Toolkit

The Culture Counts toolkit enables everyone to become an advocate for culture. It gives you tips and ideas on how to make the case for Culture with your local politicians and Councillors as well as…

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Life in the New Scotland

This is my first post since the Yes side lost the referendum. Truth be told, having done everything I could to help bring about what I believed would be a better society, I was pretty knackered. All my arguments were spent. I’d nothing left to say.

Since the referendum, a lot of what we Yessers predicted has come to pass. Britain is not a friendly place. But that’s not what I came here to talk about.

We’ve all been horrified by recent events as people pour out of Syria into the seas between them and us. For those who make it to dry land, their journey is far from over. But I didn’t come here to talk about that either.

No, the thing that’s moved me to write is the mass action that is taking place all around me. Disgusted by our government’s inaction in the face of the refugee crisis, ordinary people have taken it upon themselves to do all they can to help in a way I’ve not seen before.

Gill McArthur is a mum of two and runs a nightclub, Studio 24, in Edinburgh. During the week, her nightclub is open to accept clothing donations for refugees in Europe.Volunteers sort and pack everything with a necessary degree of urgency so the space can be cleared again for Edinburgh’s Friday night clubbers. As Syrian families are gradually allowed into the city, Gill has also co-ordinated the sourcing  and distribution of household items such as beds, TVs, toys, buggies.

Emma is a young mother from Dumfries. I met her standing guard at a lock-up while vans arrived almost in convoy to drop off bags and bags of donations. Emma, having discovered the main organisations ship mainly to Calais where the majority of refugees are male, decided to collect women and children’s items for another volunteer organisation called Samos. Based in Brighton, they have sent containers of much needed items to Syria, northern Iraq, and Kurdistan.

Jan Currie is a pharmacist. Alarmed by the seeming rift between Yes and No voters, and dismayed by our current state of affairs, she, along with friends, set up an apolitical organisation called WomanKIND Clydesdale. In its infancy, the group has already co-ordinated the gathering of toiletries and handbags for refugee women arriving in Scotland. Along with Cristina Ertze of The Common Weal, the group has also facilitated the melting down of thousands of old and broken crayons to create imaginative welcome packs for refugee children. Artists across the world have donated sketches for a colouring book to sit alongside the crayons. Cristina reckons the entire project involved approximately fifty people donating their time to bring a smile to people they will never meet.

Myself and a friend, Stephanie Whatley, found ourselves collecting clothes to take through to Emma in Dumfries. I mentioned it in passing to my son’s head teacher, and before I knew what was what, the entire school was involved. We were left with a few items that weren’t suitable for shipment which we took to a local cash 4 clothes type shop, planning to donate to a Syrian charity. The man in the shop weighed everything and as he was counting out our cash, reached into his wallet and donated twenty pounds of his own.

Prior to posting this, I contacted the women above to check for corrections and seek their permission to publish. This is what came back:

I collected the aid over a few weeks, which I kept in the lock-up to then be passed onto an organisation called MOOL (Massive Outpouring of Love, also based in Dumfries). They helped me store the aid and their volunteers packed it in order for me to get it to where it needed to be. I want them to be acknowledged for the help they gave me. – Emma

Hi, it’s important to say due to the overwhelming support of Edinburgh and surrounding areas as far as Fort William, we have formed a not for profit organisation called Re-Act. Re-Act has sent over 210 tons of aid to Calais and beyond. With unwanted donations we’re now able to help many other local charities. So it’s not just me. It has grown. The generosity continues and couldn’t happen without so many people giving up time and items. – Gill

So many people in the chain, all of them trying to help, each of them lifting and putting others before themselves.

Politically, these are dark days. As we creep towards the winter solstice, the darkness lengthens. And I realise that this is why I’m writing; to remember the light of the people who work their asses off in the hope of their efforts achieving what their vote could not: namely, making the world a better place.

 

Click here to donate to Re-Act

Click here to find the donate button for WomanKIND Clydesdale

Click here to find the donate button for MOOL

 

 

 

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An Independent View?

imageLike every other Yes voter I know, I was heartbroken by our failure to win enough people to our side. Like every other Yes voter I know, I did not anticipate feeling this way. I’d gone to bed in the wee sma’ hours of the 19th with a very bad feeling, having seen the first two counts announced and having read ICM were 99% sure it would be a NO victory. When I woke in the morning and reached for my phone, it wasn’t just tiredness that made me want to stay in bed. And then the worst was confirmed. We’d lost. And properly, too. I wasn’t always a Yes voter. I lived in London for fifteen years. At one point I’d have laughed in your face if you’d told me I’d ever move back to Scotland. It was wee, parochial, limited, limiting. I was nineteen when I left, technically still a teenager. I realise now all those years I spent outside of and looking in on Scotland, I was looking through teenaged eyes. When I moved back I wasn’t alone. I brought a partner and a son. Work dictated our decision and it was the best thing we could have done. We came back when the Edinburgh Festival was in full swing, all our pals were up from London, and most importantly, one third of our little family wasn’t constantly working away from home. Very quickly my blinkers fell away. Scotland wasn’t at all as I remembered it. It was as I’d forgotten it: utterly gallus. But even then I considered myself British before Scottish. That thought is now so strange, so unfamiliar, that it may as well have belonged to someone else. The Yes side was accused of being rabidly nationalistic throughout the campaign, but of course the counter to this argument is that blind loyalty to the UK is its own type of nationalism. Don’t get me wrong – the notion of nationalism is as frightening as ever it was. I paid attention in history class. I’ve always been wary of flag waving and large crowds chanting in the streets. So why, having never identified as a nationalist, does it suddenly feel so important to say out loud: I Am Scottish and proud of it? Does that make me a nationalist? Why do I suddenly care? To my mind it’s very simple and nations and race have nothing to do with it. I wanted to elect people to power who were answerable to ME. And a few others, obviously. It struck me as an absurdity than anyone could use a line drawn on a map hundreds of years ago as a pin on which to hang their personality. It was only about power, surely? And the potential of that power to effect change in our immediate environment. Which leads any thinking voter to ask: what type of change do I want to see? So you look around and you see the food banks, you read about a diabetic man dying because he couldn’t afford to feed himself, you read about all the sick people who died within months of being declared fit to work, you read about people being made to work for no wages, about books being banned in prison, how much Trident costs and the moral implications of such a weapon, you think about how much our foreign policy costs, not only in money but lives too, you learn that our National Health Service is under threat, that the minimum wage doesn’t even approach the living wage for ‘hard working families’, and you find the answer to that question ‘what change do I want to see?’ comes very easily indeed. You imagine a future where your vote can actually influence the decision makers, a future where the decision makers have full control of our tiny country with its massive resources; you imagine a future where the poorest people are treated fairly and with respect, you imagine a future where we live in a society that recognises we’re all born equal, or should be, and that if we treat each other decently, we all end up living in a better world. But you wake up on September 19th and realise your message didn’t get through. You hope the No voters have the same dreams but a different way of bringing them into being because the vision you’ve held in your mind for so long – that spurred you to be the most annoying facebook presence ever, that led you down unknown roads to deliver letters, or talking to people in the street – has gone. Evaporated faster than that morning’s dew. What do you have left? Only 1.6 million friends, each and every one of whom you’re extremely proud. And you will hang on to that pride with a shocking fierceness. Because did you see the tears David Cameron almost squeezed out as he promised us more powers? Did you see how all those Westminster MPs looked so disconnected from ordinary people as they took to the streets of Glasgow? Did you see the bags of food left at impromptu food banks? Did you see what we actually achieved? Did you feel how we connected with each other and tasted the possibility of a different world? Do you recognise how, even as we concede defeat, none of us are prepared to settle any longer for what passes in 21st century Britain as society? Who could have anticipated this movement of the people, this incredible surge of energy, all of us working for the common good of our country? And that’s what makes me finally proud to call myself Scottish. And all those English people who campaigned for Yes, and the Welsh and the Mexicans and Italians and Germans and all the other nationalities that live on this small land – I’m proud of them too. If anyone wants to call that nationalism, I say it’s a new breed and it’s bonny.

Artwork by Paul Rodger

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Arrangement Derangement

Once upon a time, I took the word ARRANGEMENT and decided to DERANGE it. This poem uses eight letters and was published in Valve Journal.

 a gent meant rent

rag net tent

gem ramen tea

arranged

agreed

rear gate rager

drag tear area

ten ten tenner

arranged

agreed

man mean meaner

ret tern rennet

garnet gannet

arranged

agreed

germ dag dagger

dagga dagga danger

gangrene gamer

arranged

agreed

Quite dark, huh? I love free-flow creative writing, but it’s sometimes fascinating to see what turns up when you write within a set of strict parameters. I also had fun playing with the arrangement of my deranged words; I think each stanza looks a little like the tip of a dagger.

Anyway, that’s enough sunshine and fairies for you. Away and play. Ciao.

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Gypsy with a Capital ‘G’

A few years ago, I wrote a play called King of the Gypsies. I interviewed people from the Roma community, researched their history, and visited Appleby Common when the Gyspy fair was on.

I was fortunate with the timing of this play; Nick Griffin was at his highest point and Labour was on their way out. We seemed to be swinging enthusiastically to the right and, through King of the Gyspies, I hoped to play some small part in slowing it down.

Almost four years later, the Roma are in the press again. It was discovered last month that the daughter of a Greek couple was not in fact their biological daughter. An international search for the child’s mother began. A couple of days later, a Roma couple in Ireland also had their daughter taken into protective care because she did not look sufficiently like her parents. DNA testing proved otherwise. Fear is contagious and prejudice thrives on it.

I thought I’d take a look through my old notes and make a list of Gypsy facts for you.

  1. Gypsies are so-called because people mistakenly thought they came from Egypt.
  2. All Romani languages have their roots in Sanskrit; it is likely they are descended from India.
  3. They most likely left India either enslaved, or running from, Mongol and Turkish invaders.
  4. Romani people endured five hundred years of slavery, stretching from the Balkan region to England.
  5. A Gypsy in 16th century England could expect to be branded with a V (for Vagabond) and enslaved for two years.
  6. If they caught you again, you could expect to be branded with S, and made a slave for life.
  7. In 1554 it became illegal to even be a Gypsy. It was a crime punishable by death.
  8. Meanwhile in Germany, Gypsy hunting was a popular sport.
  9. Gypsies fought and died in both world wars.
  10. Over half a million Gypsies died in the Holocaust, or The Devouring.
  11. Not a single Romani person was called to testify at the Nuremberg Trials.
  12. It costs approximately £18 million pounds a year to evict Travellers from illegal sites. They have to use illegal sites because the remaining legal ones are full.
  13. Bristol invested in legal sites and the annual eviction bill fell from £200,000 to £5000. There was also revenue collected from rent, council tax, and utility bills.
  14. It is estimated that only one square mile would be needed to house all of England’s Travellers.
  15. Romanis have the lowest life expectancy and highest rate of child mortality in the UK.
  16. Last week, David Blunkett warned us the presence of the Roma population in his constituency would spark an ‘explosion’.
  17. Last week, Nick Clegg described Roma behaviour as ‘sometimes offensive and intimidating,’ giving rise to a spate of dramatic headlines.

I sometimes feel we’re on the brink of slipping backwards; it’s not always easy to recognise the signs when you’re living slam-dunk in the middle of something.

I’d like to leave you with this quote I took from an elderly Romani man. I’ve changed his name to protect his identity.

“I feel very proud of England. I love England. And most of the people that’s in it. The same as you do. You don’t love them all, do you? There’s some you want to know and some you don’t. I love most of the people in England and I’m very proud to born in England and known as being English but I’m 70 years old and it’s still them and us. The non-Gypsy and the Gypsy. Friends of mine…they think I’m a nice person. I’m a gentleman and I’m classed as a gentleman. I can go into the Midland bank today and they all call me Mr Smith. I’m a gentleman just the same as any man in your walk of life would like to be called a gentleman or treated as a gentleman. So I feel, when people say to me, ‘Good morning, Mr Smith’, and stop to have a word with me when I go into the town – I’m treated like a gentleman. But there’s a certain amount of people who think we’re all vagabonds and thieves.’

If you’re interested in learning more, an excellent book is We Are The Romani People, by Ian Hancock. I wrote a review here.

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Panic in the air, pancakes on the ground.

A few weeks ago my parents-in-law paid us a visit, and we all partook of a walk. The PILs are keen walkers and, as we crossed a field, doing our best to dodge the very many country pancakes, they regaled us with tales of recent exploits, one of which had seen them inadvertently share a field with a bull. It was a brief cohabitation, but a memorable one.

We were chuckling merrily at their adventures when suddenly, over the crest of a hill, appeared a herd of cows. We clung to the edge of the field, but the cows were sharp and they spotted us. They moved, as one, in our direction. Do cows have a hive mind? Anyway, they move a lot faster than you’d think; pretty soon panic was in the air. Father-in-law urged us be calm, but mother-in-law, chastened by the afore-mentioned recent events, ran. Mr Lynchpin and I couldn’t run, as between us we were shepherding our three year old. I can’t tell you where the nine year old was at this point. Probably choking in the cloud of dust kicked up by grandma.

The cows were so close now, I could smell their milky udders. I’d speeded up a good bit by this point, reasoning that Mr Lynchpin, at a full foot taller than me, was far better placed than old midget-drawers to protect our youngest.

We made it to the next field, literally seconds to spare. Two dozen cows eyed us with sinister intent from behind their barb wire fence. Father-in-law said they were only after their feed bin which, granted, was right beside them, but why, I had to wonder, did they look after us so longingly as we continued our trail? I made a mental note to google cows, fields and countryside.

A couple of days later, I’m packing for Texas. I’ve planned to visit here: http://www.nps.gov/bibe/index.htm

They have snakes and lions and bears.

Oh, my.

And no, my drawers aren’t really midget sized.

 

 

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Arrival

We’re coming in to land at Dallas and already I’m overwhelmed by the scale of Texas. Out my window, all the way to the horizon, all I see is green and brown and a murky, snake-like river, winding for miles and miles. I’m wondering where are all the people? Where does Texas keep them all? Don’t they need houses to live in?

My snaking river opens out into a massive lake. The shape is utterly bizarre, as though one of the pterodactyls who dominated these skies millions of years ago crash landed into Earth, leaving a splat shaped crater to be later filled in with water. Pterodactyls that big, though? Hell yeah, everything’s bigger in Texas.

I dare to think I’m beginning to appreciate the size of the place. My twelve days are going to be epic, frantic, fruitful. The pilot announces tornado warnings have been issued. We land in a hurry.

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