The Conservatives don’t have a clue – let alone a long-term economic plan

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I’ve neglected this blog and so, out of guilt, just quickly posting something I wrote for the New Statesman before the election in lieu of a new post for now! Or you can read the original here

The Conservatives want you to think that their programme is nasty but necessary. They’re half right.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few weeks shouting at middle-aged white men. They are very keen to reassure me I’ll come round to their side once I grow up a bit, get a fatter pay packet and stop being so young, naïve and female.

Because, this much we know to be true – the left-leaning among us might have the bleeding hearts, but it’s the centre-right, cynical but pragmatic, who make the necessary hard decisions to fix the economy – because they used to be like you, you know, until they got real. You can accuse the Nasty party of a lot of things, but naïve idealism is not usually one them.

There’s a persistent narrative here that needs interrogating, not least so I can stop getting into arguments with old Tories. It’s become so ingrained that even people who stand against Conservative policies have internalised the belief they are based in hard-nosed, sensible economics.

In this narrative, it’s the centre-right taking action to make things better for everyone, unlike the starry-eyed, fiscally irresponsible left. This means the views of the majority of people on the ground, actually dealing with the reality on our economic situation and not just looking at numbers on a page – largely women, many young, minority ethnic, most not particularly well recompensed for their efforts – are being shouted down as naïve.

The people at the sharp end, the social workers, charity workers and users of services, are best placed to attest to the reality of austerity cuts – the suicides over benefits sanctions, the mentally unwell children placed in police cells instead of hospital beds, the disabled people forced to lose their homes and move into unsuitable accommodation. They know that the economy isn’t working for most people. Still the narrative of the idealist leftie with their head in the clouds vs the pragmatic, right-leaning maker of sensible decisions persists.

Most people who consider themselves centre-right, and largely plan to vote Conservative, aren’t uncaring. But, just as they believe of people on the other side of centre, they are frequently naïve. They hear about the jobs miracle and not the reality of underemployment as one of the biggest cause of poverty.

They hear about the bedroom tax and think “probably sensible- if they have more rooms than they need”, not about the true implications for families of having to pick up and leave their communities and support networks. Or the shortage of social housing with exactly the right number of rooms.

To turn your head away from the realities and cling resolutely to abstract figures – the halved deficit, the two million jobs created – requires some fundamental naivety about what’s really happening on the ground.

Having one of those two million jobs isn’t much use to you if it’s an unreliable, zero-hours, minimum wage contract, when you have to pay expensive child care and travel costs to go to it. A geographically mobile economy just isn’t going to fly when you rely on your sister down the road to look after your kid on a Wednesday afternoon while you go to a job interview.

Even David Cameron, in an interview with the Times, seemed to be under the mistaken impression that disabled people are protected from the bedroom tax.

Paul Noblet, head of public affairs for homelessness charity Centrepoint, believes the good news figures mask the true picture. It has become more difficult to place homeless young people during this parliament as social housing grants have been cut. Meanwhile, uncertainty around housing benefits has made private landlords reluctant to take on claimants as tenants.

“When you point this out to people on the right and centre right they often don’t know it’s going on,” he says. “It seems to be unintended consequence rather than ideology, but it’s happening nonetheless.”

He describes one Centrepoint resident who worked  several zero hour contracts, topping up  his unreliable salary with benefits: “Peripatetic employment causes havoc with the system – you end up being overpaid one month then underpaid and getting into  a real tangle, just because you’re trying to do the right thing,”  Noblet says.

Many on the centre-right who don’t come into contact with the results of economic policy on the ground might not get to hear about the real impact of those abstract ideas, that are so neat on paper, but don’t quite square with the messiness of people’s real lives.

This should matter, even to the most cynical and self-serving Tory, because cuts to early intervention services, including housing benefit when necessary, often prove more costly to the public purse in the long  run.

An independent cost-benefit analysis of Centrepoint’s own service showed for every pound of taxpayers’ money, the charity saved £2.40 in keeping people away from extra use of the health service because of rough sleeping, in savings to police and court services, and in getting young people from claiming benefits to working and paying money in in taxes and national insurance.

Given the failure to get income tax receipts in has been a major reason the deficit hasn’t been reduced as fast as the government would like, these are economic realities worth thinking about – but hearing the good news stories on paper makes it easier to ignore the long term effect.

It makes it easier to believe the notion that the Conservatives have the magic bullet solution. What is worse is this is a view espoused so regularly and with such conviction that even dedicated lefties are starting to believe their social values have to come at the expense of economic risk.

We need to be very clear that all the Tories have done is position themselves at one end of a massive and inevitable trade-off between cutting the deficit at the expense of making deep cuts to services, or spending more money servicing your debt. Neither situation is ideal, no party has the magic solution – although this government’s particular mix of tax and spend happens to largely benefit people at the top and hurt people at the bottom – but let’s stop pretending the Conservative party is somehow the national guardian of the economy from the financially incontinent left.

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hello world

hello world

Shakira, you eminent classicist, your casual song-lyric reference to lycanthropy makes me literally love the world. You know that feeling when you get an out-of-nowhere rush of love for someone? Or for somewhere or something, or just for people in general for being so weird and funny and great sometimes that it makes your stomach twist and leap. You know when the world is so achingly beautiful you can’t quite believe it’s real and you want to snog the sky; and the sunset’s so goddamn nice you can only point at it, helpless and dumb, and say ‘Look. Look!’ Look at it’, but you can’t capture it cos you don’t have the photographic skills or an SLR and your picture comes out looking embarrassed. And when you’re dancing with strangers and you think- ahh. You are but friends I haven’t got to know yet; and when you’re sixteen and you spend an entire week with butterflies and restless legs because you have a tiny crush but your dreams are enormous.

These are the kinds of roaring clichés that make you realise how onomatopoeic the word cringe is.

We have a problem in this country with sincerity. I’m cringing as I write this, even though all of the above is actually factually true. Because you can’t write that. We all know that pink skies are pretty—especially when they have that ray of light breaking through the clouds like the finger of god thing—and people can be surprising, and YouTube videos of pandas dancing to Teach Me How to Dougie are heart-warming and hilarious. We all know this, but you can’t say it. Call yourself a writer? Where’s your sly cynical twist, your ironic flourish? Sentiment and sincerity are trite, unoriginal, flabby, done; cynical ironizing is fresh, sharp, individual.

Except it’s not, is it. The sadly departed genius, David Foster Wallace, nailed this conundrum in his essay on television ‘E Unibus Pluram’. The only antidote to television’s homogenised sentimentality was to turn against it in a fit of meta-televisual satire, in a way that was, like, totally self-deprecating and self-aware. It became self-conscious of being a medium of the crowd, but used this mass-influence to pastiche individuality by ironizing its own groupthink earnestness and, thereby, lack of originality. I know, I know: television, right? What am I like? But this mushy-gushy mode is really just an edgy post-modern joke, it whispers, and only you get it, you smart cookie. You’re one of a kind. As is your fetching moustache.

Turns out perpetual, deathless irony is not that big and it’s not that clever, because when you use cynicism as the cover-all antidote to sickly mass-market sentiment, it doesn’t make it fresh and original; it becomes a new form of syrupy triteness, hidden behind a give-a-shit exterior. And I say this as someone who prides themself on being queen of the sarcateers, mistress of my own ironic kingdom, and prone to cynical rants about suitcases on tubes and inadequate indicator usage. I’m all about the sarc; I get shying away from sincerity when it just feels a bit too vulnerable to go around all starry eyed, all believing in people and stuff, with your blood-slick organs and shimmering sinews exposed meatily to the world. But if, underneath, you really think these things, if you genuinely look down on people going about their lives and enjoying what they enjoy; if you scorn the warm and fuzzies, constantly correct and wilfully contradict at every turn, well…you’re probably a bit shit. And you probably don’t get many invitations to come round for cheese, or to watch 80s films and drink rum from the bottle, and bros. I love me some stilton.

Case in point, while other cultures joyfully celebrate their traditional dress and heritage with genuine feeling, of our own heritage we just have the cheek-tonguing fridge-magnet saying: ‘you should try everything once, except incest and Morris dancing.’ Now I’m not suggesting coupling up with a cousin, but I don’t know why Morris dancing is subject to such disparagement. Hey, they’re just people who relish the sentimentality of an ancient tradition; who are truly and sincerely invested in it; who like to dress up in funny outfits; who have a bit of a fetish for bells, maybe.

By all  means, let’s maintain the cynical cast and refusal to take things too seriously that’s become our new national heritage, but there’s a little room for some wide-eyed sincerity too. So go on, let it all out. Look around you and take it all in: sky! Trees! Dancing! Faces! Glitter! Stem-cell research! Grab your funny-looking Morris dancer shin pads and feel that good ole emotion pour. Take a deep breath now. And just say it.

 Hello trees. Hello sky. Hello world.

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Bristol, give me a signal

bristol-harbour-england-uk

Bristol. City of squats whose graffiti is a more famous landmark than its cathedral, who has a bakery called Bread an’ Ting, a home-ware store called Happytat and a stationery shop called Paper Gangsta; even your shop names have a sense of humour. Whose native Brizzle drawl involves referring to inanimate objects as ‘he’ or ‘she’ and tacking a random ‘l’ on after words that end in vowels, as though the very dialect is trying to turn every word into Bristol, a football fan’s chant: Bristol, Bristol. You crazy bloody minx.

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This is a city that met the everyday occurrence of a new Tesco opening with riots and firebombs: a stoned city, perennially laid back, outraged into action by the affront of the blue and red commercial beast squatting on its parade of independent businesses, its beating heart. They stretch all the way from Horfield Common down to the Attic Bar where Stokes Croft’s sweet orgy of colour and life meets the dual carriageway- the longest parade of independent shops in Europe.

magpie squat

magpie squat

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So what did you do? You set up the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft. This is an area that is in essence just one long road, but you’ve got a People’s Republic now. You, and China. And your own currency, the Bristol Pound, to keep money within local businesses (the fiver has a pretty shady looking tiger on it). You’re a city of people who looked at the Bearpit, the ugly hollowed out concrete eyesore of an underpass slap bang in the city centre, and stuck a statue of a bear in it, spray-painted the walls into cartoon oblivion and stencilled paw prints along the concourse. Now it’s the only underpass I’ve ever seen with a ping pong table and an organic fruit and veg stall. Seriously, Bristol, what are you like?

telepathic heights squat

telepathic heights squat

And I can’t explain quite why I’ve got so much love for this off-kilter West Country city, home to Inkie and Banksy, Massive Attack and the Stig, but I know that when I walk up Dighton Street from the city centre until I hit the looming miles of street art and I feel like I’m walking through a comic book, I’m home. I love your absurd pride around cider, the way that the legendary Cori Tap is famous for serving its ‘exhibition’ cider in half pints cos it’s just that fucking potent and that even though I’m from London and I’ve lived in New York, you still have the best goddamn nightlife I’ve ever seen. Even if your eclectic music scene does sometimes draw bands that describe their sound as the ‘relentless sound of torrential drumming’. Torrential drumming. It was quite an apt description actually, but you know what, once I’d accidentally stumbled in there, wincing at the relentless torrential drumming, an old man taught me how to play the spoons and I’ve never looked back.

break-dancing jesus

break-dancing jesus

And on those crazy nights, those rogue occasions when you just don’t fancy relentlessly torrential drumming, you can whoop your way from the earthy gin-soaked gloom of the Mother’s Ruin all the way to Motion, whose nights don’t pass out til 7, and you can queue past the concrete slab of a courtyard, rolls of barbed wire and sniffer dogs and feel like you’re in a post-apocalyptic border town at the end of days. Or throw caution to the winds and truck it up to Lizard Lounge, a club smaller than your nan’s kitchen, owned by the improbably named John Lounge, whose walls sweat and whose trademark lurid cocktail has no name other than the colloquially whispered, ‘the Green Shit’. See-No-Evil-graffiti-project-in-Bristol-5

I love that you’re harmlessly, gloriously mad. I love that when the Highbury Vaults was graffitied with a tag featuring the word ‘vandalism’ with a heart for the ‘v’, the pub’s manager was quoted as saying “it’s very nice, it highlights an otherwise white building”. I love the old woman who, on a rainy day, marched purposefully up to me, fighting with a recalcitrant umbrella against the wind, and said squarely to my face “Ooh I ‘ates brollies” before carrying on her way. The heavily dreadlocked man at 10 am in Sainsbury’s who came up to my friend and shouted “mmm BREEZERRR” in the thickest rhotic drawl you’ve ever heard. That I once ordered a vodka and coke in a hole-in-the-wall bar only to be told “we don’t do cocktails here, my babber”. And that your resident dj, DJ Derek, is a seventy-odd year old man who still spins the sweetest reggae sets you’ve ever bumped to—apparently Massive Attack’s Daddy G is a fan.
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It’s a city that still bears the scrawled markings of its slave trade past: the main shopping centre named after a dynasty of slave owners, the harbourside thrumming with a history that echoes of sugar, tobacco and human traffic in the shadow of the old Fry’s chocolate factory, and you can stroll down Black Boy Hill as it slopes gently into Whiteladies Road (I’m not being facetious, that’s an actual geographical fact). But you’ve taken your historic mould and twisted and writhed from it in happy contortions.

nelson-street

It might be that for now, London’s calling with its sensible career choices and temporary parental accommodation, and sure, it might be that with my glottally stopped-up London ear you’ll always sound like pirate farmers to me, but Bristol. I’ll come back and visit you. And I’ll skank my way through bashment dives til dawn and I’ll sit on Brandon Hill and watch the sun come up, and in the cold grey light I’ll look down over your mishmash, inked Georgian splendour and I’ll shout at the top of my lungs…

Bristol, give me a signal.

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how to not be naked, and still stick it to the man

why so serious?

why so serious?

I’m all for any subculture that endorses looking like a twat. Bear with me now, I need to clarify this: there’s a special kind of magical power—a Patronus shield, if you will—that hangs around people who don’t take themselves too seriously. If Harry was protected from life’s hardest knocks by the residue of his mother’s love, these characters are touched with the charm of lols. Basically, I really really don’t think you can underestimate the importance of taking the piss of yourself.

Gangs of die-hard goths, fervent emos and whole swathes of particularly cultish scene kids would probably lynch me with a well-aimed doc, tie me up with an MCR band tee and then glare at me really angrily through their prescription-less thick-rimmed glasses for the next statement. But I think all these subcultures, any badge of belonging defined by a particular look should be a bit about taking the piss of yourself. Right? Maybe. Just a little bit.

Surely though, I hear you cry with my bat-like ears, it’s beyond flippant to dismiss these visible identities as nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek send-up? Clearly the people who tout these badges of belonging identify themselves strongly with them, often with all the zeal of a religious believer. Well, grab a pen and paper cos what we’re about to delve into here is the ole gnarly fashion/feminism equation in a really roundabout way, via neon, subcultures and twattery. It’s gonna be a huge headfuck. Because I know the two are uneasy bedfellows, but I reason it must be possible to dress yourself, and still believe in gender equality… right? Of course right.

We all know from the age of 5 upwards that appearances can be deceiving and it’s usually worth looking beneath the surface. Take Rihanna for example. On the surface, she’s a loud-mouthed diva who’s often seen with a ‘suspicious cigarette’ in hand and the word cunt on a necklace. Yet look a little closer and you’ll see a deep thinker who uses her lyrics to deal sensitively with issues like Alzheimers (‘oh nana, what’s my name?’). But what of those people who use their surface to project the fact that they reject a surface level value system? It’s seems as if, counter-intuitively, despite rejecting these superficial values and visibly defining yourself apart from them, you can become all surface, just by making your surface so shouty.

i am emotion

i am emotion

But at its best, subculture fashion is a joyful expression of an image that isn’t necessarily directly linked to making yourself sexually attractive, affirming that all it is is an image to have fun with, apart from the real substance of the person wearing it. It’s not to say that these groups make themselves look funny for a laugh, but more that part of the power of these identities is in their revelling in an image that’s apart from conventional standards of beauty. And in a funny kind of way that’s exactly what high fashion, when it’s done well, achieves. For all that it has become fetishistic in its own way, the body type that—rightly or wrongly (and obviously, it’s wrongly)—is enforced by the fashion industry is really about making the body the least significant thing about the spectacle. It needs to fade into the background in favour of the clothes adorning it: a literal, asexual clothes hanger. It’s not about flaunting or even really about the body that’s inside the clothes at all; high fashion aspires to something otherworldly and incorporeal.

wanna dance with some body

wanna dance with some body

It’s no coincidence that it’s usually adolescents who adopt subculture fashion. In the middle of an intensely transitional phase, some growing-up rites of passage are best experienced in a park, in neon jeans, with a shitload of glitter on your face, and not in a slick bodycon in Mahiki with a 39-year-old rubbing their boner into your back. I know that I simply wasn’t equipped for that kind of carry-on. A friend and I were recently reminiscing about those heady days of Sharpie-customised plimsolls, poppers and Panic at the Disco lyrics, and lamenting how 15 year olds now are all identikit Topshop models in teeny tiny crop tops, all totally un-embarassing and Vogue-ready. So far, so clichéd. But I do think there’s something genuinely quite sad about this. I mean come on, kids, why so serious? (Now say this with a Joker grin and watch them scatter). You’re too young to be taking yourself so seriously. Hell, we’re all of us too young for that- death is soon. There’s quite literally not enough time to have a stick up your arse; the chafing alone is going to seriously eat into your dancing on tables time.

Back in’t day, in the misty distant years of 2006-2007, I was a little nu-raver. I spent most of the years I was 15 and 16 swathed in t-shirts with lego stitched onto them, improbable neon attire and a decent covering of glitter face paint, topped off with a hairstyle I’d haphazardly cut myself and backcombed to Russell Brand-worthy heights. I faced a newly adult world armed with mostly defunct technology as jewellery (hi cassette, hey Gameboy), and I may well have enough embarrassing photographic evidence for a lifetime of blackmail. This was me. I thought I looked pretty rad:

nu rave

But despite buying into it all, I never lost the acute self-awareness of my style’s silliness. I had a hella fun but I certainly wasn’t dressing with anyone else’s delectation, or even the idea of making myself attractive, in mind. I’d basically made myself into a caricature, a giant colourful crayon scribble. And the thing about being a scribbled abstract crayon drawing instead of a sumptuous realistic oil painting is that it makes people look for the hidden meaning beneath the surface, instead of being absorbed in the beauty of a totemic surface image. By focusing on the clothes and colour, and not on the body parts they cover, the surface can become just an arbitrary external canvas to express yourself through, and ultimately to have fun with. Maybe the caricature-like elements of subculture style can depoliticize fashion, and rescue it from the claws of The Media/The Patriarchy/The Man. It’s fine to have zeal, but lose sight of the humour, forget the value of taking the piss, and you risk becoming religious, an authoritarian purveyor of rules just like the ones your leather and tongue piercing was supposed to be up yours-ing. And that, fashion friends, is no way to stick it to the man.

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make love, not adipose tissue

if we lived there we wouldn't have these problems

if we lived there we wouldn’t have these problems


I have a confession. I love ― I mean unhealthily, obsessively love ― Supersize vs Superskinny. It’s so wrong and yet it feels so right: the diet porn freak-show format, the garish shirts, the unfathomable food tube, the prosthetic limb-beige underwear. It gets me going. But despite, no, because, of the Tuesday night thrill I get from watching cosmetically challenged people prodding each other in unflattering light, I’m going to have to consign it to my personal Room 101. It’s this morbid car-crash fascination that is, perhaps, the crux of the problem.

In previous generations, taboo and repression surrounding sex and the human form led to an underground outpouring of deviance. But now we’re inundated with images of flesh, out in the open, selling us breakfast cereal and satisfaction, we run from any body that deviates from shop mannequin uniformity. Food has become our sex. Whilst TV guides brim with programmes about cooking and eating, we’re shouted at from every side about the dangers of doing it wrong. We’re fed the cautionary tale of Super Slim Me; told with a stern headshake the Truth About Size Zero; we tuck Generation XXL into bed at night with a televisual snack of Half-Ton Man, whisper bedtime stories of Fat Families and redemptive sagas of Biggest Losers. Because, as the wisdom of “Dr” Gillian McKeith (trained within the hallowed walls of the non-accredited online distance-learning College of Holistic Nutrition of America) tells us, food is not just what’s on your plate. You are what you eat. And what you’re eating is rubbish.

I saw one diet programme in which the unfortunate fatty had her favourite takeaway blended into smoothie form. She was then instructed to keep the glass in a cupboard to, and I quote, ‘smell it every day as it went off’. Is it just me or is there something a bit…S&M about this kind of ritualised humiliation? Like a puppy having its nose rubbed in its own mess, this poor woman trudged daily to the cupboard to waft the faecal fumes of decaying curry as she dutifully vox pop-ed: ‘It’s really made me think about what I eat’. Has it, though? I don’t think it’s out of line to venture that I can’t think of a single meal ― however healthy, balanced or vegan― that wouldn’t become a little off putting after a while, when stuck in a blender and then left to rot. What are we actually learning from this pseudo-scientific BS? That when one person lives off 10, 000 calories of deep-fried animal product a day, and another 3 smarties, 40 fags and a litre of tea, the healthy and sensible solution as prescribed by Dr. Floppy Hair is to swap their diets until they both learn the error of their ways? I’m no scientist but I think I’m missing the moral here. If there’s even pretence at one, it has no more depth than a Victorian freak show.

In this climate of relentless, pornographic scrutiny of body and diet, Supersize seems to both contribute to our neurotic over-analysing (eating disorder charity Beat has lampooned the programme for being ‘triggering’ to eating disorder sufferers, which I can well imagine), and at the same time act as a reassurance that we’re alright really, cos we’re neither 25 st, nor five. But whether it’s an actively harmful symptom of our collective body image meltdown, or a vapid and meaningless filler show, my love for the show has become as bittersweet as 23 stone Sandra’s nineteenth doughnut. I’ve begun to resent its pious missionary standpoint, its pretence at do-gooding. As a deluge of diet programmes play Samaritan, holding the hand of the dietary lost sheep as they guide them back to ‘healthy’, maybe what we really need is a healthy detox from thinking, talking, obsessing, fixating upon our bodies, and other people’s. (And if we do, maybe the realisation that a Big Mac is not a mid-morning snack will come with it).

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fakebook

hipster prison

hipster prison

Bentham’s Panopticon operated under the ethos that the subjugated were always seen but could never see, and the oppressors always seeing, but never seen. This concept for a prison was intended for the prisoners to internalise the constant sense of being seen, and modify their behaviour accordingly, thereby becoming their own captors.

Sure, I hear you cry, almost every other day someone brings up Bentham’s Panopticon ―at the bus stop, in the smoking area of my local Spoons ―but tell me something I haven’t hashed out over a jug of Woo Woo. In the words of Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook fame, “Compromised free will via mental torture tactics? Get on it.” (Not necessarily verbatim.)

As the generation for whom Bebo, MySpace and Facebook came in with the puberty hormones, increasingly the new media seem to have changed the way we interact, even think. Everyone knows at least one Status Updater – the kind of rampant attention seeker who thinks anyone shives a git that they’re having a night in with the girls. Apologies if you’re guilty of this kind of blatant hash-tag promiscuity but, in the nicest possible way, you are literally impeding the progress of evolution. Smiley face.

In a terrifyingly Orwellian twist of technology, unless you opt-out the iPhone now ‘signs you in’ to a location on Facebook for all the world’s stalking pleasure―including your questionable colleague who counts Call of Duty as social interaction and green Rizlas as one of his five a day. A friend recently found herself engaged in a one man game of hide-and-seek in a department store when her iPhone showed her someone she’d rather not run into wandering around the same shop. What we’ve essentially done here is created a Marauders’ Map for muggles. Well bloody done, JK. Is this what you wanted? Is it??

Now, I hate to resort to hyperbole (I fuckin’ don’t) but is it possible that we’ve internalised the sense of being seen to such a degree that we no longer experience life immediately, but rather as a future status or Facebook photo album? Has Facebook become a kind of Panopticon, holding us entrapped by the feeling that we are constantly watched? In the knowledge that attempting to leave could be social suicide, we’re in danger of living a life of pure signification where everyone’s a writer, the photos become more important than the holiday and we’re unable to ever abandon ourselves fully to experience.

Obviously, unlike Bentham’s model, it’s the prisoners who are watching each other, so that’s really where my analogy breaks down, but if I’ve learnt one thing in life it’s this: when it comes to drawing tenuous connections between 18th century political philosophers and social networking sites…you can’t win ‘em all.

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what fresh hell is this?

wish i was this guy

wish i was this guy

Freshers’ week: Oh those crazy shenanigans we all had, trailblazing our way through never-before discovered territory: blue body paint, £1 snake bites, attending lectures feeling seven shades of vom, not attending lectures because you feel seven shades of vom and awkwardly getting off with someone who’ll inevitably cause you to spend the rest of the year developing an overwhelming interest in tarmac whenever they walk past. That’s right, Fresh-warrior. Blaze that trail. So, bearing all of this in mind, I think we can safely predict the five words on every new student’s lips.

Societally dictated arbitrarily enforced fun.

Is that…not what you were going to say?

Freshers’ week is one of those weird social phenomena that makes me feel we all need to be wired up to rubber skull caps, with trailing tentacle wires, and sat in glass cases, and studied. Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m not dissing. For the people who enjoy it, it’s awesome and revelrous and liberating. But its pressure-cooker environment of expectations and ‘shoulds’ makes the people who don’t feel that they a) are doing something wrong and b) are already doomed to lose at university, and life. And it gave me a kind of out-of-body existential crisis, as I floated up out of my neon legwarmers and watched myself perform for a week.

My mixed feelings came partly because I did it twice. My second freshers’ week came equipped with the heavy-hearted awareness that these friendships, camaraderies and nights out were somehow false: they desperately tried to mimic something that, at that moment, we all distinctly lacked—the company of people who actually knew and liked us.

To clarify, and maybe persuade you that I’m not a totally maudlin old git, this awareness seemed all the more pressing to me for the fact that, the previous year I had gone on to make some true, and brilliant friends. But these friendships were forged over the weeks and months of shared experience, and of narrating ourselves to each other through countless anecdotes over countless bottles of £2.50 Soave from the late-night corner shop. (shout out to the Ten O’clock Shop, with your quirkily misleading 11 o’clock closing time, you cheeky minx). These rituals of relationship-building couldn’t be compressed into the mythically pre-ordained dance of a week in a onesie.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a week in a onesie, don’t get me wrong. There’s nary a thing wrong with a good onesie. Indeed, it now seems like blasphemy against the god of Freshers’ to make it all the way there, and not get out and plant your dignity flag as a sad souvenir you’ll never be able to reclaim. Preferably in the nearest four quid entry sweatbox with a coat check: for me, it was Bristol first-year favourite, Bunker…oh how I’ve missed your sticky floors and confusing double toilet. Because you don’t want to be the one left behind in the Columbia with the command gear and the dehydrated space nuts. No one wants to be Michael Collins (and if that extended metaphor didn’t get you off, then I really have nothing to offer you.)

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with these social rituals, not at all, but with the significance they’re given- for some the weight of expectation can be crushing. And, as someone with a mild allergy to the word ‘should’, the idea of seven days of organised fun, during which we mutually have the best week of all our lives, and make the friends we’ll have for the rest of our lives, makes me raise an eyebrow. Just an nb- if you don’t enjoy freshers’, it’s chill- you’ll probably still go on to live a totally functioning and normal life, complete with its fair share of successful nights out that end in cheesy chips and blackouts.

I personally had exactly seven formative experiences in my fresher’s year, none of which happened in the first week. One of them’s too dirty to talk about. Three of them involved crying uncontrollably into my dubstep-hangover camomile tea. One of them was a spiritual epiphany and one was heavily based around salted caramel brownies (note to skint students- DO spend your last pennies on artisan baked goods, so that you can’t afford to do laundry. You won’t regret it and, contrary to popular belief, that musk is both edgy and alluring.) But the most important thing I learnt ―and learning at university, I think, seems appropriate― is that blasphemy might be a good thing. That is, if it means challenging norms and questioning the ‘should’ brigade.

Much as the spontaneous nights that involve throwing a random amount of make up at your face and necking a red bull in the cab are inevitably better than New Year’s Eve, your best experiences may well not fall in a pre-ordained week. Shock horror, they may not fall in university at all. And that’s ok. And if they do, and your first night, dressed as a smurf and drunkenly hugging people who probably wouldn’t save you from a burning building, happens to be the best night of your life, that’s ok too. It seems like a grim prospect to me, but there’s really no accounting for taste; some people like clubbing with strangers, some people like keeping their wife and children in a concrete bunker under their house. And look, we’re right back to Bunker.

Give or take a few inappropriate Fritzl references, the general summary of what I’m trying to say is mostly peace and love. Make friends with people you actually like- proximity is no guarantee of a kindred spirit, so if your well-timed abortion gag is met with silence, run for the hills. Do things you enjoy- when the rest of the known world is going to Oceana, follow that man with dreads who recommended you a reggae night in Stokes Croft, and Jah guide you. Know that, like a fine wine or an adorable infant, real friendships take time to mature. And if anyone tells you that freshers’ week, or year, or university, or any randomly assigned experience that they happened to enjoy should also be the *best* part of your life, SHOOT THEM, shoot them in the face. No, really, I mean it, those people are who AK47s were designed for.

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