Monday 22 November 2010

Spare change in the European Union's pocket

First of all, I would like to write the following waiver to this post: I am not an economist, accountant or financial guru. I have never studied economics, I don't work in the field and truth be told, I have very little interest in the world of finance and economics, either at home or abroad. The closest I come to an opinion is noticing the rising inflation when buying meat in Argentina; or wondering how people can now afford to fill their cars in the UK.

That was, until last night when I was doing the ironing and listening to the radio. The main news was that Ireland had finally looked to the European Union and International Monetary Fund to help solve their dire economic straits.

Then, this morning there was a debate on the same radio about whether it was right that the £7 billion the UK had saved with all the cuts was now heading over the Irish Sea to help with the bail out. Many Brits were extremely disgruntled about this, while others recognised that helping our Irish friends meant helping us in the long term. Ireland is our biggest trading partner in Europe. Our contribution is part of a package from Europe of around £77 billion in total (source: Telegraph, Guardian, Reuters).

My reaction last night was also a negative one; but not because I think my taxes should stay in the Uk helping myself and my fellow neightbours out. I was angry because, with many European countries in or coming out of a recesion (from my understanding) what I do not see is how, yet again, the EU can search its pockets and find billions of Euros in loose change to bail out floudering countries with breaking banks. And this is when, only on the other side of the Mediterrean, a fraction of this could end hunger for millions.

The United Nation's Food and Agricultre organisation has estimated that $30 billion a year would end hunger in the world. That's a lot less than the cheque heading Ireland's way. This amount would launch agritcultural and food programmes where needed in the world to solve global food insecurity. And once they were underway, the financial support needed year on year would be less and less. $30 billion to build foundations that will last and feed mouths for generations to come: can the EU check it's back pocket for more loose change and send it over there?

It was pleasing to hear that the UK's foreign aid donations were not part of the cuts. We are a country able to help and we should. So then, using those cuts to help save Ireland leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. But again, not because I want it in my pocket, but because a fraction of it could wipe out Kenya's debt to us. Kenya has a total debt of $6 billion and owes the UK £20 million. This is a country with an average daily wage of £1. And our money has gone to a country with an average daily wage of approximately 90 Euros a day (source: figures from and websites). And there are many other examples aside from Kenya. Politically, socially and morally, I can't see a logical argument for this.

I am not living in Ireland right now, and so am not experiencing their troubles. However, I cannot imagine they are worse than the farmers in Pakistan trying to recover from the recent floods and feed their families, or the droughts which affect farmers from Bolivia to Somalia, or the lack of cultivable land in many parts of Asia. When they need spare change, more agencies step in than governments, often including their own.

The next time someone needs some spare change, you could walk on by. You could think of the banks in this rich country of ours which have possibly failed them. You could think of real men, women and children who are far, far away, not asking for it. Or you could just put your hand in your pocket and see what's there to give. It doesn't matter if they don't run as deep as the EU's.

I guess just putting your hand in and not leaving it there is what really counts.

Friday 19 November 2010

While the kid's away, the muse will play

It's been a while since I've written. Well, since I've written here. I've been busy being a kid and letting the inspiration flow in other streams of my consciousness.

Today is the final day of my write-a-thon for Children in Need. I signed up for it on a writers' forum I am part of and the challenge was set thus: November 1st to November 19th, write poems, flashes and short stories using a variety of prompts. I dedicated myself to posting one poem, story or flash every day. If not, how would it be a marathon of writing? The prompts varied from titles, words to be used, dialogue to be included and situations, themes and objects set. I didn't think I would find space and time in those nineteen days of my life to complete it, but I am glad to say that, posting my last write late last night (I know, how geeky, to cross the line before all others!) I fulfilled it. Some stories are better than others, some poems more poignant than others. I tried to accomplish a variety of themes and situations and use comedy, sadness, happiness, death, life and love as broadly as possible.

Something which happened to me during this process surprised and delighted me. Each night, before the write the next day, I would choose and set the prompt I was going to roll with. So, after writing the story The Break (prompt: location is a back alley; theme is hope; a lighter is a significant object) on November 12th, I immediately chose a prompt for November 13th. In that case it was Tell Me Later. That night, the connotations of the words, the situations in which they might be used, all the meanings these combinations could have started sprawling through my brain. What was incredible was how quickly I was able to let my mind wander, after a completely different creative process, into completely different directions. I realised that creativity is something that is living and breathing in us every day. And sometimes it only needs one little word to spill out...

This experience, while rewarding (and I've been raising money for the Children in Need from my kind friends and family as well) has also been an education. I have proved to myself that, even with time constraints, I can write most days around running, working and living. (Actually, they should be in reverse order!) But the bigger picture I see is that the muse is inside me, outside me, everywhere, everyday. These stories, flashes and poems have let me be my inner child again, putting pen to paper and seeing where the stories and words go. The other side of this coin has been interesting, too: putting a completely formed idea down on paper, keeping true to it until the end and then editing it into a readable piece of prose or poetry. Once I was on the tube on the way home from the office and I had to write down the opening paragraph there and then amongst the sports pages. When there is so much inspiration and ideas, you have to find a way to grab one and hold onto it. It's no wonder so many writers sleep with a pad and pen by their bedside. It's cold when you have to get up in the darkness and search for them to get that phrase, title, line down concretely.

Anyway, so now I am free from my write-a-thon, I must stand by the words here and continue letting my muse work its way onto the computer screen in written form. I must let my childish tendencies to play with words and situations be allowed to run riot. And I must keep trying to find an audience.

Invention is all part of a kid's world. For the last nineteen days, I've been there; inventing, concocting and discovering. There has been the pressure of deadline, meeting a personal target, and it's important to remember that. Keeping the flow means movement and when you write, this only happens through time and to time. The result is in the process.

It's not child's play, but it does keep writer's block at bay.

Friday 5 November 2010

Remember, remember

Today is my favourite day of the year to be in England. It is the 5th of November, in all it's crackling and sparkling glory. It even erupted early, with bangs and pops being heard last night and twinkling colours to be seen through the trees in my neighbourhood.

Ah! Bonfire night!

If you try to explain this delightful day to someone from abroad, it is inevitably met with puzzled faces. My explanation usually involves jokes about eccentric Brits celebrating catching the first terrorists and then, true to the times, killing them in a violent and over-the-top manner. Swings and roundabouts and fireworks, it seems.

Anyway, the result, now nothing to do with saving democracy, religious freedom or any other controversial and over politicised topic of our times, is pure human joy: colours, fire and excitement. We have been drawn to fire since the beginning of time; it's danger outweighed by the warmth, food and light it provides. If you put a group of people in a circle, they will probably start conversing. Then stick a fire in the middle of them, and their eyes will fixate on the dancing flames and the only sound you will hear is the crackling and popping.

This is why Bonfire night is special. Because while keeping us warm on this autumnal night, our eyes are drawn skyward to the spectacular of lights and colours which explode among the stars. Our faces and hands are warmed on the ground and our eyes and hearts filled with magic from the sky. Each explosion is another beat of wonder: crescendos of colour, fiery flowers, paintings of diamonds and emeralds and rubies. And we make those collective sounds of appreciation and marvel at each new burst of stars. While the fire is singular and solitary, the fireworks blanket everyone together in their spectacular of glitter.

"Ooooh! Ahhhhh!"

You could take Christmas away from me, and I might not notice (apart from the fact shops weren't telling me Happy Christmas in October); Easter could disappear and I wouldn't miss the eggs which line the shelves from New Year. You might even be able to get away with erasing my birthday (quietly, quietly), but if you took away Bonfire Night; if there was not one explosion waking up the night in silver and red, gold and blue, I might just have to get some gunpowder myself and finish the job planned in 1605.

I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should EVER be forgot.