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Archive for December, 2013

And so 2013 comes to a close.

It was, without question, a year. Possibly even the most recent one we’ve seen so far this millennium.

Events occurred. Sights were seen and things were did. You could look back on the array of happenings that took place over the past twelve months with a wide variety of differing emotions, if you were so inclined.

2014 is fast approaching, soon to engulf us utterly. Perhaps, once it gets here, time will continue to pass, and yet more memorable things will be observable in the world, like they did last year, only different, and we’ll talk about them with continued interest or bemusement. Perhaps. There’s no way to be sure.

I don’t have anything prepared for this. Happy new year.

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At any time of year, it bears repeating.

I’m going to go eat too much and be happy with my family and stuff now. Merry Christmas.

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take time this winter to check that elderly friends or neighbours are ok – sign up to be a winter friend

So the Secretary of State for Health tweeted earlier today, adding a link to an NHS page about how awful winter is for many elderly folks and how we can all help it suck a little less.

This seemed largely in keeping with Tory policy in general, which I rather unfairly characterised thusly at the time:

Come on, poors, huddle together for warmth. What’s that? Help with your heating or food bills from the millionaires in charge? Piss off.

There’s an interesting thing, though, about the government’s regular advice on charity, and how we can all help each other out when times are tough, and other such flimsy shreds of Big Society remnants – in particular, in how much it differs from their own policies on matters of poverty and welfare.

When it comes to charity, and the idea of individuals selflessly helping others, the coalition say many of the right things. Giving some of your time to check in on your more frail neighbours, donating to food banks, volunteering with children – the kind of stuff it’s basically impossible to get wrong, so long as you have the barest understanding of how platitudes work. The emphasis is all on generosity and kindness and compassion, which are wonderful things even when right-wing politicians are giving them lip service. And the image they paint of a community looking after each other and socialising warmly is a charming one.

Pop round to visit old Mrs Beadle at number 36 and see if she’s got enough blankets, or needs some help working the thermostat, or might just appreciate some company for an hour or two now her son’s moved away for his job and can’t visit so often. Knock on the door of that grumpy chap with one leg whose name you’ve never got to know, and see if there’s anything neighbourly you can do even though he always seems to be glowering and he’s not that easy to be around. Ask if there’s anything that harried single mum would love the time for this Christmas, which an offer of an evening’s childcare might make possible. There are lots of really nice ways to make the world better and kinder, which are entirely in line with the government’s own advice.

But wait… Are we really just meant to pop round and help, no questions asked? Just, see if there’s something good to be done, and offer to do it? Give up something of our own through simple generosity, and make the world a little brighter for others? We’re meant to do all this… without interrogating all these people in our community as to whether they deserve our help?

Maybe you’re better acquainted with your own neighbours than I am with mine, but I haven’t done nearly enough background checks into these people to be sure that I’ve rooted out all the scroungers.

Why doesn’t Mrs Beadle order some warmer clothes and blankets online, or support a local small business by hiring someone to help her out with any gadgets and whatnot around the house that she might find confusing? She could offset the expense by trying Princess Whiskerbelle on an unbranded catfood for a while – there’s such a thing as responsible budgeting, you know. It may not exactly be in the spirit of charity, but until she gets her paperwork together to prove that she really is finding it tough, how can I be sure my valuable time is being well spent when I go to sit with her?

And that guy with one leg – is he really “disabled” and in need of help? There’s plenty of things you can do which you don’t need both your legs for, but he seems to be at home most of the time, so for all I know he’s not even bothered looking for ways to support himself. If I start going round and offering to help out with things he might struggle with, for free, then I may just be reinforcing the kind of habits which aren’t good for any of us in the long-term.

Obviously this is completely the wrong attitude. But the fact that the government act like it’s obvious too is actually rather odd. They’re not encouraging us, on a personal level, to be stingy, to be pernickety bean-counters, to demand evidence making sure that the old and infirm humans to whom we’re considering giving our time (and by extension money) are sufficiently deserving. We’re told to just go out and help. Be there for people. Give them your time. Donate what you can. Support the needy and less fortunate.

Whereas when they do it, the amount they end up spending on administration costs, to make sure that nobody has a chance to mooch a single penny more than they’re “entitled” to, is so vast that they could practically solve the whole problem for no more than it’s currently costing them to maintain and exacerbate it. The DWP recently wrote off over £40,000,000 on a failed IT system. That’s just one futile project with nothing to show for it, in one department, with many more examples like it. Hundreds of millions of pounds being spent elsewhere on nothing more than counter-productive penny-pinching.

And meanwhile, every time there’s a chance to avoid paying a meagre but vital weekly allowance to someone who needs it – whether it’s by inhumane and stupid sanctions or making someone with cerebral palsy check in every few months to see if they’ve got better yet – they pounce on it. According to one whistleblower, for people working in Jobcentre offices, not finding enough excuses to stop enough people’s benefits would result in disciplinary action.

It’s quite a cosy dichotomy our ruling class have set up for themselves. While it’s just the great unwashed masses offering charity to each other, free and easy is the way to go. Give generously! Spare what you can! If someone looks like they’re in need, assume they really are, and have a heart in these difficult times. But when it comes to their own funds – which they’ve legitimately earned by calling it taxes and taking it directly from us, remember – then everyone’s a thieving scrounger until proven otherwise. And quite often even then.

Come on, poors. Huddle together for warmth. And don’t be selfish with those blankets I see a few of you wrapping around yourselves. Charity’s important this time of year.

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Still alive

I’m not writing anything at the moment.

Not working on a book. Not scribbling notes of any short stories. Not blogging about the many things that have interested or annoyed me in the past couple of weeks. (One obvious exception notwithstanding.)

I’m not doing any of the “making sure I always find time to eke out some words every day” thing. I’m not staring blankly at the scene-by-scene layout of a half-baked zombie detective novel, trying to organise all the sub-plots and ongoing threads in a way that’ll let me tie all the scattered fragments together into a continuous narrative. And I’m not wishing I had the energy or motivation to do all these things with all the free time I’m currently spending on the sofa.

I’m painting the kitchen. I’m watching Game of Thrones. I’m reading graphic novels about Nazi cats. I’m failing to train my own probably-not-a-Nazi cat not to bite my ankles or start knocking things off the dresser at 5.30am, because if you spray her with a water pistol she looks at you curiously and then comes over and licks it, even if you keep firing it right in her face at point blank range. I’m having a pretty quiet family life at home while not in any way being a writer.

It’s quite nice.

This isn’t some especially dramatic shift. Clearly I’ve not given up entirely, and clearly it’s not been completely off my mind this whole time, given that it’s the first thing in ages I’ve been motivated to write about at some length. There’s still a lot I feel I could achieve in that direction; there are many stories I don’t just want to leave unfinished; it feels incredibly rewarding when it’s going well; and there are times when my contribution feels like it has the potential to even matter a little bit.

And doing some proper, serious writing, enough to actually maybe get fairly good at it, is the thing I can most imagine regretting if I never got around to it, decades down the line. If I never touch a piano again, maybe I’ll miss that from time to time, but there’ll be no particular heartbreak there. But if I give up on all my half-started books, and never really have a proper go at being single-minded and crazy enough to make some notable progress at being a writer… that seems like something that would make me sad, looking back.

I might try an experimental few months next year, of being a properly secluded crazed hairy creative type. My other responsibilities will be few, I won’t be in this lethargic semi-hibernation which is how I apparently react to winter, and I’ll give the wife strict instructions to hide the cheesecake and withhold further lasagna until I’ve been sufficiently diligent at words. After a few months of actually committing to that, I ought to know whether I was getting enough out of it to keep some sort of routine going, or whether I’d actually be happier if I just relaxed with all this lovely spare time instead.

Because, you know, not putting any effort into it at all, for a nice long stretch of more than just a day or two in between forced bursts of activity, is really nice.

So, I don’t know. My wife’s been telling me I need a hobby. Something to do with my hands, something that’ll occupy my brain while she’s crocheting a hat on the other end of the sofa. I’m not arty at all, but I like having something to do with my hands. I’m enjoying painting the tiles in the kitchen, for some reason.

Oh god. I’ve become one of those people who doesn’t post to their blog for ages then updates with some self-indulgently pointless musing about why I haven’t written much lately or the nature of creativity or some shit like that. I used to be topical and share crafted opinions or sensibly balanced reporting on interesting news. Now look at me. I’m probably going to title it “Still alive” or something insufferable like that, aren’t I? Christ, I’m a wanker.

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