Brexit Again

Brexit VoteI have been stewing about the Brexit vote all weekend. However, I’ve had the chance to discuss it with friends, including those who are far better politically informed than I.

Dave, who can always be relied upon to provide a well informed counter-argument, gave me an interesting alternative to consider. Following on from our discussion he sent me this article from The Intercept.

The article blames the vote on arrogant and elitist institutions (including the media). It argues that these institutions have systematically ignored the plight of people who are suffering from a decline in their standard of living. All the while the wealth gap between them and the “elite” gets wider. These people have limited alternative methods to enact change, and the Brexit vote was an opportunity to hit back. Regardless of whether it was the right thing to do or not.

Have a read and keep an open mind.

Dave has long since told me I am an elitist. A claim I have always roundly dismissed. But maybe he is right. Maybe that is why the vote upset me so much; because I identify with the oppressors and not the oppressed.

Major food for thought.

My 2 Cents on Brexit

Banksy UKIPYou may already have heard enough about Brexit to last you a life time. If so, skip this uncharacteristically long one from me. However, quite a few people have asked my opinion. So I decided I wanted to figure out what my opinion actually was. The way I do that is to write about things, so here goes. I wrote this about 5 days after the vote but have only just had the time to post it now.

I’m Going Under Cover

I think I am going to change my accent. 15 years of living in Canada has already given it a funny lilt. Sometimes I am mistaken for an Auzzie, or a South African. In light of the Brexit vote this isn’t such a bad thing. Moving forward I will play along because, for the first time in my life, I am ashamed to call myself a Brit.

I was 23 when Britain joined the EU. However it was many years before that when I started traveling through Europe with my family. We’d drive south to Dover, cross the channel on a ferry, and then down through France and in to Spain. Armed only with the Relais Routiers we’d stop at little B&B’s, eat local food and hang out at the beach. These are some of the fondest memories from my childhood and have had a huge influence on the person I am today.

These early experiences of “foreignness” (France and Spain are very different today than when I was 7), gave me a curiosity about other cultures. I spent years travelling and working in different countries before settling in Canada. Nonetheless, moving to live and work in Canada was a huge cultural eye opener for me. Canada is truly a multi- cultural country. I interact with a far greater variety of cultures now than at any point in my previous, nomadic, life.

How did I get it so wrong?

Even though I’ve lived in Canada for about 15 years, I stay in constant contact with my immediate family in the UK. But, when the EU referendum in the UK was announced, I barely took any notice. In my mind, who would vote for something so completely regressive? How could anyone possibly understand what leaving would mean? Why (unless you are a white supremacist) would you agree to do anything the UKIP party thought was a good idea? Nigel Farrage is a national joke.

Shows you what I know. Now I am shaking my head in disbelief and trying to figure out what possible reason more than 50% of an entire nation would vote this way. And this is what I’ve found.

The question about the payment thing

According to the Leave campaigners, being an EU member was costing the UK, GBP 350 million a week. British funds that could otherwise be much better spent on funding the National Health Service. That was a hotly disputed number even before the vote. The number ($50 million a day) was plastered all over the “battle bus” that Boris Johnson used during the Brexit campaign. Odd now that the Leave campaigners are distancing themselves from that claim. In fact, Nigel Farrage of UKIP is quite certain that he never said this money would go to the NHS. A quick look at the Brexit campaign’s website now will show you that this is a bit of a trend for the Brexit side. You will in fact see that none of the pre-campaign statements/promises are there anymore. Just a lovely note saying “Thank You”. Accountability, anyone?

The Syrian Refugees are Coming!

Another cornerstone of the Brexit campaign was linked to Turkey’s application to be a member of the EU. The Leave side warned of the terrible dangers this held because of all the Syrian refugees Turkey was harbouring. Refugees who had fled to Turkey in fear for their lives. The story went like this:

  1. Turkey becomes a member of the EU
  2. EU member countries open their borders to Turkey
  3. Syrian refugees FLOOD the EU from Turkey and end up in the UK
  4. Syrian refugees then drain the UK economy and steal British people’s jobs
  5. The UK bursts in to flames and sinks in to the Irish sea.

OK, so I made the last bit up. Fact is, Turkey has been trying to get in to the EU since 1972. They have still only managed to meet 1 of the 25 requirements to do so. One politician I was listening to estimated the process would take until 2030. Hardly an immediate threat is it?

Britain for the British

The argument for the Leave side I found most embarrassing was the “Britain for the British” thing. Meaning, ‘we don’t want any of those non-British people coming in, stealing our jobs and diluting our culture’. Let’s suspend belief for a moment. Let’s say this argument’s appeal has nothing to do with xenophobia, misplaced nationalism or a fear of otherness. I would then admit that, if I were chronically unemployed, I would be angry to be told that immigrants were landing jobs because they were prepared to work for less money. I think that may be oversimplifying the argument, but you get my point.

However, I don’t think that leaving the EU is a solution to that problem. First of all it is a minimum wage issue. I don’t remember reading either side saying minimum wage legislation would be tabled as a result of the vote. I also can’t find (though it may exist) anything to says the EU prevented the UK from passing minimum wage legislation.

Immigration, it’s a thing, people!

The second thing people conveniently overlook is that no-one could or should, actually stop immigration. For our current version of Capitalism to work, countries’ economies need to grow. So in a country where birth rates are not keeping up with the number of people dying off, you NEED immigration. All the Syrians Germany “allowed in” are a drop in the bucket compared to their rapidly declining population. The UK is no different.

Along the same lines, there is a hard fact which seems to have escaped a lot of people’s attention. That is we were all bloody immigrants at one time or another!! A large part of my family ancestry is Irish. Were those immigrants (starving, poverty stricken and poorly educated) any more or less worthy of a new start than those seeking a new life in the UK now? If everyone that was “not from here” left, society would grind to a halt.

What Now?

So, let’s say all the above points were actually valid, what has the Brexit vote done for us so far? Well, let’s think.

First off, if free trade ends, I wonder how much all that administration is going to cost to harden borders. How much time will it take to renegotiate all these free trade agreements, individually, with each nation? Then add the possibility of Ireland and Scotland voting to become independent from the UK. Any English Government is going to be embroiled in all of that business for the near future. I wonder if the cost will be more than the money we have been paying to the EU? What does it mean for the implementation of other, important, social and economic legislation?

UK versus the world

Then there’s the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). This EU – US trade agreement, which has taken years to negotiate will no longer apply to the UK. An EU free UK will have to negotiate its own arrangements with the US and Canada. Way to go UK, you are now on your own!

There is so much uncertainty around the Brexit decision that the financial markets experienced their biggest drop ever. All the major rating agencies have taken away the UK’s former “triple A” credit rating, and the GBP has even fallen against the Canadian dollar – 30 cents in 5 days – a 15% drop.

Finally I think the free movement of people, ideas, and commerce was what made the UK an amazing place to be. I have always been proud to say that the UK was part of Europe, in my mind that was akin to saying “I am a citizen of the world”. Maybe that won’t change, but something about the protectionist and nationalistic undercurrent to the Brexit campaign makes me think that this won’t be the prevailing sentiment.

Babies and Bath Water

I get that there is this bizarre nostalgia for “what Britain used to be”, but it is simply that, nostalgia. The world has changed, and the UK has had to change along with it, as a part of the EU or not.

The dissatisfaction with the social and economic situation in the UK will not be solved by roundly blaming our relationship with our largest trading partner. It certainly won’t be helped by feeding racist ideology and a fear of foreigners, which I sense was driving much of the vote.

Now in the aftermath of the vote, there is so much hyperbole that it is difficult to sort through for the common sense. So many of the people who voted to leave are now standing up and saying they didn’t know what they were voting for. Seems to me there was some irresponsible campaigning by the Brexit side and I feel as though the UK threw out the baby with the bath water when it voted.

Chindogu – The Japanese Art of Creating Almost Useless Objects

chindoguWorking from home is definitely more of a challenge than I could ever have imagined.

Normally a self-disciplined person, if I have stuff to do, I do it. But sitting at your desk, first thing in the morning, it seems like the whole day is stretching languorously before you. No commute to negotiate and no annoying cubicle leach to whittle away half your morning with his (I am sorry, but it usually is a ‘he’, of a certain age) fascinating tales of how he wiped the floor with the sales assistant when making his last major purchase (lawn mower, vacation, computer, TV etc).

To help me with this problem, Rob sent me a link to this article on David Seah’s website. It is about a ‘Procrastinators Clock’ which goes on your computer and guarantees to be up to 15 minutes fast at any one time. However, it changes how fast it is, so you never really know what the right time is, and, therefore, it is safer just to work on the assumption that the clock really is telling the right time and thus you are always early…

Apparently this type of gadget is something that the Japanese actually have a word to describe. The word is ‘Chindogu’. A Chindogu, to use the Wikipedia definition, is an object that seems, on the face of it, to solve a problem, but when it is used, it is so silly, socially embarrassing or problematic, that is actually no use whatsoever.

I love the examples that Wikipedia provides:

* a combined household duster and cocktail-shaker, for the housewife who wants to reward herself as she’s going along;

* the all-day tissue dispenser, which is basically a toilet roll fixed on top of a hat, for hay fever sufferers;

* duster slippers for cats, so they can help out with the housework;

I actually don’t see what’s wrong with a cocktail shaker/duster? What’s embarrassing or problematic with that?

Perhaps we should add here the gadget that the concerned pet owner from Huddersfield in the UK invented to allow him to ‘walk’ his goldfish?

In the process of wiriting this post I actually looked up Chindogu on Google Images and found many, many more examples. It’s worth a look. There are babies with dusters fitted to their romper suits, a pair of chopsticks with a built in fan to cool your noodles, a caulking machine that actually spreads jam instead of caulk, a telephone that has a barbell attached to it, so you can work out whenever the ‘phone rings. It goes on and on.

One of the defining features of Chindogu is that the idea is not supposed to be purely humourous. Which means that the people who invented these things were at least partly serious at the time.

A Man After My Own Heart

fishwalk 450x702So, continuing with this week’s fish- related theme, Rob sent me a link to this article. A man from Huddersfield in the UK (he would have to be British), developed this contraption so that he could take his fish, Ethel and Malcolm, out for a walk.

‘I was looking at my goldfish going round in circles in their bowl looking bored silly so I made this to take them out and about and they love it,’ he said.

It’s good to know there are like minded individuals out there….

Teenage Comeptetiveness

Today we are having a family party at the Dempsey’s. 36 of my Mum and Dad’s nearest and dearest will be showing up this afternoon to share a glass of Xmas cheer and a sausage roll. I have no clue where all these people are going to fit since my Mum and Dad’s house is crammed to the brim already with Rob, myself, Dawn, Dawn’s boyfriend, Adrian, who arrived yesterday (and resulted in much red-wine-drinking, but that is a whole other story), not to mention the dog and most of the furniture and nick nacks that used to fit snuggly in the huge five bedroomed place that they lived in before. It will be an interesting afternoon.

Among the guests will be my cousin Karen, who I have not seen for over six years. When I found out she was coming I experienced a weird reaction that I’ve not had since my early twenties. Karen is the same age as me, give or take a month or so and is visiting Liverpool from France, where she lives with her husband and two kids and runs a bed and breakfast.

When we were younger, Karen was a model. She is tall, has incredibly long legs, beautiful strawberry blond hair and pale blue eyes. She has always been a clothes horse, although she has a personal style to die for and an aloof shyness that, to me, always made her very cool, if a little frustrating to talk to. Oh, and did a I mention that whilst I was getting drunk on watered down lager in the student union in my Doc Martins and second hand leather jackets she was making TV commercials in Tokyo?

My IMMEDIATE reaction when Mum told me that she was coming was, “Yikes, I wonder if I’ll have time to get my hair done?” then my second most immediate reaction was “What? I thought I had grown out of that nonsense?”. I have a great life, a lovely husband and a (kind of) career, what have I got to feel threatened about? But old habits obviously die harder than I thought and somewhere in my ‘grown up’ psyche I am still attached to that shallow little world where beauty and coolness REALLY DO COUNT! Oh bugger, off to the hairdressers with me..

Xmas with the Dempsey’s

Both Rob and I have happily landed in the bosom of the Dempsey family in beautiful Caldy, West Kirby. On Wednesday, when we landed, it felt as though neither of us were ever going to get here. Rob’s flight from Heathrow to Manchester was just about the only one that left from London because of heavy fog, although it was delayed for over 12 hours.

My flight from Paris to Manchester arrived but we couldn’t get off because of some mechnical glitch with the tunnel that connects the plane to the terminal. When we finally rendez-vous’d, We both felt as though we’d been dwelling in the twilight zone for longer than is advisable for mere mortals. Rob got a taste of what my usual commute to Gabon is like, although his delay was actually shorter than my usual stop over in Paris and he wasn’t facing a 7 hour flight directly afterwards. Oh man, am I glad I don’t have to do that again anytime soon.

It’s lovely to be here. The location of Mum and Dad’s new house is fantastic. It’s 15 minutes walk from West Kirby, which is a small historic but bustling town, and only 3 minutes walk from the beach and a running/cycling trail that takes you for miles along the coast.

Much to Rob’s absolute disgust, I am catching up on all the UK TV that I’ve missed out on over the last 4 years. It’s difficult explaining to a non-British person why Strictly Come Dancing presented by the 78 year old Bruce Forsythe, is cool. I haven’t succeeded yet.

We had dinner at a tapas restaurant called Kuki’s to celebrate my birthday on Saturday night and wobbled home feeling as though we had eaten enough to last us until the middle of next January. I am definitely going to be a few pounds heavier on the plane on the way home. Today is Xmas Day and Mum, as usual, has pulled out all the culinary stops so today will be another eating extravanganza followed by much complaining and rolling around like beached whales this afternoon. Oh well, we don’t do it very often and we have to cram a number of years of home baking into only ten days.