The memory of ‘mischief’

MischiefI’d never buried a photo before. I was expecting it to feel awkward, odd even. Burying photographs was, in my mind at least, the past-time of the melodramatic.

But on this overcast autumnal Thursday morning it didn’t feel odd. It felt completely normal, completely natural, and as I found out, remarkably in common with others who have suffered the loss of miscarriage.

To understand how my wife and I got here I need to talk about a few months ago and the joyful surprise shock of finding out she was pregnant. It was certainly a surprise, but a very welcome one. The prospect of becoming first time parents is as exciting as it is utterly daunting. It is the sort of exciting that sits deep in your belly far away from the rationality of your mind.

Immediately however we were given words of caution. The pain in her gut we were told might be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy (we now think it was actually a symptom of endometriosis – a condition impacting around 2 million women in the UK alone and yet remains one of our societies many unspoken taboos).

There were however weeks, after which the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy was dismissed, where we could see a new life embedded into the womb, living, offering the promise of all that life could lay ahead of it.

There was one particular moment. A moment when my heart skipped a beat, when my life seemed to freeze for a second, when this gloop of cells that we had affectionately started referring to as ‘mischief’ showed a heartbeat, perhaps the most definitive sign of life. It is this moment that is both etched into my mind’s eye and also the one that is now printed on a piece of photographic paper decomposing in compost under an array of flowers.

As soon as we suspected a miscarriage was a possibility, my wife and I talked of a need we both felt to plant something, to grow something, to have something to mark this oh so sad possibility. At the time though I thought this was just us – something that said more about my wife and me than about the experience we were going through. It turns out however that this is remarkably common.

One of the wonderful staff at the hospital who talked to us with the patience and understanding that we needed gently dropped into conversation that decades earlier she had planted a tree. Her main reflection now is that she worries she wouldn’t be able to take it with her if she were ever to move house.

The hospital staff also gave us the compassionately crafted NHS literature on miscarriage which has a whole section on the prospect of burying something to mark the loss and that many also marked this by planting something nearby.

And so this is how we found ourselves folding a small photo of a gloop of mischief and placing it down into pot of moist compost. Mischief was measured in millimetres but sits with a magnitude hard to explain in our hearts. I can’t explain why but it feels right knowing that mischief is buried deep in moist compost surrounded by bulbs of snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells with a medley of late summer flowers sitting on top like a multi-coloured crown.

This is just my reflection of something that has happened to my wife and I, but one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage – which left me thinking how I had lived three decades of my life without hearing someone talk about it. I hope that if someone who has experienced a miscarriage reads this that they feel reassured that they are not alone.

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The end

It had to come at some point. It just did.

I feel sadder than you can imagine writing this. But this is, for now at least, the end of Hynd’s Blog.

A couple of months ago I wrote about how I hoped to fit blogging into my new job and life back in the UK. It was an ambitious plan that I really wanted to make work because I have, in an odd sort of way, grown to really love this blog.

Sadly though, despite the optimism (something that I like to think optimises the last 5 years on this blog), despite the support from so many friends, family and complete strangers, despite the very best of intentions, I just have not been able to implement this plan.

A number of factors have forced me into this situation. There are two that spring to mind.

Firstly, not having enough time to research topics that are close to my heart has pushed my writing closer and closer to either the descriptive or the repetitive of others opinions. Descriptive and repetitive are two adjectives that act as nails to an analytical blog’s coffin.

Secondly, the metaphorical biting of my virtual tongue that I referred to in my previous post has, sadly, pushed the content on Hynd’s Blog closer and closer to the mundane. Again, not the best adjective to be associated with a blog.

A little about the second point:

I am no longer just having to worry about my own reputation – something that it is easy to be flippant about – but also one of an elected Mayor. Most civilised readers of this blog would find it hard to comprehend the level of sinister attacks some are willing to make against the Mayor. I have little doubt that some of those attacking him would happily do this through personally attacking his staff. It is the opposite of the old adage playing the ball not the player.

It has already got to a stage where not saying something online leads to quite unpleasant personal attacks.

In an effort to not fuel these trolls I realise that I have moved beyond the cautious and into the utterly mundane. With the odd exception, I have not written anything of any particular interest in the last few months.

For someone who is surrounded by inspiration, innovation and interest and who is driven by intrigue into it all, this realisation profoundly saddens me.

I cannot see this situation changing and so part of my decision to end Hynd’s Blog is based on a desire not to see it limp on for the coming months.

Looking back though, Hynd’s Blog is something that I remain profoundly proud of. It has dipped in an out of the top 100 influential UK political blogs, it been visited by hundreds of thousands of people and most of all, it has, on the rarest of occasions, succeeded in convincing people to change their minds on a given subject.

I am proud beyond words of what Hynd’s Blog has grown to be and I hope that at some point, it will have a future.

With all this in mind all is left to say is a huge thank you to you for coming along for the ride – it has been a blast!

Steve

PS – I plan to cross-post anything I publish elsewhere so stay signed up if you want to be notified of when I post these occasional articles!

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Elections 2015 – a mug’s game

Campaigns are brewing in the lead up to the General Election 2015. Have a look at these two mugs produced by the Labour Party and the Green Party respectively:

controls on immigration

In the age of easy photo editing I checked the best I could to make sure this wasn’t a spoof. Apparently it isn’t.

This is what politics in the UK is reduced to – a mug’s game!

 

Update – some asked how I knew this wasn’t a spoof. I don’t know for sure but they both seem to have the product up on their websites (you can purchase either mug from here (Labour) or here (Green)) and I even asked a sitting (Lib Dem) MP (see here).

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Prove your sexuality – the impossible ask of asylum seekers in the UK

pg-16-apata
Today’s Independent reported on the case of Aderonke Apata, a Nigerian in the UK who is claiming asylum on the grounds of her sexuality. It reports:

‘The Home Secretary’s barrister, Andrew Bird, argued that Ms Apata was “not part of the social group known as lesbians” but had “indulged in same-sex activity”. He continued: “You can’t be a heterosexual one day and a lesbian the next day. Just as you can’t change your race.”’

2015 in case you are wondering.

Yep, it is 2015 and we still have a government department putting on record statements like this.

As if this wasn’t enough Mr Brid is quoted referencing her well documented mental health issues (including post-traumatic stress and an attempted suicide) as saying:

if she is suicidal and depressed she is making a jolly good show of it’.

By jolly good god.

This was so ludicrously absurd that I had to double check that this wasn’t a liberal baiting spoof! As far as I can tell it isn’t. These are the actual words of a man paid to represent the Home Office.

Mr Bird’s argument is based on a legal idea that goes something like this…just because an asylum seeker self-identifies as a lesbian, and indeed sleeps with other women, she is not actually a lesbian.

Want to know the logic? Read on…

In short, Mr Bird’s argument is based on the idea that because she has not always self-identified as a lesbian, she has, by ‘coming out’, shown her sexuality is changeable. Which conveniently fits her into some mad legal category which is outside of the ‘particular social group’ definition in the Refugee Convention.

Ever feel like law sits outside of common sense?

Well don’t be so quick to judge. A counter argument sitting much more closely within the humanitarian bounds of sanity was presented in this case (and many before). Our blogging friends over at the Justice Gap summarizes it well:

‘What Mr Bird’s case fails to take into account… is the stream of case law which shows that the real test is whether a characteristic is in the control of the individual to change (and so ‘mutable’) or whether it is a part of themselves that they cannot at this time be expected or able to change (and so ‘immutable’). So for example a child seeking asylum cannot force themselves to be older so they are not at risk on return and likewise a lesbian asylum seeker cannot simply choose to change their sexuality. This is notwithstanding that a child will eventually grow up and that there may have been a time in her past where a lesbian woman had not identified herself as a lesbian.’

The stakes in this game of pedantic legal back and forth are high however. Homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years in prison in Nigeria (thanks to recent laws) and there has been a spike in violence against gay people within the country (related to international pressure?).

There are very real human consequences to this decision.

The judge is yet to make a final call – Hynd’s Blog waits with a virtual weight in its stomach for the verdict.

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Life in Bristol: Monbiot, puppets and singer-song writers

Monbiot

One of the amazing things about living in Bristol is the diversity and range of (what I affectionately refer to as) ‘extra-curricular activity for grown ups’. In other words, stuff to do outside of work time.

In the last couple of weeks I have been to Bristol Hippodrome to watch ‘War Horse’ (One sentence review – really really impressive, just not as impressive people make it to be), to The Exchange to listen to American singer-song writer, Tim Barry (One sentence review – full angst, emotion and lyrical word play scooped up into an impressive live performance in a cool venue), and to the University of Bristol to listen to George Monbiot give a free public lecture as part of the ‘Festival of Ideas’ on ‘What a Green Government Could do if it Really Tried’ (One sentence review – a challenging, entertaining talk delivered with no notes that, although it rarely touched on the title of the talk, provided plenty of food for thought).

This diversity of stuff to do is part of what makes Bristol such a cool place to live. Whatever your budget, there is, on any given night, something amazing to do.

Anyway – if you are unlucky enough to be not living in Bristol then never fear! As the Festival of Ideas have been good enough to upload the Monbiot talk I thought it would be nice to share a little bit of this Bristol love and post it here…

Hope you enjoy listening to it – let me know what you think (can we bring elephants to Bristol???).

 

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Bristol City Council commits to go fossil fuel free

disinvestment
Bristol City Council has committed to go fossil fuel free! Or, more specifically, to not knowingly invest funds into companies whose primary business is fossil fuel extraction.

Despite the fact that Bristol City Council, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t currently hold any direct investments in fossil fuels anyway is beside the point. The entrenching of an ethical investment policy by a public institution is more about the potential to raise people’s awareness as it about ensuring that the Council will not fund the industries that are, at least in part, responsible for the dangers facing us and our planet due to climate change.

In short, I think this news is huge and really exciting.

And yet strangely the up-take of this news has been limited.

Bristol’s Mayor, George Ferguson, tweeted it to his 27,000 followers, there was a mention in passing in the Guardian and the campaign group pushing for fossil fuel disinvestment wrote a short blog!

That combined with an excited text message from my friend (incidentally I love that I have friends who get excited about fossil fuel disinvestment) seems to be the only ripples this news has had.

Even Bristol Greens, who played a significant part in securing this, seemed to be oddly quiet having published a general article on disinvestment last Friday that makes no mention of this exciting news coming from Bristol!

I think it only fair that a hat tip goes to Green Party Cllr Charlie Bolton who tabled a question at January’s member’s forum that led to the amendment of Bristol County Council’s ‘Ethical Investment Policy’.

On a related note, I am delighted that another organisation that at some point deemed me employable, the Quakers of Britain, have been really vocal during the recent ‘disinvestment events’ and have adopted an awesome position on the subject:

“Friends have discerned that investment in these companies is incompatible with a commitment made by Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) to become a low-carbon, sustainable community.”

Quakers are once again leading the way showing the role religious institutions can play in ethical investment, as Bristol is for local authorities.

As I say, I think these are some of the first pretty exciting yet tentative steps in tackling the entrenched carbon intensive norm that currently operates within our society.

You can read more about Quaker’s disinvestment here and more about Bristol’s disinvestment here.

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Why the recent silence on Hynd’s Blog?

The observant amongst you would have noticed a near unprecedented month’s silence on Hynd’s blog. What can I say other than sorry?

Well lots…I can give you an explanation and my plan ahead.

In the last month I have packed my bags and left Uganda, meandered my way through East Africa and ended back here in the place I will always think of as home, the West Country of England. Specifically I am in Bristol (aka Brizzle).

And what brings me back to these wet and windy shores I hear you ask? Well…politics of course!

I have accepted a job as (and this is a job title that I cringe at slightly) ‘Head of Mayor’s Office’ in Bristol City Council with the independent Mayor, George Ferguson. More about this in a second – promise.

This last month’s virtual silence has been filled with a whirlwind of activity including climbing Mt Kenya, Africa’s 2nd highest peak (after a particularly severe bout of food poising), a 32 hour train ride between Nairobi and Mombasa (an “experience”), packing and unpacking houses back in the UK and now, finally, the completion of my first week in my new job.

Never has the phrase ‘no rest for the wicked’ been more apt.

While much of the above adventures could have been something to blog about in itself I simply have not had the time sat in front of a computer to translate experiences into blogs – let alone to keep up my near obsessive following of British politics that formulates itself into so much of the content.

What can I say other than sorry?

Oh yes – the plan ahead…

Working for the Mayor means that I will have to make a few shifts in how Hynd’s Blog operates. Firstly, I think it is important to say that I can’t be quite as impartial as I was before. I have always written things as I have seen them – laying praise on those I thought deserved it and criticising actions that I thought deserved criticism. Although the Mayor is an independent he (and by extension I) have to work across the political spectrum. This means trying my hardest to not piss people off (the anti-thesis to some bloggers’ objective). This means at times holding my virtual tongue.

Secondly it is to say that if my first week in the job is anything to judge life by, I am now working in many of the hours that I have traditionally set aside for blogging. Even when in full-time employment before I have always found occasional lunch-times, breaks and after work hours to smash my opinion into the keyboard. Lunch-meetings and evening functions make it look like this will be quite hard to keep going. This means less regular blogs.

But on the positive side this new position exposes me to a whole word of fascinating progressive projects and politics that I am sure I can and will take great pleasure in sharing, analysing and responding to. Just today I have visited the incredible Knowle DGE school in south Bristol (an amazing school for kids with – very different special needs), Elm Tree Farm (a super impressive social enterprise) and this evening I will be heading to Bristol Youth Mayor’s election results.

I hope you will be as interested in reading about these sorts of things as I will be to keep writing.

And so the coming months will see Hynd’s Blog take a less regular format but one that I hope will still inspire people to come back and read, respond and share the content of Hynd’s Blog.

I am as passionate as ever….just busy!

Oh, and as always, if anyone’s is interesting in blogging on a subject to thousands of readers then please do read the ‘Contribute’ page.

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What is a ‘major political party’? Greens to overtake UKIP in membership size

leaders
It is expected that in the coming weeks the Green Party will become the fifth largest political party in the UK by overtaking UKIP in terms of membership.

According to new figures collected by Adam Ramsay at Open Democracy, the Green Party are now just a few hundred members short of UKIP and a few thousand short of the Liberal Democrats.

Labour  190,000
Tory  149,800
SNP 92,000
Lib Dems 44,576
UKIP 41,514
Greens 40,879
Plaid  8000
BNP  500

This latest twist in membership size will only add weight to those who are calling for the Green Party to be included in the TV leaders debates. What would constitute a ‘major party’ (what Ofcom deems them not to be) if it is not more members than UKIP, beating Lib Dems in some polls and getting more votes and MEPs than the Lib Dems in May’s European Elections?

Of course, the political elephant in this very Westminster room is the SNP that currently have roughly double the membership of the Lib Dems and are being tipped by some to wipe out Labour in Scotland.

Are the SNP not a ‘major party’ in UK politics?

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The time is now for young people to revolutionize British politics

The Green Party of England and Wales have huge support among young voters. The problem for the Greens is that it is traditionally these young voters who do not make it to the ballot box.

YouGov

22% of 18-24 year old voters recently told YouGov that they plan to vote for the Greens. That is the same figure as those who intend to vote Tory, 50% more than those who intend to vote UKIP and more than four times those who plan to vote Lib Dem.

The obvious problem for the Green Party is that these voters, who they are so popular among, are also traditionally the ones who fail to make it to the ballot box on polling day.

Indeed in the 2010 General Election less than half of young voters eligible to vote took up the opportunity. One poll suggested that 60% of the UK’s 3.3 million first time voters in 2105 will not vote.

In contrast, about 70% of over 65s will vote.

If young people voted in similar proportions to the older generations our political landscape would look very different to the tired two-party-politics we see today.

The fact that young people don’t vote in large numbers is depressing not just for Green Party activists but also for our democracy in general.

From this I take a simple message. If you are looking for a pragmatic, realistic and effective way of revolutionizing how we do politics in the UK, you could find worse ideas than supporting initiatives that encourage youth engagement.

There are various movements and campaigns around but the one that seems to making the difference this time around is ‘Bite the Ballot‘. They have done an online Q and A with each of the party leaders (you can watch them here), placed young people in the heart of our local government, and pushed for wide-spread voter registration.

In short, I think they are doing important work at an important time.

If you want, you can follow ‘Bite the Ballot’ on twitter by clicking here. You can also donate to their work by clicking here.

Supporting initiatives like these should draw cross-party support. Greens and Labour might have the most to gain tactically from better democratic engagement with young people, but ultimately we will all benefit from a healthier democracy.

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Tell Cameron and Obama to let Shaker Aamer home to his family

Shaker AI
If you, the wonderful reader of Hynd’s Blog, have a spare 30 seconds I would urge you to support an issue close to my heart. Click here to sign the Amnesty International petition calling for the release or trial of Shaker Aamer, the one remaining British resident in Guantanamo Bay.

The petition simply calls for Obama and Cameron to:

  • Secure the release of Shaker Aamer and return him to the UK without delay, if he is not to be charged and brought to fair trial
  • Give Shaker Aamer immediate and regular access to independent medical assessments and care
  • Immediately investigate all allegations that Shaker Aamer has been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment and ensure that anyone found responsible is brought to justice

I, alongside 12,860 people have already signed this petition. Please join us. Then please do also encourage friends and family to do the same.

Together we can raise a voice loud enough that will force the authorities to listen.

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Awesome cartoon column from Cheltenham MP, Martin Horwood

A hat tip to Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood and the local rag The Echo for publishing this cartoon column in light of the attacks in Paris last week.

Jan2015_MartinHorwood_JesuisCharlie 1
Jan2015_MartinHorwood_JesuisCharlie2

 

Nice to see a MP thinking creatively about how to communicate important messages around freedom of speech and thought

 

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Green Party Deputy Leader to take on Labour Party Deputy Leader at General Election

Amelia Womack

In a small quirky twist of British politics the Green Party today announced that their Deputy Leader, Amelia Womack, will be standing at the General Election in Camberwell and Peckham against Labour’s Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman.

Womack, who previously unsuccessfully stood to become a MEP and local cllr, was elected Deputy Leader last September. She holds a BSc in Environmental Biology and an MSc in Environmental Technology.

Harman was elected MP for Camberwell and Peckham in 2010 with a huge 59.2% of the vote. The Greens stood the high profile London AM Jenny Jones in 2010 and received just 2.9% of the vote.

Although unlikely to win, or even stop Harriet Harman from being returned to parliament, Womack might well preside over a significant increase in the Green vote in the constituency as large amounts of the 22.4% of Lib Dem votes will be up for grabs.

The challenge for Labour will be to pick up enough of the former Lib Dem votes to stop a significant rise in the Green support that might place them as an awkward and credible threat for future elections.

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Labour lead but support dropping as Greens continue to grow

The Labour Party Hold Their Annual Party Conference - Day 5

Ed Miliband has every reason to be looking glum as despite seeing Labour leading in the polls he has hit an all time low in personal ratings and his party has dropped support throughout 2014. 

To support their latest polling, YouGov have produced this neat little chart that tracks voting intention over the last three months.

3 month voting intention
Some in the Labour Party have got all excited that, despite those embarrassing glitches in December, this poll shows them ahead of Conservatives. The Green Party are also delighted that, once again, this poll shows them ahead of the Lib Dems.

The problem for the Labour Party though is illustrated in this other YouGov chart which looks further back at voting intentions across 2014.

voting intention 2014

Here we can see the long-term trend of Labour support dropping throughout 2014.

What is equally interesting is how this drop in support for Labour correlates with Miliband hitting an all time low with his popularity ratings. Is Labour’s drop in the polls a reflection of Miliband’s all time unpopularity, or vice-versa? A chicken and egg question.

Miliband

And so the question remains – where are these Labour supporters from the early coalition years going? And thus we move onto the relative growth of the Greens.

YouGov paints a nice picture of Green Party support consistently growing through 2014 which resulted in YouGov proclaiming ‘Greens ahead of Lib Dems in longer trend‘ in an article in December 2014.

While Greens are only picking up about about 4% of the 2010 Labour vote two additional points have to be made:

1) Labour dropping another 4% from their 2010 low point to the Greens is significant.
2) Labour, in the last year, have continued to drop in popularity when, while in opposition, they should be riding high on anti-government sentiment – they are not.

Before Green readers get too excited though it is worth pointing out that this growth in support is unlikely to result in any additional seats. In Norwich South (feasibly the Green’s second target) a Lord Ashcroft poll showed them doing well but considerably behind Labour.

As with many seats, the battle to pick up former Lib Dem voters between the Greens and Labour may well prove crucial.

The General Election in 2015 will bring more of the same in terms of overall outcome but it might, just might, also go down in history as the start of the breakdown of two party politics.

 

 

 

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David Drew still on odds on favourite to win back Stroud seat

ladbrokesDavid Drew, the former MP for Stroud and Labour Party candidate for 2015, is still odds on favourite to win back the Stroud marginal seat according to new odds tweeted by Ladbrokes.

This shows no real significant change since February last year when Hynd’s Blog reported that Ladbrooks had Drew at 4/9 to win back his old seat.

If you were interested in an outside bet though, Ladbrokes are now giving odds for the Green Party at 50/1.

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Take rosettes out of politics to help resuscitate democracy

rosette_1628747c

This is not a radical cry for the removal of political parties from our decision making mechanism. Far from it. This is merely a cry to those tiny number of people on the insides of national and local parties. Please, for the love of Hynd’s Blog, take off those ridiculous rosettes.

They are a symbol of one of the strongest held perceptions in politics and that is that politicians cannot be trusted. If you want to be listened to – start by taking off your rosettes.

For a long-time now I have encouraged any candidate of any political party to take off their rosette. This normally occurs when they are about to go infringing on people’s personal space and time by ‘door knocking’.

I do this not because their particular flavour of political party might be unpopular than but because politics per se is.

Or, to be more accurate, politicians are.

By wearing a rosette politicians shoot themselves in the foot on the first step they hope to take on their journey of democratic representation.

At the crux of my argument is the assertion that if you want a constituent to talk to you, let alone trust or vote for you, then you need to give yourself a fighting chance in the first few seconds on the doorstep. This is unlikely to happen if you were a badge that basically says, ‘Watch out, I’m a politician.’

As much as you might honestly believe that you are different to all the others, or your party is not like those overs, most people don’t share these subtleties. They see you – a politician – as untrustworthy.

New polling from IPSOS-Mori out today highlights how deeply rooted this mistrust of politicians is. Just 16% of respondents said they would trust a politician to tell the truth. This is an opinion as old as IPSOS-Mori’s polling.

IPSOS Mori
In other words, even if you got a constituent to listen to you, about 84% of constituents wouldn’t trust what you have to say. This is more than bankers…a profession not known at the moment for their commitment to honesty.

This might seem like a trivial point but it is one of the pebbles on the starting line of democracy that is tripping up genuine interaction and engagement.

It’s axiomatic that the removal of the rosette is only the first step to rebuilding trust. The long road ahead in our efforts to resuscitate democracy involves strange concepts like keeping promises and working hard to represent constituents needs.

But that is for tomorrow. Today, still with 4 months left until the election, I beg and implore candidates and sitting MPs, MEPs and Cllrs alike – get rid of those ridiculous rosette.

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Why I keep on blogging: Reflections on 2014

firstImage

Walking with friends in mid-Wales

One of the many things that inspired me in 2014 was reading Henry Coetzee’s assertion that (and I paraphrase from memory) ‘there are few things cooler in life than getting an action photo of yourself doing something awesome but few things less cool than stopping the action to take a photo’.

I couldn’t agree more.

And so it is that I am writing my reflections of Hynd’s Blog for 2014 a few days before the end of the year because, in my mind at least, there are few things cooler than writing about life in all its wonderful contradictory complexity, but there are few things less cool than spending time online when there is life to be lived outside the window.

My next couple of days will take me into the internet nether zone of the mid-Wales valleys to spend New Years with old friends. My computer will be left where it belongs – on my desk at home and so these reflections will come a few days early.

This project, Hynd’s Blog, has always been, for me at least, about enhancing, understanding and/or challenging life – not replacing it.

I find it so interesting that this is a distinction that so many bloggers seems unable to spot.

Anyway, before I disappear into mid-Wales I wanted to reiterate my thanks to each and every one of you lovely people who take the time to read my ramblings. You’re ace and don’t let anyone ever tell you anything else!

Seriously, you are the only thing that distinguishes all this from a virtual equivalent of locking myself into a dark room and talking to myself. You are what makes Hynd’s Blog a conversation.

So…Thank you!

And what a rather large conversation it has grown into.

Hynd’s Blog continues to grow into something that I had no idea it had the potential to do. Tens of thousands of people come to read my ramblings every month and this, quite literally, never ceases to surprise and equally delight me.

From all over the world people are coming to read, to comment, and to interact with issues that mean the world to me. From local politics to the finer details of micro brewing; from human rights violations to the relative merits of lower league football people are coming here, to Hynd’s Blog, to engage with them.

As amazing and wonderful as I find this, it also adds a pressure, in my mind at least, to keep Hynd’s Blog being something worth reading. At times good articles seem to flow easily from my meandering mind to article form and at others it feels like drawing blood from a stone.

At these lowest times those, the times when I wonder why I bother writing, I have almost invariably been lifted by the sweetest of emails from both friends and strangers that makes it all somehow feel worthwhile.

Haters will always be haters (and believe me there are plenty of them) but it is each of you that have made the effort to leave an interesting or kind message or comment that makes me want to keep Hynd’s Blog going.

Hynd’s Blog remains a labour of love and you are part of it.

2015 will see me move back to Bristol after a few years of living in Uganda…Different people and issues will be on my doorstep but I am excited as ever to keep writing about them.

I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that you are as excited to keep reading and interacting with them.

If so, roll on 2015…

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Green Party to hold Brighton Pavilion in 2015 General Election

Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas

Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas

According to the latest Lord Ashcroft polling of marginal constituencies across the UK, the Green Party are set to hold onto their only current seat, Brighton Pavilion.

The polling puts the Green Party ten points ahead of Labour (38 to Labour’s 28%).

Both parties see the Brighton Pavilion seat as their number one target for the South East of England.

Significantly the polling finds the Green Party picking up a huge 44% of 2010 Lib Dem voters. Labour in contrast picks up just 21% (with the Lib Dems picking up just 13%). This is opposite of the national picture which sees Labour picking up roughly double the Green Party of former Lib Dem voters.

Equally, the polling suggests Labour have been unable to plug the hole that saw so many former Labour voters turn to the Green Party in Brighton. The polling found that 27% of 2010 Labour voters were planning on backing the Greens. This is compared to about 4% nationally suggesting that either the Greens/Labour are doing something locally that is swaying voters and/or that Labour voters do switch to the Greens when they think the Greens have a chance of winning.

Labour however, to their credit, do appear to be matching the Greens in their campaigning efforts with about 1 in 4 of those polled saying that had heard from Greens and/or Labour in recent weeks.

It will be a bitterly battled fight but at the moment it looks like the Greens are on course to return their only MP, Caroline Lucas.

Read more on the marginal polling here.

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24 hours in the UK

slad
Last year when my plane touched down at Heathrow coming back from Uganda I was met with a wonderful scene to welcome me back to old blighty. Queuing to enter the terminal building, what the British do best, an elegant determined woman pushed to the front of queue – sacrilege! One chap next to me notices that I have clocked this queue jumping outrage and chips in with the comment, “fucking French huh”.

What a welcome back to the UK – baseless xenophobic queue based hatred all performed to the backdrop tinny Christmas carols under a smattering of drizzle!

This year I was a smidgen disappointed to find no Christmas carols on repeat but delighted to make it out of the airport without witnessing any casual racism.

Once back in the hills and valleys of the ‘West Country’ though I took little time to head out for a walk. Thinking that this is what made the UK amazing I walked with uncharacteristic clear skies and meek winter sunshine hitting the frost covered ground. I was in a buoyed mood striding across farmer’s fields and down hidden valleys following bubbling brooks.

This mood was lifted further though with what truly makes the Great Britain great. With every dog walker passed a friendly ‘good morning’ was chirped followed by a compulsive observation of the uncharacteristically good weather: “wonderful day for it” or “you couldn’t ask for a better day” before then swiftly apologising for their dog who would be eagerly sniffing my trouser legs.

These small interactions last less than a few seconds but make up an integral part of the DNA of British culture.

Warmed by the simple pleasant jollity of rural British life I stopped in the open fire warmth of a local pub – the Woolpack in Slad – where I had arranged to meet family.

Sat sipping local real ales on slightly uncomfortable wooden furniture (why is that both pubs and churches consider it a virtue to have furniture that in other walks of life would be considered completely unfit for purpose?) I watched dogs curl up on the floor close to their owner muddy wellington boots. With a low warm afternoon winter sun breaking through the window I sat back with family around me and listened to the impromptu piano/saxophone performance that only added to the ambiance.

Outside, after a hearty pub lunch, we strode up Swift’s Hill which enjoys some of the finest views in the region down over the Slad Valley across the market town of Stroud and out to the Severn Valley and across to the Black Mountains in Wales. A few clouds clung to the horizon to exaggerate the sunset as wonderful pinks and oranges were thrown over the fields and footpaths.

It felt like the weather was welcoming me back to the UK, giving me 24 hours of pleasure before it inevitably resumed in the monotony of drizzle that everyone seems to perpetually believe might stop at any moment but so rarely does.

Walking back over the fields I make a decision to call into another pub on the way home. Instead of live piano/saxophone renditions, this pub instead has the unmistakable sound of football coming from the TV screens. Excited to be able to watch my national sport with my fellow countrymen I step in and order my pint of warm frothing ale.

Looking for a place to sit I approach a stranger with the prerequisite of “excuse me, I am terribly sorry, but would you mind if I possibly took a seat” motioning towards one of five empty seats surrounding him. Smiling warmly the man looks up from his Daily Telegraph with impeccable replicable manners and says, “Please, it would be an honour”.

How wonderful is that – being told it would be an honour for me to sit next to him.

Buoyed by these little interactions I sit happily watching Arsenal score four goals with the return of their star striker – Giroud. In an unspoken acknowledgment I suggest to the man next to me through nothing more than eye contact that I was happy, that I was delighted to be back in the UK and that in that moment I could think of nothing I would rather be doing.

Responding to this the man next to me commented in a perfect middle England accent, “Typical isn’t it”. “What’s that?” I responded. “The fucking French keeping such an English institution like Arsenal afloat” he sneered.

Sigh.

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Living the best day ever

This is a cross-post of an article that I wrote for the Africa edition of ehospice news reflecting on the lessons learnt from Hendri Coetzee’s book ‘Living the best day ever’. 

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Palliative care, by definition, is both a science and an art form that involves accepting the reality of death. What you have left when you accept this is what the profession calls ‘preserving or improving the quality of life’.

Never before though, have I been challenged to re-examine the concept of ‘quality of life’ than when reading Hendri Coetzee’s book: ‘Living the best day ever’.

Hendri Coetzee was a South African living in Uganda perpetually searching for the best day ever. This search led him to become a legend throughout the extreme sports and exploration world.

In 2004 Hendri led the first ever complete descent of River Nile from source (Lake Victoria) to sea (the Mediterranean). The 4,160 mile trip took four and a half months and crossed two war zones.

Coetzee was also the first person to run the rapids above the Nile’s Murchison Falls, a section of river filled with some of the biggest white water in the world, and holding one of the highest concentrations of crocodiles and hippos.

He would go on to complete this section of river a further seven times and he remains the only person ever to run the section by himself. He also ran large sections of the upper and lower Congo River, walked 1000 miles along the Tanzanian coast and was the first person ever to snowboard the glaciers in the Ruwenzori Mountains.

In short, his résumé was one of the most impressive in the business.

It was not, however, his outlandish adventures that makes Coetzee’s book such a challenge for anyone to read, but his burning passion for life. Deep within all of his adventures was an intertwined journey to accept the fullness of life – to be able to appreciate it to its full. Only by understanding and ultimately accepting one’s death, Coetzee believed, can we truly experience a ‘quality of life’.

Speaking to some, and by no means all, palliative care patients I have come across a stillness – a deeper happiness – that I have rarely seen elsewhere. It is a happiness that comes fundamentally from within, a spiritual or psychological wellbeing.

Does this come from an acceptance of one’s own death?

Early on in the book, when undertaking the Murchison Falls section of white water, Coetzee writes: “In our society we avoid the thought of death as if recognition alone could trigger the event. Thinking about your own death is seen as a sign that mentally, all is not well. Some people live their entire lives with the sole purpose of minimising the chances of it occurring to them, instead of preparing for the inevitable. After avoiding the issue for so long, it is almost soothing to invite death on my terms.”

Reflecting on this, I wonder how many palliative care practitioners spend their professional hours encouraging patients to think about their deaths, to make preparations and to become comfortable with the idea whilst then perpetuating the myth in their own lives that life is infinite?

I only speak for myself when I write that I am too often guilty of this self-delusion.

To live a truly high ‘quality of life’ do we have to be comfortable with the idea of our death? I don’t know.

For Coetzee though, this acceptance was clearly linked to the life he chose to lead. Writing about his desire to keep going on clearly dangerous expeditions he wrote: “Psychoanalysts may diagnose a death wish, but missions like these enhance the appreciation of life. It is no coincidence that death and rebirth are related in all forms of religion and spirituality. When you accept that you are going to die, and it will be sooner than you think, it becomes impossible to merely go through the motions.”

Even the acceptance of my own inevitable death cannot push me to actions that so invite the prospect of death earlier than it otherwise would arrive. There is too much to live for to put my life on the line in search of living just that one day to the extreme – in the search for the best day ever.

That said, it is imperative for the palliative care community to understand the full spectrum of thought that exists out there. Just as there are people who are terrified of the concept of their own passing so there are people like Coetzee that can write the following words:

“Death is coming for us all…the day we will have to face the crossing will come sooner than we think. I hope my day is many many years away, but… I don’t want to make the greatest leap in life in a vague dream. I want to have the chance to look it in the eye, to say: ‘You have had me in your sights all your life, but it’s on my terms that I come.’ Tibetans believe that one can find enlightenment at the moment of your death, as long as you prepared yourself for it during life…I have had the best day ever more times than I remember. So yes, I believe I am ready to die if that is what is needed to live as I want to.”

Hendri Coetzee was pulled from his kayak by a crocodile deep inside the Democratic Republic of the Congo and his body was never recovered.

At the end of his last ever blog entry though, after completing a section of river that many assumed impossible to kayak, he wrote: “We stood precariously on a unknown slope deep in the heart of Africa, for once my mind and heart agreed, I would never live a better day.”

I have no idea if – when it came – Hendri Coetzee was prepared for his death. It is clear though, that he lived life to the full and died in way he had to have expected.

Not many of us can say that and for that alone ‘Living the best day ever’ is worth reading. I think we can all learn something from Hendri Coetzee approach to both life and death.

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Filed under Health, Social comment, Travel, Uganda

Greens ahead of Lib Dems in 3 YouGov polls in a row

YouGov

 

The Green Party are, for the first time, consistently ahead of the Liberal Democrats in YouGov polling.

The Green Party have in the past been level pegging or just beating the Liberal Democrats. But as I wrote before, it would be disingenuous to suggest that ‘Greens are ahead of the Lib Dems’ in the polls in general.

In the most recent three pollings for YouGov however the Greens have finished ahead of the Lib Dems on each occasion (see data set 1, 2, and 3).

It is interesting to note that in these last three polls, the Green Party are picking up an average of 18% of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010. In other words, just under one in five former Lib Dem voters are now planning on voting Green.

This will have a huge impact on Labour (who themselves are losing 4% of their 2010 vote to the Greens) who are relying on the exodus from the Lib Dems to bolster their stuttering performance in the polls.

It is important to note however that this is just one polling company – when we look at the average across different companies we can see the Lib Dems maintaining a lead of 2% over the Greens (see UK polling report).

That said, this is yet another milestone on a ‘Green surge’ that is increasingly becoming hard for the political establishment to ignore.

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