The existential dread. Join us… or are you already there?

sma niell

The existential dread has hit my little urban family hard this year.

I thought it’d happen at 30. That’s what people tell you. And don’t get me wrong, at 30 I had a fair enough freak out. But it wasn’t dread. At worst, it was just confusion.

The dread, is a whole other thing. I can best describe it as a sense of mild panic, nostalgia and guilt, mixed in with irrational fear. I’ve always been neurotic, so I thought best to ignore it. Concentrate on work in the week, and concentrate on drowning the fear with wine at the weekend.

But it’s come to light that it’s not just me, it’s an epidemic. Which was at first comforting, but then I realised, if we all feel like this, and none of us have a clue what we’re doing, how do we stop it?

The only thing I can think of is to share the fear and hope that it’ll make someone else in the same situation feel better. Safety in numbers after all.

Sleep (including lie-ins)

What the fuck happened to sleep? Lyrics & books are a great way to judge how your outlook changes over time. Read something at a certain point in life, then read it again later and you can feel the meaning shift like a shaky foundation underneath you.

When I was thirteen, me and my friend Donna bought Catatonia’s International Velvet. I remember listening to Cerys singing a particular line in Strange Glue; ‘The end of the night never comes too quickly for me’.

What? (Thought my incredulous 13-year-old-self) The end of the night always comes too quickly. A lie in, bed, a great sleep has always fixed everything.

It’s only recently I’ve understood what she meant. Now (especially on a Sunday), the night is a series of hours where your own bastard brain relentlessly demands to know you what you’re doing. It reminds you about money. Tells you you’re going to fail at work. Tells you you’re going to look like shit in the morning because you haven’t slept. Tells you you should follow your dreams (whatever they are, you aren’t sure) instead of doing what your doing (whatever that is, you’re not sure about that either).

In the morning, you curse yourself for not having slept well, because if you had, all these issues (now a distant and trivial memory) wouldn’t even have occurred with you. You’re like a vampire in the daylight again, hiding the cracks with sunscreen (or foundation) so you don’t have to answer any questions.


Don’t get me wrong, relationships have always been a pain in the arse, and a source of potential panic. I know this. But in your 30′s, for an extra bonus, you’re aware of time. It was painful, cocking things up in your 20’s. But now it’s not a sharply felt pain – it’s a niggling, like a headache about to start.

What if you make the wrong decision? Waste a year in your 20’s – no biggie. Waste one in your 30’s, that’s one year less that anyone, anywhere is going to fancy you because you’re heading to 40.

What if you never get married? What if you don’t want to get married? What if you marry the wrong person? Better end it now than get divorced. But what if you end it now through fear of divorce, and realise everything was actually fine and it was just the fear talking? Do all the people who say ‘when it’s the one, you just know’ actually know? Or are they just lying?

More likely – are they just more practical? Who the fuck knows. This kind of pointless train of thought leads on to the following…


Do I want one? Should I want one?

I like having my time free to write neurotic rants like this, then go to the pub with mates. With my vagina in tact. I like having the option to sleep at night (though often that’s scuppered anyway, as mentioned in point 1). But surely not as scuppered as it would be by an unnecessary, expensive, time and planet resource consuming child.

What if I decide at 45 I did want one, but now I’m too old? What if having a child (quote verbatim from my ma) “will be the making of me”, and I don’t have one, and am therefore never truly, er, made.

What if I don’t have one and I have no girlfriends to hang out with anymore as they all had one, can’t come out at normal adult-with-a-job social hours, and on the odd occasion they do we have nothing to talk about as I don’t know or really care what small people do, and my nearest point of reference is how drunk big people act?

What if I do have one, and (as mentioned in point 2) it was with the wrong man, and he either leaves me stuck with the energy and youth sucking little shit, or worse, doesn’t leave me and we spend the next 30 years resenting each other and putting a face on ‘for the kids’.

Again, I have no answer to this.


What does my job mean? Does it matter?

What happened to my hopes and dreams, of travelling, being a journalist, all that. Do normal people jack all that in for stability and a decent wage?

Did it take so long to haul-ass up the ladder (the climb sustained by the worry I’d be a barmaid forever living on tips and free drinks) that I forgot to look where I was going? Do I actually love my job and feel guilty about it?

The higher you climb, the more you find yourself riddled with guilt and terrified of falling off. Half of you is proud, half of you is panicked. But past a certain age, you hide the panicked part because you have to, and your exterior becomes a mask of calm.

Is that normal?

Is it ungrateful to even wonder whether it’s normal? Am I a dick? The last question I can answer definitively. Yes.

Where are all the grownups?

Remember that time you lost your parents in a crowd? You were probably looking at something shiny and grabbed the shiny thing. When you turned round to show them, you were met by a forest of towering legs below a sea of stranger’s blank faces, going about their business.

You felt tiny and lost.

Well your 30′s are like that, but you’re not permitted to have a breakdown on the floor in tears. If you did, rather than kindness, you’d be met by redundancy and and bill you can’t afford from a shrink.

You are the grown up.

The grownups you remember, the ones with mortgages, kids, cars, jobs where you wear a suit and read a paper at the weekend – they’re you and your friends. The same friends you smoked a fatty with in the skate park while necking 20/20 what seemed like five minutes ago.

Got a question and need advice? You’re fucked.

Last but not least… rose tinted specs. 

My friend Donna (remember, from point 1) – has known me since I was 11.

If she reads this, she’ll no doubt (another great 90’s band, with an ironic name given the context) remind me that when we listened to that Catatonia album for the first time, we hugely overanalysed the lyrics, searching for what they meant.

I know (thinking logically, which I do on occasion) I’ve always been a little unsure of everything. I think we all are.

This may be the most irritating thing about your 30’s and the existential dread.

Friendships, jobs, relationships – everything seems easier and more fun when you look back.

I hate it when I hear my dad hark on about the golden days of the 50s, maybe because it strikes a nerve. Do we all turn into our parents in the end, lamenting our lost and semi-fictional youth?


I’m also aware that we aren’t that old.

If anyone could advise on how to get a good night’s sleep and prevent the continuation of this shit, i.e., lamenting the lost awesomeness of my 30’s when I’m 40, I’d like to hear from them.

Anyway, fellow friend of the fear, sleep well…

Zombie popularity may mean society is unhappy. But it doesn’t mean fans want to be the Zombies.


I read an article yesterday about the theory that zombie fads peak when society is unhappy. The researcher and writer of the piece is an American who is not a zombie fan herself. She is an English teacher who ‘can’t stand violence’ but found it interesting that zombie popularity in the US peaked at a time when ‘people felt that they hadn’t been listened to by the Bush administration’. The rise of popularity in the genre is a puzzling one, and it seems very plausible that the spread of ‘Zombie Walks’ and the growing popularity of zombie films and TV Series’ like the Walking Dead have something to say about society – and about our dissatisfaction with it. Otherwise surely we’d pick something a little less, you know, rotten.

I have been a horror fan, and fan of zombie flicks in particular since I was a little kid. Yes, I know you aren’t meant to watch that stuff when you’re a little kid, but I was a sneaky one. I think my first foray into the world of horror was watching A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was about seven after being expressly told by my mother not to, which, obviously, is why I watched it.

I have also been on one of the zombie walks that Lauro mentions in her article, although I wasn’t a zombie, I was on the run from them all over Bristol. The following year I played the part of a zombie myself. It was great fun.

Zombie’s aside, I love horror films, trashy horror novels, old and twisted children’s fables, Munch paintings, Grosz paintings, horror film scores, I could go on. So on one hand, I clearly have a passion and intrigue regarding the macabre in general, which partially explains why zombies appeal to me. However, on the other I think the appeal of zombies in particular, to me anyway, is something slightly different. And I do think it has something to do with dissatisfaction with society, but not quite in the way that Lauro mentions.

It was after all a comment on society that made zombies popular in the early days – when Romero and Savini were making their now cult classics. Their films clearly expressed dissatisfaction with society. While Night of the Living Dead commented on race and intolerance, Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead was the film that really struck a chord with me. It is a deviation, evolution or mutation of this original societal statement that has held my interest in the genre ever since, and it is that original statement I feel has led to the growing popularity of the zombie genre in recent years.

The original film was, among other themes, a comment on capitalism, and the lack of any real meaning that comes from blindly chasing things that aren’t necessary. That’s both the undead who unthinkingly chase flesh they don’t need to consume, and the group of survivors who end up in an abandoned shopping mall surrounded by all the things money can buy for the perfect consumer lifestyle, which now mean nothing at all.

It is this blind pursuit of material things without application of reason that is intriguing. Further than that I think the genre has gained popularity due to its theme of survival in it’s most raw and basic sense. It’s the theme of hunting, of going back to basics, back to the wild, to the brutal and unembellished skill of taking care of yourself without all the unnecessary things that we now pursue that appeals. It is also interesting that this theme first appeared in the genre in the late seventies, just before the ‘greed is good’ capitalist eighties. However, it is an unrest that has reared it’s head in horrific pop culture manifestations ever since, with the publication of books like Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho portraying the same loss of direction and retreat to violence in order to feel something real and visceral.

As we become increasingly removed from nature and buried in city life, and as new technology distances us from reality and throws us into the virtual, zombies represent something animal and a return to our roots.

In a horribly escapist, simplistic and brutal way of course.

Whether or not fans would want the situations we love so much on screen to occur in reality, (let alone whether we could actually survive them, softened as we are) it’s a way to use the neglected part of our psyche that wonders what would happen if zombies really were.

The genre also addresses a loss of traditional ‘masculinity’. I say this for lack of a better word, as I am a woman, and feel the same way. What I mean is a lack of hands on, necessary pursuits, a lack of having to fight for your survival and fend for yourself. A disconnect from nature and necessity.

Modern living, in places like Britain and America at least where the genre is incredibly popular, is often so sterile it can lead to a lust for getting back to basics. We live a life full of internet friendships, of shrink wrapped meat that bears no resemblance to what it once was, of vitamin pills, fashion, music that appears for judgment in various ‘streams’, likes and shares on Facebook and other social media, design and cult interests that are supposed to display your personality.

You can log in your location to show people the trendy places you have been. You can hire people to do your odd jobs, learning a practical trade has lost it’s respect and doesn’t pay as well anymore. Industry is dying – contracted out to the point that we see no assembly at all, we just buy the finished product. The closest we get is the pre-cut and sanded kit complete with allen keys from Ikea, with that confused little bloke on the manual, baby stepping us through the process just in case we still can’t work it out. We make up for this lack by doing a bit of DIY on the weekend, you know, with real tools. Nothing is hands on anymore, and like the zombies, we are lost and lacking a sense of purpose.

To me, zombies are appealing as they are something to fight against. They make me picture myself as the survivor, fighting that dead, decaying and purposeless part of myself. The survivor is free from banal and pathetic concerns about Spotify appearing in their stream to be judged by someone else, the concerns about the place they live and the way they dress. They are immune to and unaware of marketing, of unnecessary embellishment.

They just survive the way they want to and have to, roaming and fighting their way out of the droning, baying crowd who so badly want to bite them them and make them just another zombie – senseless, rotting, consuming and mindlessly wandering in herds. Without ever wondering what the purpose of it is.

But then maybe that’s just me.


An Almost Pleasant Pheasant


It’s not often in the city that you hear about people hunting.

It’s not often in the city that you see any wildlife, unless you count pigeons and ragged city foxes screaming in the middle of the night and knocking your bins all over your garden. It’s also usually the case that for convenience sake you nip to Tesco for your pre-cleaned, pre-branded and pre-packed dinner, already looking appetising on a serving suggestion with the cooking instructions on the back.

That’s why I was quite excited when the chef at work announced his mate had been out shooting and had given him three pheasants, and that one was mine if I wanted it. So, in exchange for a shot of rum, I was handed a bin liner containing the bird. ‘You know what to do with this, right?’ he asked me.

‘Of course’, I replied.

‘And you’ll be alright with it? My wife won’t let me bring it in the house’.

‘I’m from Lincolnshire’ I told him. The implication and my defiant tone meaning, of course, that I was a country girl.

I’d encountered plenty of freshly shot game in my youth, I’d seen my mum pluck and gut birds when I was a kid, and excitedly helped her out.

There’s nothing more appealing when you’re a kid than the prospect of mess, guts and gore, and really getting your hands dirty.

And you assume, as you get older, you get more worldly wise, tougher, more able to cope with the events life throws at you.

In a way, you do.

What people, myself included, forget, is that despite the city hardening you up in many ways, it also mollycoddles you, takes you away from anything natural, and hands you a whole lot of things on a plate – often a plate prepared, cooked, and then washed up by, someone else.

It was my housemates reaction that suddenly made me squeamish.

I told him I’d brought home a pheasant from work, which was fine and made him pretty happy until he learned that the pheasant was currently in a bag, in the kitchen, still feathered, still with feet and beak attached.

The look of horror on his face both amused me and took me by surprise. Promptly, (and I know I’m far too old to behave in this manner, but it was too easy) I grabbed the bird from the bag and chased him around the lounge with it.

I don’t care what you think. It was worth it to see him hide in the corner, hands in front of face.

Daft, I thought. This is how all our meat starts. How can people be so hypocritical and fussy. If you’re going to eat the stuff, you don’t have the right to get offended if it’s not shrink wrapped and sold with a pretty label on. What is there to be squeamish about?

However, when I got the (literally) bloody thing out onto the chopping board, I have to admit (although, not to my housemate of course) I changed my tune. Gone was that no nonsense Lincolnshire lass, and in her place was a whiney city girl I didn’t recognise confronted by a horrible dead carcass. I grimaced at it lolling there, eyes white, shot hole in its side, and so many feathers.

So what the hell happened? Anyone from back home would have laughed out loud. Told me to man up.

So, being the stubborn git that I am, I decided, I had come this far. I wasn’t being defeated by a dead bird. Like that carcass, I had guts. Into a bucket of hot water poor lifeless Mr Pheasant went, and while he soaked, I poured myself a very large glass of wine, and put his sopping bedraggled body on my chopping board.

I took a very big swig, and started plucking.

Not so bad, I thought, as I put all my muscle into wrenching out the feathers, dropping them into the bucket on the floor. Not so bad until I got to the top, grabbed a big chunk of wet feathers at the breast, peeling the sinewy skin away right up to the neck, revealing shiny blood covered tendons and veins.

More wine. I looked at the poor bird, its little head still feathered and attached, but its skin hanging off around the base of its bloody neck.

Head off I thought.

So I took a second and picked up the knife. Brandished it in defiance over the sorry creature.

I held its now bald and exposed body up, placed the knife on the lolling, torn up neck, gritted my teeth, and then cracked it. It came away pretty easily, and I quickly chucked it in the bucket, out of sight. My housemate came in, poking his head tentatively round the door, obviously morbidly fascinated. That was the worst bit done, or so I thought, and I wasn’t going to let him see me being squeamish, so I chopped off the feet, and chucked the body in water in the sink.

By now, and to my relief, the bird was beginning to resemble something on a supermarket shelf, and with its sad little head out of sight, my pheasant torturing guilt had subsided.

Only one job left to do. Just gut the thing. Not so bad right?

I’ll spare the details, but Christ, the smell.

As soon as it hit me, I remembered it from when I’d helped my mother as a kid, but, as a proper grown up, I’m sure it was worse. Also, as a kid, it wasn’t my kitchen, so I had no responsibility to clean guts out of the sink.That smell stuck in my nose for the rest of the evening.

I felt like Macbeth, with blood forever on his hands, guilt tormenting his soul about what he had done.You know, “What’s done cannot be undone” and all that. I’d killed that poor creature! Well, I hadn’t actually. But I’d stopped it resting in peace.

Anyway, I’m over it now, and the moral to this pleasant pheasant story, if you can call it that is as follows.

My kitchen is now clean, and you’d never know the horrors that took place there.The gory remains have been safely disposed of. Mr Pheasant, when cooked, looked just as appetising as anything in the butchers, and much more appetising than anything in the supermarket.

And, it tasted bloody lush.

So, trendy city dwellers, get your hands dirty.Take away is great, but nothing is as satisfying as doing it yourself, short of shooting the damn thing and really being responsible for the whole process. I don’t think I’d be great with a gun.

And, a thought possibly more horrifying than any of the afore mentioned process – maybe Gordon Ramsay had a point when he butchered his kids pet chickens in front of them. Or maybe not. I’m undecided.

Assuming you think this is a great plan and decide to go out and gut yourself a tasty meal, here’s my last cautionary tale to city dwellers: When I said the carcass was ‘safely disposed of’, I may have lied a little.

I advise those of you attempting anything similar to weigh down your bin lid. Bloody foxes have left a right feathery mess, right across my garden. Maybe the city is better without wildlife after all.


Old Dust

the shire

I used to watch him when I was a kid. I’d hide on the stairs and peek through the metal railings.

The steps were cold, bare concrete, painted dark red to hide the splashes that spilled on the floor, but you could see all the colours from the ink on the metal, spatters of fuschia, yellow and blue.

There wasn’t much art or colour living out in the fens.

It was more artistic than anyone could have deliberately designed. The industrial equipment seemed enormous, immovable and inexplicably intriguing. I must have been about seven.

His office was also the dark room. There were always papers, negatives and crunchy sheets of acetate with weird diagrams drawn on them lying around.

It was when the X-files was on TV and me and my little sister used to sneak into his office and rummage through the towering filing cabinet looking for secret documents from the FBI about alien testing.

She must have been five.

We never found proof of aliens, but it didn’t matter. We found plenty of documents that we didn’t really understand, and that was adventure enough.

The office had been built out of the old bricks from the outhouses. The house had once been a grain store he told me.

It backed onto the river but there was now a road where the old grass banks had been.

You could still see the outline of the huge arch on the wall where the barges came in to unload the grain. When we moved in there had been three outhouses in the yard.

One was used for killing the pigs, and there was a big iron bath in there.

The other was used for hanging the meat up when it had been salted.

There were rusting iron hooks nailed into the wall that cast long shadows on the crumbling brickwork. I used to imagine the pigs being killed and their blood being drained into the bath.

I wondered if once that floor had been painted red, too.

The last building was an outside toilet, old, broken and disused for years. The ceiling had fallen part way in and now swallows had made it their home.

All the rooms were dark, musty and damp with brick floors that had worn down in places from long forgotten footfall.

The bricks were permeated with damp and the salt was rising out of them, crystalising on their surface.

Some of the bricks had big holes whittled into them, smooth indents that looked like tiny caves worn down by the sea over time.

That was the sparrows he told me, because they liked the taste of the salt.

The garden was always full of sparrows.

When we knocked them down all that was left was a huge pile of rubble in the garden, it didn’t look like it had ever been anything.

It looked like a ramshackle mountain and I used to climb to the top and build forts out of the bits of broken brick and make mud pies.

I wore scruffy clothes, dungarees and second hand jumpers, because I was always covered in old dust.

The sparrows loved it, too. They rolled around in the dust like they were taking a bath.

He used the old bricks that weren’t too full of holes to build the printing studio where I hid on the stairs.

He took the hooks and the big iron bath to the farm life museum in the village, a little building down the road with a thatched roof.

It was full of antiquated machinery from old industry that people from the village had donated.

Mannequins dressed like maids were positioned to look as though they were weaving thatch or boiling things in big black metal pots over long extinguished cast iron fires.

I was sad to see the iron bath go because it was fun to play in on top of the rubble, but he said they were just taking up space.

Although the studio was new, you could always smell the age of the brick.

It mingled with the smell of melting plastic, white spirit and ink. It sort of stung your nose, but was pleasant anyway. The chemical smell was like the taste of pink pear drops.

When the red light was on, all the colours looked black. The force of the water that rinsed the ink into the plastic bath screwed into the wall was terrifying but I loved it anyway.

The noise of the powerful spray from the hose against the fine mesh of the screens in that red room mixed with the smell of the chemicals was addictive.

So I hid on the stairs and took it all in.

Slowly the lettering would appear on the wet screen in the dark, translucent and glistening.  But that’s when I was a kid.

After a while there was less ink, less Perspex and the X Files went on for too many series to be fun anymore.

I helped out on weekends if I was bored.

It was helping him out, or drinking vodka down the playing fields, waiting to leave.

The splashes of colour were still there, but they weren’t as bright anymore. I didn’t know how the machinery worked, not really, even though I had watched so closely.

I was only a kid.

When I came home years later the fens looked different, but nothing had changed.

The fields were still there, as flat and hard as they ever were. There were still only farms buildings to block your view.

But the fens have no memory.

They are always a clean slate, unfeeling, offering no protection from the elements.

You could try and impose your own memory on them, but it would just blow away like the dust on the fields and be lost, or caught, useless, in the old barns under the vast open sky.

I couldn’t explain that my memories were as redundant as everything else.

I felt like a different type of person, a person looking through colourful railings at something magical I couldn’t quite understand.

I thought later about sitting on the red concrete stairs watching him work.

I thought about how much skill it must have taken, and about how difficult it must have been.

Later I couldn’t explain that I understood that trying was hard, and that it didn’t necessarily mean anything.

The machinery, the screens and the bath in the dark room are dusty and forgotten and taking up space.

I never really had understanding.

Only memory, the meaning redundant and lost, outsourced, and mass-produced, from the same batch but with a different label.

I wished I had tried to understand better.

But I was only a kid.


Green Fingers – Has decreasing farm industry increased the Cannabis trade in the Caribbean?

A while ago I interviewed a couple of dealers about the difference between the drug trade in the north, dealing in the south, and about the scene in good old Brizzle town. Although the towns varied, the reasoning behind dealers entering their particular trade was similar – as was their attitude toward dealing as not differing much from any legal business transaction. When I got the opportunity to interview a dealer in the Caribbean who briefly worked in New York but had to return for ‘business reasons’ I was intrigued. Turns out, we may be miles apart, but people’s motivations are similar the world over.

Bit of background – I met Jason in Trinidad. He lives with his girlfriend, (who he met in Queens, New York) and their two year old son. Jason grew up in Rio Claro, on the less wealthy agricultural side of the island. The divide between rich and poor in Trinidad is huge, and obvious. The housing ranges very visibly from traditional shanty accommodation on one side to Americanised gated communities on the other.

Jason moved to New York after getting into trouble with the Trinidad for growing and selling cannabis, and was told to either leave the country or face charges. He returned after getting into an altercation with dealers in Queens which ended in hospitalisation after a knife fight. Due to his girlfriend falling pregnant, he hoped to start a new life in Trinidad, free from the drug trade.


Sign in a typical trini rum shop – one of the bars in Rio Claro

This is what Jason told me about his experiences and motivations for getting in to the trade to begin with, and why he remains in the trade now despite the trouble it has caused him.

“It first occurred to me that I could make a bit of cash selling [cannabis] because I was around it with my family all the time. They didn’t sell, but they smoked a lot, and bought from friends who came round to chill lout, have a beer and a smoke. It always seemed pretty normal and relaxed to me. The main trade by us was growing sugar cane but that all went, so it was just growing peppers and avocadoes and whatever you had space for in the end. It’s really easy to grow good stuff here, and when I planted a couple of seeds from some weed my parents bought it was really easy to get a good plant”.

“We never had any money, but we did have a lot of space, so it seemed kind of stupid scraping by trying to make money growing peppers to sell, which everyone can grow themselves in their gardens anyway. You can make so much more money growing weed in the same space. From one seed you can grow about a quarter of Mary Jane, and it’s so easy to get hold of, so it just made sense”.


Weed grown from a couple of seeds – rather than grinding weed, Trinis’ smoke it pure, wrapped in a rizla and added to the top of a straight cigarette.

“Most of the police here smoke too, and the government and police make a lot of money off the sale of weed and coke. As long as you aren’t causing them trouble, they pretty much stay out of your way. I don’t really see what I’m doing as wrong. I’m not hurting anyone. I have a field out in the middle of nowhere, and people want to buy what I’m selling. I feel like it’s a pretty honest job. There are so few jobs available over here unless you can afford and education. It’s either selling stuff you grow at market, or trimming weeds or filling pot holes in the roads. I do that too in the mornings, before it gets too hot and so do most of my friends, but the money is bad and you can only do it when you’re young really. It’s really manual tiring work”.

“I have family now and I want them to have a nice home and look after them. I bought the house with the money I made selling and I couldn’t ever have bought it otherwise. Most people in their twenties are still living with their parents, the girls get married young so they get a house. If you are a man you need to have your own home or they won’t be interested. That’s what got me in trouble over here. One side of the island is still really poor, and no one wants to look worse than anyone. I couldn’t get a house over on the San Fernando side – that’s where all the educated people with the oil money go (oil has replaced growing sugar cane as the islands main export, and many of the men now work out at sea on the rigs). I wouldn’t fit in. But the guy with the pepper field next to mine got jealous that I was making money”.


A traditional Trinidad market selling a variety of goods grown locally on the island

“People here hate seeing other people do well as most of the island is so poor. They don’t think it’s fair, and it’s not. It’s really hard for people here to get out of their situation because there’s so little else to do unless you leave the country. It’s getting better, and more people are getting educated now, but the island is small, and the inequality is so easy to see every day. It makes people angry and jealous”.

So for the moment, Jason is back in the drug scene but he is he is keeping that fact from his family. He hopes to find better work, and would like his son to get a better education than he did and stay living on the island.

The issue in this case is the cost of education and the limited number of jobs available. The culture on the island is changing fast and traditional Trini ways of life are being rapidly replaced by American values. With the biggest of those values being capitalist and material ideals – which are incredibly at odds with the islands traditional Hindu values – the wealth divide is an uneasy one. Combine that with a very public knowledge of a corrupt policing system, and it seem for now at least that illegal trades will take a lot to reform. There is currently government debate about legalising sale of the drug, and whether this will limit the problems that arise from widespread illegal trade.

<p><a href=”″ rel=”author”>Natalie</a></p>

Argh! Algebra! The danger prescriptive learning.


I was pretty cheerful last month as I managed something that this time last year I never thought I would be able to do. I passed my Google Analytics IQ test. One reason among many that I would not have been able to do this last year, is that I had no idea what Google Analytics was.

I am not by nature a techy person. I did a degree in Literature and Philosophy and work in Marketing, so I’m used to having room for creativity and for shades of grey.

However, since I started working at a web design company, I have become aware of all sorts of things I never knew existed – techy things, you know, logical, geeky things. I have also really started to enjoy learning them, in large part becuase the people I work with are very encouraging and willing to teach me. I also enjoy them becuase now I’m teaching myself, I have realised logical things don’t exist in a vacuum. The techy stuff is in fact very creative, and more importantly, that logic and creativity overlap so completely that by learning many different areas, your knowledge of all of them is augmented and improved.

I have started to learn to code, which I am enjoying a surprising amount. I don’t have to learn this, it is just something I stumbled upon through work and which I wanted to learn more about. Thankfully, the internet is full of places that will teach you things for free. I went to a very traditional all girls’ school in Lincolnshire, and was from an early age made very aware by my teachers that I wasn’t any good at maths or statistics. For fear of my GCSE grades reflecting badly on the school (an 11+ streamed school) I was dumped into the bottom set where the teachers attempted to drag my dim mind up to at least a C-Grade for the sake of the league tables.

The thing is, as with many of the other subjects taught in a ‘traditional’ way, I had no point of reference to demonstrate how what I was being taught fit in with anything outside it. There was no creativity, or inkling to encourage an inquisitive nature regarding the wider implications of the lessons. That is why I was so pleased to pass my Analytics exam – it served as a reminder that the sight of anything that looks vaguely algebraic can still (17 years on!) strike fear and disillusion into my soul, but that the fear is in the main unfounded.

Through much effort, it seems I am better at teaching myself, and thankfully, due to the good old internet, I have the opportunity to do so. I can learn with people from all over the world, for free. There are forums where you can ask others who are learning, and work things out together. It’s interactive, subjects and cultures overlap, and the context of what you are learning can be applied in your life. You also have the opportunity to be inquisitive, and like never before, the ability to find things out for yourself.

This seems to be something that Michael Gove is keen to deny, despite evidence, expertise and advice to the contrary. Prescriptive learning simply doesn’t fit in today’s society. Learning by rote and limiting study areas to that of your nationality is surely a step backwards. It’s not that the topics on the curriculum are not worthwhile, as I say, I’m a literature and philosophy graduate so Shakespeare and romantic poetry get my thumbs up. But that can’t be it. Limiting what children learn and taking it out of context makes it inapplicable, and much harder to understand.  It also stops children’s natural inquisitive side wanting to learn more.

Thankfully, children are more imaginative and intelligent that Mr Gove gives them credit for. More realistic and knowledgeable people like the quite brilliant Sugata Mitra have realised the potential of children to learn without the restrictive and outdated methods proposed by the education secretary. In this brilliant TedTalk, he shows just how capable children are if given the freedom and opportunity to work things out for themselves. He also shows the way in which globalised learning – and learning about places and events unrestricted by geographical limits – comes quite naturally. Surely this is hugely important in an age where global trade, travel and communication are so intrinsic to the way we live.

The curriculum Gove proposes harks back as many people so often do, to a fictional ‘golden era’ of education and national pride. Even if such an era did exist in the way it seems to in Gove’s mind, it is limiting, and it simply doesn’t fit anymore. We should encourage children to use the new resources they are so comfortable with to learn about the wider world, about how disciplines overlap, about how people have progressed throughout history without propaganda. They should also to be given freedom to see how what they are learning really applies to the world around them.

If we do this, odds are they will be much wiser and more tolerant than the generation before them, not to mention a lot more confident about their skills.





Doesn’t seem that long ago…

I went to a friends wedding at the weekend, a friend from uni that I lived with for my first two years in Bristol. I lived with her and another lovely lady, who got married a couple of weeks ago.

The wedding was beautiful, and it was really good to see them both again. It struck me looking round while the speeches were going on how much we had all changed. Everyone was chatting about jobs and houses and kids, everyone seeming happy and settled.

However, the nice thing about this wedding was how well we had known each other before all the settling, about the amount of times we had discussed what the hell we would be doing, right about now. The nicest realisation was that we were all, in one way or another, doing it, or at least heading roughly on the right road to doing it, give or take the odd diversion en route. The other thing about this wedding was the feeling that some of the mystery had gone out of it. It’s an odd thing to explain, but I mean that in a really good way.

When we were all at uni together, we thought and chatted many times over incalculable glasses of Tesco’s cheapest wine about things like weddings and where we would be in the next few years. But there was a sort of mystery and magic, coupled with a complete lack of understanding or reality about how it would work. The kind of fluffy non-comprehension of marriage that comes from watching a million cheesy films where finding a bloke and getting the ring and the dress were the end of the story.

In these conversations, the thought of planning the bloody thing and the practicality of still being together, changing names on bills, fitting jobs and places to live around each other and all that stuff didn’t really factor in. However, having known this couple for a long time, having seen the ups and downs and reality of them being together, and then knowing they are still willing to take the big leap, realistic understanding in place is so much more impressive.

I am still a million miles and a mass of confusion off making the same leap, and it does seem strange and a little scary to be so far off given how many friends, many younger than me, seem to have got it all sorted, but it’s in a way a nice feeling.

I don’t pretend to understand anything to do with love more than I did a few years ago, but I do feel a little more realistic about it. I also feel a little more hopeful and honest with myself about the things you need to do to get it right. Yes, I still keep getting it wrong and messing it up, but at least I know that I want it, difficult bits and all.

Seeing two people I really care about, with all their differing personality traits and differing opinions getting to the point where they are so comfortable and full of understanding for each other made me so happy, and hugely proud of them. I hope one day I can be that happy too.

The nice thing is though, that there isn’t the urgency or the fear that used to go along with that feeling. Just the hope that one day I do figure it out the way they have, and the death of that expectation that it will be fluffy and perfect and all the other crap that you are led to believe it will be. It seems to be finding someone who really understands and can put up with your particular brand of crazy and love you anyway, the same way you love them. I think!

So good luck to Kezza and Paul, you’ll be an amazing and mad Mr & Mrs I’m sure. The day was beautiful for all the right reasons, and it’s lovely couples like you that make you see through all the bullshit and fluff and know that the reality of romance is much better than the nonsense and expectation you get taught to believe.



Don’t Try


I felt I needed to write something down. Something I wanted to share by way of advice, as catharsis and as a way to get anyone who has ever regretted anything (and who has not been honest with themselves or anyone else about it) to have a bit of a think.

I also wanted to share a poem (heave a sigh of relief, it’s not mine) by Charles Bukowski that I have been thinking about a lot lately in light in light of the aforementioned regrets and fuck ups.

In a nutshell, I’m speaking to anyone who has had something happen to them that they could not control which they have tried to bury or ignore. To anyone who has dealt with something in a way they wish they hadn’t and has found that situations have resulted as a consequence that they have lied to themselves about and felt ashamed.

If things have made you feel like a caricature of yourself, a self indulgent one sided myth that takes away all the tiny minutea of detail and shades of grey that actually make up the situation – because it’s easier to lie to yourself and those around you and ignore those details. Because to deal with them is much too scary.

If any of that strikes a chord, please read this poem. It’s wonderful, and had been forgotten to me until events lately put it repeatedly to the forefront of my mind.

It’s called Bluebird.

There’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going to let anybody see you.
There’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that he’s in there.

There’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay down, do you want to mess me up?
You want to screw up the works?
You want to blow my book sales in Europe?

There’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out
but I’m too clever, I only let him out at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.

I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be sad.

Then I put him back,
but he’s singing a little in there,
I haven’t quite let him die
and we sleep together like that
with our secret pact
and it’s nice enough to make a man weep,
but I don’t weep,
do you?

I wanted to share that with anyone who hid and imagined they were tougher than they are because they lied to themselves so effectively it was easy for other people to miss. You can easily construct a lie that people who don’t know you and don’t really care can accept. I wanted to share bluebird with  anyone who did this so they could hide themselves in other people.

Whether you hide in a crowd, or in booze, or in socially acceptable mind numbingly meaningless bullshit, it makes no difference. Mortgages, drugs, nice outfits and small talk, they’re all the same. The most dangerous thing you can do is convince yourself of something that isn’t true, just because you think bluebirds are too delicate to be seen. You need to sit on your own and acknowledge that they are there. Because everything else is a distraction, and distractions, even life long ones are plentiful and much easier to come by.

So to those I have hurt, disappointed or misled (and I include myself in each and every one of those groups) I am sorry. Sometimes you mess up so completely that it shows you a side of yourself you should have acknowledged rather than trying to choke it to death.

Bukowski’s tombstone reads ‘Don’t try’. Which sounds negative, but is, like all of his writing, beautifully and brutally honest. Those words refer to another poem ‘So you want to be a writer‘ which in an oversimplified summary advises you not to try. I suggest you read that poem, too.

What Bukowski means is if it’s honest, you don’t need to try. It’s when you stop trying that you realise are who you are, and it’s only when you accept that, you stop fucking things up.

So here’s a line from that to end on.

‘Unless it comes unmasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut, don’t do it’.


Five thoughts…


I have been thinking more than writing for the last few weeks. Which is probably a good thing. In fact, thinking, then writing would be the best thing, but I haven’t managed to pull the two together for a while. Anyway, rather than writing a huge long post, I thought I would just check in, with a few things I have been pondering this week; for your perusal, for you to ignore, or for you to offer some answers should you have any. So, here goes…

1. Do people settle down when they are nearing thirty because they have just about managed to understand themselves? By this I mean everyone you went out with before was an effort to understand yourself, but when you do, you don’t need to try out different parts of yourself, so therefore the next person you get with is, by default, the one?

2. Are geeks actually much nicer than most of the people you meet, you just didn’t notice them because they were in their bedroom coding or whatever? This may mean all your cynicism about humanity is ill founded, it’s just that you met the wrong people because they were the only people out and about.

3. Are there a million couples who don’t actually get on, and have had nothing to say to each other for ages, but they haven’t noticed yet because they both have laptops and IPhones to play with? As an addition, are there people who only have fun when they are telling someone about it on twitter or similar? Would it be fun if a stream of online friends couldn’t see it?

4. Are the people who seem conservative and responsible, and who the disorganised sorts who feel irresponsible imagine they are being judged by, actually just better at lying? I.e., some people tell their friends all the silly things they have done, and some of them keep it a well guarded secret because as long as the house looks nice, it doesn’t matter anyway. Are their secrets actually worse, but they are better at PR?

5. Do I overanalyse/stereotype everything too much?

So there’s your five thoughts for the day. Discuss.


Red wine and sweet peas

images-1I’ve started noticing some things lately. These things have been happening for a while. However, I have always felt like an observer, not a part of those things. But now I am, and I see they’ve been creeping up on me, growing on me in tiny increments. I only noticed because of the sweet peas.

I went round to my good friends house for dinner the other night. There were three couples there and he made us a lovely meal. I met him when we were both woking in a pub together and we had lock-ins that regularly lasted until ten the next morning. We would have an hours kip on the sofa upstairs and then open the pub up again at eleven. We were all in our early twenties and I’m sure I couldn’t do it now. For a start, work begins before eleven and you now actually require your faculties to be in working order when you get there.

So I know we’ve all grown up a bit, but I didn’t really notice how much until Helen showed me her sweet peas. She’d planted them all as little seedlings in separate little square pots by the door. I was also growing sweet peas in the garden at home, and they were a little bigger, so I had some sweet pea advice to impart. You know, about how long to keep them inside, about where to position them when they were big enough to go to in the garden, and about what sort of trellis to buy.

Holy shit. There it was. The dreaded plant conversation. The night went on and we talked about jobs, and among other things, about the best grocer to go to on Gloucester Road and how much better it was then buying from Tesco. Cheaper and better quality. We talked about careers and about houses. And we obviously still drank too much wine.

Me and Niall were still the biggest wine drinkers and were the last ones chatting, but the days of pub lock-ins were gone. But we were all in it together. We’d all got to the same point via a shit load of bizarre, ridiculous, unrepeatable and inexplicable nonsense, and we all had the same kind of plans, (with numerous variations of course, but we all had plans, which was new) the same kind of kitchens and we had all started to make the place look nice. That kind of thing had always scared the crap out of me. But it wasn’t as dull, or as scary as I had imagined, because the people were still the same.

It was a weird sort of feeling, a bit like that feeling you get when you’ve all stayed up all night and you sit on the hill in the park in the morning with whatever is left over (invariably warm flat rum and coke in a litre bottle) watching the sun come up while people are on their way to work looking fresh and rested. You watch the workers and are glad you are with your friends, watching but not involved, like some kind of secret.

It’s like you survived something together. And oddly, this feeling was sort of like that. The feeling that you knew a secret. The secret being that we were all just as silly as we ever were, despite talking about mortgages. The feeling that we would all keep the secret for each other. The feeling that one day, we would know when our kids (those of us who decide to have any) had been smoking, drinking or doing one of the many other fun things that they shouldn’t have been doing because we would recognise the signs. And although we would tell them off for it, we would know that we were no better, and that would be a secret too. Now I realised that I wasn’t eighteen anymore, and that despite denying it for the last ten years, real eighteen year olds would see us in a club and think we looked pretty old, and that was fine.

But seriously, the oddest part was that I had anything to say about sweet peas. Who knew? Certainly not me.