Thursday, 25 November 2010

Young Voters' Question Time

I've just watched last night’s Young Voters' Question Time, complete with funky lettering to ensure the youth can relate.

It should have been called Undergraduates' Question Time as the audience were made up almost entirely of students and the raising of tuition fees was the only subject up for discussion.

I'm not a student, I'm not a graduate. That is not to say I am never going to go to university; when I was studying for my A-levels I didn't know what I wanted to do and I wasn't prepared to pay the new tuition fees to do a course just because I couldn't think of anything else to do so decided to work for a bit, get some life experience and some money whilst I came to a decision. I am only just coming to a decision.

There are many reasons I disagree with the government's decision to raise tuition fees but the thing that gets me the most is an issue that isn't really addressed, probably because it doesn't occur to, and isn't felt by, most people who are engaged in the current argument.

It's all well and good that people are patting themselves on the back that more people are going to university now than ten years ago. It may also be true that more people from working class backgrounds are going to university since the Labour government brought in tuition and top up fees BUT it is also true that unemployment is a huge problem and is on the rise. Where it used to be the case that having a degree pretty much ensured you'd have a job once you'd finished university, people now have to continue studying, going on to do MAs or PhDs in order to get an upper hand over others. So many people now have university educations that it no longer means anything.

If graduates can't get jobs, what about those who chose not to go to university? I have applied for a few jobs over the past few months. One, admittedly, was very much out of my reach and I was aware of that. The others, however, I was capable of, I had all or most of the desired qualities and experience they asked for except one main thing, they 'desired' someone who was educated to degree level, not any particular degree, just a degree. There was nothing about these jobs that meant that you had to have gone to university to be able to do them, all you'd need was a little training or past experience in similar jobs. Why then, do they say someone educated to degree level is 'desirable'? I have heard the argument that a good degree, in any subject, shows that you have dedication and are hard working; you have committed yourself to at least three years of attending lectures, completing assignments and study. That's all fair enough, but why does that make someone preferable over a person who has all the relevant work experience and good references from past employers? This is starting to sound a little too much like my own personal frustration dressed up in current issues but my point is; if graduates are having trouble getting jobs, what about those people who chose not to and/or couldn't go to university?

I realise that not getting interviews for these jobs wasn't solely due to a lack of a university education, there are so many people competing for jobs now, it's difficult to stand out above others but I'll be willing to bet that the people who got those jobs and the majority of people who were interviewed for those jobs were graduates. I’ll also be willing to bet that nothing they learnt whilst studying for their degree better equipped them to do that job. I recently applied for a 5 month long voluntary position traineeship and even they said that someone educated to degree level was 'desirable'. Really? An unpaid traineeship? 5 months work that takes up so much time it would be near impossible to work a paid job alongside it? This government is really expecting people to owe 3000, 6000, possibly 9000 pounds a year, on top of the cost of living whilst studying, for the privilege of leaving university and having to work for free if at all? Oh, but in that case you don't have to pay back the money the government have lent you for that pointless degree and wasted years that have got you nowhere. You're right, that makes it all better.

The only paid jobs I have had for the four years since finishing my A-levels have been as a teaching assistant in primary schools. They're not well paid jobs, I haven't been able to move out from my parents place (I've been lucky enough that they have been able and willing to keep me and support me) without sacrificing having money to live in a decent and accessible part of London as well as money to spend on enjoying myself. With the cuts to education, these jobs are going to become less and less easy to get hold of. People are less likely to leave their jobs and even when they do, schools are going to have less and less money to replace them. It's also not a job I want to stay in for the rest of my life, it's a job I could do whilst deciding what I actually wanted to do. While taking my time to decide, we've gone into a recession, unemployment has risen and the price of going to university has potentially tripled. Joy. Oh, and the Tories are back in power. What a wonderful time to be alive!

We need to take a look at our attitude to university education. I’m by no means suggesting a return to the elitist way in which they used to function but degrees are no longer as meaningful as they were and everyone suffers as a result. Proposing students should be charged more for increasingly useless qualifications is an insult. Everyday, something new in the world of politics pokes its head up and depresses or enrages me even further.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

A blog about religion and offence amoungst other things.

I haven’t blogged in quite a while and I’ve had a few interesting conversations and seen a few interesting things this week that have got me thinking.

A number of the things I’ll be talking about have, I’m sure, been said a thousand times before. I know it’s not the first time I’ve thought them but I’ll say them again anyway.

The first thing that got me thinking this week was on Wednesday night. I was having a (drink fuelled) conversation with an old colleague of mine about religion. She is from a large family and was brought up in a strongly catholic household. Some of her siblings have taken on the catholic faith wholeheartedly and others have rejected it. She hovers. She does not believe in a god, or at least not in the way her parents do, but she has been baptised, she chose to have a communion and, in the summer, she is getting married in a church. In her view, these are rites of passage for her, not because of the religious aspects of it but because of the tradition of her family. Her older sisters chose to have a communion, her brother did not. She saw how the decisions of her sisters were celebrated and her brother’s decision was met with disapproval and disappointment. There was a pressure to conform, so she did. Her cousin has had a baby out of wedlock and is a single mother and the family gossip and bitch about it. Her cousin is a sinner.

She does not go to church on a regular basis any more and she didn’t even go during easter this year for the first time in her life. Even though she has chosen to separate herself from the church, she has not completely rejected it. She is happy with her life but still feels that often referred to catholic guilt at not living her life according to the faith that she was brought up in. That got us talking about the fact that the guilt she felt was about letting her parents down more than any religious inclination she had. After all, the most influential factor that determines what we believe is the faith of our parents.

She asked whether I thought it was the same for me, if I was an atheist because of the way I was brought up and it would be silly of me to say no. Of course my parents’ beliefs had an effect on me. My mum is an atheist, she was brought up an atheist. Her parents chose to have (what must have been some of the first) humanist funerals. My dad has never had much to say on the subject of his beliefs, it’s not important to him and he’d say he was an atheist. I think his family made the odd trip to church but it was never a main aspect of their family life. My first instinct was to jump to the defence of my parents and say that rather than push an atheist view on me, it meant that they gave me space to choose for myself but I had to think carefully about that. Did they really give me the freedom to choose for myself or did they subtly, and probably unintentionally, push me in a certain direction? I remember being at primary school and being sat in a circle with all of my classmates. It must have been a ‘circle time’ activity, we went round the circle and one by one had to announce our beliefs to the whole class. I must have had a discussion with my mum not long before on the subject of beliefs and she had told me that some people believe that there was a man called Jesus who was the son of god and she told me that she didn’t believe that was true, she believed there was a man called Jesus who had existed but that she didn’t think he was really the son of god. I must have been in year 3 so would have only been 7 or 8. The question for the children in the class was really ‘What do your parents believe?’ as who really knows what to believe when they’re 7 and 8 years old? I remember regurgitating what my mum had told me not long before, I thought Jesus was a real person but that I didn’t really think he was the son of god. It’s weird the moments that stick in your head, I remember this event so clearly. My teacher then told me that meant I was a Naturalist. I think she was probably confused and meant Humanist (why did I have to be labelled with something? All I said was that I didn’t think Jesus was the son of god, all that meant was that I wasn’t a Christian.).

Any way my point in all this is that of course my parents lack of faith influenced me but that didn’t mean that they prevented me from experiencing other faiths. I had a friend whose parents were Christian and went to the local church on a Sunday morning. I wanted to stay over at her house on Saturday night so we asked our mums, her mum said she was fine with it but they were going to church in the morning. I quickly back tracked and said not worry I’d go home but my mum announced that it was fine for me to stay over and she thought it would be a good idea for me to go to church with them in the morning. I was confused. Why on earth was she suggesting I go to church? She wasn’t religious and I certainly had no desire to go to church with them but I found myself in a situation I wasn’t allowed to get out of. She was making sure I had at least a little experience of church. She was giving me a chance to experience different things and make my own conclusions. When I have children I think, given a chance, I’d do exactly the same thing. It’s no good preaching about not labelling a child and giving them the opportunity to decide for themselves but we actually need to present children with these choices, with all the facts and without bias and give them the power to choose. Of course we’re going to have a huge effect on our children, that’s unavoidable but I think my parents did a good job enabling me to think for myself and make informed decisions.

Another thing that got me thinking today was The Review Show which was on last night. Twitter buzzed momentarily as Robin Ince was one of the guests and was going to have to deal with Peter Hitchins. The first topic of conversation was Phillip Pullman’s new book ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ which I am just about to begin reading. Pullman disappointed me when the film of Northern Lights was made (renamed The Golden Compass) and was, in my view, completely ruined as all references to religion and god were removed but he won me back round when talking about this new book. He was being asked, rather predictably, about the offence this book would cause. We have this terrible obsession at the moment with offending people, like being offended is the worst thing that could happen to a person. Pullman said that nobody has the right to go through life without being offended which is just so brilliantly simple and true.

Religion is something which is hugely important in society. It is something which effects how millions of people across the world live, behave and are treated. The importance of religion to humanity is precisely the reason why it should be talked about, debated, challenged and scrutinised. Some people seem to think that religion should have a force field surrounding it, that it should be exempt from questioning or criticism. These are the same people who complain about books like Pullman’s, they protest against Jerry Springer the Opera, they try to ban The Life of Brian from cinemas all because they may offend people. We need to be allowed to challenge institutions which have a huge amount of power over people because it is when these institutions are allowed to carry on unchecked and unquestioned that societies, communities and individuals get abused, trodden on and forgotten about. If you are confident enough in your belief, a little debate shouldn’t do you any harm. If your institution is without fault, a little delving shouldn’t uncover any problems and if there are faults, maybe something should be done about them rather than just being covered over and ignored.

Can we all stop being so precious? At worst, offence means that we feel uncomfortable or angry for a short time, at best, it makes us more passionate, clearer and confident about our own opinions. How can you go a day without being offended by something? If you simply can’t deal with it, you might as well stay inside all day and never speak to anyone else ever again.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Don't Label Me

I’ve been pondering over the Don’t Label Me campaign for a few days now and have decided that it doesn’t sit with me very well.

I loved the Atheist Bus campaign. It gave me great joy to follow the huge support and amount of donations it was getting from people in such a short amount of time and it gave me even greater pleasure to watch the reaction to it. Religious organisations claimed it to be nonsense and pointless whilst simultaneously getting in such a state about it to the point of creating they’re own posters to combat it, showing just how threatened they actually were.

However, I don’t think the most recent campaign packs the same punch. The idea behind it is coming from a great place. It’s a product of getting so many donations that there was a surplus amount of money which was then used to fund the current posters. People were asked what they thought was the most pressing issue and a huge number of people replied voicing their concerns about children being forced into a religion without being given a chance to choose for themselves. This issue is a tricky one. The campaign is about not labelling children with a religion and, from what I’ve heard so far, the emphasis is on the media, when talking about children, describing them as belonging to a religion as dictated by their parents. It’s all about changing the language that we use to avoid labelling children. After all, as Richard Dawkins points out, we wouldn’t label a child Marxist just because their parents are, it makes just as little sense to label a child with a religion when they haven’t yet had the chance to make up their own mind. Don’t get me wrong, so far so good.

The reason I think there is such a focus on the media’s use of labelling children is because it can’t get anywhere near the parents. This campaign is very easy for lazy people, who can’t be bothered to do their research fully, to assume that it is an attack on parents having the right to teach their children about what they believe and to bring up their children according to these beliefs. That’s not what it is about because, of course, it can’t be. Nobody has the right to dictate to people how they should bring up their children. As long as no harm is coming to the child mentally or physically (and, yes, I know many would argue that religion is a form of abuse but ignoring that for a minute) we can’t get involved in telling others how to bring up their children. Now, I’m sure the people who wrote in to the campaign with their concerns, in an ideal world, would really love to be able to stop parents filling their children’s heads with stories masquerading as facts but it’s just not possible.

I think this campaign is a bit flimsy and a bit fuzzy round the edges and as a result easily manipulated into something sinister and controlling that those amoral, filthy atheists are trying to enforce on our parents who are only trying to exercise their human rights. I think a better route would have been to address the issue of religious schools. Schools which are funded by the government i.e. paid for by the public, yet exclude a vast number of children based on their religion (or how often their parents could be bothered to go to church) whilst taking up a valuable amount of teaching time with bible studies and adapting the curriculum to meet their own narrow needs. Or, even more dangerously, privately funded evangelical schools which use pseudo-science mixed in with creationism to brainwash our children without any monitoring from the local community (the local education authority) and this is just the Christian schools.

Admittedly, a campaign on this scale would take considerably more funding and staffing than is currently available to organisations such as the BHA. Still, a girl can dream.

I’d love to know what people think so don’t hesitate in leaving a comment.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

*Guilty face*

Woops, I have missed a few days. Shall I tell you why (in case you haven't already guessed)? Alcohol. Alcohol and late night shows that involve alcohol. Woops. If it were any other time or place but the Edinburgh festival I'd be a wreck but I don't have time to be a wreck, too much to do and see. So, it seems if you have the will power and enthusiasm you can run on 4 hours sleep and struggle through hangovers. Who knew?

I've see some bloody great shows over the past few days. I've seen Jon Richardson, School for Scandal, Glenn Wool and the midnight show at Just The Tonic at the Caves. Jon and Glenn's shows are the best solo shows I've seen so far at the festival. It's nice to be able to relax in a show and know that you are in very capable hands. They were both a pleasure to watch.

School for Scandal was wonderfully silly. There were lots of messed up lines, forgotten words and quarrels on stage. They clearly had a lot of fun working together and performing. There was lots of giggling on stage as well as in the audience.

Last night was the midnight show at Just The Tonic and it was the best late night show I've ever been to. The line up was Andrew Lawrence, Seann Walsh, Pete Firman, David O'Doherty and Tiernan Douieb as compere, for a fiver! All the acts were brilliant despite it being the early hours of the morning. The crowd were really happy and lively, not the usual drunks who heckle and chat the whole way through like you get at most late night shows. I'm not sure how I managed to stay up for it, let alone stay out after, for a drink. I was out drinking until very late the night before and had been suffering all day but I managed to pull myself together.

After I've finished scouting today I'm seeing Elis James and then David O'Doherty. I'm very excited about both. I saw a very early preview of Elis' and loved it and have been dying to see David's new show for a while now so it should be a good one. I don't plan on staying out too late tonight but I'm sure that's subject to change depending on what offers I get.

I'm writing this in between shows so it's only a short one. Hopefully I'll have more time over the next few days.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Ed blog #6 8th Aug

Yesterday things got really busy. I've started scouting now which means I'm rushing between shows again. It feels more like Edinburgh. I like scouting, you see some dodgy stuff but that just makes it great when you find something good.

The one show I saw yesterday that I pre-booked was Jamie Kilstein. I bloody love Jamie Kilstein! I love him so much. I want to sit down with a drink and chat to him for hours. I find comfort in everything about him; his geekyness, his views on religion, his political views etc. He's also bloody clever and funny. I'm still smiling just thinking about the show.

My brother left today and my friend arrived so I finally went out for a drink with people. It was all a bit rushed and I only had three beers but I drank them bloody quickly which means this morning is a bit of a struggle but it feels good to be socialising. On top of that I've got a lunch with some lovely people today so that makes me happy.

We left the flat to go for a drink at about 11.30 last night and it was bloody mental. we had to walk along Cowgate to get to where we were going to, it was heaving with drunk students, horrible creatures, stumbling out of one bar to find even cheaper drinks somewhere else. In London I try to avoid the center on a weekend for exactly the same reasons. As I'm writing this I'm very aware of how grumpy and middle aged I sound but I don't care. If I ever turn into one of those types, shoot me.

I'm expecting today to be a good one, lunch, a bit of scouting and a couple of shows I've booked tickets for (Tom Basden and Jon Richardson). Good times.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Ed blog #5 7th Aug

Still no rain.

Today was lovely, managed to get out of the flat at half one today and met a couple of friends. We sat in the Pleasance Courtyard for a couple of hours and had a good chat and a giggle then went our separate ways to see shows. More people I know are arriving so hoping to be bumping into a lot more people from now on.

I saw Fergus Craig's show today which I've been very excited about for a while. I've seen him a few times but only ever short sets and he's always left the stage with me wanting more. Well, today I got a while hour of him and really enjoyed it. His show (his first solo hour) is called Fergus Craig Still Watches Neighbours. The show is about his affection for the soap and how it has given him comfort at different stages in his life. He points out that very few people have never seen any Neighbours and most people around his age or younger have been through at least a phase of watching Neighbours regularly. A lot of people can relate to his affection for it. It's strange to realise how much of a big part the show plays in our lives. Throughout his show he plays us clips from Neighbours and adds his own slant to it, he also plays us home videos of himself at different stages in his life. His show is full of silly quips, voices and faces which have the audience laughing the whole way through. It's also, strangely, quite touching. I was very impressed with his show, it's unlike any other at the fringe. I'm predicting good things for Craig, he's a brilliant performer.

The other show I saw today was Jason Byrne. When I used to tell people that I'd never seen him live before, they would gasp. Everyone gave the same response: "You HAVE to see him." I was expecting great things and was not wrong to. I'm very familiar with him so knew what to expect. He has brilliant energy on stage. He enjoys himself and the audience definately do too. He's great with the audience and there is a lot of audience participation. At one point he sawed an audience member in half as another stoof on stage in a wig and a feather boa singing some magical style music to accompany the madness. He switches from sillyness like that and chatting with the audience to telling us stories from his life. Mostly about his inadequacies as a child and a husband/parent. He is hilarious, non-stop. He doesn't allow the audience time to breathe or calm down and he definitely doesn't do either himself. A great showman.

I start scouting tomorrow which means I'll be alot busier and won't be able to write about what I've seen as much. Also, my brother leaves and takes with him the computer which is going to make blogging hard but I'm determined to continue. If anyone out there thinks they know how to fix a netbook that can find the interent and says it's connected but just won't let me access any sites and is in Edinburgh at the moment, let me know. I will love you forever.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Ed blog #4 6th Aug

It didn't rain again today.

Had another lazy morning lying around the flat. First show I saw was the lovely Tiernan Douieb's. I'd seen a couple of his previews but he assured me he'd done alot of work on it since then and had changed things around. Even if he hadn't I still would have gone. I really enjoyed Tiernan's show, I liked it from the very first preview he did. He reminds me of Josie Long a bit with his enthusiasm for the little things in life, the show is joyful. I took my brother to see him and he described him as instantly likeable (I'm training him up) which is exactly what he is. it's his first hour show up here and it was his first show today. He was clearly nervous but he did really well.

Pete Firman was bloody infuriating in many ways. Firstly, they were half an hour late letting us in (I believe it was Denise Van Outen's fault, don't ask). That is annoying enough in itself but we were going to see Adam Hills afterwards which started 35 minutes after Pete Firman was due to finish so we had to run out sharpish, missing a bit at the end, in order to jump in a cab. Another reason why it was infuriating is because I JUST WANT TO KNOW HOW HE DOES THE BLOODY MAGIC TRICKS! I think I've got some of them worked out but there's others which just baffle me. As always, he was very entertaining although I think I prefered last year's show but maybe it was down to the room. Still, a brilliant performer.

We did make it to Adam Hill's show with a couple of minutes to spare. I've always been in awe of his talent to completely abandon all prepared material in order to persue something with the audience. He started this evening by doing a flashdance style dance and soaking of an audience member with Irn-Bru. Bizarre and brilliant. He's a great comedian but what I really enjoyed about his show was the little sentimental touches he added in. He's had three good friends die in the past year, all of which he describes as 'inflaters', people who make everyone around feel good and happy and make them laugh, and he urges the people in the audience to do the same. It is something which could easily become cheesy and lose and audience but he doesn't dwell and switches it back to helpless laughter really quickly. It's a nice touch. He's another one who is instantly likeable. How can you resist his twinkly eyes?

As I'm writing this I'm watching the fireworks from the castle whilst Auld Lang Syne is played on the bag pipes. I bloody love Edinburgh. Tomorrow is my last day of exclusively watching shows I've picked. Once I've started scouting I won't be blogging about them, it's not fair (and probably not allowed) but I'll be blogging about any shows I've chosen to see and am not feeding back to others on. I also might have some other stuff to tell you about rather than just shows I've seen as when my brother goes back home I can start going out drinking in the evenings! Not that I want him to leave or anything, it's just different kinds of fun is all.