Saturday, 7 October 2017

Everything I Have Learnt About Children - a poem

A child is a kind of vegetable with deep roots you cannot pull out.
It changes the pH balance in the soil, thrives in shade or sunshine, needs frequent watering and takes over your whole garden
Unless you pot it; in which case it will take over your whole house.
A child can easily be identified by its leafy fronds and distinctive colouration.

A child is a species of invertebrates that snuffles and croaks and is covered in short silver hairs, with skin the colour of hot velvet. They make their home in your arms and live a parasitic existence drinking sap and laughter and blinking with idiotic wonder at your nose or a lampshade or the carpet.

A child is a controlled substance under Class A of the controlled substances act
Illegal to purchase but easily available from encounters at street corners or meetings with disreputable midwives.
The effect is a long-lived ecstatic high characterised by contentment and no longer giving two shits about more or less anything else.
Side-effects include sleepleeness, back pain, hormonal changes, retreat from social life, financial ruination and irreversible addiction.
Children can be smoked or injected and are available in the form of a pill.

A child is a coin,
Heads and tails both possible outcomes, tumbling midair and catching the light in flash after flash of silver as it emerges from your palm,
A bravura sleight of hand trick that surprises everyone, no-one more than yourself,
And the coin always spinning and never coming to rest.

A child is a monumental, twelve pint and a Milwall t-shirt dickhead
A perpetual end-stage rageaholic dickhead
As drunk as a student and as thick and angry as an emu or an ostrich or another enormous flightless shithead
And its just as well they're too tiny to drive cars or operate forklifts or other violent machinery
And I'm not saying I've got anything against them but
I read how they lower house prices and always send their money abroad
And you wouldn't be happy if your dog married one
Would you?

A child is an ash tree,
An inevitable presence in any garden left untended for more than a minute,
Growing so rapidly and so stealthily you could swear you just turned your back during a picnic to pick up a tub of Marks and Spencers flapjacks and there it is, a tall reed of a tree
Sneaking up between the fir and the buddleia,
Half bashful,
Half full of lip.

A child is the future winking at you with charm
And with threats, and you realise
One day the child will be older, which means you will be older, and the world will be older,
And the child who will be an older child will run through a door, maybe the same
Older door or another older door in the same
Older world and look at this new, older you
And they won't believe and certainly won't understand that the world was younger
Once and things were different once,
And the child will run by riding the hurricane of passing time
And laughing as if all this is normal.

A child is a prime opportunity to create new synonyms for taking a shit, and I urge you to be creative.
For example: "Dear God,
The baby has taken off her nappy and given the opening speech of the Conservative party conference all over that nice suede armchair we got from your mother."

A child is almost certainly plotting something and probably up to no good
But this will make you proud because after all
The world needs cunning people who will steal fire, talk truth to power,
And get the better of all the other scheming bastards out there.

A child is a thin, balloon-like skin filled entirely with snot.

A child, like a wizard, is never late. Neither are they early.
They arrive precisely when they mean to.

A child does not enter into negotiations.

A child will ruin your life
And it is the best thing that will ever happen to you.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Illness

When the baby is ill there's nothing to be done. The world is wrong, categorically and entirely, and she's thoroughly sick of it. She wants us to fix it but we can't. She lets us know - she doesn't let us forget. She mopes and flops, cuddles and dribbles, howls and howls and howls. She won't sleep - then she won't do anything but. She'll lie on me for an hour, then wake and immediately begin writhing, kicking, punching. I've set her down to bed and watched her rotate like a spindle as she tries to find some shred of comfort, all while yelling vitriol.

Days disappear. The horizon shrinks. Suddenly all I can think to do is - clean that up. Swab it enough that it's not obviously filthy. Get some food in her, or try. Let her snuggle, or walk her in the pram. Notice the milk's gone out of date. Puzzle it out. She fights going into the carseat, straightening her body out into a plank. Then she passes out inside a minute and I have to wake her when I get to the shop. Evening comes and I've not made dinner, not made plans for dinner, not thought about dinner. Do we have the makings? Of course we have the makings. But there's nothing with carbohydrates, or we're out of protein, or everything is brown and red and my body's asking for greens. After an afternoon of screams she falls asleep at 5pm. The night is a nightmare.

When this passes - like locusts lifting from a harrowed landscape - she has no memory that anything was ever wrong. I take a day to adjust. I can be pro-active. The routine is back. She'll eat at this time. She'll drink from a cup again. I have to remember to plan an activity for the afternoon doldrum. It's not pain that she's screaming, it's that I'm twenty minutes late for her breastfeed. The nappies are good and healthy and I comment on the quantity and quality of her poo. Beloved agrees.

I raise my eyes and look at the future again. There are things that need doing. This place is a state.

Monday, 27 June 2016

The Brexit Tea Party

The Out vote in the EU referendum has been characterised by some as a protest against an out-of-touch Westminster consensus which has failed to represent the needs, interests and self-conception of ordinary British people. I think that we can go further than this - the Out vote is Britain's Boston Tea Party. But the protest is not directed at Europe - the target is Westminster.

The Political Economy Research Centre provides a good analysis of why some segments of society that voted for Brexit did so. The economic gradient along which people voted leave was marked out in the 70s with the de-industrialisation of the North-East of Britain and Wales, and entrenched in the 80s with the forcible smashing of the trade unions and the communities surrounding them. These are communities for whom the status quo was not working, and has not been made to work for some time. Economic regeneration and more importantly community regeneration have not rebuilt the social fabric of these areas. The paradoxical fact that communities most-dependent on European trade and subsidy were the most likely to reject the relationship is evidence that a subsidy-based, child-to-parent economic relationship is not a status quo that people wish to continue.

But the EU is not the principle agent that maintains this relationship; it is Westminster. And it maintains it with the rest of the country as well. When the British Empire retreated, retrenched and eventually crumbled, the administrative organs of government turned their force onto the British Isles - Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and the "regions." Britain is colonised* by Westminster - by the establishment and the political clique that benefits from it.

As described above some aspects of this colonisation are economic. The regions' self-determiniation is subordinated, not necessarily to the needs of Britain as a whole but certainly to the self-image of the political clique and civil-service. Regional development has been routinely neglected at the expense of London, and a tiny subset of the residents of London at that. The European Regional Development Agency aid that has assisted the North East, Cornwall, Wales and Midlands would not have been needed if there was a consistent vision of Britain that saw the entire Isles uplifted. There is no such vision. Westminster is the prize and the rest can hang.

There is also a cultural element to this colonisation. Many contemporary narratives of British identity and British success hinge on one being rich and living in London. The notion of British economic prosperity, for instance - certainly on paper Britain was until the referendum an economically powerful nation. But much of this was concentrated in the financial services sector, and the policy of successive governments from Thatcher's deregulation to Brown's bailouts has been to expand, elevate and prop up this economy. This does not translate into growth for the rest of the country, nor into improved living standards, nor into any tangible measure of success with which people can identify. The lives of people in poverty have not been well-represented in the media since the 80s (Caitlinn Moran's Raised by Wolves is a glorious exception.) These people are effaced from the national discourse.

Likewise, Cool Britannia and the metropolitan ideal of modern Britain is not lived experience for many people. For some it is also an imposed, colonising culture, in the sense that it is propagated by the colonising force at the expense of an existing culture. I do not mean that immigrants are a colonising force - I mean that Westminster imposes the narrative of metropolitan Britain as a tool of control. Immigrants have always been allowed into Britain to close the gaps in skilled labour left by our inadequate education system, and to provide unskilled labour in areas where Britons are unwilling to work. The multiculturalism of some parts of Britain is not an expression of their tolerance - it is the result of gradual acculturation in response to an economically motivated change. Metropolitan Britain is part truth, part vision, and part gloss designed to create a unifying narrative for this new Britain. For some people it rings hollow. The Changing Places report by Demos explores the white British ethnic response to immigration. It has many findings and I recommend reading it, but I want to pick out one here: at the same time that (some) white British communities have been experiencing the challenge of accepting a changing Britain, the narrative justifying that change comes from London, not from within the community. Simultaneously (some iterations of) the white English identity have been co-opted by fascists and conflated with the same by liberals, while being belittled in the popular media (the PERC article above points to Little Britain and the perjorative use of Chav as good examples.)

The Brexit vote had many motives - among them, a protest. It is the protest of people who are economically marginalised and culturally and politically belittled. The current turmoil embroiling both political parties has many causes, among them the collapse of their mandate to represent Britain as a whole. To restore legitimacy to the political process - and that legitimacy is needed if we are to see anything other than years and years of failed governments and an abyssmal resolution to the Brexit process - reform is needed, to the relationship between Britain and its government. In effect - Britain needs a new settlement with Westminster, a new constitutional framework - and home rule. An English assembly located in the Midlands would be a damn good start.

*To students and scholars of Imperial history and descendents of colonised nations, I apologise for using so gross a metaphor. I hope that these thoughts can justify it.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Chimichanga

Deadpool is better than it should be. It's a Fox produced underfunded adaptation of a b-list superhero who nobody had heard of five years ago, whose last movie appearance was royally fucked. It's the first all-out comedy in the superhero genre, the first Marvel movie to acknowledge cussing and humping, the first superhero film to break the fourth wall (narration aside). It's funny, exciting, and surprisingly touching. I thought I was going to like it - I never expected it to be good.

The cinematography, pacing and construction of 3d space and time through montage are considerably more competent than in Star Wars VII. I use Star Wars VII as a metric because you've probably seen it, as opposed to, say, Spring Breakers (which has far better cinematography and pacing and a consciously problematised construction of space and time that make it unsuitable as a comparator when talking solely about the competence, rather than the merit, of a director's work.) The fight scenes are the equal of anything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at least for legibility and thrills if not spectacle. The jokes are ribald, surreal, peurile, sharp, self aware, visual, verbal, physical, all that good stuff. I didn't kick the seat in front of me while laughing, but it was a close run thing.

The love story at the heart of the film is really well scripted and acted. Two funny, active, believable, likeable protagonists. Like all romcoms the romantic drama hinges on failure to communicate, but unlike most romcoms neither character is an incompetent, an ice queen, or a simpering child.

So yeah. See it in the cinema. Being surrounded by laughing people is a great experience. It doesn't hit every note, the plot is straight-line simple, but who cares - it's a buzz.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

That internet

Our new home is on a campus - lovely, but the process of arranging internet (a fuss in the UK at the best of times) has stretched into a two month drudge. For all of January I eked out my monthly mobile data allowance, regularly sneaking into coffee shops to scrump for WiFi, in anticipation of hitting the 2GB cap and incurring godawful fees. The cap came and went and I clenched my buttocks in anticipation of the bill.

Instead, I got an SMS from Vodafone.
'You are now halfway through your unlimited data test drive.'

Oh yeah. I'd renewed my mobile contract and Vodafone were doing that whole, drug dealer, first month is free thing. There were just two weeks left before Plusnet attached the internet anyway, but I felt it behoved me to abuse this data to the fullest extent.

Obviously the 4G went on and has stayed on since. I changed my various apps to 'download over 4G', and doubled the size of my downloaded Amazon music library, audible book collection, and backed up all my photos to Google. This only consumed a few gigs of data. I needed to do more.

I had received for Christmas a boxed copy of the game Metal Gear Solid V. I knew from various internet sources that the disc in the case contained only an autoloader for the Steam videogame store, a download code, and no actual data, so this case remained in its shrink wrap - a meaningless fetish representing the death throws of highstreet retail.

Metal Gear Solid V is a 27GB file, and I downloaded that sucker through a mobile phone tether. It took less than three hours. At 50%, when I realised that it was working, a mad grin overtook my face.

My Steam library contains hundreds of games, most I've never played, almost all I've never downloaded, purchased in bulk in bundle deals, steam sales, received as free promos. My secondary hard drive has two terabytes of room left on it.

The question is, what will run out first? The hard drive? The time until Plusnet connects us? The phones's physical integrity? Vodafone's 'unlimited' data?

Someone's going to blink... But I'm just sleep deprived enough that it won't be me.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Vapnartak

On Sunday 7th I left best beloved in charge of bugglesnuff and went to Vapnartak, a wargames convention at the York race ground. It's far from the biggest con in the country, with less than two thousand visitors and only lasting a day, but situated in the five story race track building with vast glass windows overlooking the expanse of grassy track (turned by recent weather into a flat of glassy ponds) it is perhaps the most opulent.

Though I would ordinarily spend a convention leisurely drifting from stall to stall abusing the plastic in my wallet, I was taking part in a wargames tournament. I'll save the details except to observe - if you are a UK Warmachine player, Vapnartak is a one day event well worth travelling for, brilliantly organised and judged, with great tables and a broad standard of competition for players new and experienced. I lost three games, won one, enjoyed them all immensely, and to Greg from Newcastle - that last game was a blast. A well deserved win to you.

(Of further note for UK Warmachine players - Guildball, the English designed skirmish minis game made by former Warmachine tournament veterans, had at least as many players, maybe twice as many, and I would be very interested to know whether this pattern is repeated across the country).

Shopping wise, I picked up some new airbrush paints, cleaning fluid, cleaning pot, and some tiny wee flowers to make my models' bases all pretty. Only the very best for my metal dollies. The trade halls burgeoned with demonstration, participation and show games on a huge scale. Recreations of the battle of the Alamo, Stewart pacification of the Scots, a French foreign legion siege, dozens more, all on tables 10 feet or longer lovingly layered with miniatures and terrain. The sort of thing that would have a formative impact on a child.

Two weeks from now I'll be in London for the epic Smogcon tournament. Thank Christ for grandparents. Best beloved, you're a star.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Sunset Yellow

Best Beloved likes her some children's cereal. Frosted Boulders, Sugar Blimps, Crunchy Cinnamon Pillows, stuff that's essentially a crunchy pudding to lure children into eating first thing in the day. I include Cheerios in this - adults who think you're eating adult food when you have a bowl of Cheerios, you are mistaken. Likewise Crunchy Nut, which is Frosties for people who don't own their vices.

So in the international aisle at Tesco I spot a little cluster of American cereals. I love the boxes of American cereals as they perfectly embody the earnestness of Yanky packaging, proclaiming their health benefits like a Victorian pill bottle, while perfectly executing a pop-artistic gaucheness and naivety of design that you don't see outside action figures and waterslides in the UK. My eyes were drawn to the Apple Zings. These have many ironic virtues - they're made by 'mom brands' cereals, a name that could only be born in the hell cauldron of uncriticized capitalism. Some diligent importer had overstickered the ingredients list to match some European edict. At the bottom of the list was the proviso 'May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children'. They're a children's cereal that causes ADHD. Obviously I bought them.

A little later in the week my parents were visiting and I decided to show the Zings to my dad. 'Read the ingredients list,' I said. He used to be a special educational needs teacher. I figured that ADHD brekkers would give him a chuckle.

'Jesus Christ,' he said, 'Where did you find these?'

'Tesco.'

'Tesco? Why did they have these at Tesco?'

'They were in the international aisle.'

He called my stepmum over. 'Have a look at these love.' She was a midwife.

'They've got Sunset Yellow in them!' She said. Sunset Yellow is an E number. 'Isn't that banned?'

'They did ban that,' My dad said, 'Back in the 80s.'

'Why did you buy this?' Asked my stepmum. 'You wouldn't want children eating this. This wouldn't be safe for breastfeeding. Who's eating this?'

Best Beloved, who is breastfeeding the Buggle, had been eating it for the last three days.

'I am eating it.' I said. 'I am the only person who is eating this.'