helenic: (Default)
Denny and I are on holiday in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria - our apartment is a stone's throw from La Playa de las Canteras. The waves were huge today!

It was 23 degrees, glorious sunshine with only the occasional cloud, and the breakers were enormous. The bay is a perfect crescent with a line of rocks making a D out of it, visible at full tide as an unbroken line of white wave crests. At low tide you can see the rocks forming an eerily straight barrier. The big waves usually wear themselves out on it, so the water that arrives at the beach is usually nice and calm. But this afternoon at full tide the waves were so high they rode straight over the barrier, massive breakers twelve feet high - and it felt a lot higher when you were right in front of one.

Denny and I had done some lying and walking on the beach in the morning, but there had been more clouds than sun, so we went to the gym instead and lifted things. We came out again to blazing sunshine, so we dashed back to the apartment and changed into our beach things, bought giant protein shakes and walked along the beach in the shallows swigging them out of the bottle and feeling happy. The waves were making grabs at our shoulder bags, so we put them on the top of one of the sand dunes and splashed back into the surf in our swimwear and sunglasses. The waves were proper playful. One got our bags wet after only a couple of minutes, and we had to rethink how far back they needed to be. I watched a young man near us run gleefully into the ocean and do a dive roll forward somersault into a wave right as it crested. I wanted to play too!

So I left Denny with the bags and went for it. I can't remember the last time I swam in waves that big. It took me a while to get the hang of it. The pull back out to sea in the shallows was so strong it was hard to keep your footing, and then when the foam rushed in it was so powerful it swept me off my feet more than once.

Out a bit deeper and it's vertical walls of dark blue water rushing towards you. If they break before they reach you, you just have to try and stand firm; if they haven't broken yet you can jump up and float over the top. But if they break right on top of you then there's a risk you'll be pushed under and tumbled head to toe along the sea bed, the force of the water pinning you down until the wave passes and you can splutter back up. The first time that happened I lost the green heart shaped sunglasses I bought at Head Space Stores last year. They were sacrificed to the sea god.

After the second time I got pushed under, I remembered how to do it; if the wave is about to break on your head you hold your breath and swim straight through it under the crest. It only takes a second because the wave is moving faster than you are, so you emerge on the other side an instant later in smooth waters. Albeit without your sunglasses. I thought I saw them floating in the distance a couple of times, but I must have been imagining it; the sea never gave them back.

Out past the breakers, treading water, the waves are magnificent. Rolling mountains and valleys moving much faster than you, immensely powerful, so all you can do is bob up and down on them like a ship. I felt like a tiny speck, at the mercy of immense forces. It's a fantastic adrenaline rush to watch a cliff face of water twice your height racing towards you, not knowing if you're going to be able to ride over it or have to dive through it.

Salt in my eyes and my nose and my hair, the sun dazzling, the waves beating down on me faster than my heartbeat, each one treading the heels of the next without giving me time to get my breath back. Fucking incredible.

Once my foot struck rock and I thought maybe I should head back in, I realised it was easier said than done; the undertow was powerful and the breakers hazardous. The ocean pawed at my feet, not wanting to let me go. I managed to escape eventually, and then after breathing hard, laughing my ass off and telling Denny how brilliant it was, I dived right back in for more.

I'm always in awe of the immensity of the ocean, but the experience of it up close, towering over you, about to lift you up or smash you down, is unlike any other. Those moments when it tumbled me down under water were profound. There's nothing you can do except stay calm, hold your breath and wait for it to let you up. It's like being played with by a giant, deadly predator, braving a dash between its paws until it catches you and pins you down, and that's it, you're helpless until it decides to let you get up again. The booming splendour of its growls, the crushing strength of its pounces. I wrestled the waves for a while, surrendered to their power and emerged unscathed, and they wanted to keep playing long after I was exhausted. Walking back up the beach, exhilaration coursing through my body and salt crusting in my hair, I could swear I heard the ocean purring.

Parkour

May. 12th, 2013 10:03 pm
helenic: (elephant reaching to the moon)
I've recently taken up parkour/freerunning. [personal profile] denny got into it a year ago, and I've spent most of the intervening period tolerating him incessantly showing me freerunning videos with varying degrees of patience. (Most of the videos are of people with very advanced skills, and I find them more off-putting than anything else: I'll never be that much of a ninja, so what's the point?)

A few weeks ago, sick of never getting to see him on Sundays, I went along with him to a training session. I had a good time, despite being relatively unfit, started learning about how to jump, and enjoyed throwing myself with determination at various walls until I managed to scale them.

After that I started insisting that Denny show me parkour videos made by women, such as Tam with a Cam. These felt a bit more accessible. But the video I found most motivating was by TraceurSteel, one of the Supa XXL Sunday Trainings crew (this is the group that Denny mostly trains with, and which I had gone along to), which showed him warming up, stretching, drilling and conditioning, including trying and failing the same thing over and over again. This was much more immediately inspiring for me than a showreel of successes.

I went back a couple more times. Today was my fourth session training with the Supa XXL crew, but this was the first time I really got it.

The previous two times I'd been out, I found myself getting very easily demoralised. Surrounded by ninjas doing things I couldn't hope to do, I'd struggle to find anything I could have a stab at. You have to design your own exercises in parkour, and as a newbie, without either confidence or competence, I sucked at it. I relied totally on Denny to find things that might be within my range, and coax me through trying them. Failure (which is inevitable) would leave me feeling discouraged and hopeless, and Denny had to spend a lot of time persuading me that it was worth persisting. By the time I achieved what I'd been working at, I'd be so cross with myself for having made such a meal of it that I wouldn't be fully able to enjoy the victory.

Intellectually I knew that failure was inevitable, persistence crucial, but I couldn't flip the switch in my head that found the journey fun and successes rewarding. Everything was just difficult. Finding things I could have a go at was really hard; it all involved throwing myself at new techniques that required skills I didn't have yet, and just failing over and over again until my body started to learn what was required of it.

My second time out, I tweaked my ankle ("ankle thingy" seems to be the technical parkour terminology, or "top bit" - it's when you land a little short of a wall jump and jerk your toe up too sharply, causing a mild sprain in the top bit of your ankle) and it was five days until I could put weight on it properly again.

I've been doing fitness stuff for a couple of years ago now - starting out with pilates and swimming, and moving on to yoga and weightlifting, both of which I now do regularly. Still, in parkour training I struggle with my strength/bodyweight ratio.

Added to that, outdoor urban parkour is fucking terrifying. Everything is made of brick and concrete that will take your skin off if you slip or miss or land funny. The third time I went out, Denny taught me to lazy vault over a rounded railing in the park, which was nice and friendly. When I tried to apply this skill to a brick wall, I skinned the outside of one of my thighs and got a bruise that lasted over a week. Jumps that are perfectly doable on the ground become psychologically impossible when you're doing them from one wall to another, with small, precise take-off and landing areas, two or three or four or more feet up. Every repetition of an exercise comes with a fear of skinning your shins or landing on your face. If you want to practice a jump you just have to conquer your fear, again and again and again.

You don't know what you can do until you try, so you have to try a little bit of everything. And, like the first time I attempted a cat leap, when you square off against something, look at it, psych yourself up to it, try it - and then come nowhere near to it and realise how many months of work lie ahead of you before your body is ready for this particular movement, it's hard not to feel discouraged.

This aspect of parkour - the mental conditioning, the psychological component - is well documented, and Denny wrote about it after his training session the week after my first time out. Anyway, I didn't do a scary double rail precision like he did, so I'm sure there are plenty more revelations in my future, but I felt like I started to get my head around this today.

At the first spot we went to, a kids' playground, everyone launched themselves at different jumps and balances and climbs, and I just looked at all of it and knew it was beyond my level. I had a go swinging from monkey bars, but I'm not strong enough for that, so I had to cheat by kicking one leg up on the far side and hoiking myself across that way - but after a few goes of that I had blisters forming on my fingers, and had to give them a rest.

I talked to another woman who was there for the first time. She was a dancer and had been going to indoor classes, where you could practice things at different heights made of less skin-destroying materials. That seemed like a much better idea. I started to think that I was approaching this the wrong way.

Denny walked with me in search of things for me to do, and once we were out of sight of the others I couldn't stop tears coming. I felt totally despondent, not good enough and not even able to do anything to help myself improve. Why was I even bothering? I just wasn't fit enough.

I dried the tears pretty quickly, and after some hugging Denny found a rounded border on the floor which I could practice balancing on. I sucked at it, but it was something to work on. Then I had a go at railing traverses, at which point the blisters on my hands started popping, and we did some precisions on the square tiled floor.

Thankfully, the next spot was much more friendly, with a lot more options for n00bs. I found a railing to practice my lazy vaults with another lady who was also a beginner. One of the guys, Jonnie, drifted over and started offering encouragement and advice. He taught me the basics of a step vault, which gave me something else to practice. I met TraceurSteel in person, who gave me some useful pointers with the step vault and kindly held my fingertips while I walked along the rounded rail so I could get used to the height and the movement, since I can't yet do it without a support. Basically, everyone was as friendly, welcoming and encouraging as you could wish. I practiced lots of vaulting and precisions, did some conditioning exercises like quadrupedal movement and monkey walks, tried a cat balance on the round railing and fell off. The sun was out, we were clambering and jumping all over things, people were being nice to me, I had things to work on and I was having a good time.

We moved on again. The next stop had a couple of very high walls over some garages at different heights, a long way apart - twelve feet, perhaps more. Steve, the not-a-leader, ran up to the lower wall and did a cat leap from that to the higher one; then did another cat leap between the two highest walls of the same height. The three second best ninjas lined up at the edge, looking at it. People got cameras out; the rest of us gathered to watch.

Watching these incredibly strong, athletic men sniff at that high, long jump was a revelation. They would walk up to it, look at it, focus, make like they were going to do it, then walk away. They'd go and look at a harder jump, pretend they were going to do it, then walk back to the first one and see if it seemed easier. They'd jog up to it, slow down, bail, jog back. One of them kept clapping his hands, psyching himself up, saying "yes, yes, I'm going to do it, come on" out loud... then still not actually doing it. The other was quieter, more focused. Eventually it was the quiet one who went for it. He made it. The other had no choice after that. Both of them were fine. It was well within their physical limits. It was the mental challenge of launching yourself, off a brick wall six feet in the air, at another brick wall twice as high and just as far away, that was the tricky bit.

Cat leap - Supa XXL Parkour Training

Until then, I'd been thinking that the reason I was so afraid, the reason I was finding it so difficult, was that I was unfit, I was a n00b, I was shit. Watching the psychological process writ large with two of the most skilled practitioners in the group, I learned that it doesn't get easier as you improve. It gets harder. The more physically capable you are, the harder the mental challenges you have to face in order to push yourself.

One of the ninjas laughed when I tried to express this to him. "Yep, it never goes away, it just gets more and more horrible." You'd think this would be demoralising, but for some reason it was exactly what I needed to know. This fear I'd been facing, it wasn't an impediment to learning parkour. It was parkour.

I followed a small group down the road in search of more manageable challenges. My fellow beginner climbed up the corner of a wall, three or more metres high, where the bricks overlapped and made regular footholds, and I followed her up. Denny and I found a flat-topped rail, narrow but manageable, where I practiced rail walking until I got more steady. I learned to turn around on the rail, to traverse it sideways, and realised when squatting down to say goodbye to someone that I could squat pretty comfortably with my toes on the rail and my bum on my heels, so that led to me doing rail squats while Denny filmed me. (I tried a one-legged pistol squat too, but those are much harder.)

Back on the road, different conversations helped the pieces fall into place. It's not about comparing yourself with anyone. You just have to learn to see the places where you can practice, and do those things. Persistence is always, always rewarded. It's about not giving up, about having the imagination to see the opportunities presented by the landscape. There's always something you can do and if there isn't a perfectly placed opportunity to push yourself, you can practice things you can already do and work on moving more quietly, more smoothly, with more control and flow.

I got talking to a young woman who had just joined the group and who had also mostly done indoor training. I heard a lot of people saying that indoor training was fun but not really applicable to outdoor, as it gave you an inflated sense of your own abilities and once you were out, the brick seemed even scarier. I started to understand that there aren't any shortcuts: getting out and facing the brick is the only way you're ever going to conquer it.

I was feeling more confident now, and at the next spot my new friend was the one standing around not knowing what to do with herself. It was fun calling her over with a suggestion for somewhere she could practice vaults, and encouraging her to find things to try. I was getting better at spotting things within my range - and at the same time, my range was increasing by the hour.

By the end of the day, I'd improved my lazy vaults and step vaults, done some related conditioning, learned how to do plyos (precision jumps in a sequence, where you use the energy of the middle jump to power the next ones and can go even further than from a standing start) and spent a good half hour hopping from wall to wall like a bunny, had a go at a run-up-and-stride jump and stuck a perfect landing, and worked on getting my landings more precise and more quiet. I'd climbed and clambered and crossed obstacles. I'd been encouraged and encouraged others, and by the end of the day I was happily making precision jumps longer and higher than at the start.

Helenic launching herself off a wall
Best precision distance (with a good landing) 12 May 2013: seven of my feets.

Today was five hours of training (six hours out and about in all, but I don't include all the walking between spots). By hour three, I was euphoric. I danced rings around Denny as we walked along, and couldn't stop bouncing. I felt strong and lean and energetic, and I saw training opportunities everywhere I looked. I was full of exercise endorphins, but not only that, I was filled with that confidence and adventurousness that comes from conquering your fear.

Parkour is about traversing obstacles as efficiently as possible. The thing is, most of those obstacles are mental.

Another interesting thing. When I came to do cool-down stretches, to my utter surprise I discovered that I was the most flexible I've ever been. I've been doing yoga for two years and my hamstring and hip flexibility has always been very poor; I've never been able to touch my toes, and even sitting upright with my legs stretched out in front of me is very painful along my tight hamstrings.

Five hours of parkour training achieved what two years of yoga failed. I could touch my toes from standing, and in a forward bend. I spent half an hour with a group of the others doing various stretches, and I felt looser, more flexible and stronger than I can ever remember.

Today is definitely a day when I leveled up in real life. I want to feel like this as often as I can. I am officially hooked.

Supa XXL Sunday Training 12 May 2013

Photos © Deepak Dembla 2013
helenic: (Default)
If I see one more high-income homeowner going "middle class? affluent? ME?" after using the class calculator, I will slap them.

Under-estimating your own class status is common. I'd go so far as to say it's one of the social patterns that maintains structural inequality. It's also something we all seem to be taught.

I grew up thinking I wasn't middle class. I'd grown up in tiny urban terraced houses in the Midlands - one of them was even on a council estate! - with parents working shifts in the NHS. We couldn't afford posh holidays or trainers or clothes or a large screen telly, and sometimes we couldn't afford another food shop at the end of the month. But we always got by. Holidays were self-catering in France or the UK, or house swaps. We had a home full of books and computers that my kind, clever dad built from spare parts.

By the time I was 16, my parents were both vicars with multiple post-graduate degrees, so that possibly made us middle class by default. But lower-middle, surely? For some reason, that distinction felt very important; I didn't want anyone to think we were wealthy when, clearly, we weren't.

Except one of the reasons money was short was that my parents were paying school fees. Okay, okay, private school wouldn't have been affordable without scholarships and bursaries, and it wasn't one of the big old posh ones or anything. But still.

Private school meant I was surrounded by kids from families more affluent than mine, and I felt lower class by comparison. The same thing happened at Cambridge. But being able to afford private school is pretty much 100% textbook "wealthy", even if you have to scrimp and save to do so, and no matter what your background, I think Oxbridge is one of those magical middle (possibly upper) class ticky boxes. Looking back, it's amazing that I ever thought there was the tiniest chance I might not qualify.

In the media, people who are, frankly, fucking posh identify themselves as "middle class". I was startled to discover that Miranda Hart's character in Miranda (which in every other way I have come to utterly adore) identifies as such when I would have pegged her family as upper class or old money. If people posher and richer than you call themselves middle class, you must be lower than that, right? The kids of well-educated people working low-paying or insecure jobs in academia, the arts or the public or third sector are reluctant to identify as middle class because they think it means "wealthy", and very few people believe themselves to be wealthy.

Defining wealthy is pretty hard. For a start, pretty much everyone who can afford to rent in the UK is wealthy on a global scale. But within our culture, everyone places the line somewhere different - and most people place it higher than where they perceive themselves. Does "wealthy" mean being able to buy food each month and afford the rent/mortgage? Does it mean being able to take holidays, eat out, run a car? What if someone gives you a free holiday, does that count? Does owning a home automatically qualify you? How about two homes? What if your income is high but all your money goes on debt repayment or servicing a substance addiction?

Class isn't just about financial security; it's about wealth of opportunity, and our relation to power. Are you able to teach yourself new skills, or convince someone of an idea? Those things give you power. Education is a huge part; not just whether you have a degree and where you got it, but how intellectual your home environment was growing up. That plays into the cultural hobbies and interests factor identified in the class calculator. People with educated and/or cultured parents are more likely to have a wide range of social contacts and cultural interests as adults. Those aren't just a measure of how posh you are; social networks and cultural education are a form of wealth.

We are all brought up to underestimate our class. Placing yourself high on the class scale is seen as being distasteful, snobbish or immodest. But it's also a trend that results in people underestimating their own privilege. Thinking you aren't well off when you are - normalising a level of wealth which many people do not enjoy - is what Iain Duncan Smith is doing when he claims he could live on £53 a week. Underestimating the poverty that people in this country live in - poverty not just of cashflow, but of support networks, opportunity, education, confidence - is the first step towards thinking that they can't be that badly off, surely, they just need to buck up/budget better/eat more lentils.

If the class calculator put you higher than you expected, you are probably better off than you think you are. Consider this: you may not feel wealthy, but compared to you, a lot of people in this country are actually, genuinely poor. Poor as in can't afford food, or bus fares, or phone credit, or electricity bills. People on minimum wage, low-paid part time work or JSA are poor, but they aren't even the bottom tier; they're better off than people living on the street.

No-one thinks of themselves as well off, but there are a lot of people less well off than you. Underestimating your class and relative wealth is to deny the reality of people less fortunate than yourself. And that is one of the ways that structural inequality perpetuates itself.
helenic: (aubergine penguins)
Zoe Margolis has just posted a crowd-sourced list of female UK comedians, by way of highlighting the gender imbalance within comedy, especially on panel chatshows. I've heard of nine of the women on the list. I don't do to the Edinburgh fringe and I'm not a comedy buff, so unless I've seen them on TV or YouTube, I'm missing out.

I'm drawn to openly feminist comedians like Charlie Brooker and David Mitchell - but honestly, it'd be nice if actual women weren't just an occasional treat. If there was a campaign demanding that comedy shows gender-balance their guests, I would support it. I don't find many of the male comedians particularly funny, so even if the new guests turn out to be a bit pants I don't think it'd be a great loss overall - and at least if I didn't find something funny it'd be more likely to be because it was rubbish, rather than because the joke was sexist.

I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue is guaranteed to make me giggle - always has been - and is usually fairly genteel and "safe" compared to, say, Mock the Week. For a while I was catching up on back episodes on BBC iPlayer while doing my physiotherapy exercises of an evening. Which was fine (although the whole Samantha thing made me grit my teeth a bit) until the "finish the line from a 1920s marriage etiquette book" game. I hoped that the players, decent chaps all, would take the opportunity to play with listeners' expectations and provide some interestingly gender-bending humour. Maybe even some good old fashioned surrealism? But no. Suddenly it was old white men making jokes at the expense of women, and I had to turn it off.

Miranda Hart's Joke Shop

A few weeks ago I sprained my ankle going down some stairs on the tube. By the time I'd limped home I was pretty much completely immobile. Denny was out for the evening so I installed myself on the sofa with my netbook to wait for a few hours, and to distract myself I looked on iPlayer for something to watch. I was feeling a bit sorry for myself, so comedy seemed like a good idea - but I was so not in the mood to have to breezily ignore any jokes made at my own expense. I scoured the BBC website for a show in the Comedy section which included women. Any women would do. Just one would be fine; I mean I find that a bit obnoxious, the token One Woman in a comedy team, but that'd do me for now. I couldn't find anything. Nada.

I ended up on the BBC Radio 4 website, listening to the first episode of Miranda Hart's Joke Shop. I hadn't heard of Miranda Hart before, but she's a big, tall, jolly, posh woman who has a brash, self-deprecating humour - she styles herself as a kind of failed- or anti-Bridget Jones - and the joke shop is sort of a framework for a sketch show, and sort of a bit like Black Books, only with more chocolate willies.

Reactions:

- I liked her; she made me laugh (especially once I warmed up to her style) and her manner is charming and memorable. It was great to have a sketch show about a woman who isn't conventionally pretty, is socially awkward, and owns her own business. All the humour was at her own expense, which was much nicer than listening to a man making jokes at the expense of women like her.

- The primary theme is how bad Miranda is at being a Girl. Her awful overbearing mother continually tells her to pretty up and get married. Her girly public school friends are all getting engaged and having big meringue weddings. So, clumsily and awkwardly, Miranda finds herself whisked along in their schemes, but hilariously and completely failing to fit in and eventually giving up. It's interesting. On the one hand, it gleefully pokes fun at the Cosmo readers of this world who think that makeup and men are the most important things in a woman's life. It's nice to have a protagonist who is a bit oblivious to all of that, and an overall message that people obsessed with those things are more laughable than people who suck at them. But OMG, could we have comedy by a woman that isn't about weddings and boys and dresses? Even if they're about how stupid all that is? Could we have comedy by a woman that's about, I dunno, science or the internet or politics or books? If only Kate Beaton did standup.

- Another running joke is Miranda getting mistaken for a man, resulting in her desperately trying to femme up so she can 'pass'. Again, some bits of this were pleasingly counter-cultural, but I found other aspects of it outright transphobic. I honestly didn't know what to make of the scene where she ends up in a shop aimed at trans people. On the one hand there's the "OMG Miranda you look like a transvestite! I didn't realise it was fancy dress!" punchline which, just, ugh. But on the other hand the whole conversation between her and the shop owner (who believes that she is trans) has a weird sort of sensivity to it. There was a bit that went:

Miranda: And my mum goes on about it all the time, she says, "Miranda you're a woman, you should dress like one!"
Shop owner: Oh, lucky - not many people have parents who that supportive.
Miranda: Um, I guess...

It was really odd. I mean the whole "Miranda looks like a man! She must be trans!" aspect of it is obviously horrendous and transphobic. But there was also clearly an awareness of her cis privilege. Odd.

Vous Les Femmes

This evening [personal profile] denny and I were looking for something to watch on iPlayer while we ate our tea, having monstered our way through the three Frozen Planet episodes already published in about as many days (neither women nor comedy, but OMG, so highly recommended). Anyway, he suggested comedy and by unspoken mutual agreement we flicked past all the stuff solely featuring blokes, and ended up with 'WOMEN!' (Vous Les Femmes). It's a French language micro-sketch show in which each sketch is only 1-2 minutes long, with an entirely female cast.

Reactions!

- This is baffling, surreal, hit and miss, with so strong a miss at first that we nearly turned it off, but definitely worth persisting with.

- It has a LOT of physical humour, and on average I enjoyed the sketches which involved over the top, slapstick physical fooling much more than the wordier ones - although perhaps that's because some of the humour is lost in the tones of voice if you're following the subtitles more than the French. I seem to remember reading something a while ago about the way physical comedy in particular is male-dominated, in which case this makes a refreshing change.

- The jokes are a mixture of social and situational comedy with low-brow toilet humour, absurdism and slapstick. A lot of it is gendered - like the "sex bomb" showing off her figure at the beach and the way other women react to her; ranting about queues for the ladies; the absurdity of a woman trying to modestly get changed in public - but none of it is sexist. Some of it is 'girly' (cocktail nights, dating, relationships, parenting) but some of it is just gloriously silly - and sometimes both at once. The 'dogwalkers' sketch starts out with a dodgy girlfriends=dogs reference and ended up making me laugh more than any other moment in the entire show, as the two women hare around in the woods like mad things, looking persistently stupid and having a lovely time.

- So the silliness/absurd physical comedy sort of forgives the genderedness, and while there's some poking fun at gender stereotypes it does mostly seem to be good-humoured, hitting sideways rather than hitting down. And there's some lovely fucking with gender expectations, too - as with the repeated lowbrow toilet jokes, and the 'bad parenting' sketches with their deadpan delivery.

I've also recently discovered Helen Arney, also via @denny, who took me to my first Festival of the Spoken Nerd show the other week. She seems awesome, and yay, female musician geek! ... But somehow I don't find her quite as funny as I'd like to; her songs all seem to be morbid romances, and they aren't quite morbid enough. It's also musical comedy where neither the music nor the comedy stands out - if her musicianship was really outstanding, it would make up for the bits that are only averagely funny. But she's young, and certainly doing better than I would, and I'm sure she'll get better. And I did enjoy her improv and banter on stage when she wasn't singing. But I think I'd like it if fewer of her songs were about failed love affairs and more of them were about science. Since she's part of a science troupe and all.

Oh! I almost forgot: the other female comedian I've encountered recently is performance poet Alison Brumfitt. She's wonderfully, challengingly, outrageously queer and a lot of her poems are about rejecting received cultural expectations and gender stereotypes. Listen to When I am old, her take on Jenny Joseph's famous poem. She's a feminist sex positive dyke and she doesn't give a fuck.
helenic: (Default)
My life is currently all about getting ready for the pub's first art fair next weekend - the Mad March Fair. If you aren't planning to come and could make it down, please consider it! Sussex is only an hour and a bit from London or Brighton on the train, and we'll have lovely foods, real ales and live folk music as well as arts and crafts by awesome people. Confirmed exhibitors/collaborators so far include Deirdre Ruane, Nikki Tompsett, Lucy Kennedy, Ailbhe Leamy, JV Mallory, Ara McBay, Lynnette Jackson, Laura Clark, Sam Kelly, Andrew May, Catriona Mackay, Laura Jayne Kemsley, Joldine Moate, James Hooker, Gemma Wells-Colyer, Pauline Louch, and moi.

The big messy making weekender I hosted t'other week (a trial run at the sort of art and crafts workshop I want to put on at the pub) went brilliantly - here's a write up with loads of photos if you're interested. We produced an astonishing amount in the time available, including several collaborative paintings (my first in a while - always something I find hugely energising) and I'm really proud of what we achieved.

Since we started planning the pub arts programme back in January, I've been motivated to spend my minimal spare time trying to produce a few more paintings to show at the fair, some smaller pieces to complement the bigger ones I already have.

Paintings so far this year! )
helenic: (elephant reaching to the moon)
The Queen's Head is proud to present our first ever arts and crafts fair! We've got also sorts of creative plans for this year, and to kick it all off with a bang we've teamed up with local gallery organiser Nikki to host a big, inaugural Mad March Fair on Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 March.

Artists, makers, crafters, knitters and cooks are invited to book a stall to show their own beautiful creations. We welcome any homemade or hand-crafted item. Soap, cosmetics, jewellery, notebooks, collage, paintings, prints, cakes, chutneys, wood-carving, metalwork, leatherwork, knitting, embroidery, clothing, bags, cushions, masks, greetings cards, painted furniture, painted mugs, pottery - you make it, we'll show it!

Please contact helen@queensheadrye.com to enquire about booking a free pitch. (Instead of charging you up-front we'll ask for a commission on any sales - we want this to be as accessible as possible.)



Admission will be free to the public. The Fair will be hosted in our timber-beamed Function Room and open from 11am-8pm both days. There's a free gig on the Saturday night in the Lounge Bar once the Fair closes, so feel free to hang around and enjoy the mystical medieval folk of local minstrel Kim Thompsett and her band.

Come along, browse beautiful hand-crafted items, buy gifts, sample some delicious handmade cakes and preserves, sit down for a cup of tea, a pint of real ale or cider and a plate of our homemade pub food. Stay around for the evening and chill out with some live music. Invite your friends!

Mad March Fair: facebook event

Haggis pie

Feb. 10th, 2011 07:38 pm
helenic: (aubergine penguins)
I stole this recipe from [personal profile] khalinche's cousins, who showered us with excellent food when we were stranded near Inverness during the Great Snow last November. It's so cheap and tasty I've made it twice this week, and we have another haggis in the fridge so it'll probably happen again. They're £1.70 each from our local supermarket, which is also doing mixed bags of winter veg for £1. Together they MAKE PIE.

Haggis pie )

Gay sharks

Feb. 10th, 2011 03:40 pm
helenic: (100% acid free.)
Apropos of this link on how to make your 404 page work for you, [personal profile] denny made a tongue in cheek request for a cute mascot for the Shiny Ideas 404 page, sort of like the twitter failwhale. Perhaps a gay shark?

Et voilà:

Payday

Dec. 18th, 2010 05:52 pm
helenic: (Default)



I made my placard for #payday, UKUncut's national day of protests against corporate tax avoidance, on Wednesday night. I was going to join the Library Bloc, staging a read-in in Vodafone's flagship store on Oxford Street to publically highlight the connection between HMRC's unwillingness to force Vodafone to pay their tax in full, and the budget cuts faced by local councils which will affect hundreds of public libraries. Rye public library is new - I've only just joined it and it might have to close down. It stinks.

Getting the placard to London was a mission - on the way out of Rye it doubled as a windsail, but proved useful as a snow shield this morning when battling through the blizzard to the tube station. After five minutes on the roads I got onto the tube with an inch of snow encrusting hat, coat, bag and placard. Ah well, I thought, at least the shop will be nice and warm.

Self, bags and placard struggled down Oxford Street through slush, ice and snowfall. My boots swiftly proved not to be waterproof and by the time I reached the Vodafone shop my feet were soaked with ice water. I'd given careful thought about how to smuggle a large placard into the shop, and ended up putting it in a big John Lewis bag donated by [livejournal.com profile] khalinche's housemates, thereby disguising it as shopping. A picture or something. Look, I'm a good little consumer! Let me in!

The Vodafone store, when I arrived at 1pm, seemed remarkably empty. The read-in was scheduled for 1:04. I blagged my way in pretending I wanted to buy a memory card for my Sony Eriksson, but quickly established that no other activists were around. Hrm. Back outside, I phoned [personal profile] denny and discovered that I was at 127 Oxford Street, and the Vodafone flagship store was at 345. Buggeration! I'd already have missed the flashmob. Forlornly, I trudged back the way I'd come through hail and slush, boots steadily filling with snowmelt and feet growing numb with cold.

I found the protest underway outside the flagship store - which had pre-emptively closed before we got there. Apparently we're scary. So the day was about getting the message out, and get it out we did.

Dozens of people outside with signs saying TAX DODGERS and the Vodafone logo. An enormous banner with the figures: Amount Vodafone owes in unpaid tax: £6bn. Spending cuts to local councils: £6bn.



My placard got a lot of attention, but I'd written it with the intention that we'd be inside the shop protesting to Vodafone. Instead we were outside protesting to the public. "Pay your tax!" suddenly seemed a little accusatory; I didn't want people to think I was accusing them of tax avoidance, so I borrowed a biro and quickly scribbled 'Vodafone' above it. Not sure how visible it was.

Climate Rush had brought a songsheet of anti-capitalist carols. Some were on message, others were about climate change, which obviously I agree with but seemed a little confusing in context. They drifted off after twenty minutes or so. The rest of us stood in the snow, feet freezing to iceblocks, holding up our signs, looking friendly and hopeful and cold.

It was a quiet protest - lots of us were just reading, although I'm not convinced that did much to get the message across. But the lack of chanting went down well. People slowed down and read the signs. They were interested. Many were sympathetic. Some were shocked when we explained the situation. Vodafone's waived tax bill could have paid for every single cut to every single council in the country this year.

There were about twenty police officers, all polite and well-behaved, although cold and a bit resentful. ("God, are you lot still here?" Yes.) Lots of people with cameras. A few members of the press. I hid from the cameras behind the placard, but when they weren't flashing I smiled and made eye contact with as many passersby as I could.

The leaflets flew out of our hands - everyone wanted one. We handed out thousands. I shared out mincepies with the rest of the picket. We didn't chant but chatted to people quietly, one to one.

Things shoppers walking past me said:
"Quite right."
"Yes, absolutely."
"Get a job!" (I have a job. Actually I own a company. Which pays its tax. Do you?)
"Well done." (Thankyou!)
"It was £7bn wasn't it?"
To friend "Bloody protestors, they look like they've never paid tax in their life." (Let's just ignore that one.)
To small child "Look, they're angry because Vodafone didn't pay their tax and now the libraries have to shut because the government doesn't have enough money." (Look! They know about it already! It's working!)
"Well, what you're doing is alright, this is fair enough, it's nice and peaceful."
"Yeah well you keep it peaceful, we'll keep it real." (Er, please don't smash any windows!)
"How can I help?"
"What's this about? But what were Vodafone threatening the government with to make them let them off? But that's so corrupt!"
"How did they persuade them to let them off? But that's shocking. That's not fair at all."
"What can we do about it?" (Spread the word!)
"How can I find out more?" (UKuncut.org.uk!)
"Yes, I heard about that, tax dodgers the lot of them."
"It's not just Vodafone you know, they're all at it" (Yes, we know it's a much broader issue, but we're starting with this one and once people know about that, we'll broaden our targets.) "Oh, fair enough then. Good luck!"
"Bravo."
"Solidarity!" (Solidarity!)

The level of support was overwhelming. I have never been on a protest which felt so strongly as if our message was getting through, it was working, people were listening. The publicity over the last few weeks has worked. Lots of people nodded sagely, familiar with our arguments. Most - literally most - of the people who responded were on our side. That's never, ever happened to me at an action before. It was brilliant.

We stomped to keep warm. I changed my socks but the fresh ones soaked through again within minutes. Josie Long and a quiet geeky boy brought everyone tea. A man from Hungary told me that similar protests had happened in his country and they changed the law as a result; I said I'd look it up and find out more. Protestors from other groups popped by to see how we were getting on and share news of the other actions. A couple of posh men in suits told us we didn't understand the economics of the situation. We argued with them. People stopped to listen, nodded, took a leaflet. We ran out of leaflets.



At ten past 3 I decided I needed to get home and into clean clothes before I developed trench foot, handed my placard to someone else and headed off. There were only a couple of dozen of us left by that point but I felt good. People agreed with us. We were representing popular opinion. The campaign was working. We had sympathy, energy, momentum, we weren't stopped by the weather, there were thousands of us all over the country. After we'd been there for a while I found out that a group had managed to close down the smaller Vodafone store I'd started out at. We were winning.

As I left I overheard someone asking a policeman when the shop would be open. "Sorry," he replied, "Not for a while yet, I imagine."

helenic: (CCTV - one well-placed balloon)

Demo2010: policing and the philosophy of protest - last Thursday on Police State UK

- in which I talk about the tendency of the press to report the methods rather than the message of a protest; attempt to summarise the context of Demo 2010, and offer a comparison of the Millbank occupation and the G20 protest last year.


"Warning: may contain humour" - last Friday on Police State UK

- a round-up of the online response to the Twitter Joke Trial verdict, a brief discussion of bad taste and free speech, and a couple of awkward qustions.


Remember the Suffragettes: a Black Friday vigil in honour of direct action - yesterday on Open Democracy: Our Kingdom

- publicising the Black Friday vigil I'm going to tonight, and explaining why I think it's important to honour the methods, as well as the cause and sacrifice, of the suffragettes. This was a wee post thrown together after a chat with Anthony Barnett before the Open Democracy drugs policy talk on Tuesday ("can you quickly write what you just told me for Our Kingdom when you got home? Doesn't have to be long") and then it was on the front page of Open Democracy, and the most read post on the site for a brief while this morning.

Too much politics this week, not enough paying work. Which makes a difference from the previous five months' schedule of too much pub, not enough paying work. Will get there eventually!

helenic: (glade)
A few days ago I retweeted a link to this story about planned legislation changes which would permit felling in privately-owned forests. It's been doing the rounds thanks to a fair amount of understandable outrage - there's already a 38 Degrees petition about it.

At the open mic last night we saw Mick, the local forester who let us camp in his chestnut coppice a few weeks ago. It's a beautifully maintained bit of ancient woodland - mostly sweet chestnut, some of the stands so old they're over six feet in diameter - interspersed with a number of gracious oaks a hundred years old or more. It also contains hornbeam (known as ironwood for a reason - I got blisters trying and failing to chop it for firewood), birch, ash, holly, hazel, a couple of natural springs, badgers and deer and wild boar. We spent a happy few hours tromping round it hearing all about responsible forestry and how coppicing works. I love the sustainability aspects of it: growing your own fuel; the way that the forest basically acts as an oxygen factory, and if you're burning fallen branches or coppiced trees there's no way you're going to generate enough CO2 to replace the amount absorbed by the live trees; the fact that coppiced woodland grows much faster than unmanaged woodland, and therefore absorbs even more CO2; how much good responsible forestry can do for the ecosystem of a bit of woodland.

There's an ongoing dispute about felling - a lot of people who own woodland are sentimental about the oaks, which I can understand - they're a bit of a religious focus for me, after all, so I do get it - but the forest as a whole is an organism which needs care, not just the individual plants in it. Part of a respectful relationship with the land is responsible maintenance, and I'm persuaded that sometimes you need to cut down certain of the older trees where they're too crowded, in order to reduce the canopy and stimulate new growth. And each oak tree yields an incredible amount of wood, which can then be used for all sorts of things - I think they gave the last one to a local community farm to build a new barn with.

It seems to me that selling the national forests per se isn't a bad idea, as long as it's being sold to owners who will maintain it responsibly. The problem is how to ensure this happens. When I asked Mick about the news story he said there was an element of scaremongering - use the word "logging" and mention CentreParcs and of course people will jump - but that he hasn't seen any evidence that would actually happen. The issue basically boils down to planning permission. A lot of woodland is protected so closely by legislation that it's impossible for foresters to build any structures at all - which not only makes managing the woodland harder, it also prevents charitable trusts and community organisations from constructing, say, visitors' centres to help them teach people about forestry. That sort of outreach work is not only necessary for the continued maintenance of our national forests, which will be impossible if no-one knows about how to do it, but it's also the sort of fundraiser which gives foresters the financial breathing space to do what's best for the woodland, rather than what will turn the highest profit.

Mick reckons that the legislation unbending is not necessarily a bad thing, but depending on how loose it gets, it might well be down to local communities to keep an eye on sales of woodland in their own area, and to resist any planning permission applications which threaten its maintenance. Which is interesting, because that's exactly the sort of "it's up to us" approach which a few people have been discussing in response to public spending cuts. It's a nice idea, but I can't help wondering how much power the public will have in the face of big business, which the government has tended to put first when it counts. On the other hand, planning permission is a local council decision, and NIMBYism is a force to be reckoned with. Personally, I think I'd like to see some legislation remaining in place to prevent widescale logging of British woodland, but I can see why it might be difficult to draw a line.

It's a microcosm of the whole Nanny State vs Big Society dichotomy, and I think in a way it comes down to trust. Can we trust the government to write laws which aren't over-controlling, ill-informed and which compromise our freedoms? If not, do we trust the government to exercise discretion in who it sells to? Do we trust private owners to manage their land responsibly? Do we trust each other to resist destructive changes to our local landscape? Do we trust our local government to listen to us if we try?
helenic: (elephant reaching to the moon)

Below is the text of the talk I gave on Saturday at the dotActivist conference, with added hyperlinks. It was a really good day, and great to meet people and listen to the other talks. I was particularly pleased to finally understand the concept of the Pareto Front, and I thought the visionOntv project looked really interesting, although I didn't find time to get interviewed (have been invited to come back and do so later).

Despite my nerves and the fact that I was the only speaker who didn't use slides, my talk seemed to go okay. I spoke from the below text rather than notes, but found it easier than I'd expected to speak conversationally rather than sticking woodenly to the script (although I did have to refer to it a couple of times when I got stuck). The only hiccup was a missing page, but thankfully my lovely lady [personal profile] khalinche brought it forth from where it had got mixed up with some other papers, and I was able to continue after only a minor comic interlude. People listened, made notes, and said nice things afterwards about my subject matter and speaking style. Apparently all those hours improvising on camera and sitting in lectures haven't been for nothing! So I'm pleased, and next time will indulge in less terror-induced procrastination and have a go at using slides.

The Elephant in the Room: web activism and the state )

helenic: (elephant reaching to the moon)

Thanks so much to everyone who commented on my last (f-locked) entry, especially [livejournal.com profile] biascut whose advice helped me climb down from a serious panic last Friday night. Since reading your helpful reassurance and suggestions, attending ORGCon and making a point of speaking into the mic as much as I could get away with (I felt slightly justified in being a nuisance by the shortage of women on the panels/being called to ask questions) and thinking about what I'm going to say a lot more, I am feeling more confident and less panicky. It's not going to be great, but I can certainly pull something together, and I don't think there are as many holes in my theme as I'd realised.

I spent a couple of hours yesterday emailing various grassroots web organisers and asking them some questions )

, and I've got some useful answers back already, particularly from the person who preferred to be interviewed by phone. Turns out I like giving phone interviews. (Is "give" the correct verb for the interviewer? Shouldn't it be "take" or something?)

I also finally, after much tearing of hair and swearing at the screen, sent my bio and abstract off to Turnfront. (I HATE writing bios). Here is what they say:

Helen Lambert

Helen is a web designer and developer with a background in web strategy and online marketing. She has a keen interest in activism and online campaigning; in 2009 she co-founded Police State UK, a website reporting on civil liberties issues, and she was closely involved with the Get a Vote and Hang 'em campaigns during the 2010 election. Helen is a member of the Open Rights Group, and her interests include open data, service design and the democratising power of the internet.

The elephant in the room: web activism and the state

Labour's government was the first under which the web became a significant vehicle for activists, and had a poor track record for engaging with grassroots social enterprise in a productive way. Internet projects have tended to be the 'elephant in the room' in government discussions about social engagement. I'm intending to explore the role of online, third sector social services in developing a healthy democracy, and how the state tends to engage with such services, hoping to offer recommendations for future collaboration in the light of the Coalition's "Big Society" proposals. The talk will aim to kickstart a discussion about the most effective ways for the state and web activists to work together to improve our society, and I look forward to hearing any ideas or experiences you would like to contribute.

The rest of the speakers/talks are described here. I feel a bit academically out-classed, but I think my topic is interesting and current and relevant. My only anxiety is that everyone listening will know it all already, but I discovered at ORGCon that audiences love talks on topics they're already familiar and arguments they agree with, as long as they get some nifty soundbites out of it and to ask some questions at the end which make them look clever. And chances are there'll be at least something new for most people.

So yeah. I have far more thoughts than I can probably squeeze into 20-30 minutes, which is a nice position to be in; now I just need to write a structure/plan and practise speaking from notes in front of a mirror. If any of you lot want to come, it's in Kings Cross on Saturday Aug 6 from 10-4ish, and tickets are £15 for individuals. I'm not sure if familiar faces would make me more nervous than not, but if I freak out on the day and decide to cut it short and open the floor for discussion early, you could make yourself useful by asking intelligent questions, which would help! There'll probably be a video or something I can post here afterwards, either way.

helenic: (Default)

I've just posted a report of the Take Back Parliament demo in London today, including live BBC video of Nick Clegg's spontaneous address to the crowd after we demanded he come out and receive our petition in person. Right now I'm feeling an enormous sense of hope and achievement. We made our shout heard. This is what democracy looks like!

Of course everything hangs on the negotiations, but on PR at least I hope we can trust the Lib Dems to stand firm. This is just the beginning - we'll be keeping up the pressure and pushing for electoral reform for as long as it takes.

Photos from the demonstration: )



Oh, and yesterday I posted a slightly more coherent response to the election results on Police State UK, if anyone's interested. It's called We didn't vote for this.

helenic: (Default)

I turned up at [personal profile] bard's in tears, exhausted with stress and anxiety and fatigue and uncertainty. We've been watching the clusterfuck unfold, glued to our screens, eyes darting between TV and laptop screen. I've drunk about a bottle of white wine and I have no idea how I'm going to sleep.

I came here sinking into a dread of Torygeddon, but once I got in and we turned the TV on I've realised that tonight could be far, far worse. Voters being turned away from polling stations in their hundreds, some of them having arrived at 6.30pm in the rain and waited for hours. Other polling stations stayed open to process the queues. The claim from the ones that shut - that taking the votes after 10pm would be illegal - was incorrect was, apparently, correct, a fact about which I am stunned. How can it be okay for voters who turn up before 10pm to not be served? This system is a mess.

There are stories of queues being left waiting with no word until after 10pm; of voters being brought inside the polling station and then being turned away, of ballot papers running out. In Hallam voters staged a sit in and refused to let the ballot box out of the polling station until their votes were in it; police arrived; there was an altercation and the ballot box was removed. Students were segregated into separate queues to residents, regardless of whether or not they had their polling card, and hundreds of students were turned away because the queues were being processed more slowly.

This is a fucking shambles. Britain, I am ashamed.

I am updating Twitter compulsively.

One of the seats where the voting scandal has happened is Hackney South and Shoreditch. Denny's.

I don't know how much longer I'm going to stay awake. This feels like the issues with the polling machines when Bush got re-elected. We have people in other countries as election officials and this is fucking disgusting. Where are the UN election observers?

This is the live tweet stream of a politics student in Hallam whose voting experience went from excitement to outrage as she was denied her vote.

If there's a legal challenge in Hallam, Nick Clegg's constituency, then the result is suspended and Clegg won't be able to participate in a coalition until it's resolved.

So far it looks like Cleggmania faded before the vote, but that's not important; the important thing is the travesty of riot police dispersing crowds of disenfranchised voters staging a sit in. I am fucking furious.

helenic: (Default)

John Cleese talks about proportional representation, coalition governments, and why they offer us an improvement on our current system. This dates from the late 80s or early 90s, but is still true today - and even more important.



"Historians used to talk about the British genius for compromise. Well, perhaps we can rediscover that genius. Perhaps we've got to."

helenic: (Default)

There has been pub progress. Significant progress, but it's all been under wraps until contracts were signed. We've now agreed to exchange contracts on the day we move in, so we may as well start talking about it now, since we've already been working on it for ages and things are about to get a lot busier.

Short version: after waiting months and months for the Yorkshire pub to get back to us, in March we started looking for backup options. We found one in Sussex, went to visit, and fell in love with it. We've had an offer accepted and are moving out of London on the 10th of May, aiming to open on the 27th of May for a Grand Opening beer festival and gig.

Long version with photos of Sussex pub )



And the hilarious thing? Last weekend the Yorkshire pub got back to us and accepted our offer. After leaving us with no word for five months. Three weeks before we move into a pub we only first looked at three weeks ago. Can you believe it? This is of course a good thing, as well as being an excellent joke, because it means if it all goes bizarrely, horribly wrong and we can't sign the contract at the Queen's Head after all, we still have a backup pub in Yorkshire. Although it would be a pain, because [personal profile] bard has his last day at the Pembury tomorrow and isn't earning until we open the next pub, and I've handed in my notice on my flat and would have to move in with my mum and dad temporarily while we sorted things out. And going back to the Fridaythorpe pub would be a bit of a headfuck at this stage. But at least we wouldn't have to start the whole process of looking for the next pub from scratch.

We have all fallen head over heels in love with the Queen's Head. It would be impossible not to. I am so excited I don't know how to process it. It's like being invited to Hogwarts. I never in my life imagined I would get to live anywhere this beautiful, especially not before I was thirty. It still doesn't seem real, and I still don't dare believe it's actually going to happen, but I have to start acting as if it is because we need branding and a holding page ready before we move.

emotional stuff )

I have six working days left before the election, then it's a swift pack, move house, and plunge straight into a lightning, high-intensity refurb project. Then the opening beer festival, then June 1 I'm back at my desk and I've already got Shiny Ideas clients booked up until the start of August. It's going to be a crazy summer. But, I think, a happy one.

helenic: (Default)

I've just sent the following email to all my candidates except Labour, Tory and UKIP (because I am not considering voting for them) through this handy website.

This got long. )



Feel free to nick any/all of the above questions - the observant among you will have noticed that I've cobbled together most of them from the Liberty Central list, the Power 2010 leaderboard, and the Pirate Party UK manifesto.

I'll be surprised if any of them answer all of the questions, but Denny tells me he'd be delighted to receive an email like that, so here's hoping.

I'd previously thought that Neville Watson, as a high-profile Independent and POC, stood the best chance of ousting Lammy in Tottenham, but as time passes I'm less convinced. I got a leaflet from TUSC (the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition) through the door which was surprisingly credible, so I'm considering going along to their election rally next Tuesday to see what they have to say. Their candidate Jenny Sutton is on twitter (the only one I've found so far apart from Lammy) and seems very sound. I've heard absolutely nothing from the Green or Lib Dem candidates so far - in fact I'm wondering if there are any Lib Dems in Tottenham - so the answers I get really will be a significant factor in who I decide to vote for.

helenic: (CCTV - PSUK)

Last week PSUK were invited to the Westminster Legal Policy Forum Keynote Seminar on the future of policing - accountability, cost and effectiveness. Which was kind of cool, and kind of scary. I went on my own as they could only afford to fund one delegate (and we couldn't afford the £90 concession ticket or whatever it was) and Denny had been to one on his own last month on DNA databases. It was very interesting, and I've written a couple of articles in response to the discussion:

The future of policing: trust and accountability )



The future of policing: collaboration and social media )

Now that Denny's running for Parliament, he's taking a back seat in the maintenance of Police State UK until after the election. Given I'm already running three other businesses in addition to my political volunteer work, and that I'm also helping him with his campaign to some extent, I really don't have time to step up my involvement in PSUK; I've been spending more time on it over the last two weeks, but that really isn't sustainable. This means we are looking for contributions even more than normal. If you care about politics and civil liberties in the UK, please consider writing something for us - it doesn't have to be complex. I've written some guidelines for articles to help people get started. If you're interested but there's some barrier preventing you from contributing, let me know and I'll do what I can to help.

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