iDrone About iPhones

Children seem to have grown out of the simplicity with which their forebears could be amused. Since ancient times, in nations from Africa to Asia, through empires Byzantine to British, simply rolling a hoop along the ground with a stick was a popular pastime, or even sport, depending on the culture.

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To somebody whose childhood hand-me-down book on technology could only predict the telephonic watch, this is thankfully still imaginable. It’s as charming as it is inspirational to behold how creative children become in conjuring their own games, as my mother once did, by persuading her sibling to jump on ‘dried’ cow poo, or as my mate did by blowing up big piles of the stuff with petards on our a Grammar School French exchange. (Why those were the first two examples to come to mind I do not know.)

As things advance, childhoods are changing. I daresay they are becoming more sterile—maybe for the best, moo-poo considered. Quite magically, but very literally, at the flick of a finger we can read about and watch and learn to play any game or instrument ever made on a bloomin’ watch. All of the information and all of the potential in the history of the world, yet the upcoming generations will find this sort of thing so normal as to be unworthy of comment, much like the mobile phone today. It’s a sad paradox, the iPhone, it contains an infinitude of potential but produces a uniformity of outcome. Give a boy an iPhone at eight, and it’ll give you the man.

Much as it nauseates me to have noticed, it is a standard procedure to satisfy/subdue the curiosity of pram-dwellers with iPhones. Confining the blossoming consciousness of a child to five-inches of screen showing some banal software developer’s creation seems to me to be as much expedience as entertainment. But that’s coming from somebody who has implicitly favoured exploding excrement to Angry Birds.

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Children aren’t changing, per se, but childhoods are. That many will grow up glued to screens, increasingly right from the get-go, will have an effect on society, one we can plainly see already. Everyone is aware of it, because (almost) everyone is on the bandwagon. As we ‘progress’ to buying the newest iPhones for the youngest members of the family, the formerly taboo becomes tiresomely normal. But I still reckon or hope that most my age would or should agree that it is rude to repeatedly use one’s phone in company (let alone the new normality of photographing and filming and Facebook-flicking). Who wants to go to a meal, a birthday party, a wedding, at which people constantly refer to their phones, as if to something more important, more meaningful, more interesting?

I found myself at a festival last year, sporting my great-grandmother-in-law’s floral peach of a dress, more flustered by cameraphones than flattered by compliments. Then I knew something was up. Kids filmed me unelicited for social media rather than talk to me for chirps. Then they watch the acts they’ve paid to see through said phones. Why not save yourself the money and watch it on a bigger screen and with nicer toilets at home? Your facebook feed’ll be full of twats like me you might have missed on your snapchat spree.

iPhonerism is as stark a reality at university. When hacking my first hungover lecture in first-year, I receded to the back of the hall to rot out of eye-and-nose-contact. This gave me a panoramic view of the attending students below: all phone and laptop screens, undoubtedly more looking at them then not. Given, some of the laptops would be used for taking notes. But, even then, really? I don’t complain just because my bugbear of hearing rat-a-tat-tat-tat when trying to listen to a lecturer. Knowing that these feckless wretches are costing themselves and their parents several tens of thousands of pounds to watch videos on facebook and play stick-man games—that bugs me more.

Distracted is what we are becoming. Overwhelmed by understimulating bollocks. We become distracted to the point of becoming distant. This distance is almost absolute here in English society, though it is rumoured that talking to strangers persists among the savages up north.

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Maybe you’ve noticed this distance at work, or with friends, or even in your family. You definitely won’t struggle to remember the last time you spoke to somebody whilst they were on their phone. You probably won’t have thought it abnormal, either. It wouldn’t make sense to say, “What is so feckin’ urgently interesting that you can’t suffer granting me your undivided attention for the sake of an afternoon/meal/conversation?”

It’s two years since I deleted Facebook. I never wrote about it because, who am I to preach? So I shan’t. (Now. Much.) But it opened my eyes to things and I made meaningful decisions thereafter. I was clocking myself still thinking things like, “That’ll be a good picture/status,” and, like a tic, whipping out my phone and going for facebook. I thought to myself—really thought, different to thinking whilst distracted—that this is actually sad. Can you not enjoy XYZ on its own account, instead of feeding it through facebook? I will understatedly term it an epiphany, which I can’t and won’t do justice by attempting to summarise it here. I will try, with a question. Am I going to die thinking, “Oh boy, do I wish I’d spent more time in my one and only life on this dear phone!” Don’t die thinking precisely the opposite. My dear phone now remains mostly at home and on flight-safe mode. The queer relationship that I had with it, unnecessarily and excessively posting/texting/photographing, was terminated; life is better, brighter and simpler because of it.

Yet it is smartphones that make life simpler, so they say. But I don’t reckon life is better, brighter or simpler for kids who are growing up in intimate relationships with them. Life’s not better if one can’t suffer company without referring and reporting to social media, it’s not brighter experienced through a camera lens, and it certainly isn’t simpler if your online persona, ‘likes’ and text messages come to matter as much as real relations with people.

I said I shan’t preach (much!), but—dare you look up long enough to see that this is actually happening?

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My partner—fiancée!—and I returned to our hostel in the woods outside of Münich after a long day walking and whiskeying about the place. I cooked up some grub and and we went to the wreck room with some vino, presumably to eat and drink alongside other happy holidayers. The room was large, with loads of seating, a ping-pong table and music. There were twelve humans in total and including us. Ten were on their God-forsaken phones. A sofa of young guys manning the music station, all heads bowed down, a sofa of young girls the same. The place was without chemistry, and if not for the music, would have been quiet. It would not have sounded as eerie as the scene looked to me. A Spanish teacher, to whom we were talking, shows us some funny videos on YouTube. It’s rude of me to not to look. He tells us that his job is unthinkable without technology; all of his students use iPads. An older American couple, who had been to the wonderful English Gardens in the city that day, grunted at each other without looking up.

Looking back at the scene, I can hardly help but think—perhaps they would have all had more fun by simply going outside, and playing in cow shit.

 


As I’m not on social media, my writing is only read as much as it is circulated by readers like you. So if you liked this piece, please share and share alike, it would be greatly appreciated. Liam.

 

What is Philosophy?

Any philosopher’s argument which does not therapeutically treat human suffering is worthless; for just as there is no profit in medicine when it doesn’t expel the diseases of the body, so there is no profit in philosophy when it doesn’t expel the sufferings of the mind. – Epicurus

I tuned into a philosophy podcast the other day, cool dude that I am, to listen to a philosopher who has helped me incalculably with my studies and deciphering that incomprehensible eejit Hegel. At the end of the introductory segment, the radio presenters went from zero to sixty, from small talk to huge talk, and asked him: “What is philosophy?”

For context, this is a decorated speaker, author, educator and translator; a professor of philosophy, author of dozens of essays, translator of works from French and Latin into English, owner of his own philosophical counselling service, and uploader of well over a thousand videos on YouTube of various lessons and lectures he has given over the years. So what did he answer?

He refused to answer the question. He didn’t even give a second-order answer, either; instead, he said, chuckling, “I’m not a good person to answer that question unfortunately.

I have toyed with the idea of writing my own answer to this question for a while, and have made every excuse not to put pen to paper: the sheerness of its scope and a looming dissertation are the ones I’ve fallen back on. But hearing this poor sod being put on the spot, and in his defence during the last two minutes of the segment, has had me decide to answer it myself, but without (too much of) the philosophical terminology.

What is philosophy? The word is, unsurprisingly, of ancient Greek origin and is a compound of the two words philos, meaning ‘loving,’ and sophos, meaning ‘wise.’ So, etymologically, the word philosophy can be rendered as the ‘love of wisdom.’

But the Greeks didn’t just have one word for love, they were finicky about such things, and rightly so: there isn’t one type of love. You don’t love yourself the same way that you love a partner or your parents; to say that we love them in the same way would, to the Greeks at least, seem perverse. So they had six different words for different forms of love. Philautia is the love of self, which can go too far in its positive or negative aspects; one can be too altruistic or egotistical in nature. There’s eros, which is sexual love, for the Greeks it is associated with the ‘falling’ in love. Pragma is the obverse of falling in love; it is the standing in love, the kind of love keeping couples together through thick and thin. Ludus is thought of as playful love; think children playing together or adults dancing together, it is the love of fun and friendship. Agape is universal love, the love of humanity, which was translated into Latin as caritas, the word from which we derived our word ‘charity.’

The kind of love which is preserved in the word philosophy is philia. Often translated as ‘brotherly love,’ though one may do better to term it ‘brothers-in-arms love,’ it is the love of deepest friendship. It is a love expectant and deserving of loyalty and sacrifice; one might apply it to a parent’s love for their child or a soldier’s for their comrade in battle. It’s something deep and visceral.

It might seem odd to have a word imbued by so much real-life meaning residing within the word philosophy. And, do believe me, I don’t harbour an undying and brotherly love for Hegel. To fully understand what (I think) the Greeks were getting at, we need to unpack what this ‘philosophy’ might mean, first in theory and then in actuality, to find out how and why we might ever consider ourselves as lovers of wisdom in this intense sense.

Philosophy is a subject taught at sixth-form and university, one with a multitude of subspecies and sub-subspecies; there are philosophies of science, of nature, of right, of language, and so on. Before the scientific age, everything studied was called the philosophy of such and such.

But people often say, “That’s my philosophy.” You certainly wouldn’t hear somebody say, “That’s my science,” or “That’s my maths/chemistry/economics/biology” in the same manner. For the most part, people don’t develop and practise their own sciences. This is because science, for the most part, is a collection of validated facts about the world, apart from human experience. Such goes for maths and chemistry and economics and biology: you can be taught that 1+1=2, that the chemically affective agent in your pint was C2H5OH, that you produce surplus-value for your employer which is abstracted in the form of money, that your happiness is in fact an affect produced by your dopaminergic system—but none of this is your science, much less your philosophy.

How is philosophy different?

Science looks for truths about the world, as it is. Philosophy looks for truths about the good life, as it ought to be. Philosophy, in this sense that the Greeks meant it, is your theory of life insofar as it is practised in life. This in no way constitutes a theory or a science like the subjects aforementioned.

One can study the theory of natural selection, but it is not your theory; it informs your understanding about how nature evolves but does not thereby inform you about how you ought to act—lest you be driven purely to procreate.

Mathematics is not yours in the same way; it informs your ideas about calculus and geometry but not how you ought to act in day-to-day life—lest it be very boring.

This is a form of the complaint everybody made or heard at school: “Why am I taught (quadratic equations/photosynthetic cell adaptations) when I will never need to use it in real life?” Sciences are all well and good, telling you truths about the world as it is; but they do not tell you truths about how you ought to act in it. This is especially notable in our education system, in which you are force-fed facts you are told to retain just long enough to regurgitate onto an exam paper, never to (want to) consume them again.

Philosophy—your theory of life as it is practised in life—differs from science because it matters to how you live your life specifically¹. The point I’m here making is that everybody is a philosopher, whether consciously or unconsciously, and the quality of your philosophy has a direct and inestimable bearing on your life.

If your philosophy is, like so many sorry-ass students of the humanities nowadays, “our patriarchal society is rotten to its very core and must be overthrown,” then you will be miserable, not only personally, but just to be around².

If your philosophy is, despite all that life throws at you, “I am lucky to be alive,” then you will, in practically acting out that theory, feel lucky to be alive.

If your philosophy is, “life’s a drag,” then, at the office and the gym and the grandparent’s, it will drag, and drag, and drag, until you go back to the philosophical drawing board. (Another common complaint at school comes to mind: “Guernsey is so boring!” Read: “I am so bored and boring.”³)

If your philosophy is, as is often said by the wise and along with the school of stoic philosophers, “it could be worse,” then you will appreciate the good in your situation despite the bad, because “shit happens.”

Much philosophy is preserved within these little aphorisms, you’ll probably see all and sundry circulated throughout the social media sphere. But be assured that when one lives by them, they become more than mere statements. This is the way in which the Greeks meant the ‘love of wisdom,’ a love of deepest friendship, for what always comes with you in any time and space? Your thoughts: your philosophy. One can identify people with good philosophies, because they are usually the people who are happy and helpful and thankful across time and space, be it at home, on the bus, on a hospital bed, in a queue, at a funeral. Their theory of life copes with practical life better. If your philosophy is immature, then you mightn’t cope too well with a long day at work, when you break your leg or a parent passes away. If your philosophy is mature, you come home delighted with a hard day’s work, you pursue a pastime whilst recovering from your broken leg or become the rock on whom your family can depend when your parent passes on.

(TL;DR) In this ramble and in a roundabout way, I gave my own answer to the question “What is Philosophy?” We got there by way of the Greek definition; we opposed philosophy, as subjective with a direct bearing on life, to science, as objective and without that same bearing on life; and we finished by discussing some examples of philosophy in its relation to life. There’s so much more to be said, but alas it’s too much more. So we will save them for another time—perhaps in short pieces on different philosophies and their bearings on life—and finish with one of my favourite philosophical aphorisms.

Out of life’s school of war: What does not destroy me, makes me stronger. – Nietzsche

 


¹ “The man of science is a poor philosopher.” – Einstein

² “Everybody thinks of changing the world, but no-one thinks of changing himself.” – Tolstoy

³ “Boredom: The desire for desires.” – Tolstoy

 

As I’m not on social media, my writing is only read as much as it is circulated by readers like you; so if you liked this piece, please share and share alike, it would be greatly appreciated. Peace and chirps, Liam.

Tips for University by a Reformed Homeworkaphobe

I left school at seventeen. I never did so much as a shred of homework that wasn’t punitively extracted of me in ‘detention.’ The education at school was, to me, useless and boring; the thought of taking more of it home with me, after spending a thirty-hour week in small rooms stuffy with hormones and tedium, was out of the question.

But I would bring home with me, always and to varying degrees, guilt and fear at knowing that I had homework: that I wasn’t doing it, I wasn’t going to do it, and I would again be subject to a bollocking for having not done it. It’s not a nice feeling, knowing that you’re due a telling-off, deservedly and constantly.

One can clear this cloud of guilt feeling at university, but there is a right way and a wrong to do it: you overcome it, or avoid it. I went for the latter at school, but it was terrible tactics, attempting to avoid all of one’s teachers when you see them every weekday. But at university, one doesn’t have this problem. Lecturers and seminar tutors don’t have a bollocking-spiel at the ready: if you don’t go, you don’t go; if you don’t read, you don’t read; if you don’t learn, that’s your own fecking problem. You are, formally at least, a ‘responsible adult’ and ‘independent learner.’

These words, independence, responsibility and learning, are foreign until further education. Until then, your responsibility is to learn, whereas ‘learning’ means actually retaining masses of information so that your capacity for regurgitating it may be examined in a series of stressful and stupid examinations—you don’t attain knowledge for yourself, you remember stuff for exams. Your independence is naught, you are given the lessons, the timetables, the teachers; you are told what to do and what to think, where to be and when, and you’re punished for any transgressions.

So university is as much unlearning primary and secondary ‘education’ for examination as (newly) learning how to learn for knowledge, for development, for you; this is difficult, involving a change in the objective sphere of education. But this task is tough on multiple levels, moreso on the subjective, as you tackle for the first time living independently, learning and researching independently, prioritising independently; in short, tackling university independently, without a teacher or a parent to kick your ass into gear or provide that cloud of guilt which spurs some to study.

What follows are the thoughts of a reformed homeworkaphobe approaching his third-year of studying something which interests him at university; points on living, learning and prioritising independently; additionally some personal points which don’t constitute universally applicable advice.

 

LIVING INDEPENDENTLY

Do different things with different people.

Having heard and seen some of the states to which houses and student accommodation can deteriorate, my first advice regarding independent living is to make friends. Don’t stick with your clique from back home or pair off with that dude you met on the open day, meet and speak with as many people as possible. Don’t allow your living situation to regress such that everybody bitches about everybody else, complaining, fighting, stealing and poisoning the food of others, all of which can be nauseatingly commonplace if a balance isn’t struck. And if it can’t be, for it may well go sour with or without your input, do not involve yourself, do not ally yourself and make enemies, rise above the bollocks and work around it. Worse come worse: move. But bear in mind, you may move but you still bring your own attitude with you, make sure it’s one that makes you tolerable to live with.

Avoid inscribing bad habits.

Yes, it can initially be an exhilarating novelty to drink in a bar full of fellow students on a weeknight, to have fast-food and weed delivered to your door, to avoid exercise and sports because, well, nobody is there to tell you otherwise. I’m not for a moment saying don’t do any of these things ever, just know that there is more to be gained from the first-year university experience than savings on Jäger-bombs at the SU and pizza at Dominoes; indeed, there’s much to be lost in habituating the consumption of junk-food, drugs and alcohol.

University life teems with other opportunities; you can join just about any society you can think of, like the Kung-Fu Society, the Beard Society, the Surfing Society, and the Philosophy and Literature Society (examples from my uni). Join a band, start a club, get a training partner or a study buddy—this support can be invaluable in routinising your life and motivating healthy habit formations. (Disclaimer: British university societies are much like British society at large: they revolve around alcohol and you’re likely to have more ‘socials’ than society meetings, beware…)

Help is always at hand.

There are government and university and student organisations dedicated to student welfare, for people struggling financially, academically, personally, etcetera. There are plenty of genuine people about who have the experience to help you—don’t be shy, they’ve seen worse situations.

 

PRIORITISING INDEPENDENTLY

Get your priorities straight.

If your top priorities are beer and the opposite (or whatever) sex, at least make university your number three, because one, two, ten years down the line, you’re going to be prioritising differently: don’t make future-you despise current-you. At university, enjoying yourself should be secondary, or at most equal, to enhancing yourself. What does this mean? That lecture and seminar attendance and reading should not repeatedly fall victim to hangovers and munchies and sheer lack of will.

You are in a superlatively privileged position, able to access the pinnacle of our culture’s knowledge in an institutional tradition the likes of which people around the world would and do quite literally die trying to reach. You could come out the other end a podgy, pot-smoking piss-artist with a few funny stories; or you could emerge an enhanced, humbled and learned human endowed with indispensable knowledge and experience, and yet still have a few funny stories to boot. In a nutshell: you will have to make the jump from doing what you want to do, to what you ought to be doing; if those align, which they seldom do without a mature work ethic, so much the better.

 

Your first year is about winning knowledge, not arguments.

You will go to university with your conceptions of and ideas about how the world is and ought to work, but, if you are fully surrendering to what education is, prepare for them to be shattered into a thousand insignificant pieces. Think of your little brother or niece and how they say things with total conviction—‘I’m running away!’ and ‘They’re disgusting, I’m never having a boyfriend!’—but we know, even if they don’t, that they will grow out of such silly opinions. What makes an eighteen-year-old different? Coming of age seems to me to be a period in which one should challenge oneself rather than others; especially if you don’t know what you are talking about, which you don’t.

What I am saying here is this, that you will invariably laugh at how stupid you were last year, and if you don’t you are either totally perfect or doing something wrong; if you sort yourself out and attempt authentically to learn without politically predisposing yourself to any outcome, it’s wholly likely that you will look back and laugh at your stupidity several times a year, and that’s a good thing.

So, one should go into a lecture ready to be immersed in the viewpoint professed by the professor; one should enter the seminar room not as a political gauntlet, but a philosophical roundtable, around which blossoming critical thinkers can bounce ideas off of one another without fear of consequence. Fellow students aren’t your competitors and still less your enemies—chill, be proud to be willing to learn and be open about what you’re struggling with, if somebody’s immature enough to scoff at your intellectual courage, fuck ‘em!

 

STUDYING INDEPENDENTLY

Again, know that you are stupid.

Socrates said, “I know one thing; that I know nothing.” Your first year should be spent revelling in and remedying this stupidity, but knowing that there is no endpoint to knowledge, you will never know everything and indeed will still border on knowing nothing when you’re done. The point is a little more profound than ‘you are destined for dumbness’: it’s about an attitude, a perspective: humility is prerequisite to learning that which you don’t yet know. Christ knows it is awkward and annoying to have somebody in a seminar, who has for some reason deigned to descend to university education, who knows everything already and need not be told anything by anyone. The thing is, one can see through it. If your outlook is ‘I know nothing’ rather than ‘I already know everything,’ you’ll go further than those for whom lectures are tertiary, lecturers are clueless and seminars are for deploying one’s intellectual smack-downs.

DO SOME FECKING READING.

This is key advice, sacred for those who give more than a toss about learning at university, so I implore you to heed it if you would like a challenging experience as opposed to a debilitatingly stressful one. First week, no excuses; as soon as your fall one week behind, you’re buggered. Playing catch-up might’ve worked for GCSE and A-Level, but say you’re knee-deep in Descartes then balls-deep in Hegel, you can’t feasibly race through and cram an understanding of both in a week. Readings, for my course at least, are usually extracts of several works, sometimes with a primary text with secondary materials supporting it. If you read but one of these, enough so that you can explain what you think they are saying to somebody, then that’s enough to ‘wing’ a seminar. If you want to ‘boss’ a seminar: read it through, no notes or underlining, then read it through again, noting and underlining key or difficult passages, then write on a separate sheet of paper what you thought it was on about, what you had difficulty with and what you would like to discuss further.

 

Read widely.

After historic sociopolitical upheavals, the likes of which are unimaginable to our most recent generations, society decided to carve years out of production time so that those who wish to pursue professionalised modes of education can do so. In the past seven years the cost of this time has been raised, in financial and the corollary personal terms, to a degree that precludes many potential students or leaves them and their parents shouldering unmanageable debts—is it even worth it? Well the answer is in your action, the proof in the pudding. Again, it can be a hazy, hedonistic blur of beer and bifters and late-night cramming on Sparknotes; or you could read. It’s hard to sell, and I’m not going to try, just merely say that these three years could be precious, priceless, if you can spend it wisely, reading some of the richest wisdom that has been retained in word form. It might not seem it at first, but is infinitely more rewarding than Twitter, and tequila.

 

PERSONAL POINTS

Write essays that you want to write.

Again, these are subjectively informed suggestions, some might be seeking the highest score possible for their degree; some the easiest essay for, well, their ease; a few others the hardest essay for a challenge. I find picking an essay question that I am interested in, rather than one I already know a lot about and can answer well, was most rewarding in terms of both satisfaction and marks. And sanity.

Get the whack hair-do’s over and done with.

 

Read philosophy and history.

I came to university to learn about politics. I ended up being immersed in a study of philosophy that eclipsed my interest in bollotics and precipitated a total disengagement with its vulgar and distractive manifestations in news media. At university you will be given fragments, tasters, essays and chapters to read; but it’s up to you to pursue a school of philosophy or particular philosopher as if you’re interested; if you keep doing so, you will inevitably find philosophy that interests and suits you—remember beer didn’t taste nice before you started drinking it all the time?

This study will allow you to don the philosophical-historical goggles worn by preeminent human beings: you see the world through the eyes of Saint Paul in the Bible, through those of Plato in Athens; Marcus Aurelius and Cicero of the Roman Empire; you see through Hobbes’ during the English Civil War, Jefferson’s during the American Revolution, Burke’s during the French; through CLR James’ on history’s only successful slave revolt; through Hegel’s during the Napoleonic Wars, Trotsky’s on the Russian Revolution, the list is as exhaustive as it is fascinating.

Which leads me to history: one can discern how ideas influence events, how philosophy affects history. Our ideas bring reality into being at least as much as reality stimulates our ideality; reading the philosophies alongside the histories of an epoch will elucidate this mutual transactivity.

One more suggestion, philosophy needn’t be going balls deep and, for your first year, may be totally out of the question. For example, Hegel, the philosopher on whom I will write my dissertation, has not the knack for pedagogical clarity:

“The infinite is in this way burdened with the opposition to the finite which, as an other, remains at the same time a determinate reality although in its in-itself, in the infinite, it is at the same time posited as sublated; this infinite is the non-finite – a being in the determinateness of negation. Contrasted with the finite, with the sphere of affirmative determinatenesses, of realities, the infinite is the indeterminate void, the beyond of the finite, whose being-in-itself is not present in its determinate reality.”—Hegel, Science of Logic

Balls deep is too deep, one will go into shock. So start by dipping a toe, read a Wikipedia article, watch a video on Youtube; advance to ankle-depth by reading an entry-level introduction; go up to your knees and attend a lecture, then attend another, then find some on Youtube; raise the level gently past the knee by advancing to secondary literature, then perhaps get back to ball-depth by reading it alongside a key passage or two by the author himself.

Meditate.

I bear in mind whilst writing this that not so long ago I would’ve scoffed at this suggestion.

Say, if you spent three years working on a building site, you’d make time in which you stopped physically working completely. It’s a little more difficult on the academic side of things, because your mind doesn’t stop whirring quite like your muscles stop working. But such is meditation: thoughtlessness. Without meditation, I would have burned out so much quicker than I did on days waking up to reading before attending four lectures on different subjects and then sitting down to write an essay; by which time I could either be too frazzled to concentrate, or, because I’ve meditatively calmed my mind, ready to read and write some more. Try just ten minutes, first thing in the morning before breakfast and coffee and phone, focusing on and slowing your breathing, do nothing else. There are plenty of meditation tips and guides about the interweb; Alan Watts is my recommendation.

Make a routine, make it sacred.

Make time by routinising it. I know I have lectures on these days, I’ll do reading at these times on these days, ready for seminars on these days; I’m going to exercise at this time on these days, go to these societies on these days, etcetera. Stick to it like it’s a job, which it is: it’s your job to become a conscientious and competent human being, not one forever ready to shirk the smallest of responsibilities. Keep a diary, keep a calendar, keep one or both handy.

Be wary of political organisations

I’ve come to find it amusing, that an education costing £28,000 can still churn out morons who go about sticking these stickers on university property. I mocked them in a seminar last year, because ‘ALL COPS ARE BASTARDS’ was stuck outside the building, and I had somebody defend it on the basis that “you can’t sacrifice a good slogan” to explain that, in fact, not every cop is a bastard, just the overwhelming majority. Another confronted me outside, rather less compromising, saying that all cops are bastards, to which I replied, “My friends and family are not bastards, actually.”

An apt aphoristic peach from Hegel will make my point: “Mark this well, you proud men of action! You are, after all, nothing but unconscious instruments of the men of thought.” And indeed you can become an instrument if your ‘enemies,’ be they UKIP supporters or the police, are assigned to you as part of whatever prepackaged political ideology you were sold by such nutjobs.

 

Education is outside the lecture hall and library.

Learn to cook. Which also means: learn to buy food. If you have a market, shop there, for they’re invariably cheaper than cornerstores and supermarkets. Then learn to cook the food: it can start easy and it’s fun. Then do the dishes afterwards. Then feel exhilarated at becoming a bog-standard adult; it’s really quite something.

Sort your bills now, or pay for it later. You will have to confront these kinds of responsibilities at some point, avoiding them and hoping somebody else will sort it is dishonest—because you know you should do something—and immature.

Learn to self motivate (read philosophy and history). Historical heroes and philosophical giants like Solzhenitsyn and Nietzsche, CLR James and Hegel, will change the lens through which you interpret the world. There will no longer be insurmountable but avoidable obstacles, there will rather lie challenges, out of which you will emerge a better human; eventually you will compare your pathetic excuses for not attending a lecture or writing an essay to the inconceivable feats of humanity’s toughest, and they will inspire and motivate you.

 


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Pop a Problem?

It’s perverse that what is hardest to broach is often what is most relevant.

This is now an obvious problem, one that cannot be obviated by acting oblivious. So, a necessary prefatory remark: I mean this not out of spite or in any one person’s direction or with any pretence to know what’s best for anybody at all: these are my observations and reflections, made respectfully but earnestly, of a problem in Guernsey which I mean no offence by highlighting.

That being said: there is terrible trend amongst desk-jockey doctors to throw potent pharmaceuticals of every pretty colour and stripe by the fistful at the fearful, the suffering, the struggling—the vulnerable generally. Gotta problem? Pop a pill! There is such poverty of any real-life advice: just pop these pills. Real people with real problems met—many at first visit—by a doctor armed with some artificial start or stupefaction giving you the desired buzz or blackout. We are no longer about bearing burdens, courageous burdens of time, effort, change, personal toil and advancement. We are all about the quick fixes. Fixes that become fixations, then fixities: addictions. Riddle me this: is a human being cured of depression when they cannot get out of nor go to their bed without a dose? Surely that, as a life, as an instantiation of the human being in all its limitless potential, is more depressing?

Brighton, where I live and study, has a (fair to say, far) more advanced drug problem. “This city’s on Prozac darling”, I hear said in oh-so-poshly Hove. Indeed. I’m sitting and chirping to some friends, and we’re approached by, well, I can only describe him as a ripe Brightonian. “Did you know, you can crush vallies into resin and smoke it?” No, mate, I didn’t. Still less did I know that introducing diazepam-spiked cannabis resin was a legitimate manner of initiating conversation. Actually, total lie: drugs are so normal, syllables used so sparingly, that “Who’s on?”, “White or brown?” (both referring to crack or heroin) and “Any scripts?” (pharmaceuticals) are exchanged expectantly on the street.

I so sorely wish the best for these people, but they kid themselves when they say that they’ll get off it when they’re boxed off. A house doesn’t change your lifestyle; a bed doesn’t teach you shit. It’s the curse of the chimera. If I just had this, if I could just do that, if I wasn’t like this—all poisonous, lifeless, courage-sapping fallacy. You will hear them from kids in college to comprehensive, adults white to blue collar, complaints. Life is hard. God speed their lives of complaint after they complain to a doctor armed with that quick fixity.

There is a disconcerting amount of homeless people in Paris, and this from a (term-time) Brightonian, and in the words of a chirpy Algerian man I met there, “beaucoup de pauvre.” Lying back awkwardly on his elbows in the stone square one evening, in shorts and a t-shirt, carefully shielded spliff in hand, that was the closest that man got to a complaint. Another chirpy dude I met that night, with a big, booming, infectious laugh, was veritably ecstatic to be sleeping on the cold, stone floor with his mix-bag of ragtag friends. I asked from whence he came and how he made it all the way to Paris. He told me from Somalia, travelling by land and boat, washing up in Italy, spending two years in a migrant camp there before coming to Paris, very much intent on eventually making it to England. The only negative thing I heard that man say, was in answer to my asking what the camp was like: “No good”. I will never forget that man’s beaming face and booming laugh.

So what do these piss-poor Paris homeless have that our Guernsey pill-poppers don’t? They don’t have anything materially, other than a pithy amount of hash to sell to buy food; socially, they just have each other. But they did have two things, precious to they and all who can cultivate and cherish them. They inadvertently taught me to treasure, in two days tippling and toking together, two invaluable but intangible human traits which they wrought from shitty lives lived on streets, in a warzone, a prison and a migrant camp between them: courage and chirp, despite and in the face of everything.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, he was a giant among men, with unparalleled perspective and courage. He lived through World War II, in which he fought, his Russian compatriots massacring each other en masse, eight years hard labour in a Soviet concentration camp with a cancerous tumour, before writing tens of thousands of pages on the run and then in exile about his and his country’s ordeal, winning a Nobel Prize (for what they’re worth) thereafter. His advice, his perspective on living life, he writes, is to climb “to an understanding of life—and from this height it can all be seen so clearly: It is not the result that counts! It is not the result—but the spirit! Not what—but how. Not what has been attained—but at what price.” (Solzhenitzyn, Gulag Archipelago) 

I don’t seek to demean the toils of those who suffer on our island, for they damn well do. But Solzhenitsyn might well say the ‘result’ of drugging people, a faux-contentment, is not worth the ‘price’, selling souls to drug devils. What I do seek to demean, which we should all desist respecting, and ideally desist altogether, is the fallacious and life-ruining commitment made by feckless doctors to prescribe that one in twelve in Guernsey be sucked dry of spirit in the long haul to make them comfortably numb in the narcotic now. Faux-chirp and artificial comfortability fed of zero courage and value. You can almost hear our doctors speak the words: “You do look glum! What you need is a gramme of soma.”(Huxley, Brave New World)

What do we learn of life, what do we teach ourselves, more importantly our children, in our haste to dope and deaden our short stints on earth? Life is hard! Depression, anxiety, pain: these aren’t our enemies to be destroyed along with the host and their future, they are composite elements of human experience, to be tarried with and learned from, courageously conquered; they are wounds which heal in time, with courage, showing scars—c’est la feckin’ vie. Open wounds don’t heal by applying poisonous pharmaceutical plasters, at the pop of a pill; and we do Guernsey a disservice by countenancing its ubiquity as something in any way normal or healthy—it’s drugging people to get through life. Whoever and wherever you are and whatever your situation: it could be worse, with courage, better. “And that is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: ‘Bless you, prison!’” (Solzhenitsyn)

You might berate your prison, bash at its walls, lamenting your life’s path, but what good does that do and example does it set for you and your family—fuck that! Confront it head on, ride with it, learn from it, let it teach you so to transcend it, and maybe one day you too will bless it for making you who you become. Prison is no hotel, and life is no waitress: you won’t be handed contentment and happiness on a platter, not without a bar fight first! Quick fixities quell that within you which comes to drive you in this fight, the fight to become who you are and all you should be. The endpoint of this fight, something Friedrich Nietzsche termed “self-overcoming”, cannot be prescribed in pill form. Indeed, the “most shortsighted and pernicious way of thinking wants to make the great sources of energy, those wild torrents of the soul that often stream forth so dangerously and overwhelmingly, dry up altogether, instead of taking their power into service and economising it.” (Nietzsche, Will to Power)

How, though? The question might even be, for some, why? What’s the point? Well you need a reason to live life! Listlessness needs a determinate principle, life needs meaning, a cohering ideal, a meaningful drive, what Nietzsche called an “organising idea”. Without an organising idea, without any purpose or direction, all that pent-up capacity and frustration curdles, it turns foul: kids become restless, teenagers rebellious, adults depressed, middle-agers mad and retirees miserable. Why get out of bed in the morning if you feel you’ve nothing to do so for? Well, I can’t prescribe an answer to that question with these words, and I daresay our medical unprofessionals have no good chance with narcotics, either.

This flee from cultivating courage and honing hardiness in life has led, where I live in England, to a perverse state of affairs: one in which people eagerly play top trumps with their mental illnesses, wallowing in and waffling about their anxieties and complaining about every minutiae of their existences. That staggers me less than the cocktail of pharmaceuticals fed them. Is Guernsey, being that bit ‘behind’, nigh on these sorts of conversations in coffeeshops? Our bailiwick buddies over in Alderney seem eager to have them ASAP. C’est la feckin’ vie.

“Courage is not the absence of despair; it is, rather, the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair.” —Rollo May

“From life’s school of war: what does not kill me makes me stronger” —Nietzsche


After deleting Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, which I used to publicise this site, visits dropped considerably. If you enjoyed this article, I’d really appreciate your sharing it on social media. Peace and chirps, Liam.

Heartlessness, Changelessness, Homelessness.

Many hunger-worn outcasts close their eyes in our bare streets… who, let their crimes have been what they may, can hardly open them in a more bitter world. – Charles Dickens

After a year studying here, each return I’ve made to Brighton has fallen short of feeling homely. Invariably one is greeted by rain outside, (more) mould inside and people posing with their Pokédogs[1] every when and where in-between. Hacking the weather, fungal fridge and spectacular canine (in)breeds is part of life, though, I’m repeatedly told: you suffer them because you must. We in the Anglosphere complain about these things, as any true Englishman-or-woman does – and should – we complain about having to hack Brighton’s drizzle, damp and dogs because they’re just part of life here. We must because, crucially, we can’t change them.

It is hard to hack the inhumane when this ‘must’ is absent; where we tolerate the totally unnecessary for no good reason. We have and we do: we’ve accepted and ignored, normalised and excused the unacceptable and inexcusable on so many levels. This complaint implores myriad particularities – in our law, social care, healthcare, housing, education, entertainment, media, etcetera – so let’s get down to it.

What makes Brighton so profoundly unhomely is, fittingly, the homeless. Everywhere. Through the Laines and on the Level, up North and London Roads; from the posher side of Kemptown, past their vigils at the Clock Tower, all the way to poshly Hove: the wretched of Brighton’s berth, strewn rain or shine, shivering or sweltering, for all to see and desperately avoid looking at. Nary a day’ll pass me by without seeing some hollowed husk of a human heaped on the pavement being gawped at by the homeful for each second of their approaching stride, until the homeless look up to murmur at them for change; their gaze will be implausibly, sometimes laughably, jerked into any other direction. I bet if the homeless had a quid for each time that happened in a day, they wouldn’t need to beg. Nor work.

Homelessness in Brighton is a sick joke in poor taste. In May-time I saw showroom and shack virulently erected for the Brighton Fringe festival in mere hours. A couple more days and Brighton got it up for our ‘Fringe’: the Circus of Moscow, the Ladyboys of Thailand, Brighton’s best and barmiest. Crying shame the piss-poor and dying beggary didn’t make the fringe-trim this year, but did we really have to rub it in?[2] We’re of the better cities of the richer countries on this earth, the Green constituency! Yet all we’ve to say to our hundreds of homeless? Make yourself scarce, you’re turning us off. Fortunately for the Fringers, Community Support Officers ‘move on’ (newspeak for ‘harass and forcibly displace’) rough (sleeping) sleepers; Police strafe streets plain-clothed, lifting those daring to beg for your coppers – even ten pence. Hiding and/or criminalising the marginalised, like any crackpot totalitarian regime worth its salt would. But they can’t just leave it at that, they say: don’t give them money, for they’ll spend it on drugs (see links above, e.g.). What a way to alienate and demonise: to subhumanise.

Think! Analogise, understand, empathise. Alcohol, drugs and junk-food are habitually consumed by another British social strata, does the state instruct the employing public to withhold money from these people? Well, of course not![3]. That’s your right, isn’t it? Even though we don’t need the cider to sleep; the food, so desperately, to eat; the blanket for a comforting semblance of heat. So what’s different for those on the street? That you earned it, they did not, therefore you deserve it and they do not? Do social and circumstantial screwings disqualify one from the right to (street)life’s most basic necessities?

This feels backwards. Perhaps I approach this too plainly. Perhaps it’s not the state, our society; maybe it is they who’ve screwed themselves.

I cross a middle-aged man on a bench eating a pasty just past the crack of dawn, looks like he’s been on a mad one so I sit to read next to him, expecting some chirps. The ‘mad one’ he’s been on, or rather sleeping under, is a bush in the same park. He’s sober but filthy, homeless for a few months. His son died, he lost his job in mourning (seems you can’t put a few weeks limit on that shit) and now he’s out on the streets begging for pennies to buy pasty breakfasts. He didn’t ask for any money and shook my hand limply, seeming pretty defeated. Probably drinking by now.

A homeless man and woman in their twenties – a ballpark guess for humans ravaged by malnutrition, lack of sleep, etcetera – come into Shelter. The woman asks for and gets a warm jacket. The dude’s on a crutch and looks pained, as much as the alcohol may’ve anaesthetised him: his grubby face is riddled with scrapes and bruises, one eye is closing and he thinks he’s broken ribs. What happened?! Kicked and stomped whilst sleeping rough. The guy’s parent died, his name goes on the lease, he can’t pay: out on your ass mate. They sleep rough together, as the couple they are, he cuddling (big-spooning) her on the outside of whatever space they may find so he can take the brunt of whatever stomping may occur. They could sleep with the junkies but have no interest in being around imbibers of spice, crack or heroin (few of the homeless I speak to do). So they’re in a pickle for finding a spot that’s big enough for the both of them: not so out of the way that they’ll be assaulted with impunity, not so central that the friendly neighbouring police squad harasses them, as they’d done the night before – so assaulted with impunity again, then. The officers threw their belongings in the street before the woman could be roused from her necessarily alcohol-induced sleep. Protesting, as I guess one would, the man’s threatened with arrest. He assures me, “if it weren’t for her”, he’d go – three square meals a day! He makes a jibe about her not cooking enough and they laugh a laboured, wheezy laugh together.

My friendly neighbourhood tramp approaches me. I haven’t seen him in a few days, he looks rough(er) and has a bruised split across his nose. Without his usual salutation, he blurts out: “What’s missing?!” Pfft, I don’t bleedin’ know – oh! “The dog.” For (presumably illegally?) playing bat and ball with his and his friend’s dog, the Police rock up: baton him in the face, break his nose. His friend’s dog bites the officer’s leg. His dog is impounded and he thrown in the clink too. Now he has to wrap a muzzle around his (all local residents will agree) docile, darling dog’s face, for no good reason – dangerous dogs and all that. I wonder why the homeless human was deemed dangerous. He reads novels, plays with his dog and, when people spare him dosh, gives ‘change’ (a copper if he has it).

Passing ‘the bench’, a popular spot for many of Brighton’s homeless, a friend hollers at me. I walk over, ask him what’s new. Lots! But all of the news is, like The News: bad. Beaten up two consecutive nights, quite brutally; his mates tell me he’s fitted a couple of times since. Lost his job as a kitchen porter due to injuries sustained and not having engaged with the right bureaucratic elements to prove he was not at fault. Robbed by a not-so-friendly friend of all his money, save for eighty pence. Savings were made over many months for a housing deposit and were about to cover him visiting his child. Instead, back to square one: bench, beer.

Exactly a half-millennia ago, Counsel to King Henry VIII Saint-or-Sir Thomas More published his titularly neologistic treatise Utopia[4]. It may seem fanciful, but I think that this renaissance religious fanatic, busied by flagellation and counselling history’s whore-king[5], has something pertinent to teach us today.

Sir More was chatting with an English lawyer with ‘a high commendation of the severe execution of justice upon thieves… hanged so fast, that there were sometimes twenty on one gibbet’. The lawyer was bemused by how there were ‘so many thieves left who were still robbing’. More, bolshie and half-cut, pointed out how ‘tenants, are turned out of their possessions, by tricks, or by main force’ and when their ‘little money is at an end… what is left for them to do, but either to steal… or to go about and beg? And if they do this, they are put in prison as idle vagabonds; while they would willingly work, but can find none that will hire them’.

Contemporary issues are then, quite accurately, age-old[6]. The underclasses are most prone to homelessness and therefore to poverty; when certainty of food and shelter and safety are compromised, so too is morality. Justifiably so.

As I write, a homeless woman whispers a croaky plea for change. “Sorry, it’s so embarrassing!” What a warped reality in which we live. It’s not surviving, it’s not symptomatic of the sick state of a careless society, it’s ‘embarrassing’. My wallet’s less-cherished copper lodgers are front pocket, readied for next beggar I was to doubtless cross. What’s the fucking point? A tawdry titbit towards alcohol to just-about sleep or food to just-about subsist or the seldom-affordable overnight hostel. If I’m thinking this, what must they think? Oftentimes worse, but oftentimes much better, where the spice and crack and heroin are absent: the philosophy one finds in these humans – in summer at least – can be inspirational and exemplary: you only live once; do unto others as you’d have done unto you; ‘could be better, could be worse; same as yesterday’ (my local’s tagline and personal favourite), etcetera. But hunger and winter will knock the chirp and comradeship right out of many; the soul and life from a few.

Poverty simplifies and barbarises relations, necessitating criminality: the problem is systemically cultivated and its symptoms decreed criminal, thus: criminality is nurtured and perpetuated – created by, in and for the system. It was obvious to Sir More five whole centuries ago! ‘If you suffer your people to be ill educated [treated and provisioned], and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy [e.g. by the societal obsessions with sex, violence, drink and drugs], and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education [treatment, lacking provision, culturally inculcated mannerisms] disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them?’ [Italics mine.] A thief tries simply to immediately survive; but does not empathise and think the act as mediately criminal, something reprehensible and other than simply surviving. If the victim’s also homeless, as they often are, they suffer and immediately want revenge, but cannot mediate and identify this urge as manifesting that which they have suffered from. This circle[7] can be centrifugally vicious[8]; with the ubiquity and habitually rampant excesses of British drink and drug usage, really quite messy.

Understand, then, that a tenancy isn’t terminated due to rent arrears; vulnerable humans are made moreso by a system of unaffordable, unoccupied residences, complicated by personal problems and a mostly careless society. Same thing again: the biscuits lifted from Aldi aren’t nicked out of nastiness, rather to immediately relieve the haunt of hunger – shoplifting is, fleetingly, povertylifting. A debit card kindly lent isn’t then emptied out of spite but to, again fleetingly, escape and enjoy life without the incessant nag of depressive destitution. They aren’t unemployed because they’re lazy; they are begging for monetary mercy because they’re unemployed, considered unemployable[9] and your average human, let alone businessperson, ignores them. A sleeping bag isn’t stolen vindictively, but to survive the crippling cold. Dogs aren’t bred for bettering returns out begging, they help one survive the crippling loneliness. Alcohol isn’t stolen in spite then chugged in celebration; it is to temper this cold loneliness, to anaesthetise the body and the soul. Booze and drugs are just that: escaping the past, numbing the present, fucking the future – or lack thereof. We are not vulnerable to homeless humans’ crime; their vulnerability in homelessness has necessitated criminality[10]. Is being asked for change, having Morrisons a four-pack short, seeing a tent in the park, really that offensive – is it criminal?

So, back to (I’ll concede) ‘Saint’ Thomas More: saintly for his then-revolutionarily kindness, out of sync with his time, understandably, and still out of sync with ours, frustratingly – limited as his moral vision wasAnd his limit is what I cherish and chuckle at most in Utopia: one certain blaring moral contradiction to which St More was (ideologically) blinded is contemporarily illuminative. After agreeing to converse with a friend, oh-so-saintly Mr More coolly reports that ‘after dinner [we] came back, and sat down in the same place. I ordered my servants to take care that none might come and interrupt us.’ (Servant is translated from the Latin servus, actually meaning slave… a lenient translator indeed.) We live in an epoch wrought with and warped by similar shrieking contradictions: ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’ We need to recognise homelessness as of a barbarous time of selfishness and carelessness, we need to start looking homelessness – and at the homeless – in the face: it is as silly a societal institution as slavery was, and poorly waged zero-hour labour is for that matter.

Anachronistic ignorance notwithstanding, (we’ll settle with) Mister Thomas More did dare to suggest that we might do ‘much better to make such good provisions by which every man might be put in a method how to live… preserved from the necessity of stealing[11] [italics mine].

The lawyer with whom he argued countered this suggestion, informing More that ‘there are many handicrafts, and there is husbandry… unless they have a greater mind to follow ill courses.’ ‘That will not serve your turn’, More bellowed drunkenly in retort, his goblet crashing to and splashing upon the table, ‘for many lose their limbs in civil or foreign wars… thus mutilated in the service of their king and country’. That reminds me. I frequented one of the posher parks one lunchtime, there’s not much grass left to sit on; but, conspicuously and fortuitously, on one of the larger benches just one man sat – oh, I see, he’s homeless. Is the smell really that unbearable? Or is it something else?[12] Either way I rightly bank on an easy flow of interesting conversation, ‘nicer’ smelling folk tend to drone weather and referenda. Falkland’s War vet, sixty-nine years of age, just booted from the hostel in which he’d been staying longterm – for drinking, zero tolerance on alcohol, you see. So, a veteran of a British war, turning seventy in a few days, reacquainting himself with sleeping underneath park bushes. “Disposable. Fucking disposable”, he laments. I think, loudly in silent reply, disposed. Also that he’d be as good as dead if it weren’t summer, along with scores of fellow rough sleepers perishing in oh-so-progressive Brighton. I wonder what his situation is, I’ll make sure to ask him and write it up. If and when I see him. I just hope it’s not his picture I see passing another Clock Tower vigil.

 


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[1] I notice Brightonian dog fetishists showing off their pet self-extensions to each other in the same way, often in the same parks, as kids playing Pokémon.

[2] I believe the shelter is opened in winter if there are two or three consecutive nights that fall below zero degrees centigrade.

[3] Why? Because you: a) are farmable b) therefore profitable c) therefore not considered a sub-human societal scourge d) therefore have a contingent right to whatever you can afford – the law of carelessly carefree capitalism: free to play the rigged game, all too free to lose it. Or, e) ‘that’s just the way is.’

[4] More’s book pioneered the utopian genre: of imagined ideal communities and societies (and, I guess, in a way its anti-genre: the dystopian). I quote from the 1997 Dover Thrift Edition, translated from Latin to English.

[5] Henners had his head lopped off for not legally recognising his supremely supreme supremacy, as kings have that intractable habit of nagging for. More preferred to die: “The king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

[6] Save, obviously, for the hangman. We box ‘em outta sight and mind nowadays, it keeps the public shut up too. (Pun half-intended.)

[7] I used the term ‘vicious circle’ to a beggar the other day. He asked me: “But have you ever seen a vicious circle?” It gave me pause. He then touched his forefinger and thumb together to make a circle, and jabbed at me with it growling viciously.

[8] A micro-to-macro-cosmic trend: from homeless fights to family feuds to gang wars to total wars of attrition.

[9] Applied for a half-dozen unskilled positions myself, no joy.

[10] “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.” – Karl Marx.

[11] N.B. It is still ‘man’ and not ‘man and woman’.

[12] For those who may argue it being chance, I’d suggest checking out the bench on New Road or the seating at Old Steine Gardens or the Level or Pavilion Gardens.

 

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