Tag Archives: Politics

Why Trump was the last straw that poked me off Facebook

 

Bless this Scottish legend. We were all with you in spirit.

Bless this Scottish balloon-wielder. We were all with you in spirit.

It was Donald Trump wot did it.

Did what? Oh, well, aside from bringing incendiary fascism into public discourse, cultivating a urine-flavoured candyfloss hairstyle, and delivering all his speeches in a voice that sounds like an old man farting into a set of bagpipes, which you’d think would be enough to be going on with – he was also the last straw that poked me off Facebook.

I don’t mean the Facebook ‘avoidance’ I’ve been practising for a year or so, where I delete the app from my phone and ten minutes later open the page in Safari. I mean that I use it for a couple of essential pages (this blog’s page being one of them) and have ceremoniously deleted everything else. Including my entire News Feed. Oh my giddy aunt, it actually feels good.

I’ve been a loyal Facebooker since its early days, where all your statuses had to begin with ‘Rachel is’ (there’s a grammatical tangle-in-waiting) and that was about all there was to do. It’s been a useful thing for me. For every auto-playing Russian video or SHARE IF YOU TOO HAVE A SON MADE OF RAINBOWS meme, there was a baby announcement from a friend I don’t see often enough. Or a photo album from family halfway across the world. Irreplaceable things. Real things. But then Facebook started putting posts your friends have liked on the News Feed. And that meant an unavoidable crapstorm of opinions.

Surely (I thought) it’s not true that I like people less when I know their take on current affairs? I don’t think it is. It’s just that normally, you find out people’s opinions in very small doses. Face-to-face, and if you happen to be talking about it. Even with your friends, that happens relatively rarely. ‘Oh dear’, you might think. ‘My friend is somewhere else on the political spectrum. Oh well, they have many delightful qualities and, since we’re in conversation, we can find some common ground’. You are both considering what you’re saying, and saying it deliberately. This is how it is meant to be. Unless your friend is a newspaper columnist, that’s how it’s always been.

Then once Facebook changed their algorithms, second-hand opinions were all over the place. At first, this is only mildly annoying: ‘Oh, my friend has a friend I’ve never heard of and that friend is having a baby shower, and my friend has marked this with a Love’, you think. ‘Unnecessary information for me. But good for them’.

Then someone that you knew in high school and didn’t like all that much to begin with has a spouse who went to a party and was photographed in various stages of ‘banter’. She has Liked all these photographs. You have not spoken to your acquaintance in fifteen years. You have never met their spouse. You did not go to the party, though if you had you would have been strongly tempted to whack the spouse in the chops with their own comedy inflatable. Why is this in your News Feed, you think. You have already spent too long thinking about this party. Was the party imaginary? What is the point of your life?

Then, heaven forbid, something controversial happens in the political sphere. Someone you know likes a ranty post that makes all the points you disagree with. You feel a bit nauseated. Do they really think like this, you wonder. All the time? People – myself included – will like a post that says things that are more strident or extreme than anything they’d put on their own wall. Sometimes the posts that are liked are racist. Sometimes they are offensive. Doesn’t matter whether your Facebook friend said them or not: all of them appear on your News Feed, with their name attached.

The time this was a bigoted rant by Donald Trump, liked by someone I like in real life, something deep inside snapped in half. YOU ARE A TRUMP SUPPORTER, FRIEND. AND NOW HE IS ON MY NEWS FEED. IT’S LIKE YOU CAME OVER TO MY HOUSE AND SMEARED DOG FAECES ON MY FRONT DOOR AND THEN MADE ME COME AND SMELL IT.

I took a good look at my feed and counted the last twenty posts. Five of them were actual things my friends had written. Fifteen were posts they had liked, that had nothing to do with them or me. So I checked that I was following enough people on Instagram, and decided to jump the blue ship.

I tell you, it’s made me feel so much better. (I didn’t even mention the fact that I have zero self-control when it comes to social media, so I also have a zillion hours more free time.) I thought it would be difficult – and I was lamentably behind on the new Reading IKEA news – but it’s honestly been more of a relief than I imagined.

I kind of miss the Russian dude making his dog lip-sync Happy Birthday. Remind me to look him up on YouTube.

no I'm blooming well not

no I’m blooming well not

 

If Brexit’s getting a bit much, here are three things you can watch instead

Oh, my loves. We’re all going to hell in a handcart, aren’t we? You could’ve been a junior writer in the tenth season of Lost, and you’d have rejected this weekend as a bit far-fetched. The pound gone off a cliff, the prime minister resigned, the opposition imploding, more money wiped from the markets than we would’ve paid in several decades of EU membership, every single ludicrous promise from the Leave side retracted by Friday lunchtime, and openly racist slurs being reported in their hundreds. I don’t know how it looks to you overseas readers but here, oh, we’re in so much pain. I watch the news, and hard, blind pain settles on my chest like a weight. I’ve remembered why grief is so often described as ‘suffocating’ (you’ll know this yourself, of course: everyone has a grief to call their own). It’s because it comes up suddenly from somewhere dark and deep, and presses on you so heavily that you can’t breathe.

We have to keep watching the news, because it won’t help to pretend this isn’t happening. In particular this ugly, ignorant strain of racism we’ve uncovered, this infestation of maggots we exposed when we kicked over the the old wood that hid them, needs stamping into oblivion. We owe them that, all the thousands of people who came here from other places and now prop up our health service, care for our elderly and generally get their hands dirty for our good.

But I am exhausted from rage and despair and fear. And sometimes you need a break from the news, somewhere to crawl into while your heart slows down. Here are three things to watch when Brexit gets a bit much.

Adele setting fire to Glastonbury

adele

It’s a difficult time to be proud of being British, but if anyone’s in our plus column, it’s Adele. Her 90-minute set at Glastonbury was total joy: she brought little girls out of the crowd to take selfies, interrupted herself to tell someone he looked just like Brian Harvey from East 17, and restarted a song after two bars because she wanted to sing it better. She’s like the best friend we all want who also happens to sing gorgeously emotional songs. I watched it this afternoon while working, and felt bathed in chummy solidarity. Make You Feel My Love was the bit where I cried. Where was yours?

It’s on iPlayer, here: Glastonbury part 3, and Adele comes on at about 74 minutes in.

A freaking wonderful documentary about the fall of Anne Boleyn

The hair, the HAIR.

The hair, the HAIR.

Give me poorly acted sepia reconstructions in period costume! Give me Fake Henry taking mass in slow motion and looking with dead fish eyes at Fake Anne Boleyn! Give me the Tudor Historians out in force! Alison Weir hates Cromwell with the fire of a thousand suns, so is here as usual going ‘IT WAS HIM, THE SNAKE’. Suzannah Lipscomb dripping with glorious hair and hand gestures. David Starkey rocking tiny yellow spectacles and dropping truth bombs about Henry all over. Hilary Mantel being Hilary Mantel, and the wisest and best creature on this earth. The machinations that went into bringing down Anne Boleyn were diabolical, and I LOVE them. I want to see a remake of the Avengers, only with Tudor historians bursting into buildings to examine old documents. David Starkey drop kicks the librarian while Alison Weir sets fire to Cromwell’s portrait. This treasure is on iPlayer, here.

Kilts and stubbly intrigue in Outlander

outlander_tv_series_2014-2560x1440

I only knew one thing about Outlander before we started watching it on a whim on Friday night: that lots of people were out-of-their-heads obsessed with it. Now that we’re halfway through Season 1, I know why: it’s like X-chromosome crack. The first hour was a bit rambly and confusing, as gutsy nurse Claire and her husband Frank pootle around Inverness after the end of WW2. Then Claire touches some magic standing stones and they catapult her back to the 18th century, as standing stones do, the dogs! Trapped in a Scotland full of tartan, rolled r’s and misogyny, she ends up marrying a Highlander for Reasons. He’s called Jamie, but he might’s well be called This One’s For You, Female Viewers, with his kilt, canny combination of steel and adoration, and pecs that look like two hearty flesh basketballs jostling for position. He is like a tartan-clad puppy in human form. He is the 18th century’s answer to Channing Tatum. Poor old boring Frank wears mustard jumpers, and cannot compete. And then the vistas are sweeping, the relationships are more thoughtful than your average potboiler, and the costumes are gorgeous. There are rather too many histrionic sex scenes for this viewer – Outlander feels about nipples the way it feels about candles and mead: at least one in every other scene – and I spent the series middle with my finger on fast-forward as a result. But what will happen when we get to Culloden, eh? I CANNAE WAIT TO FIND OUT.

Outlander is on Amazon Prime, now, and also on DVD via Amazon.

Keep your chin up, dear ones. I don’t know how this is going to work out, but we’ll make the best of what we’ve got once we know where we’re going. And we’ve still got Adele. Don’t forget Adele.

It isn’t much, but it’s all we’ve got

Photo 16-06-2016, 12 07 02 pm

I am running again. Three times a week I squeeze into Lycra, make sure I have music and a podcast on my phone, and set off. It’s been a long time since I’ve been out, and at first it hurt abominably. My body has got into some poor habits. I barely managed to keep running for the one-minute-long intervals.

Three weeks later, I’m running for three-minute intervals and my times are improving. It doesn’t feel easier – the one time I wore Tim’s heart rate monitor, I spent the entire duration in the Whoa, Death Approaches zone. But, is it possible? For me, of all people. Slowly and steadily, I think I am getting better.

***

Henry is learning to read. He has high-frequency words up all over the house, knows quite a few on sight and can spell out the rest. It’s still laborious work. He gets impatient with things he can’t master immediately (um, I wonder where he gets that from?). This morning we sat in the car before school, and his blue-green eyes roamed over the pictures for clues before settling to decipher the incomprehensible words. I watched him and tried to think back to a time when reading wasn’t as subconscious and effortless as breathing.

He got ‘they’. He got ‘said’. He got ‘Kipper’ and ‘glasses’. Despite progressing in what feels like terribly slow increments, I am amazed at how far he’s come. It’s a tiny miracle, learning to read. He’s working hard, and he’s getting better.

***
The world this morning felt very bleak. In my lifetime I have never known this country in the grip of such a vicious, cruel, divisive strain of politics. We have taken our cues from the party leaders, and become increasingly cutthroat in the way we talk to each other over Brexit. I make instant, unflattering judgements about the people voting on the opposite side to me. The discourse is angry and intolerant both on and offline. What has it done to us, this referendum we never really needed or asked for? Yesterday, a dedicated and compassionate politician, a mother of two young children, was stabbed and shot in the street. Here. Here.

There is one tiny spark of hope I can see in all this, one speck of potential in the wave of revulsion and horror that has followed Jo Cox’s murder. The prevailing mood seems to be that this is unimaginably wrong; this isn’t how we should be. We have gone too far. No one (that I have read) is saying with a sorrowful shake of the head that these things happen, that they can’t be prevented. They can be and they should be. We are more than this. We can do better.

If that’s the only place I can rest my hope for now, then here I stand. The general, optimistic truth that with persistence, people get better. If just one person at a time is willing to put in the work to be kind, to embrace diversity and civility and compassion, to call out intolerance where they see it, then we all get better by degrees.

I will put in the work. I will teach my children to put in the work. We are human, and humans can be better.

It is such a very small hope. It feels so inadequate for the tragedy of yesterday. But it’s all I have for the moment.

Photo 16-06-2016, 8 17 51 pm

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