Cocky Delusions of Creative Grandeur

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Beautiful bird, is it not?  The Cockerel? The diminutive, Cock and Cocky have been used for year – YEARS – as nicknames, slang, euphemisms… a versatile and well-used word.  We’ve all heard it, read it and/or used it.  It is not restricted to any one peer, class, race, gender or age group. It crosses nations and languages, breaks the ice at parties (after a few drinks) and puts people in their places.  I calms situations with humour or gets people fighting.  It is a fun and flirty word, it is a rude and angry word.  It is not one thing, it is many.  And like all those other dirty, flirty words, it belongs to everyone.

Around the world, people fight daily to ensure communication is not stifled and censored.  Freedom of speech is vital to create open and honest discourse and debate, to enrich minds and lives, to allow expression and understanding.  Stifling the creative process by constricting the use of language is detrimental to the advancement of society.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban banned books and education for women, marginalised the female population and dis-empowered them, ripped away their voice and their freedom.  They lost the freedom of not only speech, but expression.  They lost – sorry, not lost, but were denied access to the written word.  Yet, they did not give up.  They did not bow down.  In their own way, perhaps even if it was only in their heads, or in their dreams, they continued to create.

Education is vital for the young and the old.  Do you know how many children around the world do not have access to schooling?  How many do not have free and ready access to books?  How many are illiterate?  How many female authors in the history of time were denied publication unless they used a male pseudonym?

We fight and fight and fight and we finally, in the West, have a powerful presence in the literary world that is recognised and lauded.  With the help of wonderful publishers, like Virago, championing women’s literature we have made the female voice stand up and be counted.

‘What on earth is she ranting on about?’  I hear you thinking?

Well, it is something that blew up Twitter a couple of months ago – or at least it did in the literary world – because an author trademarked a word.  A single word.  Monsanto trademarked a genome sequence and almost decimated rice production in India.  This author has arrogantly assumed she can do the same, even though she did not ‘discover’ the word, did not create it and most certainly is not the exclusive user of it.

Faleena Hopkins, aka Sabrina Lacey, has trademarked the word ‘cocky’ in the United States and not only asked several authors to change their book titles (which they have reluctantly done as they cannot afford to fight her legally), but has also had Amazon remove titles that have the word ‘cocky’ in the title.  She has ‘generously’ agreed they can “keep their books, rankings, reviews and their money by retitling which takes one day”.  Ms Hopkins has been writing the ‘Cocker Brothers’ books since 2016.  I think the first book in the series was published in September of 2017, less than a year ago.  Apparently, she has a ‘huge’ following and her readers keep selecting the ‘wrong books’.  [choke]

RWA are in talks with Intellectual Property Lawyers to recover this egregious situation.

As privileged, free-thinking, caring individuals of the western world, it is our right and our duty to ensure the lines of communication between people and countries remain open in every way, including language, to ensure free-thinking and freedom of expression are not constrained.

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Ms Hopkins, if you are reading this (which I highly doubt, as I’m way too small an author), please read All Rights Reserved.  Then, read 1984 and pay particular attention to Newspeak and ask yourself who it helps to trademark this word and how it will affect the future.  From one tiny seed, from one tiny idea, from a single drop of blood, revolutions are born that can decimate nations.  Please, please, put aside your pride, sense of entitlement and your self-righteousness and think seriously about not only who benefits from this and who doesn’t, but the harm it has and will cause.  Otherwise, the deprivation will drive a wedge into our creative souls and this is what we’ll be in for:  Will this be your legacy?

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If you’ve a mind, you might also like to read Fahrenheit 451.  For the destruction of books does not necessarily require a flame.  Then, watch the sacking of the library at Alexandria in Agora.  I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

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Readers, if you are as outraged as I and wish to to do something, please speak/open discussions on the subject.  Alternatively, if you wish to be a silent demonstrator, please click here, if you wish to sign the petition.

Click here if you wish to purchase a copy of Cock Tales (they couldn’t use the word Cocky – see above); it is a book full of stories by various authors, the proceeds of which will go to support the RWA’s fight.

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OMG I discovered a new author!

That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest – Henry David Thoreau

Image result for cuddling penny reid

I live in the UK.  A beautiful, green, open and varied country with people of many nationalities, ideas and opinions.  Nothing here is mundane – not the weather, not the land, not the food and certainly not the people.

To top it all, we have wonderful access to parks and forests, beaches and lakes, libraries and museums – all free for us to indulge in and right on our doorsteps.  We can cycle from the mountain to the sea, to the library and museum, to the open air markets and fairs, learning and experiencing and revelling in the wonders of life.

But I want to speak about one special and wonderful pleasure that makes my heart glow – discovering new authors or musicians or artists or dancers… (there’s no room to cover all these marvels).  The creative people who distil the beauty around us and make us see it in a different way, experience it in a different way.  And our museums and libraries and creative fairs allow us to experience talents from all over the world.

I truly cannot think of a greater gift than introducing someone to a new creative talent – timeless, elegant and personal.

Which is how I came to discover the author Penny Reid.   I was stunned I hadn’t come across her before and am still unable to explain how such a thing could have happened.  It’s like walking into my garden one day and suddenly discovering a wall covered in purple wisteria.  This wondrous chocolatey gem of an author, with sprinkles on top, has been writing for a while now, but her books had never crossed my path, until I read The Hooker and the Hermit, a collaboration with L.H. Cosway.  (This is why librarians are important, people!).

Ms Reid has wit and charm and a thoroughly wonderful expansive format of writing style, full of knowledge and angst and characters that make you want to pet them.  In her books, there is nothing boring or twee, she makes no concessions and makes no apologies for the situational comedy she creates (Nico and jelly baths being a case in point).

If you like romance with strong, intelligent characters, wisdom and passion, knowledge and introspection, then check her out.  You won’t be disappointed.

Top save you typing, here’s a link: Penny Reid

You’re welcome.

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‘Patience is bitter…

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…but its fruit is sweet,’ said Aristotle.  He was probably thinking of loftier challenges than giving up sugar, but that is where I am and my sweet tooth clings hopefully to that little snippet of advice.

It’s been 5 weeks since I divorced myself from sugar and I still grimace when I take that first sip of unsweetened coffee.  Worse than that, I’ve had to give up normal tea – tea, people!  Because there are some things that just won’t work in my sugarless world. Instead, I grudgingly drink tea with a slice of lemon, mouth pouting although one might mistake it for a sour pucker.  Still not the same, but better than no tea at all and that is something I refuse to contemplate.

Why was it was such a wrench to give up sugary tea?  I think it’s because tea was our childhood panacea when times were hard, fraught or we were ill.  It was our comfort, along with hugging arms and I feel as though someone has whipped away my inner blankie.

I started on this ‘bitter’ path with my cousin.  I’m rubbish at motivating myself and will procrastinate, find excuses to cheat and convince myself to leave it for ‘just one more week’.  But with her conscience (and strong kicks up the arse) I have managed to remain true to our pact.  Neither of us can let the other one down and we confess our slip-ups immediately (trying a bit of the banana bread to check it is cooked; automatically grabbing a crisp off the table; taking a sip from the wrong mug [I may not have admitted that one yet, so I hope she’s not reading this]…).

The first two weeks were all about the sugary drinks.  Out went the sugar bowl completely – well, actually, figuratively, because it still sits there for the hubby and kids to indulge, but I am only allowed to look upon it wistfully.  I used to be a ‘three spoons, please’ person and have now gone cold turkey with all its attending ailments (I’ll come to those).  No sugar in tea or coffee (bleuch!), no squash or colas and no camomile with honey.

After a couple of days the headaches set in – I’m unsure if it was the lack of sugar or lack of caffeine (hating the taste of sugarless tea/coffee I drank hot water or green tea).  I had more paracetamol in that first week than I would have had sugar.

Then, the early morning wake-ups struck like unasked for extra me-time.  I’m not kidding.  2 or 3 am, I’d be wide awake and restless until around 5 am, but too tired to do anything but think of how much I wanted to sleep.  Added to which, I had restless leg syndrome (paracetamol worked great for that, too; my chemist began to worry) and I tossed and turned enough to warrant remaking the bed from scratch every morning.

After two weeks, my cousin (I might disown her) and I gave up crisps, biscuits, cakes, ice-creams and pudding.  That wasn’t as tough for me as the drinks, because I don’t normally indulge, but my cousin found it hard-going (she’d been having way too many biccies with her sugarless cuppa) and we’d both naughtily squeezed in an ice-cream pretty much every day.  Instead of crisps I have a small handful of nuts and seeds.

While I never have pudding on weekdays, I used to indulge and help myself to a slice of the cake in the staff kitchen (courtesy of someone’s birthday).  Now, all I am allowed to do is sniff that wonderful chocolate, creamy, baked-goodness aroma.  I supplement my weekend pudding with fruit platters – bananas, apples, berries, mango, papaya, pomegranate, nectarines, melon… No fruit juices, as concentrated, squished versions have way too much fructose, which the body has no resistance to.

I’m finally sleeping a little better (I wake up around 4 for an hour), but I still cringe at the taste of sugarless coffee and I want a proper cup of tea!!!   Do I feel better – not really.  Am I more alert? I don’t think so.  Do I have more energy? Nope.  Are my skin, hair and nails healthier?  No, no and no.  Have I lost weight?  I wished.

I’ll check back in another month and let you know if anything’s changed, except I have a feeling we’ll be cutting out alcohol next and I may be incarcerated for cousinicide.

We’ve told ourselves we’ll treat ourselves, sometime, somewhere.  If we’ve been good.

I’ve decided I need concrete goals; ‘somewhere, sometime’ is not a reward, it’s just teasing.

BTW – I did my research and everyone says I won’t notice the lack of sugar after a few weeks.  5 weeks on, I’m telling you THEY LIE!

……………………..

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So, it’s been more than a month since I created the original post, in fact, it’s been a year!  I have to admit, I held out for more than 6 months, but then reverted back to taking sugar, but panic not for I have drastically reduced my consumption.  I only have a spoonful of sugar in my beverages and only 2 cups a day rather than the 4 or 5, so overall, I have gone from 15 spoons a day to 2.

It was tough.  There’s no easy way to say it and there are no shortcuts, but it is worthwhile because the most important point is that sugar is addictive.  I can tell you for a fact that when I have something sweet, I crave more sweetness.

So, what have I learned?  Basically I need to change what I eat, remove the need for the cravings.  Substitutions don’t work.  All they do is perpetuate the bad habits and sugar is a very bad habit.  So, instead of substituting your high sugar drinks and treats with low sugar versions, eat and drink something completely different.  Those biscuits you have with your tea?  Ditch the tea and the biscuits and encourage your body to drink more water.  Puddings after every meal?  Eat fruit instead – and I do mean, eat fruit, not drink a glass of juice or smoothie, but sit down and peel and orange.  Think about it: if you want your child to stop doing something, such as using their phone all day, you distract them, you don’t give them a tablet or the TV.

I’m trying to recall when these terrible habits began and I have to come to the conclusion it was when I left home – keen, exited and so confident that I knew everything!  Sound familiar?  I was brought up vegetarian – no meat, fish, eggs or cheese – with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.  The only time we had ‘rubbish’ was at weekends or when we went to parties or had picnics (ot if the ice-cream van came round and my dad could get away with my mum not knowing).  But, when I left home, and I was buying my own food with no restrictions (other than cost), my diet went downhill very quickly.  Being younger, I managed to disguise the effects of this bad diet, from a health perspective, by exercising lots.  It was a harsh balancing act, poisoning myself then purging myself.  But the real danger was not the short term, but in the long term because I’ve ended up with these very bad, hard to break, habits, which I’ve have passed on to my children.

I am a rubbish cook and I do not cook the foods I ate growing up, but the foods I learnt cook with my unregulated grocery buying.  My mealtimes increased – I went from breakfast, lunch and dinner to breakfast, elevenses, lunch, tea, dinner, supper… the full Hobbit overindulgence.  I had the double whammy of bad eating habits.  Now, I have to pull myself and my family back to a healthier eating regime and it’s tough, especially when bombarded  with whinges and whines and moans and groans.  When you’re struggling not to fall back into bad habits and have to also contend with them pushing you it becomes four times the battle.

So, the conclusion?  Change your daily meal plan; create a weekly menu full of healthy options, not substitutions; stop buying crap (if it’s in the house, you’ll eat it) – and shop after you’ve eaten a meal, not when you’re hungry; if you eat/drink rubbish when you do a particular activity then stop doing that activity or do it differently; talk to your family so everyone is on board.  And, most importantly, remember a treat is only a treat if it isn’t the norm!

 

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365 likes ❤ 

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Someone, somewhere actually spent time, money and thought in investigating the psychological responses behind sending and receiving like statuses on social media. Probably an investor in Facebook. There’s even a scale to measure Facebook addiction: the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale or BFAS for short.

We started with straightforward acknowledgements  on emails – remember those? How excited was I to get a notification that the email had been opened, although not necessarily read. In the early days of Facebook we had the same thing and we could acknowledge having read someone’s post. Then the ‘thumbs up’  arrived. Now, we have different faces so we can show just how the post made us feel and soon we’ll be able to do a full Nero and ‘thumbs down’ a post, although I’m not sure I’d know what that actually stands for – that you also agree it’s a bad thing or that you dislike the post?

Stepping back to the present and those emotional responses, I wonder how many clicked on ‘angry’ when all they really did was tut. How many clicked on ‘tearful’ when all they did was shake their head? ‘Laughing out loud’ face for a smile? We have begun to over-exaggerate our emotions online as we do with texting – rofl has been typed way more times than it actually happened in that real life situation. This is how ridiculous it is: the whole family was sat at the dining table and someone said something slightly humorous; my daughter immediately said, “lol.” She might have been laughing silently, but definitely not out loud.

So why do we do it? Because it’s the only option? From the point above, when my daughter could have remained silent, it appears to be more than that. Or does it? Is it a chicken/egg situation? People became used to exaggerated contractions in text speak and looked for the equivalent in social media to the point where it has now become perfectly valid to send a crying face to someone who tells you they’ve just wrecked their new manicure. Or do people feel inside what they portray with the emoji? Will we become so stoic in our natural responses, unable to express our true emotions unless we can display them on a screen?

You have to admire the marketing concept, the way users are desperate to see the ‘likes’ and, to try and maximise the number of likes they receive, they push them out in the hopes that people will reciprocate. You might think me cynical, but I direct you to the study I mentioned earlier. In fact, I think there are guides somewhere that tell you to do exactly that, something along the lines of ‘how to improve your online presence’.  Improve?  From what?  On what scale?  How will you know when you have ‘improved’?  What is the goal?

I am unsure which has the bigger emotional pull, the number of likes one receives on posts or the (ever-fluctuating) number of friends.

Working in a school, I can tell you that social media rules teenager’s lives completely. More than music or sport. Even teen fashion relies on the medium.  However, we have a strict ‘no devices’ policy for years 7 to 9 and I cannot begin to tell you how nice it is to see the kids talk to each other, play tag and socialise during their breaks.  Even better, most of them keep up the face to face interactions in upper years.

(I daren’t even touch upon online bullying or sexting which would involve another whole blog post.)

I wonder where this need to exaggerate will lead us?  People already post false, photo-shopped images of themselves on dating sites, develop creative language loopholes to evade answering questions unfavourably (fake news, anyone?) and we are slowly developing and encouraging a culture where I am never sure what anyone means anymore.  Language has always had the ability to be the most violent and passive of tools, able to diplomatically convey acres of feeling emotionlessly and the written word remains one of the greatest communication bridges.  What’s that rule – don’t drink and drive/don’t drink and type?  This is when written communication fails us.  Spectacularly.  It can turn into a smack in the face.  Just think of how you feel when someone sends you a message in block capitals.  And when we live in an atmosphere of exaggeration, that smack can become a full blown K.O., with tweets and circling stars.

Deconstructed, scrunched language, abbreviations (so many!) and emoticons (culturally diverse ones, too) – the written word has gone back to caveman drawings.  What will our future selves think when they come across the simplistic constructs of our chosen language of communication?

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There is one, undeniably, positive element the two have in common: it doesn’t what language you speak, you’ll still be able to understand what the other person is trying to convey – although it’s probably exaggerated. Lol    (I’m not, though)

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Winners and Triers

There is an intriguing study into positive, encouraging language and the results are, unsurprisingly, logical.  Isn’t that always the way?  The person who first saw the wheel in use probably thought, ‘well, why didn’t we think of that before?’

I once went on a management course that focused on language, specifically on how we speak to other people, and it all made sense; the ideas were all things we know and understand, but don’t necessarily practise on a day-to-day basis because we are inured in bad habits (and laziness).

Anyway, this study split a group into two and one group was highly praised whenever they had good results in tests.  The other was praised for small, discernible achievements, without focusing on test results.  They then assessed the progress made by all these students (regardless of whether they were high or low achievers in testing).  Not, as you would expect, by giving them a written test, but by placing in front of them various tasks.  The students were encouraged to choose their own tasks and this is what the researchers discovered:

The children who were highly praised with general comments (such as: ‘you’re marvellous’, what a great piece of work’, ‘100%, that’s what I like to see’, ‘another A*, you’re so clever’, ‘you’re a genius’, etc.) tended to select less challenging tasks, ones that would not threaten their ‘excellent’ status.

The children who were praised more specifically (‘I like the way you’ve used alliteration’, ‘I’m impressed that you simplified the figures first’, ‘the use of such bright colours works well for the background’, ‘the little dance in the middle makes the whole piece stand out more’, etc.) were less threatened by the range of tasks and willing to try the more complex tasks, actively going outside of their comfort zone.

Why?  Why wouldn’t the A*, ‘brilliant’ students choose the tougher tasks and showcase their skills?

Teaching isn’t about creating children who perform well in known tasks, it is about creating and developing minds that can take a problem and break it down, creating minds focused on problem-solving rather than their own performance and retaining a high pass rate.  The assessment criteria is in the process, rather than the end result and so we have students who are more confident in their abilities, more willing to explore and who are also more accepting of other people’s differences, because they perceive value not in percentages and quantity, but in ideas and quality.  In their world, no-one is a failure.

Okay, let me clarify that last statement, because I detest the ‘everyone gets a badge’ mindset.  It isn’t that no-one fails, more that the achievement criteria is different.  While they are all trying to get to the same goal, the prize is not in reaching the goal, but in making the attempt to get there, in using their wits and brains and bodies to find a solution.  I haven’t quite got my mind round to solving how this works as regards physical intelligence and winning the 100 metre sprint, but in other areas, it has to be about taking risks and exploring different paths, expanding our minds to encompass the unknown and impossible.

Everyday we fight against the mesmerising effects of a hundred YouTube feeds and social networking pings, texts and online drama that direct our attention away from what is important.  The here, the now, the beauty of nature and creativity and pitting our minds and bodies against new challenges.  Isn’t this what we want for our children?  To excel in the face of insurmountable odds, to brave every new challenge and overcome every fear because they have the tools and wherewithal to just try.  And in trying, succeed.

Then, there are the parents who stifle their children’s endeavours, enabling their fears instead of teaching them the skills to overcome their anxieties.  Worse, they stifle our (teachers, librarians, TAs…) efforts to tease them out of their cocoons, belittle the rewards we offer and raise angry voices at the punishments; parents who instil a sense of entitlement and justification rather than building confidence and creating a ‘can-do’ child.

I came across this amazing video by Jason Momoa which made me want to go back in time and refashion my children’s childhoods, spend lazy hours outdoors climbing trees and painting shells rather than ensuring shoes were lined up neatly at the door.

All children are born able and capable, they’re little sponges waiting for the sweet nectar of possibilities to transform them into adventurous souls.  Set their minds free and teach them the only real failure is in not doing.

The best time to plant was 20 years ago.  The second best time is now.   Chinese Proverb

 

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1.5+0.5=2

The bible tells us Adam gave up a rib to create Eve.  Eve has been paying back ever since.  But Adam does not own Eve and Eve owes Adam nothing.

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March 8th is International Women’s Day.  Happy IWD!  I want to highlight that IWD is composed of three separate words: International – it’s a global issue; Women – irrespective of race, age or class; Day – just the one, singular, like birthday or Independence Day.

I know the negative comments this post will attract and I’d like to address some of the more popular ones here and now.

What about International Men’s Day?
Seriously?  We live in a society where, even now, in the western, liberated, ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘anything is possible’ world, women’s pay, for the exact same job, is less than men’s in the majority of cases.  The western, progressive world where employers can still stipulate ‘heels’ and ‘manicured hands’ as part of a dress code for women, but not men.  The western world is still primarily a man’s world.  1 day out of 365 when we want to bring women’s rights across the globe into focus and you want to make it about men?  For shame.

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I love being a stay at home mum but IWD wants me to be ashamed of that.w2
Good for you for doing what you want.  It’s great you have the choice and opportunity and that is exactly the aim – choice and opportunity, regardless of gender, race or class.  For many women, being a working mum is not an option. Every person should have the right to choose to be a stay at home parent or a working parent, without it being imposed on them by religion, society or their spouse.

I love looking sexy for my man and IWD are feminists who want me to be dowdy.
Sexy?  Great.  Look sexy, don’t look sexy.  Dress up, dress down, do your hair, don’t do your hair.  Your choice.  See that word?  Choice.  Many women do not have the freedom to dress as they please (work outfits excepted [although Hooters needs talking to]) on a day-to-day basis, not allowed to choose their own wardrobe or choose the clothes they buy.  Adult women are neither children nor dolls.  They do not need dressing.

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I respect men, so I don’t follow IWD.
And I respect people, irrespective of their gender assignment.  I do not respect ignorance or a stubborn resistance to acknowledging other people’s needs and circumstances.  We cannot live in this world blinkered by our own self-satisfaction.  We are intelligent beings, capable of empathy and making people’s lives better.  IWD is not anti-men.  It is about ensuring women are given a fair and equal hearing on a level platform.

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I don’t need IWD because I can fight for myself.w5
I respect that, but what of all the other women around the world who do not have a voice let alone the right to stand up for themselves? I am fortunate to live in a country where I can stand up for my rights and freedom, can speak up for myself.  Now, it is my turn to speak for those that cannot. Is that not what a developed world does?  When one is in a position of power it behoves one to protect the powerless.

I’m happy to have a man look after me.
And I’m happy for you.  It’s human nature to look after and be looked after.  We nurture and look for nurturing in turn.  We have parents and spouses and children and grandchildren.  We love and are loved.  It is unfortunate that there are some women who have no choice in not only whether they want to be looked after, but by whom.  No choice in whether or not they have a husband, family or lack a career.   No choice but to be regarded as only a daughter, wife and/or mother.  No identity other than that of belonging to their father or husband.  It is about being able to choose.  Yet, these are the lucky women, because there are women who live in areas of the world where they legally have no choice but have a man speak for them and if they are orphaned or unmarried or widowed or (male)childless then they effectively do not have any voice at all.

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IWD is not about man-hating or bra burning or turning women into men.  It is not about emasculating or denying anyone the right to a decent and fair life.  It is about gender equality and, unfortunately, the scales remain tipped against women.  I am concerned primarily with the most basic and fundamental rights, such as education:

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The right to work and the right to a fair and equal wage:

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Many women are denied fundamental rights over their own bodies – from the use of contraception to being deemed inferior if they cannot bear children.  We still hear of FGM; of men ‘buying’ aids cures in the form of young female virgins; of women being legally raped by their husbands; of women having to live in a hut, away from the family home during their menses, all upheld under the name of religion or tradition.

Sadly, the statistics from The Independent in 2014 are still shockingly real and that is why we have to continue speaking up for those that cannot.

Only last year, I heard someone comment, ‘I hope they don’t hire a young woman; she’ll get pregnant, we’ll be stuck with maternity pay and have to get in someone else.’  See?  Even now, the expectation is that women will be the stay-at-home parent, yet the trend is changing and we have to embrace it.  Encourage it.  Make it less an accepted standard and encourage the workplace to amend its attitudes.  Encourage governments, including our own, to make childcare more affordable so women can go back to work, remove the stigma of being a bad mum when they do so and make it easier for men to be the stay-at-home dad by ensuring women have equal pay.

So, before you begin to hold up a placard that says you disagree with IWD, make sure you know what it means you are agreeing to: advocating and perpetuating the ignorance that sanctions treating women unfairly and as inferior beings.

‘I was born a woman’ is a life sentence of servitude in an embarrassingly large number of areas of the world.  Let’s change that and make it a positive statement for every woman.

Before I close off that point, I just want to say, I don’t necessarily want the statement to be, ‘I was born.  Gender irrelevant.’  I am proud to be a woman, but it shouldn’t be relevant to anyone other than my partner or my doctor.

While I’m at it, I may as well address the no-no-please-don’t-go-there God argument (from an atheist’s perspective).  Women give birth.  They create and deliver life, ergo God (creator) must be a woman.  Man is not created in the image of God, woman is, therefore the Pope should, by rights, be female.

One final quote, from the small, but determined Ms Yousafzai:

We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.

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Take Off Your Shirt

I wish this post was about something juicy and raunchy, but, alas, it is about something very unsavoury and that is the way in which we are slowly stripping away our economy.  They’re not taking the shark-in-homeshirt off our backs, we are literally stripping off for them, clouded, deluded and blinded by gorgeous layouts, next day service and free delivery.

Any why not?  What is so wrong in giving in to the company that has made ‘Prime’ an uncontestable market force?  They’ve made free, next day delivery the next best thing since sliced bread, especially for those of us who live half an hour away from the nearest large shop.

Is it our fault when we have been taught from a very early age to be money-conscious?  ‘Go for the best deal’ is almost ingrained. I was brought up in an era when Saturday shopping was the highlight of the week and market day meant deal-day.  But I was also brought up to buy British, keep the economy turning, stop money flowing overseas and support our nation’s workforce.

No longer.  Now, it is about convenience and speed and now, no, now!  Everything is online and geared to make our lives as hassle-free s possible.  But there is a cost and it is a huge, ticking time-bomb that we are unwittingly nourishing.

Shopping online is not, in itself, a problem.  My issue is with taxation and subsidies and the unfairness of penalising local businesses in favour of conglomerates who tread them into the ground.  Please, invite a shark into your home to nibble on your children and insist the children give up their beds and toys to the sharks.  You won’t?

Now, we have all heard the terrible news that Amazon and Google and Starbucks, et al do not pay full UK tax.  They have managed to avoid this by putting the corporate company overseas and using the overseas tax breaks that come with it.

We are assured by HM C&E and Tax and Revenue that the amount these companies are not paying is but a small drip in a much larger bucket, but what they don’t seem to understand is that the drip is poisonous.  It is slowly eroding the plastic and before we know it, the bucket will have disintegrated and we will be left high and dry.  Can you imagine it?  We will end up borrowing from the coffers that we helped fill.

I’m not being paranoid.  It is simple economics and here is why.

Company A buys from company B and sells to us, the consumers, C.  At each sell point, we pay tax and the government gains, the money going into infrastructure, school, hospitals, etc.  Money revolves within our economy.

However, we have several issues.

One: Company A in this case, with the might of sales power, has screwed company B to the narrowest margin – let’s say 35% rather than the normal 50%.  Well, that’s a little less going into the government’s coffers, it is also less to support the company and its workers.

Company A then sells to C, including the 20% VAT.  Great.  That’s 20% C has paid to keep the nation floating.  Not so, because company A has used its loophole and only pays the government 3% tax.  17% goes straight into company A’s pockets.  Okay, well, a lot of overseas companies do that, that’s their incentive and if it was that big an issue the government would do something to halt it; so what?  I don’t know about you, but I resent that I just paid 20% tax – or what I was told was tax – but in actuality the UK government only sees 3%.  How would you feel if you gave a friend a fiver to buy your kid lunch and they only spend £1.50 and pocketed the rest?  This is out and out lying, cheating and stealing.  I don’t care what agreement the company has with the government, if you take 20% tax then pay it!

Two: companies like these are given big tax breaks to open new markets in the UK – such as tax-free sales for the first 5 years.  What?  Okay, I appreciate we have to attract new business and this is a thing, but 5 years?  UK companies are given zero tax breaks for starting up and they have to compete with big conglomerates hustling in on their patch, with a golden handshake from our own government, to do so.

Three: You must have heard recently that high street shops are going to have big tax rises.  This will be passed on to the consumer, C.  They have no choice, how else will they raise the money?  Now, they are competing against golden handshake company A who is sitting-pretty abroad with their additional 17% margin and can afford to absorb this tax hike for a year or so (maybe more), exactly the amount of time it takes C to think, ‘I can’t afford to go there.  Let’s go to A instead.’  The local shop closes because its customers have walked, A has all the custom and can now raise its prices safe in the knowledge that it has no competitors.  And it is pocketing a bigger value of the 17% you think you’re passing on to the government.

Four: We are snowballing our economy into the ground.  Company A’s greed and tax avoidance means the money is not going back into the UK economy.  It is not going to build roads and school and hospitals, it is not going into UK banks, it is not being spent in the UK to be recycled – remember the burning of Welsh houses?  DON’T burn anything!  I’m just trying to remind you what a devastation it was when money was removed from the local economy.

In addition to all this, Company A is not regulated.  It has poor staff policies – zero contract hours? Points system?  Penalties for time off?  It is subsidised by the government to ensure it does not close its doors and put workers out of jobs, when in reality it is the reason so many smaller businesses closed in the first place.  We are, literally, paying them to destroy us and doing it with a smile.  Does it remind you of an abusive relationship?

Government Grants

Corporation Tax

Paying VAT

So, what do we do?  I’m not proposing you boycott the big conglomerates – why should you?  Competition is rife and money is tight and we all lead exceedingly, increasingly busy lives.  However, it is a first step.  Get back to taking that long walk round the shopping centre with your friends and pop into a local cafe – it gets you out of the house, socialising in the old fashioned-way and brings money back into the local economy.

What we can do is petition the government to make business fair and make tax payments more transparent.  If I’m paying 20% tax on item, I want the money to go where I am being told it is going!

Petition the government to remove the destructive ‘points’ system and zero contract hours.

Petition the government to stop Amazon strong-arming publishers and music companies to give them bigger and better deals over and above smaller outlets (I have heard some horrible rumours regarding this, but they are rumours; however, when I can’t get Waterstones to tell me outright why they aren’t even allowed to advertise a forthcoming book that is already available for pre-sale on Amazon, one starts to wonder).

Petition the government to stop giving massive corporate tax incentives that undermine our own companies, which in turn shaves away at our economy.

There are no easy answers, but there are small steps we can take to bar the sharks from our own homes.

Other booksellers

Use the High Street

……………………

Addendum

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter and I met up with a friend in Bicester to watch a movie.  The road to Bicester has been plagued with roadworks for the longest time, so we allowed plenty of time to take into account traffic holdups, but managed to fly through and arrived half an hour early.  So, we bought a few bits in Sainsbury’s, met up with our friend, saw our movie and left to be confronted with an £80 hour parking charge as we had gone over 3 hours.

Now, you may not know Bicester, but the signs for the car park look like this:

20180610_104757

quite clearly showing parking and cinema.  In fact, the cinema is directly under the car park.  However, it turns out the car park has a 3 hour parking restriction and this is the parking restriction notice:

20180610_105522If you zoom in (and you have to go right up to it) the main points that are highlighted in big letters are the free 2 hour parking (woo hoo!), the charge for staying 3 hours, bank holiday… the 3 hour parking restriction is much smaller and almost lost in everything else.

As I’d reverse parked in a bay a little way away from this sign, I didn’t see it and the walk up to Sainsbury’s (directly ahead) showed no other signs, so you can imagine my complete shock to find I’d exceeded my parking time limit.  Bad signage aside, what I want to focus on are several other points:

1) Some movies last more than 4 hours!  A 3 hour parking restriction is ridiculous.  When I pointed this out to Vue (I wasn’t looking for compensation), I was told to direct my enquiries to the people who control the car park.  I replied and told Vue they needed to argue their case and fight to change the restriction, because this is not enough time to watch a movie, let alone watch a movie and have a meal – which is what normally happens on a typical date, but not, apparently, in Bicester.  Vue’s reply?  I need to contact the parking company!  Can I just say?  You’re idiots.  You spend time, money and effort in trying to get people through the doors (by the way it is a lovely cinema with lots of leg room and really comfy seats), only to be stymied by the fact that people won’t have time to watch a movie before being slapped with a £80 parking fine.  You may aswell just burn the money you pay in marketing.

You can be sure I have recommended that cinema goers avoid Bicester Vue and use either High Wycombe Empire/Cineworld, Aylesbury Odeon or Oxford Odeon, where they will have time to watch and perhaps even grab a bite to eat. I haven’t recommended Kassam Vue as your standard replies to my email have offered me no faith in the company.

2) Bicester Council: What is the point of offering 2 hours free parking if you’re then going to insist people leave after another hour?  What is the point of the 2 hour free parking?  Certainly for Sainsbury’s it is a wonderful win because their customers don’t need much longer than that to shop, but for the rest of the town it is a disaster.  This is why people don’t use the High Street.  When we first got to Bicester, my daughter and I thought ‘this is so nice, let’s come back another day and have mother-daughter day out: shop, mani-pedi and lunch’.  No chance of that now.  Shopping is supposed to be stress-free, but you’ve turned into a farce of supermarket sweep.

So, the council planners have enticed shoppers into the town with 2 hours free parking, but then gunned them down if they overstay their welcome, leaving them disgruntled (you can see how bitter I still am a couple of weeks later – I’m writing a blog about it FFS).  Your efforts to encourage shoppers back into town have backfired because the first thing I did when I got home was out the injustice on social media and warn everyone to avoid Bicester.  In these times, when social media can be an empowering tool, you’ve basically shot yourselves and the rest of the businesses in Pioneer Square in the foot.  My review would have been favourable and uplifting, instead it was negative.  Loved the movie, loved spending time with my daughter and friend, but the whole experience was marred and the £80 fine is the what I will always remember about Bicester.

Can you really not understand how ridiculous it is?  People have internet access and can shop 24/7, 365 days of the year, without (unreasonable) parking costs.  To encourage shoppers back to the High Street you need to make them feel welcome and wanted, not begrudge their presence like unwanted guests at Christmas. What exactly do you expect people to be able to do in those three hours?  What is your aim with the 2 hours free parking?  What is your aim with the restriction?  Why are the signs so small and obscure – are you encouraging discontent?  Is this the way you are trying to prop up your coffers, because in the end, for every £80 fine you will lose not only that shopper but their family and friends, too and create a ghost town with shuttered shop fronts.

Town planners, you need to rethink your strategies because it isn’t just the internet that is killing your town centre, it’s you.  I’m blogging and trying to encourage shoppers back onto the High Street, trying to recreate the old ‘day shopping experience.  What are you doing?

 

 

 

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