denied them sustenance, malnutrition brought their demise.

The philistines rejoiced.

The journalists recorded the events with glee. For so long the bastard children of true artists, now they were the only surviving wordsmiths. Yet they were still looked upon with disgust, even as they revelled in the success of their masters. They took solace in alcohol, their words became as drunk as their minds, and soon both dried up.

The world’s readers, with no means of escape from their own stories, became an unproductive, uncaring, unfeeling mass.

The philistines’ success went unheralded. There was no one left to write the eulogy.

The word and the world ended.

Saturday 24 January 2015

Alternative Hell and The Final Countdown

Next year, instead of doing the dryathlon, I’ve decided to get myself sponsored to spend a weekend locked in a remote cottage with Katie Hopkins, Nigel Farage, Piers Morgan and the ghost of Jimmy Saville. There’ll be a television, but it will only show grand prix, reality TV, party political broadcasts by UKIP and the Tories, and soaps. There will be no books. A radio will play Rebecca Black on a continuous loop. I’m fairly sure it’ll be easier than this.

Nah, it’s actually getting a lot better. With just a week to go, I know I’ll do it now. I think it’s because the viruses/infections are finally showing signs of leaving me alone, so I’m able to get back to zumba and yoga and generally feel less miserable.

I had my first proper test last week when I went to a pub quiz and left as sober as I arrived. That has never happened before. Still had a good night, still had a laugh with friends, still won the quiz, so alcohol is not necessary, just pleasant. It’s good to know that.

January is a tough month to do something like this. There’s the after-festive-season dip in mood, the weather, the seemingly endless dark, dreich days. Money is tight because of over-spending at Christmas, spring and summer feel a very long way away. I think February would be better – mainly because it’s a shorter month, obviously.

I have to say, though, if I had just decided to try this for no reason, no cause, I know I would have failed. It would have been too easy on one of those miserable days to just say, ‘Sod it – I’ll try again another month.' Knowing that people had donated, knowing that it was for such a good cause, knowing that I wouldn’t just be failing myself is what has kept me going.

A huge thank you, once again, to those of you who have sponsored me. I set my target at £100, I’ve already raise £170. Fantastic and genuinely does make it more than worthwhile.

If you’d like to add to that total, here’s the link: https://www.justgiving.com/Karen-Jones-dryathlete2015/

Wednesday 14 January 2015

The Worst Party Ever

Fourteen days into the Dryathlon and I am now dreaming about wine. To be more specific, Cava.

I was at a party, being very good, drinking Schloer (that word should be said in a different funny accent every time it is uttered – that’s a rule) when a friend from salsa (I’m talking about you, Raj) offered to top up my glass. She took the glass away, gave it back to me, I took a few sips, realised it was Cava and said, ‘No, no, I can’t drink this – I’m doing the Dryathlon.’ She laughed and said, ‘Ha, got you! Now you have to start all over again. This isn’t day fourteen, it’s back to day one.’ Then she cackled some proper witchy evil cackling. Everyone at the party joined in, pointing and laughing, then they all raised their alcohol-filled glasses and shouted, ‘CHEERS!’

I woke up convinced it was real, that I genuinely had thirty one days of hell to go. But, no, just an evil dream.

I am finding the challenge more difficult than I thought I would. I was sure I’d be feeling all sorts of health benefits, especially where sleep is concerned, and that I’d have more energy and be feeling fresher and brighter. Unfortunately, the opposite has been true. But I think that’s because I’m still fighting this virus or infection – whatever the hell it is – that started on January 1st, so am still feeling a bit crap in general.

At the moment, the only benefit is financial, which is great, but I could do with a sudden surge of health to keep me on track and take away the temptation to cheat and pay the forfeit. It really is hard.

Of course, then I stop and think, ‘I’m whining about not having a drink. The people who have cancer – the whole fundraising point to this thing - are having ever so slightly worse fun than me and they don’t get to choose when it ends, you know?’ And then I shut up, drink my water, and realise how lucky I am to be in a position to do this small thing to try to help fund finding a cure.

Seventeen more days to go. It’ll be fine. But no more invading my dreams, please.

If you want to donate, my page is here: https://www.justgiving.com/Karen-Jones-dryathlete2015/

P.S. Raj is lovely and would never actually trick me and taunt me in this way. Probably.

Thursday 8 January 2015

Wine Free and Almost Whine Free

“Let’s do the Dryathlon thingy in January!” is something I said when I was drunk, sometime in December – or maybe November. I dunno, I like wine, it could have been any time.

Of course, in the sober light of morning, I changed my mind. Until the next time I’d had too much wine (probably the next day) and, “Let’s do the Dryathlon thingy in January!” came tumbling out of my mouth again.

It was clearly something I wanted to do, wasn’t it? Really? Deep down?

I signed up (while drunk), and set my fundraising target at a low-end £100 (loads of folk do Dryathlon and I didn’t want friends to feel obliged to donate or to have to donate too much) and then dedicated myself to drinking as much as I could for the whole of December, culminating in our annual Hogmanay party where I broke a personal best for guzzling copious amounts of Cava and Prosecco. I stopped drinking at 5 am, and even then I only stopped because everyone else was going home or off to bed. I had to accept it was over. The time had come for the fun to end. I tidied up and went to bed at about 6 am, really looking forward to the month of abstention ahead. I was going to get so healthy and fit and happy. Yep. Definitely.

On January 1st I woke at noon. I was ill. Hungover? Well, yeah, obviously (was there any Cava or Prosecco left in the world that day – I doubt it?) but also a sore head, a hacking cough and general chest cold symptoms. Rough. Really rough. I dragged myself through the day, cooked and ate some steak pie, washed down with alcohol free red wine.

Yes, that’s right, alcohol free wine. It’s wine that’s had the alcohol ‘carefully removed’. I’m one of those people who needs the crutch – the wine glass, filled with a wine-like substance. My brain needs to believe I’m still part of this civilised world where a glass of red with dinner is not only okay, it’s the best part of dinner. Thanks to my chest cold, it didn’t taste too bad. Thanks to my chest cold, days one to six were absolutely fine because I didn’t really feel like drinking at all.

Then came day 7. The chest cold symptoms not quite so bad. Still the horrendous cough, but no longer feeling so rough. Alcohol free wine tastes like cherry juice. Slightly warm cherry juice. I want proper wine. Unfortunately, we are surrounded by it. Everything that was left after the party is still here. About half a dozen bottles of Cava and Prosecco and a few bottles of champagne - they’re actually very easy to resist - but the box of Shiraz, the bottle of Wolf Blass red, the bottle of McGuigan’s red, those three are killing me as they stand there, flaunting their deliciousness.

And they’re not just delicious; they’ll make me feel all warm and fuzzy and smiley and happy. And I've not been well. and it's been a whole week. And I've almost doubled my fundraising target anyway. And no one would know.

But, of course, they’ll also make me feel like shit in the morning, stain my teeth even further, add more empty calories to my day, stop me from sleeping – and as a chronic insomniac, I don’t really need any help in that department – and replacing them will further deplete my beleaguered bank balance. And I signed up for a month, not a week. And those people who donated donated on the condition that I stick this out. And I'd know.

So I will hold strong. Only another 24 days to go. It’ll be fine. It’ll be good. And come February 1st, I’ll be the cheapest date ever.

Gies another glass of that … water. Cheers.

*For those who don't know, Dryathlon is a fundraiser for Cancer Research. Participants stop drinking alcohol for the month of January. It's torture.

Friday 19 September 2014

Trying to Explain the Seemingly Inexplicable. (The aftermath of the vote.)

What do you say to your two young sons when they look to you for an explanation for something that they find inexplicable? When they are so shocked and saddened and express shame at the result of the vote – even though you advised caution and told them, from day one, to expect the worst – that they don’t know what to say. When they wonder if they’ll ever get the chance to change this.

Well, I tried to make them laugh and told them this:

“Imagine someone came into your house one day and said, ‘Yeah, I like this. Okay, this is going to be mine, and everything in it will be mine but I’ll let you use everything – up to a point. I want you to go out to work every day and give me your wages, then I’ll give you some money back that will probably be enough to keep at least half of the house water-tight and habitable. Oh – and I’m going to put a bomb in one of the bedrooms. Don’t worry about it – it probably won’t go off and kill you all or anything – but one day I might get into a fight with someone and I’ll need that bomb as a threat. I don’t want to have it in my house, so you just hang onto that for me and keep it safe. So, how does that all sound to you?’

And you answer with a thumbs up and a smile, ‘cause, you know, he’s bigger than you and he has more pals and he’s promised to put a good word in for you with those pals and to let you play in any games they have planned – so long as you stick to their rules. And he tells you you’re part of his family now and he loves you and he’ll always be there for you – so long as you behave. And everything is easier when you’re not in charge – he’ll take all the big decisions for you and you don’t even have to think much. Actually, he’d prefer you not to think very much at all.”

Well, they started laughing at the line about the bomb and then they were smiling and shaking their heads and sighing, but they were still smiling.

It’s a simplistic analogy, obviously, but the point was to make it seem so ridiculous, they would laugh and smile. It worked.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about the day you wake up and think, ‘Hang on – there’s something not right here. A few of us in the house are doing well under this plan, but most of us aren’t. And I’m not sure I was listening properly about the bomb stuff. I think we should take the house back.’

It didn’t work this time – we didn’t get it back. We had a hard road getting our message out there given that our only outlet for an un-spun view of our plans was social media. Not everyone uses social media and many who do use it don’t use it for political purposes, so many people never got the facts as the YES side saw them.

Would it have made a difference? We’ll never know.

I’ve seen people complain that we shouldn’t have been ‘allowed’ this referendum, that we shouldn’t be ‘given’ anything now that we’ve voted NO. People angry that the FM ‘dared’ to do something that divided our country.

Allowed. Given. Dared. Let those words sink in.

The fact that 45% of us wanted change shows that the nation was already divided in opinion, just as it is already divided in wealth and poverty. To say that we should not have been allowed to say so – that our voices should not have been heard - is to say that we are undeserving of democracy.

But 55%  didn’t want change – most of them didn’t want the referendum at all and just wanted to leave everything as it was. That is the reality of today.

I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed and was pleased to see only two people gloating: one Scot who has always been a bit gloaty (it's a word now) and the other an English friend whose threads have always been full of people slagging us off and questioning our right to be 'allowed' to do this and demonising the First Minister and the YES Campaign in general (all stuff fed by the media and believed 100%), so that was to be expected.

I've chosen my friends well.

I’m glad to say that many who were on the opposite side are now saying it was a good thing. Many NO voters saying thank you to the YES team for starting something, for opening Westminster’s eyes to the fact that we will not just carry on without being heard. Many English friends who started off against us saying thank you because they hope it will awaken political activism in their country.

But we need them to do more than just say thank you. We need them to join us now to fight for the fairer society our poor and disabled and disenfranchised deserve. The society we all deserve.

We have to join together now – we all live here so we have no option - and we either join together to say, ‘It’s all fine and lovely and I accept my lot,’ or we join together to say, ‘Listen to us – we’re not going away.’

And that’s what I’ll tell my sons tomorrow. 

This was my generation’s chance and we failed in our main goal but we may have started something that they can continue. One day, I hope my sons’ generation get the chance to take our country back and I hope they seize it with both hands.

Sunday 14 September 2014

The Fat Lady is Oiling Her Vocal Cords - final blog on Scottish Independence

The final days are here and most of us are feeling a combination of nervousness, excitement and hope, whichever way we are voting.

I am, obviously, voting YES. I’d like to take this final opportunity to explain why I am voting YES – what I am voting for.

I am voting YES because I am, at heart, a socialist and I no longer feel represented by any of the parties at Westminster. The difference between the main parties now seems so slight, that even if I did feel my vote mattered, I wouldn’t know who to vote for. My hope is that, in the event of Independence, the Scottish parties would reinvent themselves – or go back to their roots – and there would be real choice again.

I am voting YES because I don’t feel my vote matters at Westminster. I am not claiming that’s unfair – given that there are roughly 5.5 million Scots and roughly 53 million in England, it would be odd if the Scottish vote was a game changer. Even if every eligible Scot voted – and that never happens – and even if every voter voted for one party – and that never happens, it would still only rarely make a difference. And while I accept that is fair in the current system given the respective populations, I feel my vote would count for more in an Independent Scotland. Would everyone suddenly get the party they voted for? Of course not – that could only ever happen in a country where people were forced to vote for one party at gunpoint. But I believe a greater percentage would get the party they voted for.

I am voting YES because I like the idea of a constitution – certain rights enshrined that should be upheld, no matter what the party in power. A guaranteed NHS? Equal Rights? Free Education? It would be nice to see those actually guaranteed.

I am voting YES because I would like rid of nuclear weapons. I have heard the arguments about deterrent and the fears of attack if they are removed, but if these fears are real, why have none of the currently non-nuclear European countries been attacked? The majority of European countries do not have nuclear weapons and they’re doing just fine.

I am voting YES because the current slip to the extreme right in the UK terrifies me. I will not, for one second, pretend that Scotland does not have any right wing voters or any right wing extremists but it is under control at the moment. I’d like to keep it that way.

I am voting YES because I want a Scottish government to be in charge of these currently reserved powers:

benefits and social security
foreign policy
trade and industry
nuclear energy, oil, coal, gas and electricity
consumer rights
data protection
a Constitution

These things are too important, affect us too greatly, to leave in the hands of Westminster when Westminster is so frequently out of tune with our wishes.

I am voting YES because I want a fairer society. This kind of statement has led to accusations of Scots believing themselves to be morally superior to those south of the border. I don’t believe that’s true for one second. But we are, traditionally (if you look at our voting patterns) a socialist country and socialist policies are generally beneficial to the poorer sections in society.

I am voting YES because I have read both sides of the argument with regards to finance and the future of our economy and I believe that we can manage perfectly well. I accept that, as a YES voter, I am predisposed to preferring the positive predictions, but I find it very difficult to trust Westminster ‘experts’ and I have no faith in the media coverage the campaign has received. No sooner have we been told that oil is running out, that banks are sacking everyone and moving, that prices are going up, than these things are proven to be, at best, exaggeration, at worst, downright lies.

I am not na├»ve – I don’t think either side is being 100% honest, but I have researched every point as thoroughly as I can, I have taken advice from friends with far greater knowledge than I could ever hope to have of international finances, and I believe, as they have assured me, that we are more than capable of succeeding.

I am voting YES, not because of nationalism or patriotism - I don’t really care where you were born – if you live and work in Scotland, I respect your views. I will happily welcome new immigrants to this country. I want an inclusive, tolerant society. No, that won’t happen overnight – maybe it won’t happen at all – but I’d like us to give it a try.

I am voting YES, not because I think we will suddenly achieve utopia – that’s just silly – but because I think we can do better for everyone in our society if we have control of our own finances, our own policies, our own destiny.

I am voting YES because I no more believe that Westminster will bestow extra powers than I believe they will give us cartoon style super powers. We have no idea who will be in charge of the UK come 2015 and each party has very, very different plans for Scotland if it remains within the union.

My friends who are voting NO are not wrong to vote NO. My friends who are voting NO simply see things differently. In some cases we have read the exact same information, but we have drawn different conclusions, in others we simply want different things. But that’s okay. It doesn’t make them wrong and me right. I may not agree with their decision or their reasons, but I accept and respect their choice.

On the 19th of September, should the vote be YES, I will not gloat, I will not taunt, I will not revel in another’s misery. I will be happy, I will be excited, I will be relieved, but I can be all of those things without being smug or offensive.

If the vote is NO, I will not apportion blame, I will not taunt, I will not complain. I will be sad, I will be deflated, I will be worried, but I can be all of those things without being petulant or offensive.

If YES wins it will be against the majority of poll predictions, against the bookies predictions, against the full force of the combined Westminster parties and the full might of the British media. The odds are long but I can’t let that stop me hoping for and dreaming of something I have wanted for so long. I have a little while left yet to dream.

Wednesday 3 September 2014

This Time It's Personal

Things I’ve been called because of my political beliefs – not just for voting YES, but for being anti-right wing policies: Idiot, nutter, stupid cow, Nazi (yes, seriously), racist (I know, I know), separatist, clown, foolish woman, pain in the arse, selfish, deluded, ignorant, incapable of rational thought.

Things I’ve called people whose politics differ from mine: If I know them well, I tend to stick to their first name, otherwise I use Mr/Mrs/Ms as appropriate and their second name.

Insults I’ve received from people because of my political views: Fuck off; fuck off and die; go and salsa up your own arse (that’s my favourite); you clearly lack any sort of intelligence; all of my intelligent friends are voting NO (from a friend – good way of letting me know her opinion of my intellect); I hope you starve – you’ll deserve it; whingeing, moaning subsidy junkie.

Insults I’ve hurled at these people or others who share their political views: None.

Lucky I'm not one of those poor souls being targeted by a concerted campaign of intimidation and bullying and abuse, eh?

When someone resorts to abuse, I know I've won my argument. The same as when someone asks me a question and I answer it with something they don't want to hear, so they just ignore my answer and ask a question on another topic. They couldn't sustain their argument, so they move onto another, hoping to catch me out.

It's all a bit sad, but it's individuals - it's not a campaign by anyone. There will always be people who can't cope and resort to these tactics. Just smile and move on.